United in The Light
by Don Bagley
As we consider what binds or divides Friends as a religious society, perhaps we should begin by identifying what is distinctive about “Quakerism.” The surface differences between our diverse practices are easy to identify. Does there remain a mutual distinguishing characteristic of Friends? Perhaps. This Friend hopes so and offers this for discernment.
George Fox and the other founders proposed that Christianity was in grave error regarding the human relationship with the Divine Source. Friends did not claim to be a new religion but merely a “society” within the body of Christ, one that pointed toward an alternative approach to God. That insight did not claim exclusivity but rather universal inclusivity.
Friends understood that when a religion or its followers claim that theirs is the one true path to salvation, or to God, and that others are in error, the seeds of war and suffering have been sown in fertile ground. One need only look to human history to confirm this sad truth. Consider these foundational beliefs of the three Abrahamic religions; “Our prophet is the final prophet.” “No one comes to the father except through me.” “We are God’s chosen people.” How often have “religious” peoples been willing to kill in support of their omnipotent and “loving” God? How many still believe that they must repudiate alternative pathways to fortify their own? This virulent disease arises by ordering one’s life in doctrinal beliefs, in creeds, hierarchies, and myths rather than in a personal relationship with the Inward Teacher.
We Friends know that there is an alternative, not easily found in mainstream religious traditions yet present in each, however obscured. Every genuine spiritual enlightenment arises in a human experience of an ineffable and life altering moment of transcendent awareness. These moments of insight have always had a profoundly positive impact on human consciousness and spiritual evolution.
When Jesus said, “the Kingdom of God is at hand” he was not speaking of an apocalyptic future event. He was pointing straight into a higher awareness, a present and immanent Divine Source of Love that was available to all. It was perfectly inclusive.
Fox discovered this Experience and named it the Spirit of Christ or Inward Teacher. John Woolman expressed it in saying, “There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names. It is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any, where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation soever, they become brethren….”
Wisdom teachers have reported these moments of transcendent awareness for millennia and it is clear that these phenomena are not based in traditional myths or rigid creedal doctrines. They are based entirely in the direct living Experience of the Divine Light, a Light that unites all of humanity and life itself. Thus, Quakers recognize no authority except The Inward Light and this principle is the essential distinctive that underpins “Quakerism.” Absent this footing our testimonies and witnesses are rendered ineffectual. When this simple yet essential principle is restored as our foundational ministry, shared with all peoples we may encounter, Quakers will once again become a great people gathered.
We know experimentally that no priesthood is required, and that creeds and hierarchies may blind us to the Divine Source. This Experiential Faith does not teach us what to believe but rather, what to do and how to be. When we order our lives in The Light, our lives speak, without any need of extraneous, worldly or ritualized distractions. This Truth unites us, and in this Truth we welcome all into the meeting as equals. There we wait in stillness. There we expect to be led. There we trust one another as a body. There we test and then act upon what we discover in that holy place, united in the Light.