Quakers and Quakerism Beliefs, History, Definition, Religion: What is a Quaker?

What is a Quaker?

The Religious Society of Friends, whose members are known as Quakers or Friends, was founded in England in the seventeenth century as a religious denomination by people who were dissatisfied with the existing denominations and sects of Protestantism. Historians generally credit George Fox as being the principal co-founder and the group's most important early leader.

Quakers and Quakerism

The Society of Friends, commonly called Quakers, is the official designation of an Anglo-American religious sect originally styling themselves "Children of Truth" and "Children of Light", but "in scorn by the world called Quakers".

The group originated in 17th century England under George Fox and have always been a small, radical, Protestant denomination with enormous political and social influence far beyond their small numbers.

Many migrated to America, especially to Philadelphia in the colony of Pennsylvania, which was owned by Quaker leader William Penn. Others went to New Jersey, North Carolina and especially Rhode Island, where they controlled the colonial government for a while. Quakers were active leaders of many American reform movements past and present, especially abolition of slavery, Indians' rights, prohibition, women's rights, civil rights, prison reform, hospital reform, and world peace. Other famous Quakers include founder George Fox, feminist Lucretia Mott, and presidents Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon.

Since its beginnings in England, Quakerism has spread to many other countries and today the highest concentration of Quakers are in Africa. Although the total number of Quakers is relatively small, approximately 500,000 worldwide, there are places, such as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Newberg, Oregon; Greenleaf, Idaho; Richmond, Indiana; Friendswood, Texas; Birmingham, England; and Greensboro, North Carolina where Quaker influence is concentrated.


There are different stories as to the origin of how the Religious Society of Friends became known as Quakers. George Fox, one of the founders, said the name "Quaker" was first used of this society as a derogatory term in court, "because we bid them tremble at the Word of God." Other say that they earned the name "Quakers" for how members shook, or "quaked", reflecting their struggle against their inner motives "under the Light." One common story is that the word "quaker" was originally a derogatory term used by King George to William Penn, who would not take his hat off in deference to his majesty. Penn told the King that instead of worrying about silly thing like hats, he should be "Quaking before the Lord." The King then responded "Get this quaker out of here!" So at first, "Quaker" was actually a slur.

Origin and Beliefs

The Society formed during the religious upheaval in 17th century England under George Fox who was seeking the recovery of what he though was the original "Christianity." Although Fox did not intend to establish a separate religious body, his followers soon began to group together into the semblance of an organization, calling themselves by such names as "Children of Light", "Friends of Truth", and, eventually, "Society of Friends".

Founding his opinions on isolated texts, Fox gradually evolved a system at variance with every existing form of Christianity. His central dogma was that of the "inner light", communicated directly to the individual soul by Christ "who enlightenth every man that cometh into the world". To walk in this light and obey the voice of Christ speaking within the soul was to Fox the supreme and sole duty of man. Creeds and churches, councils, rites, and sacraments were discarded as outward things. Even the Scriptures were to be interpreted by the inner light. This was surely carrying the Protestant doctrine of private judgment to its ultimate logical conclusion. Inconvenient passages of Holy Writ, such as those establishing Baptism and the Eucharist, were expounded by Fox in an allegorical sense; whilst other passages were insisted upon with a literalness before unknown. Thus, from the text "Swear not at all" (Matthew 5:34), he drew the illicitness of oaths, even when demanded by the magistrate. Titles of honour, salutations, and all similar things conducive to vanity, such as doffing the hat or "scraping with the leg", were to be avoided even in the presence of the king. From the text "Do not resist one who is evil" (Matthew 5:39), war, even if defensive, was declared unlawful, even to resist attack. Art, music, drama, field-sports, and dancing were rejected as unbecoming the gravity of a Christian. As for attire, he pleaded for that simplicity of dress and absence of ornament which later became the most striking peculiarity of his followers.

Because they rejected the idea of an ordained clergy or priesthood and any organized church, they would not pay tithes to the Church of England. Moreover, they met publicly for worship, a contravention of the Conventicle Act of 1664, which forbade meetings for worship other than that of the Church of England. Nevertheless, thousands of people, some on the continent of Europe and in America as well as in the British Isles, were attracted by teachings of the Friends.

Friends began to immigrate to the American colonies in the 1660s. They settled particularly in New Jersey, where they purchased land in 1675, and in the Pennsylvania colony, which was granted to William Penn in 1681. By 1684, approximately 7000 Friends had settled in Pennsylvania. By the early 18th century, Quaker meetings were being held in every colony except Connecticut and South Carolina. The Quakers were at first continuously persecuted, especially in Massachusetts, but not in Rhode Island, which had been founded in a spirit of religious toleration. Later, they became prominent in colonial life, particularly in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. During the 18th century the American Friends were pioneers in social reform; they were friends of the Native Americans, and as early as 1688 some protested officially against slavery in the colonies. By 1787 no member of the society was a slave owner. Many of the Quakers who had immigrated to southern colonies joined the westward migrations into the Northwest Territory because they would not live in a slave-owning society.

During the 19th century differences of opinion arose among the Friends over doctrine. About 1827, the heretical American Quaker "minister" Elias Hicks became involved in a schism by questioning the authenticity and divine authority of the Bible and the historical Christ; many Friends seceded with Hicks and were known as Hicksites. This schism alarmed the rest of the society, who became known as "Orthodox Friends", and a countermovement was begun to relax the formality and discipline of the society, with a view to making Quakerism more "evangelical". The "evangelical" movement, led by the British Quaker philanthropist Joseph John Gurney, aroused considerable opposition, particularly in the U.S., and another schism resulted among the "Orthodox" Friends. A new sect, the "orthodox conservative Friends", called Wilburites after their leader John Wilbur, was founded to emphasize the strict Quakerism of the 17th century. It is very small today. The general result of these modifications, both those dealing with doctrine and those pertaining to the relations of Quakers to the world in general, was a new spirit among all the Friends. Most abandoned their strange dress and speech and their hostility to such worldly pursuits as the arts and literature.

Although the Friends repudiate creeds as "external" and "human", yet they, at least the early Quakers and their "orthodox" modern followers, admit the fundamental dogmas of Christianity as expounded in the Apostles' Creed. Rejecting as non-Scriptural the term Trinity, they nevertheless confess the Godhead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; the doctrine of the Redemption and salvation through Christ; and the sanctification of souls through the Holy Spirit. Their ablest apologists, as Robert Barclay and William Penn, have not been able to explain satisfactorily in what respect the "inward light" differs from the light of the individual reason; neither have they reconciled the doctrine of the supreme authority of the "inner voice" with the "external" claims of Scripture and the historic Christ. These doctrinal weaknesses were fruitful germs of dissensions in later times.

Errors and Heresies

Quakers (Friends) beliefs are a little hard to quantify, since Friends do not believe in having a fixed Creed or Dogma, but rather in seeking for the leadings of God within ourselves. Some generalizations are possible however:

  1. Some, but not all Quakers, view the doctrine of Jesus' and the virgin birth as nonessential and not accepted as fact. As a consequense, not all Quakers believe in Jesus.

  2. Some, but not all Quakers, denies the doctrine of the trinity and don't literally believe that God is One in Three Persons.

  3. Primacy of "feelings" over scripture as source of testing doctrine.

  4. Acceptance of any document as valid for doctrine, i.e. Tao Te Ching, Koran, etc.

  5. Some, but not all Quakers are Unitarian Universalists (by their own description) (i.e. all religions and beliefs are correct and of equal value.)

  6. George Fox saw himself as an apostle "restoring" the true church.

The true faith of Jesus Christ is a deposit. It does not fall out of the sky to a man (or society) who lives 17 centuries after Christ. It was revealed by Jesus Christ to His Apostles 2,000 years ago, and it was passed on by the Apostles to the Church.

Jude 1:3 "… it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints."

The true faith thus has a historical link to the apostolic Church; and it can be shown to have been believed by those who came before in the Church. It is passed on from generation to generation.

2 Peter 2:1 "But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there shall be among you lying teachers, who shall bring in sects of perdition, and deny the Lord who bought them: bringing upon themselves swift destruction."

Following Martin Luther's excommunication from the Catholic Church in 1520, which marked the beginning of the Protestant movement, over 20,000 different denominations have been created in about 500 years. In 1980, David A. Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia (Oxford University Press) gave the number of different denominations as 20,780. He projected that there would be 22,190 denominations by 1985.

This would mean that there are approximately 25,000 (or possibly 30,000) different denominations today. Even if, for the sake of argument, one were to take a conservative estimate, and give the number as only 15,000 different denominations, this equates to more than one new sect having been created every two weeks.

When we consider the fact that the Quakers themselves, or even the original founders of Protestantism, didn't even agree with each other on major points of doctrine, such denominational chaos shouldn't be a surprise. Protestantism is man-made religion, in which each person ultimately determines for himself what he thinks the Bible teaches. Martin Luther (the initiator of Protestantism) condemned the doctrinal views of John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli, two other leading Protestant figures. They all claimed to follow the Bible.

Basically all of these thousands of non-Catholics sects purport to be Christian and claim to follow the Bible, even though they disagree with each other on crucial doctrinal matters, such as: the precise nature of justification; whether human works and sins are a part of salvation; whether men have free will; predestination; whether infants need baptism for salvation; what Communion is; whether it's necessary to confess to the Lord; which books of the New Testament apply to us today; the structure of the Church's hierarchy; the role of bishops and ministers; the Sabbath; the role of women in church; etc. ad nauseam. Most of these groups even claim that the individual "Christian" will be led by the Holy Spirit when privately reading the Bible. The disunity of these sects constitutes an irrefutable proof that their doctrine is not of the Spirit of Truth; and that their principle of operation (i.e., Scripture alone apart from the Church and Tradition) is not the doctrine of the Bible and the Apostles.

Ephesians 4:4-5 "One body and one Spirit; as you are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism."

Quakerism, Founded by Man

If you are a Lutheran, your religion was founded by Martin Luther, an ex-monk of the Catholic Church, in approximately 1520.

If you belong to the Church of England, your religion was founded by King Henry VIII (an ex-Catholic) in the year 1534. Henry VIII decided to create his own church when Pope Clement VII would not grant him a divorce with the right to remarry.

If you are a Mennonite, Menno Simons (an ex-Catholic) created your religion in 1536.

If you are a Presbyterian, John Knox (an ex-Catholic) founded your sect in Scotland in the year 1560.

If you are a Congregationalist, your religion began with Robert Brown in Holland in 1582.

If you are a Baptist, John Smyth created your sect in Amsterdam in 1605.

If you are of the Dutch Reformed church, your church began with Michaelis Jones in New York in 1628.

If you are a Quaker, your religion began with George Fox in 1652.

If you are a Protestant Episcopalian, Samuel Seabury created your sect in the American colonies in the 17th century, as an offshoot of the Church of England.

If you are Amish, Jacob Amman created your religion in 1693, as an offshoot of the Mennonites.

If you are a Methodist, your religion was launched by John and Charles Wesley in England in 1744.

If you are a Unitarian, Theophilus Lindley founded your sect in London in 1774.

If you are a Mormon ("Latter Day Saints"), your religion comes from Joseph Smith, who revealed it in Palmyra, N.Y. in 1829.

If you are a Seventh Day Adventist, your religion was created by Ellen White in 1860.

If you worship with the Salvation Army, William Booth started your sect in London in 1865.

If you are of the "Jehovah's Witnesses," your beliefs came from Charles Taze Russell in 1872.

If you are a "Christian Scientist," Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy devised your religion in 1879.

If you belong to one of the religious organizations known as "Church of the Nazarene," "Pentecostal Gospel," "Holiness Church," "Pilgrim Holiness Church," "Assemblies of God," "United Church of Christ," etc., your religion is one of the thousands of new sects founded by men in the last century.

If you are Catholic, you know that your religion was founded in the year 33 by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, true God and true man; and that this one Church, to which people must belong to be saved, will exist until the end of time.

Quakerism Unbiblical

Free DVDs, Articles and Books