Our faith as Friends is a radical interpretation of Christianity that understands Christ as being a living reality in personal experience, not only in the Bible and Church tradition. The basic discovery of the Friends movement is - in the words of George Fox, the movement's founder - that "Christ is come to teach his people himself."
We believe that Jesus Christ is present and knowable by every human being, and that the Spirit of God will lead us into all truth if we are faithful in hearing and obeying God's voice in our hearts. Friends believe that all people have the capacity to know the truth in their hearts and to discern the will of God. Furthermore, we believe that not only are we able to know God's will, but that through God's grace we are empowered to do it.
Inward Truth; Outward Faithfulness
We testify to an inward experience of the Spirit of Christ that is available to each individual; but Quakerism is not an individualistic path. Just as the Holy Spirit speaks to us directly as individuals, we also experience Jesus teaching us as a group when we gather with the intention to receive God's will together. We believe that to be fully faithful to God, our individualism will be brought under control and we will be gathered into community that seeks to know and live out the divine will.
We believe that all of life has the potential to be sacramental. That is to say, the reality of God's power and love can be embodied and experienced in every aspect of life. Rather than placing our emphasis on specific days, times, rituals or ceremonies, we place our focus on the possibility of God's presence and action in every moment.
The Social Testimonies
Beyond these convictions that we hold in common, which could be referred to as our "religious testimonies," we also share a number of commitments that could be called our "social testimonies." Of these, the one which Quakers are best known for is the Peace Testimony. We oppose war in all forms, based on our conviction that Christ has commanded us to lay aside our earthly weapons and rely only upon the power of God's love, trusting in God's justice. This conviction goes further than simply denying participation in war: We seek to let our whole lives be expressions of peace in a world that is wracked by conflict and violence.
Another of our testimonies is that of simplicity. We believe that Christ should be the Center and Orderer of our lives, and we seek to let all of our actions, possessions and relationships be in the service of Truth. We seek to lead lives of generosity and moderation, trusting that God has indeed provided for the needs of all, but recognizing that material luxury leads to spiritual deprivation and environmental destruction.
We believe that all people are loved by God and have value based on their relationship with their Creator. We give testimony to the equality we find in Christ: in him, we discover the fundamental brotherhood and sisterhood of all people. We reject titles, honorifics and other social constructions that are designed to elevate individuals based on human standards of prestige. Similarly, we believe that we are to treat everyone with love and respect - including those whom the wider society rejects or deems inferior.
Finally, as we live into an intimate relationship with Jesus, we are convicted that our whole life must be surrendered to him. In our testimony of integrity, we recognize that the Spirit calls us to lead lives of honesty in all our dealings. We are called to be open and authentic, speaking clearly and honestly, and showing consistency between our religious faith and the way that we live.
The form of worship that we practice is based on our experience that if we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, Christ will be present with us and guide us in our worship together. In our meetings for worship, we sit together for approximately an hour, waiting on Jesus in expectant silence. We seek to open ourselves to the Spirit's working in our hearts and pray for Christ's living presence and teaching in our midst. Sometimes, no one speaks during the entire hour. Other times, there may be several messages that God gives us to share. Whether or not there is vocal ministry, there is often a felt sense of the Christ's presence with us.
Our way of making decisions is based on this same expectation that the Holy Spirit will be present with us and guide us as a group. When we meet together to make decisions, we spend a significant amount of time in expectant waiting - just as in Meeting for Worship. Unlike Meeting for Worship, however, we come together with specific questions for God, seeking guidance in our affairs as a community.
In coming to decisions, we do not vote. Instead, we seek the "sense of the Meeting" - the gathered community's discernment of what God's will is for us at a specific time. The wider culture is so used to making decisions by majority rule that many question whether united discernment of God's will is realistic. In our experience, it is. While majority rule tends to (temporarily) sidestep divisions within the community, the Quaker practice of seeking unity forces us to deal with our differences head-on, examining them in Christ's Light.
While this process is often challenging, we have found it preferable to any alternative. Decisions made through majority rule can continue to be debated long after the decision is made. When Friends come to unity, however, we have a sense that God has led us in our discernment. Consequently, decisions made in this manner tend to garner much greater commitment from all involved in the process - even when some of us might have personally preferred that a different choice be made.