Friends and God
the very centre of the Quaker faith lies the concept of the Inner
Light This principle states that in every human soul there is implanted
a certain element of God's own Spirit and divine energy. This element,
known to early Friends as "that of God in everyone", "the
seed of Christ", or "the seed of Light", means to
Friends, in the words of John 1:9, "the true Light, which lighteth
every man that cometh into the world.
Friends generally believe that first-hand knowledge
of God is only possible through that which is experienced, or inwardly
revealed to the individual human being through the working of God's
quickening Spirit. This explains the attitude of Friends towards
many things, including the person and ministry of Jesus Christ,
the scriptures, the establishment and authority of the church, its
use of ceremonies, symbols and sacraments, and especially the obligations
felt by each individual.
Broadly speaking, the concept of the Inner Light
is twofold. Firstly, the Inner Light discerns between good and evil.
It reveals the presence of both in human beings, and through its
guidance, offers the alternative of choice. Secondly, the Inner
Light opens the unity of all human beings to our consciousness.
Friends believe that the potential for good, as well as evil, are
latent in everyone.
George Fox acknowledged that there is an "ocean
of darkness and death" over the world. But he also saw that
"an ocean of light and love" flows over this ocean of
darkness, revealing the infinite love of God. Friends believe that
the power of God to overcome evil is available in the nature of
anyone who truly wants to do the will of God. To a great extent,
we are the arbiter of our own destiny, having the power of choice.
Salvation, in the Quaker sense, lies in our power to become children
Although the Inner Light or the Divine Spirit has
always been available, Friends generally accept that the fitness
of God's divine revelation is made manifest in the life of Jesus
Christ - "made flesh and dwells among as, full of grace and
Responding to God's call
The rediscovery by ordinary men and women of a sense
of the immediacy of God is one of the most distinctive aspects of
Quakerism. The writings of early Friends are full of stories of
"meetings with God" and of "being led by the Holy
Spirit". Sometimes these experiences helped their understanding.
Sometimes it was an awareness of something that had to be done as
part of God's purpose on this earth. Friends began to use the term
concern to describe the experience of Friends who believe that God
might be saying to them: "this is what needs to be done - and
you are to help do it".
This type of direct experience of God is not unique
to Friends. It is common to both Judaism and Christianity. But the
Religious Society of Friends is unusual in the way it tries to support
its members in obedience to such calls. Friends have always encouraged
in one another an approach to Christian discipline that stresses
the need to be open to the Holy Spirit and the call of God.
Friends and the Bible
Friends consider that true religion cannot be learned
from books or set prayers, words or rituals, which George Fox called
empty forms. When Quakerism began in England, the Bible had only
just come into common circulation in English translation and was
widely read and quoted. Most Protestant groups attributed a great
finality and infallibility to it. The common desire for an external
authoritative standard was very strong. In religious controversies,
each group tried to find support somewhere in the wording of scripture.
At times, Friends fell into the same habit. But they
also believed in the contemporary revelation of God's will, parallel
to what was described in the Bible. George Fox once said: "You
will say Christ saith this, and the apostles say this, but what
canst thou say? Art thou a child of Light and hast thou walked in
the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from the God?"
Friends refuse to make the Bible the final test of
right conduct and true doctrine. Divine revelation is not confined
to the past. The same Holy Spirit which has inspired the scriptures
in the pest can inspire living believers centuries later. Indeed,
for the right understanding of the past, the present insight from
the same Spirit is essential. Friends believe that, by the Inner
Light, God provides everyone with access to spiritual truth for
The word testimony is used by Friends to describe
a witness to the living truth within the human heart as it is acted
out in everyday life. It is not a form of words, but a mode of life
based of the realisation that there is "that of God in everyone',
that all human beings are equal, and that all life is interconnected.
It is affirmative but may lead to action that runs counter to certain
practices currently accepted in the society at large. Testimonies
reflect the corporate beliefs of the Religious Society of Friends,
however much individual Friends may interpret them differently according
to their own light. They are not 'optional extras' but fruits that
grow from the tree of faith. Basic Quaker testimonies are: truth,
equality, peace, simplicity and community.
Truth is a complex concept. Sometimes the word is
used for God, sometimes for the conviction that arises from worship,
sometimes for the way of life. It was the obedience to truth as
they understood it that led Friends to act in ways which others
thought odd and even provocative. For early Friends, witnessing
to Truth involved the keeping up of public meetings for worship,
whatever the penalties involved. It also involved preaching, for
which many Friends were imprisoned. The concern for truthfulness
led Friends right from the first day to refuse to take oaths. An
oath according to them was a sign that there were two different
levels of truthfulness and they believed that you should tell the
truth all the time. Margaret Fell was imprisoned and lost all her
property for her refusal to take an oath of loyalty to the king.
If God is directly accessible to all persons, regardless
of age, gender, race, nationality, economic, social or educational
position - if every person is held equal in God's love and has equal
potential to be a channel for the revelation of God's Truth - then
all persons are to be equally valued. There is that Seed, that Light
- there is "that of God' in every person. For Friends this
insight has meant, from the beginning, equality of the sexes and
of races. In England and the English colonies this had to mean the
end of privilege based on wealth or class. In Japan and Kenya, where
the existing cultures made women little more than 'domestic property',
it resulted in the establishment of Quaker schools for girls. It
also formed the basis for opposition to slavery and the death penalty.
peace testimony is based on the same understanding of the nature
of God and of human beings. How can one kill another child of God,
a potential channel of Truth, no matter how misguided he or she
may seem at the moment? This testimony has led Friends to oppose
all wars and preparation for wars. At the time of the American Revolution,
many Friends were 'disowned' by their meetings for participating
in military actions. Later, Friends, faced with military conscription,
worked to establish the right of conscientious objection. Some Friends
still work to end conscription for military purposes, not only of
their bodies but also of their tax money.
The peace testimony has meant efforts to ease suffering
of victims of war on all sides. It means efforts to be or to seek
a reconciling force between peoples and nations in conflict. It
means a constant search for non-violent means of conflict resolution
through institutions of law, such as international treaties and
structures like the European Union or the United Nations. It means
a continuing search for peace and social justice through personal
and group non-violent techniques for mediation and social change.
The Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA) in Brussels, and
the Quaker United Nation Offices (QUNOs) in Geneva and New York,
for example, promote Quaker views at the heart of centres of power,
where political, economic and military decisions with world-wide
effect are made ("speaking truth to power').
There is certainty among Friends that the world offers
many distractions from the Truth, for example the pursuit of wealth
or power or pleasure, extravagance in language, fashion or behaviour,
and too great an emphasis on business, even for good causes. Truth
is usually discovered in quiet, undistracted waiting for its leadings
in the human heart, in the humble simplicity of spirit which acknowledges
that ultimately God is in charge of our world, not we ourselves.
The testimony of simplicity seeks, therefore, to
focus our attention on what is essential and eternal, without distraction
by the transitory or the trivial. Plain and honest speech is an
expression of simplicity. Respect for God's creation and, therefore,
concern for the environment and the right use of the world's resources
is another obvious expression of this testimony. A growth economy
based on extravagance, wastefulness and artificially stimulated
wants is seen to be a fundamental violation of the testimony of
As equally beloved children of God, all human beings
are brothers and sisters, one human family, no matter how great
our differences of experience, of culture, of age, of understanding.
Friends have found that the Light may illuminate a gathered group
as well as an individual heart and bind the group together in a
community of faith, conscience and experience. Friends see it as
their task to build a broader community throughout our world, by
seeing and affirming in each other the divine potential, the Seed,
the Christ, the Light within. We must learn to deal with one another
by affirming and nurturing the best we find in each other - or,
in the words of George Fox - by "answering that of God in everyone".
In such a community, Friends believe, human beings witness to the
sovereignty, compassion and love of the God of their experience.
Creeds and theology
attitude of Friends to formal creeds and theological dogma is different
from that of most Christians. Creeds do not form the basis for association
in their fellowship. Friends are aware of the limitations of words
to express one's deepest experiences. Friends also realise that
words may suitably express the personal convictions of someone at
one time, but that they will almost certainly be unsuitable for
the same person later in life. It is even more difficult to define
the religious conviction of a group of people. Words and phrases
often lend themselves to very different interpretations.
The absence of creeds does not mean that Friends
feel that it does not matter what a person believes. They recognise
that personal beliefs vitally affect behaviour. Friends are people
of strong religious views, but they are quite clear that these views
must be tested by the way in which they are expressed in action.
Many Friends have hesitations about the value of theology, fearing
that it too easily leads to speculation and argument. But all would
agree that humans, as rational beings, must think about the nature
of their religious experiences.
This may make it easier to understand how the Religious
Society of Friends can accommodate such a range of religious outlooks
among its members. Pretty well every colour in the religious spectrum
seems to be reflected in the views of Friends. There are Friends
whose faith is most sincerely expressed in the traditional language
Christianity. Other Friends could justly be described as religious
Sacraments and liturgy
Friends believe that prayer and the love of God are
of primary importance. This erases an artificial division between
the secular and the religious, and makes all of life, when lived
in the Spirit, sacramental. Friends reject traditional, outward
ceremonies and sacraments, sometimes characterised as empty forms,
but without rejecting the spiritual reality they symbolise. Baptism,
for example, means an inward or spiritual experience, not a ritual
act. Communion is also of the Spirit, a conscious openness to, a
communication with the Divine. Although Friends may differ in their
ways of observing the Sabbath and Christian festivals, these days
are not regarded more holy than weekdays.
Quakers and the after-life
do not consider a life after death as a reward for virtue, or as
a compensation for the suffering in their lives on earth. Neither
has the fear or threat of damnation been used to induce Friends
to live better lives. The Quaker view of what happens beyond death
is firmly rooted in the experience of this life. Friends believe
that life is good, and that an essential clue to its real nature
is to be glimpsed in the love that people have for one another.
There is always an element of mystery about love
which people cannot fully penetrate, but Friends are convinced that
love has a timeless quality. Love cannot be destroyed by death and
cannot be limited by time and space. This conviction is underlined
by the experience of Quaker worship, and by the awareness that the
personality of Jesus was not diminished by his death. His life was
based on his profound trust that God is love. Friends respond to
this love. They experience heaven here and now, and believe that
whatever lies beyond death must be for our good.
Friends do not dogmatise about what happens after
death. There are Friends who are convinced that there is an after-life,
and those who are convinced that there is not. But all Friends feel
that it is more important to get on with living this life, and seek
to improve the conditions of humanity in this world, than to engage
in speculations about the next.
Meeting for worship
Quaker worship happens when two or more people feel
the need to be still together and seek God's presence. This can
happen anywhere and anytime, but Friends usually refer to a meeting
for worship to indicate the meeting which takes place regularly
at a meeting house or another fixed place. In attentive waiting
together in silence, Friends can find peace of mind and a renewed
sense of purpose for living and joy in wonder at God's creation.
Silence is greatly valued by Friends. In removing
pressure and hurry, it helps them to be aware of the inner and deeper
meaning of their individual and corporate lives. It enables them
to begin to accept themselves as they are and to find some release
from fear, anxiety, emotional confusion and selfishness. This silence
is more than an absence of sound: one can be aware of external sounds,
such as a dog barking, a car passing, or a child calling. But these
sounds are not distractions. They are absorbed, often unconsciously,
as Friends try to be open to that of God within. An early Friend,
Robert Barclay, described his experience during a meeting for worship
as follows: 'I found the evil in me weakening and the good raised
The seating for a meeting for worship is usually
arranged in a circle or a square to help people to be aware of one
another, to be conscious of the fact that they are worshipping together.
Those present settle quietly, and by corporately seeking God's will,
become open to one another. This may happen quickly, or it may take
most of the meeting, usually an hour long.
The silence is different from that experienced in
traditional, solitary meditation, which normally takes place deep
inside oneself, as a devotional exercise for one's own spiritual
development. The listening and waiting in a meeting for worship
is a shared experience in which worshippers seek to meet God.
Friends may worship entirely without words, but usually
there will be some brief spoken contributions. This ministry is
intended to express aloud what is already present in the silence.
Anyone may feel the call to speak, man, woman or child, Friend or
first time visitor. There is a very wide variety of sources of spoken
ministry and the acceptance of them is an important part of Quaker
worship. Since the Religious Society of Friends is part of the Christian
tradition, people may speak of the life and teachings of Jesus,
use words from other sources, or refer to events in daily life.
Friends try to receive positively what is said and to look for the
underlying truth, regardless of the words in which it is expressed
If Friends are impelled to respond to vocal ministry, they should
be very cautious and try to build positively on what has gone before.
Specially appointed meetings
For special occasions Friends can hold specially
appointed meetings. Like other meetings for worship, a meeting on
the occasion of a wedding, for example, begins in silence. A Friend
will then stand to explain to newcomers and family guests the procedure
which will follow. The bride and bridegroom stand when they feel
ready, take each other by the hand and make a declaration to the
meeting. After this, the meeting continues with a period of silence.
Out of the silence vocal prayer or ministry may arise relating to
the marrying Friends.
In a meeting for worship on the occasion of a funeral
or in a later memorial meeting, Friends concentrate lovingly on
the life of the late Friend. The meetings have no set form apart
from the usual meeting. It may be held at a grave side, the crematorium,
or at the usual meeting place. It is a service of thanksgiving for
the grace of God displayed in the life of the departed, with thoughts
of comfort and sympathy for those left behind
Children and young people in the meeting
Children and young people are also important members
of the meeting. However, many of them find it difficult to remain
in the silence of the meeting for worship for the whole hour. If
they attend it is usual for them to stay in the meeting for the
first ten or fifteen minutes or to come in towards the end. During
their absence they may be discussing Bible stories or Quaker traditions,
using crafts, games or other activities to develop their own understanding
and insights. The aim of the children's or young people's group
is to give its members an awareness of being part of the community,
a knowledge of its spiritual traditions, and of having a positive
role in the larger community around them. Some older children prefer
to stay in meeting with the adults and sometimes take part in vocal
ministry themselves. At Young Friends' gatherings there are often
experiments with different forms of worship, including certain aspects
of programmed worship and music.