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Quakers or our Neighbors the Friends

Quakers: Or Our Neighbors the Friends

$ 0.85

An excellent 30 page, but pocket sized, pamphlet for outreach aimed at new attenders in particular. A basic introduction to Quaker beliefs given as a brief history of Quakerism, gives a lot of information in a small package. See text below to see if the word brief really covers it. Pamphlet also has some Black & White pictures.

 The ebook version comes in mobi (for Kindle readers) and epub (for all other ereaders)..

The Quakers, or Our Neighbors, The Friends By William J. Whalen


To trace the history of the Society of Friends we must go back more than 300 years. During the Reformation period some Christians believed that the Protestant Reformers-Luther and Calvin-stopped short of a complete return to primitive Christianity. They formed sects, often classified as Anabaptist, and endured persecution by both Catholics and Protestants. These Anabaptists and their modern descendants, such as the Mennonites and Baptists, formed the left wing of the Reformation. In England their counterparts were sects such as the Seekers, Ranters, and the Quakers.


The Church of England threw off the spiritual jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, but the Puritan element in Anglicanism rejected the Mass, images, and five of the seven Sacraments. The Presbyterians dispensed with bishops altogether, including the Anglican bishops. Congregationalists thought the Presbyterian system was restrictive of freedom; they insisted on the autonomy of the individual congregation. The Baptists denied the validity of the Baptism of infants or any mode other than total immersion. Finally came the Quakers who rejected the remaining ritual, the sole authority of the Bible, and the professional ministry.


George Fox (1624-1691) founded the Society of Friends. He was apprenticed to a shoemaker while a young lad and received little formal schooling. The young man became increasingly dissatisfied with the church to which his family belonged. By the time he was 19 years old he had quit attending his parish church. He could abide neither the preaching nor the worship and was scandalized by the habits, especially the drinking habits, of the clergy. Fox left home and became a seeker, wandering about the countryside in search of religious enlightenment, visiting Puritans, Separatists, and Baptists.


For four years Fox sought to find a new way in which a person could gain direct access to God. Finally he relates, "when all my hopes in men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could I tell what to do, then, O then, I heard a voice which said, 'There is One, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.' And when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy."


He developed his idea of the Inner Light within each person. In 1647 Fox began preaching his new religious ideas and won converts in northern England, especially among the Seekers. Five years later he organized the Society of Friends.


For the rest of his life George Fox traveled through England and other countries preaching his brand of group mysticism. Most of his converts came from the Baptists, Seekers, and Ranters; hardly any Catholics or continental Protestants joined his movement. Missionary journeys took him to Scotland, Ireland, Holland, Germany, and the West Indies. Between 1671 and 1673 he toured the American colonies organizing Quaker communities and seeking converts.


Everywhere Fox traveled he asked people to live by the Inner Light and to demonstrate their faith by deeds. The early Quakers took a particular interest in the welfare of slaves and prisoners, the care of the poor and aged, the abolition of capital punishment and war.


Early Difficulty and Persecution

The Quakers refused to serve in the army or navy, swear oaths, pay tithes for the support of the established church, doff their hats to others, or use honorific titles. They usually branded the Anglican clergy a "hireling ministry," and sometimes heckled preachers in their pulpits. They made enemies. The established church saw Quakerism as a threat to true Christianity and the state saw the Quakers as obstreperous critics and rebels.

Fox himself was imprisoned eight times, for a total of six years. Between 1650 and 1689 more than 450 Quakers died in prison for their religious beliefs, and at least 15,000 spent some time in prison. Just as in our times some people try to smear others by calling them Communists, so in the 17th century critics of Quakerism tried to accuse them of being Catholic agents. One pamphlet published in 1654 was entitled: "The Quakers Unmasked, and clearly detected to be but the Spawn of Romish Frogs, Jesuits and Franciscan Fryers, sent from Rome to seduce the intoxicated Giddy-headed English Nation."

At the age of 45 Fox married Margaret Fell, a widow who was nine years his senior. Her home at Swarthmore became headquarters for Quaker activity. Fox died in 1691; his Journal was edited and published three years after his death.

The theologian of Quakerism, Robert Barclay, spent many years under Catholic influence. Originally a Presbyterian, he was sent to Paris to study under his uncle who was a professor at a Jesuit college. Barclay received a thorough training in Catholic theology and scholastic philosophy, and used this training to serve the apologetic needs of Quakerism after he joined the Society in 1666. His chief work was "An Apology for the True Christian Divinity." Barclay identified Quakerism as pure and primitive Christianity stripped of unessentials.

After the death of Fox and Barclay, the Quaker movement became infected with Quietism. This theory proposes that God works only when man suspends all his usual activities. As a result the Quaker movement stagnated and missionary activity ceased. The English Society has never equalled the 65,000 Friends who supported the movement at the time of Fox's death.

Quaker Growth in America

Two Quaker women reached Boston in 1656 but were immediately accused of being witches and were deported. Later four other Quakers were hanged in Boston, and many Quakers were whipped and tortured for their beliefs. Only the Toleration Act of 1689 halted the persecution. One of the most famous Quaker converts, William Penn, came to Philadelphia in 1682. He was the son of an English admiral to whom the king owed a large sum of money. He settled the debt by giving a charter to the son, who had become a convert to Quakerism. This was a large tract of land west of New Jersey. William Penn thought of calling it Sylvania but the king suggested he call it Penn-Sylvania. It became a haven for Quakers and a center of religious freedom in the colonies.

Penn once declared: "I abhor two principles in religion and pity them that own them. . . . The first is obedience to authority without conviction; and the other is destroying them that differ from me for God's sake."

Penn signed a treaty with the Indians which Voltaire called "the only treaty not sworn to and never broken." He sought to establish a just and peaceful commonwealth in Pennsylvania. The Quakers dominated the political life of this colony, the wealthiest and most populous in America, until 1756, when they refused to vote a tax for a war against the Shawnee and Delaware Indians. Other individuals, less concerned about fair treatment for the original inhabitants, took over the reins of government.

The Quakers not only developed Pennsylvania and New Jersey but at one time controlled Rhode Island, Delaware, and North Carolina. By 1700, according to the Quaker historian Elbert Russell, "Friends were the greatest single religious organization in the English colonies as a whole, both in their influence and in their promise" (The History of Quakerism, p. 124). Later the Quakers were overwhelmed by immigrants from other religious traditions.

Quaker concern for fair treatment of the Indians was paralleled by growing concern for the slaves. Through the efforts of such Quaker abolitionists as John Woolman, the meetings adopted stricter and stricter policies regarding slave holding. By 1776 all Quakers in good standing had released their slaves. Later Quakers would be active in the underground railroad and the abolitionist movement.

Naturally their pacifism kept the Quakers out of active participation in the American Revolution. Quakers who did serve the colonial cause, such as flag-maker Betsy Ross and General Nathanael Greene, were disowned.

Quietism Hinders Development

After the Revolution Quakerism began to harden into a "peculiar" system. The doctrine of Quietism which stifled missionary activities in England infected the American Quakers as well. The Quaker community turned in upon itself. The elders concentrated on winning rigid adherence to strict standards of conduct and dress. Any Friend who married outside the Quaker community was read out of meeting. Art, music, games, dances, the theatre, and other pastimes were forbidden. By emphasizing simplicity and plainness the Quakers sought to distinguish essentials from non-essentials, and also to put the money which might be spent for frills into good works. Periodic purges reduced the ranks of the Society of Friends, the young people rebelled, and few non-Quakers were attracted by the somber and straight-laced life which Quakerism came to represent. By the mid-19th century, Elders were visiting Quaker homes to measure the length of fringes on the antimacassars. They took a scissors to any deemed too long and therefore ostentatious. Quakers in both England and America adopted what was known as "plain language." This meant that a Quaker refused to use the plural "you" when addressing someone, since this was the form of address to a superior and was believed to be giving special honor to a human being. They substituted the Biblical-sounding "thee" and "thou." Because the names of the days of the week were taken from pagan forms, the Quakers renamed them "First-day" for Sunday, "Second-day" for Monday, etc.

One Quaker farmer is said to have addressed his recalcitrant cow at milking time: "Thee knows that I will not swear at thee. And thee knows that I will not strike thee. But what thee does not know, cow, is that I might sell thee to a Baptist who would beat the devil out of thee."

Because of their refusal to take oaths many Quakers suffered in courts of law or turned down possible political careers. Their main opposition to oaths was scriptural-"Swear not at all" (Matt. 5:34)-but they also objected to oaths since such swearing seemed to sanction two standards of truth, one in court and another in daily life.

No longer do any Quakers wear the distinctive plain garb which once set the Quaker apart from the rest of the community, much as the Amish are identified today. In 19th-century Quaker communities colors were forbidden in clothing; the men wore black and the women gray. The suits lacked lapels and extra buttons and were worn without neckties. A broad-brimmed hat completed the costume.

Schism Splinters American Friends

Withdrawal because of Quietest influence and cessation of missionary work hurt American Quakerism, but the Quaker scholar Rufus M. Jones writes: "The greatest tragedy of Quaker history was the separation of the Society in America, in 1827-1828, into two branches." Elias Hicks, a Long Island farmer, came to symbolize one side in the schism. He opposed Deism and atheism but approached a unitarian position, and was believed by those on the other side to give insufficient weight to the historical Jesus. A large body of Quakers followed Hicks away from the more orthodox Friends in 1827. Two-thirds of the Philadelphia meeting sided with Hicks, and throughout the country, yearly meetings, monthly meetings, and even families divided between the Hicksites and the Orthodox. A conservative group called the Wilburites separated themselves in 1845. Some of these divisions persist to this day, so that the relatively few American Quakers give allegiance to three major and a number of smaller friends bodies.

Largest of these Quaker bodies is the Friends United Meeting which reports about 40,000 members in 503 churches in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Including churches in East Africa, Cuba and Jamaica the total membership is approximately 100,000. This is a union of 20 autonomous yearly meetings in the United States, Canada, East Africa, Cuba, and Jamaica. It has headquarters in Richmond, Indiana and was once known as the Five Years Meeting. Many meetings associated with Friends United Meeting were influenced by 19th century Evangelical revivals, and some are hard to distinguish from Baptist or Congregational churches.

The contemporary Hicksites form the Friends General Conference. These Quakers incline toward a more rationalist and liberal theology than their fellow Quakers, but the Conference never did adopt the theological platform of Elias Hicks. These Friends follow the unprogrammed form of worship based on silent waiting. The General Conference reports some 33,000 members in 14 yearly meetings and associations in the United States and Canada.

Another five yearly meetings have ties with both FUM and FGC, membership figures being included in the totals given above.

In 1965 four independent yearly meetings formed the Evangelical Friends Alliance, whose members form a third major grouping. They favor an evangelical Protestant theology, prefer the National Association of Evangelicals to the National Council of Churches, and support Billy Graham and his revivals. There are Conservative Friends continuing in the Wilburite tradition and other unaffiliated yearly meetings.

Some men and women belong to the Wider Quaker Fellowship, providing a link with Quaker thought and action without severing ties with their own churches.




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