In their efforts to reclaim what they saw as the lost spiritual vitality of Christianity, early Quakers/Friends sought to ensure that their actions in life matched the gospel message they preached and shared – that their words and actions matched, essentially. To that end, they began to adopt “testimonies” – core beliefs that they tried to match with their actions which they believed were at the center of Christ’s teachings. The specific number of testimonies, let alone the ways to live them out, have varied over the centuries, but SPICES is a convenient way to remember six of the most common and enduring testimonies – Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship.
The particular ways to live these out will vary from time to time and person to person, let alone meeting to meeting, but adhering to the testimonies is not seen as optional or for a specially dedicated group of people – rather, they are integral to a life in Christ. Not all of the ways Friends have tried to live these out have been successful or worth emulating, while others have become universally praiseworthy. These testimonies are detailed below.
Historically, Quakers have applied the testimony of simplicity to many areas of their lives including dress, religious worship, and speech. Today, many Quakers try to live simply by avoiding materialism, using less of the world’s limited resources, and reducing clutter.There’s also been a realization that becoming too focused on ensuring everything and everybody is being simple can be just as damaging to a spiritual community as trying to ensure everything and everybody is looking fancy, so a relaxed attitude towards dress and physical worship spaces is prevalent. Certainly music and theater (and other media) are no longer frowned upon, but welcomed.
Quakers, or Friends, are one of the “historic peace churches” for their opposition to warfare and violent conflict. Many Quakers through the centuries have pacifists, refusing to take part in warfare even when it meant arrest and imprisonment; many Friends have been conscientious objectors since that became an option. In the work of promoting peace, Quakers have long taken an active role, not simply disconnecting from the world and being passive, but working to actively find alternate methods to solve conflicts, often through negotiation, education, and service projects.
“Let your yes be yes, and let your no be no,” Jesus once said. The Integrity testimony is an attempt to live up to this commandment. What you say and what you do should match – honesty and truthfulness are not simply prized, but expected among Friends, and not just in words but in the actions we take. Many Friends in the antebellum United States refused to buy goods which were made from slave labor – their sense of integrity could not abide making use of products produced by a system they were opposed to. Even today, some Friends are careful about the purchases they make or services they use based on ethical concerns.
There is a very strong emphasis on the community – both the faith community and the larger community we live in. Friends believe that we can understand and hear God’s direction more accurately when we listen and work together than on our own. One way this testimony manifests itself is in how we do business – Friends don’t vote, but make decisions based on a model of consensus and give every single person the opportunity to speak and have a role in decisions that the community makes. Friends have also for many years tried to be active in the local temporal community as well, serving as teachers, government workers, bus drivers, firefighters, and many other roles – being a Christian means being involved in matters of the community as well as the church.
During a time when the world was turning focus to individual, the Friends found the concept, “All men are created equal,” not in the philosophy which was coming to the same conclusion, but in the Bible. From the beginning the Quakers worked to level the various hierarchies and inequalities that were an ever-present force in the 17th Century. Perhaps the most basic and original to the Friends was abolishing the clergy – if all people had a direct access to God, and if God could speak through any person, what need was there for an unequal hierarchy where some men were considered more “holy” than other people? Friends have maintained their testimony that there is “that of God in everyone” – that is, every person has the potential to relate to God, and no person is greater or lesser in God’s eyes, despite what society may say.
The testimony of stewardship means that Quakers try to put God’s gifts to good use. Our talents and possessions, as well as the environment surrounding us, are not ours alone. Good stewardship means caring for what we have been given – for ourselves, those in our communities, and for future generations. Other ways of living the testimony of stewardship are financial responsibility, conserving energy, reducing waste, and recycling.
For additional information on the SPICES testimonies, visit:
Friends Media (Kid-Friendly SPICES with Queries)
YouTube video from “srekauq” (“srekauq” is Quakers backward – how clever!)