Changes to the Structure of The Society of Friends

George Fox, in the mid-17th century, structured The Society of Friends as simply as possible.  The administrative structure was to be rooted in the grassroots with authority in individual believers ("that of God in everyone") and not vested in an ordained clergy. Church polity was to be kept at a minimum so that quiet "waiting" on the Lord, the true teacher and pastor would lead the meeting. There was no sacramental ordination, only lay ministry.  Friends could be elders, overseers, and committee members. 

Friends were to avoid creedal statements and absolutist interpretations of Scripture. The New Testament was the record of the authentic and immediate experience of the first Christians but Scripture was not the experience itself.   Many Quakers were even reluctant to describe Scripture as the "Word of God" since they believed that the true "Word of God" was He who "would speak to their condition" directly in their hearts, Jesus Christ, the Inner Light.   The relational experience of the believer with the "Inner Light" was immediate, in the sense of one-to-one and direct, with no intermediaries such as priests or ministers.  None-the-less, the experience would not be complete in its entirety in one moment or even two. The "Light" would convert, convict a person of his/her sinfulness and need for salvation, and it would also nurture the gradual process of sanctification, growth in holiness. The sacrifice of one's tendencies to sin was the inward struggle. The goal was purity of both intent and behavior. The process of becoming holy was based on the continual direct "friendship" with the "Light" and the continual struggle with self.   This was the inner "Lamb's War" of the believer; the struggle against sin.

Up until the time of the American Civil War, most Quaker meetinghouses were quite simple too; rectangles of one or two stories with clear glass windows and two doors, one for men and one for women.  There was to be no distraction from "waiting" for the Lord.  The building could be divided in half so that, once a month, the men and the women members could hold separate and equal business meetings. 

For approximately 100 years before the "Hicksite Separation," Friends had withdrawn from the world.  They consciously emphasized that separation as a unique people of God and maintained a sectarian "Quietism" with an emphasis on sectarian purity.  They would model holiness for the world.  They would be a pure people. The inner "Lamb's War" of gradual growth and progress in the life of faith, a gradual conversion and sanctification, was their testimony to the world that would, they believed, help to transform the world.   They worshiped differently, dressed differently, lived separately, and spoke differently from other people.  The "discipline" of Friends was very restrictive.

With the advent of the "Hicksite Separation" (1827-1828), Friends began a long struggle . . . a struggle concerning how to effectively relate to the world after so many generations of "Quietism."  Many Friends wanted to embrace change, the issue being how to embrace it and how much change to accept.  Many felt that the original message of the first Friends had been lost in stoic silence and archaic customs that no longer spoke to the immediate needs of Friends or to the world.  Many felt that the power and enthusiasm of that message had been diluted at the very time that other persons of faith were beginning to embrace some of the most treasured testimonies of the Friends:  i.e. its stand against slavery, the equality of women, and the hope for lasting peace.  How to engage with others?  Should Friends "jump the protective sectarian fence" completely and cooperate with members of other churches?  

After the "Separation" the "Orthodox" Quakers and the "Hicksite" Quakers would take very different paths of change and adjustment.  The Hicksite branch of Quakerism would not experience severe schisms along their path.  However, the Orthodox branch would.  Hicksite Quakerism would find inspiration in the Liberal Protestant Movement.    The Orthodox Friends would look to the powerful "Evangelical Empire" of the Protestant evangelical churches in its search for the renewal of enthusiasm and purity. It was a process that first started with the preaching of the evangelical British Friend Joseph John Gurney. The Gurneyites were Orthodox Quakers who accepted the influences of Joseph John Gurney, specifically Bible Study and a belief in the atonement through the sacrificial blood of Christ.  The Gurneyite Quakers emphasized the traditional orthodox Christian beliefs in the Divinity of Christ and the Infallibility of Scripture.

The Gurneyite "Renewal" began around 1850.  Many Orthodox Quakers were looking to revitalize a moribund Quakerism. The "renewal" was lead by young Friends many of whom saw the sectarian customs of Quakerism as one of the reasons for a decline in membership.  Wearing Quaker grey, saying "Thee" and "Thou" (the "plain language"), sing-song preaching style of traveling ministers, and silent worship were seen as barriers to the mission of Friends.  It was a search for a renewal of hope, purity, and intensity; a search for Quakerism's original spiritual enthusiasm and outreach/mission to the world. They found that old enthusiasm in the study of Scripture and the power of the spirit in “common meetings," held outside of First Day meetings for worship.  These meetings were first held for educational purposes and were aimed at Quaker youth who often felt disaffected with silent meeting. These "common meetings" focused on specific topics with discussion.  But, often these meetings became full of enthusiasm and witnessing to faith and the transforming touch of the Spirit.  Faith sharing groups like these would change American Quakerism. 

By the beginning of the Civil War, the Orthodox Gurneyites were being influenced by the "National Lay Awakening," also known as the "Third Great Awakening."  The techniques of this Methodist based lay awakening were appealing to Quakers since it was rooted in lay leadership instead of the clerical leadership.  The Third Great Awakening was also noticeably less emotional that the first two Great Awakenings and, consequently, so much more acceptable and appealing to Quakers.

Most Orthodox Gurneyites embraced the "Renewal" and accepted the many evangelical innovations that it brought.    Some of those innovations included cooperation with other evangelical churches and organizations.  Indeed, The Society of Friends (Orthodox) over the next 40 years would shed many of the sectarian Quaker customs and would become, noticeably, one of many evangelical churches.

After the Civil War, the "Renewal" continued and intensified.  The "Renewal" worked itself into an intense "Revival."   The seeker's search for forgiveness of sins, salvation, and purity took on a distinctly evangelical aura.   More traditional Quakers thought of salvation as a conversion and holiness experience (a making pure) that was not just a one time experience, but a gradual experience of progressive empowerment and purification.  The experience was very inward and not usually expressed outwardly with great emotion.

In 1867 there were revivals at Walnut Ridge, Rush County, Indiana and Bear Creek, Iowa.  They are the first Quaker “general meetings,” sometimes called “protracted meetings,” that become revivals. These meetings began as Friend’s educational/outreach lectures which included worship for Quakers and non-Quakers.  The meetings often were transformed into “union revivals” which included the entire community and people from all churches.  They employed some of Charles Finney’s “new methods” such as preaching (lay), hymn singing, “mourners’ benches,” etc.  but the more emotional elements were, at first, avoided.  Emphasis was also placed on the Quaker ministers speaking extemporaneously and not pre-planned or organized.

The emotional aspect of revivals would, however, increase.  In the 1870s, the Quaker revivalist preachers become influenced by the Holiness Movement.  The Holiness Movement preached an immediate conversion experience that would later be re-enforced by a second immediate sanctification experience.  This teaching and doctrine would contradict the traditional Quaker teaching concerning conversion/ sanctification experienced as a life-long gradual process.   As the Holiness influence increased, there also came a greater emphasis on correct doctrine.  Another doctrinal conflict centered on the traditional Quaker belief on the "Inner Light" and “that of God in everyone."  Quaker Holiness Revival preachers emphasized that nothing of God could exist in the un-regenerated soul.  Even though moderate Orthodox Gurneyite Friends were disturbed by these doctrinal issues, they still acknowledged the great success of the Quaker Revival.   Indeed, there were thousands and thousands of conversions.  New Quaker meetings were established due to the Revival.  Old meetings became filled with new converts.  The Revival was preacher-oriented and because of its success with so many conversions, the issue of how to "pastor" all these new members came to the fore front. 

 The idea of developing some kind of pastoral system within Gurneyite Quakerism eventually arose during the late 1870s and 1880s due to this need to support the ministers involved in such large scale revivals through out the nation.  Revival preachers and ministers needed to move to the area during the revival itself, which often lasted for many weeks if not months, and then needed to remain for a length of time after the revival was over to pastor the thousands of new converts. Many of the newly established meetings requested that the revival preachers remain with them as pastors. 

Quaker "traveling" ministers had traditionally been expected to be lay members who had a calling recognized by the meeting to preach and travel to other meetings.  They were not paid and were expected to have a secular occupation to help support their ministry.  Their home-meeting might help a little in travel costs.  However, Quaker revival ministers such as Esther G. and Nathan Frame, who were also the parents of two daughters, were constantly on the road, never owned their own home, and had an erratic income.  The custom developed of offering revival ministers a house to live in while they were occupied in a local revival.  If they stayed to be pastors, they would remain in the home, now a parsonage.  These were steps toward a paid ministry.

With the acceptance of a paid ministry, the issue arose of how to train professional ministers for local Quaker meetings.  Many Quaker colleges, colleges of the classical curriculum model, were founded within the Orthodox/Gurneyite branch of Quakerism: Haverford College, Earlham College, Guildford College, Wilmington College, Friends University, George Fox University, William Penn University, and Whittier College.  The Hicksite Friends also founded Swarthmore College.  Like most liberal arts colleges, they were founded in rural town or affluent suburbs.  These institutions either grew out of traditional Quaker Boarding schools/academies or were established initially as liberal arts schools.  Another Quaker educational institution that was inspired by the Holiness traditional of Bible Schools was Malone College, originally known as the Christian Workers’ Training School for Bible Study and practical Methods of Work in Cleveland, Ohio founded in 1882 by Walter and Emma Brown Malone.  During the last decade of the 19th century and at the turn of the century Bible Colleges were established primarily in cities where they evangelized and also provided social and medical services to the poor.   Women in liberal arts colleges usually still had limited possibilities as teachers or physicians.  The Bible colleges produced women ministers who provided services as well as spiritual comfort.  They were a paid ministry and many were pioneers in Quaker missionary work throughout the world starting in China and India.

By 1907 seventy-six women educated with Cleveland’s Friends had become record Quaker ministers or had been ordained by other denominations.  Two of these women were Esther Baird and Delia Fistler (1867-1916) who went to India and founded the Friends Mission in Bundelkhand in central India in 1892-1893.  They fed famine victims, opened dispensaries, and eventually established a hospital. Since 1890, the Friends’ activities in Bundelkhand have been supervised by Ohio Yearly Meeting (now Evangelical Friends church ~ Eastern District).  Two other women alumni of the Christian Workers’ Training School for Bible Study were Susie Norris Fitkin and Mary Soule Ellyson who were instrumental in founding the Church of the Nazarene, one of the largest Holiness denominations.[i]  The empowerment of women for ministerial service is a point of view that traditional Quakerism and the Holiness Movement could quite agree upon.

Other Quaker would, however, disagree about training schools for ministers.  They believed that Quakerism was an organization that recognized the gifts of people in the midst of living the faith.  The great training ground for a Quaker minister had traditionally been in the midst of ministry after the community had recognized the charismatic “gift” of ministry.  The great teacher was the “Inner Light.”

Another doctrinal issue that became very divisive, if not explosive, among Orthodox/Gurneyites was the desire of many Quaker Holiness revivalists to outwardly baptize the converted and celebrate communion; to celebrate the “Ordinances.” Traditional Quakerism had always understood baptism and eucharist spiritually.  They viewed the outward forms of these sacraments as empty.  The real baptism was inward.  The real communion was ongoing with fellow believers. The conflict over baptism and communion, in effect brought the ascendancy of Quaker Holiness Revivalism to an end.  It was the “Achilles Heal” of the Holiness Quakers.  They were divided by the issue.  Since baptism and communion, in Protestant exegesis of Scripture, are understood to be instituted by Jesus Christ to be celebrated, some revivalists wanted to see universal celebration of the Ordinances. The existence of this issue illustrates how profoundly Quakerism had been impacted by Protestant evangelicalism.   Their concern was for the thousand of converts who had become Quaker and would be confused when the “Ordinances” were not celebrated; that Christ’s request that they be celebrated in his name would not happen in the Quaker Church.  This argument was generally rejected by moderate Gurneyites because few believed that the outward celebrations of the Ordinances were the conduits for God’s grace.  The majority of Gurneyites defended the old Quaker practice.  Interestingly, some Holiness revivalist Quakers, driven by Biblical literalism, wanted baptized and to celebrate the supper for themselves, and, a few actually were baptized and some did celebrated Eucharist.   They began to focus on toleration for ministers to celebrate the “Ordinances” for themselves.  Ironically, this desire for toleration seems to resemble a type of “ordination” for Quaker ministers as an acknowledgement that ministers are a special or clerical segment of the membership.

Nathan and Esther Frame were opposed to the adoption of the “Ordinances” in any way.  J. Walter Malone also opposed “toleration” of the “water party.”  William P. Pinkham of Indiana was against it, as well as Lawrie Tatum of Iowa.

By the end of the 19th century, Orthodox Gurneyites were severely divided into the:

1.) Holiness Revivalists (i.e. Nathan & Esther Frame)

The Quaker Holiness Revivalists would in turn be divided by the growing popularity of Pentecostalism and Pre-Millennialism.  In general, the Holiness Revivalists had been and continued to be inspired by Wesleyan Holiness, whereas those influenced by the Pre-Millennial/Pentecostal Holiness Revivalists were more Calvinistic.

2.) Moderate evangelical Renewal Gurneyites some of whom were beginning to be influenced by Modernism

3.) Conservative Gurneyites who resembled the older Orthodox/Wilburites.

The Quaker Holiness Revivalists became more rigidly dogmatic and fundamentalistic as the new 20th century approached.  They embraced a Pre-Millennial eschatology, which emphasized that Christ would have to return before the Millennium since the world was so evil and awful that only He can prepare the world for His judgment and the thousand year reign.  The moderate Gurneyites remained true to the evangelical Post-Millennialism that dominated the first half of the 19th Century, which emphasized that believers could help make the world better and could help prepare for the Millennium; in effect being co-creators with God through cooperation with His grace.  Consequently, moderate Gurneyites continued to support the Quaker traditions of benevolence and pacifism.  With the ascendancy of Pre-Millennialism, there was a de-emphasis on benevolence for the sake of humanity.  The emphasis fell on the salvation of as many souls as possible before the “Eschaton” (The End of Time). Because human beings could not improve the world, working for Peace or any of the old antebellum reforms was futile.

The architecture of Quaker meetinghouses also was transformed by the evangelical reform.  Many meetings decided to re-name their structures churches and not meetinghouses.  They also built churches with steeples, which would have been unheard of before the Civil War.

Because of the division among Orthodox Gurneyite Quakers, it was decided to hold a conference of Gurneyite Yearly Meetings to thresh out the many issues that had arisen. The "Richmond Conference" was held in 1887 in Richmond, Indiana and dealt with the issues of Mission, Ministry, and Worship.  Issues related to the Ordinances (baptism and eucharist) were not discussed.  The issues were debated and the conference produced a "Declaration of Faith.  The original goal of the conference was to establish greater unity among Orthodox/Gurneyites.  The “Richmond Conference” failed to do that.

Orthodox Gurneyite Friends also decided to establish a national level "Five Years Meeting" of Orthodox Friends which first met in 1902.  It is now known as "Friends United Meeting," FUM.  In 1926 the more fundamentalist Quakers left FUM and formed their own organization which is known today as Evangelical Friends Church International.


The Richmond Conference produced a "Declaration of Faith."  Other good web sites concerning the Richmond Conference are: (Friends United Meeting) (Wikipedia) ( ("Friends United Meeting & It's Identity: An Interpretive History" by Thomas D. Hamm)

The best book to read concerning the evolution of  Orthodox Gurneyite Quakerism during the  19th century  is Thomas D. Hamm's 

The Transformation of American Quakerism (Orthodox Friends, 1800-1907 (Indiana University Press, 1988).

Let the journey begin!

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