{19}     Revolution & revival

ERA 6 << Modern Church (2): Revival & Missions (AD 1700-1900) >> SESSION 2

Reference: Gonzalez, volume 2, chapters 24-27

        19.1.1  Religion in the American colonies

·         Religious diversity: While the aristocracy remained faithful to Anglicanism, the lower classes subscribed to other movements such as the Quakers, Baptists, and Methodists. Religious toleration flourished in most places.

        19.1.2  Education in the colonies

·         Universities: The Reformation had led to an emphasis in education because of the belief that the individual Christian could read and interpret his Bible. Many early American universities, including most of Ivy League Schools, were founded by Protestants to train church leaders.

        19.1.3  American Revolution

·         Independence: The British forces and the colonial militia were in conflict leading to the War of Independence [1775]. On July 4, 1776, delegates of the 13 colonies gathered in Philadelphia to proclaim their independence from Britain. Six years later, the war stopped [1782] and the Treaty of Paris was signed [1783].

        19.1.4  Religion in the new nation

·         Against dogmatism: Many joined the struggle for independence to a rationalist ideology that spoke of providence as a principle of progress. They espoused a “natural religion”, leading to other pseudo-religions.

·         Unitarianism: Some Anglicans and Congregationalists rejected the doctrine of Trinity and subscribed to the unity of God and the humanity of Christ. They were rationalists, stressing human freedom, goodness of man, salvation by character culture, and intellectual capabilities.

·         Universalism: Some people believed that everyone will be saved in the end. They originally came from some British Methodists who argued that the doctrine of eternal damnation was a denial of God’s love.

·         Denominationalism: North American Protestants tended to think of the universal church as an invisible reality consisting of all true believers, and of the visible churches or “denominations” as voluntary organizations that believers create and join according to their conviction and preferences.

        19.2.1  First Great Awakening [1730s–1740s]

·         Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield: Edwards was a Calvinist pastor in Massachusetts. He started preaching the importance of an experience of conviction of sin and of divine forgiveness [1734]. People responded to his sermons. Whitefield, a Methodist pastor, visited New England [1739]. His preaching led to many conversions with outward expressions of repentance and joy. The movement gradually spread throughout the colonies. In New England alone, over 30,000 converts were added to a population of 300,000.

        19.2.2  Second Great Awakening [1800s–1830s]

·         Background: At the end of 18th-c, the influence of the Great Awakening had been largely dissipated by deism. In universities, few students professed regeneration. Gambling, profanity, vice, and drunkenness were common among students who were proud of being unbelievers.

·         Timothy Dwight and Charles Finney: Dwight, a theologian and Finney, an evangelist emphasized Christian devotion and living. More Christians joined the movement. About one-third of the students of Yale professed conversion [1802]. Revival spread to other eastern colleges and to the western frontier. Methodists and Baptists took up the idea of celebrating “camp meetings” leading to periodic “revivals”, particularly in the frontier.

        19.2.3  Third Great Awakening [1880s–1900s]

·         Dwight Moody Ira Sankey: After the civil war, the old camp meetings were adapted to the urban environment, leading to revivals. Moody and Sankey preached to the urban masses, calling people to repentance and salvation in Jesus Christ. Moody Bible Institute was founded [1889].

        19.3.1  Major events in the French Revolution

·         Bastille: The people rioted and took the Bastille on July 14, 1789. All church land became public property. All monasteries were abolished by law [1790] and bishops were to be elected by voters.

·         Cult of Reason: The leaders of the revolution were convinced that a new era of science and reason, called the “Cult of Reason”. Temples to Reason were built. The French invaded the papal states [1798] and captured Pope Pius VI whom they imprisoned in France.

·         Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821)—He became First Consul and master of France [1799]. He negotiated a Concordat [1801] with the pope. Bishops were to be named by the state and consecrated by the pope.

        19.3.2  Changes in Europe

·         End of Papal States: King Victor Emmanuel II of the united Italy took Rome [1870]. The king granted the pope a guaranteed annual income The papacy finally agreed to the deal 6 decades later [1929].

·         Germany: The Iron Chancellor Otto von Bismarck believed that the RCC was a threat to the German unity. He expelled the Jesuits [1872]. He passed laws to secularize education, establish civil marriage.

        19.4.1  US: slavery & the Civil War

·         Emancipation: The issue of slavery had troubled the conscience of many Christians. The abolition movement was stronger in the north. Emancipation of slaves in the US was finally accomplished in 1865 after a civil war.

·         Urbanization problems: After the war, many blacks moved into the cities to find work. Continuous immigration also brought increases in the urban population. They lived in overcrowded and difficult conditions. Several organizations formed to serve the urban masses including YMCA and the Sunday Schools.

·         Caring for the poor: In New York, orphanages, missions, hospitals, homes for the aged, and other agencies were established by Christians to meet the needs of the poor, the homeless, and the sick.

        19.4.2  Britain: social reforms

·         Industrialization: With industrial progress and growth of trade, urban population increased creating dense urban ghettos. The poor found themselves living and working in conditions of misery and exploitation.

·         Caring for the poor: Christians founded many societies to help the needy. Robert Raikes (1735–1811) established the Sunday School Movement [1780] to educate children of the poor.

·         Labour & prison reforms: Methodists and Quakers stimulated the birth of labour unions. Christians worked to secure child-labour laws and prison reforms.

·         Helping urban masses: The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) [1844], the YWCA [1855], and the Salvation Army [1864] aimed to reach the impoverished and unchurched urban masses.

·         Abolition of slavery: The effort of abolition of slavery was led by William Wilberforce (1759–1833) and other Christians. In 1811, the British Parliament issued laws forbidding the slave trade. Freedom was decreed for slaves in the British Empire [1833].

·         Impact: Historians often attribute to the absence of revolution in Britain (compared to many other European countries) to the social reforms pushed by Protestants. Some attribute it to the Methodist revival.


[1] treasure our heritage

Denominationalism has its necessary and proper functions of accommodating people with different convictions and preferences.

[2] appreciate God’s providence

The American awakenings showed the continuing work of the Holy Spirit.

[3] avoid past errors

Beware of 18th-c heresies of unitarianism and universalism.

[4] apply our knowledge

Social reforms can improve the society as Christians should, but they can act as witness bringing the good news to the lost.

[5] follow past saints

We should ask God to raise up people like Edwards, Dwight, and Moody to bring revivals to the church.