II.B.4 Post-Fox Quakerism

Part II  –  Application to Reformed & Evangelical Theology

SUBPART B – QUAKERISM; Faltering Beginnings of Christian Mysticism

Article 4 – Post-Fox Quakerism

 a.  The Split of 1827

b.  Modern Quakerism


Article 4 – Post-Fox Quakerism

 a.  The Split of 1827

In the wake of the Second Great Awakening that occurred in America under Protestant and particularly Methodist preaching, many within American-Quakerism began to gravitate toward a renewed fervency in the gospel and readiness to receive Protestant-orthodoxy on the teachings of sanctification and the Person of Christ.  At the same time there arose a traditionalist-movement within Quakerism that demanded conformity with the doctrines of Fox.  This traditionalist-movement became the most significant division within Quakerism that has occurred in its 360-year history.

The movement was spearheaded by an elderly minister from Long Island, New York by the name of ElIas Hicks,[1] and is therefore known as the Hicksite Movement.  Out of zeal for traditional-Quaker doctrine, Hicks pressed Fox’s teaching of the Inner Light into clear heresy.  Quaker  author Thomas D. Hamm writes:  

Hicks argued that Jesus was not born as the Christ.  Instead, he became the Christ, the Son of God, because He had been the only human being ever to live in perfect obedience to the Divine Light that was within Him. Thus while Jesus was unique, He was the model of the life that all Christians ought to lead.  Similarly, Hicks said that he believed in the Virgin Birth, but that such belief was not essential.[2]

This denial of the eternally-innate deity of Jesus Christ caused a polarization within Quakerism – with the opponents of Hicks becoming known as Orthodox Friends.   The split in Quakerism became official after the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of 1827 when the Hicksites established their own separate Yearly Meeting taking approximately forty percent of Quakers with them.  The Hicksites dominated New YorkState, constituted half the Quakers of Ohio, but only a small fraction of Quakers outside of New England.  Hamm relates the spirit that characterized this separation:

The wounds of the separation were deep and lasting.  The rhetoric of both sides was ferocious.  “Hicksism”, wrote one Orthodox minister, was “the great leviathan, the monster of human reason and human wisdom, who is endeavoring to lay waste the atoning blood of Jesus Christ . . . . It is a dark delusive spirit; . . . in the mystery of iniquity it lives.”  Hicksites, preached another Orthodox minister, were “evil men and seducers,” allied with Antichrist.  Hicksites were equally fierce in denouncing the Orthodox.  “What can be more clear than that it is the natural tendency of orthodoxy to subvert every important principle of Quakerism?” asked a Hicksite journal in Philadelphia.[3]

Clinging ever more exclusively to the “Inner Light” as the basis of all guidance, to the relative exclusion of Scripture, the Hicksites commonly dispensed with doctrines held sacred to Protestants such as the blood-atonement.  They began to regard a progressive revelation that incorporated such things as advances in science and new political thought into the doctrines of Christ.  Severed from any remaining hold they might have had to orthodoxy as a result of the 1827 split, Hicksite-Quakerism became a bastion of liberal-humanism and was known for involvement in many political and social issues, particularly the women’s suffrage movement.

George Fox and his wife Margaret Fell had actively-asserted that women should be allowed to teach and to preach.  This strong tradition within Quakerism held a special attraction for suffragists, and there has been much promulgated by Hicksite-women focusing upon the “feminine aspects of God”.  Some Quaker organizations have even undertaken re-writes of traditional hymns in order to remove gender-specific references to God such as “He” or “His”.[4]  Many of the most visible suffragists were Hicksite-Friends, including Susan B. Anthony.[5]

The positive result of the 1827 split was that it also galvanized the more orthodox side of Quakerism into a body that affirmatively maintained the deity of Jesus Christ and the essential Protestant doctrines of the faith.  These sentiments were eloquently-expressed and affirmed by the British Quaker Joseph Gurney who traveled America during the 1820’s and 30’s preaching the orthodox evangelical Gospel.  Gurney urged Quakers not to allow their doctrine of the Inner Light to become a substitute for the Word of God in the Scriptures and he encouraged Quakers to unite with evangelical Protestants in the cause of Christ.  His tireless efforts to bring Quakers into orthodoxy in the faith resulted in the orthodox side of Quakerism being referred to as Gurneyite Friends.

The Gurneyite-Friends nurtured close ties with Methodism and other evangelical denominations and were intimately involved with the Holiness Movement which began within Methodism. A Holy Ghost revival swept the Gurneyite-Friends beginning in 1875 when a Methodist minister attended the Yearly Meeting in Indiana – a stronghold of the Gurneyite-Quakers.  Thomas Hamm explains the Gurneyite embrace of the Holiness Movement as follows:

For forty years, Gurneyite Friends had read their books and periodicals, worked with them in Sunday schools and missions, and, in some cases, had attended their schools and colleges.  It was inevitable that they would absorb some of their ideas.  Just as important, Gurney’s theology opened Friends to such influences in other ways.  Friends now shared with non-Quaker evangelicals a common vision of how to achieve salvation in an instantaneous conversion experience.  It was probably inevitable that they would experiment with some of the methods that other denominations used to produce conversions.  And those were the methods of revivalism.[6]

b.  Modern Quakerism

George Fox retains his relevance within modern Quakerism.  He is generally-revered and his Inner Light teaching remains at focal-center of Quaker theology and conscience.  For instance, in describing a typical modern-day Quaker-meeting in America, Quaker author Thomas D. Hamm writes:

Some of the hymns would be familiar to most Protestants; “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”, or “To God be the Glory.”  A touch of sectarianism is provided by the “George Fox Song”:

 Walk in the light, wherever you may be

Walk in the light wherever you may be!

In my old leather breeches and my shaggy shaggy locks

I am walking in the glory of the light, said Fox!

 As the singing concludes, the group settles into a period of silence, the purpose of which is not explained; everyone understands.  Then it proceeds to business.[7]

Hamm further describes a typical meeting at a Quaker college:

The cars in the lots of the dormitory where many are housed bear bumper stickers for National Public Radio, peace, ecology, and feminism, along with not a few faded ones for Gore and Lieberman.  Gay men and lesbians are present and are welcomed and affirmed in their identities, as informal conversations and the presence of the Friends for Lesbian and Gay Concerns group show . . . The meeting opens with worship, those present sitting in silence, speaking when they feel led to.[8]

Three centuries of experience and the development of doctrine have not substantially-dissuaded the Quaker-confidence in the original teachings of their founder.  Thus the traditional-Quaker continues to look inside himself for the “light” that is “Christ”.  Nevertheless, as Quakerism is as much (if not more) a culture born-into than a definite belief-system, so there are many who call themselves “Quakers” while rejecting Fox’s teachings concerning the Inner Light and its elevation of the Light above  the witness of Scripture as spiritually-dangerous theology.  According to Hamm, those that reject Fox’s Inner Light teaching . . .

. . . call themselves Evangelical Friends to signify their unity with non-Quaker evangelicals on doctrines like salvation through faith in the Atoning Blood of Christ and the authority of the Bible.  [9]

This dichotomy runs wide indeed – ranging from an orthodoxy as firm as the staunchest-Baptist denomination, to a heterodoxy so extreme as to deny the deity or the humanity of Jesus Christ.  The radical-diversity of belief-systems that operate under the designation; Quaker renders this Christian-sect difficult to classify.  In fact, any study of modern Quaker-beliefs quickly becomes hampered in a morass of diversity that defies analysis.  Ultimately, one must ask each local assembly of Friends; “What do you believe?”, and there are a great many websites each existing to answer this question for a particular local community of Friends.

Given the diversity of beliefs and extremity of theology that persists under the Quaker-brand, it is no wonder that Protestants generally distrust the orthodoxy of Quakerism; misgivings that are only exacerbated by the Quaker tendency toward the mystical aspects of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If the Protestant distrust of Quakerism is strong in the present, it was much more acute in the years and decades following George Fox’s ministry.   Furthermore, Protestant distrust of Quaker-mysticism translated to a distrust of the mystical aspects of the Christian faith generally.  These adverse sentiments carried into the following century when the Spirit of God began to move broadly and dramatically in the Great Awakening.

[1] Elias Hicks (1748-1830) Quaker leader of the Hicksite Movement of the 1820’s.

[2] The Quakers in America, by Thomas D. Hamm © 2003 Columbia University Press, pg. 40.

[3] Ibid., pg. 43

[4] Ibid.  pg. 190

[5] Ibid. pg. 186

[6] The Quakers in America, by Thomas D. Hamm © 2003 Columbia University Press, pg. 50.

[7] Ibid. pg. 5

[8] Ibid. pg. 7

[9] Ibid. pg. 9


About Lamp-Stand

I was converted to the faith of Jesus Christ in 1982 at which time I received water baptism and Spirit baptism. In the Spring of 2008 I was led of the Spirit through a process of repentance upon which I had an encounter with Christ that worked a profound change upon my inner being. I became aware that I had been forgiven a great debt of sin. I soon felt the Lord's direction that I close my office that my energies not be divided from the study of doctrine.
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