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Archive for the ‘Quaker History’ Category

(revised 02/27/14)

Many in the Evangelical Friends (EFCI) denomination have been taught that George Fox and the early Quakers were born again Christians, free of heretical teachings. But there is much primary historical evidence that, in reality, quite the opposite is true.

Regarding Quaker history, I believe various historians have reinterpreted Quaker history to match their theological biases. They have not only reinterpreted the beliefs and motives of Quakers, but also of individuals who were contemporaries of the Quakers.

For example, some historians paint John Wesley (1703-1791) as favoring theQuakers, or at least having doctrines in common with the Quakers. Click here and here for several such articles (note – I do not necessarily agree with the theological stances of these authors). Wesley did in fact favor portions of Robert Barclay’s Apology; consider this excerpt, found here:

John Wesley was very impressed by Barclay’s Apology of 1676 and in 1741 published an abstract under the title Serious Considerations on Absolute Predestination (Bristol: S. and F. Farley, 1741). This became an important publication in the context of the Wesleys’ conflict with Calvinist evangelicals led by George Whitefield and was reprinted several times.

Regarding Wesley’s favorable comments on the Quakers, see also p. 350 of this online book, as well as this Quaker blog.

Following are some excerpts describing how John Wesley opposed Quakerism. I also oppose Quakers as being theologically unsound and heretical. However, unlike Wesley, I would also view most Quakers throughout history as unsaved.

There were several Quaker Yearly Meetings which were saved/born again/evangelical, and biblically sound during certain time periods. For example, the denomination I grew up in – the EFC-ER  (formerly named Ohio Yearly Meeting “Gurneyite”) – was the most biblically sound between approx. 1892-1930 (click here for my history of the EFC-ER). It has been said that the Evangelical Friends were “more Wesleyan than Quaker”; this was especially true between 1892-1930. It is unfortunate that the Evangelical Friends never separated totally from the nonevangelical Quaker denominations. If the Evangelical Friends had read Wesley’s criticisms of Quakers, perhaps they would not have succumbed to Quaker ecumenism and the heretical contemplative/mystic teachings of George Fox’s “spiritual descendant”  – Evangelical Friend Richard Foster.

Back to the subject at hand – John Wesley. In the excerpts below regarding John Wesley’s criticisms of Quakers, I have emphasized certain points by bolding and inserted comments in [brackets].

From The Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley, Vol. II, by Rev. Luke Tyerman, viewable online:

Excerpt #1
Pp. 55-57:

“A Letter to a Person lately joined with the People called Quakers” [read this letter online here.] In answer to a Letter wrote by him.” 12mo, 20 pages.  Wesley takes his account of Quakerism from the writings of Robert Barclay, and shows wherein the system differs from Christianity; namely—

1. Because it teaches that the revelations of the Spirit of God, to a Christian believer, “are not to be subjected to the examination of the Scriptures as to a touchstone.”

2. Because it teaches justification by works.

3. Because it sets aside ordination to the ministry by laying on of hands.

4. Because it allows women to be preachers.

5. Because it affirms that we ought not to pray or preach except when we are moved thereto by the Spirit; and that all other worship, both praises, prayers, and preachings, are superstitious, will worship, and abominable idolatries.

6. Because it alleges that “silence is a principal part of God’s worship.”

7. Because it ignores the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper.

8. Because it denies that it is lawful for Christians to give or receive titles of honour.

9. Because it makes it a part of religion to say thee or thou,—a piece of egregious trifling, which naturally tends to make all religion stink in the nostrils of infidels and heathens.

10. Because it teaches that it is not lawful for Christians to kneel, or bow the body, or uncover the head to any man; nor to take an oath before a magistrate.

In his wide wanderings, Wesley met with numbers of friendly Quakers, of whom he speaks in terms of commendation; but their system was one which he abhorred, and, in his “[An Earnest] Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion” [read online here], he speaks of the inconsistencies of their community in the most withering terms. “A silent meeting,” said he in a letter to a young lady, “was never heard of in the church of Christ for sixteen hundred years.” And, [47] in one of his letters to Archbishop Secker, he remarks: “Between me and the Quakers there is a great gulf fixed. The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper keep us at a wide distance from each other; insomuch that, according to the view of things I have now, I should as soon commence deist as Quaker.”[48]

[47] Wesley’s Works, vol. xii., p. 488.
[48] Ibid. vol. xii., p. 74.

Excerpt #2
P. 418:

“I am very far from being ‘quite indifferent to any man’s opinions in religion’; neither do I ‘conceal my sentiments.’ Few men less. I have written severally, and printed, against deists, papists, mystics, quakers, anabaptists, Presbyterians, Calvinists, and antinomians. An odd way of ingratiating myself with them! Nevertheless, in all things indifferent, but not at the expense of truth, I rejoice to please all men for their good to edification.[36]

[36] Methodist Magazine, 1779, p. 601.

Excerpt #3
On pp. 512-513, an excerpt from John Wesley shows that he viewed the Quakers as heretical – although he did not view them as negatively as some other groups:

In the year 1758, Wesley issued a remarkable volume of 246 pages, entitled “A Preservative against unsettled Notions in Religion.” In his Journal he says: “I designed it for the use of all those who are under my care, but chiefly of the young preachers.” In his brief preface, he observes: “My design, in publishing the following tracts, is not to reclaim, but to preserve: not to convince those who are already perverted, but to prevent the perversion of others. I do not, therefore, enter deep into the controversy even with deists, Socinians, Arians, or papists: much less with those who are not so dangerously mistaken, mystics, quakers, anabaptists, presbyterians, predestinarians, or antinomians. I only recite, under each head, a few plain arguments, which, by the grace of God, may farther confirm those who already know the truth as it is in Jesus.”…

The fifth piece [in Wesley’s writings against heresies] is “A letter to a Person lately joined with the People called Quakers,” which Wesley first wrote in 1748. [This letter is described in detail, in Excerpt #1 above.]

Another excerpt, found here, that shows John Wesley’s disagreements with Quaker theology:

TO JOHN FRY [1]
CITY ROAD, January 1, 1791.

MY FRIEND, — The sum of what I said to you and to Dr. Hamilton was this: ‘I will revise that part of the Ecclesiastical History; and if I am convinced any of it is wrong, I will openly retract it.’ I have revised it again and again, but I am not convinced that any part of it is wrong; on the contrary, I am fully persuaded it is all the naked truth. What the Quakers (so called) are or do now is nothing to the purpose, I am thoroughly persuaded they were exactly such as they are described in this History. Your present summary exactly answers the account Barclay’s Apology given in the 135th page of the History. O be content! I love you well; do not constrain me to speak. I do not want to say anything of George Fox; but I hope he was stark mad when he wrote that medley of nonsense, blasphemy, and scurrility styled his ‘Great Mystery.’ [Click here for Part 1 of Fox’s “Great Mystery”, and click here for Part 2.] But I love and esteem you and many of the present Quakers; and am

Your real friend.

[1] In A Concise Ecclesiastical History, Vol. IV., chap. iv., is a history of the Quakers which says their first association was ‘composed mostly of persons that seemed to be disordered in their brains; and hence they committed many enormities which the modem Quakers neither justify nor approve. For the greatest part of them were riotous and tumultuous in the highest degree.’ Wesley had evidently talked the matter over with his Quaker friend John Fry and Dr. Hamilton. See letter of February 10, 1748.

FOR FURTHER READING

John Buroff’s repost of my above blog, with his comments added

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