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Quakers: Foes or Friends?
by Daryl E. Witmer
The Quakers are an international religious affiliation also referred to as The Religious Society of Friends or, simply, Friends.
Founded by George Fox (inset) in England in the 1650s, today Quakers are thought to number approximately 300,000 worldwide. About one-third of all Quakers live in the United States and Canada.
The three leading worldwide Quaker bodies today are:
— Friends General Conference (FGC), which includes about 500 meetings or worship groups, and numbers about 35,000. This is the most theologically liberal of the three major groups.
— Friends United Meeting (FUM), claims about 60,000 members in North America, and approximately 140,000 worldwide, making it the largest of the three major groups.
— Evangelical Friends International (EFI) is the most conservative of the three major groups. It is comprised of almost 300 North American Quaker churches with an estimated membership of 30,000. Worldwide, EFI membership numbers up to 100,000.
Historically, Quakers have had no small influence on American life and culture.
Quaker-originated colleges and universities include Cornell University, George Fox University, Johns Hopkins University, William Penn University, and Whittier College – just to name a few.
Famous Americans with Quaker connections include William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania), Herbert Hoover (31st president of the United States), Richard Nixon (37th president of the United States), Daniel Boone (frontiersman and early organizer of Kentucky), Susan B. Anthony (woman’s suffragist), Betsy Ross (sewed the first American flag), Walt Whitman (American poet), and James Michener (author).
Quakers have long been noted for their lifestyle of simplicity, marked convictions about pacifism, and worship forms stressing inner, personal, revelation.
It is this strong mystical element and other matters of doctrine that gets to the crux of the question posed by the title of this article.
The play on words notwithstanding, and all theological consideration aside, we certainly view Quakers as friends. But because truth is absolute and exclusive by definition, those associations of Friends which reject essential Christian doctrinal assertions such as the deity of Christ and the authority of Scripture must necessarily be viewed as foes of truth.
To say this is not to judge the eternity of any individual Quaker, but rather to judiciously recognize the implications of statements made by some Quaker organizations themselves.
Reliable Quaker sources themselves make it clear that “Quakerism has deep Christian roots and most Quakers consider themselves Christian, but many do not.” “Many Quakers see Jesus Christ as [merely] a great religious teacher, or someone inspired by God
to live an exemplary life.” “Many do not regard the Bible as the only source of belief and conduct. They rely upon their Inner Light to resolve what they perceive as the Bible’s many contradictions.”
George Fox himself propagated principles that stand in categorical contrast to historic Christian dogma.
On the other hand, Evangelical Friends International is a Quaker body that today espouses a clear and orthodox statement of faith, except for omitting the outward observance of the sacraments.
So – can one be a Quaker, yet also saved and true to Jesus Christ and His truth?
Elton Trueblood was widely considered to be in the mainstream of evangelicalism while remaining true to his Quaker beliefs, e.g. “inner light,” pacifism.
But religious affiliation of itself is certainly an insufficient credential for salvation. The ultimate issue is one’s relationship with the Christ of Scripture (John 1:12) and acceptance by faith of His offer of grace (Rom. 10:9).
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