For more than three hundred years, Friends have acted upon a set of shared
convictions. While the specific details have varied over time, today's concerns
and underlying beliefs are remarkably similar to those of past generations. The
word "testimonies" refers to this set of deeply felt, historically rooted
attitudes and ways of living in the world.
"The testimonies are not written documents to be signed on
the dotted line. They arise from a shared understanding, each Quaker
interpreting them according to individual conscience. Throughout Quaker
history they have taken different forms, but these have always been
characterized by a search for truth and integrity."
There is no single list of testimonies. The current edition of Faith and
Practice for Pacific Yearly Meeting lists the six that follow.
Living by faith is not a private matter. It calls us outward to the
needs of the community at large.
the same measure of God's grace is available to everyone
Living with integrity requires living a life of reflection ... in
consistency with our beliefs.
"We utterly deny all outward wars, and strife."
... the right ordering of our lives
Seeking God's will together, we believe way will open and unity will
Pacific Yearly Meeting
Faith and Practice 2001 37-46.
Early friends used the word
testimony but usually as a reference to an
entire the entire body of beliefs. This quote from
George Fox's Journal is typical:"
I continued yet at London, labouring in the work and service of the Lord, both in and out of meetings;
sometimes visiting Friends in prison for the testimony of Jesus, encouraging them in their sufferings,
and exhorting them to stand faithful and steadfast in the testimony, which the Lord had committed to them to bear.
The idea of Quaker
testimonies as a collection of specific and distinct beliefs orginated in the 1952 publication
of Howard Brinton's Friends for Three Hundred Years; in a
discussion of Quaker social concerns he said that Quaker "behavior can be
described in a general way by the four words Community, Harmony, Equality
and Simplicity." Even then he did not call these things testimonies, and the word
"testimony" first appears several pages later, where he states "Equality was
the earliest Quaker social testimony." He does say these four words "are not
to be taken as all-inclusive." He could have well had said neither were they exhaustive.
The second edition of Pacific Yearly Meeting's
Faith and Practice,
published in 1985, is the first to organize a discussion in which five
testimonies are called out under separate headings. It did not name integrity.
This does not mean integrity was missing among Friends in 1985: its elements
were found elsewhere (for example, the Quaker scruple against oath taking was
discussed under the testimony of simplicity.) The 1972 edition did not devote a
specific section to testimonies all in one place -- rather what would be called
out as testimonies in subsequent editions were simply discussed throughout the
book as seemed appropriate to writers at that time.
Thus, the explicit concept of a class of things caled "testimonies" is relatively recent and does
not have any particular religious significance to Quakers: a testimony is
just a just rhetorical category.
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