What Do Quakers Believe?
Creeds and other memorized statements of belief have always been regarded as imperfect by traditional Friends. We believe that because Christ has come to teach us Himself, it is important to listen and respond to the messages that he provides to us personally and corporately, rather than substituting the discoveries of others for our own experience. Nonetheless, because we believe that God is singular, we believe that worshipping Him in Spirit and in Truth will ultimately lead to similar revelations among us all. Acknowledging that all of us are at different stages of what we regard as the same journey, we can identify the main components of our Christian faith. The following is a description, not a mantra to be recited.
God is love, and all else follows from that.
God Himself is the true foundation of knowledge, and the purpose of earthly existence is to serve and glorify Him. God speaks to human beings in this age as he has to the patriarchs, prophets, and peasants of old, and the testimony of His Spirit is the only true source of this highest knowledge.
The Scriptures are very useful, but are a subordinate source whose validity springs from the Spirit. They contain the minimum necessary information for salvation, if assisted by the Holy Spirit, but alone are not an adequate primary rule of faith, practice, or individual Christian faithfulness. Original sin is not transmuted to infants as a predestined flaw. As men and women, we are born innocent, but inevitably tend to sin by our own natures. God extends His grace to give men and women the power to overcome sin and become genuinely holy and obedient.
Jesus teaches and guides us by means of the Inward Light, and this Light illuminates our conscience, convicts us of our sins, and is the agency by which we are given strength to overcome it. The Inward Light of Jesus Christ is the means of our salvation. Salvation comes from the free gift of God's grace, received in faith, demonstrated in our lives by our works.
This universal saving Light is extended to all people, everywhere, and at all times. There is no predestined failure of any man or woman. The Light can bring salvation even if the Scriptures are absent. Outward knowledge of the historic Jesus is not a criteria for salvation by Him.
Receiving and accepting the Light transforms the individual, sanctifying and justifying him or her. Good works are an inevitable indicator that this has taken place. Fully accepting the Light and becoming fully sanctified can result in a sinless earthly existence, immune from temptation, if that is God's will. But rejecting the Light is always possible, and even after we accept God's grace, we can through our own will turn from it and be lost.
Unpaid and spontaneous ministry is how we worship in Spirit and in Truth, and its responsibility may fall to anyone at any time. Religious education and a professional clergy are not required to minister God's word. All true and acceptable worship to God is offered in the inward and immediate moving of the Holy Spirit--not limited to times or places. God through his love and tolerance may condescend to accept other forms if offered in a sincere spirit.
Outward physical sacraments are shadows, and do not in themselves provide the participant with grace. Genuine baptism occurs with the Holy Spirit, and continues throughout the worshipper's life. Water baptism is an ineffectual shadow of truth, but may accompany a true baptism of the Holy Spirit and of Fire. Water baptism of infants confers nothing and is unmentioned in Scripture. Genuine communion is inward and spiritual, and the use of bread, wine, or juice is a shadow that adds nothing to the truth.