Quakers are people of strong conviction. Their movement of spiritual devotion, peaceful living, and liberating simplicity dates to the 1600s in England, and has impacted American society as well. Because to outsiders, Quakers sometimes seem “different” or “unique,” many people wonder what they believe.
Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, are traditionally Protestant Christians. Conservative Quakers believe in Jesus Christ, while liberal members may not. Evangelical Quakers look to the Bible to understand the person and work of Christ, while liberal-progressive members don’t.
What’s the difference between Quakers and Friends? What do Friends churches teach about Jesus Christ? Do their different conferences believe the same about the person and work of Christ? Which Friends association states that some of its members may not identify as Christians? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
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What do Quaker churches teach about Jesus?
With regard to the movement’s history and identification, the terms “Quaker” and “Friends” are synonymous. The name “Quaker” came from people outside the movement who called its founder, George Fox (1624-1691), a “quaker” because he encouraged people to tremble at the Bible.
One of the ways that members inside the group identified themselves as “Saints,” “Children of Light,” and “Friends of the Truth.” The latter was eventually shortened to “Friends” in common speech.
Conservative and liberal teachings about Jesus Christ
Like other Protestant denominations, groups that identify as Friends have associations, churches, and members that have conservative theological views and others that have adopted liberal perspectives.
Those with conservative views have a high view of Scripture as the inspired and revealed Word of God. These Quakers have a lot in common with other evangelical Christians who share the conviction that the Bible is authoritative for Christians.
Conservative, evangelical Friends tend to believe in doctrines like the virgin birth of Christ, the sinlessness of Christ, the miracles of Christ, the penal-substitutionary atonement of Christ’s death on the cross, his physical resurrection from the dead three days later, and his ascension into heaven. They also tend to believe he is the only way to God.
The three largest Friends organizations
Those who identify as Friends today exist in three main associations. While many people would use the word “denomination” to describe the Friends movement and the groups within it, it’s more accurate to refer to them as “associations,” “churches,” “conferences,” or “meetings.”
|Evangelical Friends Church, International
|Founded in 1989, there are 35,000 to 45,000 people and 300 churches or meetings that identify with this group.
|Friends General Conference
|Founded in 1900, there are approximately 35,000 to 40,000 people and 650 churches or meetings that identify with this group.
|Friends United Meeting
|Founded in 1902, there are between 35,000 to 40,000 people and 600 churches or meetings that identify with this group.
These three groups have a shared history and each identifies with the Friends movement. Some beliefs and practices of the groups overlap, but they also have unique convictions that lead them to associate with one group over the others.
The three groups believe strongly in their unique convictions, and see themselves as being a purer form of the movement than the others. But in general, they don’t view other Friends organizations in a negative light.
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Beliefs about Jesus in the Evangelical Friends Church
What Friends who are evangelical believe about Jesus Christ is similar to what other Protest evangelicals do, including those in Baptist, Pentecostal, Arminian, Reformed, and non-denominational churches.
They believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the second member of the Trinity, who died on the cross for people’s sin and rose from the dead three days later. They believe that all people need Jesus because all people sin. Unlike some other Friends, they believe that Jesus is the only way to God.
This group of Friends is part of the National Association of Evangelicals, along with other well-known evangelical denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God, and the Presbyterian Church of America.
They operate multiple universities, including George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon, and Friends University in Witchita, Kansas.
This group used to be called The Association of Evangelical Friends (1947), The Evangelical Friends Alliance (1965), and Evangelical Friends, International (1989).
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Jesus Christ in the Friends General Conference
Though the Friends General Conference champions diversity, the majority of its members are theologically liberal and socially progressive. Like other liberal-progressive movements today, orthodoxy is less important than tolerance.
The conference’s statements and documents emphasize social issues more so than biblical theology and doctrine. For instance, Jesus Christ is not mentioned in the organization’s “Major Goals” though “God” and “Spirit” are:
- Nurture meetings and worship groups.
- Provide resources and opportunities for meetings, Friends, and seekers to experience the Light, the living presence of God.
- Help meetings guide Friends to discern the leadings of the Inward Teacher and to grow into ministry.
- Transform our awareness so that our corporate and individual attitudes and actions fully value and encompass the blessed diversity of our human family.
- Work to grow and sustain a vital, diverse, and loving community of Friends based on a shared search for unity in the Spirit.
- Articulate, communicate, and exemplify Friends’ practices, core experiences, and the call to live and witness to our faith.
- Promote dialogue with others, sharing with them our corporate experience of Divine Truth and listening to and learning from their experience of the same.
Jesus Christ is not mentioned in the group’s “Vision Statement” either: “We envision a vital and growing Religious Society of Friends — a faith that deepens spiritually, welcomes newcomers, builds supportive and inclusive community, and provides loving service and witness in the world.” 
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Do all FGC members identify as Christians?
The group’s belief statements indicate that some members don’t identify as Christians and receive spiritual guidance from other religions and spiritual leaders:
“The Quaker way has deep Christian roots that form our understanding of God, our faith, and our practices. Many Quakers consider themselves Christian, and some do not.” (emphasis added)
It continues: “Many Quakers today draw spiritual nourishment from our Christian roots and strive to follow the example of Jesus. Many other Quakers draw spiritual sustenance from various religious traditions, such as Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and the nature religions.” 
Jesus Christ in the Friends United Meeting
When compared to evangelical Friends, the Friends United Meeting, is liberal. It’s difficult to articulate the organization’s exact views on Jesus Christ because they value openness to different perspectives on him.
The group emphasizes that they have no creed about Jesus. Their literature states: “Friends have no creeds — no official words can substitute for a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.” Yet, the group’s explanation continues: “These unofficial statements give a general sense of Friends’ faith”:
- God is love and wants to communicate inwardly with everyone who is willing.
- Worship is spiritual and must be Spirit-led.
- All people are equal before God and may minister as they are led by God.
- Jesus Christ is our present Teacher and Lord, and we seek to conduct church affairs in unity under his guidance
- The Spirit of God gives guidance that is consistent with the Bible.
- As people respond to the Light of Christ within, their lives begin to reflect Jesus’ peace, integrity, simplicity and moral purity. 
One description states that there are liberals and conservatives in the FUM organization:
“Friends United Meeting is decidedly centrist and contains a wide range of Christian Quaker theological outlooks from very progressive and inclusive views to very conservative and traditional beliefs among individual members, Monthly Meetings or Churches, and affiliated Yearly Meetings within FUM. This has historically led to some friction within the larger organization.” 
While FUM may have some conservative Friends among them, the evangelical Friends conference contains a much higher percentage because that viewpoint is a shared conviction among its members.
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