In early November, I received an email from Sergio de Moura, an adjunct professor at a university named UNILAB, which is located in Redenção, Brazil. Sergio informed me that although Brazil has more than 200 million inhabitants, the country has no Friends meeting. Having long considered becoming a Quaker himself, he wanted to publish writing from a Quaker perspective for others in his country who were likewise interested in the faith, and so was requesting permission to translate my essays into Portuguese and to publish them. Though he was particularly interested in the Quaker way of worship, he also asked if I would answer some general questions about Friends faith and life in a questionnaire that he intended to send out to a number of Friends from different areas. The following is a copy of the completed questionnaire that I returned to him.
1. Who is Patricia Dallmann? How have the Quakers’ teachings influenced your life? When did this journey start?
I first became interested in spiritual matters in my early teens, and would discuss ideas with my grandfather and also with friends. I began to read about various world religions at this time, and a few years later, began reading philosophy and literature that addressed spiritual questions. I continued to follow this interest in college where I studied literature. Throughout this entire time, my heart was heavy because I had no certain understanding of truth that could provide a foundation for my life, and so I felt ungrounded and lacked confidence and hope. I identified as an agnostic and felt no interest in or drawing to religious practice or belief. I became deeply depressed in my late 20s and remained near despair until age 32, when a specific, powerful revelation of eternal Being was given to me. Though inwardly changed from that time, I began to seek religious affiliation only a year and a half later. (I believe I needed time to accustom myself to this new way of being before taking any outward action.) I then found the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and began attending meetings each week, and began to read Isaac Penington and later George Fox, both 17th c. Friends. Both men’s writings powerfully expressed my experience and understanding, as revealed in that initial epiphany and thereafter in worship. I became very active in the spiritual work of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (the Quaker organization in this geographic area) at the local and regional levels, and continued this work for a decade and a half. During that time, I became convinced Liberal Quakers (whom the yearly meeting comprised by and large) had little understanding of or interest in the original Quaker mission and message, and I withdrew my membership. In the past decade, I’ve continued my work as an essay writer (see my blog Abiding Quaker at patradallmann.com), and take opportunities to share fellowship with those who fear God and are committed to the Truth. I have worked with New Foundation Fellowship (which promotes early Quaker understanding) since the early ‘90s; NFF’s website is nffquaker.org.
2. “To have a relationship with Jesus” is a notion so widespread by many Evangelicals, so much present in their religious culture and deeply rooted in their theology. As a Quaker, how do you see this idea? Does it work in a Quaker setting or how far do Friends agree or disagree with this conception?
My understanding of Evangelical Christianity is that it differs theologically from the faith of 17th c. Friends, the faith that I affirm. A shorthand distinction is this: Evangelicals identify their faith with the affirmation that Jesus Christ is their personal Lord and Savior: they choose to accept Jesus. The Friends of the 17th century did not choose to accept Jesus; Jesus chose to accept them (Jn. 15:16). In other words, faith is not an act of will but a gift from God (Rom. 9:16). Friends derived their name from the verse preceding the one aforementioned, i.e., Jn. 15:15:
Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
This verse centers upon the choice of Jesus to make himself, the Word of God, known to us: that he does so is the “continuing revelation” that is the primary Quaker distinctive.
3. About “the light within” and “that of God in everyone,” how do these concepts work for Friends and specially for you?
The light within is experienced inwardly; it purifies and sanctifies my being. It is what I seek, expect, and hope for as I sit in silence; it informs my conscience, making me better able to live in a way that sees and thus glorifies God. Knowing its availability, I can act with strength and virtue, even when my natural inclination would have me do otherwise. It avails me of peace, order, joy, and every goodness I could want; it is the pearl of great price. As for the other phrase you’ve chosen (that of God in everyone), I caution you that this phrase has been taken by Liberal Friends from Fox’s writing and used in a way Fox did not intend nor would agree with: Liberal Friends use the phrase to mean that which is virtuous and of value to the first-birth nature. There is no room in Liberal understanding for the second birth, which Jesus tells Nicodemus (Jn. 3:3) must occur.
4. Do you think of Friends as an “exclusive group” or as taking part in a “selective club”? I ask this considering that: When compared to other Christian or not Christian groups, Quakers represent a very little spark of the religious culture. I mean, they are a reduced small group.
Did Jesus see those who understood his teaching to be an “exclusive group” or “selective club”? No, he did not; however, he did say: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it (Mt.7:14).
(a) A lot of people out and faraway of the Quaker mainstream centers are eager for that kind of comprehension about the light within, while Quakers seem to have decided “to hide themselves” from the world.
It is the concern of like-minded Friends that people who are far from Quaker centers are not likely to hear of the Quaker faith. We are hopeful that the technical advances in communication that have taken place in recent decades will enable more of these people to discover the existence of this precious faith that is being practiced among us, and they will get in touch.
(b) It seems that a culture of secularization reached many religious settings, including Quakers. It implies perhaps that there has been a loss of interest for spirituality and it has reduced the numbers of adherents in Christian meetings.
I have found secularization to have taken place in Liberal meetings, and for this reason I withdrew. The Liberals’ culture is secular in that social justice issues are given attention, and Christ is not known or heard. In any religious group, the members often make an idol of the community and their acceptance within it. This has always been a problem, as can be seen in Jesus’s dealings with those in his religious community: religious culture usurps the primacy of inward life, and this can be seen among Christian groups as well as among the Liberals.
5. For some people, suffering and pain are proof that there is no God, once a good God shouldn’t permit their creatures to suffer. How far the “light within” can help someone to deal with this assumption? What’s your opinion about this affirmation?
The book of Job examines and responds to the question of suffering by having God assert his wisdom in having ordered creation the way in which He did. The light within does give us understanding (wisdom) and acceptance of (and gratitude for!) the way creation is ordered, and we can glorify God for so ordering it, even though there is suffering. It is through holding to the truth while enduring suffering that we become prepared to receive the light of Christ within. We have Jesus’s work on the Cross as an outward example of the inward work that we ourselves must undergo. This is the Quaker understanding of the cross: it is suffering for the Truth’s sake. George Fox wrote:
[T]he eternal God knows and his son Christ Jesus, IT IS FOR HIM ALONE AND HIS TRUTH’S SAKE THAT WE SUFFER. . . . And so the Lord hath given us “not only to believe but also to suffer for his name and truth’s sake” (The Works of George Fox, 8:251).
The truth is we humans are limited, finite, mortal beings, and we do not have the power to prevent ourselves from undergoing loss of all kinds throughout our lives; to accept inwardly this truth is to die to any false notion of self.
6. What is the Bible and the four Gospels for Quakers? Are they a light or do they just introduce the light to us? Would there have been a Quaker movement unless George Fox had had the insight of “the light within” right from the gospel of John?
Barclay’s third proposition identifies the Scriptures as
esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty; for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that guide by which the saints are led into all Truth: therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader (Barclay’s Apology for the True Christian Divinity).
Fox found that the Scriptures confirmed his inward experience of the light within:
Yet I had no slight esteem of the Holy Scriptures, but they were very precious to me, for I was in that spirit by which they were given forth, and what the Lord opened in me I afterwards found was agreeable to them (Journal of George Fox, Nickalls, 34).
7. About Jesus:
(a) Did He die on the cross for our sins? Is He our savior?
(b) Is He God, the Son of God or just a prophet?
The following quotation from Fox emphasizes the coming into unity with Christ, which is the one true atonement. Although Quakers held that Jesus “taste[d] death for every man” (Heb. 2:9) on the Cross, they asserted none was redeemed but through the inward knowledge of and unity with Christ. Here’s the quotation:
Christ saith. . . “No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him” (Jn. 6:44). Now what is the means by which God doth draw people to his Son, but by the Holy Spirit. . . God doth draw people from their unrighteousness and unholiness, to Christ, the righteous and holy One, the great Prophet, in his New Covenant and New Testament, whom Moses in the Old Covenant and Old Testament said, God would raise up, like unto him, and whom people should hear in all things. . . . They that do not hear the Son of God, the great Prophet, do not mind the drawing of the Father by his Holy Spirit to his Son; but to them that mind the drawings of the good spirit of the Father to his son, the Spirit giveth understanding to know God and Jesus Christ. . .Then they know that Jesus Christ is the way. . . and that none can come unto God but by and through his Son. . . they know that Christ is their Mediator and. . . their High Priest. . . and is able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by him (The Journal of George Fox, Bi-centennial Edition, II: 458).
Question #6 does not have an easy answer. To say that it is a “secondary authority” could imply that there are times when we don’t have access to the primary authority and have to fall back onto second best. The risen Jesus proclaimed “All authority is given to me” and “Lo I am with you to the end of the age.” If we say that the scriptures are not authoritative, what are we saying about the witness of those who have walked with Christ before us? “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
Many, who would make the Scriptures authoritative (primary or secondary) do so on the basis of Paul’s words, “All Scripture is God-breathed…” Thus the authority rests upon God’s authority, but does it really? The Christian Bible has been shaped by many things not at all Godly. The Council of Nicaea, which first set the Canon of books to be included, were a group of power-hungry, quarrelsome people maneuvering to gain the upper hand. If we are to make the Scriptures authoritative, we are investing a lot of authority in the squabbles throughout “Church” history.
If we are to say that the Scriptures are precious, can it be on any other basis that that we, like Fox, find that what the Lord opens within us is agreeable to the testimony recorded in the Scriptures? To apply an authoritarian scripture without first encountering the authority of the risen Christ within is to be guilty of Margaret Fell’s condition of “We are all thieves…we have taken the words of the Scriptures and know nothing of them within ourselves” (Not a direct quote)
All these things and more play within me as I consider this question.
Thanks for posting this questionnaire and your answers.
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You are certainly correct, Ellis, in identifying some of the pitfalls that surround the right use of Scripture, and early Friends pointed to the one sure guide through the problem:
But as man comes through by the Spirit and power of God to Christ. . . and is led by the Holy Ghost into the truth and substance of the Scriptures, sitting down in him who is the author and end of them, then are they read and understood with profit and great delight (Journal, Nickalls, 32).
Using Scriptures before one knows “the Spirit and power of God” is part of a larger question I’ve pondered about whether it is good to delve into the tradition prior to having been given faith. On the one hand, I see it as similar to learning the rudiments of any discipline, like learning the alphabet so one can later read, or learning to read music so one can play. But I’ve seen – and I know that you have, too, Ellis – that this involvement with Scriptures can tempt people into accepting conceptual knowledge as though it were faith, as though it were Truth, especially when that faulty approach is adopted by one’s family, social group, or society. Early Friends saw this problem all the time (and Barclay goes into it in his first proposition) and they suffered from the incredible defensiveness that quickly soured into aggression, and of course the same happened to the prophets, Jesus, and apostles. On the other hand, if the words of a tradition are not taught and are lost, a society can lose its bearings within a few generations; we see that today. The lips of the priest were to keep knowledge (Mal. 2:7) that the nation not fall into such a position from which rising would become even more difficult.
One passage that comes to mind that proposes right relationship between the person who has not yet been given faith and the prophetic word as recorded in Scripture is near the end of the first chapter in 2nd Peter:
We have the prophetic word, which is certain; you do well to hold to it, as to a lamp shining in a dingy place, until the day dawns in light and the morning star rises in your hearts. But first know this, that no prophecy in scriptures is subject to personal interpretation; for prophecy did not ever come by the will of man, but men, carried along by the Holy Spirit, have spoken from God.
Peter is advising learning and accepting the words of the prophets (which Scripture records) as a guide until faith is given. He quickly adds the caveat that interpreting Scripture cannot be done unless one is “carried along” (sustained) by the Holy Spirit. I think the verses set out the gap to be inhabited by the laudable person who honors the faith while humbly accepting he’s yet to be given it.
Yes, I hope Sergio de Moura also reads these responses.