A Review of Traditional Quaker Christianity

As I read and re-read Traditional Quaker Christianity, I felt a spirit of humble diligence intent upon conveying the core substance of Quaker understanding, as well as the practices that have thus far assisted its continuation. The original draft of this book was the result of a study of Friends faith and witness by Ohio Yearly Meeting member Michael Hatfield. He gave his work to the yearly meeting "to do with as it saw fit." Small study groups were formed in which his writing was found useful but in need of more work. OYM called upon four Friends (Arthur Berk, John Smith, Susan Smith, and Terry Wallace) to edit and develop Hatfield's original draft.

 There are seven chapters in the book, each containing anywhere from four to ten sections. Each section is comprised of a title, selections for recommended reading, a short essay, and questions for discussion. Four appendices complete the main body of the book, providing more discussion of eldering, a brief history and present-day scope of alternate forms of Quaker faith, a glossary of Quaker terms, and a bibliography.

 This book would be helpful for anyone wanting a readable introduction to or comprehensive overview of the original tenets of Quaker Christianity, and the sustaining practices that have evolved in Ohio Yearly Meeting. The primary doctrines of the faith are all included: the Word of God is Christ (not the Bible); the Spirit of Christ is universally bestowed; salvation entails obedience to the living God (not intellectual assent to doctrine); only in the daily cross of Christ can evil be overcome. In addition to presenting the central beliefs, the book examines particular tenets that have arisen from the faith: that gospel ministry is oracular, that the Scriptures are esteemed and studied, that baptism and communion are inward occurrences, and that females and males have equal spiritual potential in substance and practice. Pertinent passages from the Scriptures and Friends writings are frequently cited and paraphrased to supplement the editors' descriptions and explanations.

 Some present-day misconstructions of Quaker faith are addressed. For example, in the fourth section of the first chapter, Lewis Benson is quoted contrasting the ethic of obligation with the ethic of idealism: the former being a principle grounded in divine Will as opposed to the latter, which is based in human values. A later discussion in chapter seven on testimony versus testimonies furthers the discussion, and the difference is then illustrated in later sections where the original peace witness and the contemporary peace testimony are each described.     

 I found the essay on clerking substantial in identifying gifts needed for clerking, responsibilities of both clerk and meeting while conducting business, and helpful practical advice for maintaining order, and writing or modifying a minute. Throughout the book, practical advice is regularly offered and always purposeful.

 The roles of elders, overseers, ministers, and teachers are each described: their work, the strengths and gifts necessary, and the typical dangers encountered. A chart at the end of chapter six compares the different functions and orientations of each, providing an easy reference to Friends who are not practiced in identifying these gifts and are unfamiliar with their specific benefits to the community.  

 Though Traditional Quaker Christianity is intended to convey the tradition among Conservative Friends, it may find readers among Liberals and Evangelicals. Should another generation of Quakers come forth and undertake the restoration of "the desolations of many generations," they could find this book a resource for building up a Quaker Christian society. Here they would find stated the purpose and aim of the society, means to realize that aim, practices to support those means, and generally a structure  provided in which a people of God could arise, flourish, and serve the cause of Truth.

          

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Comment by Keith Saylor on 10th mo. 21, 2014 at 1:20pm

"In spite of this ..."

It is edifying to read affirmations of the sufficiency of Christ's presence as the Guide in an individual's daily walk. The same is true of the work of Pink Dandelion. With that said, each go on to qualify the sufficiency of Presence as guide by institutionalizing and collectivizing Presence in outward forms of faith and practice. Instead of holding to inward Presence as faith and practice in itself; there is qualification and a turning to outward forms.

There is a sense of being beside oneself ... pointing to the sufficiency of the immediate Presence but lacking complete faith and balking in the face of the thing itself. As if to say, here is the field to plow but go plow that field in spite of what I just said.

Here is one example of how it manifests in "Traditional Quaker Christianity."

God teaches his People himself; and nothing is made clearer than the fact that under the New Covenant, no human teacher is needed. In spite of this, one of the major results of Christ's ascension was the sending of teachers and pastors for perfecting the faithful. The same work is ascribed to them as to the Scriptures. Both are primarily for the development of greater maturity in the faith of those who believe. But human teachers are by no means to have preference over the teaching of God Himself under the New Covenant.

The inward Presence is sufficient and preferrable as guide for each individual. It is a blessing to share and know this witness and experience with those in the Ohio Yearly Meeting.

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 10th mo. 22, 2014 at 3:17pm

If one knew the Presence continuously in one's daily life, then it would be ridiculous to turn instead to other qualifying authorities, such as institutions. But that continuous knowledge is rarely seen. We as a civilization are moving from one situation (1st Covenant) of the lone prophet who with God's direction leads the people (or tries to) to a different situation (2nd Covenant)--a state where we all know the Spirit. We aren't there yet. So, what are we going to do? We need help: lessons, ministry, affirmation that we're getting it right, admonishment when we're getting it wrong, a functioning mind, a healthy conscience, courage, stamina, all the virtues. The tradition helps; that's its purpose. Not to usurp the Presence but to inculcate that the Presence (faith) is something to be sought.

Luke 17:5-10 teaches me that there were others who have wanted their faith increased and didn't know how to do that. Jesus told them that faith was something that was outside their intellectual understanding (v.5b), not to please themselves (v.8), not to expect reward but to do what was required of them ( v.10). How would anyone choose to do these things without the lessons and the promises of our tradition? Our tradition teaches us that it's necessary to start with the outward and then the inward, when it appears, will find itself affirmed by the outward, as Fox found the Scriptures to affirm his inward experience. Then it will be time to put away childish things - but not until then or we end up with the chaos of the Liberals.  

Comment by Laura Scattergood on 10th mo. 22, 2014 at 3:37pm

Now, this, I understand. Thanks and Amen.

Comment by Jim Wilson on 10th mo. 22, 2014 at 3:58pm

Greetings Patricia:

I second Laura's 'Thanks and Amen.'  My experience of presence ebbs and flows.  And I note that the apostle's also had this ebb and flow of the experience of presence as well.  Paul, in particular, is a guide for me on this matter.  One of the reasons I go to Meeting for Worship regularly is that I find the support of others to be helpful in this regard. 

Tradition is not the enemy of presence, or not inherently its enemy.  Tradition can be the container which holds the presence of the Lord, making it available for others.

 

Comment by Shane Moad on 10th mo. 22, 2014 at 10:16pm
Thanks Patricia for telling us a little about this book. I will now try and get a copy for my family, I knew it was in the works but did not know the progress of it. Thanks again....Shane
Comment by Keith Saylor on 10th mo. 23, 2014 at 9:24am

I'm in Madison Wisconsin this morning and Christ's presence is strong upon me and is with me as I go about the trying circumstance that occasions my visit here. Presence so illuminates conscious and conscience anchoring being so that there is love even in conflict and disagreement. Presence is tradition and replaces outward tradition. In Christ is the Life. Life in Presence is living tradition in every moment and circumstance ... no longer living in ebb and flow.  

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 10th mo. 24, 2014 at 8:29am

Glad you're strongly feeling Christ's Presence, Keith, keeping you whole and at peace within during trying times.

Shane, great that your family is also involved.

Thanks, Laura and Jim!

.

Comment by Adria Gulizia on 10th mo. 26, 2014 at 9:04pm

I thought this book was very good. I especially appreciated the brevity and clarity of the sections, which I think makes this a useful resource for a group study. The suggested readings were also very good. I think that this resource should be in every meeting library. It would also be very useful for individuals in teaching or other leadership roles.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 10th mo. 27, 2014 at 12:16am

In response to Patricia words at the bottom of this message.

In the power of inward Presence, I affirm and bear witness to you, through personal experience, of the continuous Presence and represent the insufficiency of outward forms. It is not true that this is rarely seen. There are many past and present who know Presence in all circumstances of daily live, even the most mundane. I am in Presence even as I write this. But also, when talking with others or walking along the street, or playing chess, or observering wild birds, or upholsteriing a sofa or grieving the loss of a family member. All things are given over to Christ.

The second covenant is here now. It is open to each individual. In the present second covenant, Presence itself is our current help. Living the mystery of a conscious anchored in and a conscience informed by the direct and unmediated Presence, is turning from outward religious forms and practices for help and resting in Presence itself. Presence is sufficient in itself to teach, affirm, admonish, encourage, strengthen, and manifest virtue. Presence does not need outward forms to inculcate itself; it is perfectly able to make itself known without regard to outward teachings, institutions, practices, traditions. As many know through personal experience.

By the power of Christ's inward presence faith was and is increased without my not knowing what to do. I turn to the immediacy of Presence as my guide not outward traditions and practices and I am moved. Presence is my living tradition.

You misrepresent the first Quaker witness. That witness was not to turn to tradition but to turn to Presence itself and then assess outward forms like scripture from the context of Presence; not the other way around.. They turned from their traditions and instead rested in the Presence itself; which angered the various ministers and professors of their time. If there is any tradition to the first Quakers, it is that the Life itself is living Tradition.
By the power of Christ's presence within me I share that living Tradition and affirm the words of Isaac Penington:

"For I also did believe and expect great things in a church-state and way of worship; and in simplicity of heart did I enter into it, and walk in it, and was not without knowledge, warmth, and experiences there. But all this the Lord broke down by a strong hand, in one moment; and hath taught me since to throw away all my gains here, and elsewhere, and to count them but dross and dung, for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord. And having tasted, having seen, having felt, having handled, I cannot but commend the life ; and dissuade all men from all knowledge, all worship, all religion, all ways, and practices (though ever so taking, pleasant, and promising), out of the life. And this is to know Christ; namely, to know the life: and this is to obey Christ, to obey the life: and this is the kingdom of Christ which is to come, to have the life reign in power and great glory. But the knowing or believing of a history concerning Christ, this is not the knowledge or the faith: antichrist all along the apostasy, in all his various forms and dresses, hath known and believed thus: and this kind of knowledge must pass away, further than it can find a place and service in the life. Be not angry at my testimony; it flows from pure love, and comes forth in great good-will to your souls."

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 4th day (Wed)
"If one knew the Presence continuously in one's daily life, then it would be ridiculous to turn instead to other qualifying authorities, such as institutions. But that continuous knowledge is rarely seen. We as a civilization are moving from one situation (1st Covenant) of the lone prophet who with God's direction leads the people (or tries to) to a different situation (2nd Covenant)--a state where we all know the Spirit. We aren't there yet. So, what are we going to do? We need help: lessons, ministry, affirmation that we're getting it right, admonishment when we're getting it wrong, a functioning mind, a healthy conscience, courage, stamina, all the virtues. The tradition helps; that's its purpose. Not to usurp the Presence but to inculcate that the Presence (faith) is something to be sought.

Luke 17:5-10 teaches me that there were others who have wanted their faith increased and didn't know how to do that. Jesus told them that faith was something that was outside their intellectual understanding (v.5b), not to please themselves (v.8), not to expect reward but to do what was required of them ( v.10). How would anyone choose to do these things without the lessons and the promises of our tradition? Our tradition teaches us that it's necessary to start with the outward and then the inward, when it appears, will find itself affirmed by the outward, as Fox found the Scriptures to affirm his inward experience. Then it will be time to put away childish things - but not until then or we end up with the chaos of the Liberal"

Comment by Patricia Dallmann on 10th mo. 27, 2014 at 11:02am

"But the knowing or believing of a history concerning Christ, this is not the knowledge or the faith...and this kind of knowledge must pass away, further than it can find a place and service in the life" (Penington).

The first Friends were not opposed to the tradition of knowing or believing the history concerning Christ, quite the opposite. What they were opposed to was the substitution of the tradition for the living knowledge of Christ, for this was the situation that they encountered in the religious institution. The Penington words that I've italicized show the valid place given to the tradition, which is that the tradition must have "a place and service to the life" and nothing further.

We are in a different situation in Liberal Quakerdom than first Friends found in institutional Christendom of the 17th century. The tradition isn't substituted for the Presence; it's despised and rejected, if it is even known at all. Largely, there's biblical illiteracy as well as ignorance of first Friends understanding.  

When Fox traveled to the colonies in 1672 he met with Native Americans, whom he often found to be very loving and confessing to the truth of what Fox had said. Even though they were knowledgeable of the truth, Fox still thought that they needed to know the tradition; he would arrange for a Friend to read the Scriptures to them (Nickalls, 625-6), or recount the major myths of the tradition:

On the 29th day of the 9th month [Nov.], I went among the Indians. Their young king and others of their chief men were very loving, and received what I said to them. And I showed them how that God made all things in six days, and made but one man and one woman and how that God did drown the old world, because of their wickedness, and so along to Christ, and how that he did die for all and for their sins, and did enlighten them; and if they did do evil he would burn them, and if they did well, they should never be burned (Nickalls, 643).

When Fox was engaging people who didn't know the Scriptures or the Judeo-Christian story, he felt that it was important that they should learn the tradition. On the other hand, when he was dealing with people who knew the tradition and inappropriately used it as an object of veneration that was apart from their inward life, a thing imposed by law, culture, and group pressure, then he worked against that misuse.

Those who know the living spirit of Christ and are in Liberal meetings do not usually find the tradition misused so much as ignored or undermined. For the Liberal, jettisoning the tradition because the Spirit is primary is just a rationale that enables him to ignore checks upon his wandering faithlessness. Setting aside the tradition is not a step forward, as you know it Keith; it is a step backward into lawlessness, emptiness, and idolatry.

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