The Religious Society of Friends is a Christian body formed by George Fox and his followers in the mid-17th century in England. It spread rapidly through the British Isles, Europe and North America.
In the 19th century in North America, Friends split into separate factions, generally over issues of authority and form of worship. While some Friends viewed the Bible as the inalienable Word of God, others believed that Scripture was inspired by the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit guides faithful readers in interpreting the Scriptures. Most Friends, today, fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum.
Quaker involvement in business and worldly civil society led to other splits. For instance, Conservative groups originated from the concern that the witness of early Friends—who famously lived in the world, but were not of the world—was diluted and diverted from its purpose. Many Conservatives have felt that without the discipline to retain some separation from the world, Quakerism risks having its silent form of worship mistaken for complicity in the injustice of the world.
These questions continue to live as part of Quaker conversation and reflection, within and between meetings and churches. FWCC is the organization that provides the forum for Friends of different worship traditions and cultures to interact with one another.
Profiles of Various “Flavours”
The following descriptions are of some of the main Quaker traditions. They have been composed from contributions by various Yearly Meetings and by the umbrella organisation, Friends United Meeting.
Programmed tradition: Friends United Meeting
Friends United Meeting External link (FUM) grows out of the evangelical expression of the Quaker Movement. We embrace both pastoral and unprogrammed Friends Meetings and are deeply influenced by the fact that our largest population centre is in eastern Africa, followed by the United States of America. We have 27 member yearly meetings.
FUM is a Christian movement. We anticipate that continuing revelation will be consistent with the Scriptures, because the Holy Spirit is the source of both. Where worship centres on Christ and involves a listening spirituality, we believe those involved will begin to reflect the character of Jesus—bearing testimony to peace, simplicity, equality, moral purity, and integrity. The global community of the Church is an important part of this testimony. Knowing that God has already placed a witness (the Light of Christ within everyone), it is our joy to share the love of God and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit with others.
FUM is also a cooperative programme of our member yearly meetings. Our purpose is “to energize and equip Friends through the power of the Holy Spirit to gather people into fellowships where Jesus Christ is known, loved and obeyed as Teacher and Lord.” Our priorities are evangelism, global partnership, leadership training and communication.
Evangelical Friends in North America: From Northwest Yearly Meeting
Evangelical Friends in North America are a collection of five Yearly Meetings mostly comprised of programmed and semi-programmed churches. These Friends emphasize the divinity of Jesus Christ and focus on encouraging people to personally know and follow Christ in complete obedience to the teachings found in Scripture and to the leading of God’s Spirit.
Across these five Yearly Meetings, some emphasize historic Friends testimonies more than others. Those that do see the work of peacemaking, social justice, simplicity, etc., as central to their Christian faith. All are active in local outreach/evangelism and cross-cultural mission efforts. Most EFCI (Evangelical Friends Church International) External link local churches are served by men or women in pastoral ministry—some full-time, others bi-vocationally, and a few as volunteers.
Worship in the Conservative tradition: Ohio Yearly Meeting
The personal, immediate, continuing experience of Jesus Christ speaking to their specific condition is the beginning and end of Ohio Yearly Meeting External link Friends’ discipline and life. The hour of worship is His to program as He sees it: our task—to respond in worship—does not depend on any one appointed person, but on Christ’s loving ministry in our midst. We gather in awed expectation for Christ to speak to our corporate condition, and His Spirit, in the silence or through free gospel ministry and anointed prayer, inspires and guides us as His body, not just as so many individuals. We believe that as we individually and communally look humbly to Him, our spirits will be washed, prepared and fed in a measure proportional to our obedience.
- Conservative Friends believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God. Conservative Friends believe and experience that this Living Word is to be sought and experienced within us.
- Conservative Friends believe that the Scriptures were inspired by the Word and are to be read, considered and used in the service of that Life and Power that brought them forth.
- Conservative Friends practice waiting worship in which we gather together to wait upon and hear the Word of God, responding to it when called upon in vocal ministry and prayer.
- Conservative Friends seek to live their lives in relationship with God, in which we yield ourselves to Him in obedience. In this relationship we are to love God and others about us.
Unprogrammed or Liberal Friends
From Philadelphia Yearly Meeting:
The Light Within is the fundamental and immediate experience for Friends. It is that which guides each of us in our everyday lives and brings us together as a community of faith. It is, most importantly, our direct and unmediated experience of the Divine. Friends have used many different terms or phrases to designate the source and inner certainty of our faith—a faith which we have gained by direct experience . . . George Fox refers in his Journal to “that Inward Light, Spirit, and Grace by which all might know their salvation” and to “that Divine Spirit which would lead them into all truth.” He wrote: “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition” and encouraged Friends “to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.” Many Friends interpret “that of God” as another designation for the Light Within.
Our worship is the search for communion with God and the offering of ourselves—body and soul—for the doing of God’s will. The sense of worship can be experienced in the awe we feel in the silence of a meeting for worship or in the awareness of our profound connectedness to nature and its power. In worship we know repentance and forgiveness in the acknowledgment of God as the ultimate source of our being and the serenity of accepting God’s will.
Visit Friends General Conference External link for more on unprogrammed Friends.
World Distribution of Friends by “Flavour”
There are Programmed friends in Belize, Cuba, El Salvador, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, and USA.
There are Evangelical Friends in Bolivia, Burundi, Cambodia, Congo, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Rwanda, Taiwan and USA.
There are Conservative Friends in the USA, United Kingdom, and Greece.
There are Unprogrammed Friends in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Congo, Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kenya, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Palestine, Russia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, USA
Links to Other Descriptions of Friends
- Friends United Meeting External link
- Evangelical Friends Church International External link
- Friends General Conference (unprogrammed) External link
- Conservative Friends External link