Historical Introduction

The Friends Church began in England in the mid-seventeenth century and spread within a few decades throughout the British colonies that bordered the Atlantic Ocean. As an extension of the Protestant Reformation, Friends emphasized a direct, personal encounter with Christ, typified in the experience of its most prominent and enduring leader, George Fox.

Founder George Fox

Born in 1624, Fox participated regularly in the Church of England with his parents until the age of nineteen. During these years he observed an empty formalism and a dead religion that failed to quench his spiritual thirst. He also became deeply disturbed and depressed over the presence of sin in his own heart. Fox wandered from place to place, seeking help from various people and also from reading his Bible.

Finally, in 1647, when his hope was nearly gone, Fox found the answer to his spiritual restlessness through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that made his heart “leap for joy.” Through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, he discovered that Jesus is a living Savior who overcame temptation, sin, and Satan, and that through Christ’s power and grace, so could he.

A Growing Movement

Fox was not alone. Scores of others in England had experienced the same spiritual longings. As he began to talk and preach about his new-found faith in Christ, Fox encountered many eager listeners and sometimes attracted great crowds that quickly turned into a growing movement. Within ten years, from about 1650 to 1660, the Friends grew to an estimated 50,000 followers. During this period, they were the fastest growing religious group of any kind in the English-speaking world.

An early distinctive of Friends was their emphasis on evangelism and missions. Fox explained that God had called him to “turn people from darkness to light, that they might receive Christ Jesus,” and he encouraged other Friends to join him in this great cause. Both men and women traveled as missionaries throughout England, among the British colonies, and to various other nations. They preached the gospel to anyone who would listen and, at times, even to those who refused. Obviously, it was both an evangelical and an evangelistic movement.

Early Names

This Friends movement held a number of names in the early years. Prompted undoubtedly by their evangelistic efforts, one of their early labels was “Publishers of Truth.” They not only printed and distributed thousands of tracts, they also “published glad tidings” – telling people far and near about the truth of the gospel message. Another early name was “Children of Light” (referring to the light of Christ in the gospel of John). A derogatory nickname that they received from outsiders was “Quakers,” a label that many ended up embracing as a term of endearment. The official name that they finally chose for themselves, however, remains in place today. The term Friends is taken from Jesus’ own words.

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends for everything that I learned from my father I have made known to you (John 15:13-15).

Welcoming Persecution

Not only were Friends a rapidly growing movement in the seventeenth century, they also carried the distinction of suffering more persecution than other English Protestant groups. In general, they refused to run away from persecution, and sometimes they seemed to run toward it, as if the threat of maltreatment sounded a trumpet call to advance to the spiritual battle line. Rather than hiding underground, Friends insisted on meeting openly in their usual places, and accepted arrest, fines, imprisonment, and even death as a part of their testimony and calling. Between 1660 and 1689, an estimated fifteen thousand Friends went to prison in England, of whom four hundred and fifty paid for their convictions with their lives.

By 1661 in America, authorities had already whipped, branded, imprisoned and deported a number of Friends missionaries, while four of them – William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson, William Ledra, and Mary Dyer – concluded their ministries at the end of a noose in Boston. Persecution was an ever-present threat for Friends, if not a reality, until the Act of Toleration passed in 1689, ensuring some of the religious freedoms that we still enjoy.

Attractive Testimonies

From an early period, Friends became known for various “testimonies” or beliefs evidenced in their behaviors, demonstrating to the world their priorities and matters of conscience. One testimony emphasized honesty, plain speech, and the consequent rejection of all swearing and oath taking. They took seriously Jesus’ instruction to let your “yes be yes, and your no, no.” As a result, they concluded that if they swore that they were telling the truth, even in a court of law, it implied that they might be lying if they did not swear. They gained a reputation that their word was as good as their bond.

Another early testimony for Friends emphasized the importance of peace. They maintained convictions against violence, war, and abuse of all kinds, and that God had called believers to live in peace with everyone. Friends traditionally stressed simplicity of life and equality among all peoples. These concerns could be seen in their plain clothing (dressing alike as common folk), their respect and care for Native Americans, and their significant leadership role as abolitionists. As a general rule, Friends freed their slaves long before the Civil War and some served as the chief conductors of the Underground Railroad.

Early Organization

The Friends’ first efforts at organization led to the development of local churches, or Meetings, which combined to form larger regional gatherings for worship and business, convening monthly, quarterly, and yearly. This system allowed for a formalized reporting structure, group decision making by coming to unity in obedience to the Holy Spirit, church and ministerial accountability, and the development of approved leadership. British Friends started to meet annually in 1671, the same year that the first large regional grouping or Yearly Meeting of Friends in America became organized in New England. Early leaders were known as elders, overseers, or ministers. With an understanding that God alone ordains, Friends recognized those individuals whom God had chosen by “recording” them as ministers, a practice continued today. Friends also acknowledged the role of women in ministry from an early period, affirming many who served as missionaries, ministers, and leaders as called by God. The first paid pastors for Friends began to serve in America in the 1870s.

Influence in America

The message of Friends spread throughout colonial America as the result of missionary efforts that began in 1656 with the ministries of Mary Fisher and Ann Austin, climaxing in 1672 with the visit of George Fox and other key leaders. Friends lived in almost every colony but were prominent in a few, especially in Rhode Island, the Jerseys, and the Carolinas where some of their members served as governors, legislators, judges, and in other positions of influence. In 1682, King Charles II gave a large grant of land in America to a prominent Friend, William Penn, as repayment for a debt owed to his father. The region was named “Penn’s Woods” (or “Pennsylvania”) in honor of William’s father, and Friends exercised a controlling political influence there until the 1750s.

Nineteenth Century Divisions

Although Friends have always desired to maintain unity, some sharp divisions occurred in the nineteenth century. In 1827, a split took place over theological issues. One branch, the Hicksites followed the teachings of Elias Hicks, a New York farmer/preacher who espoused false doctrines, discounting important Christian beliefs such as the authority of Scripture, the virgin birth and the atoning blood of Christ. In contrast to Hicks, Orthodox Friends held to the kinds of evangelical Christian beliefs discussed later in this section of Faith and Practice. Joseph John Gurney, one of the most influential of the evangelical leaders, emphasized the importance of Bible study and contributed to evangelistic efforts among Friends.

In 1845, another rift opened among Orthodox Friends in America, this time over matters of tradition. Some followed the lead of John Wilbur and wanted to maintain traditional Quaker practices in dress, speech, and ministry, the Wilburites. However, others followed the continuing impulse of Gurney and became influenced eventually by the Holiness revivals that sw ept across America, especially in the West.

Umbrella Groups Today

The divisions in the nineteenth century led to several, mutually exclusive groupings of Friends which exist to this day. The Friends General Conference represents the most liberal theological group of Friends and they are the visible remnant of Hicks’ beliefs. Some of them would not even claim to be Christian.

The Conservative Friends are the direct theological descendants of John Wilbur. These groups reside mostly in the Midwest and eastern United States. Another group, the Friends United Meeting, founded in 1902, is an organization that attempts to appeal to a variety of Christian Quaker expressions.

Evangelical Friends Church Southwest is a member of the fourth group, Evangelical Friends International, which began in the early 1960s. EFI aims to make more and better disciples for Jesus through church planting and active missions efforts throughout the world. Today, EFI includes over 1,000 local churches in twenty countries, while Friends of all types live in forty-six countries on six continents.

Local Origins

The first Friends in California came with scores of others as a part of the “gold rush” of 1849. With the advent of the transcontinental railroad in 1867, more Friends moved west, carrying with them the spirit of the holiness revivals occurring at that time in their previous churches. Evangelical Friends Church Southwest began officially in 1895 as an outgrowth of Iowa Yearly Meeting. The original name of “California Yearly Meeting of Friends Church” was changed in 1986 to Friends Church Southwest Yearly Meeting to reflect the growing geographic region of our denominational group. Friends in the Southwest include local churches in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. From the outset, Southwest Friends emphasized the dual priorities of evangelism and education. By 1900, they had started eleven new churches, two new mission fields in Alaska and Central America, and the “Training School for Christian Workers” which later became Azusa Pacific University. These continuing concerns are reflected today in four Faith Boards – New Church Development, Missions, Friends Center at Azusa Pacific University, and Quaker Meadow Camp started in 1939 to “win and train youth and adults for Christ.” The current name, Evangelical Friends Church Southwest, was adopted in 2001.

Faith and Practice

As early as the seventeenth century, Friends maintained guidelines for their religious practices and concerns in official lists. By the eighteenth century, after collecting, adding to, and amending these writings, Friends began to publish them in books of Discipline. Combined with statements about history and theological beliefs, these publications became known eventually as Faith and Practice books, one of which you are now reading. [This historical introduction is taken from the Faith & Practice of EFCSW.] The purpose of this book is to provide current, new and potential members an overview of the basic beliefs and organization around which we unite. We invite you to join us in the continuing history and vision of Evangelical Friends Church Southwest.

[The historical introduction from the Faith & Practice of EFCSW ends here.]

The Beginnings of Long Beach Friends Church

Officially recognized by Iowa Yearly Meeting in 1892 after beginning as a home Bible class in 1888, the Long Beach Friends Church was the fourth church founded in the little community of Long Beach. Long Beach Friends Church was one of the founding meetings of California Yearly Meeting, now Friends Church Southwest. The church has survived many changes in the Long Beach community, adjusting its witness to the needs and changes of the people of the city. In this multi ethnic city, the Lord has raised up a multi ethnic church with a strong outreach to young people, a place where we worship in at least three languages and speak many more even as we are all are one in Christ. Today, it is our goal to be a growing and powerful testimony of God’s power and love on the edge of downtown Long Beach, at Ninth and Atlantic.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!