What Do Quakers Believe?

The links below on this page will connect you with some descriptions of Quaker beliefs as expressed by different branches of the Society of Friends.

It is difficult to write a description of Friends beliefs that would be acceptable to all the Quakers in the world today. Quakers all share common roots in a Christian movement that arose in England in the middle of the 17th Century. Today, it is generally true that Friends still adhere to certain essential principles:

  • a belief in the possibility of direct, unmediated communion with the Divine (historically expressed by George Fox in the statement, "Christ is come to teach his people himself"); and
     
  • a commitment to living lives that outwardly attest to this inward experience.

Nonetheless, modern Friends exhibit significant variations in the ways we interpret our traditions and practice our beliefs.

Nowhere are these differences more marked than in the United States which contains four distinct branches of Friends. 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 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. For more information, see branches.

Worldwide, the vast majority of Friends confess 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 Friends (especially the Liberal-unprogrammed branch) it is not important that we have similar beliefs. These Friends would say that is not one's beliefs that make one a Quaker. Rather, it is participation in Friends 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. Friends aim at an inward knowledge of the Spirit - both individually and in our 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.

The lack of a creed or clear description of Quaker beliefs has
sometimes led to the misconception that Friends do not have beliefs or that one can believe anything and be a Friend. Most Quakers take the absence of a creed as an invitation and encouragement to exercise an extra measure of personal responsibility for the understanding and articulation of Quaker faith. Rather than rely on priests or professional theologians, each believer is encouraged to take seriously the personal disciplines associated with spiritual growth. Out of lives of reflection, prayer, faithfulness, and service flow the statements of belief, both in word and in deed.

--from Pacific Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice

For some samples of more detailed statements about Quaker beliefs, please look at the following statements which come from a variety of Friends traditions:

A Brief Introduction to Quakerism From QuakerMaps.com, an independent resource for locating Friends Meetings and churches.

Meeting the Spirit. Published by Friends World Committee for Consultation, this document gives an overview of Quakerism that attempts to cover all branches of Friends. The perspective is British (Liberal-unprogrammed).

What Friends Believe from Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends (Evangelical).

Quakerism: A Religion Meaningful for Today's World. By the Outreach Committee of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, a liberal Friends perspective.

You Are Welcome Among Friends. From Friends United Meeting (an organization which affiliates pastoral and unprogrammed Friends in Christ-centered outreach).

The Christian Faith of Friends. From Friends United Meeting (see above).

The Richmond Declaration of Faith. An 1887 document that has continued to be of significance to many Friends of the pastoral, Scripture-based tradition.

Frequently Asked Questions, also from Friends United Meeting.

Facts About Friends. By Ted Hoare, Australia Yearly Meeting (liberal)

What Do We Believe? From Stillwater Friends Meeting (Ohio Yearly Meeting [Conservative])

What Friends Believe. From Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative).

Friendly Answers to Your Questions About Quakers. By Orange County Friends Meeting in Santa Ana, California. Material from Friends World Committee adapted by a liberal Friends meeting. There are many other helpful links at this meeting's website.)

First Principles for Purposeful Ministry in the Evangelical Friends Church.