Quakers do not share a common theology. This does not mean that individual Quakers have no theological beliefs. Some Quakers are also Anglican Christians, and have beliefs that accord with that confession. Some Quakers were brought up as Jewish, and retain many beliefs belonging to Judaism. Some Quakers were formerly Hindu, and bring many of the insights of that religion into their Quaker understanding. Some Quakers are also Buddhists. Some Quakers, like many people in Britain, are agnostic: they are not sure what to believe about God. Some Quakers are non-theist, and see no reason to believe either in a God as creator of the universe nor in a God that intervenes in the lives of human beings. There is no formal Quaker doctrine of beliefs, no Quaker catechism. With such a wide range of beliefs, one might reasonably ask what it is that unites Quakers.
Canterbury Friends enjoying a picnic lunch
and an afternoon together at the beach at
Tankerton, near Whitstable.
There are several things that bind Quakers together. One of these things is a valuing of the Meeting for Worship, which serves as a time and place of ‘spiritual grounding’. Another is valuing the fellowship of the Local Meeting, the Area Meeting and the Yearly Meeting.
A third aspect that binds us together is the belief that, whatever our distinct and individual faiths, faith is most meaningful, and perhaps only meaningful, when it is put into action in the world. For Quakers, the primary currency of faith is not words but action. The action can be in how a person chooses to live their life, including the kind of work that they do, their use of leisure time, and their use of resources; or in helping other people to live their lives, perhaps by their choice of occupation, or through volunteering; or by helping to change aspects of society and the world, by means of witness (such as letter writing campaigns, vigils and participating with people of other faiths), and by charitable projects and supporting charitable organisations. Indeed, for some Quakers, it is important to try to live out all three approaches. There are many people of different faiths who live their life in this way, but there are few, if any, other faiths for which this may be the only defining characteristic.
In support of these ideas, Quakers have several ‘testimonies’ that relate to ‘faith in action’. It should be recognised that these Testimonies are not creeds, and are less concerned with the precise form of words used so much as the action that springs from personal spiritual experience. An epistle from the Elders of Balby Meeting, 1656, concluded with the following words:
“Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by; but that all, with a measure of the light, which is pure and holy, may be guided: and so in the light walking and abiding, these things may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not in the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.”
Perhaps the most well known and celebrated (at least, among Quakers) testimony is the Quaker Peace Testimony.
There are also testimonies concerning:
The other pages in this section of the website examine these Testimonies.