Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Quaker beliefs and practices
"It's hard to love the questions when you live in a society obsessed with
answers. A believer takes a great risk in affirming the questions and doubts
of others because to be a good Christian is to have all the answers and to
never admit you have any questions. Consequently, we have a lot of people
living out a spirituality they can hardly claim to be their own. On the
surface they look good. They can sing all the right hymns and say all the
right prayers. They quote all the right verses and support all the
appropriate groups. They have even overcome great tragedy and despair and
give claim to a testimony of great victory. But deep within their being,
they are torn apart by this 'spiritual schizophrenia.' They have
doubts....But the Christian culture 'code of silence' has forced them on a
journey of 'Jesus is the answer' without ever having been allowed to ask the
questions." Scott Waggoner, (1993).
As with all large denominations, individual Quakers are religiously diverse. Their
beliefs range from Evangelical (conservative) to liberal. The following beliefs are common
to most Quakers:
Friends believe that there exists element of God's spirit in every human
soul. The Patheos website states:|
"Friends don't teach that human nature is inherently sinful. On the contrary,
the heart of Quakerism is the belief in an Inner Light, a part of God's spirit
that dwells in every human soul." 1
Thus all persons have inherent worth, independent of their gender, race,
age, nationality, religion, and sexual orientation. Their opposition to
sexism, racism, religious intolerance, warfare, the death penalty, -- and in
some Quaker groups homophobia and
transphobia -- comes
from their "Inner Light" belief.|
||Simplicity, pacifism, and inner revelation are long standing Quaker beliefs. Their
religion does not consist of accepting specific beliefs or of engaging in certain
practices; it involves each person's direct experience of God.|
There is a strong mystical component to Quaker belief. In the moving words of one
reviewer of this essay, "In Meeting for Worship, God is there. God is probably
always there, but in Meeting, I am able to slow down enough to see God. The Light becomes
tangible for me, a blanket of love, a hope made living." |
||They do not have a specific creed; however, many of the coordinating groups have created
statements of faith. The statement by the largest Quaker body, the Friends United
Meeting includes the beliefs in:
||True religion as a personal encounter with God, rather than ritual and ceremony.
||Individual worth before God.
||Worship as an act of seeking.
||The virtues of moral purity, integrity, honesty, simplicity and humility.
||Christian love and goodness.
||Concern for the suffering and unfortunate.
||Continuing revelation through the Holy Spirit.
||Many do not regard the Bible as the only source of belief and conduct. They rely upon
their Inner Light to resolve what they perceive as the Bible's many contradictions. They also feel free to take
advantage of scientific and philosophical findings from other sources.|
Individual Quakers hold diverse views concerning life after death. Few believe in the
eternal punishment of individuals in a Hell.|
||All aspects of life are sacramental; they do not differentiate between the secular and
the religious. No one day or one place or one activity is any more spiritual than any
||Quakers have had a tradition of opposing war. They have followed the
beliefs of the early Christian movement which was strongly pacifist.
Early Christians even refused to bring charges against others if there
was a possibility of the death penalty being exercised. Together with
the Amish, Church of the Brethren, and Mennonites, they made it possible
for men to be classified as conscientious objectors. |
||On a per-capita basis, they have probably contributed more in the promotion of
tolerance, peace and justice than any other Christian denomination. They have been
influential beyond what their numbers would suggest in many areas: promotion of world
peace, abolition of slavery, fair treatment of Native Americans, universal suffrage,
prison reform, improvement in mental hospitals, etc.
Some of the Yearly Meetings publish a Book of Discipline or a book on Faith
and Practice. These are not sets of strict rules. They are general guidelines for
living and include Quaker history, excerpts from the journals of old and weighty Friends
and poetry. Also included are monthly queries, which the individual member and meetings
can use to explore what they are doing to make a positive impact on the world.
The New York Yearly Meeting's Faith & Practice document can
be seen at: http://www.nyym.org/quakerism/fnp/
Quakers do not simply seek a consensus, as many people believe. They
seek the will of God by following the leading of the Spirit to resolve
differences. One of their documents states: "In all our meetings for
church affairs we need to listen together to the Holy Spirit. We do not
seek consensus; we are seeking the will of God. The unity of the meeting
lies more in the unity of the search than in the decision which is
reached. We must not be distressed if our listening involves waiting,
perhaps in confusion, until we feel clear what it is God wants done." 2
||Women obtained equal status to men throughout most of the Quaker movement early in its
history - centuries earlier than in most other denominations.
||Most meetings are unprogrammed. That is, they are held in silence. Attendees speak when
moved to do so. Elsewhere, services have programmed orders of worship,
usually led by a pastor.
||They usually arrange the congregation in a square or circle, so that each person is
aware of everyone else, yet no one person appears raised above another in status.
Programmed services may be composed of prayer, readings from the Bible, readings from
the Book of Discipline, a sermon, hymn singing, music, and "free worship based
upon silent waiting,"
They do not have a ritual of baptism. Rather, they believe in the "inward
baptism of the Holy Spirit" described in Ephesians 4:4-5.
||Throughout their history, Quakers have refused to take oaths. Their belief is that one
should tell the truth at all times. Taking an oath implies that there are two types of
truthfulness: one for ordinary life and another for special occasions.
The common names of the days of the week and of the months of the
year were originally derived from Pagan deities or were numbered using a
Pagan Roman notation. For example Wednesday is a corruption of Woden's
Day; Monday was once Moon Day. January was named after the Roman God
Janus, while December was the Tenth Month. Quakers in olden times
replaced the names with numbers. Sunday was called First Day; Saturday
was Seventh Day; January was called First Month, while December became
Twelfth Month. Early in the 20th century, they began to
revert to the common names, because they felt that the public had long
forgotten their Pagan origin.
"Society of Friends (Quaker) Overview," Patheos, 2008-9, at:
The "Quaker Faith & Practice" of the Britain Yearly Meeting -
Copyright © 1996 to 2009 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-DEC-26
Author: B.A. Robinson