The Religious Society of Friends (most commonly referred to as Quakers) began around 1648 with revelations supposedly given to George Fox in England. For the rest of his life he went around England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and even America and Holland, preaching concerning the revelations given to him. The Quakers have separated the practice of Christianity from having doctrines, and prefer to follow the former; they have removed any physical event of importance (including baptism and the Lord’s Supper) to focus on the spiritual life. The New Testament, according to Friends theology, should not be taken as the final revelation of God; it is just as possible to receive revelations today as it was in the first century. Quakers are known for plain dress, respectful greeting to all, and being rather informal in meetings.
Sections on this Page
Quaker groups are divided mostly in terms of conferences, including the Friends General Conference, the Friends United Meeting, and the Evangelical Friends International. The Religious Society of Friends (Conservative), having perceived the overall movement toward Evangelical beliefs, has maintained more traditional Quaker beliefs.
Physical and Spiritual Natures
The Quakers are known for their concept of “practicing” Christianity, believing in “living” Christianity rather than having “doctrinal” Christianity1. This emphasis is complete, for the Quakers do not practice baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or any physical rite; instead, they believe in the “baptism of the Spirit” and having meetings where the communion is in the unity of the Spirit2. Quaker theology is essentially the working of the Spirit, with little to be left for the physical nature: man comes to God by the working of the Spirit, and his only comprehension of God can be through the Spirit3. Is this what the Scriptures teach?
It is certainly true that the Spirit is to work within us and that there are important spiritual natures to such things as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Nevertheless, we do not see evidence that the physical aspects of these practices are to be omitted. Christianity was never meant to be a purely physical religion, but it also was never meant to be a religion without any physical action. We have positive commandments to be immersed in water for the remission of our sin and for the partaking of the Lord’s Supper (see Baptism and The Lord’s Supper for these commandments), and we see them being performed physically by Christ and His disciples. The Quakers were correct in condemning the attitudes of other denominations of the time, which treated these acts as physical rites with no spiritual value within them; the reaction of completely rejecting the physical nature of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, however, is just as unjustifiable.
We certainly will not reject the Spirit’s work in the conversion of man from sinner to Christian; however, we see that the agency of the Spirit is extremely similar to the agency of the Word of God. Both assist in convicting the sinner of his sin (John 16:8; Titus 1:9), sanctifying man (1 Corinthians 6:11; John 17:17), calling mankind out of sin (Revelation 22:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:14), and finally, in the need to be born again (John 3:5; 1 Peter 1:23). We therefore hear the words of Paul in Romans 10:17:
So belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
The Quakers deny this, saying that the Scriptures cannot be understood without the revelation of the Spirit and that the Spirit still teaches today beyond the Scriptures4. Yet we have the words of Jude in Jude 1:3:
Beloved, while I was giving all diligence to write unto you of our common salvation, I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints.
The faith was handed down “once for all.” Where do we see this faith originate? From the word of Christ, as Paul says in Romans 10:17. How do we have the word of Christ? We are told in John 14:26 the following concerning the Apostles:
“But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you.”
The Spirit’s work in the Apostles was to have them remember the word of Christ, which they then faithfully wrote in the Scriptures, evidenced in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness. That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.
The Scriptures will equip us for every good work; what else can?
Finally, we are told the following concerning revelation in 1 Corinthians 13:8-10:
Love never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall be done away; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall be done away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.
As Jude told us that the faith was delivered “once for all,” surely we see that the revelation of God to man, the “perfect,” has come as the Scriptures. There has not been knowledge since the time of the Apostles; are we to believe the Quakers that the Spirit of God did not give knowledge for the 1,500 year period between them and the Apostles? We would make God a liar, for the promise was made in Matthew 28:20:
“…and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
Furthermore, we know that the Spirit will not preach a Gospel contrary to the one already given, seen in Galatians 1:6-9:
I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another gospel only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so say I now again, if any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema.
If we see that Paul preaches the necessity of baptism (cf. Galatians 3:27; Acts 22:16) and the partaking of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-30), yet the Quakers do not and further propose to have revelation from God, whom are we to believe? The Scriptures have spoken.
It is good to have a religion where its tenets are practiced, and we will not fault the Quakers for this. They were right to condemn the “religious” among them who spoke righteousness but did not perform it. To completely reject doctrine, however, is just as wrong as holding only to it. Christianity can and must be a religion of spirit and truth, where one holds to the faith delivered once for all and practices the pure religion of James 1:27, to visit orphans and widows in distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world. Neither portion is optional.
The other main tenet of Quakerism (among many other movements of the seventeenth century) is perfectionism: the idea God can make man perfect, without sin. George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, declared himself to be without sin5. Do the Scriptures teach that man can be perfect on Earth?
Many will point to Matthew 5:48 to prove this belief:
“Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
We certainly will not disagree with this verse; we are to strive to be perfect (in the Greek, mature or complete), as our heavenly Father is perfect/mature/complete. We do have the witness of Paul, however, about our Christian path, in Philippians 3:12-16:
Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on, if so be that I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I could not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye are otherwise minded, this also shall God reveal unto you: only, whereunto we have attained, by that same rule let us walk.
Paul says that he has not yet become perfect, but he strives for this perfection, and then calls upon “us…as many as are perfect,” to have this attitude! Perfection is clearly aimed to be a level of maturity, not complete perfection, but maturity in Christ, as contrasted with a babe in Christ.
We can surely see that if Paul himself said he was not perfect and yet was an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, how could George Fox claim perfection? The Scriptures are clear in showing that even after becoming children of God, we will sin; fortunately, we can obtain forgiveness, as seen in 1 John 1:8-10:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
The Christian will not live a life of sin (cf. 1 John 1:6), but will continually strive to be sinless. We surely should develop in the faith and therefore sin less as we grow in Christ, but never will we reach a point of utter sinlessness before our glorification. The Scriptures show that to say that one is sinless makes Christ a liar, and His Word is not in him.
1: From Jessamyn West, A Quaker Reader, p. 17
2: Ibid., p. 8
3: Ibid., pp. 15-16
4: Robert Barclay, “Turn Thy Mind into the Light,” from A Quaker Reader, p. 232
5: George Fox, The Journal, ed. Nigel Smith, p. 48.