What is a Quaker?

Friends believe that the Bible is the word of God as interpreted by each person. Each Friend must interpret the Bible for themselves in the light of the same Spirit that they consider to have inspired the Bible. Thus Friends believe that divine revelation is not restricted to the Bible, but rather continues even today.  From this interpretation a common set of beliefs emerged, which became known as testimonies. Testimonies are not formal static documents, but rather a shared collection or view of how Quakers relate to God. Testimonies cannot be taken one at a time, as they are interrelated. As a philosophical system, they are coherent, even outside of Christian theology.

While the list of testimonies, like all aspects of Friends theology, is evolving the following is a generally accepted list.

  • The Peace Testimony
  • The Testimony of Integrity
  • The Testimony of Equality
  • The Testimony of Simplicity
  • The Testimony of Community

 


The Peace Testimony

peaceThe Peace Testimony is the most static testimony; it is also the best known testimony of Friends. Unlike most of the testimonies of Friends the Peace Testimony is associated with a specific text. The text used for the Peace Testimony came from a letter addressed to King Charles II of England in explanation of the refusal by early Friends to take up arms in the revolution lead by Oliver Cromwell in 1660. The following excerpt is often used:

We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fighting with outward weapons for any end or under any pretense whatsoever; this is our testimony to the whole world . . . . . . . The Spirit of Christ by which we are guided is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing of evil and again to move us into it; and we certainly know and testify to the world that the Spirit of Christ which leads us into all truth will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ nor for the kingdoms of this world ... therefore we cannot learn war anymore. (Excerpts from a Statement by the Quakers to King Charles II - 1660)

This belief has persisted to this day, and many conscientious objectors and anti-war activists are Friends.


The Testimony of Integrity

Early Friends realized that an important part of the message of Jesus was how we treat our fellow human beings. They felt that honest dealing with others meant more than just not telling lies. Friends feel that it is important not to mislead others, even if the words used are all technically truthful. feel that it is important not to mislead others, even if the words used are all technically truthful.

Early Friends refused to swear oaths, even in courtrooms, on the theory that one must speak truth at all times, and the act of swearing to it implied otherwise. Instead, Friends giving testimony in court, or being sworn into governmental office, "affirm" that they are going to tell the truth; the U.S. Constitution guarantees this option for anyone sworn into office in the United States. As an expression of the Quaker belief that one should mean exactly what one says at all times, Quaker businessmen did not haggle over prices, believing that to ask for a higher price than one was willing to accept was dishonest; this was contrary to common practice of the time. Instead, they offered a firm, fixed price for their goods or services.


The Testimony of Equality

equalityFriends believe that all people are created equal in the eyes of God. Since all people embody the same divine spark all people deserve equal treatment. Friends were some of the first to value women as important ministers. Margaret Fell was one of the earliest leaders of the movement, while many of the leaders in the suffragette movement in the 19th century were drawn from the Quakers, including Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott. During the 1700s, Quakers felt that women were not participating fully in Meetings for Business as most women would not "nay-say" their husbands. The solution was to form two separate Meetings for Business. Many Quaker meeting houses were built with a movable divider down the middle. During Meeting for Worships, the divider was raised. During Business meetings the divider was lowered, creating two rooms. Each gender ran their own separate business meetings. Any issue which required the consent of the whole meeting—building repairs for example—would involve sending an emissary to the other meeting. This practice continued until there was no longer a concern over whether women would "nay-say" their husbands. (Some very old meetinghouses still have this divider, although it likely is non-movable.) Friends were also leaders in the anti-slavery movement. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (the most important yearly meeting in USA at the time) prohibited members from owning slaves in 1776, and on February 11, 1790 Friends petitioned the U.S. Congress for the abolition of slavery. American Friends were prominent participants in the Underground Railroad, a transportation network for sending escaped slaves to freedom. Quakers were among the first to pioneer humane treatment for the mentally ill, with The Retreat, in York England, an asylum set up by William Tuke (1732–1822) as a reaction to the harsh nature of 18th century asylum care.


The Testimony of Simplicity

Simplicity to Friends has generally been a reference to material possessions. Friends traditionally limited their possessions to what they need to live their lives, rather than pursuing less necessary luxuries. In recent decades Friends have been less and less attentive to this testimony, although most still believe it is important. This testimony has been a large part of expanding into what new testimonies that were referenced above.

Quakerism is often termed a mystical religion, but it differs from other mystical religions in two important ways. First, its mysticism is group-oriented rather than focused on the individual. The other way in which Quaker mysticism differs is in its outwardly directed activism. Rather than seeking withdrawal from the world, the Quaker mystic translates his or her mysticism into action, and Quakers have traditionally applied their values towards working for social and political improvements.

Friends Beliefs

Friends believe in the central truth of the Father, the son, the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Scriptures. Salvation comes through our personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. Friends believe in an extremely simple form of worship. Worship in a Friends meeting is not ritualistic nor ceremonial. Friends do not observe outward communion or baptism. Friends believe that God diversely gives spiritual gifts to His children for the building of the kingdom. All believers share these gifts. Friends do not ordain ministers. Friends recognize and encourage the gift of ministry and its use in the meeting.

Friends' worship also does not practice the sacraments of outward baptism and communion. Friends believe communion occurs when the worshipper communes with God and with his fellow worshippers. It is something that happens internally and can not be displayed or enhanced through outward rituals.

Friends reach business decisions through unity. The clerk of the meeting plays a large role in discerning the sense of the meeting but the success of this system hinges on members with right attitudes of heart and mind.

Friends believe that each member has duties and responsibilities according to his talents and faithfulness. As Friends meet for business, we are considerate of all proposals and opinions. Friends postpone action until strong agreement on an issue can be accomplished and the clerk of the meeting discerns this agreement. Friends believe in a policy of rotation of positions on committees to develop the talents of members. Friends receive in to membership those who lives express their faith in Christ as personal Savior. Children of members are enrolled at birth as associate members.