Quakers are a branch of Christianity that arose in England in the mid-1600s. Quakers in the 21st century are quite diverse in their beliefs and practices, as the religion is not centralized under one authority or belief system. The core belief of Quakers, however, is the primacy of the spirit and the possibility for direct contact with God. Quakers generally understand the Scriptures as a tool that can aid in the inner spiritual revelation that is the goal of Quakerism.
Primacy of Spirit
Most early Quakers lacked a theological background. One major exception was Robert Barclay, who wrote a piece in 1678 called "Barclay's Apology." In it, Barclay formalized a Quaker attitude towards Scripture that is still held today. Barclay praised the Bible as a documentation of truth and spirit. However, he clarified that the "Spirit of God" is the ultimate authority, and that any Scriptural record is simply a reflection of this authority. Barclay declared that the Bible is holy because it is a faithful reflection of spirit, and that its authority is secondary to that of spirit. He explained that the Scripture cannot be beneficial when it is not read and interpreted from a place of contact with the Spirit of God.
Quakers regard the Bible to be almost a spiritual manual and a record of the actions and experiences of their spiritual ancestors. The Bible is considered to be directly inspired by God, and therefore it is meaningful and valuable to Quakers in their search for connection with spirit. Quakers believe that study of the Scriptures is a central feature of spiritual life. However, they are also wary of dangers. One must be moved by spirit to study, and the Scripture must be understood in the light of spirit and God's guidance. Without divine inspiration, study of the Scriptures can lead to misunderstanding, conflict and heresy. This again reflects the primacy of spirit.
Quakers strive for a personal relationship with God that is manifested in outward actions. The Quakers, unlike many other Christians, believe that God is still speaking directly to individual people today. This personal relationship with God can be built upon a variety of activities, studies and inspiration. For example, Quakers believe in divine intuition, communication with God through dreams and recognition of spirit through interactions with others. The spectrum of Quaker practice ranges from those who base their entire spiritual existence on the teachings of the Bible to those who essentially ignore the Scripture in favor of a personal experience of "Inner Light."
Throughout their history, Quakers have been liberal in encouraging their adherents to explore whatever avenues they pleased in order to forge a personal connection with God. It is not uncommon for Quakers to explore other religious texts like the Quran, or the teachings of Buddha or Lao Tzu. This is not considered at all unfaithful or belittling to God or the Scriptures of the Christians. The Quakers recognize the value of any tool that aids in one's spiritual growth. However, many Christians have denounced some of these Quaker practices as attacks on the Scripture and the Word of God. Quakers do not believe that free spiritual exploration is an attack on God or the Scriptures.
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