I’m a member of the Religious Society of Friends, more commonly known as the Quakers. Summarizing what Quakerism is can be daunting, since certain Quaker beliefs vary throughout the world. All Quakers however share historical roots in a Christian movement that arose in England in the middle of the 17th century. Today, nearly all Quakers (also called “Friends”) still adhere to certain essential principles:
- a belief in the possibility of direct, unmediated communion with the Divine; and
- a commitment to living our lives in such a way that our lives outwardly attest to this inward experience.
Nonetheless, contemporary Friends exhibit significant variations in the ways we interpret our traditions and practice our beliefs. Nowhere are these differences more marked than here in the United States which contains four distinct branches of Quakers. In worship, some Friends still practice unprogrammed “silent” meetings where the entire meeting for worship is held in expectant waiting on God, while other Quakers now have programmed services led by a pastor, similar to many Protestant denominations. In belief, some Friends place most emphasis on the authority of Christian Scripture, while others like me give greater emphasis to the authority of the immediate guidance of the Spirit. This dynamic tension has allowed for a wide range of religious perspectives.
Around the world, the majority of Quakers retain an orthodox Christian faith. Friends’ emphasis has always been on the role of the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit, however, most Friends believe that the Spirit is unchanging and will not contradict itself. On this basis, the Christian Scriptures and tradition are highly esteemed as testimony to God’s relationship with our spiritual ancestors. Crucially, because most Friends consider the Scriptures to be inspired by God, the Bible is helpful in weighing whether new inward guidance comes from the Spirit of God or from another source.
However, for some Quakers like me it’s not important that we all share similar beliefs. We’d assert that it isn’t one’s beliefs that make one a Quaker. Rather, it is the committed participation in a Quaker community, the deep search for divine guidance, and the attempt to live faithfully in harmony with that guidance that make a person a Quaker.
All Friends can agree that outward statements of belief are an insufficient basis for a life of faith. Quakers aim at an inward knowledge of the Spirit – both individually and in our Quaker Meetings. The core of our faith is our living relationship with and obedience to God, not merely the rote recitation of creeds or performance of rituals.