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Good Morning Nanty Glo!

Happy New Year!  

Friday, January 14 2005

Jon Kennedy, webmaster

A giant awakes...
and makes a break

Wednesday's entry alluded to my being disabused of the idea that the American Revolutionary War period and its concurrent patriotic zeal for the new ideas of republican democracy was a golden age for Protestant Christianity. By retracing the highlights of the Great Awakening, I presented why I formerly thought that, but left to now to explain why my mind changed. Based on Nancy Pearcey's synopsis in her book, Total Truth, of the history of that revival period, I now think the religion awakened then was a less-than-orthodox, less-than-biblical hybrid.of Reformation Protestantism and Enlightenment zeal for a radical, humanistic individualism. I firmly believe that every historical era is led by "the spirit of the age," and in every era the calling of the Christians is to avoid becoming hybrids—part Christian and part post-modern in our day, for example—to stay orthodox or biblically doctrinally pure.

But to make my case, let me step back into the late 1700s for a another longer view. One web page about the Great Awakening sets the stage for it by saying (to paraphrase) that, "In order for anything to be awakened, it must be asleep. And 'awakening' is an apt metaphor for what occurred in the dormant Christianity of that time." The Pilgrims-Puritans (by this time called Congregationalists), in New England; the Reformed who had settled New York and New Jersey from Holland when New York was New Amsterdam; the Anglicans (Episcopalians) who dominated in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia; the Quakers who established Pennsylvania but were quickly outnumbered by hoards of immigrating Scots-Irish Presbyterians, German Anabaptists (generally known as Mennonites or Brethren and including the Amish) and Lutherans; the relatively new sect of Baptists who were strong in Rhode Island and spreading quickly; the Catholics, in Maryland and also spreading (notably in our own shared history, a few years later up to central Pennsylvania led by a Russian prince named Demetrius Gallitzin)...all had difficulty keeping a church vital and renewing itself. This was because the economy was rural, there were no good roads, farms were widespread, and getting to church on Sunday was difficult for all who lived outside the small towns dotting the countryside. The families passed on the Christianity they knew, but it understandably became weaker from one generation to the next; more dormant...asleep.

But in the cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore, the thinking from the Enlightenment thinkers (like Isaac Newton) was also undermining religious zeal by suggesting that man just might be the master of his own fate. So much "science" was in the air at this time that intellectuals were more inclined to discuss humanistic advances rather than God and His role in their lives. Add into this mix the growing restlessness of the 18th Century colonists (the Revolutionary-era Americans) and the ideas of people like Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and probably the majority of educated men and women of the time...there was great anticipation for the next great thing. One of the great new things that the less educated people could relate to and get excited about was the Methodist revivals they'd been hearing about in England, and when the leaders of that movement, John Wesley and George Whitfield, visited America the common people came out of the woods by the thousands to hear them and make commitments to a new understanding of the faith.

Though we probably think of the Methodist Church in terms of brick citadels on main streets all over America, at that time it was a chapel movement. Wesley, who never abandoned the Church of England, considered "his" (Methodist) churches just "chapels." Real church was in the biggest buildings in the biggest cities, conducted liturgically by ministers or priests in vestments. The chapels were temporary accommodations for those out from the cities who couldn't afford all the accoutrements of real church. And in America the first Methodist ministers served "congregations" as small as a single family meeting in their own front room, and the meeting might take place as seldom as monthly or even a longer time depending on how many farflung farm families the "itinerent preachers" had to serve. It was all part of the Great Awakening, and it was much improved over the religious life of the generation before it.

But it was not getting back to the "old" style of church in the big towns and cities. Instead, it was becoming ever more individualistic. It recognized the need and filled it, but in the process it undercut, for a vast cross-section of Americans, the old and orthodox definition of church as the eucharistic community, living close to each other and sharing everything from childbirth to funerals. Now church was anywhere an individual might meet God through devotional reading of his Bible and praying a simple heartfelt prayer. And though the Methodists were in the vanguard, all the other denominations were imbibing much of the new spirit. They were all reforming themselves into a new truly "American" church. A hybrid church.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy 

A complete index of Jon Kennedy's Jonals for 2001 - 2005

Inauguration plans

The inauguration is coming up. It was announced today that the first lady, Laura Bush's dress will be designed by Oscar De La Renta. And President Bush said he was surprised. He said, "I loved the kid as a boxer I just had no idea..."

I guess the Bush twins will wear dresses by Badgley Mischka and Dick Chenney's daughter will wear L.L. Bean.

—Jay Leno

Thought for today

The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American!

Patrick Henry in 1774 after the Boston Tea Party  

Top daily news stories linked from our sister webpage
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