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Source: (consider it) Thread: Quakers and The Inner (Inward) Light
WearyPilgrim
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Among the books in my library that deal with spirituality, the Christian life and such, I have quite a few that were written by Quakers --- Rufus Jones, Thomas Kelly, Richard Foster among them. I've found all of them to be meaty, helpful and thought-provoking. I have two reservations about Quaker theology, however: one, its dismissal of the sacraments; two, the idea of the Inner (or Inward) Light, as first promulgated by the founder of the sect, George Fox. While Fox believed that the Bible is a reliable guide to God and to Christ, he believed that God's self-revelation is not limited to Scripture but that God's light and truth can be, and is, directly revealed to the individual --- what's more, that that light is intrinsic within us. Every person is born with it, as Christ is the true light who enlightens everyone (a very universalistic understanding of John 1:9). Every person who follows this Inner Light is saved, regardless of his/her particular religious beliefs.

Being something of a classical Christian universalist, I'd like to believe this. But it seems to me that on the surface, at least, it flies in the face of the New Testament teaching that Christ's light is imparted to us from without, through the Holy Spirit --- it's not something like a pilot light that is automatically built in. I struggle with the exclusivity of John 14:6,15-17, but I'm not sure that this Inner Light concept really provides an adequate response.

What think the rest of you?

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sabine
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Of course, a religion that feels that God's revelation can be imparted directly as well as being found in scripture might have a traditional way of looking at things that is a bit outside the common understanding of Inner Light.

Friends also refer to it as "that of God in everyone."

Typcally, Friends also don't spend a lot of time talking about who is saved and who is not. That's known only to God.

sabine

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mr cheesy
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quote:
Originally posted by sabine:

Typcally, Friends also don't spend a lot of time talking about who is saved and who is not. That's known only to God.

True, but the early Quakers like Fox and Penn wrote large books which covered much of this ground.

Penn's book No Cross, No Crown has some pretty novel and eye-opening ideas about who were the real Christians and what true Christianity looked like.

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sabine
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I think you might be assuming a level of authority of written works over revelation that may not be held by all Quakers.

sabine

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"Hunger looks like the man that hunger is killing." Eduardo Galeano

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Schroedinger's cat

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What I have found from the last 9 months or so with the Quakers is that the meetings and activities are about helping people grow in their spirituality, whatever and however that is. It is about growth and progress, not goals. Wherever you are, the group and the meetings are about helping direct your thoughts to the right way. I don't know or care where people are, if they find something that is positive and good for them where they are.

OK, as an evangelical, this might seem odd, but I have always been in support of people finding their journey and their path, not of having one defined for them. So it fits fine with this.

As for the sacraments, I was an Anglican for many years, so I do understand the importance of them for some people. But I don't miss them. If I want something, I can find an Anglican church and attend, but what I experience in the meetings is its own sort of sacrament. It is a meeting with meaning, it is something that is made more by the presence of each person, and of the divine (however you understand that). And it is a pointer to something bigger - the simplicity that we all share, with all of our differences.

Having said all of that, I have "outgrown" the traditional church, so I need something that is different, something that is not the standard fare. I find the Quakers provide a place for this. Others may need or desire something else in their faith meetings, and so may not find them as fitting.

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Penny S
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We don't, any of us, get to contact the Holy Spirit via the external sign of tongues of fire, or descending doves, but only through the inward sense of the Spirit's presence, whatever sort of worship that happens in.

And it is not an abandonment of sacrament, but an extension of the sacramental to all of life, is it not? Rather difficult to achieve, I will admit, easy to forget, especially when solitary.

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Gamaliel
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I've known a few Quakers and attended a few meetings, and I think I 'get' it ... But part of me wonders whether there's a kind of intrinsic 'holier than thou' aspect to it alongside the inclusivity ...

'We are Friends, we have "outgrown" those other more conventional and heirarchal forms of religion with their paid clergy and external forms ...'

That said, I do think the Quakers are genuinely out to find and discern 'thst of God in everyone.'

I've heard Quakers speak warmly of their encounters with RC contemplative prayer, for instance, and, conversely, I once heard an Orthodox priest observe how he felt some Quaker visitors 'got' what his service was all about in a way that visitors from other traditions didn't necessarily do to the same extent.

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Zappa
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I must say, after my bruising journey of the last twelve months, I am finding the attraction to Quakers very strong.

I think were I to act on it I would stay involved in the muddling, puddling, chaotic but with oh so much integrity anglican church I have adopted since my dismissal, so that I still have a weekly(ish) Birth of the Incarnation™ in my outstretched hands, but had the Quaker meetings as an adjunct to that, as a place for my own inner pilgrimage of thought and faith.

[ 24. January 2017, 19:36: Message edited by: Zappa ]

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Schroedinger's cat

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I didn't mean "outgrown" in a critical sense - that is why I put it in quotes. I am not being superior (or not intending to be).

I can't speak for others, but for me it is not about being "better", it is just an acknowledgement of it being "different", and so it works for me, and not for others.

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Gamaliel
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Sure, I get that - I was thinking aloud rather than drawing definite conclusions or making value judgements - and it's certainly not as if I'm beyond being critical or judgemental when it comes to forms of spirituality I've 'outgrown' as it were ...

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Let us with a gladsome mind
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http://philthebard.blogspot.com

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Sarah G
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There has been something of a journey from George Fox to modern Quakerism, so I would be wary of taking what the founders wrote as being the viewpoint today.

Advices and Queries is about as close to a statement of where Friends are as anything.

I find it very refreshing to dip back into meeting every now and then.

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by WearyPilgrim:
I have two reservations about Quaker theology [...]: one, its dismissal of the sacraments; two, the idea of the Inner (or Inward) Light, as first promulgated by the founder of the sect, George Fox. While Fox believed that the Bible is a reliable guide to God and to Christ, he believed that God's self-revelation is not limited to Scripture but that God's light and truth can be, and is, directly revealed to the individual --- what's more, that that light is intrinsic within us. Every person is born with it, as Christ is the true light who enlightens everyone (a very universalistic understanding of John 1:9). Every person who follows this Inner Light is saved, regardless of his/her particular religious beliefs.

Being something of a classical Christian universalist, I'd like to believe this. But it seems to me that on the surface, at least, it flies in the face of the New Testament teaching that Christ's light is imparted to us from without, through the Holy Spirit.

I know relatively little about the Quakers, but I am aware that their beliefs vary dramatically across the world.

British Quakerism is no longer taken to be a
primarily Christian movement, so I suppose many of its members will be unconcerned with what the NT has to say about the Holy Spirit.

I'd be interested to know how 'evangelical' Quakers in, say, parts of Africa, envision the Inner Light, and whether they try to model their understanding on a reading of the Bible.

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Galloping Granny
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Quietness as in retreat can be a valuable tool in a personal faith journey.

Quietness as in a Friends’ meeting has a different quality – it is a help in moving the people both individually and as a whole.

I haven’t been to Meeting for years because there is always a need to be in my own home congregation. But when I lunched with a group of Friends much of the conversation was about a prisoner that they were supporting, and planning for his release. No, I wasn’t left out; it was a conversation that needed to take place and I understood that it’s the sort of thing that Friends do.

My friends who have become repelled by our national Assembly’s attitude to issues such as sexuality have in some cases left and taken refuge with the Quakers. I’m happy to stay in a loving congregation that ‘follows Jesus rather than worshipping Christ’ and that still finds wisdom in the Bible among the myths of our forefathers, without pushing traditional doctrines.

GG

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Huia
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GG, the fact that I am also part of a loving congregation is about the only thing that keeps me from visiting the Quakers too. I remember years ago in Wellington they used to have a mid-week Meeting that I attended for a while. If the local Quakers had a Meeting that didn't clash with my regular church attendance I would go.

The thing I would miss most, apart from the people. would be the music.

Huia

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Penny S
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I'm not sure where the idea that Quakers are not concerned with the Holy Spirit, or are not, in Britain, a primarily Christian movement comes from. (I have met Friends who, as refugees from particular forms of primarily Christian churches, were reluctant to consider the name applying to them, but that isn't general. I wasspecifically asked about my attitude to Christ when I was visited prior to becoming accepted as a member.)

I have met the idea expressed with shock by a colleague's family who believed that Quakers did not believe in the Holy Spirit, and were concerned for my salvation. Since I had felt myself to be waiting upon that Spirit in Meeting, i found this an odd position for anyone to take.

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sabine
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This Friend speaks my.mind. Rumors have a way of getting started and then repeated, esp. by people who haven't spent considerable time among the group being rumored about or by people who are using their own definitions and may not realize that another definition could be in place.


Perspective counts when it come to inter faith understanding.

sabine

[ 25. January 2017, 15:43: Message edited by: sabine ]

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by Penny S:
I'm not sure where the idea that Quakers are not concerned with the Holy Spirit, or are not, in Britain, a primarily Christian movement comes from.

I've googled this to make sure, and my understanding is that some but not all British Quakers would identify as Christians; and not all believe in God. Moreover, neither of these things is expected or required in modern British Quakerism.

This being the case, it's hard to argue that Quakerism is a 'Christian movement' now. I read that many Quakers now say the movement has its 'roots' in Christianity, which is a somewhat different thing.

I admit, I don't understand how an atheist, or a non-Christian theist, would relate to the biblical concept of the Holy Spirit, but maybe it is possible.

Having said all that, I'm guessing that a good proportion of recent growth in the movement is due to new members coming in from Christian backgrounds. It would be interesting to see if there's been any research on the subject.

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sabine
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quote:
Originally posted by SvitlanaV2:

I admit, I don't understand how an atheist, or a non-Christian theist, would relate to the biblical concept of the Holy Spirit, but maybe it is possible.

I'm a nonchristian Friend. I'm not sure how I relate to many biblical definitions. Like many Friends, I rely on personal revelation and the possibility of ongoing growth and/or change in that revelation. Many of my Christo centruc Friends have a similar unsterdaing, but with a different outcome.

It's possible that the Holy Spirit will someday lead me in a different direction.

sabine

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"Hunger looks like the man that hunger is killing." Eduardo Galeano

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Schroedinger's cat

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I am quite astounded at the idea that Quakerism isn't Christian, or that we don't accept the Holy Spirit.

I would hope that all churches would accept people who don't profess the Christian faith. We are all there to learn and grow, and maybe we see this as a continuum more than some others (some see it as a simple black and white). So I don't actually see we are that different from the range of Anglicanism.

And yes, the Holy Spirit - although we might not use that terminology - is what inspires us to speak (or not to). Maybe the fact that we use it in a way that is normal and not "Charismatic" means that we don't feel we have to have a theology to define it.

So yes, Christian and Spiritual. Very much so. And I am not being superior about it, but maybe we just try to get on with things, not Organising them. Maybe we have been doing things in the same way for such a long time, we have given up talking about them. Maybe we should talk more.

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Penny S
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Thank you, sabine. That contribution came in quite the same way that it would have in Meeting, developing my thought where I had not been able to go.

And since Churches Together in Britain and Ireland has found the Religious Society of Friends to fulfil the criteria for membership, I don't think the Quakers can be argued to be outside the Christian tent, whatever individuals may feel.

[ 25. January 2017, 19:59: Message edited by: Penny S ]

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SvitlanaV2
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quote:
Originally posted by Schroedinger's cat:
I am quite astounded at the idea that Quakerism isn't Christian, or that we don't accept the Holy Spirit.

I would hope that all churches would accept people who don't profess the Christian faith.

Other churches refer to 'belonging before believing', with a hope that newcomers will evantually come to 'faith'. But Quakerism isn't necessarily guiding people towards a specifically Christian way of 'believing', is it? Maybe there are individual Quaker meetings that uphold this as their goal, but it's not considered essential in all meetings, AFAIUI.

BTW, I wasn't talking about 'accepting' people into the church so much as nonbelievers being able to enter into membership. This issue was discussed at the Methodist Conference quite a few years ago. Membership usually confers particular responsibilities upon churchgoers. Entering into membership also requires individuals to assent to the formal, orthodox beliefs of the denomination. (I don't know what membership means in British Quakerism.)

Nowadays, this assumption of orthodoxy is really an expectation of outward conformity to an institution's cultural norms, since our churches are heavily pluralistic when it comes to actual beliefs. So yes, perhaps the term 'Christian' can be applied to all sort of beliefs you might come across in a historically religious British setting. And Quakerism is certainly a historically British movement.

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PaulTH*
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quote:
Originally posted by Penny S:
And it is not an abandonment of sacrament, but an extension of the sacramental to all of life, is it not? Rather difficult to achieve, I will admit, easy to forget, especially when solitary.

From 1999 to 2000 I spent quite a lot of time with the Quakers. As someone with a strong hostility to anyone who tells me I must believe their doctrine, I found it ideal. The Inner Light which lightens all men (humanity) as described in John 1, can lead us to a direct revelation of God, subjective as is any mystical experience. And the expansion of sacramental life into each moment of our existence is no loss of sacrament, but a truer understanding of what sacrament is meant to be. So why didn't I stay?

In the end I don't feel I was ready for the very deep spirituality which is at the heart of true Quakerism. Worshipping with hymns, sermons and the Sacrament of Holy Communion does more to make me feel close to God than just sitting in silence, though I often do that in churches. This is not to say that Quakers are generally advanced mystics who are more spiritual than the rest of us. They really aren't. It's just to say that, for those who feel able to embrace it, the Inner Light can be a mystical path. I often wonder if I will ever return to the Friends. I'm no more wedded to dogma than I was then, but I still feel the divine presence at the Altar where the veil between heaven and earth is at its thinnest.

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ExclamationMark
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quote:
Originally posted by Penny S:
Thank you, sabine. That contribution came in quite the same way that it would have in Meeting, developing my thought where I had not been able to go.

And since Churches Together in Britain and Ireland has found the Religious Society of Friends to fulfil the criteria for membership, I don't think the Quakers can be argued to be outside the Christian tent, whatever individuals may feel.

The acceptance by CTE is a puzzle. A belief in a Trinitarian Godhead and the uniqueness of Christ in salvation is certainly implicit - this doesn't square with the beliefs of some individual Quakers or some Quaker Congregations. Quakers used to be observers rather than "members."

One CTE group changed their statement of faith to accommodate the Quakers to include witness "in the Spirit of Christ." This was rather frowned on by CTE.

A number of Quakers I've met in the UK would say the same as Sabine (ie they are non Christian friends), others would struggle with the concept of Christ being the only way to Salvation.

The "inner light" isn't restricted to Quakers. Many people will claim some kind of spiritual revelation in that way but is it exclusively Christian?

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quetzalcoatl
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I think Svitlana has indicated how British Quakerism is not Christian by definition. An old Sufi friend of mine used to go, and used to befriend Buddhists and atheists.

I don't know if this is unusual in world Quakerism. I suppose once you accept a kind of inner light, this tends to spread across religions, and beyond them.

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WearyPilgrim
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quote:
The "inner light" isn't restricted to Quakers. Many people will claim some kind of spiritual revelation in that way but is it exclusively Christian? [/QB]
That question is a large part of what I was getting at.
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