Quakers

Our original article on the Quakers began with the sentence, “The purpose of these notes is to try to discover from their own writings whether Quakers are a cult, a Christian denomination or what?” One direct descendent (PMD) of the original Quakers says of this,

“The correct answer is that Quakerism is authentic primitive Christianity revived. Not a “cult”, not a “denomination”, and not a “what”. It is above all else authentic Christianity.”

Background

The official title of this group is The Religious Society of Friends or just Friends for short. Quakers is a nickname that was invented in 1650 by a judge concerning the followers of George Fox. Fox was before the judge on a charge of blasphemy and told the judge that, “He should tremble at the word of the Lord”.

We read in “Quakers in brief” or “Quakerism made easy” written by David M Murray-Rust in 1995 that:

“It began through the agency of George Fox; and the date which is generally accepted as the “birth time of Quakerism” is 1652. For some five years, Fox had been travelling round the country, spreading his message. He was understood and welcomed by some, but he also met with considerable opposition; he had been imprisoned in Derby gaol on a charge of blasphemy and had suffered considerable ill-treatment. He had been working very much on his own and he had certainly not initiated any sort of religious movement. Then, in May 1652, he was in Lancashire and had climbed to the top of Pendle Hill, near Clitheroe. It was a strange thing to do, for people did not climb hills for fun in those days, especially one well-reputed as an abode for witches; still, Fox had a habit of doing unaccountable things! The view from the summit of the far spread countryside inspired him and shortly afterwards he had a vision, or an insight, of ‘a great people to be gathered’. It was, in fact, the district where he would meet groups of interested people, for instance those known as the ‘Westmorland Seekers’”.

Until later in the century when Parliament would pass the Toleration Act, Quakers were among those persecuted and it is believed that several hundred died for their faith. In 1681 many accepted the kind offer of William Penn to make a new home in America and maybe as many as 5,000 left Britain at this time.

“Quakerism is organized into various ‘Yearly Meetings’ which meet once per year. Each generally covers a geographic region… Quakerism arose in the north midlands, so Britain Yearly Meeting is the ‘mother’ of all the yearly meetings, and all the others derive their parentage from it either directly or indirectly.” – PMD

Two Groups

Before we look at their beliefs we need to understand that there are two distinct groups in Quakerism today. There are those who would term themselves ‘Evangelical Quakers’ (1) and those who would come under the heading of ‘Liberal Quakers.’ As there is a distinct difference between the two we need to deal with them separately and we need to be aware in any communication with Quakers which group we are talking to.

There is also a grouping that has called itself Christian (Conservative) Quakerism that run an Internet Mission. Their Statement of Faith can be found here. A further Statement of Faith of Conservative Friends found here shows that in many respects they believe what Evangelical Christians believe. However, there are differences such as a question over whether the Devil really exists and what they call, ‘continuing revelation’; they test this out with the Word of God but also past accepted revelations.

Interestingly PMD informs us,

“Quakerism is weak on internal political structure, and therefore there is a high risk of heresy creeping in. That has happened in England in particular, and also in the eastern United States, and in some college towns.”

What unfortunately is not clear is how many of each type are in Britain. Indeed, in the past this has been a hot topic of conversation on the Reachout Website Forum and emails received because of the posting by an Evangelical Quaker from Greece on a web group for Quakers. One email we received on the subject boldly asserts,

“There are Quakers who are not Christian, determined by their belief and practice. But they are not the majority of Quakers in the world today.”

Unfortunately I can find no research that determines whether this statement is true or not.

In our original article we stated that “the majority of Quakers in Britain today” were of the Liberal variety. On this point a number of the emails we have received agree.

“You may not be far off in what you say about the majority of British Quakers, but this is not true for the majority of Quakers in the world at large…”

“…Britain Yearly meeting has turned LIBERAL (there are some true Quakers among them).”

“In fact, although Evangelical and other Orthodox Friends groups are a minority in Britain, on a global scale it is the Liberals who are the minority group… and Britain seems to be their primary center.”

The original article had been on the web site for sometime before the discussion began and so far we have received emails from less than 10 people, all of which, as far as I have been able to ascertain, live outside Britain.

Many of those who wrote pointed out Evangelical Quaker web sites but here again there are many liberal sites too and so it is difficult to assess what percentages in Britain or worldwide fall into these categories. That said there are two groups and we will seek to look at them separately.

We should also mention that some Quakers would say that the two groups have a different foundation. EP tells us in an email:

“So you can see, the Liberal and Orthodox groups have had very little to do with each other for the last 170+ years. On the surface, there are some similarities. But the foundations of the two groups are completely different. Orthodox Friends hold Christ as their foundation, Liberal Friends… well, since I’m not one of them I can’t speak for them and say what their foundation is, but it’s not Christ. I am of course speaking here about the Liberal Friends organizations, not individual Friends themselves. Liberal Friends are free to be Christians and believe in the Bible (and many do), just as they are also free to be Buddhists.”

Historically it appears that,

“The 1828 split was when the Orthodox branch split from the Hicksites (those following the ministry of Elias Hicks). The basis of this split was that the Orthodox branch believed the Hicksites ‘denied the divinity of Jesus Christ, and were unbelievers,’ and that the Hicksites felt the Orthodox branch was ‘bringing a new literalism and evangelicalism into Quakerism, as well as a new tyranny of the elders over the rest of the Society of Friends’.” – Taken from William P. Taber Jr.’s, The Eye of Faith.

Evangelical Quakers

EP informs us that:

“Quakers in the western part of the USA are mostly Evangelical, although there are some significant liberal groups here, as well. The opposite is true on the east coast and in Canada. Kenya has the highest concentration of Quakers worldwide, and they’re all Evangelical, to my knowledge. Other parts of Africa also have large Evangelical groups of Friends, as does South America.”

WR, who calls himself an “Unaffiliated Conservative Friend”, informs us that:

“European Friends are almost all liberal in outlook, with small numbers of Christians scattered throughout. ‘Third World’ Friends now constitute a very large group, and are almost all evangelical in outlook. A strong historical pull in the direction of liberalism has met with resistance for many decades, first among groups now known as ‘Evangelical Friends’ but also among ‘Friends United Meeting’ and various groups of unprogrammed Friends from the mid-20th century on.”

There is a small group of Quakers called the New Foundation Fellowship that, their web pages tell us, have 20 active workers in Britain. Their web site summarises their message as follows,

“The message we carry is about Jesus Christ. In brief, it can be summed up as, ‘Christ has come to teach his people himself.’ There is no difference in our understanding and experience of Jesus and Christ. Both refer to Jesus, the Christ. He taught his disciples in person, as seen in the scriptures, and is present today to teach us by his Spirit. Our message is a present day call into a living experience of this same Christ–an experience where he teaches us inwardly what is right and what is wrong and gives us the strength to do the right. He promises this experience in many places in the scriptures. He also promises to be present where two or three are gathered in his name. We believe that we do not need a human priest, authority, or mediator because Christ himself is present to lead us in our worship and in our decision making. We have felt wonderful times of blessing when we get the chance to meet together and wait upon the Lord. Our hope is in his continued presence and in his power to reach the human heart and to speak to the human condition today.”

Another group “Conservative Friends” we are told on their web site, “emerged through a series of separations in the Orthodox branch of the Religious Society of Friends.” Their statement of faith would be very acceptable to true Christians on all the central issues of our faith.

As mentioned above we were also directed to a number of sites worldwide and have been told that in the countries with a large Quaker presence the majority would be Evangelicals. Investigating these sites (for instance www.originalquakers.0catch.com, www.evangelical-friends.org and www.quakerinfo.com) I found a number of the same articles which I did not feel were always explaining things in a way that outsiders could understand. For instance there is an article by John Wilbur that states in part:

“The plan of our salvation and redemption then, on the part of Divine Providence, consists of three things: – 1st. Repentance or rather his power that leads to it. 2nd. The atoning blood of Christ: and 3rd, his Holy Spirit which sanctifies; and this agrees with the apostle John’s testimony that there are three that bear witness in the earth, viz: ‘the Spirit, the water and the blood, and these three agree in one.’ …There are divers operations and effects of the Spirit distinctly spoken of in the Scriptures of Truth, as being effectual to salvation, and they are severally alluded to by Christ and his apostles, as well as by the holy men of old, in such manner as if each was saving of – itself; and for the reason, as I apprehend, that not one of these requisites, all of which are indispensable to our future well-being, should be overlooked or excluded from the summary of our faith in the covenant of life and peace. And these provisions and conditions may be thus enumerated: -

1st. That men are to be saved by the outward coming, sufferings, and death of Jesus Christ, through whom their souls are reconciled unto God.

2nd. That men are to be saved by faith in God, and in his Son Jesus Christ.

3rd. That men are to be saved by regeneration and baptism of the Spirit.

4th. That men are to be saved by Divine Grace.

6th. That men are to be saved by the knowledge of God.

7th. That men are to be saved by obeying and keeping the commandments of God, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Are we to take this literally? For instance that leads us to ask how much knowledge is needed to be saved? Is it possible that someone is not of sufficient intelligence to be saved? Also how often do we need to break the commandments or disobey before we lose our salvation?

There is no question that salvation by faith is mentioned at number 2 but are 6 & 7 added to that salvation by faith?

The “Statement of Faith” of Evangelical Quakers is therefore, by enlarge, one accepted by the mainstream church. I would also have no question that the few Quakers I have corresponded with outside of Great Britain are Christians. However I wonder if there are ‘additions’ to the basic Biblical faith?

A ‘Confession of Faith’ that appears on a number of sites is one by Robert Barclay. It contains 23 articles as follows:

“Concerning God and the True and Saving Knowledge of him
Concerning the Guide and Rule of Christians
Concerning the Scriptures
Concerning the Divinity of Christ and his Being from the Beginning
Concerning his appearance in the Flesh
Concerning the End and Use of that Appearance
Concerning the Inward Manifestation of Christ
Concerning the New Birth
Concerning the Universal Love and Grace of God to all
Concerning the Light that enlighteneth every man
Concerning Faith and Justification
Concerning Good Works
Concerning Perfection
Concerning Perseverance and Falling from Grace
Concerning the Church and Ministry
Concerning Worship
Concerning Baptism
Concerning Eating of Bread and Wine; Washing of one another’s feet; Abstaining from things Strangled and from Blood; and Anointing of the Sick with Oil
Concerning the Liberty of such Christians as are come to know the Substance, as to the Using, or not Using of these rites, and of the Observation of Days.
Concerning Swearing, Fighting and Persecution
Concerning Magistracy
Concerning the Resurrection”

Each one is well argued out simply using Scripture and the full item can be seen at this web site

One website, that of the American Northwest Yearly meeting of Friends, does have this clear statement;

“Human Redemption… We believe that God created the human being, male and female, in His own image; but that when Adam and Eve fell from a state of holy obedience, the human race lost a perfect relationship to God, and self instead of the Creator became the center of life. Through the blood of Christ our Savior we may be recovered from the fall and made right (justified) before God. To those who put their faith in Christ, God offers forgiveness of sins, regeneration of affections and actions, and final glorification of the resurrected body.”

It is however followed by;

“The Baptism with the Holy Spirit… We believe Christ’s baptism to be the inward receiving of the promised Holy Spirit, whereby the believer is immersed in Jesus’ power, purity, and wisdom. This baptism is the essential Christian baptism: an experience of cleansing from sin that supplants old covenant rituals. The sanctification that is initiated with this experience is a continuing work of the Holy Spirit in which we are instructed into righteous living and perfected in love. Thus sanctification is the work of God’s grace by which our affections are purified and exalted to a supreme love of God.”

This would seem then to add this baptism as essential to salvation and not just the experience of the Cross of Christ as shown in Scripture. However on this point we received an email from one evangelical Quaker in USA that said,

“I noted that the writer pondered whether Quakers required baptism for salvation, apparently misunderstanding the Quaker use of the word baptism. Quakers do not, as a rule, practice water baptism at all. However some Quakers have felt led to experience water baptism and are free to be baptized if they so desire. In general, Christian Quakers believe that Christ is sufficient onto salvation, and abstaining from baptism testifies to His sufficiency.”

In all these statements then the problem remains, do Quakers really believe in salvation by faith and actually practice simply what Scripture says. For instance it talks about being born again but does not say what they think this means. To try to discover a little more about the experience of Evangelical Quakers I asked those that emailed me 4 questions,

1. How can I be saved?

2. Do I need to do anything extra to be part of the Body of Christ?

3. What is your definition of baptism in the Holy Spirit?

4. What do you do at your meetings?

I list the answers received below and leave the reader to decide the experience of those who replied.

ANSWERS

Question 1

A. There are a number of contexts in which one can be “saved”. A drowning man can be saved by a sailor in a boat, a lifeguard on a surfboard, or a well trained swimmer. One can be saved from fire by leaving the building, by being carried by a fireman, or being dragged out by a friend. Context is everything. It would be narrow-minded to say that one must only be saved by a lifeguard, when each of the above illustrations is evidence of “salvation” in any number of contexts.

Likewise, when talking about our spiritual salvation (e.g., coming to God through belief in his divine incarnation Jesus Christ) it is naive to put forward the pattern of our own experience as the only conceivable manner in which God can possibly work. There are different ways of expressing the same experience, and there are different experiences when God meets each of us in total surrender to Him and to His will for our life.

I believe that one is saved by bringing our own spiritual experience under his divine guidance and authority, and by experiencing God “experientially” in our heart. An organized church experience might be an effective means to teach that experience. It can also serve in some instances to drive persons farther away from a sincere belief in God.

B. I believe I already am “saved,” if you are referring to accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour. He has paid the debt for my sins by dying on the Cross, going to Hell, staying alive despite going there, and being resurrected from the dead. I am eternally grateful for this, inwardly; although I get weary of having to “prove” it to everyone. I don’t think Jesus went around asking people this question over and over.

C. Salvation is possible solely due to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Acceptance of this gift of grace and salvation is based on Faith. So it is by Grace, through Faith, that we are saved.

Question 2

A. One must submit to God’s will for us, first and foremost.

B. Yes. I need to sit in silent meditation, waiting on the Holy Spirit, listening for the Truth that He will give me. And when I feel the promptings of the Holy Spirit, I am to follow them. If I’m not sure, I should seek discernment within the Body of Christ. But I can’t recall receiving a prompting from the Holy Spirit and not being 100% sure about it, since it tends to glow from within my very being when I do. This is an example of conviction and comes with a responsibility to follow this conviction. The prompting may be as simple as speaking in Meeting, or saying something to a Friend, or taking some simple action; or as complex as taking on a larger responsibility. A prompting from the Holy Spirit for me is always accompanied by a profound inner peace, that I will have the strength to do whatever it is I am being asked to do.

Whatever it is very often plays into being a part of the Body of Christ.

As a registered nurse, the actions I take, without saying they are from Jesus, are often perceived as being so. This is the BEST form of evangelism.

C. No. Although righteous living behoves the Christian and helps to set an example both to unbelievers and to other Christians, no other acts beyond accepting God’s gracious gift of salvation are necessary to be a part of the Body of Christ.

Question 3

A. I don’t normally use the term “baptism in the Holy Spirit”. I prefer to experience the Holy Spirit as the guide for my life, and let other persons who choose to communicate in such terms to put forward whatever definition they choose to use.

B. Baptism in the Holy Spirit is surrendering to the Holy Spirit and following its guidance. See the question about the Body of Christ.

C. This is a little tough to put in my own words. It would be easier to quote scripture (“He will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost” or refer to the account in Acts of the day of Pentecost) but I’ll give it a try. Baptism in the Holy Spirit typically refers to a filling up with the Spirit of God. It often is used to describe the initial conversion experience – the moment when a person becomes fully aware and accepting of the personal, powerful presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, via his Spirit, in a way that the person cannot ignore. This experience often repeats itself in varying degrees and in varying circumstances, so one might say that one was Baptized in the Spirit on a number of occasions, during worship or prayer perhaps, or at a time when God had a particular thing to communicate to or through the individual.

Question 4

A. I prepare for meeting by living a life the other six days a week that is in conformance with God’s will as recorded in the history of his revelation to mankind (The Bible), and according to his voice as he speaks by my spirit. I abstain from behaviours that lead me away from him, and participate in activity that leads me closer to Him and to His holy will for my life. I wind down Saturday evening to relax, spend time reading inspirational and devotional works, make sure that I have adequate rest and food to sustain me in worship the following day, and go be bed early. I awaken First Day morning with God on my mind, generally read scripture and pray that I will be attentive to God’s direction and teaching for the day. I drive slowly to meeting, park my car, and carry whatever food I brought to the kitchen. I then enter the meeting house with reverence and quietness, taking my seat unobtrusively to avoid disturbing others, and sit quietly in prayer. I think about God, how He has shown His power and might in my life through the week, how he has blessed me and others, how I have been obedient, and how I have followed my own way instead of His. I pray for the other persons present in the meeting, and for persons who are not there. If someone rises to speak, I listen and look for what God might be saying to me through their words. If I am annoyed by them, I examine my attitude in light of God’s admonition to love my neighbour as myself. I confess my wrongs, ask for the strength and wisdom to forgive those who have offended me in some way, offer thanks to God, and ask for God’s wisdom and guidance in my business and relationships.

I generally find that meeting ends before I finish with worship.

B. Which meetings? Meetings for Worship? Business Meetings? Committee Meetings? We attempt to do the same things at all of them. We listen to the Holy
Spirit; surrender ourselves to Him. That is all.

C. A typical meeting for worship in our particular meeting usually begins with 20 minutes or so of silent prayer, followed by a time of announcements, usually led by the pastor, and introduction of any visitors to our meeting. Our pastor then typically leads us in a group prayer. After this, we usually sing a few hymns, and then enter into a time of open worship. During open worship, the meeting is often silent, but each member is free to stand and share anything he or she is led by the Holy Spirit to share with the meeting. After open worship, the pastor will typically ask “Are all hearts clear?” before proceeding with the rest of the program. A sermon and/or special music such as a solo or choir performance typically follows. We then may sing another hymn before closing the meeting in prayer, and after the meeting is over we visit with each other over coffee and donuts in the foyer before going on to our education classes (basically Sunday School). Our classes consist of such topics as Bible study, politics and current events as they relate to our faith and ministry, studying works of Christian literature by noted authors such as C.S. Lewis, or study of Christian history or Quaker history in particular.

Liberal Quakers

Quakers of Mid-Sussex meet in the village Ditchling which nestles beneath the South Downs in Southern Britain.

Ditchling Quakers, who undoubtedly come under the heading of ‘Liberal’, used to sum up their beliefs, on their website, in the following way:

“We can be called religious liberals. Religious because we celebrate and affirm values that embrace and reflect a greater reality than self. Liberal because we claim no exclusive revelations or status for ourselves, and because we offer respect and toleration to those who follow different paths of faith.

Quakers follow a basic Christianity (whilst not necessarily being Christians), without affirming creeds as in other churches but places emphasis on the fundamental belief of the ‘light within’ or otherwise described as that of God in everyone.

We have no conflict with scientific explanations and in the 20th century Quakers have moved away from evangelicalism to what is sometimes termed liberal theology.

Whatever our beliefs we all meet in unity & silence in our Meeting House in Ditchling.”

They now say,

“Although the corporate use of advices and queries is governed by more flexible regulations than in the past, they should continue to be a challenge and inspiration to Friends in their personal lives and in their life as a religious community which knows the guidance of the universal spirit of Christ, witnessed to in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth… Friends maintain that expressions of faith must be related to personal experience. Some find traditional Christian language full of meaning; some do not. Our understanding of our own religious tradition may sometimes be enhanced by insights of other faiths.”

However whichever statement is used I believe that we see that there can be confusion between such Liberal Quakers and evangelical Christianity. Indeed, how you can reconcile the statement that they follow basic Christianity, without necessarily being Christians, or enhance Christianity with insights from other faiths not centered on Christ? CHRISTians alone express true CHRISTianity.

Reading this can also help us to understand that Liberal Quakerism’s belief in God and Christ is not the central one of Scripture.

GOD to them is the ‘force,’ the ‘light,’ the ‘universal spirit’ that is in everyone. There is no doctrine or belief in the personal loving God of Scripture.

JESUS to most Quakers was a great person and teacher but they would not see him as Immanuel, God with us. They would also see the death of Jesus as unnecessary because there is no need of atonement. In addition, many would not accept the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

The BIBLE, which of course does not teach the view they have of God and Jesus, is not accepted as the infallible word of God. Indeed, many would believe it is the writings of fallible men and women. Some would still see the Bible as important but in addition, this would add all sorts of other inspirational books.

MAN is essentially good and is an expression of the ‘god’ within. This produces a belief system that is predominately ‘man-centred’; and creation-orientated rather than Christ-centred and focussing on the Creator.

Practice

David Murray-Rust from Birkenhead near Liverpool in the North of England informs us that,

“The general structure is well enough known and it would be tedious to go into details again, but a look at the structure is a convenient base for personal comment and assessment.

1. Local Meetings.

The regular coming together in ‘Meeting for Worship’ clearly means a great deal for those who attend, whether ‘Members’ or not. The meeting for business affairs, the ‘Preparative Meeting’ is probably fairly well supported in most local Meetings; but personal circumstances do very much influence Friends’ interest in attending and opportunity to do so.

For a considerable number there is little interest in the affairs of the Society beyond the local Meeting. Widespread changes in personal and family life have increasingly caused this to be so.

2. Monthly Meetings. These remain the central meetings for business of the Society; particularly since the abolition of Quarterly Meetings. In such business meetings, it is quite common for a Minute to be accepted with which an appreciable number of those present may not agree. If such Friends do not feel that the ‘sense of the Meeting’ has been found, they will not be able to accept the ‘discipline of the Meeting’ (which is the only true discipline in the Society) and tensions will arise. The difficulties and tensions are increased when decisions are made by a Committee, for in the nature of it a Committee cannot be attended by all individuals.”

As can be seen in a number of new age practices’ there can be a danger in simply being quiet and waiting for the ‘spirit’ to move’ especially when the God whose spirit you are waiting for is not the Biblical one. As such, there is a danger that a Liberal Quaker could open him or herself up to a counterfeit spirit.

Further problems can also arise when there is the reliance on feelings.

Conclusions

Everyone of course is entitled to his or her own belief and the purpose of these notes is not to malign but to inform. We set out to discover whether the Quakers are Christian or a cult.

Our answers from these notes I believe are as follows:

1. Neither group of Quakers are a cult in the sense that those joining will be subject to mind control techniques or other harmful human activities.

2. There are Evangelical Quakers around the world but apparently few in Great Britain.

3. Liberal Quakers do not adhere to the evangelical Christian faith as shown in Scripture.

4. Such Quakers must realise that they are accepting the ‘new age’ belief that God is a force and in everyone, not the personal loving God of Scripture.

5. Any Quakers who have joined a Liberal meeting because they wanted assurance of life after death need to investigate carefully and see that there is no hope for that.

6. Evangelical Quakers may have a true experience with Jesus Christ and it is important to dialogue with such ones to discover their beliefs and experience and not just dismiss them as Liberals.

Footnotes

(1) The US Bureau of Census used the term ‘Orthodox’ instead of ‘Evangelical’. (back)

Further Information

The following web sites (listed in alphabetical order) may provide further insights for you on Quakerism. You should be aware though that some would present it from an Evangelical and some from a Liberal perspective. Indeed some might be a mixture of both.

www.evangelical-friends.org

www.fgcquaker.org

www.fum.org

www.originalquakers.0catch.com

www.quakerinfo.com

www.quaker.org

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