culture

Individualism in the Quaker Experience

I am trying to get outside my understanding of church to consider individualism in other Christian faith traditions. While searching google blogs, I found an interesting blog called The Good Raised Up. The blogs’s owner, Liz, speaks extensively in one blog on individualism and the corporate nature of the friends church. In it she argues that “modern Friends are quick to quote George Fox and consider the relationship between God and the individual” as totally individualistic. She argues rather that “there is more to Quakerism than just the belief that God can speak to any of us at any time. I would say that we do an injustice to our faith tradition when we lift up this element above any others.” Lorcan Otway likewise notes that, “We had to balance the unfettered freedom of the individual spirit with the corporate need to seek together in worship as well as work. This was reinforced by a number of small things. For example, removing one’s hat during the message of another Friend during worship reminds one to give weight to the process of listening and hearing.”

As noted at Thou Spirit Faith Like Words there is the argument that “George Fox said You will say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God? It was not a call to do and say what you want, but to follow the guidance of God. The call of cross is not one of individualism but one of submission to God – to walk in the Light is to follow God’s leadings and not our own. Our community should act as a guide to help us discern true leadings from our own individual wants and desires.”

In Quaker tradition, God speaks directly to each individual. They are known over the ages for not having any clergy or church heirachy (which can lead to problems of authority). And yet, in the midst of this, there is a beautiful amount of community going on among the Friends. As Susanne so aptly put it, “I believe that each one of us can hear the Voice that speaks to our condition. The Word comes to us in the way in which we are able to recognize it, varying from person to person because of the particulars of our own culture, language, and experience. And the Word may be wordless, deeper than language. Yet it is not individualistic – it is the same Word, drawing us to Oneness with each other in God.”

And yet, the Quakers hold many of the same problems that the evangelical church.  How do we stay unified when our principles and traditions are so disunified?  How do we allow for God to still speak to us individually, while still allowing for community to exist?  Just some food for thought.

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