Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why Quakers Don't Take Communion

That's the title of the embedded video below.

One thing the Founding Fathers didn't like about Quakers was their reluctance to take up arms against the British.

Other than that the Quakers represented a sort of "reductio ad absurdum" of Protestantism -- a "Protestantism on steroids" as my friend Mark David Hall has termed it -- that America's Founders really dug.

The Quakers didn't take communion because they didn't believe in sacraments. Hell, they didn't believe in ministers. The notion of priesthood of the believer was taken to its ultimate logical conclusion by having no minister or "pastor" preaching or dictating to the flock.

Though one distinctive thing on the Quakers to keep in mind regarding their place in the Enlightenment: Their honoring of and placing the "Spirit" as central to their faith made them more mystical and less "rationalistic" in the ideal.


JMS said...

Jon – you packed a lot into such a brief blog post.

Item 1 - One thing the Founding Fathers didn't like about Quakers was their reflectance to take up arms against the British.

True – but remember that the British, their American Tory allies and American Whigs distrusted Quakers not only or mostly because of their pacifism, but because they were not on their side, and therefore must be disloyal or outright enemies. So, during the war, many Quakers had their property confiscated, were disenfranchised, and rounded up, transported and confined in remote areas. It was their refusal to swear loyalty oaths (hence the later concession to “affirm” in Article II, Section 1, Clause 8 of the Constitution), more than their reluctance to fight, that led to Quaker persecution and ostracism during the War of Independence.

Items 2 and 3 – While opinions vary on whether Quakers (and I’m referring to 17th and 18th century Quakers, before all of the schisms) are Protestants or not, I question MDH’s conclusion. I agree if he only takes one major element of the Protestant Reformation – the priesthood of all believers – and applies it to the Quakers. But what about other Protestant pillars like sola scriptura and justification by faith alone? Quakers did not adhere to these tenets, nor as mentioned, creeds like the Nicene Creed, nor sacraments like baptism or the Eucharist, nor liturgy or sermons, nor “hirelings” (George Fox’s categorization of paid clergy).

Item 4 – You are right about this one. Quaker mysticism centered around the “light within” was the polar opposite of Enlightenment rationalism. But ironically, many Enlightenment figures believed William Penn and fellow Quakers (including women) had created a liberal utopia in Pennsylvania. As noted by historian Jack Marietta, “among the philosophes of the Enlightenment--Voltaire, Montesquieu, Abbe Raynal, Chevalier de Jaucourt, the Encyclopedists--Pennsylvania became a byword; it proved the wisdom of their liberal critique of the ancient regime and of their prescriptions to change it or replace it. It became an article in the liberal credo, a secular gospel: “People could be happy without masters and without priests.” As William Bradford told James Madison in 1774, Pennsylvania was to America what America was to the rest of the world--a peculiar “land of freedom.”

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jonathan Rowe said...

Thanks JMS. One "buzzword" I've tried to study (and should merit more study) is "primitive Christianity," what we hear mentioned in this brief clip.

It's an early "pure" Christianity, before the Nicene Creed.

Most orthodox Christians wouldn't see a need to distinguish between the Nicene Creed and what came before it because they see the continuity as seamless or at least they see the Nicene Creed as something that captures the faith that Jesus ACTUALLY tried to establish to His followers.

But that word "primitive Christianity" is something that unites Quakers, Christian-Deists, Unitarians and a few others.

It's also a term notable Founders oft-used.

JMS said...

Jon - yes, you are right. Thanks for the reminder about "primitive Christianity," which has been debated on AC before.

Here's what Quaker blogger Bill Samuel says about it: "The early Friends considered themselves 'primitive Christianity revived' - restoring true Christianity from the apostasy which started very early. They were not interested in reforming an existing church, but rather freshly expressing the truth of Christianity before any institutional church took strong hold." (Originally published February 1, 2001 at

Tom Van Dyke said...

^That's what I took MDH to mean by "Protestantism on steroids"--no creeds, no doctrines, no rituals, no ecclesial establishment, the antithesis of Catholicism.