Early Quakers used the term “Inward Light” to refer to God’s direct revelation into the hearts of all believers, as described particularly in John 1:9. Many Friends today describe the core of their faith being belief in the “inner light”. This phrase, to me, leads to major confusion with personal conscience and undefined goodness or potential for good within each human.
Although the term has not been widely used by Friends, I like to use the term “Holy Spirit” (in a similar manner to Inward Light) to refer to many of the ways in which God touches and inspires individual people of faith. The Holy Spirit can draw Friends together when their hearts are opened to the divine presence in silent communion. This same Spirit that can “cover” waiting worship is also capable of giving words to those called to offer vocal ministry out of the gathered silence. I also believe the Holy Spirit can play a critical role in physical and emotional healing. I am not, however, a Trinitarian and in no sense believe that the Holy Spirit is a separate “person” from God the Creator or Christ. God is one person, but certainly God acts in our lives in many different ways!
Many Friends today like to use the word “Spirit” (or “spirit”), often as a way of avoiding offense to others who have a block about the words God or Lord. I have no problem with using “Spirit” if it is clear that the word refers to the living Divine being who speaks, teaches, inspires, guides, heals, and gathers us together. Unfortunately, however, it is often very unclear what “Spirit” actually means to Friends who use this term. Too often, I sense it is used to refer not as a word for God but to a kind of vague force or spirit of goodness, devoid of divinity, power, or intentionality. To me the heart of Quakerism is the direct intimate guiding relationship between God and the faith community. If one does not believe in a God that can guide or lead, I do not understand what Quakerism is about.
The word “Christ” was originally the Greek word for savior or messiah. Only later did the word come to be interchangeable with Jesus’ name. Friends traditionally have used the word Christ in a unique manner among Christians. They have often used “Christ” as yet another way to refer to God’s direct relationship with the believing community in the present. The term Inward Light, in fact, originally referred to the Inward Light of Christ. The expressions Inward Christ, Living Christ and Spirit of Christ emphasize this understanding of Christ, which is emphatically not limited to the historical Jesus of Nazareth or to a single (if universe changing) act of salvation that took place in the 1st century.
Early Friends clearly made no distinction whatsoever between Christ as the human who lived in Galilee in the first century and Christ as God acting to transform and guide lives today. This unity is not always as evident for Friends who use terms such as Inward Christ today. I will not attempt to address here my beliefs on Christology other than to say that when I use the term Christ in these writings I am referring in most cases to God acting in hearts, lives, and communities in the present day.