THE GOOD FRUIT REMAINS
The Friends and Their Profound Impact
by Susan Hyatt M.A., M.A., D.Min.
Some have said that a Move of God must adapt to culture and human institutions if it is to have a significant and lasting impact. Is this true? Is spiritual effectiveness measured in terms of temporal structures and cultural standards? Or are God's ways, indeed, higher than human ways? And are we willing to trust God enough to do things His way?
One example of the power of being Spirit-led rather than being institutionally oriented is the early Quaker Movement, or Society of Friends Un. 15:15), as they preferred to be called. They came into view in England about 1650 and in one generation became the fastest growing movement in the Western world with 40-60,000 adherents by 1660. In only forty years, Friends spread the Gospel from Turkey to the English Colonies in the New World.
The Friends were charismatic believers, the spiritual gifts being common in their midst. They experienced miracles and practiced singing in the Spirit. Edward Burroughs, writes, "Our tongues were loosed and our mouths opened, and we spake with new tongues, as the Lord gave utterance."
Quakerism arose in England during a period when English society was in tremendous flux. The old, medieval culture was disintegrating and the struggle to find a new locus of authority was the paramount issue. As England swayed between Romanism and Protestantism, the Act of Supremacy of 1534 declared the king "the supreme head of the church of England, "and the Stuarts held to the "divine right of kings," that is, the God-ordained right to ultimate authority. In addition, the Reformers (151 7-1648) had made the Scriptures a paper pope, essentially transferring authority to their interpretation of Scripture. In contrast to all of this, the Friends claimed the authority of the indwelling Holy Spirit who had given the Scriptures.
The primary shapers of the Society of Friends were George Fox (162491) and Margaret Fell (1614-1702).
George Fox had little education but, having been reared in a strict Puritan/Presbyterian home, he possessed an intense love for and a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. His voluminous writings reflect his remarkable biblical literacy. His associates used to say, "Though the Bible were lost, it might be found in the mouth of George Fox."
Fox's intense hunger for a vital relationship with God was satisfied when he heard a voice say to him, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition." He writes, "When I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. . . and I knew [God] experimentally." He began urging his listeners to renounce "self-performance" to heed the leading of "the light of Christ within."
Some accused Fox of seeking control over other people because he was admired by so many. But, says his associate, William Penn, "He exercised no authority but over evil."
Margaret Askew Fell, an Anglican gentry, wife of Judge Fell, and mother of eight, was converted when she heard Fox explain the Gospel. The Fell estate, Swarthmoor Hall, immediately became a vital center of Quaker activity. Margaret Fell was instrumental in stabilizing the Women's Meetings which helped women learn how to exercise their equality in the Society.
She wrote and published voluminously, a fact that gave her high visibility and recognition. While in prison in 1666, she wrote Women Speaking Justified, the first book by a woman promoting female public ministry. Fell was among the first of the Quaker leaders to correspond with the Jewish leader Menassah Ben Israel and other Jews of Holland regarding Jewish reentry to England. Her tracts were translated into Latin, Dutch, and Hebrew.
THE INNER LIGHT. It has been said that Quakerism is a Iifestyle as opposed to a doctrinal system. The definitive principle of this lifestyle is Inner Light, found in various passages and clearly stated in John 1 :114. Fox believed that "'there was that of God,' . .. in all men and women everywhere." This is the key to Fox. It gave him confidence in evangelism, for it meant that the potential to respond to the Gospel was inherent in every person. It also gave him an egalitarian worldview for it indicated that God was no respecter of persons. According to William Penn's Preface to Fox's journal, this Inner Light gives awareness of sin, of the spirit of the world, and of the fallen nature of humanity. It conjures a genuine sorrow for sin, revealing not only the awful nature of sin but also the saving work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. It alerts the redeemed to walk in holiness in thought, word, and deed, and in love of God and others.
William Penn delineates fourteen implications of the Inner Light. The goal of these principles, he explains, is "to bring things back into their primitive and right order again." Briefly stated, they are:
- To commune with and love one another.
- To love enemies, taking no revenge, but forgiving.
- To speak the truth at all times and obey the prohibition regarding oaths (Mt. 5).
- To use energy to fight sin and Satan, not people, and to be willing to suffer if necessary.
- To refuse to pay tithes but instead to follow Christ's command: 'Freely you have received, freely give.'
- To treat all people with equal respect, not using flattering titles nor vain gestures and compliments.
- To use plain language in addressing all people so as not to elevate one person above another by means of titles.
- To value silence and solitude, but when in company to be careful to keep discussion brief and profitable.
- Neither to drink to people nor to pledge by oath taking.
- To make marriage coincide with the biblical mandate of equal meet-helps.
- To avoid pomp, ceremonies, and festivals in relation to births and naming children.
- To keep burials simple and to avoid outward symbols of mourning in dress and ceremony.
THE RESULTS. The impact of the Quaker lifestyle was intense. The idea that God would take up residence in each person meant that each person could gain a new sense of his or her personal worth in the sight of God. By the same token, it required equal respect for all people because the same Christ dwelt in each one. The actual experience of knowing Christ intimately gave believers new confidence. But this inner connection threatened the ability of the institutional church which depended on outward symbols of authority, such as the priesthood, clerical robes, church buildings, and the sacraments to control the masses.
Persecution was severe. At one time, 15,000 Friends were in English prisons and 450 died there. In New England, persecution from the Puritans reached savage heights. Much of this arose because of the Quaker threat to Puritan patriarchal structures and a theocracy that continued to combine the authority of church and state. The possibility of women preachers was most alarming, and consequently, anti-Quaker propaganda published in Boston linked Quakerism with witchcraft. Mary Fisher and Ann Austin, the first Quaker missionaries to Boston, arrived on July 11, 1656, and were immediately denounced as heretics and unsubmissive women. They were stripped naked, searched for signs of witchcraft, and isolated for five weeks in prison before being extradited. When Mary Dyer visited Boston in 1659 to comfort imprisoned Quakers, she was sentenced to death and, to the beating of a drum, was led through the streets to the gallows.
Already bound and noosed for execution, she was suddenly released. In the spring of 1660, however, feeling she could not accept this stay of execution, she returned to Boston, where, this time, the Puritan authorities hanged her. Her statue stands on the grounds of the Boston State House, a symbol of freedom of conscience.
Despite persecution, the Friends flourished, especially during the formative colonial period in America. They were trailblazers in a number of important areas and their legacy remains strong today.
+ The Abolition Movement. Quakers were champions of abolition. In 1657, Fox had written a letter denouncing the captivity of Black and Indian slaves. The Friends were actually the first to make a direct assault against slavery. Sixty years before the Emancipation Proclamation, there was not one Quaker slave-holder in America. In the midnineteenth century, they conducted the underground railroad providing for the safe conduct of escaped and freed slaves to the Canadian border.
+ Prison Reform. Quaker women had been active in prison reform ever since 1655 when Elizabeth Hooten wrote a letter to the English King protesting prison conditions. Elizabeth Guerney Fry (1780-1845), an English Quaker preacher, is commonly acknowledged as the founder of prison reform. In America in 1787, Quakers in Philadelphia organized the Society for Alleviating the Miseries of the Public Prisons. Their first effort was "to convert the Walnut Street prison into a penitentiary, a place where prisoners had the opportunity to meditate upon their sins and repent, while being given moral instruction by a group of friendly visitors."
+ lndian Affairs. In America, Quakers were trusted by the Indians. Knowing the Pennsylvania Quakers were their friends, they asked them to represent their interests when they made treaties with the new American government. In 1794, four Quakers went to Canandaigua, New York, to protect the interests of the Six Nations in a treaty signing with the United States. Various yearly committees established centers on reservations to teach farming and other skills to Indians.
+ Government Policy. William Penn (1644-1718) played a key role in American colonization. In 1682, he and eleven other Friends bought northern New Jersey, and later he received the grant of Pennsylvania from the British Crown. Penn also helped lay the foundation for the pattern of US government by suggestions he presented to the Royal Commission in 1697. He suggested a union of the colonies. He helped plan for the Senate a hundred years in advance by proposing an elected congress composed of two representatives from each colony.
+ Co-Education. George Fox insisted on the revolutionary idea of equal education for both boys and girls. He recommended the founding of a school in Shacklewell, England, "for instructing girls and young maidens in whatsoever things are civil and useful in the creation." A number of prestigious educational institutions have resulted from his perspective.
In addition to these influences, various important movements have been seeded by Quakerism. Indeed, three movements--the Women's Suffrage Movement, early Pentecostalism, and Christians for Biblical Equality--are of Quaker heritage. These three movements point to the dynamic egalitarianism generated by Quaker founders George Fox and Margaret Fell. It originated in their devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, to the indwelling Spirit, and to their interpretation of Scripture.
+ Women's Suffrage Movement. The Women's Suffrage Movement gained corporate identity at Seneca Falls, New York on July 13, 1848 through the efforts of four Quaker women and one Quaker sympathizer. Formulated by these Friends, the Declaration of Women's Rights was ratified by one hundred delegates. Quaker women nurtured the fledging movement, and the long fight for the vote for women was led by Quaker women: Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), and Alice Paul. The suffrage bill Uune 1919) and the 19th Amendment to the Constitution (August 26, 1920) were the fruit of their faith and labors
+ Early Pentecostalism. Quaker influence was also significantly present in the early Pentecostal Revival (1901-1906). The initial outpouring occurred at the 1900 Watchnight Service of Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas, a Bible school operated by Charles Parham, Sarah Thistlethwaite-Parham, and Lillian Thistlethwaite. Although Bethel is commonly considered a Holiness institution, it should be remembered that the Thistlethwaite sisters were birthright Friends, and that Parham himself had spent many hours modifying his MethodistHoliness theology in dialogue with his wife's Quaker grandfather, David Baker, in Tonganoxie, Kansas. While the Parham-Thistlethwaite influence prevailed (1900-1906), gender and racial equality and a Quaker dignity characterized the Revival. (Indeed, Parham was hardly a racist, as current misinformation charges!)
This was the case in the Tri-State area of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri; in South Texas; in Zion City, Illinois; and from these regional revivals thousands of men and women carried the message around the world. As the revival spread beyond the Parham-Thistlethwaite influence at Azusa Street, among the Southern
Holiness groups, and among Baptistic and Reformed people hierarchicalism pushed out egalitarianism, and other Quaker characteristics gave way to cultural and denominational practices.
+ Christians for Biblical Equality. A third movement with a Quaker connection is Christians for Biblical Equality, begun in the 1980s among conservative Evangelicals. Chief catalyst and organizer of C.B.E. is Katherine Clark Kroeger, Ph.D. Kroeger did her undergraduate studies at Bryn Mawr College, a prestigious Friends' women's college. C.B.E. boasts a strong contingent of egalitarian scholars, and is gaining influence through local groups, conventions, and publications including a periodical, The Priscilla Papers. This may indicate the existence of another possible Quaker link since The Priscilla Papers was the name of the publication of women belonging to the evangelical wing of Quakerism. Having developed great interest in Quaker women's history, they formed a Task Force on Women and helped expose modern Quakers to their egalitarian heritage.
CONCLUSION. The fastest growing segment in Christendom today, the Pentecostal/Charismatic community, stands only to gain from an informed examination of the lifestyle of the early Friends. At stake, ultimately, is the age-old issue of authority. The early Friends demonstrate how authority is to remain with God and is expressed by His Spirit and through His Word. People of faith have responsibility, not authority, to rightly divide the Word of truth and to be worthy ambassadors in the earth.
If we need further evidence of the impact of these Friends, consider that Voltaire, the atheist, called the Quakers of his day "the most truly Christian of people." "By their fruit you shall know them," said Jesus.
This article is taken from an extensive manuscript by Susan Hyatt entitled SEEKING EQUALITY AND FINDING AN ANSWER IN A SPIRIT LED APPROACH TO INTERPRETATION.