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Except for a few reprinted old documents, articles on this site are copyrighted by the author, and may not be reprinted without permission. You are, however, free to link to any article or page on this site without prior permission although it's nice to know who's linking to us.

Bill Samuel, August 4, 2002
Bill Samuel
Webservant
QuakerInfo.com

Are Quakers Protestant?
by Bill Samuel
Originally published February 1, 2001 at Suite101.com

This article was prompted by the invitation of Minnie Yamashita, Contributing Editor for Christianity - Protestant at Suite101.com, to contribute a paragraph on what Protestant means to me for an article of hers. I noted that there was dispute about whether Quakers were Protestants.

Now of course, as Minnie will testify, there are a great many ideas as to what Protestantism is. In discussing areas of difference between Quakers and Protestants, this article will focus on some of the classic concepts associated with Protestantism. Clearly, many today who consider themselves Protestants will disagree with one or more of the concepts ascribed to Protestantism in this article.

Early Quakers Didn't See Themselves as Protestants

It is quite clear from reading the works of early Friends that they did not identify with the Protestant movement. They considered the Protestant churches of their day, as well as the Roman Catholics, to be apostate. They felt that Protestants had lopped off some of the false branches of Catholicism, but did not challenge the root of apostasy. Insofar as Catholicism and Protestantism were different, early Friends would often in discourse on a topic point out what they felt were the incorrect views of Catholics and the separate incorrect views of the Protestants on the issue.

The early Friends considered themselves "primitive Christianity revived" - restoring true Christianity from the apostasy which started very early. They were not interested in reforming an existing church, but rather freshly expressing the truth of a Christianity before any institutional church took strong hold.

Some Differences Friends Had with Protestants

There were a number of differences early Friends had with Protestants of their day. Some of the key differences were:
  • The Protestants replaced the authority of the church with the authority of the Bible. Friends, while accepting the validity of the scriptures and believing in the importance of the faith community, gave first place to the Spirit of Christ. Pointing to the prologue of the Gospel of John, they viewed Christ, not the Bible, as the Word of God. The scripture was secondary, a declaration of the fountain rather than the fountain itself. (See also Friends (Quakers) and the Bible.)
  • The Protestants replaced liturgy with a sermon as the center of worship. Friends center worship in the divine presence. Even though Friends disdain outward liturgy, in some sense Quaker worship may be closer to Catholic than Protestant in nature. Both Catholics and Quakers believe in the actual presence of Christ in worship, for Catholics centered in the host and for Quakers spiritually. (See also Friends (Quaker) Worship.)
  • The Protestants were continually disturbed by an inner sense of guilt and original sin, and often felt they were choosing between sins. Quakers balanced the concept of original sin with the idea that redemption and regeneration could actually free humans from sin.

Picture Today More Mixed

Both Friends and the Protestant movement have evolved considerably since the middle of the seventeenth century. Beginning in the nineteenth century, much of Society of Friends has become more mainstream and tends to identify with some of the movements among Protestants. At the same time, some of the key Quaker understandings have become increasingly accepted among many Protestants in the last century. The pentecostal and charismatic movements, which have become a very large part of the Protestantism and have also impacted Catholicism, have some similarities with the early Quaker movement. A diverse Quakerism and a diverse Protestantism can no longer be so easily distinguished as they could be 350 years ago.

Another View

In his Can you believe? blog, Johan Maurer gives a different take on the same question.
© by Bill Samuel. Do not reprint in whole or in part without prior permission of the author, except for limited quoting in accordance with "fair use" principles. You are welcome to link to this page.
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Document last modified on Monday, 04-Mar-2013 22:24:33 EST