Friends History - the story of our denomination

The Society of Friends or Quakers, began in the mid 1600's by a young man named George Fox.  Fox was the son of a weaver and was born and raised in England.  His strong Christian convictions led him to seek counsel and he journeyed through out much of England when he was just 19 years old.  The result of his journey was his unwavering conviction that Christ was freely available for anyone who would place their trust in him.  The state of England's Church at that time was full of abuse, emphasizing the need for a mediator and then making it difficult by requiring many to pay taxes in order to recieve the mediation required and to participate in things like communion.

Fox's radical view of Christ's availability led to his strong preaching against overly structured Christianity.  Thus what developed was the simple practices of the Society of Friends.  Much emphasis was placed on the Holy Spirit and the "inner light" meaning Christ (John 1:4).  Records of early meetings are sparse, but a typical meeting was described as "a gathering of Friends who waited in quietness for the guidance of God with vocal contributions from individual Friends".  

After Fox's death in 1691, the Quietism movement (supremacy of the Holy Spirit within) began to take over much of the Friends practices.  There became an emphasis in simple dress, simple speech, and unprogrammed meetings.  Friends also fought for equal treatment of women, prison reform, and the abolition of slavery, becoming the first denomination in America to publicly denounce slavery and declaring it an unacceptable practice by its members.

By the end of the 18th century, Quakers emerged from the period of quietism and were ready for new thoughts and actions that soon became characteristic of the 19th century.  The emphasis of the Holy Spirit still remained but a new emphasis on Biblical teaching and evangelism began to take hold as America experienced a series of Great Awakenings.  In the 1820's a split in Friends belief developed based on this new emphasis.  Disagreements on the significance and use of the BIble in meetings eventually led to a division among Friends.  Eventually an official split occured in 1827 representing the division that many established meetings (churches) were already experiencing.  After the split in 1827 a series of disagreements and further variations of theology and practice were presented through out Friends Meetings.  In 1887 in Richmond, IN a Declaration of Faith was drafted.  The Richmond Declaration was an attempt to unify Friends once again under a common framework of belief and practice.  Not every Friends meeting or church adopted the Declaration and thus two major groups emerged, those who affirmed the importance of faith in Christ and the Bible, and those who did not.   

These two groups exist today and often times people are not familiar with the differences that exist between the two.  The Friends that affirm the importance of faith in Christ and the Bible have a pastor, music, scripture reading, and look much like other protestant churches.  The Friends that do not are nonpastoral, are often called unprogammed, and worship primarily speaking out of silence wthout a pastor, music, scripture reading, or vocal prayer.  The pastoral groups often call themselves "Churches", while the nonpastoral groups identify themselves as a "Meeting."

The pastoral groups have a more clearly defined theology that is Christ-centered with a strong emphasis on the Bible. The nonpastoral groups do not define themselves theologically and are more focused on the group process with a cohesiveness that is built around the social issues they address. Pastoral Friends are active on social issues in terms of service to people in need and nonpastoral Friends are more focused on the issues of social work. The liberal theological and social viewpoints are predominant among nonpastoral Friends and the more conservative and evangelical viewpoints are predominant among pastoral Friends.

Northwest Community Friends Church in Tucson is a pastoral, evangelical church and the Pima Friends Meeting is an unprogrammed group in Tucson that follows the more liberal perspective.