One of the biggest issues I have been confronted with for some time surrounds the word 'Church'.
Of course the reason for this is the British government's decisions over certain other (yawn) issues and I, for one, am perhaps not just bored to death with it all and the distractions that it brings but also in some small part just a little grateful.
Surprised? (of course you are - so let me explain)
The two 'churches' that have been most quoted as being in favour of, and wishing to, provide 'religious' services for you know what are the Quakers and the Unitarians.
So we have to perhaps first and foremost ask ourselves what these two groups are and how we should regard them - and the answer to this is:
So what we actually have is two non-Christian groups (and the use of the word 'church' is valid here in the context of relating it means and bunch of people who hold to the same views, beliefs (for atheists, political types and others all have tenets of belief and understanding). What they are not is (think I've said this) Christian and so it is perhaps not a surprise that they wish to do as they do.
Just to refresh memories (as I have said this before too - take a looks at VtV's past):
Began in: Mid-Seventeenth Century
Founder: George Fox (UK), William Penn (USA)
Membership: c. 200,000 worldwide
Bible: It's a good read and can yield some interesting and quite motivational stuff, but it's no more special than any other book out there. It most certainly isn't the inspired Word of God and although it might be found within a Quaker setting, it would only be one of many other books that might inspire or motivate and be merely equal to the rest.
Beliefs: To use their own words, "Quakers do not share a fixed set of beliefs."
They are essentially another brand of (universalist) Unitarians who meet together and have a 'shared understanding' but no common or unifying creed, concept of God and like the Unitarians find Pagans (of which there seems to be a lot of) rubbing shoulders with atheists and other philosophical and religious thinking.
Everyone has something (the light) of God within them and that all are equal regardless of belief, behaviour or practices.
This is one of the reasons they are pacifistic (another Unitarian characteristic), because all are right there is no need to defend or push one's views, just a need to protect those of others.
So, God is Love and the light of God shines through us all such that we need no person, creeds or books to guide us for we experience our own redemption from within and live it externally (think I've understood this correctly).
Like other groups, the key is on the outworking and so Quakers seek to make the world a better place (not a bad goal) and engage in human rights (because all choices are valid and all people are equally valid too), social justice, environmental issues, the peace movement and above all, the freedom to act and believe as one feels is right.
Conscience is all!
They don't have the Bible, they don't have the Trinity and they don't do anything that would otherwise be considered 'sacramental'.
As a bit of a parting shot, I understand that the name 'Friends' derives from John 15:14: where Jesus says:
"You are my friends if you do what I command you."
A bit of an enigma appearing here as they are doing what someone commands and yet not believing in Him, the One who sent Him, or the third member of the Trinity!
Are they Christian?
Obviously the answer is 'No'.!
I would be amazed at the number of people who assume that the Quakers (AKA Religious Society of Friends) are Christians if it were not for the fact that I also (a long time ago) used to assume the same thing!
Listening to a couple of Quakers on the Radio a while back, it appears that they were canvassing the general public regarding what opinions might be popular for the Quakers to have and were commenting on how popular being a Quaker had been last time they updated their attitudes. All very egalitarian and as damning as it might be applause-worthy (I fear)!
Origins:Transylvania and Poland
Began in:16th Century
Founder: Francis David
Membership: c. 750,000
Bible: Although regarded as valuable the Bible is fallible and therefore not regarded as authoritative. Or as one book I read on the issue stated, "It needs to be read with a degree of reason, logic and a pinch of salt. At the end of the day the truth within it is dependent upon that which the reader wishes it to have!"
The Bible is just one of many sources, sacred or secular, which can be used in the services for no one book has the monopoly on religious truth.
There is a strong belief that there is only one God but it is obvious that this means little in reality. In fact, it appears that views regarding God are such that he is a cosmic force, a convenient name given for natural (and supernatural) forces, a hindrance to any unified existence and an unnecessary encumbrance.
Don't think we even need to consider their views from a Credal or Christian trinitarian setting as there simply isn't one.
Jesus ranges from a freedom fighter, a pacifistic visionary and a poet and there's many other takes on Him besides.
The bottom line is that He is neither man made God or God made man, he's merely a bloke.
The Holy Spirit, like Jesus, continues the pattern in their non-trinitarian beliefs (understandable as they don't have a first member (God) either) but fares a little better than the other two (Father and Son) as the new age 'cosmic force' or as an eastern 'spiritual force'. But, at best, He's still an 'it'.
Seeing unity in all things, no matter how apparently diverse, this is a group who try to bring all things together in a way that allows for a very wide range of beliefs and doubts. All are free to believe whatever they wish in unity with others and the more diversity there is the more there is an opportunity to also find some unity.
To this end it is possible to find a degree of pluralism that many faiths are embraced and lifestyles validated. So much so that within one group it is possible to find Jews, Christians, Pagans, Atheists, Buddhist and Hindus happily co-existing.
There are no creeds or set beliefs for all, or none, are valid.
There are no ministers, for all lead themselves as they make their own journey and plot their own beliefs because, obviously, there are no exclusive or primary truths. That said, there are core values of love, respect and unity. After all, unity with all things in all things is what they're about.
Seems also that the key evidence of being a unitarian is 'making a difference'.
Their motto should be 'actions not words' as I see it and it is because of this that we see them often in caring professions and roles within society.
Basically, for a bunch who are happy to admit just about everything, they omit or deny quite a bit!
They deny just about everything that is Christian: the Trinity, Jesus' Deity, sin (just ain't there and there's no need for redemption if that's gone - so no need of Jesus).
The Bible's dodgy, flawed, fallible and equal to everything (including Viz!) and yet they still call themselves 'Christian' (which I think in this setting means 'Humane' or 'kind').
Are they Christian? I have to fall back on something Donald Guthrie once said in a lecture:
"Those who believe everything in fact find themselves believing nothing!" and it is here that the answer 'No' becomes rather obvious.
So what's the problem? The government are happy to let gatherings or groups of people to exist in the religions of their own making and let these 'churches' conduct same-sex marriages. Not only that but they wish to make it illegal for Christian churches (ie. Church of England and the Church in Wales) to conduct same.
Personally, I'm more than happy to see that upheld by law - after all it does provide a measure of security as people strive to keep the law (God's and man's).
Simples methinks :-)