Backgrounds of the Restoration Movement: The Second Great Awakening, Part 2

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The effects of the Second Great Awakening were arguably more profound than the First.

The impact of the Second Great Awakening was not limited to a realignment among the denominations. Among its other consequences were:

1) An incipient ecumenicity. At the camp meetings 8-10 ministers of different denominations would position themselves around the grounds. Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist preachers would be present and preach at the same time at the same camp meeting. But what became noteworthy was the fact that whatever the preacher’s denomination, there was a common response to the preaching whatever its stripe. The falling, jerking, rolling, barking, and laughing were not the province of any one denomination. In addition, the revival meetings would last all day and night, and would be accompanied by an ecumenical service at end in which there would be communion. In such situations, there was no way to police the table to insure proper church order, or to enforce denominational restrictions on who could and could not commune. The authorization to come to the table was not given by the clergy or the denomination, but by the inner heart of the individual. Just as survival on the frontier was largely result of the individual’s own efforts, so too people came to see salvation in the same light. This attitude would serve to place severe limits on the authority of the clergy in subsequent years.

The Cane Ridge revival famously was cross-denominational, and this led Barton Stone to reject 5-point Calvinism and become a Christian only. As the Campbells would later conclude, he discovered from experience that people can be converted quite outside the narrow views of the Calvinism of the day.

In his autobiography he declared that not a single person converted at Cane Ridge ever left the faith.

The falling, jerking, etc. were the progenitors of modern Pentecostalism. Stone in his early revival preaching sought to trigger just these responses, as he’d been impressed with the results of the Cane Ridge revival. However, he later came to see them as entirely unnecessary, and even detrimental, to the goal of conversion.

2) The Circuit Rider came into its own as an institution of the American frontier. These men rarely lived to reach middle age. Francis Asbury was the exception. Most died very young and were encouraged not to marry. While the personal price was high, this strategy of intinerating ministers allowed Methodists to direct resources to where settlements were occurring. This afforded a rapid response to population changes, permitting the Methodists to gather persons into a church, and move on. When the circuit rider would revisit–which he did with regularity–he would preach, as well as conduct weddings (couples who wished to marry would often set up housekeeping together and wait for the circuit rider before solemnizing their union.)

A parallel development among Baptists was the ease with which a group of people could gather and call an articulate brother to serve as pastor. This person would farm during week, and preach on weekends. What these men lacked in education, they made up in sincerity and earnestness, and closeness to his flock.

Many Christian Churches adopted the same strategy, with “circuit preachers” who might rotate among several congregations for lack of capable men. In fact, Restoration Movement preachers were long suspicious of the notion that a man could earn a living by preaching for just one congregation. Rather, the idea was that a man should earn his living from farming and preach on the side, supported by a “love offering.”

3) Music and hymns came to be [a] way [a] congregation learned theology. In an environment where there were no opportunities for education, few books, and most did not know how to read, songs could be easily memorized. This was done through “lining” in which someone who could read would line out the song for the other congregants, who would then repeat it. Hymnody gave people a sense of theology in which Divine Providence looks after and cares for human kind. They also reflected the rising anthropology of the frontier. Where people once sang “Devote your sacred head for such a worm as I,” the lyrics evolved to “Devote your sacred head for a wretch such as I,” to “Devote your sacred head for one such as I.” With each change, man’s status gets better.

4) Theology became indistinguishable from ethics. Simply put, a saved person was expected to behave in certain ways.

It’s important to realize that one reason the Awakening occurs was the sinful behavior of the unchurched. Thus, as people were converted, they were converted to Jesus, not from one denomination to another, and they had to be taught the Christian way of life. Many taught, as did Stone, that a reformed life was an essential sign of the receipt of the Spirit.

5) The idea of Disinterested Benevolence began to take root. Sin comes to be equated with selfishness. With conversion, one shifts from focusing on one’s self to a disinterested benevolence towards others. Faith is to be expressed in action, and a growing stress on perfectionism comes to mark the preaching of the Second Great Awakening. Again, the Revival is seen in terms of the end of time. God is remaking society in anticipation of the coming Kingdom. As a result, voluntary organizations form to bring about the necessary reform, among them being the American Bible Society, the American Colonization Society, and the American Anti-Slavery society. This is a period when countless numbers of educational institutions are established (including Wake Forest) and overseas missions are launched. The goal is to purify American society and make it ready for the coming Kingdom.

We don’t see much organized benevolence in the pre-Civil War Restoration Movement Churches. In part, this was due to Alexander Campbell’s early objection to institutions not found in scripture. In part, it was due to the churches being in the frontier and so not very wealthy. However, several states formed missionary societies and a few formed benevolence societies. Campbell came to support a national missionary society, serving as its first president.

Particularly after the War, many churches organized societies for benevolence. However, the Southern and Sommerite churches objected on scriptural grounds.

(6) The Second Awakening helped advance the liberation of women. The various societies that developed to purify society offered women entry into a new kind of life. These became the first institutions where women could make a contribution, and begin to take on leadership roles.

In fact, many societies were formed for just women, so the women could be actively involved without fear of usurping male authority.

(7) Where the First Great Awakening had been a spontaneous outpouring, the Second quickly became one that was promoted and organized. Techniques that were successful in gaining new converts–such as the Camp Meeting or calling sinners in the congregation by their name–were were quickly copied.

The marks of the Second Great Awakening are indelibly printed on modern evangelicalism. The Baptists, the Churches of Christ, and many others continue to offer the invitation at all services, to hold revivals, to focus heavily on congregational singing, etc. The Baptists and independent Christian Churches organize their work through voluntary societies (or voluntary conventions — there’s not much difference), while the Churches of Christ continue to resist such organizations.

(8) Temperance has its roots in this period. The number of Temperance societies formed was significant. One of the things that was happening with temperance movement, however, was that religion was being externalized. One really can’t observe a person’s faith. And yet here, religion is very public. The person who is saved is one who gives to missions, doesn’t drink, and goes to church.

This is the origin of the practice of many Baptist Churches of requiring a temperance pledge as a condition of membership. The movement reached its peak with the enactment of Prohibition.

(9) The West came to be seen as the natural setting for the coming of the Kingdom. Indeed, American mythology looks to the future, rather than to a classical golden age. New England had proven not to be the expected Eden. Serpents had cropped up in the form of Unitarians, etc. In the South, the problem of slavery had developed. Perhaps in the West, the hope and promise of the New World could be realized.

(10) The emerging dominance of evangelical religion means that increasingly to be an American is to be a Christian.

(11) A growing anti-slavery movement emerges even in South. From 1808-1831, the South is the nation’s leader in Anti-Slavery societies. There are Anti-Slavery societies in Kentucky by 1808, in Tennessee by 1815, and in N.C. by 1816. By 1826, there are 45 societies in the South, and the region also led the nation in the number of anti-slavery newspapers.

(12) The quoted list misses one of the biggest impacts of the Second Great Awakening — the formation of numerous, new indigenous American denominations. Up to this point, nearly all denominations had been founded as state churches (Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Presbyterian).

But in the Second Great Awakening, the American frontier produced an outpouring of new denominations, including countless splits from older denominations — the Christian Churches, the Disciples of Christ (merging later), the Church of God, the Holiness Church, the Wesleyan Church, the Mormons, and countless others. Just to pour over the Handbook of US Denominations and try to count the many denominations birthed at this time is a major undertaking.

The combination of no established church in the US together with American democratic instincts meant that anyone could found a denomination and feel entirely competent to do so even without any formal training. Thus, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley were succeeded by the likes of Mary Baker Eddy and Joseph Smith.

Of course, one the most important indigenous denominations the Christian Churches/Disciples of Christ, arising from the union of the Stone and Campbell movements. But their story is for another week.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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2 Responses to Backgrounds of the Restoration Movement: The Second Great Awakening, Part 2

  1. preacherman says:

    Interesting.
    I believe we need to let the Holy Spirit out of the box that we have put it within the church of Christ if real revival is to take place.
    Greeat post and blog.
    I enjoy reading.

  2. Randall says:

    Thanks for this interesting post. It is noteworthy to mention a few excepts taken from your comments and the excepts youi quoted as follows:

    "Just as survival on the frontier was largely result of the individual’s own efforts, so too people came to see salvation in the same light." — One can see that we began to think we gained our salvation through our own efforts. It was easy to get away from the Calvinism of that day as it was a bit of a mess at the time with the emphasis that one had to have a conscious, dramatic experience of regeneration and calling.

    "A parallel development among Baptists was the ease with which a group of people could gather and call an articulate brother to serve as pastor. This person would farm during week, and preach on weekends. What these men lacked in education, they made up in sincerity and earnestness, and closeness to his flock." — no formal Biblical education (not extensive in any case) was necessary, simply be sincere and articulate enough to speak in public.

    "In fact, Restoration Movement preachers were long suspicious of the notion that a man could earn a living by preaching for just one congregation." — What, he studies the bible and can read Greek and Hebrew! We better be suspicious of him. After all, theology is a bad word. Just look at all the problems it created over the past several centuries. I'd rather have a pastor that is ignorant but with a good heart.

    "They also reflected the rising anthropology of the frontier. Where people once sang “Devote your sacred head for such a worm as I,” the lyrics evolved to “Devote your sacred head for a wretch such as I,” to “Devote your sacred head for one such as I.” With each change, man’s status gets better." — and so man really isn't that bad, in fact he is basically good. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and stand tall. Never let anyone call you a worm or a wretch. Yous were created in the image of God and there little or nothing you can't accomplish.

    I am reminded of the scene form the movie Shennandoah where they sat down to a big meal and Jimmy Stewart gives thanks to God kind of tongue in cheeks and boasts they they are the ones that plowed and planted and harvested all the food so thanks God, for nothing, as they did it all themselves.

    And so our thinking and our attitudes changed. Perhaps for the better in some ways, but certainly not in all ways. We see the intellectual currents that led us to exalt "free" will and human ability and to reduce God to a benevolent helper in the areas in which we might not have been completely self sufficient. Or maybe he did simply create the clock and wind it up and now he just lets it run. NOT! This is still my Father's world and he runs it as he sees fit.

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