As promised here is my reflections on the book Holiness: The Soul of Quakerism
by Carole Dale Spencer. I had heard about this book before but I had been put off by the dry academic tone. The tone is understandable as I understand that the book started life as a dissertation.
Her definition of holiness as “a spiritual quality in which human life is ordered and lived out as to be consciously centered in God.” In Quakerism, holiness was often used interchangeably with perfection. Perfection was understood as the vocation of the sanctified Christian. Justification and sanctification were the same process for early Friends because you could not be justified without being made just or holy.
Spencer identifies eight elements of Holiness Quakerism. These elements characterize historical Quakerism in the first generation. These elements are:
Scripture – Quakers had a thoroughly Scriptural world view and accepted the scriptures as authoritative.
Eschatology - Quakers anticipated the imminent second coming of Christ. When it did not happen, they recognized that Christ had come spiritually, within each person.
Conversion – Quakers were born again. The old self died and a new self was born.
Charisma – Quakers were filled with and led by the Holy Spirit.
Evangelism – Quakers were evangelistic and prophetic.
Mysticism – Knowledge of God came through direct experience.
Suffering – Quakers were persecuted and martyred, joyfully taking up the cross of Christ.
Perfection – Quakers experienced union with God, becoming the fully restored image of God and victory over sin.
She traces these elements through Quaker history by examining the lives of Quakers in various periods. She has some interesting observations as to what happened to some of these elements. Suffering, for instance became taking on Quaker testimonies and distinctives. When external persecution ended, the cross that Friends struggled with taking on was plain dress and plain speech and the rejection of worldly communities. Evangelism under the Quietists became traveling in the ministry, mostly among Friends. Among modern Friends, the goal of spiritual perfection has been replaced by social action.
She credited Friends with the rediscovery of silence among Protestants (it had a long history in the monastic and contemplative traditions.) It was radical in its time. Over time it became a form and end in itself and spiritual renewal among Friends in the 19th century came, not through silence but the overabundance of words, song and praise. Traditionalists, such as Joel Bean, reclaimed silent worship using it as a mark of the “faithful remnant.” Among liberal Friends, it allows people to come together in apparent unity, even if they hold radically different beliefs and experience silence in different ways. I don't disagree with this analysis but I don't think it is completely accurate. For a long time my experience was that silent worship was the only form of worship in which I experienced the presence of God. I have lately felt the presence of God in other forms but I still have the experience of the presence of God most frequently and easily in open worship. I also think that there is a rediscovery of apophatic spirituality among Friends and that open worship is an expression of that path. (Apophatic spirituality is sometimes called the via negativa. It involves finding God by removing all things that are not God.)
Carole Spencer suggests using holiness as a way of organizing Quaker history. She has a chart of what the tree of Quaker history looks like and it ends up with the Evangelical branch in the center. She highlights all of the groups and trends that had a strong holiness element. This path extends from the first generation of friends through Quietism and then the Orthodox and Guerneyites on on down through the Evangelical Holiness revival. The Wilburites are included as a group for which holiness was important. The interesting thing about this chart is that none of the contemporary Quaker organizations, including Evangelical Friends International are identified as having holiness as a distinctive or important part of their identity.
I very much appreciated the book. It has given me much to think about. It provides an approach that may allow us to look at our history without reliving the schisms of the past. It also reinforces the view that I had when I first started exploring Barclay, that the most important part was the sections on Christ, Justification and Perfection. I thought that they outlined a spirituality that was missing from liberal Quakerism. I also think that this reframing of Quaker history might have a lot to say to convergent Friends.
Blessings to all,