As a Quaker, what is the function of the scriptures to your faith?

I have found it very interesting to read the various different takes on what part the scriptures play in the lives of Quakers.  How do you see their importance.  Are the scriptures an account of God's relationship with man and His people?  Are they meant as a guideline? An anchor?  Do you follow them loosely or literally?  Are they to be read as a discipline of our faith or as an occasional uplifting help causing us to pause and think of God?

Please feel free to share exactly what you believe, I am sure we can all gain understanding from each others experience.

One note, let us please express in love.  Share what you believe and do not be tempted to unkind words towards others. I can't wait to see your comments!

When there are many comments, I will then post my final thoughts on the issue.

Peace to all,

Nanna Kapp

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I guess I am following along the lines of what Martin wrote as to what Quaker-Quaker means he wrote:

'Many people now join Friends because it's the religion without a religion, i.e., it's a community with the form of a religion but without any theology or expectations. We are a proud to be a community of seekers. Our commonality is in our form and we're big on silence and meeting process. Is it any wonder that almost everyone today seems to be a hyphenated Quaker? If we became a religious society of Finders, then we'd need to figure out what it means to be a Quaker-Quaker: someone who's theology and practice is Quaker.

(which practice includes scripture as foundational)

For myself, I am in this later group. I spent years, and years as a seeker. When I found original Quakerism with it's theology and practice I knew it to be true Quakerism and that my beliefs were the same.

Peace to you,

Nanna Kapp
I also find the Scriptures basic, but not because Fox did. I came to Friends first because of John Woolman's writings, and I became a member because of the deep worship, the faithful lives and the blend of support and challenge that I experienced at Portland (ME) Friends Meeting. There are parts of Fox's writing that speak to me and parts that just gall me.

I love this, "I became a member because of the deep worship, the faithful lives and the blend of support and challenge that I experienced"
Good Friend Joanna:

I think what is at issue here is the context of Quaker practice. In 17th century England the religious context for everyone was Christianity. Because of this early Quakers such as Fox could count on everyone having that background and assuming that context. I have found it helpful to realize that at that time there was no minority religious community in England, not even a Jewish community. Disagreements among the various religious groups were all within an assumed Christian context. Silent waiting took place, therefore, within an assumed Christian and Biblical placement.

Our culture has changed; one can no longer assume a Christian context in the culture at large. I, for example, was raised in a secular household with almost no religious teaching. Christianity, therefore, is something I had to learn about as an adult. I think that is true for many people. Silent waiting in this altered context can have a different meaning.

For many years I studied Buddhism and there is a similar discussion going on in the west among western Buddhists. Some practitioners in the west of Zen, for example, argue that Zen is Zen BUDDHISM and that without the Buddhist context the meaning of meditation essentially changes. Others argue that the meditation techniques, such as Zen meditation, can be lifted out of their background context and practiced for their own sake.

Similarly, some Quakers would see silent worship now as an end in itself, outside of its original Christian context. One of the reasons I began daily scriptural study is that it helps me to regain the original context in which the Quakers practiced. I think that without some conscious effort to place silent worship into that original context, the meaning will drift away from its origins.

Just a few thoughts.

Best wishes,


P.S. Do you prefer to be called Nanna, Joanna, or something else?
Currently reading/discussing Barclay's Appolgy in our men's group. Quite a nice piece of work. It's available free on line through Quaker Press. There is a modern english translation available too, but for purchase.
You can't really follow somebody who followed the Spirit by merely following the somebody; you can only do it by following the Spirit itself!

Fox did not have enough contact with the scriptures of other religions to seriously consider the possibility that they, too, were "inspired by God" for the sake of the peoples they were addressed to. We do.

When I was growing up, trying to know What Was Really Going On, the choices seemed to be some version of "Christianity," atheism, or "something else." As I left home in the 60's and God started making Himself quite overtly manifest in my life, the answer was clearly in the "something else" category-- but what?

I read all sorts of things in an effort to work that out (as well as many more things for entertainment, idle curiosity, etc.) A science fiction story titled 'Fiddler's Green' was one of the more influential pieces... but overall, I could find some truth in many books about other religions, some truth in books about the 'Historical Jesus,' not much that wasn't offensive or just plain insulting-to-God in most of the "Christian" books I occasionally glanced at. Jesus himself, as quoted in the synoptics, was pretty clearly in touch with some Heavy Duty Truth-- unlike that pompous stand-in in John's fictitious portrayal, who didn't talk at all like the real guy-- but what was Jesus talking about? The world was going to end in roughly 50 AD? Obviously that hadn't been his Message!

One book I glanced at back then was a friend's Sufi book-- where I encountered the idea that God was teaching everyone through the events in our lives-- certainly what I'd been experiencing-- and only much later found an analogous doctrine in Friends' traditions.

I did occasionally drop in at Quaker meetings (the first time having been back when I'd been an atheist and my best friend in high school invited me.) It seemed to offer God more convenient opportunities for a little more enlightening influence-- though I really didn't feel quite congruent with the other people. One apocalyptic day with an Isla Vista worship group, I felt an invisible presence addressing me silently from the doorway: "Why Forrest, what are you doing?-- trying to hide among the Good people?" I felt utterly busted... and wasn't inclined to worship with Friends for some long time afterwards.

Returning to college, taking some religious classes including 'New Testament' & 'Old Testament'-- trying to write some account of my conclusions to the Episcopalian who taught the 'New Testament' class, and being astonished that he considered my position to be basically an 'orthodox Christian' one...

The Christian scriptures have always worked as a sort of indigestible lump in my mind. (But anything there that has made sense has (eventually) made a great deal of sense!) I consider them part of a lifelong struggle with God-- not a hostile struggle, but definitely a challenging one-- where they've functioned as a sort of koan.

I can't see anybody's scriptures as ultimate sources of Truth, whole truth, nothing but. Whatever God directs me to read, at any one time, generally turns out to be the truth I need to find/am ripe to receive then.

When I've been fortunate enough to have a group to study with (Pendle Hill classes, Torah study in the nearby Jewish Renewal synagogue, etc.) I've found revelation at work among us. (But not usually much in the books by themselves.)

There are perspectives there that are very hard to convey to secular people... that we are very much like tenants, living here at God's pleasure, subject to eviction if we damage the premises or other tenants unduly... that history is not a record of human actions, but of God's responses to our condition and our needs... that human notions of Good and Evil, while significant, are subject to error and not always relevant from God's perspective. And many more; this is not 'a simple book' with a simple 'Message'!

I was once astonished by the profundity of an Arnold Lobel book I was reading to my small son... and later read he'd often lifted stories from the Talmud!

So Christian scriptures have had a tremendous influence on my life and faith... but I'm not always looking for my Truth there.
Why are there individuals and meetings who call themselves "Friends" that do not share the total message of either Jesus or George? Is the Religious Society of Friends evolved into a cafeteria of beliefs where you take what you want and leave the rest? What is our common discipline? The belief in scriptures is not our litmus test? Well, neither, is the recognition of the still small voice. Some Friends deny the mystical experience and barely pay lip service to meeting in silence. These "Friends" want to have a theology of a community church, reflecting a more evangelical and fundamentalist theology and practice similar to the larger congregations of their larger communities, but do not have the courage to disconnect from their Friends name. Whether a liberal or an evangelical Friend it is these extremes that sublimate the teachings at the center of Quaker theology. I am a believer and attend a convergent meeting, and still I see these conflicts and worry about their affect on our Friends testimony.
For me, discovering that God did not fax the Bible to us whole was an eye opener. I came to the Society of Friends when I was 19...I am now 55. I came from an evangelical backgroud from a holiness I was steeped in the Bible as the very Word of God....I now see the scriptures as man's search to understand God and the Bible is the record of that search for Western man through a frame work of "Christianity".

I read the scriptures each day when I get up before work while having my morning coffee. I sometime...most times...have a "bible study book" of some kind...usually "liberal"...Bart Erhman or John Spong or Marcus Borg that I can use to further my insights into this VERY HUMAN BOOK...I joke at times..."It is so human in fact that in most homes if you slap the cover it discharge dust from it."

Learning how scripture came about to be written and it's historical context..what issues were occuring in the fledgling Christian movement. What groups used the particular book of scripture I was reading. I have enjoyed the Gospel of Thomas immensely....and in some places sounds very "Quaker" as the writer refers to the "light".

Learning what is "fact" from what is "pious fiction" in scripture has also helped me separate the chaff from the wheat....the stories of Jesus don't have nearly the impact any longer on me as does his "teachings". Stephen Mitchel's "The Gospel of Jesus" was a good find.

Scripture helps me see "me"....and it points me to the One who can "speak to my condition".
Yes! Finding out more about the actual situation, when possible, can definitely deepen your understanding.

And yet one can get some very deep and valid insights from people who have taken obviously fictional elements as factual, but were spiritually attuned to what God can teach us through them.

I don't think God is indifferent to factuality-vs-fiction. But most human beings are, a good part of the time-- and it wouldn't be efficient of God to give factual answers to people who haven't developed much appetite for them. Much of what we don't know-- or disagree about-- really isn't relevant to what people most need to see!
The scriptures are the very bread of life to me, but not apart from Christ Himself. I take them literally in the sense of the intended spirit and meaning of the words versus literal in the sense of a wooden, rigid interpretation.
I wonder somewhat about the fact-fiction distinction as applied to Scripture. I think I partially understand the basis on which people make distinctions. But God is much larger than our language and our minds, so even our 'facts' are translations, or 2D renderings of a much larger image. I think sometimes a story can hold more of the rounded, paradoxical truth than a flatter factual statement.
I read scripture on an "as called" basis. As it happens, I feel very frequently called, though I have periods where I do not. I attend a weekly Bible study using the Friendly Bible Study method (which can be found online). I'm not sure I have a coherent theory about what I am doing or what scripture is in some objective sense. Like others here, I find it "orients" me to God and his will for me and gives me a context for my life as a Friend. And to be honest, I simply enjoy reading scripture and related commentary. I've also taken to renting movies on Netflix dealing with Biblical figures (so far I think I've covered Abraham, Moses, Jacob and one on William Tyndale).

I find myself in a not-necessarily-Christian unprogrammed meeting. This is a challenge and I have sought Christian fellowship outside my meeting as well, though as mentioned we do have a small group that meets for Bible study. When I came to my meeting I was not a Christian, and probably would have run very fast if I had heard much Christian language! As a former Unitarian-Universalist, I was pleased to find Universalist Quaker literature. "That's what I am," I thought. I had a vaguely Buddhist sort of orientation (never having been a member of any order, but having done a lot of reading). The Meeting seemed to me very "Zen" in a way: very simple, very "Western" which would be appropriate from a zen perspective for westerners: in other words, lots of Japanese cultural trappings might seem like "no big deal" to Japanese people, while they are "exotic" and entertaining (and thus a distraction) to us. So that's why a non-Christian found his way into a Quaker meeting, with no intent of becoming a Christian at all! And in all fairness, as mentioned, no-one was talking about Christianity in any event, so how would I even have known that I was joining a Christian tradition? So, its not necessarily always a matter of people joining a religious group and consciously rejecting its tradition. I had to really dig on my own to discover the Christian roots of Quakerism and find my own way into my walk with God.

As is it stands now, I think Friends in our meeting are aware that it is not a "Christianity-free zone" and that we do have a substantial cohort of Christians. It was quite a struggle simply to get to this level. Admittedly, I'm a bit unclear on what it means to be a Christian in a not-necessarily-Christian meeting or how I am being led to respond to that reality. I am not very vocal about advancing my views in meeting. I do find myself drawn to extended periods of worship that bring me in closer conversation with the Living Christ. Perhaps there I will find a way forward. As it stands, I tend to view my liberal meeting as a place where, in the stillness, there is at least an opportunity for seekers to find the living God (as occurred in my case). I view my role as a) one of inviting others -- in an inviting manner, hopefully -- to a life in Christ, in part by helping illuminate Quaker Christianity and its treasures and b) offering and receiving support from those members of the Christian community within our meeting.

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