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ELISHA BATES AND THE BEACONITE CONTROVERSY Donald G. Good* English Friends passed through a severe time oftrial between 183 1 and 1837. One major difficulty was concerned with the degree of toleration which they should extend to those Friends who had been profoundly affected by the vigorous "evangelicalism" ofthe times. Isaac Crewdson was one ofthe acknowledged sponsors of an ultra evangelical type of Quakerism. In 1835 he published a small book entitled A Beacon to the Society ofFriends which brought matters to a crisis and which gave the subsequent controversary its name. The Beacon was intended to be a refutation of the past errors of Elias Hicks and a present warning against any recurrence ofhis views. The controversial nature of the book stemmed from the method used by Crewdson in his refutation ofHicksism. He placed great emphasis on the authority of scripture as a rule and test for all doctrines and rejected the traditional Quaker emphasis on immediate revelation independent of scripture.' In May 1836 a special committee was appointed by London Yearly Meeting to investigte the status of Isaac Crewdson.2 Before June of the next year Crewdson and approximately three hundred sympathizers had resigned membership in their local meetings and formed a new organization taking the name of "Evangelical Friends."1 Elisha Bates ofOhio had been on a religious visit to England during 1833-1834 and was back in America when the Beacon was published. He returned to England in 1836 for a second time and during both visits to British Friends he actively supported the cause of those who favored an ultra-evangelical interpretration of Friends' beliefs. J. Bevan Braithwaite remembered Elisha Bates in 1836 as *Donald G. Good is Chairman of the Department of Humanities, William Penn College, Oskaloosa, Iowa. 1.Isaac Crewdson, A Beacon to the Society ofFriends (London: Hamilton and Adams, 1835), 1-10, 153-155. 2.The Whole Correspondence Between the Committee of the Yearly Meeting of Friends and Isaac Crewdson (London: Hamilton, Adams, 1836), 15. 3.Anna Braithwaite Thomas, "The Beaconite Controversy," Bulletin ofFriends Historical Society, IV (191 1), 75. 34 Elisha Bates And The Beaconite Controversy35 one whose "influence was now decidedly that of a partisan on the side of those Friends who favoured the Beacon, and in opposition to the proceedings ofthe Yearly Meetings Committee."4 This article will explain the role of Elisha Bates in the Beaconite controversy in more detail and will relate this phase of his life to his earlier evangelical convictions about the nature of the universal Christian church and its relationship to the specific churches. He believed that commitment to the primary authority of scripture was a necessary common feature of all those denominations which were entitled to be regarded as segments ofthe true and universal church of Christ. This belief, with its attendant potential danger ofdiminishing the distinctiveness of the past experiences of the particular Christian bodies, was at the heart of his involvement in this episode of Quaker history. Elisha Bates became a participant in the Beaconite controversy as a result of two extended visits to England. He first arrived on the British scene in 1833 and renewed his acquaintance with Isaac and Anna Braithwaite whom he had known previously in America. Anna Braithwaite had made three journeys to America between 1823 and 1829 for the purpose of visiting Friends meetings, proclaiming an evangelical message and opposing the views of Elias Hicks.5 Isaac Braithwaite was recovering from cholera when Elisha Bates reached England in 1833. He was not strong enough to resume his business duties but he did become the travelling companion of Elisha Bates and together they visited Friends meetings in England and Ireland.6 The Braithwaite home which was in Kendal was shortly to gain notoriety as a center of support for Isaac Crewdson of Manchester. The Kendal Meeting included a number of people who were related to Friends in Manchester. These contacts with Manchester, together with Anna Braithwaite's evangelical ministry, had prepared the Kendal meeting for a positive reception of Beaconite views.7 As Elisha Bates travelled among these English Friends he was well received by those who were strongly evangelical and well lamented by those who were...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 34-47
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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