If Quakers were a Religious Society of Friends

What if Friends were their name?
A religious society of Friends —
Not a church, not a sect
A group of laymen hoping to enrich Christianity

Not seeking to redefine and rework doctrine
Not seeking to tear down the establishment made
Not competing to draw the disillusioned away
Creating space for growth?

A religious society, not a church —
Focused on people and shared disciplines
Not asking people to choose one way or the other
Offering enrichment without replacing

Putting aside all debate on Eucharist and baptism
A gathering of laymen leaves such things to clergy
A place to make faith personal
A place to share how faith is personal

Friends listening to Christ and one another
Friends encouraging and trusting each other
Friends in a safe place, ready to grow
Can we be a religious society of Friends?

I recently saw a new book title by Friend’s minister Philip Gully If the Church was Christian. The title itself brings conviction, and I hope to read the book someday — by the way, if anyone feels obliged to buy me gifts, you can find things I want here.. including this book.

I have grown a great appreciation for the tradition of Friends worship – first, philosophically through reading Barclay, then through attending meeting and practicing. I have felt our tradition is undervalued by many Orthodox Friends. As I have often found Sundays too busy to attend a meeting for worship (I often work Sundays), and I have a friend that has worked almost every Sunday for the past 15 years — I have a concern for people who cannot worship on Sunday morning. I keep thinking, if I plant a meeting — out of respect for the concept of “Religious Society”, our meeting would NOT meet between 9 and noon Sunday morning. — perhaps a worship group would meet from 8-9 AM, perhaps 12:45-1:45 but not in the period that most churches hold their main meeting — and certainly at a time when interested parties can attend. I envision a “Religious society” where pastors could, for an hour, take off their vestments — and enjoy the status of a layman in a group of people seeking Christ… as I was once called pastor, I know that pastors suffer because they cannot actually “Go to church”.

For this vision to work — I would have to be a little free in interpreting tradition… Orthodox Friends use writing of Fox, Barclay, and others to demonstrate that Friends are within traditional Christianity. At different times, some meetings have insisted their members follow Barclay (personally, I would fit in), or some joint statement, such as the one made by FUM, or by the Conservative Friends, as a group, and in many Yearly meeting, after the Holiness revival, the unspoken standard that all must conform to Wesleyan Holiness theology and teaching. As much as Friends are proud of our openness, and inviting all to see God… as much as we are proud of not having a creed — would our meetings today be stretching the truth if they tried to suggest we live up to that ideal?

If Quakers were a Religious Society serving the greater Church — while, we would have theologians, and theological discussions — we would not have our own creed or enforced doctrine. A definition of Christianity in general has been defined since, some would say the days of primitive Christianity [statements are found in early writings] — and, crystallized in Nicea and Constantinople. It would be out of character for Friends to ask individuals to affirm any orthodoxy test in order to participate in worship, or to exclude them because they disagree — however, it would be consistent with history for elders to regulate spoken ministry. The Ecumenical Creed would be a less sectarian test than those used in the past… not to mention — if the intention is to serve Christians, it would be rude to speak against a statement made, in consensus by the whole Christian world.


9 comments on “If Quakers were a Religious Society of Friends

  1. broschultz says:

    What you seek is admirable, but I think it requires special elders. Mature friends with a mature relationship with God through Jesus who are not threatened by friends at different stages of maturity or with different experiances.

    • I know it requires special elders — it is the only reason I’ve not gone beyond the marketing phase.

      Another difficulty is finding a common schedule… Scheduling is difficult in our modern world — or at least among people in the ‘working class’

  2. I believe you are mistaken in asserting that Conservative Friends “forced people to be followers of Barclay…, followers of some joint statement”.

    The Brief Synopsis of the Principles and Testimonies which you link to at that point in your argument, was what other Protestant bodies would have recognized instantly as being not a creed but a confession. In other words, it was simply a corporate affirmation of what the Conservative Quaker community that produced it generally believed, a map of where they were standing at the time they wrote it down. Indeed, this is made clear by what Canada Yearly Meeting (Conservative) said in its minute endorsing it — that it was “a good exposition of some of the most important truths believed by us … in accord with what we have been taught by the Spirit of Truth.”

    I know of no case in which a person was “forced” to believe the contents of the Synopsis. Unless, perhaps, you have evidence to show that such a thing happened —?

    • I know that I’ve had Friends in my family tree since the time of Fox… and many were read out of meeting for one reason or another — often for sectarian reasons. Most of these were before any joint statement was written… Barclay’s catechism and confession was still in common teaching use — so I assume they were judged with Barclay as a standard. Friends went through several narrow times.

      I do not know how the conservative bodies used their joint statement, only that it exists. I could point out the liberal bodies also have a joint statement (SPICE?)… and I am told they can be VERY judgmental about whether or not a person is outwardly following the testimony of simplicity.

  3. Hi, Michael!

    At least here in the U.S., the proper term was not “read out of meeting” but “disowned”. And the difference matters, because “read out of meeting” suggests an exclusion, whereas those who were disowned were not excluded either from worship or from the social life of Friends.

    A person who was disowned was first labored with, at fair length, in hopes of a reconciliation, and was then disowned only once it became amply clear that no reconciliation was possible. And at every stage in the process she remained free to believe and behave as she pleased. Conformity to the recorded discipline of the yearly meeting was intended to be voluntary, not forced, and nobody came to a nonconformist’s door with whips and manacles, or even with financial penalties to punish the nonconformity. Friends wanted to be bound by love, not pressure.

    The point of disownment, in that context, was simply that the person who taught or behaved contrary to the discipline did not represent what Friends were supposed to be like and therefore could no longer be considered a member of the Society. That was exactly why it was called disownment rather than “excommunication” or “shunning”. The person was not shunned or excluded from the community, but the public was told that This Person Has Ceased To Represent Us, And Ceased To Be One of Our Own.

    And so the point I am trying to make is that your word “forced” does not truthfully represent what was going on. Yes, Friends conformed to Barclay, and to their meetings’ written disciplines. But there was no “forcing”. At most, when voluntary conformity ended, what happened was a divorce, each side going its own way.

    I do hope this is helpful.

    • The piece of family history in this section tells me about disownment — in this case, there was a whole meeting of people who were not good enough to go to the other meeting.


      Many of the books I read about Friends in the 19th century refer to the action as ‘reading out of meeting’. My understanding of it does not give me any warm feelings.

      Certainly, the conversion of Kansas Yearly meeting from Unprogramed followers of Robert Barclay to Wesleyan-Holiness, possibly hostile to waiting worship (late 19th, early 20th) was… intense. Some antidotes seem violent — and character assassinations of non-holiness ministers and elders seems unbecoming of someone who is fully sanctified. (then again, the good Lord said: “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone” Maybe as the preacher taught that he was without sin, he was free to throw stones.

  4. Oh — I see the complaint — the word ‘forced’ is too strong I will try to edit it…. I changed “they” to “some meetings” (Thus removing the unfair suggestion that bad behavior was universal — which was not intended). I also changed “forced” to insisted…. and rewrote the paragraph.

    I can be a clumsy writer — I often think I wrote what I meant until someone else helps me re-write.

  5. […] me, the idea of the Religious society of Friends is that we are a Religious society. Friends do not, and should not exist independently from wider Christianity. We must dialog with […]

  6. […] between 9… Apr 27th, 2010 by Martin Kelley. // nRelate.domain = "www.quakerranter.org"; //Deep Thoughts Michael: If Quakers were a Religious Society of Friends /**/ Share this:EmailFacebookPosted in: misc. ← On this the fortieth anniversary of Earth […]

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