Why Don’t I Know Much About Quakerism?
From “Some Quaker FAQs — For New & Curious Friends”
Recently a young Friend told me about a church, which I’ll call New Covenant Temple, that’s not far from her house. The young Friend had schoolmates who went there, and they had invited her to visit.
She also said they’ve been asking about what Quakers believe, and how that might be different from what they believe there, or what other churches like them believe. But she had trouble answering.
I looked around, and didn’t find anything to help her cope with these questions that was short and focused, and meant for younger or newer Quakers like her.
So I wrote this booklet, “Some Quaker FAQs.” I believe it can help Friends like her handle such questions. Of course, it’s just a beginning in learning about Quakerism, and the Bible, and Jesus. And the views here are mine, and unofficial. At the end there’s a list of more books to follow up with if you like.
I’ll start with one important question she asked:
Q. Why Don’t I Know Much About Quakerism – Or Other Churches?
Good question! She’s taken part in lots of Quaker activities, but not in anything like a “class” on Quakerism and its beliefs. I don’t think there’s been any such class for her to take. (There are several kinds of Quakers, and she was raised among what are called “Liberal (or Progressive) Quakers.” But this is true for most other kinds as well.
And two, she hasn’t been taught much about other churches and what they believe and do either.
If you think about it, the answer to the question is pretty obvious: not having been taught much about these two things is bound to make it hard to explain Quakers, or figure out how they’re like – or different from – other groups.
Frankly, I think young and new Friends are not well served by the lack of such “Quaker education.” If Quakers don’t teach Quakers about Quakerism, who will?
And as she’s noticing, churches and religion are important to people around her. So it’s a good idea to get familiar enough to be able to explain your group, and understand at least a little about others.
I’d like to start filling in some of these gaps of information here, at least about Quakers.
Partly I’ll do it by talking about New Covenant Temple, what they believe and do, and comparing it to Progressive Quaker ideas.
How do I know about New Covenant Temple, since I’ve never been there? Simple: I did some detective work.
Nothing sneaky. I started with Google – what else?? New Covenant Temple has a big website, and I looked it up. And then I looked up some other similar church websites.
Also I did some study. I don’t mean just now – I’ve been studying religions for many years. So I could fit what I learned about New Covenant Temple into a much bigger picture – because that church is a lot like many other churches, but with its own style and set of beliefs.
So, where to start?
First, a bit about what they do at New Covenant Temple. It seems they want to make going to church a lot like going to a concert or a party – plenty of music and singing, and talking in small groups. They also do a lot of preaching.
All of this has a goal. That goal is to convert people to their particular religious beliefs, especially about God, Jesus, and the Bible.
Q. Where can I find out what other churches believe?
New Covenant; like most churches, has a “Statement of Belief,” or a Creed, and it’s on their website. It’s similar to many others. We’ll use that one as a guide. We’ll jump right in, with God, Jesus and the Bible.
Q. What Is God Like, In The Bible?
At New Covenant their sermons mainly use stories and passages from the Bible. These Bible stories are presented in the way the preachers there understand them, that is, how they interpret them.
Interpretation is a big part of talking about or studying the Bible. And interpretations vary widely. We’ll have to talk about that some more later. But here’s one example:
In the Bible, is God peaceful? Or is God warlike?
Well, in some stories it says that God is a “man of war” (Ex 15:3 ). In other places it insists that “our god is a god of peace” (Romans 15:33; 1 Cor 14:33).
Some people think the war God is the real one, others that the peaceful God is more true; some would even say both.
Who’s right? How can this variety be sorted out? That’s interpretation.
One Progressive Quaker principle is that, bottom line, it’s up to YOU and ME to answer these Bible questions, and other religious questions. Sure, we can & should learn a lot from books and other people. But no preacher, no bishop, no pope can replace your own study and thinking and “leadings.” For that matter, the same goes for interpreting the Bible itself.
You haven’t been taught much about the Bible; few young Quakers really have. But at New Covenant Temple, and most other Christian churches, it’s a big deal.
Q. Okay, What About The Bible?
Here’s what New Covenant Temple’s website says is their “official” view of it:
The Bible: We believe the Bible was written by authors through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and is the inspired word of God. It is the TRUTH without error and our complete source for Christian living. II Timothy 3:16,17
(The part at the end, “II Timothy 3:16,17” refers to a particular short passage, or verse, in one part of the Bible.)
So talking with people from such churches, we’ll likely be getting a lot of questions that include the phrase, “But the Bible says . . . .”
But wait: if something is “written in the Bible,” does that automatically make it true, or right?
It will be better if you can answer such questions based on your own study of the Bible. But it’s also a fair answer for a Progressive Quaker to say, “Suppose the Bible does say such and such. So what? For our kind of Quakers, we learn from the Bible, but the Bible is not the whole ‘TRUTH’ without any errors. It’s not the ‘complete source’ for our religion. It is not a substitute for God or the Inner Light or the Spirit for us.”
(Be advised, such an answer might shock some people. You might get a reply like, “But if you don’t believe in the Bible as all true, you’re going to burn in hell.” We’ll talk a little further on about this
“burning in hell” idea. But don’t let it scare you.)
On the other hand, some folks at these churches might even agree with you about the Bible, because they think it’s more important what you think or believe about Jesus than what you think about the Bible. . . .
Q. What About Jesus?
This post is adapted from the booklet, Some Quaker FAQs, by Chuck Fager. More information about it is here.