Quakers, more formerly known as the Society of Friends, were an offshoot of the Church of England at about the time of the Puritan revolution. They were, as one writer described them, the “left-wing of the Puritans.” The Puritan goal was to purify the church, getting rid of priestly privilege, reducing the sometimes onerous compulsory tithe or church tax, and simplifying the worship service. These were good goals, but they resorted to violence and overthrow in order to institute them. The Quakers, though, have held a traditonal position as a Peace Church.
At first Quakers were greatly influenced by the Dutch Anabaptists and Mennonites, but they departed from even their simplified sacraments in favour of a spiritual sacramental understanding. This was the first real fracture with the Church, which has always held that to be a church – in the body of Christ – the gathered members had to hold both baptism with water and the trinitarian blessing, and the eucharist or the Lord’s Supper with wine and bread and with Jesus’s “words of institution.” (This is my body, this is my blood.) Since the Quakers do not do this, nor hold to a creed (another test of the Church is adherence to the precepts of the Nicene Creed) they left behind their communion with other Christian bodies.
I can accept many things about the Quakers, and would hope that Anglicans and other Christians would study them and integrate them. The Quakers have since early in their corporate history held a New Testament view of non-violence and non-resistance similar to that of the Anabaptists. This would have certainly changed the Church of England if the Quakers had remained in that communion! Much of world history would have happened differently if the Anglican Church had not participated in imperialist policies. The Quaker emphasis on the Holy Spirit is missing from many established churches, who as in the 1600s have reverted to a formal mode of worship and community.
But I could not be a Quaker and turn away from the signs of the sacraments. The physical nature of the sacraments is integral to their being sacraments. God made us both physical and spiritual, without any separation between the two natures. The church in its long wisdom recognizes that, and literally washes us at baptism, and literally feeds us at the Lord’s Supper.
Quaker principles of nonviolence, modesty, simplicity and spiritual maturity are the core of their teaching and their model for life. Anglicans wouldn’t be hurt of some of this was taught amongst them.