Although not all Quakers see themselves as Christian, Quakerism is a religious tradition rooted in the centrality of the teachings of Jesus. It was initially founded in 17th century England by George Fox as an attempt to move away from Christianity’s increasing ritual and excesses, and to return to Christ’s original message.
Quakers are also known as the Religious Society of Friends, or simply ‘Friends’ (after Jesus saying “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” in John 15:14). There are about 300,000 Quakers (Friends) worldwide. The largest groupings are in Kenya, Britain, North America, and Bolivia, but they can be found on every continent.
The fundamental idea of Quakerism – articulated then and still central – is that there is something of God in everyone. It may be hard to see, but it is there. We have no standard definition of what we mean by ‘something of God’: we use metaphors like the light guiding us, or a sense of what is good and right. This idea is not unique, but for us it is the central idea.
Types of Quakerism
Two main traditions of worship have evolved. In the non-programmed tradition, Quakers worship together in silence, but anyone may speak and share some insight they have – something that they have read, something that they have experienced, some understanding they have acquired. This often leads to others speaking in terms that relate to what they have heard.
In programmed forms of worship, much of the meetings/services are pre-planned, often with pastors to organize them.
What We Believe
We believe our faith should translate into action. To help guide and challenge us to live this way, Quakers have a number of ‘testimonies‘.
These testimonies have changed over the years as we want them to reflect current society and its issues. Today their focus is on simplicity, truth, equality, and peace.
Our testimonies encourage us to work locally and globally for social justice, support peacemakers and care for the environment. It’s not always easy to live this way, but as Quakers we try to help, support and encourage each other to keep trying:
Simplicity and Sustainability
Quakers are concerned about the excesses and unfairness of our consumer society and the unsustainable use of natural resources. We try to live simply and to find space for the things that really matter: the people around us, the natural world, our experience of God.
Truth and Integrity
Quakers try to live according to the deepest truth we know, which we believe comes from God. This means speaking the truth to all, including people in positions of power. As we are guided by integrity, so we expect to see it in public life.
Quakers believe everyone is equal. This means working to change the systems that cause injustice and hinder true community. It also means working with people who suffer injustice, such as prisoners and asylum seekers. This testimony led us to campaign for marriage equality.
Quakers are perhaps best known for our peace testimony, which comes from our belief that love is at the centre of existence and all humans are equal in God’s eyes. It has led Quakers to refuse military service and become involved in a variety of peace activities. These range from practical work in areas affected by violent conflict to developing alternatives to violence at all levels – from the personal to the international.
(Adapted from http://www.quakersintheworld.org/what-are-quakers.html and https://www.quaker.org.uk/about-quakers/our-values)
At the onset it is necessary to restate the core of Quakerism and the various practices and testimonies associated with it, although Quakerism is not non- credal. Perhaps a recent rendition by the Pacific Yearly Meeting is as good as any.
‘’Our corporate search for God’s word in the meeting for worship is the heart of the Quaker Meeting. The religious practices of Friends are founded in direct communion with God and the conviction that the Divine Light is accessible to all; yet it is one Light, one Truth. We wait with hearts and minds open to the Divine so that the truth will be made known among us.
‘’We believe that God, the Light, the Truth, is in each of us and in all creation. We say there is that of God in every one.’’ Truth is continually revealed to us, often through a gathered mystical experience. We can know it by experience.
‘’We work to develop a relationship between the individual and the corporate body that allows leading and inspiration to be tested within the Meeting, so that all may be sure it is God’s Light we follow. In this unity Friends find order and peace in reconciling individual inspiration and corporate wisdom, enabling us to choose right courses of action.
As God is revealed to us individually and corporately, we are guided in the right living of our lives. All of our practices as Friends flow from our faith in the revealed truth; our care for each other, our governing processes, our testimonies to the whole world. The test of the truth is not in the degree to which it conforms to dogma, but in its power to transform our lives and lives of others.
We are a religious tradition rooted in Christianity and the centrality of the teachings of Jesus. As a community of seekers, we must that truth is not identical to the metaphors which lead us to it, or to the language that expresses it. Rather it is our belief that the lived experience, spoken by our lives, is the universal manifestation of God.
“George Fox went on to claim” By following and obeying the light, man finds life, salvation and righteousness. Thus man can be saved from sin in this life: without pleading for sin, nor awaiting reprieve after death. By disobeying or ignoring the light, man is left in darkness
In addition to these notions (which would not be acceptable to all Quakers everywhere in the world) Quakers from the beginning were opposed to outward sacraments, Creeds, doctrine, and ‘’hireling ministry’’ (Fox). However, there have developed practices and behavioural codes which now form the central components of Quakerism. ( London Yearly Meeting).
For more information about Quakers www.quakerinfo.org/