Friendly Witness: The Spiritual Ground of Quaker Social Action4th mo. 19, 2023 from 1pm to 6pm
Quaker Theological Discussion Group 202312th mo. 1, 2023 at 8am to 12th mo. 2, 2023 at 10am
Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
“Friends have no creeds.” We Quakers often say that. We are committed to no human words but rather to following the Holy Spirit. We believe God speaks to us today – speaks to all who still their hearts and listen. “No official words can substitute for a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.” We believe that commitment to creed would be a kind of idolatry.
Most Christian denominations, on the other hand, do have a creed. They have an official statement of faith they use to distinguish their beliefs from the beliefs of other denominations. Those statements of faith often lead to wrangles over precise wording, and sometimes schisms.
Ironically, a kind of creed-based schism is what happened in Indiana over the past few years. One part of the Yearly Meeting came to think that to be a Quaker one had to subscribe to certain specific beliefs. Those who could not affirm their fidelity would be cast out, and so they have been.
Creed or no creed? The same tensions are hardly specific to Indiana, however. They run through much of the Quaker world, especially the parts that are gathered in Friends United Meeting.
You can see the difficult contradictions of the FUM world today in the Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM) advertisement for a Youth/Young Adult Ministries Director.
Twelve qualifications are listed for the position. Number 12 says “Understands and affirms the beliefs of Friends as stated in the YM Discipline and Iowa Yearly Meeting personnel policy handbook.” What are “the beliefs of Friends” one has to affirm?
If you call up the “About Us” statement of Iowa Yearly Meeting (FUM) on its website you see the following appealing statement:
“A Simple Faith
“Friends have no creeds - no official words can substitute for a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. These unofficial statements give a general sense of Friends' faith:
“A simple faith,” one that involves following where we are led by God. “Friends have no creeds.”
But just below that statement of “A Simple Faith” come these words: “See also "Part I - The Faith and Doctrine of Friends" in the Discipline.” That section of “The Discipline of Iowa Year Meeting” contains three important documents: (1) a statement of “Essential Truths,” a document drafted as a common statement of Gurneyite Friends around 1900, (2) an extract from George Fox’s letter to the Governor of Barbadoes (1671), and the Richmond Declaration of Faith (1871). These are all statements of belief, and are commonly found in the Faith and Practice documents of FUM Yearly Meetings. I’ll leave it to others to settle whether they are all perfectly consistent one with another. For more than a century, FUM Friends have been arguing about whether these are statements for instruction or whether they are creeds.
Creed or no creed?
One more clue: Item 2 in the list of qualifications reads “Prefer a Bachelor Degree in Ministry or related field.” What colleges or universities offer a Bachelor Degree in Ministry? Most Quaker colleges don’t. Earlham doesn’t; Guilford doesn’t; William Penn (in Iowa) doesn’t; even Malone and Friends University don’t. Most colleges and universities offer Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Sciences degrees. It is Bible colleges with explicit requirements for an affirmation of faith (creeds) that offer Bachelors degrees in Ministry. (Member colleges of the Association for Biblical Higher Education – only Barclay among Friends colleges -- require students to take a 135 question multiple choice standardized exam covering Bible, theology and Church history.)
“The whole spiritual life grows out of the soul’s relation to God and its cooperation with Him, not from any outward or traditional observances.” So says the “Essential Truths.” Among those outward or traditional observances are we to include creeds?
So what affirmation of faith would an applicant to be IAYM’s Youth/Young Adult Ministries Director have to make?
Time we talked about this. Creed or no creed? Deal or no deal?
Reading through this post this morning I was reminded of Tom Hamm's short piece "Friends United Meeting and its identity," which contains an excellent brief summary of the n0w-125 year history of whether the Richmond Declaration should be taken as a creed. You can find Hamm's piece here: http://www.nyym.org/nurture/fum/hamm-hist.html.
When speaking of creeds, it's important to keep in mind that there are both official creeds and personal creeds. This article speaks primarily of official creeds - those that a group insists that its members believe.
For me, an even more important part of my faith is to avoid personal creeds as much as possible. In order to do that, I have to separate belief from faith. Beliefs can blind me because I have already decided what is true. Even if my consideration is thoughtful and sincere, once I state a belief it becomes a personal creed and I will filter my experiences to support the belief. In my lexicon, faith, on the other hand, is being open to the truth whatever it turns out to be. Belief limits prophetic vision, faith expands it.
This is relevant to Friends of all stripes, those in Yearly Meetings struggling with official creeds like the Richmond Declaration, and those in liberal meetings who feel bad because we can't articulate a shared core belief.
On the recommendation of a Quaker friend, I'm reading the Pendle Hill Pamphlet Matthew 18: Wisdom for Living in Community. The first few pages return to the theme that if we wish to seek reconciliation, we must be like the child--humble, trusting, and open. Seems to me that formal or informal creeds too easily get placed at the center of our spiritual life, pushing out the centrality of the Living Presence and causing the rending of our shared tapestry...
Liz, The Good Raised Up
My greatest objection to religious creeds is that they seem like the absolute height of human arrogance. Whatever the content of the creed, the implication is unavoidable, and always the same: I, a mere human, am possessed of such perfect knowledge that I presume to dictate ultimate truths.
It makes the hubris decried in ancient Greek myths look like harmless trifles. After all, those characters were only claiming to have a god's beauty, weaving prowess, or the like. The givers of creeds lay claim to God's own wisdom!
I have found it best to say that my creed is Christ. It affirms Scripture and the Savior.
Creeds and statements of faith are difficult, but necessary. There are some essential things that Christians must agree on like the divinity of Christ. There are non-essential things like worship preferences and dietary practices where flexibility and liberty should be given. Romans 14 is a good example of the NT church struggling with non-essential matters. Non-essentials deserve liberty so that all might follow their consciences under the Word and Spirit. But in all things, however, there must be love or charity “which binds everything together in perfect harmony” Col. 3:14.
If we follow the adage, in essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity, we can reflect and honor our Risen Savior.