Quakers Beliefs and Religious Principles

The Presence in the Midst (1916)

Introduction

 

The Quakers are a group of people who believe in simple and personal, both in their religious principles and in their way of life. Their fundamental belief is that of divine spirit, and that God is in each and every person. Their emphasis is on human goodness, and the willingness to recognize evil and eradicate it from their lives as best as possible. Friends live with the idea of unity amongst each other, with the feelings of truth and sincerity. They have no regards for race, sex, or class for in the eyes of God they are all equal. The idea of a divine revelation or “Inner Light” is that it is personal and all people may receive the word of God in their souls. It is a way for all people to be seen equal and feel welcome in their Society of Friends.

Quakers try to avoid luxury at all costs, through clothes, manners, and way of speaking. Even more so, they retained the word “thee” instead of the more popular “you” until the 19th century, which was considered to be the more plain way of talking. This was another way of leveling social class and creating more equality amongst people.

Meetings are a semi-programmed way of “professing” their beliefs amongst their peers. Since the meetings are mostly held in silence, it is hard to actually, physically profess their beliefs, but yet members hold a lot of responsibility during these meetings. Meetings are held annually, quarterly, or monthly, either for administrative business or general prayer.

However, in this religion of simplicity, their lacks a clear statement of faith, that Christians hold sacred in their creeds and Bible. Therefore, understanding Quakers and their beliefs as a whole is much more difficult than one could imagine. The best way to understand their beliefs and way of life is to examine each part of their religion.


Relationship Between Friends and God

 

The “Inner Light,” or diving spirit of God, is the very center of the Quaker religion. In this, Friends believe that God is in everyone and is implanted in the human soul. The Inner Light is believed to hold two aspects:

1. Good and evil is present in everyone. However, the Inner Light discerns between good and evil and offers the correct alternative choice, through its guidance.

2. It holds that unity amongst us all is the absolute truth.

Since the belief that good is shown through outward experience rather than ceremonies in Church, Friends feel that God manifested its divine truth through Jesus Christ. This acts as a guidance form for Friends to follow. This is the idea of actions speak louder than words.

Friends feel that people can manifest our own destiny, since we hold the power of choice. The power to overcome evil is within each person, by having a true will to act in God’s ways. The only way to be forgiven for sins and to receive salvation is to become children of God.

 

Creeds and Set Prayers

 

The basic of use of creeds or set, standardized prayers which are so common in Judaism and Christianity are non-existent. Friends feel that standardized prayers are exactly that, standard. They lack the ability to express personal feelings since even though we are all equal people are different in their own way. Plus, since each person has the ability to interpret things in their own way, creeds may have different interpretations for different people, which are not the intended meaning of the prayer.

Just because Quakers don’t follow the standardized use of creeds, doesn’t mean that their entire religion lacks organization. In fact, they feel that the personal feelings of each individual person are more important than one prayer for an entire community of people. In doing this, they encourage people to find meaning in other outside sources of religion and through opportunities that life brings them. In other words, Quakers sometimes seem to be “religious realists.” They understand the changing times and that they are open to other areas of religious interpretation in life and in books. These ideas are the basic reason why characterizing Quakers into a set statement of faith like the “Ten Commandments” in Catholicism is hard to do.

 

      Collection of Quaker Newspapers, 1838 -1859

Forms of Sacrament

 

Instead of the forms of Sacrament formed in church every Sunday in Catholicism, Friends feel that life, as a whole, is spiritual and sacramental. In other words, every day is a Holy day in the eyes of Friends. You practice and pray the word of God in every aspect of your daily life. George Fox felt that sacraments and outward ceremonies were “empty forms;” ones that had no personal relationship with the community of Quakers.

 

Beliefs of the After-Life

 

Quakers feel that life after death is not a reward for living a good life on earth, nor has the threat of evil or living in damnation been a way to live a better life. In fact, there is no real feeling on the existence of an after-life for the Quaker religion. Again, making this religion even harder to characterize and understand to its fullest. Some friends feel that there is life after death, and some do not have these same feelings. No matter how certain Friends feel after life after death, they all believe in living this life to the fullest and not worrying about the next.


In living this life, they believe in ultimate love in relationships with family and friends. Love is the way to fully live this life and realize the goodness that it exhibits. Jesus is a perfect example of this because death did not inhibit his love. As said before, Jesus is one of the main reasons that Quakers believe that living your life with love and outward experiences is so important to their beliefs.

 

General Statement of Faith

 

Despite the Quaker religion not having any creeds, theology, or standardized prayers, some Societies of Friends have written down a general Statement of Faith which encompasses their beliefs, as a whole.

-Some of the basic, most common beliefs of the Quaker Religion:

-Each individual is created in the eyes of God and holds his power.

-The Bible is the Word of God but not the final word.

-God still inspires people through his Holy Spirit (the Inner Light) to create words to help people to move in their relationship with God.

-“Friends,” as they are called are equal amongst each other and feels no point to out compete their friends and allows for them to live a simple life.

-They feel free to take advantage of the beliefs and philosophies from outside sources of the religion.

-All factors of life are sacramental and no one activity, person, or place is more spiritual than the other.

-Quakers strongly oppose war and the act of fighting with violence for an end to a means.

-The religion does not consist of ministers or specific creeds, however, many organizations have put together a set of beliefs that are held to be the basis of the Quaker Religion.

-The Statement of Faith:

1. True religion is a personal relationship with God, not ceremonies.

2. Uphold the ideas of virtue, purity, honesty, simplicity and humility.

3. Continue to reveal through the help of the Holy Spirit

4. Care for the sick, suffering, and unfortunate

5. Christian love and goodness

 

Quakers Join in Peaceful Protests Against War

 

Acts of Worship: Meetings

 

Since they don’t hold any specific sacraments such like communion like in Catholicism, they hold a “Silent Meetings of Friends.” One major aspect is that they don’t ignore the voices of majorities. Whenever they have a feeling of the Holy Spirit, they speak aloud to the meeting to see if this is a personal desire or really the Holy Spirit speaking to them. The meetings are sometimes held in silence because since the Quaker religion was founded on completely spiritual belief with no physical manifestation, there are no prearranged programs, liturgies or sermons. Worship and Ministry, or Worship and Oversight, are the main groups that hold responsibility for the spiritual life in meeting. Overseers care for the minister’s needs or even share in the semi-programmed ceremony when they employ a pastor. There are various types of meetings that Friends hold.

Types of Meetings:

1. Meetings of Business

-To regulate religious discipline and administration in the society. It is held in the form of Worship. The objective is to obtain the will of God. They listen to the Word of God, through the words of the members in the meeting.

2. Worship Sharing

-Eight to twelve Friends meet to share their personal experiences and thoughts in the eyes of God.

3. Meetings for an occasion (i.e. Weddings)

-The meeting begins in silence and waits for the couple to stand up, hold hands and address the members in a prayer for their coming together. After, the members sit in silence and speak out only if they feel the “Inner Light” and ask to pray for some part of the new couple.

4.  Yearly Meetings

-At these meetings, members are questioned on Quaker Principles, from proper education of their children to the care of the needy. Also, it is a way of reaffirming their beliefs by reiterating their principles, monthly, quarterly, or yearly

 

Quaker Meeting House, 1876

Quaker’s Simplicity in Dress

Friends live their life in simplicity. They don’t feel the need to cater to luxury in clothes and to outwardly present themselves in excessive designs and jewelry.  The act of outwardly presenting themselves with jewelry, clothes, or anything that was worn to show off their wealth was frowned upon, because the Quaker Religion preached honesty and simplicity as the basis of their actions.

 


Typical Women Quaker Clothing

 

There were no bright colors or absurd designs which were becoming quite common as time went on. Friends did not want to attract attention, for they knew that God recognized them and that was all they needed. They went about their day, like any other person, trying to spread the word of God and do outwardly acts of God to others. A typical women Quaker dress consisted of inner and outer bonnets which covered the head and a long dress that covered all parts of the body except for their hands, face, and part of the hair.

 

Today...          

Quakerism has about 215,000 members all over the world, with the bulk in the Americas along with Britain and Africa. Despite the change in the way Quakers dress, meetings can consist of people in jeans to business suits. The basis of the Quaker religion is the same as it was when George Fox started it in the Seventeenth Century. It started on the East Coast of America, in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York being the main starting settlements. As time passed and Quakerism grew as a religion, communities evolved all over the country as far as California or Oregon   

 Map of the US with Canada and Mexico on top and bottom, with icons for the number of meetings or churches in each state of the four major branches of the RSoF in America, named as Unprogrammed, Conservative, Pastoral, and Evangelical. Copyright Sally Rickerman, 6/93.

 

 

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