Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you.George Fox — Statement of 1656, from The Works of George Fox (1831)
Quaker testimony is best understood as the public witness of an inward faith of both individual and community. It is the consequence of one’s relationship to God and the outworking of that relationship in one’s life. Testimony is critical to the Quaker tradition as it is the practice side of “Faith and Practice,” a phrase you will see together often. Friends have always believed that what was most important was how faith was lived out collectively in the world. This praxis oriented perspective takes priority over doctrine or belief. For instance, early Friends did not practice baptism as an outward rite. Instead, Friends were called to live out their baptism in the world; show you are baptized by the Holy Spirit by the way you live your life. Witness and practice are good words today to help newcomers understand the meaning behind testimony.
Quaker scholar Pink Dandelion points out that among early Friends testimony was used in the “singular,” meaning that one’s whole life was to live out the consequence of their relationship with God in community. However, overtime testimony became pluralized (testimonies) and began to function more like lists of doctrines (protecting the boundary between Quaker community and those who are not Quakers), and eventually towards the individualization of “values.” It is less of a collective understanding and more up to each individual to decide how to practice their faith.
Today, you will often hear Friends use this pluralized language of testimonies referring to a broad range of Quaker beliefs and practices. Furthermore, a fairly recent simplification of testimony has resulted in the popular usage of the acronym “S.P.I.C.E.S.” standing for “Quaker values” such as Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship. Regardless of usage, whether testimony, testimonies, or SPICES, the point is the Quaker commitment to “faith in action,” a living out and being a witness to what one believes.
Here is a helpful perspective from Eric Moon’s article, “Categorically Not the Testimonies:”
early Friends used the word “testimony” to mean a number of different things:
– the overall message and witness of QuakersRead more from Eric Moon’s article over at Friends Journal
– a vocal ministry
– inward evidence, as in Barclay’s Proposition 4: “this inward testimony or seed of God”
– a Friend’s sense of being led to recurring ministry
– a Friend’s career in ministry, taken as a whole
A Selection of Quaker Speak Videos Related to Testimony
Birkel, Michael Lawrence. Silence and Witness: The Quaker Tradition. Edited by Philip Sheldrake. Second printing edition. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 2004.
Gulley, Philip. Living the Quaker Way: Discover the Hidden Happiness in the Simple Life. Convergent Books, 2013.
Morrison, Peggy Senger. Miracle Motors: A Pert Near True Story. Unction Press, 2014.
Muers, Rachel. Testimony: Quakerism and Theological Ethics. SCM Press, 2015.