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Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

Quaker beliefs and practices

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"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:

bullet 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

bullet 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.

bullet 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.
bullet 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."
bullet 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:
bullet True religion as a personal encounter with God, rather than ritual and ceremony.
bullet Individual worth before God.
bullet Worship as an act of seeking.
bullet The virtues of moral purity, integrity, honesty, simplicity and humility.
bullet Christian love and goodness.
bullet Concern for the suffering and unfortunate.
bullet Continuing revelation through the Holy Spirit.
bullet 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.
bullet Individual Quakers hold diverse views concerning life after death. Few believe in the eternal punishment of individuals in a Hell.
bullet 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 other.
bullet 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. 


bullet 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.
bullet 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:
bullet 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
bullet Women obtained equal status to men throughout most of the Quaker movement early in its history - centuries earlier than in most other denominations.
bullet 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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,"
bullet 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.
bullet 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.
bullet 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.

References used:

  1. "Society of Friends (Quaker) Overview," Patheos, 2008-9, at:
  2. The "Quaker Faith & Practice" of the Britain Yearly Meeting - Paragraph 2.89.

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Copyright 1996 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-DEC-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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