Quakers (or Friends) are members of a historically Christian group of religious movements formally known as the Religious Society of Friends or Friends Church. Members of the various Quaker movements are all generally united in a belief in the ability of each human being to experientially access "the light within", or "that of God in every person".
Some may profess the priesthood of all believers, a doctrine derived from the First Epistle of Peter. They include those with evangelical, holiness, liberal, and traditional Quaker understandings of Christianity. There are also Nontheist Quakers whose spiritual practice is not reliant on the existence of a Christian God. To differing extents, the different movements that make up the Religious Society of Friends/Friends Church avoid creeds and hierarchical structures. In 2007, there were about 359,000 adult Quakers worldwide. In 2012, there were 377,055 adult Quakers, with 52% in Africa.
Around 89% of Quakers worldwide belong to the "evangelical" and "programmed" branches of Quakerism—these Quakers worship in services with singing and a prepared message from the Bible, coordinated by a pastor. Around 11% of Friends practice waiting worship, or unprogrammed worship (more commonly known today as Meeting for Worship), where the order of service is not planned in advance, is predominantly silent, and may include unprepared vocal ministry from those present. Some meetings of both types have Recorded Ministers in their meetings—Friends recognised for their gift of vocal ministry.
The first Quakers lived in mid-17th-century England. The movement arose from the Legatine-Arians and other dissenting Protestant groups, breaking away from the established Church of England. The Quakers, especially the ones known as the Valiant Sixty, attempted to convert others to their understanding of Christianity, travelling both throughout Great Britain and overseas, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some of these early Quaker ministers were women.They based their message on the religious belief that "Christ has come to teach his people himself", stressing the importance of a direct relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and a direct religious belief in the universal priesthood of all believers.They emphasized a personal and direct religious experience of Christ, acquired through both direct religious experience and the reading and studying of the Bible.Quakers focused their private life on developing behaviour and speech reflecting emotional purity and the light of God.
In the past, Quakers were known for their use of thee as an ordinary pronoun, refusal to participate in war, plain dress, refusal to swear oaths, opposition to slavery, and teetotalism.Some Quakers founded banks and financial institutions, including Barclays, Lloyds, and Friends Provident; manufacturing companies, including shoe retailer C. & J. Clark and the big three British confectionery makers Cadbury, Rowntree and Fry; and philanthropic efforts, including abolition of slavery, prison reform, and social justice projects.
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