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Cherry and I have been Quakers for about three years now, and we will shortly be attending our first yearly meeting. It has been a deeply challenging three years, and this may be a good time to reflect on what we have learned.

Paradoxically, the fact that Quaker meetings are almost entirely conducted in silence has probably given us more to think about than if there had been lectures week after week.

Whenever we are asked why we chose to become Quakers, both Cherry and I reply that we have been attracted most by our similarities in beliefs, but also by the tolerance we have experienced with regard to areas where we are dissimilar. That tolerance has, by consequence, challenged us in a way that we have never been challenged by any other religious organisation. Much of the tolerance that we have experienced can be linked to the discipline of silence; and much of the challenge that we have found from Friends is linked to that as well. Because they (and we) generally refrain from expressing our disagreements (largely as a result of the rationing of words in Quaker meetings), we are left with more time to dwell on and appreciate our similarities. The result has been that, over time, many differences have ceased to be as important as we had first imagined.

So let me start with our similarities.

Quakers are pacifists, like ourselves (as Jesus Christians). They are also activists, showing an almost evangelical fervour about promoting peace and justice throughout the world.

Many Quakers believe, as we do, that Jesus (and not the Bible) is the Word of God. (Revelation 19:13)

They recognise "that of God" in everyone, and as a consequence, do not subscribe to a theological creed which would necessarily exclude those who could not support it. This is consistent with our own emphasis on sincerity (or personal faith) as God's criteria for entrance into his kingdom (rather than religious affiliation or theological statements). Similarly, they too, do not have any sacraments or paid clergy.

There are some areas where we only differ in emphasis. We both, for example, have a commitment to equality and simplicity. For us, it takes the form of forsaking all and sharing (within our Jesus Christians community) all wealth "in common". Quakers in general, are far less extreme than this, but at least they recognise the validity of our position in the areas of simplicity and equality. Various Quakers have, over the years, also experimented with communal lifestyles.

The silence in Quaker meetings is akin to our own practice of "listening times". There seems to be greater unity within the Jesus Christians with regard to what is happening during a listening time, and we actively work at piecing together interpretations and applications of what has been revealed through such sessions. Nevertheless, the idea of each believer being able to hear from God personally is an important area of similarity, especially considering that the "meeting" appears to rank along with the peace testimony as one of the most significant traits of Quakerism.

Quakers also, like ourselves, carry over some of the principles of "listening" when they are doing business or making other decisions. This practical application of spiritual issues is reflected in their procedures for dealing with grievances between members as well. They have steps which correspond to our first stage, second stage, and third stage grievances, starting with admonitions for people to deal personally and privately first, before various witnesses are called in to help mediate. The Quaker practice of getting both parties to sign a "minute" which summarises their positions at the end of each stage of negotiation is an innovation which we would do well to emulate. It causes people to search for words which will be suitable to both parties in describing where they differ. This is far better than choosing words which tend to heighten and exaggerate the differences.

A Quaker commitment to intellectual honesty may actually be the one trait that most distinguishes them from what we have experienced amongst evangelicals. Quakers seem infinitely more capable than most evangelicals of accepting that they may not have all the answers. And when they do not know, they usually say so. There does not seem to be the pressure to have everything neatly packaged up and resolved. This has been quite refreshing for us.

However, this same point acts like a hinge, from which we can just as easily focus on what we feel are the differences between ourselves and Quakerism in general. We should, however, stress that, thanks to the lack of creeds, rituals, etc. there is very little that anyone can say categorically about what Quakerism represents. As Quakers ourselves, Cherry and I cannot technically say that we "differ" from some assumed Quaker ethic, because we are actually part of that ethic now. As part of the overall mosaic, it is probably better to say that these next few points suggest areas where our contribution tends to contrast with some other parts of the mosaic.

With regard to honesty, we have felt that there is sometimes a reaction against confident faith, or conviction. It is as though honesty must always oppose certainty, as though truth will always preclude clear answers. It is true that we (like so many other Friends) have often been hurt by a form of certainty which has struck us more as bombastic bluff. We realise, too, that problems arise when one party is quite genuinely confident of something that contradicts what another party is equally confident about. But we would prefer to laud the sincerity on both sides without necessarily concluding that they must both be wrong simply because of their certainty.

It is interesting that the source of those beliefs which we share in common with Quakers was, for us, the teachings of Jesus. In general, we are able to speak much more freely about Jesus and his teachings amongst Quakers than we can amongst evangelicals. However, along with the reaction against certainty seems to be a refusal to accept "authority" on the part of Jesus

The Quaker saying that "Jesus said it because it is true; it is not true because Jesus said it," begs the question: If it's not true because Jesus said it, what criteria can we use for saying that it is true? Do we replace the authority of Jesus with our own limited experience? Our conviction is that many of these Quaker beliefs actually sprang from the early years of the movement's history when the authority of the teachings of Jesus appeared to play a much more significant role in decision-making (as they still do in the Jesus Christians community today). To set aside the authority of Jesus, and assume that a teaching or practice has authority only because it has worked so well for Quakers for some three hundred years is to miss the real source of its authority.

Our own personal experience of the teachings of Jesus is that they have not led us to be exclusive toward the truth that is contained in other religions. On the contrary, Jesus seemed to be more than willing to acknowledge virtue when he saw it in Samaritans, publicans, Romans, and other social outcasts and religious misfits. The fact that Jesus' authority has been misrepresented by evangelical exclusivists should not cause us to throw the Baby out with the bath water.

We Jesus Christians believe that Jesus represented a revelation of God which is far superior to that of any other person in history. You need only search the other religions of the world in an effort to find one that teaches against the need for war of any kind, and that teaches love for enemies, and you will see how unique the teachings of Jesus really are.

And that leads us to the other great area of tension (dynamic tension, we hope!) between ourselves and many of the Quakers we have so far been able to meet. That area of tension has to do with our understanding of God. Yes, we believe that there is "that of God" in the heart of each individual, simply because we were each created in the image of God. But we feel that it is a serious mistake to assume that human beings themselves, or indeed, that all of creation, represents the sum of God's reality. In fact, we have a bit of "certainty" about the need to recognise a Creator God who is infinitely greater than the sum of his creations if we are ever to come to a full understanding of our role on this planet. To worship and serve the "creature" rather than the "Creator" is a sure-fire formula for chaos. (Romans 1:25)

We believe that God ("out there" if you like) made us for a specific purpose, and that primarily we were made to love him and to love others. To confuse him with ourselves and to confuse others with animals, trees, and even rocks is to do both God and ourselves a great disservice.

There is a book of the Bible which is called "The Revelation of Jesus Christ". We as a community have found almost as much enlightenment from that book as we have found from the four gospels. The five books working together have shown us that the teachings of Jesus are part of a plan that has an end. That part of history which we are experiencing today is not a totally insignificant bubble in a cauldron of chaos and confusion. Rather, we believe that we are living at a very special time in the unfolding of the divine plan. What we are experiencing is not a random series of chemical reactions. Rather, it has all been predicted in the book mentioned above. This idea of meaning and purpose is very important to us as Jesus Christians, and we would like to be able to find a way to share it more deeply with our F/friends, whether they be Quakers or otherwise.

We do not present this article as a final statement. It may, in fact, be quite interesting to compare notes over the coming years, to see if our position alters. However, it is an effort to explain where we are now, in our understanding of this very special fellowship into which we have been called.

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