Who are the Quakers? A religious order or a confession?
The English shoemaker George Fox (1624-1691) founded a religious community which initially called itself Children of light, and Friends of truth, or simply Friends. Since approx. 1665 the movement has had the name the Society of Friends. The term Quaker, which the Friends have been using for themselves for a long time and which was originally used to mock them, comes from the word to quake meaning shake, shiver, and was given to them because in their meetings the Friends shivered with religious emotion.
The Quakers have their spiritual and religious roots in the various Western intellectual movements (e.g. the medieval mystics, the mystical philosophy by Jakob Böhme (1575-1624) and Angelus Silesius (1624-1677), the left wing of the Reformation with its spiritualistic representatives. This spiritual Christianity with its indispensable contribution to the history of tolerance, had the central theme of the Inner light.
Because the Quakers rejected the established Church, supported radical moral positions (rejection of oaths and of military service), but also because the piety of some of their members became more and more ecstatic and lyrical, and because they opened up to chiliastic ideas, the Friends were often cruelly persecuted. Under the leadership of Quaker William Penn (1644-1718) they sought protection in the USA (and founded the state of Pennsylvania). The third most important person of Quakerism, Robert Barclay (1648-1690) is considered to be the Movement’s theologian.
Quakerism is a religion without sacraments (no Baptism, no Eucharist). All of life is to be a Sacrament and worship is to have the form of communion without priests (exception: USA, Kenya), without formal creeds or doctrines (religion without dogma). The doctrines of Jesus Christ’s divine-human nature and the Trinity are rejected, although some Quakers affirm them. If there is any binding doctrine at all, it is the belief in the Inner light (Jn 1.9), in the Christ within us and in the Inner Light of Christ. The main characteristics of Quaker worship are the comprehensive lack of rites and of structure. The core of worship is the Waiting silence (Gustav Mensching), the search for an inner connection with God. God can reveal himself directly to anyone who seeks him honestly. If a thought or a prayer or the experience of a Bible verse come to a Friend from out of the silence and move him to express them, he will speak during worship. (...) In the simple silent worship marriage couples make their promises, parents dedicate their newborn into the care of the community and the dead are remembered.
In accordance with the old Quaker watchword “Let your lives speak!” the Friends consider their whole lives to be worship. From the message of the Inner light follow practical individual and social principles and requirements such as truthfulness, honesty and an undemanding nature. Quakers are very active in the community. As one of the historic peace churches they reject all violence, supported the abolition of slavery, the equality of women, the equality of races (referring also to Gal 3:28), have called for the reformation of penal law and refuse military service for conscientious reasons.
After the two World Wars the Quakers effectively called for the abolishing of hunger and misery among the conquered countries (Quakers fed five million German children). Today, the Quakers are active in many places, among them the Middle East (children and youth work in Palestine refuge camps, work with old people in Jerusalem, in Kenya (agricultural projects), Northern Ireland, Somalia (refugees programs) and in many other Asian and Latin American countries. Worldwide there are approx. 200,000 Quakers (mainly in the USA, in Kenya and in Great Britain). They come together under the umbrella organisation of the Friends World Committee for Consultation. (Abbreviated copy from Udo Tworuschka, „Lexikon. Die Religionen der Welt“. Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1999, S. 254-255, art. „Religiöse Gesellschaft der Freunde“.