Who are the Quakers?
Quakerism's 17th century English founders envisioned it as the restoration
of original Christianity, and like the first Christians, were imprisoned,
tortured, and executed for their beliefs. In the 17th and 18th centuries,
large numbers of Friends emigrated to the American Quaker colonies, where
they formed prosperous settlements in New Jersey, Rhode Island, Delaware,
North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.
During the 19th century,
American Friends schismed into three groups that still exist:
Liberal, Pastoral, and Conservative Quakers. The unprogrammed Liberal Quakers maintain the traditional practice of meetings based on
expectant silence, but most have abandoned Christianity to pursue various
universalist philosophies. The neo-Protestant Pastoral Quakers introduced
hired priests and programmed (pre-planned) worship services. They are very
similar in look, practice, and belief to typical Protestant churches. The
unprogrammed Conservative Quakers rejected both departures from the original
vision and still retain the Christian beliefs and the waiting worship
practiced by the original Friends. None of the surviving groups retain the
wholeness of the original Quaker witness, which was a balance between
relying on the Inward Light, identitifying the historical Jesus as the
eternal Christ, committing to social activism, and focusing on Quaker--not
just Christian-- evangelizing. Each of the traditions left out something
The vast majority of the 300,000 Friends today are Pastoral, and about half
live in Bolivia, Guatemala, and Kenya. About 90,000 Liberal and Pastoral
Quakers live in North America. Perhaps 400 practicing Conservative Friends
live in Ohio, Iowa, and North Carolina, mostly in the same rural areas we
have occupied for 200 years. Some additional Conservative meetings exist
around the world.
What do we believe?
Quakerism, as Conservative Quakers practice it, is Christianity cleaned and
polished down to its very essence, stripped of the theological corrosion and
doctrinal encrustations added over the last 1700 years. Like the earliest
Christians, we believe that God is accessible to everyone-- now, today,
here--and that Jesus Christ, the Logos, the Word of God, the Inward Light,
is willing to teach us individually how to come to Him and how to live our
lives. We believe that because the Holy Spirit is willing to speak to us,
personally, that it is our highest duty to listen. It is then our immediate
obligation to act in accordance with His will.
As Christians, Conservative Quakers identify the Light as both the
historical, living Jesus, and as the Grace of God extended to people that
simultaneously makes us conscious of our sins, forgives them, and gives us
the strength and the will to overcome them. The Light might be explained as
the outpouring of the loving influence of God, extended to all people as the
means of their potential salvation. We also see the Light as "That of God
in every man," that measure of the Holy Spirit given to us that is
sufficient to work our soul's salvation, if we do not resist it.Because all people-- Quaker or not-- have always had direct and immediate
access to God, we believe that all other sources of religious understanding
are inessential and subordinate, including scriptures, church authority,
tradition, reason, and formal religious education. Scripture in particular
can provide significant insights and is helpful for testing a person's
understanding of God's will. However, its value is not primary, but arises
out of the inspiration of the Spirit of God in His people. It is the Spirit
Himself who is the first authority of truth, not the writings of His human
interpreters, however faithful. If not resisted, the same Spirit will guide
all of us individually, and will provide a personal relationship with God
based on direct experience of His presence, guidance, and love.
Conservative Quakers believe in complete integrity in worship and in life.
All of life is sacramental, every day is holy, and the details are
important. Because they are unnecessary to God and historically have
distracted people from genuine communion with Him, we dispense with rites
and ceremonies, ritualized sacraments, sacred books and buildings, creeds,
clergy, and holy days. Our manner of daily living is an expression of
worship in everything we do, and we are directed to seek divine guidance for
our everyday activities. Simplicity and absolute honesty are religious
Conservative Quaker beliefs are more similar to historical Quakerism than
either contemporary Liberal or Pastoral Quakerism. Our theology and
doctrine is quite specific and has clear premises and conclusions about God
and His relationship with all people. It was and still is sufficiently
distinct from Protestant and Catholic Christianity to have resulted in the
trial and execution of Quakers for heresy by misguided Christians both in
Rome and in New England.
What do we do?
In formal waiting worship, Conservative Friends meet together and sit
quietly, "waiting upon the Lord," and serving Him by being receptive and
submissive to His will. Sometimes the Holy Spirit will encourage someone to
rise and speak, and will supply a message. Sometimes a Friend is called to
offer a prayer or a song. Sometimes no one speaks for the entire meeting,
although Jesus may have ministered quietly or offered insights to some of
those present. Sometimes not much seems to happen. Sometimes not much
does. We wait in expectant obedience anyway.
Friends are sensitive to what we call "leadings," where we believe God calls
us to perform certain work or tasks, sometimes without any clear
understanding of the reason, and without regard to the likelihood of
success. Some larger Quaker projects of this nature have included prison
reform, the Underground Railroad, Women's Suffrage, Prohibition, the United
Nations, and peace witness.
A very few Friends are led to adopt the older Quaker "plain" witness in
dress, livelihood, and lifestyle, in which they withdraw from the world in
certain significant ways, while continuing to work in it or through it in
others. Plain clothing resembles that worn by Friends a century or more
ago, or by the modern Amish. They may adhere to older Quaker testimonies
such as the plain speech of "thee and thou," or the refusal to take oaths or
remove their hats in a courtroom. This can get them in trouble with
authorities today, just as it did 350 years ago.
Conservative Quakers of Canada
Conservative Quakers of Canada is a movement towards the original teaching and testimonies of
16th Century Quakers. As of yet, there are no Conservative Quaker meetings in Canada. From emails sent to me over the last few years, I can
say that there is interest though. Christ is moving back to the forefront of this ministry and I truely believe in time, Fox's ministry will be restored
back to it's vibrant, subversive, Christ led origins.
Quakers.ca is a division of QuakersOnline,
an evangelical network, hoping to establish a virtual community for Friends from all parts of the world. We also hope to facilitate,
and encourage new believers, many of whom would not have the opportunity for fellowship with others in their area.