The Quakers

By Hugh Barbour; J. William Frost | Go to book overview

10
A DISCIPLINED CHRISTIAN LIFE

Quakerism began as a spontaneous outpouring of religious fervor but survived because people found its institutions conducive to experiencing the Inward Light and developing Christian character. This chapter discusses the methods Friends used to create a distinctive manner of living, shows why Friends came to codify correct behavior norms in books they called "Disciplines," how they applied the rules in the "Disciplines," and why members accepted the Meetings' power to regulate their conduct. The rules served as a hedge against the world for adults and as an "enclosed garden" in which children could develop Quaker habits.

Friends early began preserving documents. George Fox's* identification of Friends with the early Church involved an imitation of the Book of Acts and the Epistles of Paul, John, and Peter. Because the early Church issued pastoral Epistles, Friends would do the same. There could be no parish register of baptisms, deaths, and marriages, so Friends would keep their own lists, which would be a legal record. The parish had provided cemeteries on consecrated grounds; Quakers who refused baptism could not gain admission to such cemeteries. So Friends would buy their own burial grounds. The Society of Friends, like the Church of England, would structure the crucial rites of passage of birth, marriage, and death.

In the seventeenth century the English government operated without a written constitution, but Parliament still had well-defined procedures and traditions. As long as Parliament was a continuing institution there seemed to be no compelling reason to write down what all members knew. The same situation characterized early Friends, even though persecution after 1660 disrupted the continuity of leadership and Meetings. The expansion of the Society of Friends into the New World created a situation in which there were many newcomers and few leaders close by to ensure continuity. So it is not surprising that the first attempts to go beyond the informal procedures took place in America.

When Fox visited Newport in 1672, someone wrote down and preserved his

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