Friends and the Sacraments
The absence from Friends' worship of the outward observance of the sacraments is due to emphasis on the reality of inward experience. The direct communion with God and fellowship with each other known in the meeting for worship at its best, and the power of a true baptism with the Holy Spirit make the outward rites seem unnecessary, and to some, even a hindrance to the full attainment of the spiritual experiences which they symbolize.
With full appreciation of the help which has come through the outward forms to countless generations of Christians, Friends symbolize by their very lack of symbols the essentially inward nature of the sacraments. Friends' testimony is not a negative protest but an affirmation of the sacramental nature of the whole of life when it is under the leading of the Spirit.
No Outward Rites Needed
Our experience leads us to emphasize the fact that entrance into the community of Christ's people requires no outward rite, but is to be known only through trust, obedience, love, and commitment. As these are brought forth in us, we find ourselves drawn together into a unity with one another in which the presence of the Spirit of God is realized. Similarly we believe that our corporate experience at its best justifies us in claiming, in humility, that Christ's real presence is indeed known by us when even two or three are gathered together, in quiet expectancy, in his name.
We desire to bear a corporate testimony to the fact that, while to be made a member of Christ's body does not necessarily involve any outward rite, it does inescapably require an inner transformation of the whole self by the indwelling Spirit of God. And we would bear witness to the certain fact that, in a gathered company of worshippers, and apart from the use of the outward elements of bread and wine, the real presence of Christ is to be truly and effectually known, bringing us into unity with one another and with himself.
Maurice A. Creasey: Sacraments, a Quaker approach, 1956, pp. 6-8. Home Service Committee, London Y. M.
The Whole of Life is Sacramental
We need to guard against under-valuing the material expressions of spiritual things. It is easy to make a form of our very rejection of forms. And in particular we need to ask ourselves whether we are endeavoring to make all the daily happenings and doings of life which we call 'secular" minister to the spiritual. It is a bold and colossal claim that we put forward that the whole of life is sacramental, that there are innumerable "means of grace" by which God is revealed and communicated through nature and through human fellowship and through a thousand things that may become the outward and visible sign" of an "inward and spiritual grace."A. Barrett Brown: Wayside sacraments, 1932, pp. 9, 10. Published by the Literature Committee of London Y. M. for the
Yorkshire Friends Service Committee.
All Called to Minister
Another main feature of Quakerism is the experiment which it has made, and is making, in the practice of lay-religion. Quakerism proposes to drop overboard the whole heavy load of theological "notions," including the innate depravity of man; it proposes also to jettison every shred and relic of priestcraft, everything that implies sacred talism or religious mediation for one person by another. Every person, male or female, is assumed, in this bold experiment, to possess spiritual capacity and, since God is Spirit, can come without mediation into direct living relation with Him. There are no "favorites," no persons who have exclusive privileges and so can do the "sacred things" for others. Every person must be religious for himself or he will never have any of the fruits of religion. Life is essentially sacramental and many of the most common things of daily life bring to us the consciousness of the real presence, so that, here again, there is felt to be no need for special sacrament or for a privileged mediator. Ministry is a very varied service. Anyone who can be a Christian can be a minister of some sort. There are many types, many forms, many degrees of it. But like life itself, spiritual value will be determined largely by personal faith, qualities of character, dedication of spirit, sensitiveness to guidance and willingness to pay the cost of excellence. This venture of faith in the experiment of lay-religion is one of the most original, one of the boldest and one of the most crucial attempts that Quakerism has made.
Rufus M. Jones: An interpretation of Quakerism, 1936 pp. 2, 3. (Wayside series, no. 1.) Home Service Committee, London Y. M.
Inward Grace Without Outward Symbols
Our testimony as Friends concerning the use of the outward symbols is not, of course, that they are wrong but that the inward grace it is claimed that they convey is not dependent upon them and can be and is known to the sincere worshipper apart from the administration of the symbols. There may come a time and, indeed, for some there does come a time, when the outward symbols become a hindrance and not a help to that inward communion with Christ which it is our common desire to know in ever fuller and richer measure.
Most of our fellow-Christians believe that Jesus himself ordained this particular sacrament and that to neglect it would be a deliberate disloyalty to him. So far as I know this created no difficulty for early Friends who were fully assured that they knew the presence of Christ in their worship in such manner that no outward symbols could deepen the reality or were needed to mediate or authenticate the experience: an experience which has certainly been known in measure amongst Friends ever since.
I sometimes doubt, however, whether Friends are as clear in their own minds on this important matter as they should be and whether, in fact, we do know, as we claim to do, that communion with Christ, at its deepest, which the sacrament of Holy Communion mediates to the majority of our fellow-Christians. Unless, in our worship, we know a similar experience our testimony can become a snare and a hindrance to a fully articulated Christian experience.
We know the grace of God ministered to us in countless ways in the sacraments of nature, of the family, of friendship, of books, of music, of art. These and other such ministries become the symbols of God's ever-loving presence and of his care for even the least of his wayward children. Through such manifestations he has revealed himself to us: they are sacraments, and as we remember them we "feed on him in our hearts with thanksgiving".
Edgar G. Dunstan: Quakers and the religious quest (Swarthmore lecture), 1956, pp. 34-6.
The Faithful Church is a Sign of God's Presence
We reaffirm the Friends' testimony to the essentially spiritual nature of the believer's relationship to God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. The Inward Way of the Spirit is not dependent upon specific visible signs. Because we believe that Christ himself has come to teach His people, any outward sign may become a hindrance to experiencing the presence and grace of God. It is only the living presence of Christ that is efficacious for reconciliation with God. The visible sign of that living presence is the faithful and obedient Church.
Friends United Meeting, 1980.