The Second Great Awakening

The Second Great Awakening and the Evangelical Christian Church (Christian Disciples)

See full size imageThe Second Great Awakening (1790-1840s) was a period of great religious revival that extended the antebellum period of the United States, with widespread Christian evangelism and conversion that made its way across the frontier territories, fed by an intense longing for a prominent place for God in the life of the new nation, and a new liberal attitude toward fresh interpretations of the Bible, and a contagious experience of zeal for authentic spirituality. As these revivals spread, they gathered converts to Protestant various sects. The revivals eventually moved freely across denominational lines, with practically identical results, and went further than ever toward breaking down the allegiances that kept adherents to these denominations loyal to their own. Consequently, the revivals were accompanied by a growing dissatisfaction with Evangelical churches and with the teachings of the Reformation in particular, which was normally not accepted in most Evangelical churches at the time, has been revisit and now accepted by The Evangelical Christian Church (Christian Disciples).

The leaders of these restorationist movements did not believe that God intended to simply support the pouring of new wine into old wine skins (Matt. 9:17). They witnessed God miraculously changing the hearts of every man, women and child of their old mindsets, old attitudes and old ways. They perceived the new religious awakening as the dawn of a new church age, preaching a simple gospel of the Kingdom of God stripped of "dogma" and "creeds." Restorationists sought out to re-establish or renew the whole Christian church on the pattern they held to be set forth in the New Testament. They insisted on Bible names for Bible things. Barton Stone wanted to continue to use the name "Christian" while Alexander Campbell insisted upon the name "Disciples." The name "Christian Disciples" became widely used as a result. This was taken from Acts 11:26, "In Antioch the disciples were first called Christians." This Scripture became the foundation of the Christian Disciples in the U.S.A., and Canada. They had little regard for creeds that developed over time, and criticized Roman Catholic traditions in terms of both history and Scripture which kept Christianity divided.

See full size imageThe Second Great Awakening at Cane Ridge, Kentucky helped advanced the liberation of both black slaves and women's rights within American cultural society. Many of the Evangelical Christian Churches and clergy, and those who were followers of the Stone movement, believed that all men, including blacks, are created equal under God according to the Holy Scriptures. This became written in its constitution of beliefs because of its ant-slavery views. Several African American Christians who were born in slavery went on to become prominent figures in society. This became the "central and defining" moment in the development of Afro-Christianity. In Laura, Ohio, in 1854, many African American ministers were welcomed to preach in the pulpits of various Evangelical Christian Churches while many white Evangelical Christian Church's clergy continued to minister to mixed congregations which was formerly unheard of in the United States. In the midst of shifts in theology and church polity, the Evangelical Christian Church became the first institution where both women and blacks made an important contribution in leadership roles. Women in many black churches became, to an even degree than in white churches, the backbone of church life; many became preachers. Black women so reared upon joining integrated churches, found it difficult to accept less crucial tasks where white men dominated. For the Stone movement, this had less to do with eschatological theories and more about a countercultural commitment to live as if the kingdom of God were already established on earth. The apocalyptic perspective or world view led many in the Stone movement to adopted pacifism, avoiding participating in civil government, and reject violence, militarism, greed, materialism and slavery. The Evangelical Christian Church exercised its independence under God by becoming one of many Restoration Movement denominations to recognize the ordination of women.

The Great Western Revival was a tidal wave of religious interest, and a new phenomenon which began in about 1800, reaching its crest in 1803, and then gradually diminishing as it merged with the normal stream of evangelism. Its principle expansion fields were in Tennessee and Kentucky. On Sundays of May and June 1801, there was a succession of Great Western Revival meetings at churches in the region around Lexington, Kentucky. At the last three meetings, the attendance ran to 4,000 for the first, 8,000 for the second, and 10,000 for the third, according to contemporary estimates. The "May communion appointment" at the Concord Church, of which Stone was a member, brought together between 5,000 and 6,000 people of various sects and many preachers of different denominations that flocked to Cane Ridge to experience a touch from God.

See full size imageThe Bluegrass portion of the Great Western Revival climaxed at a Cane Ridge meeting which lasted from Friday to Wednesday, August 7-12, 1801. An estimated crowed of 20,000 gathered from miles around in the wilderness encampment for four days to a week to hear great preachers. Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist ministers preached, often simultaneously at different stations throughout the neighboring woods. As the rival interest grew, and as the meetings became larger and longer, unexpected and spiritual manifestations, called "exercises," began to occur. The fray preaching started at sunset and didn't stop until the night. Many people fell to their faces as the weight of their sins struck them cold as preachers shouted to the crowd and urged repentance. Worship continued well into the week following the serving of Holy Communion on Sunday, in fact, until provisions for humans and horses ran out. Stone, in his Autobiography, listed visible manifestations of the direct action of the Holy Spirit. There they engaged in an unrelenting series of intense spiritual exercises, punctuated with cries of religious agony and ecstasy, all designed to promote religious fervor and conversions. These exercises ranged from singing of hymns addressed to each of the spiritual stages that marked the journey to conversion, public confessions and renunciations of sin and personal witness to the workings of the Holy Spirit, collective prayer, all of which were surrounded by sermons delivered by clergymen especially noted for their powerful "plain-speaking" preaching. The major variant of the new revivalism consisted of the "protracted meetings" most often associated with the "new measures" revivalism of Charles Finney, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield. They became very known as a result to changed American life in areas such as prison reform, abolitionism, and temperance. News of their new found hope spread like wildfire through Kentucky, and people in nearby regions began to attend the camp meetings, and were convinced that they were experiencing and witnessing the greatest outpouring of the Holy Spirit such as the early church had known at Pentecost.

See full size imageIn the midst of shifts in theology and church polity, the revivals followed an arc of great emotional power, with emphasis of the individual's sins and need to turn to Christ, restored by the sense of personal salvation. The sheer exhilaration of participating in a religious revival with crowds of hundreds and perhaps thousands of people inspired themselves to praise, groan, weep aloud in prayer and song, shout, laugh, speak in tongues, fall down to the ground speechless, and dance while coming face to face with the living God. The noise of the meetings was so great that some said "the noise was like the roar of the Niagara." These revival meetings swept through Kentucky, and it was also reported that those who came to scoff were not immune to these life changing experiences. The movement which Barton Stone had started soon began to take on larger dimensions, and thousands (men, women, and children) were saved by the power of the Holy Spirit. A fourth pioneer in the United States, Walter Scott made a unique contribution to the movement with his rational evangelistic emphasis. His 'five finger exercise' - faith, repentance, baptism, the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit - provided an order in which people could come to Christ and membership in His Church. Soon the greater part of Kentucky was influenced by this movement. Stone never ceased to rejoice in the success of the truth of the gospel as this movement continued to affect the lives of many people around the world even to this present age. Both Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell made lasting contributions to the cause of New Testament Christianity. Stone's pursuit of unity is worthy of our attention, uniting two groups, calling them the Christian Disciples. We have dreamed of the church united in essentials, tolerant in non-essentials and loving in all things - so that the world might really believe and Christ's community might come. May God bless us as we seek to be that church that Jesus established in the New Testament.

Barton Stone was laid to rest at Hannibal, Missouri, in November, 1844, and buried at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, while Alexander Campbell died on Sunday March 4th, Bethany, W. Va., 1866.