The Religious Society of Friends
The Quaker movement was founded in the 17th century by George Fox. Fox was a reluctant starter of a new sect, his idea was to try and transform the existing structures to a more accurate following of Christ. For this he, and his followers, were persecuted by Cromwell's Puritan government and then the "restored" Charles II Catholics. Fox argued, based on the teachings of Peter (Acts 2 & 3), for an egalitarian, spirit-filled Christianity that would not be oppressive of people on account of race, sex, or class. (Ed: Sound familiar? - amazing how long it's taken us to start to get there!) Like much modern Christian thought, Fox believed that the "church" had lost its way when it became institutionalized in either Catholicism or Anglicanism.
Fox challenged the existing hierarchical nature of authority in the church, pretty much the same as businesses all over the world are now beginning to see the severe limitations of a command and control hierarchy in their operations. Fox emphasized the personal nature of the relationship of an individual with Christ and hence the role that everyone plays in the ministry. Each individual is created in the image of God and as such has inherited God's power - it's up to the individual and his relations hip with God as to how and when this power is manifest. Even back in the 17th century the Quakers treated men and women as equals; it took the rest of Christendom until the early 20th century to start to recognize this. As, in the eyes of Friends, all of us are equal there is no point in any Friend trying to achieve honors amongst his equals, this encourages Friends to live a simple life.
Friends (as they like to be called) acknowledge that the Bible is the word of God, but not the final word. They believe that God still inspires people through his Holy Spirit to create words that can move others in their spiritual journey with God.
Friends believe that if they wait silently upon God there will be times when God will speak to them in the heart. They therefore hold the "Silent Meeting of Friends" to be a sacrament just as much as activities such as Communion. Fox referred to these revelations as "openings". Openings can occur at any time to anyone (not just in Silent Meetings"), Fox had a great "opening" whilst on top of Pendle Hill. These openings are usually given a "reality check" by the Friends; it's sometimes difficult to determine if the inspiration is from God or from one's own desires.
One of the key characteristics of Friends meetings is that they don't ignore the voice of minorities (the prophets in the wilderness). Minority voices are tolerated, if not encouraged. It is recognized that often these voices may just be ideas before their time.
A cornerstone of Quaker belief is that "belief" is subjective, of experiencing God for oneself. Similar ideas were expounded in more elaborate fashion about two hundred years later than Fox by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (see also). This acceptance that everyone is responsible for their own relationship with God leads Friends on to the concept that they must always, whatever they are doing, be living in relationship with God - God's for life, not just Sundays. Friends are continually trying to balance the Inward and Outward parts of their spiritual journeys. Like most major concepts of life it is a paradox, one has to travel inwards to travel outwards and vice versa.
There are many major spin offs from accepting the Quaker belief system. Because of the belief that God is within us (the "Light" within us) all it makes no sense for people to fight one another - hence another major principle of Quaker belief, "The Peace Testimony". Also stemming from this belief of the "Light" within and accepting that God can still speak through others is tolerance. Tolerance of another's ideas and beliefs, accepting that I may be wrong and another may be right, is not only the basis of true community but of true humanity also. Another related principle is that it is better to integrate disparate views into a unity than to impose force to create a pseudo-unity. Many of these ideas have now taken shape in the community movement spearheaded by people like M. Scott Peck.
Friends seem to understand the truth behind the Sufi parable about the Elephant and the Blind Men. They are not afraid to embrace ideas from other sources than the Bible. Many ideas from, for example, Eastern religions, psychology and scientific research have been explored and integrated where appropriate. Having said this, Friends still hold that Jesus Christ is central to their Christian faith (tautology, I know).
One of the most notable achievements of the Friends was the foundation of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania by William Penn, a Friend, in 1682.
Extract from George Fox's Autobiography relating to Pendle Hill:
So just why are the Quakers called Quakers?
From the FAQ
Quakers - The Religious Society of Friends (Many other links off this page.)
Pendle Hill! (Pendle Hill is a Quaker center for study and contemplation in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia.)