have traditionally been wary of creedal statements as limiting our
understanding of God. The rejection of creeds does not imply
absence of doctrine or statements of belief.
Elise Boulding wrote in 1954: "What is the Quaker faith?...It is an experience of discovery which starts the discoverer on a journey which is life-long. The discovery in itself is not uniquely a property of Quakerism. It is as old as Christianity, and considerably older if you share the belief that many have known Christ who have not known His name." What is unique to the Religious Society of Friends is its insistence that the discovery must be made by each person for himself or herself.
The Light Within is the fundamental and immediate experience for Friends. It is that which guides each of us in our everyday lives and brings us together as a community of faith. It is, most importantly, our direct and unmediated experience of the Divine.
For Friends, the Light Within is not the same as the conscience or moral faculty. The conscience is a human faculty, which is conditioned by education and the cultural environment; it is not, therefore, an infallible guide to moral practice. It should nevertheless be attended to, for it is one of the faculties through which the Light shines.
Spiritual power arises from living in harmony with the divine will. George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, admonished us to "hearken to the Light, that ye may feel the power of God in every one of you".
Basic Quaker testimonies such as equality, simplicity, nonviolence, integrity, and community have arisen from a deep sense of individual and corporate responsibility guided by the Light Within. Recognizing that God's Light is in every person overcomes our separation and our differences from others. Friends believe that the more widely and clearly the Light is recognized and followed, the more will humanity come into accord. "Therefore," writes George Fox, "in the Light wait, where unity is".
The meeting for worship is the heart of the Religious Society of Friends. It draws us together in the enlightening and empowering presence of God, sending us forth with renewed vision and commitment.
Direct communion with God constitutes the essential life of the meeting for worship. Into its living stillness may come leadings and fresh insights that are purely personal, not meant to be shared. At other times they are meant for the Meeting at large to hear.
When someone accepts the call of the Spirit to speak, fellow worshippers are likewise called to listen with openness of minds and hearts. Diffident and tender spirits should feel the Meeting community's loving encouragement to give voice, even if haltingly, to the message that may be struggling to be born within them. Friends whose thought has been long developing and whose learning and experience are profound serve the meeting best when they, like all others, wait patiently for the prompting of the Inward Teacher. Anyone moved to speak following another should first allow others to absorb and respond inwardly to what has already been said.
Friends gather for worship in quiet waiting upon God. We come together out of our care for one another and out of our shared hunger to know God, to follow the leading of the Spirit, to feel with clarity our shortcomings and the reality of forgiveness, to give voice to our anguish, faith, praise, joy and thanksgiving. At the close of the meeting for worship, we shake hands in acknowledgment of our commitment to one another and to God, and go forth with renewed trust in the power and reality of God's grace and love.
In 1648 George Fox wrote: "Now the Lord God opened to me by his invisible power that every man was enlightened by the divine light of Christ, and I saw it shine through all; and they that believed in it came out of condemnation to the light of life, and became the children of it; but they that hated it, and did not believe it, were condemned by it, though they made a profession of Christ. This I saw in the pure openings of the Light, without the help of any man; neither did I then know where to find it in the Scriptures, though afterwards, searching the Scriptures, I found it. For I saw in that Light and Spirit which was before Scripture was given forth, that all must come to that Spirit, if they would know God or Christ or the Scriptures aright."
Slightly altered from Faith & Practice, published by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, 1972 edition