A Question I Was Asked:

Who, What, Were The Quakers?

George Fox (1624-1691)

Fox, the founder of the Quakers, was both loved or reviled depending on ones approach to Christianity. Oliver Cromwell greatly respected him for his concern for real, biblical Christianity. Lamentably, however, modern Quakerism is almost entirely a liberal movement heavily affected by leftist politics with little concern for the atonement of Christ and with only small groups of evangelical Quakers still left.

The Question:

Who - what - were the Quakers and what do they believe today, if they are still around?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Yes, the 'Quakers,' or 'Society of Friends' are still around today. However, despite originally being a firmly evangelical group, liberal theology has now made serious inroads among them.

Most Quakers (not all) view themselves as a Christian denomination. The Friends' central doctrine has generally been viewed as being the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5-10), though some Quakers would argue with this view of their central doctrinal belief, but certainly group involvement has been the most common approach, rather than centrally-led forms of worship or evangelism. Within this often very loose grouping, those with evangelical, holiness, or traditional conservative Quaker understandings of Christianity may be found, but more modern, 'social,' indeed quite leftist liberal influences are now very dominant. Traditionally, the emancipation of women and civil rights were warmly embraced by this group who encouraged female contribution to their meetings from an early stage in their history.

While early Quakers certainly shunned planned Christian worship patterns, it is now claimed that something like around 80% of Friends' worldwide practice programmed worship including worship with singing and a prepared message from the Bible, often coordinated by a pastor. But a minority within the group continue to practice the older Quaker pattern of worship where the order of service is not planned in advance, and which is often predominantly silent, save for a few scriptural and psalmic interruptions. The long silences generally being seen as a healthy - not an unhealthy - sign.

The first Quakers, known as the 'Valiant Sixty,' lived in mid-17th century England and the movement arose from various dissenting Protestant groups, breaking away from the established Church of England.These Quakers attempted to convert others to their understanding of Christianity, travelling both throughout Great Britain and overseas, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. They stressed the importance of a direct relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and a direct religious belief in the universal priesthood of all believers. They also emphasized a personal and direct religious experience of Christ, acquired through both direct religious experience and the reading and studying of the Bible.

Quakers were also known for their use of 'thou' as an ordinary pronoun, refusal to participate in war, insistence on plain dress, the refusal to swear oaths, as well as opposition to slavery. They also opposed all use of alcohol. Without question Quakers have proven highly successful business people, founding banks and financial institutions including Barclays, Lloyds, and Friends Provident; manufacturing companies including Clarks, Cadbury, Rowntree, and Fry's chocolate products.

According to George Fox, the group's specific founder, the term 'quaker' was first used as a derogatory term in court, "...because we bid them tremble at the Word of God." The word 'quaker' seen as equivalent to trembling. The group were once widely persecuted in both England and the American Colonies, some were even imprisoned or put to death for their beliefs. Because of this widespread persecution, William Penn - a leading Quaker - founded the Pennsylvania Colony in the late 1700s to provide a safe haven for his fellow-Quakers.

Historically, the Quakers have always tried to emphasize the social and practical aspects of the gospel and this slant - at length - undoubtedly finally opened the door to liberalism as sound biblical theology began to be seen as of less importance. Quakers were involved in ending slavery and increasing the rights of women and minorities. Unsurprisingly, one of the founders of Amnesty International was a Quaker, and the group have been very strong supporters of that organization ever since.

How did theological liberalism enter the movement? From the late 19th century a highly liberal religious movement known as the 'Quaker Renaissance movement' began within London Yearly Meeting. 'The Young Friends' at this time moved away from evangelicalism and towards liberal Christianity. This Quaker Renaissance movement was particularly influenced by John Wilhelm Rowntree, Edward Grubb, and Rufus Jones. These Liberal Friends promoted the theory of evolution, modern biblical criticism, and the social meaning of Jesus Christ's teaching, encouraging Friends to follow the New Testament example of Christ by performing good works. Inevitably it soon followed that the teaching of the necessity of Christ's atonement started to lose ground as a sound theological balance was lost. Today whilst liberal Christianity generally holds sway within this group, more evangelical pockets of Quakers may still be found.

Robin A. Brace. October 17th, 2013.