Last year, I became acquainted with Quakerism. I thought Quakers peddled new age, oatmeal mysticism. I was surprised to learn of their deeply Christian origins. I began to read the writings of George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement. Next, I moved on to An Apology for the True Christian Divinity by Robert Barclay (1675). Barclay and Fox were friends. An Apology is the earliest systematic presentation of Quaker beliefs, presented in 15 propositions:
Proposition I: Knowing God is most necessary and is eternal life (John 17:3).
Propositions II and III: “[T]he testimony of the Spirit is that alone by which the true knowledge of God hath been, is, and can be only revealed.” These propositions will make some uncomfortable. Barclay puts the Spirit’s revelation above scripture. The Spirit will never reveal anything contradictory to scripture. But a person can’t understand scripture or God without inner revelation. One supportive text is John 5:39–“You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me. And you are not willing to come to Me so that you may have life.” The scriptures themselves, Barclay argues, direct us to Jesus, our Teacher.
Propositions IV-VI: All people are fallen and “subject unto the power, nature, and seed of the serpent, which he soweth in men’s hearts.” God’s seed is mixed with the devil’s in everyone. God’s seed can potentially save each person. If God’s seed remains undeveloped that person won’t experience/receive salvation. Protestants generally see people as devoid of salvific potential until the gospel is presented.
Proposition VII: Many distinguish between justification and sanctification. Justification means we are declared righteous by Christ’s death and resurrection. Sanctification is the process by which we become Christ-like. Quakers don’t distinguish between justification and sanctification. They deny that man can save himself by works. But justification isn’t merely being declared righteous by Christ’s death; it is being made righteous by the working of Christ within. Protestants believe salvation produces good works, though we aren’t saved by works. Quakers end up at essentially the same place but describe it differently.
Proposition VIII: Believers are perfect in Christ and can walk in that perfection as they cooperate with Christ’s seed within. Still, Christians are never beyond temptation and sin if they cooperate with the sinful nature.
Proposition IX: God’s seed within can save us if cooperated with and developed. Non-Christians can resist this seed unto condemnation. Christians can resist God’s seed and fall away. Nevertheless, Barclay grants that “such an increase and stability in the truth may in this life be attained, from which there can be no total apostacy.”
Proposition X: The authority and ability to be a minister comes from the Spirit’s revelation and power within. Moreover, “they who want the authority of this divine gift, however learned, or authorized by the commission of men and churches, are to be esteemed but as deceivers, and not true ministers of the gospel.”
Proposition XI: Quakers are known for silent meetings. Originally, silence wasn’t their goal. Quakers believed that worship should proceed from God’s Spirit. Instead of following a prescribed order of service, they waited corporately for the Spirit’s direction. If the Spirit prompted someone to speak, sing, or minister in some way, they would. If no one sensed direction from the Spirit, they would wait silently on the Lord.
Proposition XII: Participation in Christ’s death and resurrection is the believer’s true baptism. Outward ceremonies, whether sprinkling or dunking in water, are unnecessary.
Proposition XIII: Communion is inward and spiritual, not in outward ceremonies like the eucharist. Barclay says if believers observe communion ceremonies sincerely, the Lord will indulge them until they grow out of such elements.
Proposition XIV: Governments have no authority or ability to judge matters of conscience or the spirit. God alone can judge and correct individuals on these issues.
Proposition XV: Quakers found the following unbiblical: swearing oaths, removing/tipping the hat in deference, honorific titles, games and amusements, music (other than for worship), and theater. Violence and warfare are also forbidden to Christians (even, in most cases, for self-defense). Barclay is open to the possibility that governments may need to wage war but only under Christian rulers led by God. Most war is undertaken by godless people for selfish gain and vainglory.
Much of Quakerism is spiritually nurturing–especially their emphases on Christ within and on the spiritual over the outward. Most convictions in proposition 15 seemed legalistic. But had I lived in the 1600’s, I may have felt differently. If you have even a passing interest in Quakers, I would urge you to read earlier authors such as Fox, Barclay, or William Penn. Later Quakers drifted from the mooring of Christ into unspiritual imaginations.