This thesis considers Quaker ministry from George Fox through the 18th into the 19th century, and argues that there was a diversion from the conception of Fox, represented by both an increasingly oppressive formal structure, and by shallow lack of considered discernment concerning vocal ministry; as well as a focus on silence at the expense of communication and a morbid obsession with one’s own inner condition. This was coupled with a loss of the sense of the inner light as the personal Christ, and a devaluing of history and scripture, at least until the influence of Methodism and the evangelical revival.
Fox’s idea of ministry was that it should grow out of a person’s conversion: the experience of regeneration should lead to a desire to communicate it to others. Fox’s piety had an important personal, historically-rooted Christocentric dimension, as well as the more impersonal inner light, and in this way at least the evangelical inclinations of various later ministers were faithful to him; though their views of the atonement differed somewhat. The authority of the minister resided purely in the message, and the authority for the content of the message depended on its spiritual utility for others. A vocation for ministry should be subject to profound testing, by the individual concerned and by the meeting, and should be deployed with discretion.
Later ministers followed Fox’s teaching and example in various ways, but by the c1740s the separate formal authority of eldership and oversight had developed; there followed a marked tendency to police the minutiae of external discipline, and this, along with a reaction to controversy and inordinate enthusiasm and lack of discretion on the part of would-be ministers, had the effect of dampening and discouraging vocal ministry. There was also an emphasis on silence at the expense of communication: silence became an end in itself, and in Beamish’s view a ‘negation’, rather than the soil out of which spiritual identity and vocation to preach grew (as it had been for Fox). Study of scripture was neglected, with anything that smacked of doctrine being suspected as contrary to free inspiration. There was a tendency in the 18th c to focus ‘morbidly’ on one’s own subjective condition, which can be a form of pride, at the expense of showing others how to find the light within. However, the importance of continental Quietism in these developments has been over-stated (notably by Rufus Jones). There was a later revival of ministry in the old more balanced form, up to the time of Rowntree.
Ministry; elder/eldership; overseer/oversight; vocation; vocal ministry; Fox’s idea of ministry; silence; discernment; 18th century Quakerism; Samuel Bownas; women’s ministry; convincement and ministry; preaching and prayer; worship and ministry; personal/historical Christ, scripture and the inner light; doctrine and free inspiration; study; Quietism; evangelicals; Methodism; deism (remote concepts of a God who creates but who is distant from the world he has created); latitudinarianism (rational religion); humanitarian; discipline; prophetic; mystical; Spirit/spiritual; introspection; America and England.