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|"When all my hopes were gone...then I heard a
voice which said, 'There is One, even Christ Jesus, that can
speak to thy condition.' When I heard it my heart did leap for
joy." (Journal of George Fox)
This revolutionary experience occurred nearly 350 years ago. It was a young Englishman, George Fox, who found the One able to meet his soul need, and this conversion led to the formation of a vital Christian religious awakening. There remained many lessons to be learned by this young person, George Fox, but he had found the Teacher for these lessons.
A contemporary of George Fox, Isaac Penington, beautifully expressed his own encounter with God in this way: "The Lord caused his holy power to fall upon me, and gave me such an inward demonstration and feeling of the seed of life, that I cried out in my spirit, 'This is he; there is not another, there never was another. He was always near me, though I knew him not' (not so sensibly, not so distinctly, as how he was revealed in me and to me by the Father)."
The Friends movement began when these and other soul-hungry men and women began, with satisfaction and joy, to "draw water out of the wells of salvation." At once they began to tell others about their inward discovery of Christ. It soon became evident that the Holy Spirit was opening up to these otherwise ordinary men and women new vistas of God's purpose and provisions--insights the trained clergy of the day had all but lost.
A new group of discerning Christians had rediscovered a faith that could overcome the world, a faith able to quicken the lifeless orthodoxy of a church that had become a state institution, no longer able to minister effectively to the spiritual needs of the people. Although most persons outwardly conformed to the compulsory law of the land by church attendance and the payment of tithes to support the local religious system, these people knew no soul rest or any power within that could make their manner of life different from that of their unregenerate neighbors. The Christian faith, as exemplified by the first-century believers of the New Testament, seemed almost to have disappeared completely.
|It is firmly emphasized that Friends
are not followers of George Fox, William Penn, or any other
illustrious founder. We are not "Foxians" or "Pennites." We have
no patron saint, no guru who supposedly added a new religious
scheme to the Bible. Fox and his followers did not advance new
teachings or new doctrines. They simply rediscovered and put into
new applications the New Testament teachings. In the power of the
Holy Spirit they set out to restore the principles to their
rightful place and to live out the implications of those
teachings. Quakerism is not a novel or distinctive religion or
cult. It is a movement that for over three centuries has sought
to restore the emphasis and teaching of early Christianity.
Our founders taught repentance, forgiveness, justification, and heart cleansing, and the immediate and radical application of love and justice for all persons--all because of God's love and mercy and through the power of the Holy Spirit. These and other scriptural teachings were not set forth in the form of a creed, for a formal creed can become a lifeless thing. The Bible was and is accepted as authoritative, and so is the direct revelation by the Holy Spirit of the living Word to one's soul.
|From 1647 to 1655, the beginning
years of the Friends movement, growth was rapid, reaching to
50,000 strong. This occurred in spite of persecution, for this
was an intolerant era. More than 13,000 Quakers were imprisoned
between 1650 and 1687 as a result of their beliefs and practices
growing out of newly found convictions. These convictions were
put to the test as Friends spoke out regarding the evils of the
state church financed by government-imposed taxes, at the double
standard of truth implied in the custom of the period of using
"test oaths" before judges, which seemed to the Quakers an abuse
of Christian honesty in speaking the truth. Sometimes oppressive
methods were used by the state church to bring people into
religious uniformity in theology, tradition, and behavior. The
tyrannical domination of unscrupulous men in authority, both of
government and the state church, required the new Christians to
either become firm in their convictions, even to the point of
personal suffering, or else to give up entirely.
The heavy cost of Christian freedom burdened Friends in early American life. This can be observed from Friends history. Three Friends, two men and one woman, were hanged in Boston Common about 1660 for daring to preach their convictions. In England during those years, 338 Quakers died in penal institutions of wounds inflicted while attending their own meetings, while 198 were transported as slaves. The Friends did not just happen or come about by whim. It came at the cost of sturdy convictions, and by sacrifice. Our Christian liberties and simplicity of worship enjoyed today came to us at a fearful cost.
|One hundred years before the
American Revolutionary War, religious freedom was unknown in
England and Europe. It was a period of great political,
religious, and social unrest. Protestants and Catholics feared
and distrusted each other. Different religious ideas were written
into law as each, in turn, obtained control. In England,
Parliament and monarchy contended with other. After a civil war,
Cromwell organized a new form of government--the Protectorate
(after Charles I was beheaded). In these struggles, Catholics,
Puritans, and others, when in power, persecuted their rivals with
bitter zeal. Friends suffered from each in turn.
George Fox was arrested and jailed eight times. He once said, "Much of my life I have spent in prison." So many Quakers were thrown into prison from some communities that few were left at home to carry on the meeting. On one occasion little children kept the meeting up, while the older people were in jail at Bristol and Reading, England. One day at Bristol when "about fifty-five [children] were at the meeting, Helliar [an officer], with a twisted whalebone stick, beat many of them unmercifully, striking them violent blows on their heads, necks and faces, few of them escaping without some marks of his fury."
|As with the New Testament
Christians, this severe treatment scattered Friends to many
countries while strengthening the faith of all. "The blood of the
martyrs is hte seed of the church," and Friends belief and
practice came into being when every doctrine held was put to the
test. Some of the first Protestant missionaries ever to go out
In 1681 William Penn obtained from the Crown the grant of Pennsylvania, which became a strong Quaker center. And for 70 years (as long as the authority of Friends predominated) there was harmony with the native American people.
Migrations and missions carried Friends teaching to many European countries and, across three centuries, have brought its message to all continents.
Among the first to state the democratic conviction of equality of the persons regardless of birth, color, race, or gender, Friends insisted on an individual approach to God according to conscience as a vital principal of faith. No priest was needed in a meeting for worship, because worship was inward and spiritual. Soldiers could break up meetings, but since there were no stately altars, censers, vestments, communion sets, or ordained ministers, personal faith continued unbroken, and regrouping took place quickly and anywhere.
|Of the approximately 305,000 Quakers
in the world today, 155,000 are in North, Central, and South
America, with 102,000 of these in the United States. African
Quakers number 122,000; European and Near East number about
21,000, with the remainder in Asia, Australia, and New
Today there are 33 yearly meeting groupings in the United States, and due to the nature of organizational arrangements and doctrinal developments they are not bound together in any specific way. The movement westward was gradual, and one yearly meeting would start another. One example is that of Northwest Yearly Meeting (formerly Oregon), which was started by Iowa Friends in 1891 after several Quakers from the Midwest and the East had Migrated to the Northwest.
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