Jesus sent his disciples out in twos to preach the Kingdom of God and heal the sick. Early Christians fanned out across the Roman Empire to invite people into the Kingdom of God on earth. Early Friends saw themselves as living Primitive Christianity revived. The Valiant Sixty were women and men with gifts of carrying the good news of Christ-led movement they called the Children of the Light. Those who carried these gifts were later named by Quakers “Gospel Ministers”. These early Quaker
Gospel Ministers believed it was just as important to preach and offer vocal prayers by direct divine inspiration rather than by advance preparation as it was in speaking during “retired meetings” of Friends. These extemporaneous messages could, however, be very lengthy. It seems unlikely that those preaching in pubs, market places, barns, or open fields to largely non-Quaker listeners remained for long periods of silent waiting before speaking.
Even though Quakers were often described as “Quietest” in the 18th century, those called to Gospel Ministry often continued to preach to public gatherings of non-Friends, encouraging them to become Quakers. This was particularly true of those traveling widely in the ministry – often referred to as Public Friends.
During the 19th century American Quakerism experienced several major schisms. The large scion that came to be known as “Guerneyite” (for the English evangelical Quaker preacher, John Joseph Gurney) not only were influenced by Protestant revivals to begin planning worship in advance and hiring pastors, but also were influenced by the evangelical approach of Methodism and other movements sweeping the U.S. during the 19th century.
Both Conservative (or “Wilburite”) and Hicksite (unprogrammed, less Christian Friends) have tended to be put off by evangelical approaches to sharing about Quakerism with non-Friends. The assumption is that an evangelical approach is based on an assumption that one’s own faith and spiritual practices are the only right path to God, and are incompatible with belief that God speaks to many hearts and many faith communities in different ways.
Toward a Rethinking of the Quaker Message is a 1979 Friends Journal article by Kenneth Boulding.
Elise Boulding explores how part of our call to change the world may lead us to working closely with those with very different values from our own in her article God’s Ordinaries.
Deborah Fisch’s 2014 Michener Lecture to Southeastern YM was on Growing the Beloved Community and Sharing It with the World.
Believing that it is important to share with others what we have found that is precious in our spiritual path, does not mean assuming that our way is the only path to God. Early Friends believed that God works in the hearts and lives of people of many different faith communities. They believed that God spoke through others with very different paths than their own including some (e.g. Native Americans and Muslims) whom other Christians often spoke of as evil or even without souls. Barclay addressed this issue in his 5th & 6th Propositions “Concerning the Universal Redemption by Christ, and also the Saving and Spiritual Light wherewith every man is enlightened.”
See the account of Mary Fisher’s trip to the Sultan Mehmed IV, ruler of the Ottoman Empire.
Peter Blood wrote an article “Many Paths to the Light: Quaker Universalism and Interfaith Solidarity” in Friends Journal’s October 2023 on Interfaith and Ecumenical issues.
Committing to the Quaker Spiritual Path is a QuakerSpeak interview with Lloyd Lee Wilson of North Carolina (Conservative) YM. He suggests that although Quakers recognize many paths to God, our path is a unique one. And we are likely to flourish if we live into our own path fully, even those aspects that challenge us.
On the other hand, early Quakers were deeply critical of other faith leaders whom they felt were hypocritical, were leading rigid forms of worship that was not springing from a direct relationship with God, or were using the instruments of state power to persecute those (e.g. Quakers) that they disagreed with.
Beginning in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century Some branches of Friends became actively involved in missions work to other parts of the world. Some of the countries (especially Kenya and Bolivia) with the most Friends today resulted from these missions.
Good News to the Poor: Friends’ Witness in the 21st Century — in her 2019 Michener Lecture Eden Grace unpacks assumptions about the destructive role of Christian missions in Africa. She lifts up a new approach to missions rooted in Quaker values where “justice, solidarity, and inclusivity are key expressions of mission from the margins.”