How does one explain the nature of reality according to the Society of Friends? After all, early Friends didn't think much of theological abstractions or obtuse dogma. Unlike the Puritan/Reformed or the Catholics who wrote volumes and long tomes on theoretical topics such as God's sovereignty, election, and hidden decrees, the Trinity, the Atonement, original sin, the nature of Christ, etc., Quakers most often wrote practical exhortations, ethical warnings, prophecies, and spiritual journals. They did so partially, because at heart, the Society of Friends was and is a deep movement of spiritual experience of God, not abstract analysis or theoretical explanation.
Ultimate Reality is seen relationally and intimately, not primarily intellectually. After all who can know the mind of God? How can we the finite know the Infinite except by the Spirit, by personal transcendental experience?
Secondly, Friends saw from day to day that professing creedal Christians who focused on theology and dogma didn't often practice basic human virtues, let alone the ethical truths of the Spirit--peace, compassion, patience, purity, and joy. On the contrary, the professors of Christianity were hypocritical and intolerant; their leaders used their clerical office for greedy gain, to oppress others, even to slaughter their own neighbors in the name of Jesus Christ.
For the Friends there was no good news in the religions they saw around them. George Fox when searching for God despaired of finding any succor. "But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those esteemed the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then, oh, then, I heard a voice which said, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition"; and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy. Then the Lord let me see why there was none upon the earth that could speak to my condition, namely, that I might give Him all the glory; for all are concluded under sin, and shut up in unbelief as I had been, that Jesus Christ might have the pre-eminence who enlightens, and gives grace, and faith, and power. Thus when God doth work, who shall let it? And this I knew experimentally.
When it comes to intellectual knowing, there is some truth in a poem I wrote "Less Is More":
I knew so much
So I thought
But the less time
The less I know
By the time of my death
I will know nothing
But will be known
By God who knows all
from Western Friend
Our Pacific Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice says, "The Quaker way emphasizes experience over religious belief or doctrine. It is difficult to capture the essence of that experience in words. Yet every Faith and Practice attempts to do that very thing...The religious practices of Friends are founded in direct communion with God and the conviction that the Divine Light is accessible to each person; Yet it is one Light, one Truth. We wait with hearts and minds open to the Divine so that Truth will be made known among us.
Key Truths Friends Have Experienced:
#1 God is love and desires all humans to come to the Truth.
John 15: 12-15 The son of man says, "Love each other as I have loved you.. I call you friends because I have made known to you everything I heard from my Father."
#2 Truth is primarily relational.
from PYM's F.&P. "Truth is tested, not by the degree to which it conforms to dogma, but by its power to transform our lives and the lives of others."
#3 Truth starts within us and moves outward.
"All life is sacred." PYM
"True religion consisted in an inward life, wherein the heart does love and reverence God the Creator, and learns to exercise true justice and goodness...I found no narrowness respecting sects and opinions, but believed that sincere, upright-hearted people, in every society, who truly love God, were accepted of him."
#4 True faith creates within us Life contrary to the "world."
#5 Worship is expectant openness to the Divine--beyond forms and rituals, is sometimes hindered by forms and rituals, especially if the latter are done by rote rather than a Divine encounter.
#6 True values are not relative customs according to time and place and culture, but are eternally true and come from the inner essence of God. From God's Spirit come Equality, Honesty, Purity, Community, Peace, Love, Justice, Mercy, Humbleness, Simplicity, Kindness, Expectant Silence, Temperance, Goodness, and Joy.
#7 Individual leadings should be brought before the Body for corporate discernment.
#8 Worship leads to service.
There is an old Quaker joke about a stranger who came into a Quaker meeting. Nothing was happening, so the man leaned over and asked one of the Friends, "When is the service going to start?"
The Friend whispered back, "The service will start outside after the end of worship."
#8 There is no professional clergy. All Friends are active ministers of various kinds.
#9 Scripture is interpreted by the Spirit within the gathered body of the faithful.
"...tell them in the name of God that there is to be no wrangling about words: all that this ever achieves is the destruction of those who are listening." 2 Timothy 2:14 NJB
#10 Receiving love from the Light within the community of the faithful leads to the living out of testimonies among all humans and in nature.
All Friends may not hold to every one of these key truths, but most have in the 360 years of the society's existence.
To be continued