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File under “nothing new under the sun”

Timothy L. Smith writes about the effect of revivalism (using techniques to produce immediate, visible results) in antebellum American churches:

Finally, on the practical level revivals meant many things to many people. Those blessed with a wide social vision thought of them as a chief means of converting human institutions to Christian principles. Individual converts, in many cases, sought only fulfillment of the aspiration for forgiveness and personal union with the Saviour. Pastors saw church problems melt away and financial surpluses appear. Treasurers of benevolent associations happily tallied increasing returns from recently awakened communities. Denominational leaders were as gratified by the growth in membership as editors and publishers were pleased with new subscriptions to religious journals. The rise of tremendous individual congregations under liberal, revival clergymen was a pointed lesson to all. The substantial fruits of fervor thus became an authoritative object lesson to pragmatic Americans. The author of Primitive Piety Revived was soon offering expert advice on “power in the pulpit.” And Boston had at last believed in Finney for the very works’ sake.

Let us never say that we are the first generation willing to trade orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy for immediate, visible results.

Source: Smith, Timothy L. Revivalism & Social Reform: American Protestantism on the Eve of the Civil War. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980.

About Christopher Ames

Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Boyceville, Wisconsin. Bicycle owner and operator. I used to play in a Campus Crusade band.

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