The Quaker Testimonies of Simplicity and Stewardship are the foundation of our spiritual relationship with money. According to Faith and Practice of North Pacific Yearly Meeting, “Simplicity is cutting away all that is extraneous.” Thus, the beginning of a life of simplicity is the elimination of unnecessary material possessions, or what Quakers refer to as “cumber.” This insures that we are not slaves to inanimate objects and allows us to focus on our faith. Advice No. 15 of the Elders Balby (1656) states, “That all Friends that have callings and trades, do labor in the thing that is good, in faithfulness and uprightness, and keep to their yea and nay in all their communications; and that all who are indebted to the world, endeavor to discharge the same, that nothing they may owe to any man but love one to another.” (This last point closely resembles Romans 13:8.) In other words, we must not incur unnecessary debt and we must live within our means.
Turning again to Faith and Practice of North Pacific Yearly Meeting, we find a number of advices and queries pertaining to the Testimony of Simplicity:
Friends are advised to strive for simplicity in the use of their earnings and property, and in their style of living, choosing that which is simple and useful. This does not mean that life is to be poor and bare, destitute of joy and beauty. All that promotes fullness of life and aids in service for God is to be accepted with thanksgiving. Each must determine by the light that is given what promotes and what hinders the compelling search for inner peace.
The queries further ask us:
Do we keep our lives uncluttered with things and activities, and avoid commitments beyond our strength and light?
Try to live simply. A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength. Do not be persuaded into buying what you do not need or cannot afford. Do you keep yourself informed about the effects your style of living is having on the global economy and environment?
In accordance, we, as Quakers, must ask how money impacts our lives and the world. This involves asking ourselves probative questions: Is this purchase necessary? Can I afford this? Would this purchase contribute to oppression or war?
Stewardship begins with the realization that all things of the world were created and belong to God. Psalms 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” We must also realize that we are entrusted with these things of the world and must be faithful stewards. John Woolman’s simple statement in A Word of Remembrance and Caution to the Rich (1793) may serve as a beginning for all consideration of stewardship: “As Christians, all we possess is the gift of God, and in the distribution of it we act as his stewards; it becomes us therefore to act agreeably to that divine wisdom which he graciously gives to his servants.” The principle of stewardship thus applies to all that we have and are, as individuals, as members of groups, and as inhabitants of the Earth. As individuals, we are obliged to use our time, our various abilities, our strength, our money, our material possessions, and other resources in a spirit of love, aware that we hold these gifts in trust, and are responsible to use them in the Light.
The queries regarding stewardship ask us:
Do we keep to moderation and simplicity in our standards of living?
Do we regard our time, talents, energy, money, material possessions, and other resources as gifts from God, to be held in trust and shared according to the Light we are given? How do we express this conviction?
According to Advice No. 9 of Faith and Practice of New York Yearly Meeting (2001), “Friends are responsible for the manner of acquiring, using, and disposing of their possessions.” To paraphrase Woolman, the business of our lives is to turn all we possess into the channel of universal love. This is the essence of Quaker stewardship.
Many Quakers are fond of quoting the well‐ known statement that “Quakers set out to do good, and did very well.” A brief study of early successful Quakers enables one to easily understand why they were successful. They offered good products and services at reasonable prices. They were honest in their dealings and did not overextend themselves financially. They treated their employees well, and they donated time and money to charitable causes and social issues. In addition, through meetings Quakers were able to establish powerful networks with other Quakers. Implementing their beliefs, Quakers were able to accumulate wealth and use their wealth to effect social change.
The queries ask each one of us:
Are you honest and truthful in all you say and do?
Do you maintain strict integrity in business transactions and in your dealings with individuals and organizations?
Do you use money and information entrusted to you with discretion and responsibility?
Through simplicity and stewardship we can positively impact our lives and the world. By improving our relationship with money we improve our spiritual lives. To do this we must live simply, live within our means, be informed consumers, be good stewards, and be generous. Simple, isn’t it?