The Religious Society of Friends, (in short, “Friends”), is a way of life rather than a particular religion. George Fox seventeenth-century England, founded them as an alternative to the Christian religions. Fox did not find answers to his questions in any of the churches and started searching for his own.
Pursuing Peter’s teaching, Fox advocated for a progressive, inclusive, spirit-filled Christianity that does not exclude people by virtue of race , sex or gender. He believed that the early church’s message was lost with the institutionalization of the religion. He believed that everyone could act as an Apostle, with the same power to teach, heal, and prophesy.
He challenged the belief that the churches were the authority of men and the mediator to God. He believed everyone was able to have a personal relationship with Jesus. He taught that there is one Christ who can speak to each person and address their condition. Also, the responsibility for ministry rests on all believers of Christ.
For such radical thoughts, the early group of Friends was persecuted and called derogatory names such as “Quakers”. That name has since been strongly associated with this group.
The Religious Society of Friends came to the colonies in the mid-1600s. In many places, they were persecuted and killed by the Puritans. Roger Williams, a Baptist leader, sheltered some Friends in Rhode Island. King Charles II ceded a colony to William Penn, who was a Friend. The Friends established a government there based on Quaker principles of equality.
Members of all faiths were allowed to live there. Friends bargained with Natives of the area to compensate them for the land they now occupied and vowed not to make war against them. Ever since, Philidelphia, the capital of their holy experiment, became known as the City of Brotherly Love.
This group has been active in many of the great movements of US history. No Friend would even consider having a slave. They were among the most active and vocal abolitionists and worked in the Underground Railroad to help slaves become free. They have also been active in prison reform, education, racial equality, the peace movement, and the women’s movement.
Out of his search came the formation of the Religious Society of Friends. He proclaimed the early preaching of Peter, that Jesus had risen from the dead and was now come in the Spirit and that Jesus acted in the hearts of his followers, purifying and empowering them.
Friends have no creed, no sacraments, and no presiding ministers. They believe in ministering to each other in love by sharing silence, leadings, prayers, sorrows, and hopes. The service of worship is based on silence. It is not a time to relax or gather thoughts, but an openness to the still leading of the Inner Light. Out of this “waiting upon the Light” is that one or more worshipers may be brought out of the silence to speak. This speaking is not an intellectual exercise; it is a move from the depths of one’s being, a mindful response to the Spirit’s carefully discerned guidance.
This religion has developed differently and splintered into various similar groups. The fact that the original group was adamant about being creedless left the door open for acceptance of various thoughts. In most groups, the Bible is not viewed as God’s final revelation but written by men acting under the Holy Spirit’s power. When the Bible is read in the Spirit, the message takes the reader forward on his or her spiritual journey.
The common belief is that communication with God is a personal journey you can share with others who wish to receive such a blessing. Your journey is inward with your daily commune with God and outward in how you live. They are peaceful and strongly are against war and even the death penalty. They do not believe in forcing conversion upon anyone, but will help anyone who seeks knowledge.
Today the Quaker’s number over 215,000 worldwide and are represented by four branches of Quakerism. These are; Friends General Conference, Conservative Meetings, Friends United Meeting and Evangelical Friends International. Theologically, the branches range from unprogrammed, non-pastoral, traditional silent meetings to Christ-centered, scripturally-based churches.