Consensus Statement from A Seminar in Quaker Theology

First Month (January) 12-14, 2001, State College, Pennsylvania

[NOTE: Seminar participants worked in small groups an various theological issues, and produced brief statements which expressed their present convictions. These statements, which met with a broad degree of agreement, have been combined here as a “consensus document.” This is a provisional, working statement, useful for further discussion and study, and is not to be confused with dogma or any kind of creedal declaration.]

Friends do not have the total truth of God. We are a holy experiment in search of that truth. Although comprehension of God seems beyond our grasp, we believe that search is not futile. God is. Through corporate worship, communication with other seekers, and individual devotion to the truth that is, God can be known.

Our experiences with other people and encounters with other traditions lead us to believe that human beings are born with the love of God for each of us in us, connecting us with each other and with God. This is the source of our spiritual journey and search for meaning in life. Our capacity for choice can allow us to turn away from that of God in us and in other people, leading to the evil that exists in the world today. It is our belief, however, that acts of human love have lasting good effects, no matter how they are initially received.

Speaking as Friends together, we were unable to find unity with the ways of speaking of incarnation and Jesus that follows. We agreed, however, that attempts of this kind to speak of our life, our knowledge of God and our practices of faith are timely and helpful and recommend the following for Friends’ consideration and to serve as impetus to further thought:

Once humankind knew and loved and were taught and healed by a man in whom they came to know and experience God. In later attempts to say who Jesus of Nazareth was, it was said after great struggle, he was fully human and fully divine. Light was recognized as coming into the world as a person, to the surprise of many. Over the centuries people have known this same incarnation (the unity of God and people) in many people’s lives and in special events. Such a divine presence is also known in nature. We recall as an example of a special event Margaret Fell’s reaction to a hanging. She was witnessing with such agony and with such empathy and spiritual depth that the hanging was stopped.

We are called to live our lives in the fullness of the divine in the person in our lives, in events great and small. It may be the simplest act of kindness. We seek to live the practice as the message as we are inwardly led. Quakerism is a way to walk, seeking continual inner guidance to let our lives speak.

The Quaker message of putting our faith into practice is evidenced in all of our life, corporately and as individuals. Friends endeavor to spread the message among themselves and the world by letting our actions speak of the guidance from divine power.

The basis of our organization is to provide an environment in which the seed of the divine in each individual will be supported to grow in its uniqueness. Silent worship is our means of discerning the divine will. We accept and welcome a wide variety of beliefs. We organize to encourage and support the personal and corporate missions of our members, guided by the Spirit.

When considering the order and structure of our religious organization we hold in mind words of the Apostle:

CO1 12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. :13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit. :14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. :15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. :16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. :17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? :18 But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. :19 If all were a single organ, where would the body be? :20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. :21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” :22 On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, :23 and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, :24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, :25 that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. :26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. :27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. :29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? :30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? :31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. ( RSV )

We have dropped verse 28 because it might be interpreted as implying ranking. {:28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.}

Love and awareness of the divine are the beginning of our theology. The function of our religious community is to inform our experience of God. The community experience of God should serve to comfort individuals but also strengthen them and increase their awareness of their own ability to face adversity and challenge.

We do not oppose a comfortable Meeting – only a state of comfort that prevents the growth of the Meeting and that rejects any discomfort or limits our experience of God.

If a Meeting adopts a parental model, it will limit individual maturity. A full Meeting experience helps the individual negotiate the experience of God and (quoting Barclay) “greatly augments the light.” A whole religious society provides clarity to our individual experience in light of our experience of God.

Every individual in a Meeting is responsible for the good order, comfort and joyous condition of the Meeting. The ecclesiology or body of knowledge of our Meetings can aid us in these pursuits.

Leave a comment