What Quakers Believe
Many seekers come to us with this important and basic question:
What do Quakers believe?
Sources of Information on Quaker Beliefs
Quakers answer this question in a variety of ways. To explore some of these answers, we invite you to visit these other Quaker websites:
- Friends General Conference—Includes a general introduction and videos from a gathering of many yearly meetings like ours.
- Earlham School of Religion—Introduction to Quaker beliefs from a Quaker seminary.
- Friends United Meeting—From a gathering of many yearly meetings that have pastors and simple church services (see the Frequently Asked Questions).
- Evangelical Friends Church International—A description of some evangelical Friends' beliefs.
- Philadelphia Yearly Meeting—Answers from one of our sister yearly meetings (see the menu tree at the right of their page).
- New England Yearly Meeting—Answers from another one of our sister yearly meetings.
- Ohio Yearly Meeting—Answers from one of our more traditional yearly meetings.
- Friends World Committee for Consultation—This global gathering of Friends offers an introduction to the kinds of Friends around the world.
- QuakerSpeak.org—Features videos on dozens of Quaker topics;
We offer you this answer:
We believe that there is in everyone a Light—
- a light in the conscience that can guide and strengthen us to do the right, that can awaken us to the wrong we have done and are about to do;
- a light that can heal us, that can strengthen us to live better lives, that can release us from our inner demons, make us more whole, and relieve us of suffering and lead us to forgiveness;
- a light that can inspire us to acts of kindness and to creativity;
- a light that can lead us to the deepest fulfillment and the "peace that passes all understanding," and help us to become the people we were meant to be;
- a light that can open to us direct communion with God (however you experience God), both as individuals and as a community.
We Quakers have experienced this light as the Light of Christ, as Jesus Christ himself, as the Spirit of Love and Truth, as a Presence in our midst, as that which has gathered us as a people of God and continues to guide our meetings and the Quaker movement into the future.
In this Light, through this Light, God is always trying to reveal to us the way of love and peace and truth. In this Christ-spirit we are sometimes gathered in our worship into a joy-filled transcendental communion with God and with each other.
That's our "elevator speech," a quick answer to a deep question. We invite you to read on if you would like to learn a little more:
- The Light. We believe that there is a principle in every person (often called the Light, the Seed, "that of God") that can know God directly and that yearns for this intimate communion.
- Because we experience the Light inwardly, we do not practice many of the outward forms that other religious communities practice; we do not rely on outward sacraments for God's grace.
- Because the Light is universal, we believe that all people are equal in God's sight and this informs how we treat them.
- Because we all have access to the Light, we have no professional clergy that are thought of as intermediaries between God and the individual worshiper. But we have not laid down the clergy itself; rather, we have no laypeople, for all of us are potential ministers. We believe that God can and does call each one of us into service or ministry directly and in various ways, most commonly, to speak from the Spirit in our meetings for worship. And for this, we need no special education or ceremonial ordination, but only attention to the promptings of the Spirit and a willingness to be faithful to the call.
- This, in fact, is the essence of Quaker spirituality: to be open always to God's guidance and to listen always for God's call into service, and to answer the call faithfully when it comes.
- Some Friends find themselves called into a full-life ministry and do seek advanced religious education to deepen their ministry, and then become pastors in Friends churches. These meetings "release" their pastors into full- or part-time ministry by providing them with salaries. However, the do not serve as priests, as mediator's between God and the community or its members.
- The gathered meeting. Ever since the 1650s when Quakers were first gathered as a dedicated people of God, we have felt that the same Light and Spirit that dwells within each individual also loves and guides us as a community.
- Just as we believe that each individual can enjoy a direct relationship with God, so also we believe that the Holy Spirit leads the worshipping community.
- Thus many of our meetings worship in waiting, expectant silence, turning our full attention toward God and leaving off any outward liturgical forms like the Bible readings, collective prayer, hymn singing, and prepared sermons that are featured in most religious services. We worship in utter simplicity in order not to crowd out God's direct voice or drown out the still, small voice within each of us.
- Some meetings hold "programmed" worship that is more like other protestant churches, with hymn singing, Bible readings, prepared collective prayers and sermons. These meetings feel that these outward forms help the meeting commune with God.
- We also conduct the business of the meeting in meetings for worship under the direct leadership of the Holly Spirit, having no professional human leadership or hierarchies. We have a number of distinctive community tools to discern God's wish for us.
- Continuing revelation. We believe that direct communion with God means that God is still teaching God’s people.
- God’s revelation did not end with the Bible; rather God is always trying to reveal to us the way of love and peace and truth.
- Thus, in answer to God’s continuing revelation over the centuries, we have laid down the outward practice of the sacraments, we have always recognized God’s prophetic inspiration of women ministers, we have struggled against slavery, and, in this yearly meeting, we fully welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people into our fellowship, even though the Bible seems to some on the surface to condemn homosexuality, condone slavery, deny women’s role in ministry, and require outward sacramental practice.
- And we remain open to new light, expecting that God will intend further changes for us in the future.
- "Let your lives speak." We believe that God calls us to live our inner faith in outward practice, to live our lives as testimonies to the Truth that has been awakened within us, leading us to alleviate suffering, injustice, and oppression, and to amend their causes. As a movement, we have come to unity on a number of stands of conscience, which we call our "testimonies," and we seek to be open to new truth as to how we should live, as individuals, as a faith community, and as a society.
- Love. We believe that "love is the first motion," as we say, the first and last commandment by which we should live our lives—that we should love God, love our fellow human beings, and love the creation we share with all other living things.
Each of these core beliefs can be unpacked further to get into all of the other beliefs and practices that distinguish Quakers, which we have only just touched upon here. But this is a start and we hope that we have answered some of your questions. We invite you to contact us directly to learn more. And we thank you for your interest.
A footnote: belief and experience.
While "What do you believe?" is an important question, and it deserves a clear and straightforward answer, Friends often focus on a rather different question, one posed by our founder George Fox in the 1600s, who said:
"You will say, 'Christ saith this, and the apostles say this;' but what canst thou say? Art thou a child of the Light, and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?"
In other words, we try to focus more on experience rather than on doctrine, though, as you can see, we do have a distinctive set of beliefs. But for us, the essential question is: what is your experience of God?
We would like to know.