Monday, 16 December 2013

Values and principles

Margaret Fell famously reports George Fox as saying:
“You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say?” (1694)
Increasingly today amongst Quakers we don't know what Christ said, and hardly know who the apostles were. Instead, today, we might be told:
“You tell us about the Peace Testimony, and also about testimonies to truth and integrity, equality and simplicity, and even to sustainability, but what can you tell?”
The Britain Yearly Meeting website (, and the associated printed pamphlet, tell us that putting “faith into practice ... arises from an understanding of certain values and principles which are central to the Quaker faith.” , and this under the sub heading 'Our Beliefs'.

So why do we meet in silence, if all we have to do is understand and believe in the testimonies? Are we just having a time of pleasant contemplation on a Sunday morning? Why don't we just join some campaigning group or other that works out these testimonies in practice? Or when all is told are we in fact really just one of these political campaigning groups that happens to add some weird stuff on Sundays?

Our ancestors believed in gods and monsters, and priests and kings. And George Fox told us not to trust in them, but to search for the truth within, the light, the seed. Today we believe in values and principles, rights and ideals. We think that we are enlightened and have found the truth, and have forgotten that the truth can only be found within.

Our testimonies are not values and principles, and certainly not beliefs, but merely 'what we can say' about our lives. Yes there is one truth, which is why what we testify behind our concerns remains essentially the same down the ages, but that truth has to be discovered and worked out for each one of us,  for each and every particular time and place, and for each and every concern. And it is this discovery that we witness to in our lives, not idealistic principles. This is why we wait in silence, expectantly believing that the truth is there to be found. This is all that we need to believe as Quakers – that the light is within, that the seed will grow.

The rest is commentary - go and wait in the silence.


Unknown said...

While I take your point and agree, isn't this just potayto, potahto? Can't what we say about our lives regarding peace be called our peace testimony without being in danger of losing sight of the necessity for grace? I'm just a bit worried that we're spending a bit too much time worrying about terms rather than sharing our experience of the light. If we're interested in sharing those stories, lets hear some more of them.

Craig Barnett said...

Thank you Gordon, for this excellent post. I believe that it is important to reflect on and clarify the meaning of our language about testimony, because it is a fundamental part of Quaker spirituality. Also, the way that testimonies currently tend to be interpreted within Liberal Quakerism (ie as abstract principles that we are supposed to believe in and try to live up to) is spiritually misleading and unhelpful. It is important to reclaim the Quaker insight that testimony is a matter of witnessing to the insight that arises from our experience of Worship and discernment.
In Friendship,