What Do Quakers Believe? What Are Their Beliefs on Jesus?

What do Quakers believe about God and the Bible?  Do they believe differently about Jesus than mainstream Christianity does?

The Quakers call themselves Quakers but also “Friends”

How the Quakers Got their Name

The Quakers were founded in the 1600’s by George Fox and according to his biography, he was brought before England’s magistrates Nathaniel Barton and Gervase Bennet on charges of religious heresy.  One of those magistrates, Gervase Bennet, is responsible for the name Quakers. The Quakers call themselves Quakers but also “Friends” because Fox “ bad them [to] trembled at the Word of God” and the name stuck. [1]   Fox may have been referring to Isaiah 66:2b which says “this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”  The name Quaker, at first a name of ridicule, was later to be embraced by the Quakers and today 89% of them still refer to themselves as Quakers.  The Quakers are Protestants who believe in the same Jesus but their orthodoxy is different from most Christian churches as we will read about later in this article.

The Quakers were born of dissent and dissatisfaction about the Church of England which had become too ritualistic and hypocritical.  Even though their popularity caused their numbers to swell to 60,000 by the late seventeenth-century, they immigrated to America in search of greater religious freedom and better economic opportunities.  They eventually migrated to the Northeastern region of America and today primarily reside in New England.   Besides being called Quakers, they refer to themselves as “Friends” or “Friends of the Truth.”

What Quakers Believe

Quakers rely on revelation from the Holy Spirit but clearly they uphold all of the Bible as perfect and without error and so in this way they reflect most of the Protestant, evangelical churches. Any personal revelation from God must be placed against the Word of God and if a person’s revelation from God differs from what the Bible says, they fully reject it.  Most Quakers do believe in heaven and hell but feel it is more up to their personal interpretation of it and even the afterlife is left to speculation and up to each individual to interpret.  They see the Kingdom of God as being already presently on earth and not just some future hope.  Baptism in not as much an outward submersion in water but an inward conversion of the soul.

Quakers differ in that they see mankind as basically good and that even those who are not saved are the children of God.  This conflicts with what the Bible teaches that “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:1) and that “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom 3:10). When Jesus told the disciples how to pray in what is commonly called “The Lord’s Prayer” He opened it with “Our Father Who art in Heaven” (Matt 6:9).  Jesus does not see those who are lost as being children of God but as being the children of the Devil.  Jesus said to those who did not believe in Him that “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.  Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.  You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:42-44) so Jesus disagrees with Quaker doctrine that those who are not saved are still God’s children.  Quakers do not believe in the Sacraments like baptism or the Lord’s Supper (or Communion) but believe that belief in Jesus is itself a Sacrament.  The Quakers do not have a creed or a set of doctrinal beliefs but instead believe in meditating and having communion with God as their doctrine.   Their traditional testimonies are that of “pacifism, social equality, integrity, and simplicity.” [2]

Conclusion

Quakers are not that different from Christians in that they believe in the Bible, they believe in Jesus Christ and that He lived a sinless life and became for us the sacrifice that was necessary to restore fallen mankind to a right relationship with God and that a person can be saved based upon their belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Whether you are a Quaker, Catholic, or Protestant, you have the hope of an eternal home with the Lord and you are one of the children of God.  For those who have not repented, confessed their sin, pleaded to God for the forgiveness of their sins, and then trusted in Christ, God the Father is not their Father but their Judge and they are of their father the Devil.  Without repentance, confession, and trust in Christ, their future is hopeless because they don’t have the peace of God (Rom 5:1) and the Father doesn’t see them as having Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor 5:21) so their future is a bleak as possible (Rev 20:11-15) but for those who tremble at His Word and are of a contrite, broken spirit, He will be near to them (Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 66:2).  God leaves that decision up to you and you will live with that choice for all eternity with no opportunity to change it.

Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts

 

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Senior Writer at www.WhatChristiansWantToKnow.com whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design

Resources

1.  “Quakers.” Wikipedia.  (Last updated January 11th, 2014). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_Society_of_Friends  (accessed January 11, 2014).

2. “A Gateway to Quakerism.”  Quaker Info.  http://quakerinfo.org/index (accessed January 11, 2014).

photo credit: paladinsf via photopin cc

  • Rob Felton

    There are Quakers who are conservative Evangelicals and there are Quakers who would not even call themselves Christians. This article does not accurately reflect the diversity of beliefs within the Friends (Quaker) community. Here is one group that holds a more conservative set of views: http://www.evangelicalfriends.org/beliefs

    • Jack Wellman

      Thank you for this better look at what I missed Mr. Felton. I appreciate this sir.

    • http://faithlikeaman.blogspot.com/ Ryan Blanchard

      Indeed. I read this article thinking, “Huh? I don’t believe any of this stuff.”

      For the other side of the coin from what Rob posted, here’s a link that helps explains the ideas of Quakers who don’t believe in God at all
      http://nontheistfriends.org/

  • Ward Lee

    It is certainly not true to say that all Quakers “uphold all of the Bible as perfect and without error”. The Quakers I know (in the UK and in Australia) follow the leadings of the Spirit not the Book. As a Quaker, I respect the Bible for passing on the teachings of Jesus and for its beauty and poetry. But there is also experience and reason and the quiet inner Light that shows me the Way.

    • IAN RAMSAY

      This is an excellent synopsis of the life and faith of a Friend. Thank thee, Peace,

  • http://blog.billsamuel.net/ BillSamuel

    The author should have researched this more carefully. I don’t know where he got things like most Quakers are in New England. That’s not even considered a particular stronghold of Quakers.

    As others have noted, Quakers today range over a wide theological spectrum. As a decentralized group with no central human authority and one with several schisms which occurred in North America (and are now reflected in much of the Two-Thirds World where most contemporary Quakers live), it is very dangerous to generalize about Quakers.

    Quaker traditional understandings do have a lot to teach the larger church. For example, the understanding of scripture avoids the modern misconceptions such as fundamentalism on the one side and liberal disregard for scripture on the other side.

    • R Vogel

      Right? Pennsylvania, especially in the SE has always been a focal point for Quakerism, the state having been founded by a Friend. But about 5 sec of research led me to this http://www.quakerinfo.com/quak_us.shtml which showed that, in 1999 at least, Indiana has the largest absolute number of Quakers and Alaska, interestingly, has the largest percentage.
      He also completely glosses over the early persecution of Quakers in the new world, particularly in Puritan New England. Banishment, branding, whipping, and execution drove Quakers south to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Of course this is ironic in that it exposes some of the myth of the early settlers of the US coming for religious liberty, unless it was the liberty to persecute someone else.

    • Jack Wellman

      Well said Mr. Samuel. I do apologize to you sir and to the readers and to Patheos as this was intended to be only a snapshot and it appeared blurry because of my lack of effort to which I have deep regret and in the future will endeavor to do a more comprehensive job. Personally, a lesson learned is worth a thousand textbooks and I took this one to heart, for what that is worth. Thank you for putting up with me.

      • Religions Student

        You really just copy and paste the same insincere apology to every person who calls you out on your misrepresentation of a faith you do not even follow? You, sir are the reason I left my family church. If you have any weight within the academic community or are affiliated with any institution I truly hope they question your credentials seeing that you cited a wikipedia article! Coming from a Religions and Quaker Studies student, please stick to preaching about your OWN beliefs because then it just looks bad on you.

  • Steven Waling

    What on earth does this have to do with Quakerism? ‘Quaker doctrine?’ One of the reasons I became Quaker was to get away from such notions. I don’t know who you’ve been talking to but it doesn’t seem like you’ve been talking to Quakers. Unless the only place you’ve been is Ohio. And we’re certainly not bible-worshippers who believe it’s without error.

    • Jack Wellman

      I do apologize to the readers as well as to you sir and Steven I also do to Patheos as this was intended to be only a snapshot and it appeared blurry because of my lack of effort to which I have deep regret and in the future will endeavor to do a more comprehensive job. Personally, a lesson learned is worth a thousand textbooks and I took this one to heart, for what that is worth. Thank you for putting up with me.

  • Steven Waling

    This is ‘back-of-the-cereal-packet’ theology. It’s not even well-researched enough to be a good Chick tract (which if nothing else are good for a laugh.) Take a bunch of cracker barrel definitions, pair ‘em up with the ‘correct’ bible verses (suitably ripped out of context and made to serve the preacher’s agenda) and lo and behold, your congregants can go away feeling smug about their ‘knowledge’ of Quakerism.
    Then they might actually meet some Quakers and find out that not only are there different types of Quakerism, from very Christocentric to very nearly atheist, but that the whole point of Quakerism is to have a faith that is free of cracker-barrel definitions.
    But God forbid that an evangelical should ever think for him/herself. They might wake up and realise that there’s life outside the cave they’ve been living in.

    • RocksCryOut

      Steven, you are quite correct in asserting that precise Quaker beliefs are varied. However, worldwide, the vast majority of Friends confess an orthodox Christian faith… which I know for certain includes kindness and love for our fellow human beings… which leads me to believe you are either not a Quaker or you are having a daunting challenge being one.

      Have a nicer day. Friend.

      • Steven Waling

        You should read what George Fox and early Quakers had to say about “hireling Shepherds” and “steeplehouses” mate. They were a lot less generous than I was being.

        • RocksCryOut

          You and Mr. Fox should read (and apply) what Jesus said about taking the plank out of your own eye. And come to think of it, what he said about loving your enemies and being a peacemaker. Your behavior is very odd coming from one who claims to be of a group known as a “Society of Friends.” Doesn’t seem to have rubbed off.

          • Steven Waling

            Which Jesus we talking about? The meek and mild wouldn’t say boo to a goose guy or the one who called the religious establishment of his day whited sepulchres annd turned the moneychangers’ tables over in the temple? I can see the motive of this blog clearly enough: there’s that ridiculous threat of hell at the end ofit, as if he’s trying to bring us into line with the gospel of fear.

  • Jen Egan Cranston

    I have appreciated patheos as a conversation where all faiths have there OWN voice. Such a thin article about Quakers by a non-Quaker is really disappointing . I can get “why other faiths are wrong and are going to hell” tracts anywhere. I come to patheos to try to sincerely understand other faith walks. I may not be coming to patheos much more, if this is a trend.

    • Jack Wellman

      I do apologize to the readers and to you Jen and to Patheos as this was intended to be only a snapshot and it appeared blurry because of my lack of effort to which I have deep regret and in the future will endeavor to do a more comprehensive job. Personally, a lesson learned is worth a thousand textbooks and I took this one to heart, for what that is worth. Thank you for putting up with me.

  • Russ Dewey

    This bears no resemblance whatsoever to what I learned as a child at the Friend’s Meeting. Very misleading and full of fundamentalist sounding nonsense.

  • Steve Johnson

    Terrible article. You know nothing of Quaker. You mention “Whether you are a Quaker, Catholic, or Protestant, you have the hope of an eternal home with the Lord and you are one of the children of God” then in the same breath you say one must repent and confess which is NOT Quaker. So then how is there “hope of an eternal home” for us in your mind? Please do not write articles on something you know nothing about. You and your crowd have persecuted and led a smear campaign against us for centuries. Please stop and please remove this article. You are what gives Christans a bad name. Jack Wellman paraphrase: everyone has hope of eternity as long as you follow Jack Wellman’s beliefs.

  • Johan Eustache

    ” clearly they uphold all of the Bible as perfect and without error “. What on Earth are you talking about? “Clearly” you know nothing of Quakers. Because the scriptures are only a declaration of the source, and not the source
    itself, they are not to be considered the principal foundation of all truth and
    knowledge. The Bible is not perfect and does contain error and contradiction. Have you actually read it? If you had maybe your beliefs would lie closer to Quaker. There’s a good reference on this same website. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/08/19/an-incredible-interactive-chart-of-biblical-contradictions/

  • Tessa Dragon VanLear

    This is so far from the truth at times. The Bible is not viewed as the Word of God by all Quakers and not the ultimate authority.

  • IAN RAMSAY

    You define the belief system of the Religious Society of Friends as if you knew what you were talking about. As a convinced Quaker, I can tell you and the others here that you most assuredly do not. Reading two short pieces about us does not make you an expert.

    [1] The largest number of Quakers live in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is the largest in the Us. This is because Pennsylvania started out as a Quaker colony founded by the Quaker.

    [2] There are two types of Quakers: programmed and unprogrammed. The programmed Friends worship much as low church Protestants many are evangelicals who pattern their lives according to the bible. Unprogrammed Friends worship in silence until someone is moved by the Spirit to speak. This is the more traditional Quakerism.

    [3] Few Friends believe that the bible is inerrant. Almost all accept scientific data over stories in the bible. We study the bible usually from the viewpoint of literary criticism. Some Quakers are Christians, but few unprogrammed Friends would call themselves Protestants. If anything, unprogrammed Friends tend towards universalism. Friends study Jesus, appreciate the greatness of Jesus and many believe that Jesus is God.

    [4] Since we have no dogma or formal system of theology, it is impossible to say what all Friends believe. Friends, however, generally believe in continuing revelation. The inspiration we receive from the Spirit or the Light is prophesy equal to the prophesy found in the bible. All prophesy whether ancient or modern is open to interpretation and discussion. Some Friends see little use in studying the bible, first, because it is sometimes wrong, and, second, because we believe we receive sufficient revelation in meeting for worship. Jesus is for many our avatar, paraclete and example: but not all.

    [5] Friends do not generally worry about being saved. In the crucifixion and resurrection, all were saved. Jesus died for all people not just those who live in places where Christianity is practiced. To some unprogrammed Friends, the death of Jesus was a historical fact of treachery not a preordained, pre-engineered event. Again, we have no dogma.

    [6] You say that we do not believe in sacraments. It would be more accurate to say we have no sacraments as rituals. We do not have water baptism because Jesus did not baptize with water. He baptized with the Holy Spirit. If we are baptized, we are baptized by the Spirit. We do not celebrate the eucharist. We break bread in meeting for worship with attention to eating together at picnics and pot licks. We marry ourselves in the presence of the Spirit or the Light. Everything we do as a group we do as meeting for worship with attention to the event at hand. We hold people in the Light and we worship in the Light.

    [7] Our faith and belief are based on our personal experience and the experiences of other Friends.

    [8] There are not a whole lot of unprogrammed Friends who would agree that Friends believe Jesus “became for us the sacrifice that was necessary to restore fallen mankind to a right relationship with God and that a person can be saved based upon their belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” I have never heard a Friend sayanything close to ” For those who have not repented, confessed their sin, pleaded to God for the forgiveness of their sins, and then trusted in Christ, God the Father is not their Father but their Judge and they are of their father the Devil. Without repentance, confession, and trust in Christ, their future is hopeless because they don’t have the peace of God (Rom 5:1) and the Father doesn’t see them as having Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor 5:21) so their future is a bleak as possible (Rev 20:11-15) but for those who tremble at His Word and are of a contrite, broken spirit, He will be near to them (Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 66:2). God leaves that decision up to you and you will live with that choice for all eternity with no opportunity to change it.” Such is nonsense for most Friends.

    [9] Friends rarely if ever reference single verses the way you do. When the bible is quoted, every Friend I know will speak in generalities and invite Friends to read a chapter or two at least to understand the context of the principle being discussed. Quakers are not fundamentalists. We do not pick and choose verses to establish truth. We were originally the Religious Society of the Friends of Truth. Truth is found in discernment through threshing sessions of the whole meeting, from clearness committees, meetings for worship with attention to business in which there is no voting only full agreement of every member of the meeting. We discern truth; we do not always find truth in an inspired but imperfect set of documents.

    [10] You mentioned nothing of our testimonies which we gleaned from the teachings of Jesus and have found truthful in our share experience: integrity, simplicity, equality, community, stewardship and peace. You mentioned a lot about the bible which is not all that important, but ignored our call to act. James developed his epistle around the theme of service. Jesus’ final parable of judging the sheep and goats is directly on point for us.

    [11] You failed to mention that we are pacifists: one of our best known characteristics. We believe that there is that of God in every person; therefore, we will kill no one. We do not resort to violence. We generally completely agree with the power of non-violence for change as advocated by Jesus, Gandhi and King. We do not believe in any sort of redemptive violence. Jesus believed in shalom, so do we.

    [12] The old Friends had no time for the book, bells, steeple houses, decorated worship spaces or hireling preachers.

    This article is not truth. Please remove it.

    I am weary of discussing this. I am going to bed with my husband. Oh, did I mention Quakers have no difficulty with homosexuality? In fact, we have an important committee in our national organization for the comfort and support of our many LGBTQ Friends. Peace.

    • Frank Lockwood

      Very informative piece. Thanks for sharing it.

      • IAN RAMSAY

        Glad you liked it. Unfortunately, he has not taken this page down. Apparently, conservative Christians are no more interested in truth than conservative political parties like the Republicans and the Tea Party. Their lack of integrity is apalling. Still, we Quakers hold them in the Light in the hope that they will yield to the pleas of the Holy Spirit that they trust and appreciate the Truth. Peace.

    • Lynn Van Daele

      Wow,,,,,I was considering looking into becoming a quaker, I was researching their beliefs. I’ve been a Christian most of my life, and I’m searching for like minded people. But after reading your post about supporting homosexuals,, the quakers are not for me, If we truly love each other, we will not support any destructive sin in another .

      • IAN RAMSAY

        If you believe that homosexuality is a destructive behavior and not a gift of God to some of his children you [1] deny a vast amount of scientific research to maintain your prejudice and [2] would be very unhappy among Quakers. In my homosexuality, I have found an abiding love and a greater faith in the goodness of God’s gifts. Peace.

        • Guest

          God hates you.

          • IAN RAMSAY

            If the Bible is in any way accurate, that seems unlikely. It is the height of hubris for you to imagine that you know the mind of God. I have little more to say to an unrepentant bigot. If Jesus is quoted correctly in the gospels then God is love. All love comes from God. Hate is antithetical to God and never proceeds from God. Peace.

          • Guest

            Sirach 12:7
            The Most High himself hates sinners, and upon the wicked he takes vengeance.

            You filthy pervert.

          • IAN RAMSAY

            We are all sinners; so you believe God hates us all. You have a strange understanding of God. Jesus did say that good fruit cannot come from a bad tree. Remember that when you consider the Sistine Chapel, da Vinci’s Last Supper, Schubert’s Ave Maria, et al. Christian music would all but disappear without gay organists and composerd. Peace.

          • IAN RAMSAY

            It is impossible to discuss Christianity with someone who has no understanding of Christianity. Sirach is not in the canon of the Christian bible. It is part of a collection of books voted down by the Council of Nicea. Peace.

      • Connie

        This is a very divisive issue for Quakers, as it is for many faiths. You will find Friends (Quakers) on all sides of this. Quakers are by no means monolithic on this or many other things.

  • Andrew Gage

    I think that whenever someone from a mainline religious church tries to understand Quakers, that’s a good and welcome enterprise. It’s not so much that you have it wrong, so much (as you can probably see), you’ve failed to appreciate the diversity within Quakers, and spoken with a bit more confidence than is warranted (no Quaker would try to summarize all Quaker thought in this way).

    In terms of the content of the piece – I think it’s an oversimplification to say that Quakers feel that people are inherently good (although some might well) – more that they inherently have good (indeed “something of God”) within them and we act as Friends to them when we engage with that. In terms of your suggestion that that’s unbiblical, I set the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), and his constant concern for the poor and the sinner as children of God, against your couple of quotes from Romans and a misinterpretation of the Lord’s Prayer (which affirms that God is our father – and doesn’t exclude anyone from that parentage).

    To address the quotes from Romans (which, of course, are Paul’s not Jesus’, although I recognize that distinction may not be so important to you), I would ask whether Jesus, in chastising Peter as Satan (Matt. 16:23), meant that Peter was no longer a child of God was was literally Satan? If your answer is no, then how is that different from the emotive language in Romans?

    Modern Friends, myself included, often do not know their Bible terribly well, but the early Friends certainly knew it inside out (it was said of George Fox that if every copy of the Bible was destroyed, Fox would be able to recreate it from memory). So I would caution against claiming that your own interpretation is authoritative.

    But, once again, I thank you for trying to understand the views of Friends, and will hold you in the Light if you continue in that search.

  • lemondrop1

    someone told me the Quakers are liberal , ok how can you believe in Jesus as your Savior but think abortion is a personal choice? or how can you think same sex marriage is right? if in genesis, God said, ” let us make man in our image” NIV< there is only one way to God, and that is thru his son, and having faith that Jesus is the savior and is God .

    • IAN RAMSAY

      Actually, NIV translates the line “let us make MANKIND in our image,” which is to say all humanity or both sexes. This is not a statement about the sex of God and males, it is a statement about the spiritual and creative nature shared by God and all humans (including homosexuals). Thee would be hard pressed to explain how creative and spiritual people (who also happened to be homosexual as well) like Michelangelo, Handel, Schubert, St John Neuman, Eleanor Roosevelt et al. were not created in the image of God. The Beatitudes tell us that peacemakers like Neuman and E. Roosevelt are the children of God. Thee underestimates the variety of God’s blessed saints. Peace.

    • IAN RAMSAY

      RE: thy second sentence: thee is quite correct to say that having faith that Jesus is savoiur and is God is the way to God. Such a statement does not require a particular sexual orientation as a necessary consideration to reach God. Only the faith is required. Peace.

  • Connie

    I’m not sure how I found this post, but I was shocked. I have been around Friends from all of the various “streams” of Quakerism for over twenty years and a member of the Religious Society of Friends for almost that many. The author really ought to take this post down as he completely misrepresents our faith. He needs to do more research and perhaps should talk to some actual real life Quakers. It is very hard to generalize about Quakers.

    As to Scripture, Conservative Friends believe (and Scripture tells us) that Jesus is the Word of God – not the bible. Although many Quakers from the Evangelical and Liberal branches would likely disagree, perhaps readers might be interested in these words from early Quaker Robert Barclay that a F/friend of mine posted recently on another site:

    the Scriptures “are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself… they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty: for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all truth.” (Robert Barclay, Apology, Third Proposition, 1678)

    • IAN RAMSAY

      Thank thee for this. It is a blessing in this discussion. Further, most unprogrammed Friends believe in continuing revelation, which is why the Christian scriptures in its fourth-century static form, while instructive and useful, is incomplete because it does not record the activity of the Spirit/Light since then. Peace.

      • Connie

        I experience Jesus Christ as a Living Presence in my life. I also recognize my Lord when I read Scripture and He can help me understand it better. Of course, I would expect Christ Jesus… as Himself, not just as pages of a book… to continue to be my Guide and Inner Teacher now and in the future.

        That said, I wouldn’t expect Christ to guide me in ways that were contrary to Scripture either. He could, however, give me new insight or understanding of Scripture though – perhaps in light of new information or study – or “revelation.” My non-Quaker Christian friends say the Holy Spirit does this for them. I use this term frequently now also. Also, just as it’s hard to be a Christian by yourself, it’s hard to be a Quaker by yourself. Other Friends, especially those with gifts of eldering, have helped me discern how my Guide is leading me.

        Theology is interesting, but it isn’t a substitute for faithfulness or an end in itself.

        I think Friends of all stripes would agree that the important thing is how we love and live our lives in THIS world. Professing belief for the sake of professing belief – without it impacting how we live our lives – is, in my Friendly opinion, worthless.


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