The Religious Society of Friends is a religious movement that was established in 17th century England by Englishman George Fox. Its members are known as either Friends or Quakers. During a time of great political and religious unrest in Britain, many Friends were persecuted for their beliefs and accused of sacrilege. The term “Quaker” was first used by Justice Bennet of Derby during a hearing of George Fox on the charge of blasphemy. Bennet used the term to describe the members of the newly formed group as they believed that humanity should tremble at the Word of God.
Though the founding of the New World was largely based on religious freedom and separation of Church and State, Quakers found little solace or welcome in the colonies, either. In 1682, William Penn established the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as a safe haven for migrating Quakers and other “persecuted minorities.” Now, let’s examine the foundational beliefs of The Religious Society of Friends.
The Light Within & The Inner Voice
The Religious Society of Friends is based on the belief that all people – no matter what race, gender, or class – are children of God. As such, all humanity has access to God and his son, Jesus without intercession from a minister or bishop. Also, as all children of God are viewed equally in His eyes, Quakerism does not uphold traditional religious authority.
Friends are members of an experiential faith which means that they have direct contact with the Spirit. They believe that if they wait quietly on God, he will speak to them in their hearts. These messages are to be spoken during meetings or at other times used in direction of their actions.
Mysticism and Meetings
Meetings of the Society can be either programmed or unprogrammed. Programmed services are much like those of modern Protestantism. Traditional, unprogrammed meetings consist of members being seated quietly until God speaks to a member. Then and only then are members allowed to speak. An unprogrammed meeting is complete when a member gets the divine message to shake hands with another member signaling the meeting’s end. Programmed services are more common in the southern and central United States.
Practice of Outward Rites and Sacraments
As Quakers believe all of life to be sacred, they do not give much weight to outward rites such as baptism and communion. Everyday of a person’s life should be lived with reverence to God and be a testimony of their faith. Typical Christian rites and sacraments are not prohibited but Friends are warned to not put these activities ahead of Godly direction.
Friends do not usually celebrate Christian holidays such as Christmas, Lent, or Easter, either. Again, they believe that everyday of the year should be a celebration of God and the life of Christ. This belief as well as their belief in equality, leads them to maintain minimalistic lifestyles with simple appearance and plain speech.
Peace and Unity
Friends do not believe in war but rather peace among all people. The Light Within will lead people to form unity through compromise or a changing of the heart. They believe that forcing others to do things against their will creates a superficial union instead of organic, lasting harmony. Because of this principle, Friends do not generally believe that the “majority rules”. Again, the Light Within will not cause division among his people but create unity.
Lack of Creed
The Religious Society of Friends has no creed. As members believe that God continues to make revelations known to those who will listen and the Bible is not his final word, but a guide that should be read in the same Spirit as it was written. Quakers believe that a set creed would get in the way of the individual’s personal relationship with God including “authentic listening and recognition of new insight.”