Quaker Testimonies

Why do Quakers have Testimonies?

For the past several months, Reno Friends have been holding a Quakerism 101 class, to learn more about Quaker faith and practice. Some of the first questions to surface were about the Quakers testimonies:  What are the testimonies, who wrote them, and why do they matter?

To understand the testimonies, it helps to remember that Quakerism emerged in 17th-century England among devout people who wanted to understand God in their own way, rather than through creeds and liturgies laid down by priests or ministers interpreting God’s word.

Here is what George Fox, one of the Quaker founders, said about finding God: “My desire after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowledge of God, and of Christ alone, without the help of any man, book or writing. For though I read the Scriptures that spoke of Christ and of God, yet I knew him not, but by revelation, as He who hath the key did open, and as the Father of Life drew me to His Son by His Spirit. Then the Lord gently led me along, and let me see His love, which was endless and eternal….”

As Quakerism developed, what emerged were the testimonies, the truths and insights that Quakers have learned through their own spiritual experience over 350 years, seasoned into general acceptance by many Quaker Meetings.

The Pacific Yearly Meeting’s guide Faith and Practice says this about our testimonies: “Testimonies are expressions of lives turned toward the Light, outward expressions that reflect the inward experience of divine guidance.” Quakers use the term “testimonies” because each person’s experience and life illuminate different aspects of these commonly held truths.

The Quaker testimonies were one of the first things I learned about when I became a Quaker as a young adult, and I quickly discovered that they were a helpful spiritual guide. Because of their experiential foundation, the testimonies are varied and dynamic – not every Quaker Meeting upholds the same set of testimonies. The most common testimonies spell out the acronym SPICE – Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality. Some Meetings include other testimonies such as Unity, Stewardship, Civic and Social Responsibility, or Harmony with Creation. The testimonies for Reno Friends Meeting are those articulated by the Pacific Yearly Meeting, our parent Quaker organization, and can be explored in the Testimony section of PYM’s Faith and Practice.

In our discussion of the testimonies, Reno Friends have found a range of understanding and experience in our small Meeting – and a host of questions for the testimonies: How can we live a more meaningful life? Does it take courage or just clear thinking to speak with integrity? How does our need for control and security complicate our lives? How can we treat others equally in a world full of personal differences and civil inequities? And, how might we confront the violence endemic in our society?

As Quaker Clarence E. Pickett said: “We who are members of the Society of Friends have little to fall back on except as our experience with truth. We cannot resort to ritual or creed or ecclesiastical decisions for guidance. We must find our way by seeing the hand of God at work in the weaving of the fabric of daily life.”

Wendy Swallow, Blog Editor, Reno Friends Meeting

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.