Friends or “Quakers”
The Beginning of the Friends Movement
The Friends movement began in the middle 1600s in England. God inspired a young man named George Fox to preach what was then a very radical message about Jesus Christ—that Jesus was alive, present, active and able to make men and women truly good on the inside. This was very appealing to a large number of people who were frustrated with the stiff Christian religion of their day. The movement grew rapidly and reached into the Americas by the late 1600s.
You would think that this message about Jesus Christ would have been welcomed by everyone, but it was not. Early Friends were persecuted by those in the English government as well as those in the church. Many were imprisoned and some killed.
Where Did the Names “Quaker” and “Friends” Come From?
The movement called itself “The Religious Society of Friends.” They avoided using the word “church” in their name so as not to imply that they were exclusively the church of Jesus Christ. (Some Christian groups did that at the time.) They called themselves “Friends” because of the words of Jesus recorded in John 15:14, “You are my friends, if you do what I command you.” The early Friends were Christians who believed they could live like Jesus because Jesus lived in them.
The name “Quaker” was applied to the early Friends by their critics. The early Friends were so aware of the presence of God among them that they sometimes trembled with excitement. Upon being threatened by a judge to “quake” before the authority of his court, George Fox told him to quake before the authority of God. Either way, the name Quaker stuck and became a second title for Friends.
The Influence of the Friends Movement
The early Friends were energetic and committed to living like Jesus would live in their situations. As a result, they pioneered significant changes in their communities and eventually our world today. They were instrumental in spearheading prison reform and kind treatment of the mentally ill. They promoted fair pricing and equal treatment of women. They refused to hurt other people, no matter what. In the United States they treated the Indians as equals and sacrificed to help bring about the end of slavery. They became so well known for their honesty and integrity that the name “Quaker” became synonymous with quality. Some companies adopted the name and you would recognize them today.
Their theology also influenced the people around them. Many of the then-radical teachings of early Friends are commonly held today by Christians in many different denominations.
The Essential Nature of Quakerism
It is often said that Christianity is not a religion, rather, it is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Unlike other religions, biblical Christianity is not primarily about rules and regulations, symbols and ceremonies. It is not about holy sites and holy buildings or holy days. It is about love and truth in the Spirit of God. Early Friends sought to embody that kind of thinking to the utmost.
Quakerism is, above all else, knowing the presence of the Living God by experience, not merely in words or doctrines or symbols, but in spirit and in truth through His Son Jesus Christ.
Where Are Friends Today?
Quakers still exist today—all over the world, just not in the large numbers of some of the more well-known Christian denominations. Perhaps even more significant is the growing number of Christians who think like early Friends without realizing it. God is always working to reveal the truth about Christianity. He has used men and women from all walks of life and many Christian groups.
One of the reasons for our less notable size is that we are still on the cutting edge of Christian faith and practice. Walnut Creek Friends, for instance, still seeks to magnify the reality of our relationship with Jesus apart from the traditional forms and ceremonies so many Christians have come to depend on. The Friends movement also lost momentum in the 1800s and 1900s as misleading teachings crept into it. This has happened in every Spirit-led, Christ-centered movement in church history. The Enemy of God has not given up.
Nevertheless, the Friends movement continues today. Walnut Creek Friends Church is a part of that movement. God is still working to reveal the truth about His Son and our relationship with Him. God is still inviting men and women to receive His forgiveness and let Him change us from the inside out until we think and act like Jesus. God’s goal is to make us as loving and pure as Jesus is.