The Religious Society of Friends, known colloquially as Quakers, is a religious movement that began in England in the mid-17th century and spread to America in the 1680s. Quakers believe that the primary source of all correct belief and practice is the indwelling Holy Spirit. While Quakers trace their roots to Christianity, and most Quakers consider themselves Christian, many of their teachings and practices, including those on baptism, differ significantly from other forms of Christianity.
One of the primary ways Quakers differ from other Christians is in their view of sacraments. Most Catholics and Protestants practice sacraments, such as water baptism and communion, or Eucharist. Some Christians teach that the sacraments are the actual means by which God bestows grace and His presence on believers. Other Christians teach that the sacraments are symbolic ordinances that are designed to help us remember greater truths. Quakers believe that all of life is a sacrament and that special sacramental rites are, at best, unnecessary and, at worst, hypocritical.
In the Quaker's way of thinking, the goal of all life is to experience God's presence within. They don't forbid other Quakers from participating in sacramental activities with others, but they don't practice them as part of their spiritual discipline. Instead, Quaker practices involve meeting together and waiting quietly for God to pour out His Spirit on them. Quakers often use the term baptism to refer to a believer sensing the presence of God's Spirit.
Quakers believe that water baptisms occurred during the time of Christ, but that they were not intended to be practiced continually. They believe the rite fails to hold the meaning for believers today that it did when it was initially practiced. In the Quakers' view, this makes baptism unnecessary. To make this point, Quakers often point to John the Baptist's claim that "I baptize you with water, but after me comes One who is greater than I...He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
Baptism in the Holy Spirit
When Quakers speak of baptism, they generally mean "baptism in the Holy Spirit." According to their teachings, this is when a person has experienced an inner change as the result of God's presence. Quakers tend to view this as an ongoing experience. Often, when Quakers feel they are being baptized in the Holy Spirit during their meetings, they will speak a word of teaching or encouragement. Quakers have no formal clergy and all Quakers are allowed to do this during meetings, regardless of age, gender or status, provided they believe the Spirit of God is directing them.
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