The Society of Friends, commonly called Quakers, is a body of Christians that originated in 17th century England under George Fox. In 1988 the society had 200,260 members, with heavy concentrations in the United States (109,000), East Africa (45,000) and Great Britain (18,000). Quakers unite in affirming the immediacy of Christ's teaching; they hold that believers receive divine guidance from an inward light, without the aid of intermediaries or external rites.
Meetings for worship can be silent, without ritual or professional clergy, or programmed, in which a minister officiates.
Although their antecedents lie in English Puritanism and in the Anabaptist movement, the Society of Friends was formed during the English Civil War. Around 1652, George Fox began preaching that since there was "that of God in every man," a formal church structure and educated ministry were unnecessary. His first converts spread their faith throughout England, denouncing what they saw as social and spiritual compromises and calling individuals to an inward experience of God. In spite of schism and persecution, the new movement expanded during the Puritan Commonwealth (1649 - 60) and after the restoration of the monarchy (1660). By openly defying restrictive legislation, Friends helped achieve passage of the Toleration Act of 1689.
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In a conflict over theology that was complicated by social tensions, the Society underwent a series of schisms beginning in 1827 and ending with the formation of three major subgroups: Hicksites (liberal), Orthodox (evangelical), and Conservative (quietist). During the 20th century, however, Friends have attempted to heal their differences. Many yearly meetings have merged, and most Friends cooperate in organizations such as the Friends World Committee for Consultation and the Friends World Conferences. The rapid growth of pastoral Quakerism in Africa and of silent meetings in Europe makes the Society of Friends an international organization.
The American Friends Service Committee is an independent service organization founded in 1917 to aid conscientious objectors. Today it also provides help to the needy in the United States and a number of Third World countries.
J William Frost
H Barbour, and J W Frost, The Quakers (1988); T D Hamm, The Transformation of American Quakerism: Orthodox Friends, 1800 - 1907 (1988); E Russell, The History of Quakerism (1942).
The Society of Friends (in full, Religious Society of Friends), is the designation of a body of Christians more commonly known as Quakers. Their fundamental belief is that divine revelation is immediate and individual; all persons may perceive the word of God in their soul, and Friends endeavor to heed it. Terming such revelation the "inward light," the "Christ within," or the "inner light," the first Friends identified this spirit with the Christ of history. They rejected a formal creed, worshiped on the basis of silence, and regarded every participant as a potential vessel for the word of God, instead of relying upon a special, paid clergy set apart from the rest.
In the administration and privileges of the society, no distinction between the sexes is made. Membership qualifications are based on moral and religious grounds and on the readiness of the candidate to realize and accept the obligations of membership. Meetings for worship are held regularly, usually once or twice a week, and are intended to help members to feel God's presence as a guiding spirit in their lives. In these meetings the members measure their insights and beliefs against those of the meeting as a whole. Because the religion of the Quakers was founded as a completely spiritual belief requiring no physical manifestation, the meetings have traditionally had no prearranged program, sermon, liturgy, or outward rites. Today, however, more than half of the Friends in the U.S. use paid ministers and conduct meetings for worship in a programmed or semiprogrammed manner.
In both the unprogrammed and programmed meetings members accept a great deal of responsibility. A group called Worship and Ministry, or Ministry and Oversight, accepts considerable responsibility for the spiritual life of the meeting. Overseers undertake to provide pastoral care for the member or share in that care when a regular pastor is employed. The religious discipline and administration of the society are regulated by periodic meetings known as Meetings for Business. One or more congregations constitute a Monthly Meeting, one or more Monthly Meetings form a Quarterly Meeting, and the Quarterly Meetings within a stated geographical area form a Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. The decisions of the Yearly Meeting are the highest authority for all doctrinal or administrative questions raised in any subsidiary meeting within its jurisdiction. Usually no voting takes place in Quaker meetings; members seek to discover the will of God by deliberation concerning any matter at hand. As an integral part of Quaker doctrine, at meetings members are regularly and formally queried on their adherence to Quaker principles. These queries relate to such matters as the proper education of their children, the use of intoxicants, care of the needy, and, on a broader scale, racial and religious toleration and the treatment of all offenders in a spirit of love rather than with the object of punishment. Most American groups of Friends are represented by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), founded in 1917. Originally established to handle many of their philanthropic activities, the organization today is primarily concerned with creating a society in which violence need not exist.
The Friends were persecuted from the time of their inception as a group. They interpreted the words of Christ in the Scriptures literally, particularly, "Do not swear at all" (Matthew 5:34), and "Do not resist one who is evil" (Matthew 5:39). They refused, therefore, to take oaths; they preached against war, even to resist attack; and they often found it necessary to oppose the authority of church or state. Because they rejected any organized church, they would not pay tithes to the Church of England. Moreover, they met publicly for worship, a contravention of the Conventicle Act of 1664, which forbade meetings for worship other than that of the Church of England. Nevertheless, thousands of people, some on the continent of Europe and in America as well as in the British Isles, were attracted by teachings of the Friends.
Friends began to immigrate to the American colonies in the 1660s. They settled particularly in New Jersey, where they purchased land in 1674, and in the Pennsylvania colony, which was granted to William Penn in 1681. By 1684, approximately 7000 Friends had settled in Pennsylvania. By the early 18th century, Quaker meetings were being held in every colony except Connecticut and South Carolina. The Quakers were at first continuously persecuted, especially in Massachusetts, but not in Rhode Island, which had been founded in a spirit of religious toleration. Later, they became prominent in colonial life, particularly in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. During the 18th century the American Friends were pioneers in social reform; they were friends of the Native Americans, and as early as 1688 some protested officially against slavery in the colonies. By 1787 no member of the society was a slave owner. Many of the Quakers who had immigrated to southern colonies joined the westward migrations into the Northwest Territory because they would not live in a slave-owning society.
During the 19th century differences of opinion arose among the Friends over doctrine. About 1827, the American Quaker minister Elias Hicks became involved in a schism by questioning the authenticity and divine authority of the Bible and the historical Christ; many Friends seceded with Hicks and were known as Hicksites. This schism alarmed the rest of the society, who became known as Orthodox Friends, and a countermovement was begun to relax the formality and discipline of the society, with a view to making Quakerism more evangelical. The evangelical movement, led by the British Quaker philanthropist Joseph John Gurney, aroused considerable opposition, particularly in the U.S., and another schism resulted among the Orthodox Friends. A new sect, the Orthodox Conservative Friends, called Wilburites after their leader John Wilbur, was founded to emphasize the strict Quakerism of the 17th century. It is very small today. The general result of these modifications, both those dealing with doctrine and those pertaining to the relations of Quakers to the world in general, was a new spirit among all the Friends. Most abandoned their strange dress and speech and their hostility to such worldly pursuits as the arts and literature.
Numerically, the Friends have always been a relatively small group. In the early 1980s world membership totaled about 200,000, distributed in about 30 countries. The greatest number of Friends is in the U.S., where, according to the latest available statistics, the society had about 1100 congregations with about 117,000 members. The Yearly Meetings in Africa, with about 39,000 members, and in the United Kingdom and Ireland, with about 21,000 members, are the next largest groups. Other groups are located in Central America, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The Friends World Committee for Consultation is the international organization of the society.
Edwin B. Bronner
Known also as Quakers, the Society of Friends can best be understood through the lives of the early leaders. The founder was George Fox, whose youth saw the rule of Charles I and his marriage to a French princess who was a Roman Catholic, the Petition of Right, Archbishop Laud's harsh rules for Nonconformists, the Puritan emigration to America, and the meetings of the Long Parliament. His public career coincided with the defeat and execution of Charles I, the Puritan Commonwealth under Cromwell, the Stuart Restoration and the rule of James II, the Bill of Rights, and the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688. Some of his contemporaries were Locke, Hobbes, Milton, Dryden, Bunyan, Cromwell, Newton, Harvey, Baxter, and Ussher.
In 1647 Fox experienced a profound change in his religious life. In 1652 he said that he had a vision at a place called Pendle Hill; from that point on, he based his faith on the idea that God could speak directly to any person.
Some of the first converts of Fox were called "Friends" or "Friends in Truth." The term "Quaker" was described by Fox as follows. "The priest scoffed at us and called us Quakers. But the Lord's power was so over them, and the word of life was declared in such authority and dread to them, that the priest began trembling himself; and one of the people said, 'Look how the priest trembles and shakes, he is turned a Quaker also.'" According to Fox, the first person to use the term was Justice Bennet of Derby. Among the early converts were English Puritans, Baptists, Seekers, and other Nonconformists. The work spread to Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
Quakerism took on certain characteristics such as simplicity in the manner of living, encouraging women to be ministers, spiritual democracy in meeting, absolute adherence to truth, universal peace and brotherhood regardless of sex, class, nation, or race. Quakers refused to remove their hats to those in authority and used the singular "thee" and "thou" in their speech, while the common people were supposed to address their betters as "you." In turn, they influenced the thought and social ethics of the English - speaking world far out of proportion to their numbers. Fox was imprisoned eight times during his life, but he pioneered care for the poor, aged, and insane, advocated prison reform, opposed capital punishment, war, and slavery, and stood for the just treatment of American Indians.
George Fox died in 1691, and the movement went into a quiet period. The center shifted to America. The first Friends to visit American were Mary Fisher and Anne Austin, who arrived in Massachusetts in 1656. They were sent away by the magistrates, but others arrived after them. In 1659 William Robinson and Marmaduke Stephenson were hanged on Boston Common, as was Mary Dyer the following year.
Probably the best known historical figure in the Society of Friends was William Penn. Born in 1644, he became a Quaker in 1667 and was an embarrassment to his father, Admiral Penn. King Charles II gave young William a grant of land in American to repay a debt to his father, and thus was launched Pennsylvania, a "holy experiment." By 1700 there were Friends meeting in all of the colonies.
Penn's tolerant policies attracted immigrants from many places. Difficulties arose from the fact that the Quakers wanted only to be at peace, while the British expected them to support the colonial wars against the French and Indians. A similar situation arose when the colonists revolted against the British in 1776.
A division occurred in the Society of Friends about 1827, with one group supporting the views of Elias Hicks, who believed that one should follow the inner light. The other group was influenced by the evangelical movement and put great emphasis on belief in the divinity of Christ, the authority of the Scriptures, and the atonement.
Friends were also active in the antislavery movement. John Woolman, Anthony Benezet, Lucretia Mott, and John Greenleaf Whittier were involved in such activities as the underground railroad and the Colonization Society. Benjamin Lundy's ideas were presented in The Genius of Universal Emancipation.
The tradition of caring for others carried on through the American Civil War, and the American Friends Service Committee was formed in 1917. The purpose of the organization was to provide young conscientious objectors with alternative service opportunities during wartime. A red and black star was chosen to symbolize the group.
The Society of Friends are optimistic about the purposes of God and the destiny of mankind. Their ultimate and final authority for religious life and faith resides within each individual. Many, but not all, seek for this truth through the guidance of the inner light. They believe that they are bound to refuse obedience to a government when its requirements are contrary to what they believe to be the law of God, but they are willing to accept the penalties for civil disobedience. They practice religious democracy in their monthly meetings. After discussion of an issue, for example, the clerk states what appears to be the mind of the group; but if a single Friend feels that he cannot unite with the group, no decision is made. Their stand for religious toleration is symbolized by the inscription on the statue of Mary Dyer across from Boston Common: "Witness for Religious Freedom. Hanged on Boston Common, 1660."
The Society of Friends has no written creed. Their philosophical differences can be seen in the fact that Richard Nixon was born into the group, while Staughton Lynd joined because of their teachings. They do have an interest in education, with the founding of Haverford, Earlham, Swarthmore, and other colleges. The teaching by example has caused some to ask why Quakers do not preach what they practice. Their ideal is to pursue truth at all costs, and it is hard to imagine a higher calling here on earth.
J E Johnson
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
H Barbour, The Quakers in Puritan England; W C Braithwaite, The Beginnings of Quakerism and The Second Period of Quakerism; R M Jones, The Later Periods of Quakerism; E Russell, The History of Quakerism; D E Trueblood, The People Called Quakers; M H Bacon, The Quiet Rebels; A N Brayshaw, The Quakers: Their Story and Message; H H Brinton, Friends for Three Hundred Years; W R Williams, The Rich Heritage of Quakerism.
The official designation of an Anglo-American religious sect originally styling themselves "Children of Truth" and "Children of Light", but "in scorn by the world called Quakers".
The founder of the sect, George Fox, son of a well-to-do weaver, was born at Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire, England, July, 1624. His parents, upright people and strict adherents of the established religion, destined him for the Church; but since the boy, at an early period, felt a strong aversion to a "hireling ministry", he was, after receiving the bare rudiments of education, apprenticed to a shoemaker. He grew to manhood a pure and honest youth, free from the vices of his age, and "endued", says Sewel, "with a gravity and stayedness of mind seldom seen in children". In his nineteenth year, while at a fair with two friends, who were "professors" of religion, he was so shocked by a proposal they made him to join them in drinking healths, that he abandoned their company. Returning home, he spent a sleepless night, in the course of which he thought he heard a voice from heaven crying out to him: "Thou seest how young men go together into vanity, and old people into the earth; thou must forsake all, young and old, keep out of all, and be a stranger unto all." Interpreting the injunction literally, Fox left his father's house, penniless and with Bible in hand to wander about the country in search of light. His mental anguish at times bordered on despair. He sought counsel from renowned "professors"; but their advice that he should take a wife, or sing psalms, or smoke tobacco, was not calculated to solve the problems which perplexed his soul. Finding no food or consolation in the teachings of the Church of England or of the innumerable dissenting sects which flooded the land, he was thrown back upon himself and forced to accept his own imaginings as "revelations". "I fasted much", he tells us in his Journal, "walked abroad in solitary places many days, and often took my Bible and sat in hollow trees and lonesome places until night came on; and frequently in the night walked mournfully about by myself. For I was a man of sorrows in the first working of the Lord in me." This anguish of spirit continued, with intermissions, for some years; and it is not surprising that the lonely youth read into his Bible all his own idiosyncrasies and limitations. Founding his opinions on isolated texts, he gradually evolved a system at variance with every existing form of Christianity. His central dogma was that of the "inner light", communicated directly to the individual soul by Christ "who enlightenth every man that cometh into the world". To walk in this light and obey the voice of Christ speaking within the soul was to Fox the supreme and sole duty of man. Creeds and churches, councils, rites, and sacraments were discarded as outward things. Even the Scriptures were to be interpreted by the inner light. This was surely carrying the Protestant doctrine of private judgment to its ultimate logical conclusion. Inconvenient passages of Holy Writ, such as those establishing Baptism and the Eucharist, were expounded by Fox in an allegorical sense; whilst other passages were insisted upon with a literalness before unknown. Thus, from the text "Swear not at all", he drew the illicitness of oaths, even when demanded by the magistrate. Titles of honour, salutations, and all similar things conducive to vanity, such as doffing the hat or "scraping with the leg", were to be avoided even in the presence of the king. War, even if defensive, was declared unlawful. Art, music, drama, field-sports, and dancing were rejected as unbecoming the gravity of a Christian. As for attire, he pleaded for that simplicity of dress and absence of ornament which later became the most striking peculiarity of his followers. There was no room in his system for the ordained and salaried clergy of other religions, Fox proclaiming that every man, woman or child, when moved by the Spirit, had an equal right to prophesy and give testimony for the edification of the brethren. Two conclusions, with disagreeable consequence to the early Friends, were drawn from this rejection of a "priesthood"; the first was, that they refused to pay tithes or church rates; the second, that they celebrated marriage among themselves, without calling in the services of the legally appointed minister. Impelled by frequent "revelations", Fox began the public preaching of his novel tenets in 1647. It was not his intention to increase the religious confusion of the time by the addition of a new sect. He seems to have been persuaded that the doctrine by means of which he himself had "come up in spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God" would be greeted alike by Christian, Turk, and heathen. The enthusiasm and evident sincerity of the uncouth young preacher gained him numerous converts in all parts of Britain; whilst the accession of Margaret, wife of Judge Fell, afterwards of Fox himself, secured to the Friends a valuable rallying-point in the seclusion of Swarthmoor Hall, Lancashire. In an incredibly short time, a host of unordained apostles, male and female, were scouring the two hemispheres, carrying to the ends of the earth the gospel of Fox. One enthusiast hastened to Rome to enlighten the pope; a second went to the Orient to convert the sultan. The antagonistic religions dominant in England before and after the Restoration, Presbyterianism and the Established Church, made equally determined efforts, through the aid of the civil power, to crush the growing sect. From the detailed record which the Friends, in imitation of the primitive Christians, kept of the sufferings of their brethren, we gather that during the reign of Charles II, 13,562 "Quakers" were imprisoned in various parts of England, 198 were transported as slaves beyond seas, and 338 died in prison or of wounds received in violent assaults on their meetings. They fared still worse at the hands of the Puritans in Massachusetts, who spared no cruelty to rid the colony of this "cursed sect of heretics", and hanged four of them, three men and a woman, on Boston Common. What marked them out for persecution was not so much their theory of the inward light or their rejection of rites and sacraments, as their refusal to pay tithes, or take the oaths prescribed by law, or to have anything to do with the army; these offences being aggravated in the estimation of the magistrates by their obstinacy in refusing to uncover their head in court and "thouing and theeing" the judges. The suffering Friends found at last a powerful protector in the person of their most illustrious convert, William, son of admiral Penn, who defended his coreligionists in tracts and public disputes, and, through his influence with the last two Stuart kings, was frequently successful in shielding them from the violence of the mob and the severity of the magistrates. Penn furthermore secured for them a safe refuge in his great colony of Pennsylvania, the proprietorship of which he acquired from Charles II in liquidation of a loan advanced to the Crown by his father. With the accession to the throne of James II the persecution of the Friends practically ceased; and by successive Acts of Parliament passed after the Revolution of 1688, their legal disabilities were removed; their scruples about paying tithes and supporting the army were respected; and their affirmation was accepted as equivalent to an oath.
Meanwhile, Fox, in the intervals between his frequent imprisonments, had laboured to impart the semblance of an organization to the society; whilst the excesses of some of his followers compelled him to enact a code of discipline. His efforts in both these directions encountered strong opposition from many who had been taught to regard the inward light as the all-sufficient guide. However, the majority, sacrificing consistency, acquiesced; and before the death of Fox, 13 Jan., 1691, Quakerism was established on the principles which it has since substantially preserved.
Although the Friends repudiate creeds as "external" and "human", yet they, at least the early Quakers and their orthodox modern followers, admit the fundamental dogmas of Christianity as expounded in the Apostles' Creed. Rejecting as non-Scriptural the term Trinity, they confess the Godhead of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; the doctrine of the Redemption and salvation through Christ; and the sanctification of souls through the Holy Spirit. Their ablest apologists, as Robert Barclay and William Penn, have not been able to explain satisfactorily in what respect the "inward light" differs from the light of the individual reason; neither have they reconciled the doctrine of the supreme authority of the "inner voice" with the "external" claims of Scripture and the historic Christ. These doctrinal weaknesses were fruitful germs of dissensions in later times.
Though one of the earliest of Fox's "testimonies" was in reprobation of "steeple-houses", that is, the stately edifices with which Catholic piety had covered the soil of England, nevertheless, as his adherents grew in numbers, he was forced to gather them into congregations for purposes of worship and business. These "particular meetings" assembled on the first day of the week. They worshipped without any form of liturgy and in silence until some man, woman, or child was moved by the Spirit to "give testimony", the value of which was gauged by the common sense of the assembly. By a process of development, a form of church government came into being, which has been described as follows:
"The whole community of Friends is modelled somewhat on the Presbyterian system. Three gradations of meanings or synods -- monthly, quarterly, and yearly -- administer the affairs of the Society, including in their supervision matters both of spiritual discipline and secular policy. The monthly meetings, composed of all the congregations within a definite circuit, judge of the fitness of new candidates for membership, supply certificates to such as move to other districts, choose fit persons to be elders, to watch over the ministry, attempt the reformation or pronounce the expulsion of all such as walk disorderly, and generally seek to stimulate the members to religious duty. They also make provision for the poor of the Society, and secure the education of their children. Overseers are also appointed to assist in the promotion of these objects. At monthly meetings also marriages are sanctioned previous to their solemnization at a meeting for worship. Several monthly meetings compose a quarterly meeting, to which they forward general reports of their condition, and at which appeals are heard from their decisions. The yearly meeting holds the same relative position to the quarterly meetings that the latter do to the monthly meetings, and has the general superintendence of the Society in a particular country." (See Rowntree, Quakerism, Past and Present, p. 60.)
All the yearly meetings are supreme and independent, the only bond of union between them being the circular letters which pass between them. The annual letter of London Yearly Meeting is particularly prized. With the passing away of its founders and the cessation of persecution, Quakerism lost its missionary spirit and hardened into a narrow and exclusive sect. Instead of attracting new converts, it developed a mania for enforcing "discipline", and "disowned", that is, expelled, multitudes of its members for trifling matters in which the ordinary conscience could discern no moral offence. In consequence, they dwindled away from year to year, being gradually absorbed by other more vigorous sects, and many drifting into Unitarianism.
In the United States, where, in the beginning of the last century, they had eight prosperous yearly meetings, their progress was arrested by two schisms, known as the Separation of 1828 and the Wilburite Controversy. The disturbance of 1828 was occasioned by the preaching of Elias Hicks (1748-1830), an eloquent and extremely popular speaker, who, in his later years, put forth unsound views concerning the Person and work of Christ. He was denounced as a Unitarian; and, although the charge seemed well founded, many adhered to him, not so much from partaking his theological heresies, as to protest against the excessive power and influence claimed by the elders and overseers. After several years of wrangling, the Friends were split into two parties, the Orthodox and the Hicksite, each disowning the other, and claiming to be the original society. Ten years later the Orthodox body was again divided by the opposition of John Wilbur to the evangelistic methods of an English missionary, Joseph John Gurney. As the main body of the Orthodox held with Gurney, the Wilburite faction set up a schismatic yearly meeting. These schisms endure to the present day. There is also a microscopical sect known as "Primitive" Friends, mainly offshoots from the Wilburites who claim to have eliminated all the later additions to the faith and practice of the early founders of the society.
In the fields of education, charity, and philanthropy the Friends have occupied a place far out of proportion to their numbers. There exist in the United States many important colleges of their foundation. They are exemplary in the care of their poor and sick. Long before the other denominations, they denounced slavery and would not permit any of their members to own slaves. They did not, however, advocate the abolition of slavery by violent measures. They have also been eminently solicitous for the welfare and fair treatment of the Indians. According to Dr. H.K. Carroll, the acknowledged authority on the subject of religious statistics (The Christian Advocate, Jan., 1907), the standing of the various branches of Friends in the United States is as follows:
Orthodox: 1302 ministers, 830 churches, 94,507 communicants
Hicksite: 115 ministers, 183 churches, 19,545 communicants
Wilburite: 38 ministers, 53 churches, 4,468 communicants
Primitive: 11 ministers, 9 churches, 232 communicants
Publication information Written by James F. Loughlin. Transcribed by Thomas J. Bress. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VI. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York
SCHAFF, Creeds and Christendom (New York, 1884), I, III; THOMAS, ALLAN C. AND RICHARD H., History of the Society of Friends in America in American Church History Series (New York, 1894), XII--contains excellent bibliography; SMITH, JOSEPH, Descriptive Catalogue of Friends' Books (London, 1867; supplement, London, 1893); IDEM, Bibliotheca Anti-Quakeriana, A Catalogue of Books Adverse to the Society of Friends (London, 1873); JANNEY, History of the Religious Society of Friends from the Rise to the year 1828 (2nd ed., Philadelphia, 1837-50). The Works of FOX were published at London, 1694-1706; the Works of BARCLAY were edited by WILLIAM PENN (London, 1692).
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