ERA 6—Modern Church (2): Revival & Missions
(AD 1700–1900)


Pietism and Methodists


Because the Protestant Reformation was a movement that originated from the re-emphasis of the Bible, most of the efforts had concentrated on defining doctrines. But faith is more than rational arguments. Just as monasticism was a reaction to the dead medieval church, pietism and Methodism were a reaction to the dead orthodoxy in the post-Reformation church.


Pietism first emerged in Germany. Pietists believed that true Christianity touched the heart as well as the mind, producing a vigorous religious experience that would lead to evangelistic effort. The first leader Philipp Spener (1635–1705) called for devotion and study of the Bible in his influential book Pious Desires. A centre of Pietism was Halle, where August Francke (1663–1727) taught the joy of Christian life. The most famous Pietist was Count von Zinzendorf (1700–1760), who sheltered the Moravians on his estate at Herrnhut. They were intensely active in missionary work.


In Oxford, England, George Whitefield (1714–1770) and John Wesley (1703–1791) were drawn into a group called the Holy Club. Because of their adherence to methodical practices, they were pejoratively called Methodists. Whitefield could not find acceptance within the church for preaching spiritual renewal. So he preached in open fields attracting massive crowds. John Wesley experienced spiritual revival in 1738 at a Moravian meeting in London’s Aldersgate Street. Through Wesley’s tireless preaching and a group of dutiful circuit riders, England was swept by a renewal of religious fervour. Wesley’s followers formed the Methodist Church in America [1784] and in England [1795]. Equally important was his brother, Charles Wesley, whose gift for writing verse set the Methodists to singing.


American and French Revolutions


The Age of Reason, with its belief in human ability to chart its own course and its hostility to imposed authority (religious or civil), influenced the political thoughts. In France and in British America, it led to the embrace of the social contract theory of government. Legitimate governments were based on voluntary consent of the governed, not divine right of kings or church; evil governments could be justly deposed.


In the new United States, a federal system was erected that advanced Deist and Unitarian notions of a Supreme Judge and a God of Nature but ignored the theological and moral tenets of Biblical Christianity. The Declaration of Independence [1776], and later the Constitution [1787], established a secular state where people of divergent religious beliefs agreed to work together to create a society based on the will of the majority.


Republican ideals and religion coexisted in America; this was not the case in France. Though the French Revolution [1789] held to the same philosophical principles as the American Revolution, it took an exceptionally ugly turn. The “will of the people” established a secular religion that would replace Christianity with the worship of the “goddess of reason.” Mob rule filled the streets until the Reign of Terror instituted murderous citizen courts which ruled by the use of the guillotine. The revolution ended with a totalitarian state under Napoleon Bonaparte. The Roman Catholic Church in France was greatly weakened, and religion was permanently marginalized.


Philosophical Challenges and Reaction


Advances in philosophy, science, social science and historical studies all challenged the necessity of religious belief.


In philosophy, David Hume (1711–1776) tried to show that rationalistic approaches to knowledge would only lead to uncertainty and skepticism. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) proposed a theory of knowledge that denied the existence of purely objective knowledge and concluded that the pure rationality of rationalists is only an illusion. They undercut the foundation of rationalism.


In social science, Auguste Comte (1798–1857), father of positivism, advanced the theory that cultures were not static but evolved from a primitive stage to a mature stage, from theology to metaphysics to science. In other words, religion had now been eclipsed by philosophy and science.


In science, the challenge from Darwinism was particularly strong. The publication of On the Origin of Species [1859] by Charles Darwin was influential because it suggested a mechanism by which the order of the universe could be accounted for by natural processes, thus eliminating the necessity of a Creator God.


In response to these challenges, some Protestants tried to redefine Christianity. Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834), the father of religious liberalism, argued that religious truth was a matter of subjective feeling, not objective knowledge. He sought to secure a place for religion by retreating to the inner realm to find its validity. Albrecht Ritschl (1822–1889) and Adolf von Harnack (1851–1930) continued the liberal movement by arguing that the Bible contained the revelation of God, but not by itself the Word of God. Christianity, therefore, could be studied scientifically, as a historical and cultural phenomenon, essentially reducing Christ to a caring human with deluded followers, thus denying the core of the gospel.


The reaction by the Roman Catholic church was very different. The church resisted the challenges by emphaszing on the role and dominance of the church’s leadership. In order to resist liberalism in the church and culture, Pius IX issued the Syllabus of Errors [1869], which condemned specific new ideas, but the effect was pushing dissent underground. In the Council of Vatican I [1870], the preservation of orthodoxy was achieved by the assertion of papal infallibility.


In late 18th-century was the vast overturning of traditional ideas and institutions. Deism in England and the US, atheism in France, liberalism in Germany, represented the various degrees of the great modern apostasy away from the orthodox creeds.


Social Reform


Drawing upon the renewal movements of the previous century, and responding to the social ills brought on by the emergence of uncontrolled capitalism and industrialization, this period was marked by Christian leadership in improving the society through social reforms. The record of accomplishments was impressive. For example, Robert Raikes (1735–1811) established what became known as the Sunday School Movement to educate poor children. Lord Shaftesbury (1801–1885) worked hard to secure child-labour laws. John Howard (1726–1790) sought prison reform. William Wilberforce (1759–1833) laboured to end the immoral slave trade. Influential lay Christian leaders cooperated to gain favourable legislation for the oppressed. Monumental results were achieved by the YMCA, founded by George Williams (1821–1905), and the Salvation Army, founded by William Booth (1829–1912) and Catherine Booth (1829–1890). Both helped to relieve the ravages of industrialization. Such good works were perceived as the natural fruit of being a Christian, never as merely an option.


Revivals in the U.S.


While Christianity in Europe was under cultural pressures to remodel to fit with the secular world, Christians in the United States followed an entirely different path. Pietism and renewal together brought a Great Awakening [1730s–1740s] in the American colonies. In 1734, Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), wellknown for his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” [1741], called for an experience of conviction of sin and of divine forgiveness. Later, Edwards welcomed Whitefield into his pulpit when Whitefield toured New England. Fires of revival were spread to the southern colonies, where Baptist, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches grew rapidly.


After the American Revolution, a Second Great Awakening [1800s–1830s] swept the new nation. It affected every religious tradition, brought in new denominations, and spawned a variety of cults. Revival first broke out in colleges such as Yale, led by its president Timothy Dwight (1752–1817), Jonathan Edwards’s grandson. They swept the eastern seaboard and rural New York state, extending west into the frontier and north into Canada. The greatest success of camp-meeting revivals was the Cane Ridge Revival [1801] in Kentucky. Charles Finney (1792–1875) was one of the famous preachers, stressing an evangelical social consciousness, the so-called Benevolence Empire.


After the civil war, a Third Great Awakening [1880s–1900s] was led by Dwight Moody (1837–1899) and Ira Sankey (1840–1908) who preached to large gatherings calling people to repentance and salvation in Jesus Christ.


After these, revivalism would become a staple feature of American Christianity. The revival fervour led to the founding of new religious groups. Among them were the Restoration movement founded by Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone (objecting denominationalism, concentrating on the essential aspects of the Christian faith, allowing for a diversity of understanding with non-essentials); the Holiness movement (a renewed emphasis upon John Wesley’s views on complete sanctification); but also cults including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons, organized by Joseph Smith); the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Watch Tower Society (founded on the teachings of Charles Taze Russell); and Christian Science (founded by Mary Baker Eddy).


The most important impact of the Awakening was the dominance of Christianity in the general culture; America became a Christian nation. There was an enormous surge in educational, missionary, and social reform movements. Numerous colleges sprang into being; mission boards sent men and women all over the world; organizations such as the American Bible Society [1816] and the American Tract Society [1825] were born; and the quest for an applied faith contributed to the anti-slavery and temperance movements.


Protestant Missions to the World


Just as the 18th-century had been the great century of renewal in many churches, so the 19th-century was the century of Protestant missionary movements. William Carey (1761–1834), a principal founder of the Baptist Foreign Missions Society [1792], was called the founder of the modern missionary movement for calling Christians to cooperate across denominations in sending missionaries. In the US, the Haystack Prayer Meeting, an informal gathering of students caught in a rainstorm [1806], resulted in the first American foreign missions society, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions [1812]. The work of Carey and Henry Martyn (1781–1812) in India, Mary Slessor (1848–1915) in West Africa, David Livingstone (1813–1873) in East Africa, the Heart of Africa Evangelization Crusade, and J. Hudson Taylor (1832–1905) in China represented the most visible few from the thousands who pioneered in cross-cultural missions.