The Book of Discipline of the Religious Society of Friends

1927 - Adopted by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting held at Fifteenth and Race Streets

"Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all, with the measure of light which is pure and holy, may be guided: and so in the light walking and abiding, these may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not in the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life." -- postscript to the Letter from the Meeting of Elders at Balby, near Doncaster, 1656, the earliest advice on Christian practice issued by any General body of Friends.


The Religious Society of Friends hold as the basis of its faith the belief that God endows every human being with a measure of His own Divine Spirit. He leaves no one without witness, but gives the light of His truth and presence to men of all classes and races.

This manifestation of God in man was most fully exemplified in Jesus of Nazareth. The Divine Spirit became so wholly Jesus' own that his teaching, example, and sacrificial life are the complete revelation in humanity of the will of God.

As within ourselves we become conscious of the same Spirit (the "Inner Light" or the "Christ within"), and as we submit ourselves to its leadings, we also are enabled to live in conformity to the will of our Heavenly Father. Love, the outworking of the Divine Spirit, is the most potent influence that can be applied in the affairs of men, and this application of love to the whole of life the Society of Friends conceives to be the core of the Christian gospel.

The immanence of God implies the divine relationship and the brotherhood of all men. It implies the capacity in all to discern spiritual truth, and to hold direct communion with Him. No mediator, rite, or sacrament is a necessary condition of worship. All that is necessary is a seeking spirit on the part of the worshiper. Inspiration and guidance may be realized by meeting with others in worship where the vision is made clearer by the common experience of those present.

The Society of Friends has no formal creed. Each person must prayerfully seek individual guidance and must follow his own conception of God's leading. He will be helped by studying the developing interpretation of God in the Bible and especially by pondering the life and teachings of Jesus. All those who sincerely try to follow him in spirit and in truth, Friends welcome to their fellowship.


The Society of Friends originated in England at the time of the Puritan Revolution (about 1628-1660). The overthrow of the monarchy was the result of a growing sense of personal independence among the people, which politically established Oliver Cromwell as protector and religiously produced many revolts from the established church. The latter tendency resulted in many quick-growing but often short-lived sects and in a large number of restless, searching spirits.

George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, was of this seeking type of mind. Born in 1624, he began when nineteen years old a solitary, spiritual quest of truth. He records in his Journal that at last in 1646, "when all my hopes in ... all men were gone, so that I had nothing outwardly to help me, nor could tell what to do, then O then, I heard a voice which said, 'There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to they condition,' and, when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy."

In 1647 Fox began to preach, convincing many persons, and in 1648 a whole community in Nottinghamshire accepted his message and associating together, called themselves Children of Light, the earliest name by which Friends were known. From this time the number of his followers grew rapidly.

Puritan ministers were then teaching that God's revelation to man lay in the Bible and in the work of the historic Christ, and that, until the judgment at the Second Advent, He would not speak again. Fox proclaimed that God speaks directly to each human soul through a present, living experience of Christ. The heart of his great message was the gospel of this revelation, the Inner Light, requiring no human mediator to translate its meaning to the individual.

George Fox was a powerful personality. In him was "combined in a singular degree the burning zeal of the enthusiast with the magnetic force of a born leader of men." He was his own best illustration oft he truth he preached, "that a single man or woman living in the spirit of the apostles and prophets would shake all the country for ten miles around."

He soon attracted around him a group of thirteen young men who became inspired preachers of this new religious force and were called Publishers of Truth. These were later joined by other earnest men and women. They engaged in the heroic work of spreading the movement, travelling in twos and threes through the length and breadth of England, extending their labors also into Wales, Scotland and Ireland, although often hindered by imprisonment and persecution. Undismayed by every sort of difficulty they fed the inward spiritual flame of widely separated groups, stimulated their zeal, holding them in the bond of group-consciousness, and providing for them a channel of communication.

The powerful preaching of these leaders was supported by the daily life of the first Friends. Along with an intense religious fervor there ran a life of practical righteousness. Justice, temperance, commercial honesty, and the complete observance of all civil laws that did not violate their conscience were vitally important matters. "None could dispute the validity of a Christianity which resulted in consistent and Christ-touched lives. In such lives, amid all their imperfections, the Inward Light was justified of its children."

A keen realization of the equality of all persons before God led to the early recognition of the spiritual gifts of women and to the acceptance of their public preaching. It brought about the use of the "plain" language and the refusal to remove the hat to superiors, customs which caused frequent persecution; and still greater suffering resulted from the refusal to take oaths or later to pay tithes for the upkeep of the state church.

With the restoration of the monarchy, the Anglican church was re-established and no other worship was permitted. An era of persistent persecution was inaugurated for all non-conformists, of which Friends bore the brunt. Until the passage of the Toleration Act in 1689 Friends endured long imprisonments, disastrous fines, and cruel treatment; their meetings were often broken up and the meeting-houses destroyed. But because their consciences assured them that resistance to the law was no sin, they continued their way of worship openly and bravely in spite of every effort to stop them. In some places when all of the adult Friends were in jail, the children held the meetings alone.

This faithfulness in persisting according to their religious conviction, with no evasion of the penalties of the law, was a factor of importance in finally winning for England liberty of conscience and religious toleration. But for the Society of Friends itself, the persecution had unfortunate results; it paralyzed the itinerant service of the Publishers of Truth, isolated the meetings and hastened the necessity for organizing into a sect what had been a glorious creative movement.

From 1667 George Fox was active in helping to organize the system of monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings and in arranging methods of procedure therein. Women's business meetings were set up in addition to men's. A Meeting of Ministers and a Meeting for Sufferings were established.

The earliest concerns of these business meetings were for the poor and for prisoners, checking the vagaries of individual judgment, admonishing delinquents, and also providing for carrying on work at home and for expenses of ministers travelling beyond the seas, and for the keeping of records. While the discipline thus set up was no equivalent for the compelling power of wide-spread evangelism, it did foster well-ordered and noble lives.

Efforts at formulation of doctrine soon followed, and in this Robert Barclay (1648-1690) was the foremost figure. His most complete exposition was his Apology. His Quakerism was affected by current Puritan theology. The influence of his writings was so great as to be felt as late as the nineteenth century when the various separations occurred.

Yet this same period of development into a sect and of formulation of doctrine also saw growing experiments toward improving the social order, including justice toward workmen and employees, refusal of election bribes, efforts to re-establish the poor in business, plans for giving work to those in prison, and the establishment of work-houses. Temperance claimed attention as well as the question of African slavery, and in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island bold attempts were made to establish truly Christian commonwealths.

As early as 1655 the New World had attracted Friends, and efforts were made during the following years to plant the seeds of Quakerism in Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia. In the last two colonies there was some persecution, but the martyrs of Quakerism in America met their test in Massachusetts. Everything that the authorities could devise was tried to stop the publishing of the Quaker truth in this colony. Harrowing tortures were endured, many underwent punishment again and again, and four suffered death. After ten years of persecution they succeeded in breaking down the intolerant laws.

During this period a haven was found in Rhode Island, where the first meeting in the New World was established. This colony became the center of New England Quakerism. Its long line of Quaker Governors and men in public places did eminent service in the political life of the colony until the time of the Revolutionary War.

A period of expansion followed George Fox's visit to America in 1671-1673. Meetings were established in New York, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas, and in greater numbers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

These last two colonies had bee opened for settlement rather later than the others, but conditions were especially favorable. West Jersey was bought by a group of Friends in 1674 and Pennsylvania by William Penn in 1681, so that here the Quakers had freedom and peace and unparalleled opportunity to try out their ability to conduct a Christian government. William Penn was a statesman of high order and he stands to this day a "vindicator of justice to native races, a framer of laws which presaged the Constitution of the United States, and a champion of liberty of conscience." Friends maintained an almost absolute control of Pennsylvania until 1740 and were a power for fifteen years longer, when war-like measures forced them to resign from the Assembly.

The successful policy of Friends towards the Indians was the outcome of their sense of justice and of their conviction that before God all men are equal, irrespective of their color, and these principles slowly formed their attitude on another great question, that of Negro slavery. George Fox had advised in 1671 giving slaves their freedom after a period of years. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting advised against the slave trade in 1696, and sentiment grew slowly until 1758 when John Woolman made a moving plea for the liberty of the slaves, and began the great work of his life in this race. He aroused Friends both in America and England, many of whom became influential factors and tireless workers until slavery was finally abolished.

Friends' opposition to war largely took them out of public life during the French and Indian wars prior to the Revolution, and this fact together with an increasing quietism caused a profound transformation in the Society. More and more the Friends of the latter half of the 18th century withdrew from the outside world and centered upon perfecting their own spiritual lives and hedging their Society about with the rules and customs of a peculiar people. This preserved some valuable features, but it also brought a narrowing introspection that was fertile ground for controversy.

Early in the 19th century very divergent tendencies could be seen; one toward a zealous evangelicalism which was accelerated by the popular rise of the Methodist movement, and one toward a reaffirmation of the Inward Light as a sufficient basis for faith. Job Scott, a saintly man and a true mystic, was the chief spokesman for the latter, and the former was fostered by a number of prominent ministers, some of whom came over from England. The chasm grew steadily wider until 1827, when, largely as a result of the powerful ministry of Elias Hicks, a separation occurred in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. This tragedy, due to lack of spiritual understanding, and lack of brotherly love, was followed by withdrawals by one side or the other in many other Meetings, forming so-called "Hicksite" and so-called "Orthodox" branches. Further separations occurred within the Orthodox body.

Yet the 19th century did contain some advances in Quaker development. A great migration of Friends to the new territory of the northwest took place, and new Yearly Meetings in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois were established.

The retirement of Friends from public affairs helped to stimulate their zeal for purely moral causes, such as the abolition of slavery, the welfare of Negroes and the Indians, the work for social purity, the suppression of the liquor traffic, and prison reform.

Education has been a deep concern of Friends from their earliest history, and Monthly Meeting schools, boarding schools, and colleges have been established.

The testimony for peace has been a cardinal principle ever since George Fox said that he "lived in the virtue of that life and power that took away the occasion of all wars." In all the years of their existence Friends have maintained with a large degree of consistency and often with much suffering the belief that the power of love and the spirit of justice are the only solution for international disputes. The conflict of 1914-'18 questioned with startling sharpness the validity of such a testimony. Friends now found themselves faced with the necessity for profound reasoning and active work in the pressing of this great principle, and their most cogent argument was fearless and impartial service to the victims of war. During the course of the struggle, all branches and all types of Friends were brought together in the effort to convey help and a message of love to the people of Europe. The American Friends' Service Committee, which originated in 1917, remains a powerful organ for the awakened social consciousness of present day Friends.

Friends in America at present are grouped into: Seven Yearly Meetings coordinated in the Friends' General Conference, consisting of Baltimore, established in 1672; Philadelphia, in 1681; New York, in 1695; Ohio in 1813; Indiana, in 1821; Genesee, in 1834; and Illinois, in 1875; twelve Yearly Meetings combined in the Five Years Meeting: seven conservative Yearly Meetings which maintain correspondence with each other: Ohio and Philadelphia (Arch Street) Yearly Meetings, which have no official affiliation with the Five Years Meeting. All these bodies, together with London Yearly Meeting and Dublin Yearly Meeting and other groups of Friends throughout the world, were represented in 1920 in London at the All-Friends Conference.

Since then a German Yearly Meeting has been established.


The Meeting for Worship is set apart for congregate aspiration. Its basis is silent and direct communication with God. It affords opportunity for a resolute fixing of the heart and mind upon that which is unchangeable and eternal, making it a time of hold expectation before our Divine Father.

Gathering in an outward silence is not enough. Each individual must consciously and earnestly seek in humble reverence for a renewed sense of the inward power of the spirit. From the depths of that stillness comes the consciousness of the presence of God. In this experience the individual will not only find direction for his life and strength for his needs, but will also feel an urging to share with others the thoughts and aspirations that have come to him. As the worshipers seek to be led to larger visions, pray to become more obedient to the Christ within, their united effort will release to all in the Meeting the riches of the Spirit.

True worship, whether vocal or silent, is offering ourselves to God, body, mind, and soul, for the doing of His will. During the silent waiting, the flowing of the Divine Spirit from heart to heart is often felt. "One is your teacher and all ye are brethren." Worshipers should gather in a spirit of silent prayer with a willingness to give, as well as to receive, so that the full possibilities of the Meeting hour can be reached and its influence extended throughout the community from week to week.


The Society of Friends believes that vocal ministry in the Meeting for Worship should arise out of a personal call to service. Such a call may be a divinely inspired revelation of truth, or the sense of a need in the meeting which the member feels. Our conviction is that the Spirit of God is in all, and that vocal utterance comes when this Spirit works within us. As we listen for His silent counsel we become His willing messengers; as we receive the insurging power of His love we are consecrated to His service. Therefore we do not set anyone apart whose special duty it is to supply the spoken word in our meetings. The varying needs of a meeting can be supplied by different personalities, and a meeting is enriched by the sharing of any living experience of God. The responsibility rests upon every member to be ready and willing to take part in the vocal service under a due sense of Divine prompting.

The call to speak is a normal experience. It will come at times to all earnest seekers for Divine help, and is recognized by a persistent inner urge to share religious experience or aspiration. One who is timid or unaccustomed to speak should have faith that God will strengthen him to give his message. The experienced speaker should be watchful not to speak at undue length.


Frequent periods of private retirement, meditation, enlightened study of the Bible, thoughtful general reading, and prayer for insight into human need will be found the best preparation for the meeting hour. To awaken and sustain the spirit of worship, a vocal ministry, both teaching and prophetic, is valuable. For this ministry spiritual sensitiveness must always be the first requirement though the equipment of a well informed mind will make spoken messages more effective. Constant effort to be guided by Christ within and to lead an upright, useful life is in itself preparation for ministry, as is also thoughtful meditation on the importance of this opportunity and a sincere dedication of the individual's abilities to the purposes of God.

Members should feel that children are in reality a spiritual part of the meeting and there should be no lack of communication suited to their understanding and needs.


Prayer is the aspiration of the soul. It is man's communion with God and is an essential to religious life. The result of prayer becomes apparent in the nobler lives of those who are constant in its exercise. We, individually, should cultivate the habit of turning to God at all times, and of seeking Divine guidance in all things that we may, in truth, be led by Him. Vocal prayer, when prompted by a deep concern and a sense of human need, is a vital part of public worship and often helps those assembled to come into the consciousness of God's presence.


God has spoken to men in all generations. Prophets and teachers to whom His message has come with more convincing power than to other men have recorded these revelations of truth. Many of these seers belonged to a race in whose life religion held the foremost place. The hopes and fears, the aspirations and trust of a devout people, whose quest was to find God and obey His teaching, are recorded in the Bible.

The progressive development which it records leads us from the primitive conceptions of an early religion to the culminating gospel of foregiveness, love, and brotherhood as taught and lived by Jesus.

Though its various literary forms are characterized by dignity, sublimity and beauty, its spirit transcends the medium of expression, breathing through all the various books which compose the Old and New Testaments trust and dependence upon God's care and guidance.

We therefore earnestly recommend the habitual, reverent, and intelligent reading of the Bible for the enrichment of the spiritual life, and we urge that children be taught to underand and value it.


The fundamental faith of the Religious Society of Friends leads to a way of life. In the application of the principles of truth to daily life we acknowledge as supreme the authority of the Divine Spirit in the individual soul. No outward authority can replace it. Each individual must be ture to his own understanding of his duty.

Each individual ought, however, to test his conception of truth by comparison with the individual and collective experience of his fellow men. Such experiences are found in rich abundance in the Bible and in the lives of spiritual men and women in all ages. They find their highest expression in the life and teachings of Jesus.

Jesus lived a life of love. He taught that love is the motive power of life, and that its application is the solution to all the problems of life. To the challenge of this way oflife the spirit within us responds. We accept and make the ideals of Jesus our own. We accept the application of the principle of love as the practical way of life and the perfect goal short of which we cannot be satisfied. The bond of our religious fellowship is an experience in the soul that God is love.

Truth is an ever opening pathway which, if followed, will lead us to higher levels of life and conduct. Its applications vary according to the changing conditions of life. By the faithfulness of each individual in seeking for the truth and making it known to others when found, we are able to advance.

It has been our experience that the guidance of the Divine Spirit has in great measure led us as a group to the same standards of life and conduct. A statement of these standards is made as a guide for all who in trying to understand the will of God wish to compare their individual revelations of truth with those of their fellow men.

We believe that a vital faith must have its application in life. We would place the emphasis not on works alone, nor on faith alone, but upon the union of faith and works.


It is our common experience that communion with God is a fundamental need of the human soul. Constant listening for the promptings of the Divine Spirit and seeking to follow it in every relation of life will lead inevitably to spiritual growth.

If we are faithful followers of Jesus, we may expect at times to differ from the practice of others. Having in mind that truth in all ages has been advanced by the courageous example of spiritual leaders. Friends are earnestly advised to be faithful to those leadings of the Divine Spirit which they feel fully assured after mature meditation and consideration they have interpreted truly.

Observance of special days and times and use of special places for worship serve a helpfull purpose in calling attention at regular intervals to our need for spiritual communion. They cannot, however, take the place of daily and hourly looking to God for guidance. Nor can any custom of fasting or abstaining from bodily comforts take the place of constant refraining from everything which has a tendency to unfit the mind and body for being the temple of the Divine Spirit. The foundation for all our personal life and social relations should be the sufficient and irreplaceable consciousness of God.


Integrity is one of the fundamental characteristics of the Christian. Friends believe that truth and sincerity are vital in all the dealing in life. Therefore we earnestly advise the observation of great care in speech and the use of only such statements as convey the exact truth without exaggeration or omission of essential facts.

We regard the custom of taking oaths as not only contrary to the teachings of Jesus, but as setting a double standard of truthfulness. It is recommended that Friends take the opportunity onall occasions where special statements are required, to advance the cause of truth by simple affirmation, thus emphasizing that their statement is only a part of their usual integrity of speech.

Friends are advised to avoid pretence in dress and deportment, aswell as in speech, realizing that false impressions may be conveyed by actions and appearance, no less than by words.


It is urged that Friends be watchful to keep themselves free from self-indulgent habits, luxurious ways of living, and the bondage of fashion. This freedom is the first condition of vigor in all kinds of effort, whether spiritual, intellectual, or physical.

Undue luxury often creates a false sense of superiority, causes unnecessary burdens upon both ourselves and others, and leads to the neglect of the spiritual life.

By observing and encouraging simple tastes in apparel, furniture, buildings and manner of living, we help to do away with unwholesome rivalry and we learn to value self-denial. True simplicity consists not in the use of particular forms, but in foregoing over-indulgence, in maintaining jumility of spirit, and in keeping the material surroundings of our lives directly serviceable to necessary ends, even though these surroundings may properly be characterized by grace, symmetry and beauty.


Things lawful in themselves may become harmful when used to excess. Friends are advised to observe moderation in everything and to abstain entirely from that which may be the occasion of stumbling to others.

In particular, Friends are urged to observe simplicity and moderation in the conduct of social gatherings, marriages, funerals, and public occasions.


Time is one of God's gifts which we easily take for granted, and in the use of which we are commonly prodigal. It is rich in opportunities, yet it is relentless in its record of our selection. According to the way we spend the minutes and hours will we find the Divine Spirit within us coming into possession or being crowded out of our lives. So Friends wish to lay peculiar emphasis on cheerful and loving persistence in those habits of conduct which will allow each day to record a larger and fuller experience of God.

By our industry and labor we should be real factors in forwarding the Divine purpose; in our leisure we should make ourselves fitter instruments for service.


We are called upon to be stewards not only of the Divine Spirit which God has implanted within us, but also of the rich provision which the Creator has made for the sustenance of mankind. If we are true followers of Jesus, we must ever be seeking to bring conditions of life in this world into conformity with the purposes of God. It cannot be His will that vast numbers of our brothers and sisters should pass their lives in surroundings that render difficult the quickening of the Divine Spirit within them. Nor is it sufficient that we should be merely kind and liberal to the poor, for the poverty we seek to relieve may be due in part to unjust conditions, intensified perhaps by our thoughtless conduct.

The Christian will consider how his way of spending money affects others. He will endeavor to share his advantages and will guard against pursuing a mode of life that ministers only to his own comforts.

Purchasers who buy articles that are useful, well made, and produced under righteous conditions help to direct industry into channels beneficial to society.

Owners of property, whether in the form of land, houses, stocks, or securities, are counselled to be mindful of the repsonsibility which their ownership imposes for the management and uses of their property. Investors of money should keep in mind not only the security and rate of interest, but the conditions under which the income is produced.


As the family is the foundation of human society, every home needs for its cornerstone the highest ideals of love. We look to the home for that serenity of mind in which the fruits of the spirit may develop. When husband and wife share each other's aims, help each other in achieving them, and work together in sympathy and mutual confidence, their influence is felt by all who come in contact with them. In such a home both parents share with joy the responsibility for the care of the family, while the children grow naturally to be helpers and companions in the family circle.


Parents are admonished to consider with reverence the marvel and mystery of God's creative work, and to realize that parenthood is a grave responsibility as well as a high privilege. All parents should constantly seek Divine help in the guidance of the young lives entrusted to their care.

Children are especially susceptible to the influence of their surroundings, and early impressions are most lasting; therefore love and harmony in the home during the formative years are especially necessary. As children acquire much by imitation and absorption, parents should carefully watch their actions and words, curb their indulgences, practice forbearance, choose worthy companions and permit only worthwhile books and publications in their home.


The method used by Jesus with his disciples is a worthy guide for parents in training their children. Precept, reinforced by example, is the keynote of this method. A child tends to become what we honestly expect him to become, if we constantly keep in his mind the ideal picture of himself, getting him to share our faith that he can grow into it.

Obedience is the foundation on which character is built. At first the obedience must be to the parents' will, but as intelligence develops, the rights of others and the laws of God should become the motive force compelling right actions. Loving counsel and direction, rather than compulsion, should be the basis for development. Sacrifice of the family life to an uncontrolled child is harmful both for the child and the family. Control should be founded on love, consideration, and service.

Parents should foster a confidence between themselves and their children in which there should be absolute candor on every subject. This will create an enduring companionship between parents and children and will result in a growth of ideals for the homes of the succeeding generation.

Parents who feel deeply the beauty, purity and holiness of life, and the marvel of the Heavenly Father's love as shown in all parts of His creation will desire that from the earliest impressions their children's thoughts of life and the formation and functions of their bodies and the manner of their coming into the world shall be true and ennobling. It is our earnest conviction that both parents should share in the duty and privilege of this teaching, which can be gradually given in a simple and natural way, according to the growing intelligence of the child.

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