‘Q’ is for Quaking: Charismatic and Pentecostal Aspects of the Quaker Way

  1. Introduction

A radical and life-changing experience of spiritual transformation acted as the catalyst for the emergence of the Quaker movement. For those involved, this appeared to be a replaying of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the apostles establishing a church guided by the presence of the risen Christ (Dobbs 1995, p.2). A dramatic experience of Christ appearing in their midst convinced early Friends that the true church was reappearing after centuries of apostasy (Wilcox 1995, p.3) and many Quakers saw these conversions in terms of Paul’s dramatic encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus (Damrosch 1996, p.108). The revelation of Christ brought a spiritual crisis in which the sinful and apostate heart was condemned (Wilcox 1995, p.79) and a sense of joyful liberation was achieved. Everything that is distinctive about the Quaker way developed out of a response to this experience and the efforts of early Friends to make sense of it.

  1. Quaking

The Pentecostal nature of the early Quaker movement was revealed in the charismatic behaviour of its adherents. Rosemary Moore has argued that more than anything else it was the charismatic nature of their early worship that distinguished Quakers from other radical sects with which they shared many ideas (Moore 2000, p.75). Douglas Gwyn has noted that early Quaker worship was “strongly emotional, filled with dread, punctuated with inchoate sounds of sobbing, groaning, sighing and impromptu singing” (Gwyn 2006, p.122). The most enduring legacy of this charismatic behaviour was the name given to the movement ‘in scorn’. The quaking and trembling that gave Quakers their name was the result of their inward spiritual experience (Barbour 1964, p.99). For early Friends, Quaking represented a decisive manifestation of the prophetic power described in the Bible (Damrosch 1996, p.34). God’s presence in worship was not revealed through human speech but rather through quaking (Moore 2000, p.144).

  1. Signs and Wonders

Another effect of the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit in the early Quaker movement was the performing of signs and wonders including healings (Dobbs 1995, p.47). Fox and early Friends believed that miracles were a product of being in harmony with the whole of creation so that inner fruitfulness produced outer fruitfulness (Damrosch 1996, p.157). Fox in particular was seen to have healing powers and accounts of his healings were carefully recorded even if they were later suppressed when Quakers wanted to play down the ‘enthusiasm’ of the early movement. Having rejected all outward ceremony and liturgy, the prophetic sign, based on the model of the Hebrew prophets became one of the principle means for early Friends to express their inward spiritual experiences externally. Examples of this include ‘going naked as a sign’ and James Nayler’s prophetic re-enactment of Jesus entry into Jerusalem in 1656 at Bristol.

  1. Links to Other Charismatic Groups

It might be argued that, based on their quaking, signs and wonders the early Quaker movement was a precursor of contemporary charismatic Christianity. In her book Holiness: The Soul of Quakerism: an historical analysis of the theology of holiness in the Quaker tradition, Carole Dale Spencer traces the links between early Friends and the modern Pentecostal churches via Wesleyan Methodism. These links are also made by Paul Alexander in his essay Historical and Theological Origins of Assemblies of God Pacifism in the journal Quaker Theology (number 12, Fall-Winter, 2005/6). This essay is available on line – http://quakertheology.org/issue-12-alexander-1.htm. Finally, in an interesting development in the UK, Quaker scholar Benjamin Wood is currently pursuing a research project aimed at developing an ecumenical theology for Quakers and Pentecostals.

  1. Gifts of the Spirit and Living the Way of Jesus

For early Friends, the most important dimension of the experience of baptism in the Spirit was that it led to a regenerated life; one in which people found themselves brought into right relationship with God, with other people and with the whole creation. The charismatic phenomenon of Quaking was a manifestation of the work of the power of God within them but the real fruit of the process was a new life. We can see this emphasis reflected in the New Testament writings.

Following the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21), the disciples do appear to have undertaken signs and wonders (Acts 2:43). However, the biblical text suggests that, a new way of living that reflected the way of Jesus was of greater significance. For these early disciples, this included sharing all possessions in common, giving to the poor and needy, worshipping together, eating together and seeking to live in harmony with all people:

Life among the Believers

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. Acts 2:43-47 (NRSV)

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul makes it clear that the fruits of the Spirit are to be found in a different way of living. Again, this reflects the way of Jesus. He lists these fruits as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control:

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The Fruits of the Spirit

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Galatians 5:18-23 (NRSV)

This suggests that charismatic behaviour such as quaking has little or no value when it is separated from the formation of a new life based on an active commitment to justice, peace and mercy.

  1. Charismatic Aspects of Contemporary Quakerism

It would seem that the charismatic aspects of early Friends live on in the faith and practice of contemporary Quakers in various parts of the world, particularly in the Global South. Recently, members of the US-based Friends of Jesus Fellowship (a ‘convergent’ experiment in the formation of new Quaker communities) have also begun to explore and reflect upon the charismatic and Pentecostal dimensions of the Quaker way. I have provided links below to the blog pages of Hye Sung Francis Gehring and Micah Bales as good examples of this interesting development:

Hye Sung Francis Gehring – https://hyesungfrancis.wordpress.com/

Micah Bale – http://www.micahbales.com/quakers-speak-in-tongues/

  1. George Fox’s Defence of Quaking

The opponents of early Friends used lurid accounts of charismatic behaviour within meetings for worship to dismiss the movement as an outrageous and dangerous example of religious enthusiasm. The label ‘Quaker’ was initially applied to Friends as a term of abuse. In response to this, early Quaker leaders felt compelled to defend their quaking. George Fox does this in his 1660 tract To All the Nations under the Whole Heavens. Using examples drawn from the Bible he argues that, throughout history, the true people of God have always quaked and trembled in the power of God.

I have produced a modern English paraphrase of this tract which is set out below.

To All the Nations under the Whole Heavens – George Fox (1660)

A Modern English Paraphrase

And to everyone who preaches from the Bible but does not know the spiritual Truth and so leave others in ignorance of both the living Spirit and the Bible. This is a message from the people who are disrespectfully called Quakers because they tremble at the word of God in their hearts. The Old Testament and the New Testament show that this is the way holy people have always responded to God’s revelation.

Everyone listen! All the true prophets and teachers of the Bible had an intimate relationship with God. Those who do not have the direct experience of the Spirit that the apostles enjoyed know nothing of the ways of God. All the clergy and teachers who lack this intimate relationship with God and preach for money that comes from tithes, deceive people and prevent them from experiencing the Spirit of God within them. This is wickedness because they block the way to salvation.

Ephraim was a Quaker! Ephraim was a great and respected man in Israel but, when he spoke God’s word, he trembled (Hosea 13:1). Likewise, through the prophet Joel, the Lord proclaims that at the Day of the Lord, all the inhabitants of the earth will tremble (Joel 2:1) God expects everyone to be a Quaker!

Despite this, however, many people condemn quaking. Clearly this means that they haven’t experienced God’s Spirit working within them. The Lord condemns such people. They should beware, because the Day of the Lord is coming and they are estranged from God. When this day arrives, the earth will quake and all people will tremble. Christ, the seed has replaced the outward law and all the old ways. In the power of Christ, the earth trembles, the heavens are pulled apart and water falls from the sky (Judges 5:4).

The prophet Ezekiel was a Quaker!  The Lord commanded him to eat his bread with quaking and drink his water with trembling as a sign to the people of Israel (Ezekiel 12:18-19). Through the prophet, the people were commanded to tremble with fear for the Lord (Ezekiel 38:20).

The prophet Daniel was a Quaker! He trembled, became breathless and lost all his strength when the angel spoke to him (Daniel 10:10-17).

Habakkuk was a Quaker! When he heard the voice of God his belly trembled, his lips quivered and he shook all over (Habakkuk 3:16).

Solomon says that, at the Day of the Lord, those who watch over the house will tremble and the strong men will bow down. Everyone must experience this quaking in the power of the Lord if they are to enter the kingdom of heaven (Ecclesiastes 12:3).

Isaac was a Quaker! He trembled violently and he was a faithful servant of the Lord (Genesis 27:33).

Moses was a Quaker! He quaked in fear when God spoke to him in the burning bush and when he pleaded to the Lord on behalf of his people (Deuteronomy 9:19/Hebrews 12:21).

The people of Moab trembled in the face of God’s chosen people (Exodus 15:15/Acts 7:32). Those who disobey the Lord will shake like a leaf and lose all their power (2 Samuel 22:7-8). Therefore no-one should criticise those who quake in the power of the Lord.

King David was a Quaker! In the psalm he said that, when God heard his cry, the earth trembled and quaked (Psalm 18:6-7) and he stated that the heavens and the earth shake in the presence of God (Psalm 97:3-5). David also proclaimed that his flesh trembled in fear and awe of the Lord (Psalm 119:120). David was a Quaker who loved the testimony of God in his heart. Eventually everyone must come to this experience even if they don’t know it yet.

Isaiah tells us that God looks favourably upon those who are humble, who recognise their wrong-doing and who tremble at the word of the Lord (Isaiah 66:2 & 5). So, the lord looks favourably on all humble and contrite Quakers!

In the Book of Job we are told that Eliphaz the Temanite trembled and his hair stood on end when God spoke to him (Job 4:14-15). And Job himself states that in the power of the Lord the pillars of the earth tremble (Job 9:5-6). Are we not all called to be Quakers? Those who are wicked and scoff at us for Quaking will come to realise this.

Christ is far stronger than the strongest men (Matthew 12:29). He has come to overcome the darkness and evil within people. If you want to enter the kingdom of heaven, you must allow Christ to overcome the strong man in you. In this process you will have an experience of quaking as your salvation is worked out in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). When this happens you will no longer despise Quakers. Instead, you will become one of them. When God raises us up in glory, those who scoff will be proven wrong.

“But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, and an everlasting king. At his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation” (Jeremiah 10:10). Those of you who mock the Quakers, are you willing to face God’s judgement? Your resistance and disobedience will be overcome by the Lord (Jeremiah 4:24, 26). All those who quake in the power of the Lord are God’s people. Everyone who resists God and his people will be defeated.

If you would like to read the original tract, use this link to the Earlham School of Religion Digital Collection:


  1. References

Barbour, Hugh (1964) The Quakers in Puritan England (Yale University Press)

Damrosch, L (1996) The Sorrows of the Quaker Jesus: James Nayler and the Puritan crackdown on the free spirit (Harvard University Press)

Dobbs, Jack (2006) Authority and the Early Quakers (Martin Hartog)

Fox, George (1975) The Works of George Fox, eight volumes (AMS Press)

Gwyn, Douglas (2006) The Covenant Crucified: Quakers and the Rise of Capitalism (Quaker Books)

Moore, Rosemary (2000) The Light in their Consciences: Faith, Practices, and Personalities in Early British Quakerism, 1646 -1666 (Pennsylvania State University Press)

Spencer, Carole. (2007) Holiness: The Soul of Quakerism (Paternoster Press)

Wilcox, Catherine (1995) Theology and Women’s Ministry in Seventeenth Century English Quakerism (Edwin Mellen Press)