Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Quakers started 350 years ago as a loosely-form group. They studied the New Testament as a model for behavior and to understand how a Christian community might organize, but a lot of things they found out by trial and error. There were embarrassments, but over time, they started learning techniques.
Their goal was to live a life in holy obedience to divine will, to listen to that Inward Christ and to follow it as individuals and as communities. They found there are certain techniques that are helpful, but also certain practices that keep us from that goal. They started coming up with a "wiki" about them.
Backtrack to 21st Century: Wikipedia is an online, collaboratively-edited encyclopedia. Someone comes along, decides they know something about a topic that no one's written about, and they write about. Someone comes along later and adds to it. People start getting into debates and edits are made. When the process works, the result is an article that's better than any one person could have created. Wikipedia entries are often better than single-edited pieces you'll find in traditional encyclopedias.
The Quaker testimonies are a type of wiki. As Friends discovered what worked and didn't work they started writing them down as minutes in yearly meeting sessions. Minute: Drinking makes it hard to discern God's will. Minute: Slavery erodes the soul of the slave owner committing horrible acts against fellow humans. You can almost see Quakers writing their wiki as they wrote, published and sent these minutes off to the different corners of the Quaker world (and later compiled them into books of "Discipline" or "Faith and Practice"). These testimonies tended to be very specific warnings about things that keep us from discerning the will of God.
In the 20th Century we're all positive thinkers and the testimonies started shifting. Howard Brinton, a giant among 20th Century American Friends, tried to come up with an easy way of describing Quakerism and summarized the testimonies. I've been told he wasn't trying to rewrite or superceded the classic testimonies, but his overarching categories have become seen as the testimonies themselves: simplicity, peace, integrity, community, equality. Together they are known as the "SPICE" testimonies.
The problem with SPICE is that they're so feel-goody that everyone likes them. There is no one outside the SPICE testimonies. A President sending us to war claims it's for the greater peace, and Walmart goes all soft-focus in its commericials telling us that it's acres of Chinese plastic is the hub of our hometown community.
Modern Quaker testimonies don't say that certain acts are wrong. We've lost the ability to point to bad behavior and to say "this behavior is not in the way of Friends." There are ways we can act that hinder our ability to discern what God wants us to do and ways we can act that disrupt our meeting community. The testimonies started as practical and useful guides--common sense tips for living in community. So take out some of the old books and check out some of the old testimonies because you just might find they have some life in them.