Intro to SPICE Series

On several occasions, Karla has asked me to write something about the “Quaker Testimonies.”  My initial response is to point out that I have, both before I started blogging, and when I taught a Sunday School class based on the Queries.  She then lets me know that she wants me to write on SPICE, as opposed to the Advices and Queries.

My personal experience with Friends does not really include SPICE, but it is filled with a knowledge of testimonies.  My home church was rather strict in encouraging us to follow them when I was a child.  My father was a conscientious objector. I know the social testimonies well.

One thing I know is that the testimonies tend to be very negative, and rather specific. The tend to be rules that are to be followed, the majority of which come up to “Don’t do this.”  This has the advantage of being practical, and somewhat easy to understand — but it is not exactly the most attractive way of putting forward what your group is about.

One of my complains about SPICE has always been that even though it sounds nice, it really does not say anything without a great deal of commentary. What does Simplicity mean? When we speak of Peace, what role does the individual have?  Is this inner peace, or peace within the community? What is Integrity?   What is the role and the purpose of community?  What does Equality even mean — do we start chopping off heads to get it, like they did in the French revolution?

Another thing I disliked about SPICE is that accepting it is accepting a definition offered by the ‘other side’ of a very old split.  Its a 20th century rethinking of 19th century testimonies.  While SPICE addresses these testimonies before they diverged very far, there is a part of me that would prefer to use “my side’s” efforts at coming up with a contemporary take on “Testimonies.”

Pushing past my sectarian pride, I do have to admit that SPICE was a pretty good summary.  The Advices and Queries can be put into these buckets without too much difficulty.  Spice provides a positive and attractive framework, which can be used both when observing ‘rules’, and when evaluating whether or not the rules are still appropriate at this time.  It seems that it is something that deserves my consideration.

Over the next few months, I plan to meditation on “What is Christian’s call Simplicity?”, “What is the Christian call of peace?”, “What is the Christian’s call to integrity?”, What is the Christian’s call to community?”  “What is the Christian’s call to equality?” in the same way that I meditated on concepts such as ‘What does it mean to be called.”



5 comments on “Intro to SPICE Series

  1. storydivamg says:

    In general, I’m nonplussed by most testimonies I hear in any church. Thankfully, the Catholic tradition has relegated lay testimony time to small group gatherings so the entire flock doesn’t have to be offended by the judgmental tones of the “holier than thou” or the thrilling pre-conversion tales of the “penitent.”

    The one primary exception to my experience of testimony time as a tortured adventure in one-up-manship or some similar nonsense has been during visits to Wednesday night meetings of Christian Scientists. These people are a different breed. Almost every testimony I’ve heard at meetings like this include tales of current healings and works of God. While a couple folks might retell a story from a few years ago or an encouragement they heard from another scientist at some time, the positivity of the speaking and interactions at these meetings seems to me to be exactly what testimony time is supposed to be.

    Although much of the reason for this difference lies in the practice of Christian healing that is integral to their faith tradition, I think another reason has to do with instructions given before each testimony time. Congregants are specifically admonished to give God the glory for healings, to share these works for the glory of God, and to refrain from giving details of any disease or ungodly work. Inevitably, in these meetings, the “interesting part” of the testimonies details the work of God and only the work of God. Isn’t this, after all, the reason that any group of Christians comes together to share and worship?

    • In this case ‘testimony’ refers to a code of behavior. In 18th–19th century jargon, they are things such as the ‘testimony against war’, or the ‘testimony against slave-holding’, or the ‘testimony against alcohol’, or my favorite — the ‘testimony against dancing and the playing of musical instruments’

      Up through the 19th century, Friends who did not live up to these ‘testimonies’ were disowned. When the 20th century came they started to seem harsh and quaint.

      In the 20th century (1943), someone named Howard Brinton wrote “A guide to Quaker Practice” where he re-framed the testimonies with positive general ideas.

  2. storydivamg says:

    Oooh . . . so this is the worst and most unblblical of all testimonies. There is no virtue in pointing out one’s good deeds. Check with the Book of Matthew for that. Literalists could go so far as to point out that Jesus says such people won’t get into heaven when he says, “I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.”

  3. storydivamg says:

    Not that I believe such bragging would get anyone shut out of heaven, but the argument could be made if one was to take a purely fundamentalist view of that passage.

  4. Charity says:

    My understanding of the Testimonies is that they describe a way of living, or approaching life, that would bear witness to the World of the changes brought about by following Christ. At first, these were open to broad interpretation, but as often occurs, in the second generation and beyond they became rules set in stone. That being said, I think disowning was about taking a strong stance on what they felt were vital issues. They were not as much about personal piety as they were about solidarity within a community of faith. It is interesting to me that communities go through this open and closed and open again cycle regarding their codes of behavior. Different Friends groups seem to be in opposite places in the cycle on many different issues today.

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