Protestantism in America: A Narrative History by Jerald C. Brauer
Jerald C. Brauer is Naomi Shenstone Donnelley Professor and Professor of History of Christianity, formerly Dean of the Divinity School, University of Chicago. He is also Editor of The Westminster Dictionary of Church History. Published by The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1965. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Chapter 8: Dissension and New Churches
In the autumn of 1803 the Presbyterian Synod of Kentucky was in session. Tension was in the air as a good deal of back-room discussion took place. All the enmity between those favoring and those opposing revivals reached a climax. For almost two years, several Kentucky Presbyterian ministers had warned against the extravagances and strange doctrines of the revivals. Many had replied favoring them. Thus, the synod was divided into the revivalists and antirevivalists.
Tension was great because two men, Rev. Messrs. McNemar and Thompson, were on trial as revivalists who, in the excitement of the camp meetings, had preached erroneous doctrines. As their examination proceeded it became evident that they were doomed; therefore, before the full proceedings could get under way they made a strategic move.
Joined by three revivalist brethren, Marshall, Stone, and Dunlavy, these men stood up before the synod and made a dramatic announcement. They condemned the actions of the synod and affirmed their independence from its jurisdiction, but they maintained that they were still in communion with Christ’s Church in America. A great murmuring arose from the floor of the synod. Men jumped up and demanded to be heard. The moderator pounded for order, but the damage had been done.
What happened in 1803 was not surprising. The revivals not only brought great numbers into the Churches, they also brought violent disagreements. Not all ministers were in favor of such excesses as the jerks, the barks, or falling. Most men favored some type of revival, but the question was, What kind of revival? How could revivals be properly controlled? The synod argued that excesses certainly should not be encouraged. Furthermore, the teachings of the revivalists should be in harmony with God’s Word and with the beliefs that the Church confessed in its creeds.
The five Presbyterian ministers proceeded to form themselves into a new presbytery called the Springfield Presbytery. They rejected all creeds or historic confessions of faith and held only to the Bible as the bond of fellowship. They received the name "New Lights" because of their adherence to the new revival methods.
Worship services were well attended. These men were looked upon as persecuted martyrs for the sake of truth. For a while the Presbyterian Church was in a bad way in some sections of Kentucky. It appeared as though the New Lights would sweep all before them.
The Springfield ministers stressed active, emotional worship services. They encouraged a free display of feelings. One of their favorite practices was taken from camp meetings, namely, shaking hands while singing hymns. This soon developed into a form of religious dance. As they grasped hands loudly singing, "‘Make me, Saviour, what Thou art: live Thyself within my heart,’" they would tremble, shake, and finally break into a leaping, twisting dance. This activity was similar to that of a movement called the Shakers..
In 1804 the presbytery dissolved itself by issuing what they called the "Last Will and Testament of the Presbytery of Springfield." "The Presbytery of Springfield, sitting at Cambridge, in the County of Bourbon, being through a gracious Providence in more than ordinary bodily health, growing in strength and size daily, and in perfect soundness and composure of mind; but knowing that it is appointed for all delegated bodies once to die, and considering that the life of every such body is very uncertain, do make, and ordain this our last Will and Testament. . . We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one Body and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling. ... We will, that our power of making laws for the government of the Church, and executing them by delegated authority, forever cease, that the people may have free course to the Bible, and adopt the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
We will, that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven."
Many of the members of the independent Churches that came out of the Springfield Presbytery called themselves Christians. Barton W. Stone was active in promoting that name and urged that all congregations, in complete freedom, work toward the establishment of a truly united Christian Church.
Rather than unity, dissension arose even out of this move. Two of the original five ministers went back to the Presbyterian Church, two of them joined the Shakers, and only Barton W. Stone remained faithful to their original ideal. Indeed, the revivals produced many bad things as well as good things.
Trouble for the Kentucky Presbyterians was not yet at an end. No sooner had they overcome the blow of defection from the Springfield group than they were confronted with another schism. Again the source of the trouble was revivalism.
In December, 1805, a Presbyterian commission was sitting at the famous Casper River Meeting House in Kentucky. It had the thankless task of trying to settle a dispute that had arisen in the recently formed Cumberland Presbytery. In face of the desperate need for ministers on the frontier, the Cumberland Presbytery had licensed several uneducated but gifted men to preach and catechize, and had appointed others as exhorters. These men were required to subscribe to the Presbyterian Confession of Faith only so far as they believed it agreed with the Word of God.
Some men in neighboring presbyteries were disturbed by these proceedings. They felt that men with wrong beliefs were permitted to act as exhorters and preachers. Also, they argued for a well-educated ministry which would be doctrinally sound and would understand and subscribe to the Confession of Faith.
The synodical commission clashed with the Cumberland Presbytery. Both claimed final jurisdiction in examining and passing candidates for the ministry. The moderator of the commission urged the suspect presbytery members to submit for synodical approval. The men on trial asked for a discussion recess.
Before they withdrew for conference, Mr. Stuart, one of the commissioners, stood up and delivered a sincere plea reminding all those present that the unity of the Church was at stake. His eloquence moved many to tears and created a solemn mood.
A short time later the suspect men -- McGready, McAdam, Rankin, and McGee -- returned. The assembly waited breathlessly as the question was asked: "Do the brethren wish to submit to the jurisdiction of the commission?
A murmur of despair arose as they answered together: "No!"
Determined to uphold the supremacy of the synod in such matters, the commission suspended these men and twenty other licentiates and exhorters and prohibited them from performing their ministry. The young men were to be silenced.
The General Assembly upheld the Kentucky Synod’s action and the independent Cumberland Presbytery was formed in 1810. It stood by the Westminster Confession of the Presbyterians except that it allowed some liberty on the doctrine of God’s eternal election of some to salvation and others to damnation. Furthermore, it encouraged revival methods and employed camp meetings. The gift of the Spirit in the ability to preach sinners’ conversion was felt to be more important than an educated ministry. The break was complete. Another Church was born out of the revival dissensions.
Disagreement within the Presbyterian Church did not cease with the New Light and Cumberland schisms. Rather, there was a continuous suspicion between the revivalists and antirevivalists. It included not only different views on emotion and education but also disputes concerning the true interpretation of the Christian faith.
Rev. Joshua Wilson was one of the leading Presbyterian ministers in the west. He was on constant guard against any false doctrine at work within the churches. In 1832 the famous Congregational preacher, Dr. Lyman Beecher, was called from Boston to become president of the recently founded Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Dr. Wilson immediately brought charges against Beecher and sought to prove him doctrinally unsound. The whole Church was astonished. Had not Dr. Beecher defended the truth against the infidels and Unitarians in New England? The trial commenced and raged back and forth for several days. Beecher was too able an opponent for Wilson to handle, and he was upheld and vindicated. In vain did Wilson appeal to the synod and to the General Assembly of the Church -- he could not defeat Beecher.
The Beecher trial was but a symptom of the grave unrest stirring within the Presbyterian Church. Other trials followed, but few were successful. Much of the unrest was due to the constant influx of Congregationalists under the Plan of Union. They were educated in New England, many at Yale under Prof. Nathaniel W. Taylor, and were thought to be very untrustworthy in doctrine. So, the Old School Presbyterians kept a close eye on them.
Meanwhile, another controversy arising out of revivalism shook the Presbyterian Church. It fed into all the other causes of discontent and made the tensions more acute. Charles G. Finney, the great Presbyterian revivalist of western New York, was the source and center of the controversy.
Finney was privately trained and self-educated in theology. His instruction was under his pastor in Adams, New York, a Mr. Gale. All the local pastors urged Finney to go to Princeton Theological Seminary, the outstanding Presbyterian training school. This he refused to do on the grounds that he did not wish to be trained as Mr. Gale and the other ministers in the presbytery. In spite of his dissatisfaction with the Princeton theology, he was licensed by the presbytery to preach the gospel.
As a result of Finney’s background and training, his preaching was a good deal different from that of his Princeton-trained brethren. As he put it: "I was bred a lawyer. I came right forth from a law office to the pulpit, and talked to the people as I would have talked to a jury."
As a consequence Finney advocated speaking directly to the people as if one were appealing for an immediate verdict in favor of the Lord Jesus Christ.
"So it always is when men are entirely in earnest. Their language is in point, direct and simple. Their sentences are short, cogent, powerful. The appeal is made directly for action; and hence all such discourses take effect."
Furthermore, Finney directed his address to each hearer personally. He had no admiration for ministers who preach "about other people, and sins of other people, instead of addressing them and saying, ‘You are guilty of these sins,’ and, ‘The Lord requires this of you.’ . . Now I have thought it my duty to pursue a different cause; and I always have pursued a different cause. I have often said, ‘Do not think I am talking about anybody else, but I mean you, and you, and you.
Not only his straightforward sermons, spiced with illustrations from daily life, bothered his brethren, but even more his conduct of the service was attacked. Finney never intended to promote fanaticism and emotionalism; he actually tried to prevent it. The means he used for revival were "simply preaching, prayer, and conference meetings, much private prayer, and much personal conversation, and meetings for the instruction of earnest inquirers."
It was Finney’s use of these last means which produced such opposition in the Churches. Out of it developed the "anxious bench" and the bands of converted exhorters. Those who were under the conviction of sin but had not yet experienced the release of forgiveness were urged to attend special meetings or to sit in a special place during the service.
The special meetings were usually conducted by the revivalist and some of his assistants in order to help those struggling for conversion. During the meeting the sinners would be prayed for by name. This was something different in that it put much more pressure on the sinners. To hear one’s own name, to feel oneself as the special object of the prayers of the whole group was, indeed, an experience one could not take lightly.
Likewise, placing the "called" in the front of the church on the "anxious bench" so as to separate them from the converted and from the not yet called raised many problems. By placing them in that position it became psychologically almost impossible to escape conversion.
To all these new practices the antirevivalists objected. The objection was forthcoming not only from the Presbyterian Church but also from the German Lutheran and Reformed, from the Congregational, and from the Episcopal Churches.
The most telling criticism came from an outstanding German Reformed pastor and professor, Dr. John W. Nevin. In the early 1840’s he wrote a treatise called The Anxious Bench. It was an attack on the whole approach to revivalism. While he admitted that revivalism did much good, he insisted that it also did a great deal of evil. By its emphasis on conversion as a profound emotional experience, it tended to undermine the idea that many Christians are raised in the Church and gradually grow under the guidance of the Church to understand their faith and its meaning for life.
The religious system of revivalism, he argued, is different from the faith of the Presbyterian, Reformed, and Lutheran Churches. Rather than the sinner being captured by God’s forgiveness in Christ through the regular ministrations of the Church and so being grasped by religion, revivalism insists that the sinner "gets religion." Feeling and not faith becomes the turning point of religious experience.
What Nevin wanted in place of emotionalism was "a ministry apt to teach; sermons full of unction and light; faithful, systematic instruction; zeal for the interests of holiness; pastoral visitation; catechetical training; due attention to order and discipline; patient perseverance in the details of ministerial work,"
So the battle lines were drawn between those advocating the "church system" and those upholding the "revival system." Opposition to revivalism was on the march among the Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Lutherans, and German Reformed. Revivalism was not an unmixed good for American Christianity. In it the Churches found more light yet for attacking some of the most pressing problems. But in it they also found a source of schism and discontent. The foes of revivalism could do little to stop it. They could only stand as a corrective to it, reminding Christians that it was not the only nor the purest form that Christianity takes.
All eyes were turned to the speakers’ table as President Andrew Jackson arose to propose a toast for the Jefferson Day Democratic banquet in April, 1830. Southern Democrats were in control of the program, and all speakers had been carefully picked to express the views of the Southern states’ rights party.
Jackson raised his glass, turned and looked squarely at the Southern leader, John Calhoun, and said firmly and clearly, "Our Federal Union -- it must and shall be preserved."
There were cheers and gasps from the crowd as it became clear that the President was opposed to all actions that would be detrimental to the liberty and welfare of the entire Union.
John Calhoun, not to be outmaneuvered, arose and responded: "The Union, next to our Liberty, most dear! May we all remember that it can only be preserved by respecting the rights of the states and by distributing equally the benefits and burdens of the Union."
The Churches were not the only bodies caught up in quarreling and dissension at this time. The entire nation was beginning to show the signs of sectional disagreement. Eastern states, developing manufacturing, wanted to buy raw materials cheaply but wanted tariff protection so foreign manufacturers could not undersell them at home. Infant industries had to be protected, they argued.
Southern states were agricultural and wanted to buy manufactured goods as cheaply as possible, whether from home or abroad; therefore, they were opposed to all tariffs which kept prices up. They wanted the best possible markets for their goods. The western states wanted to buy things cheaply, but they also wanted roads and canals to transport their goods east; therefore, they favored internal improvements paid by the Federal Government.
So each section battled and fought over taxes, tariffs, internal improvements, the annexation of new territories, the attitude of the Union toward England, France, and Spain, and many other things. Gone were the peaceful co-operative years immediately after the Federal Union was established. Jackson made clear that the welfare of the United States was more important than the selfish interests of any single part of the Union. But this did not settle the problem. From this moment forward the tension and disagreement between the various sections mounted until it coalesced in the slavery question and erupted in the Civil War.
Just as the whole nation was undergoing the serious quarrels of sectionalism, so the Churches, at this time, were also going through periods of argumentation. One of the most serious disruptions was that which occurred in New England -- the rise of Unitarianism. It was a terrible blow to the Congregationalists as it stripped them of over half a million dollars’ worth of property and over one third of their members in Massachusetts.
One man said of Unitarianism that "the protest began among a class of cultured men in the most cultivated part of America; with men who had not the religious element developed in proportion to the intellectual or aesthetic element."
The movement was firmly planted within the bosom of Massachusetts Congregationalism when, in 1805, Henry Ware, a decided Unitarian, who emphasized the unity of God to such an extent that it was difficult for him to maintain the traditional Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus the Christ, was appointed professor of divinity in Harvard University. Boston erupted in a heated controversy over this act. However, nobody was prepared to take any drastic steps.
Things were brought to a head by three separate events. In 1815 an article was printed calling the Boston Congregationalists "Unitarians." The name stuck. In 1819, Dr. William Ellery Channing preached a famous sermon in Baltimore entitled "Unitarian Christianity." And in 1820 the courts ruled that in Dedham, Massachusetts, church property belonged to the entire parish and not to the church as such. The parish was a geographical unit that contained both church members and nonchurch members; however, all qualified voters had a right to determine all questions pertaining to church property. Because the Unitarian Congregationalists were usually the leaders in the community and appeared to stand for a more common-sense and liberal position, they had little difficulty in obtaining the support of the majority in the parish and so gained control of the church property. Thus the wishes of the majority of the actual church members were often denied, so that a small group of Unitarians took control.
A bitter quarrel developed in Massachusetts. It was at this time that the Unitarians organized themselves into an association, in 1825. They numbered about 125 churches, which included the wealth, intellectual leadership, and energy of Boston. On the whole their wealth and social position led them to be extremely conservative in their politics and in their social views.
It was at this point that Lyman Beecher appeared on the scene and through revivalism stemmed the tide of Unitarianism. It never made much headway beyond the environs of Boston. There was a similar movement, however, which made a greater appeal to the common people and became widespread on the frontier. It was called Universalism.
During the late eighteenth century several preachers in New England insisted that God was not the kind of God who would punish man eternally. Eventually, they argued, God would save all men. Later, leaders such as Hosca Ballou and Thomas Whittenmore rejected the belief in Christ as the eternal Son of God, the belief in a personal devil, and any form of punishment after death. All punishment for sin, they argued, occurs during this life. All men are saved by God. Since they claimed salvation was universal they were called " Universalists."
The preaching of such beliefs caused controversy on the frontier and among the city churches. Peter Cartwright speaks of the prevalence of Universalism among frontier people. Some of his most heated arguments were with these people. While that particular Church did not grow greatly in numbers, its influence in conjunction with the Unitarian spread across the nation.
Meanwhile, contention and disagreement grew within the Protestant Episcopal Church as well. In 1811 two bishops were appointed and they came to represent two opposite tendencies in the Episcopal Church. Bishop Hobart of New York became the leader of what was called the High-Church party. They stressed Episcopal Prayer Book worship, the sacraments of the Church, and urged the necessity of ordination only by bishops, who were supposed to stand in line that went back to the apostles. This apostolic succession, they argued, was necessary in order to have a legitimate ministry.
Over against revivals and the conversion experience, High-churchmen upheld catechism, confirmation by the bishop, and a close direction of the spiritual life by the parish priest. They were certain that they held the true view of Christianity, and therefore they could not co-operate with other Protestant groups even in such things as the distribution of tracts.
Bishop Griswold of the New England diocese represented what was called the Low-Church party. This group also stood for ordination by bishops, but they did not feel that all other ministries were invalid unless so ordained. Furthermore, they did not feel that the Prayer Book was the only or highest form of worship. They held prayer meetings and classes for mutual edification. Even their preaching was different in that it was directed toward an immediate conversion experience.
These two groups were constantly in tension within the Anglican Church, but their differences never led to really profound disagreement. It was not until the 1840’s that the disagreement reached a serious point. That was due to the introduction of a new factor into the picture. In England a movement centering in Oxford University, known as the Oxford movement or as Anglo-Catholicism, started in 1833. It stressed the continuity of the Anglican Church with the Catholic Church before the Reformation, though it repudiated Roman Catholicism. So it attempted to revive and emphasize many of the pre-Reformation forms of devotion and piety.
When this movement made its impact in the Protestant Episcopal Church, it coalesced with the High-Church party and stimulated heated opposition from the Low-churchmen or evangelicals. Several bitter disputes occurred, but both parties determined to remain within the Episcopal Church, and they did so.
Dissension of the period was reflected in the Lutheran churches as well. In 1820 a General Synod of the Lutheran churches was founded. It soon came to embrace a major proportion of the non-Scandinavian Lutherans until a fresh wave of German immigration in the 1840’s brought several other Lutheran groups to America. However, the General Synod did not rest in peace and harmony. Chief among the new arrivals was the German group that settled at St. Louis and formed the Lutheran Church of the Missouri Synod. It upheld a strict doctrinal position and argued for a congregational polity. It was to become one of the two great Lutheran Churches in America.
Dr. S. S. Schmucker, one of the great leaders and professors at the Gettysburg Seminary, had been deeply influenced by the revival Churches. In the late 1840’s and 1850’s he and a number of friends began to urge practices common for revivalists but peculiar for the Lutheran Church. Furthermore, he advocated a departure from the historic Lutheran confessions of faith. In fact, he advocated a position that stressed moral activity with a minimum attention to doctrine and theology. This was unacceptable for many of his brethren. They insisted that the Church could not ignore its historic doctrinal position and that it had to be concerned with belief as well as with practice. A constant running battle emerged, which continued until the General Synod was torn by strife and finally split in the 1860’s.
Meanwhile large numbers of German Lutherans and Scandinavian Lutherans began to arrive in America. As these were all foreign-language people, only their native churches could minister to them. Their pastors did a magnificent job of staying with these people. However, these groups introduced many new sources of dissension within growing American Lutheranism. It could not be helped. They brought not only national differences but also the lastest doctrinal arguments from their homelands. This was all reflected in the relationship of these new bodies to each other and to the older General Synod. American Lutheran churches could not escape the dissension of the period. The same was true of the German Reformed. Dr. J. W. Nevin, the opponent of Charles Finney the revivalist, became a storm center in that Church on the grounds that his advocacy of the "church system" was an importation of Catholic practices and beliefs.
Late one August night in 1834, the town of Charlestown, Massachusetts, witnessed the spectacle of fire shooting high into the air, of fire bells loudly ringing, and of great masses of people rushing through the streets. The Roman Catholic Ursuline convent was under attack by crowds yelling, "No papacy! " As the mother superior guided the children out of the rear entrance, a mob burst into the front and proceeded to demolish the building and put it to the torch. For several days Boston and its environs were in a state of unrest and imminent rioting. The violent outbreak against the Roman Catholics was under way.
Hatred against the Roman Catholics was based on the erroneous belief that they kept guns hidden in their churches and were awaiting the day when they could strike to capture America for the pope. Also, it was not to be forgotten that many people had fled to America to escape Roman Catholic tyranny, and the specter of Catholic growth appeared as a threat to democracy and religious liberty. Men harboring this fear organized themselves into various organizations. The most famous of these grew to become the Know-Nothing political party, which was active in national politics in the 1850’s. Its purpose was openly a violent opposition to everything Roman Catholic.
Roman Catholicism had grown tremendously because of the arrival of hundreds of thousands of immigrants. At the close of the Revolution they numbered only a few thousand, but by 1830 they numbered over half a million. As they grew in strength and leadership, they began to exert their influence. They protested Bible-readings in public schools unless Catholic versions were used. In fact, they preferred to have their own schools so they could educate their own children. The United States had been colonized by men who were bitterly opposed to Roman Catholicism; thus, a good deal of ill will on both sides was almost inevitable. Only time could teach them to live together peacefully.
The strife that arose between the two groups was regrettable, but in a sense it was inevitable. The pity was that the disagreements could not have been limited to theological debate. The acts of church-burning and the activity of the Know-Nothing party were violently anti-Christian and greatly to be deplored. All Protestants must repent of them. It is true, but no excuse for the Protestants involved, that many other factors, in addition to religion, were responsible for the outbreaks of violence. Unrest was partially the result of the dissension of the age born of the suspicions of rising immigration and a changing spirit in the nation.
Meanwhile, in addition to the new Churches produced by strife and ill will, several new Churches were born out of the maelstrom of the frontier. They were another effort of Christianity to bring its message to the people of America.
In the fall of 1809 at Washington, Pennsylvania, a group of men under the leadership of Thomas Campbell met to form an association of Christians. This was to be not a Church but a dedicated group that would work for certain ideals, particularly that of unity, within the existing Churches. Their motto was, "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent."
They appointed Thomas Campbell to prepare a full statement of their beliefs and purposes. Campbell was a minister within one of the small Scottish Presbyterian bodies, but he was most unhappy in it and was having trouble. About four weeks after the Washington Association was formed, Campbell’s official connection with the Presbyterian body was broken.
Thomas Campbell prepared a statement outlining the principles of the association as peace, purity, and unity. At the very time the elder Campbell was reading proofs on the statement, his son Alexander Campbell arrived in America. Within a short time the Washington Christian Association became a Church, it adopted adult baptism, and Alexander Campbell emerged as the real leader. The group associated with the Baptists in 1813.
Under the able leadership of Alexander Campbell new ferment was at work in the Baptist association. In the periodical he edited, he questioned such things as the relation between the old and new covenant, the function of reason in a believing faith, the steps in becoming a Christian, the full right of any layman to administer sacraments, and the extent of an association’s jurisdiction over a local congregation. These questions involved Baptist beliefs and practices.
Campbell proved to be an outstanding debater and journalist. As he propounded his views and won many followers, dissatisfaction with the Baptists grew. Finally, around 1830, the gradually developing disagreement reached a peak and a break came between the Disciples of Christ, as the Campbellites were known, and the Baptists. The same year Campbell’s famous magazine, The Millennial Harbinger, was begun. Its purpose was to prepare for the triumph of God’s Kingdom on earth through promoting Christian unity.
In 1832 a union was effected between Campbell’s Disciples of Christ and Barton W. Stone’s Christian Church. While there could be no formal union because neither group had a formal synodical or associational organization, there was a full exchange of ministry and co-operation in revivals and evangelism. So the revivalistic Christians who split from the Presbyterians in Kentucky united with the ex-Presbyterian Campbells who had also come through the Baptist Church.
The group employed revival methods and met with great success in the border states. Under the leadership of many revivalist preachers the new Church moved out to the frontier, and made converts in Kentucky, Illinois, West Virginia, Indiana, Missouri, and Texas. Their battle cry was, "Back to Bible Christianity and unite all the Churches of Christ on the basis of that Christianity." While they sincerely preached and stood for these principles, they became, fortunately, not a rallying point for unity, but one more denomination competing on the American scene.
Even the Methodists did not escape from the schisms and quarrels of this period. Under the circuit system and the plan of representation for conferences, neither the rank and file ministers nor the laity had much liberty. The laymen were not even represented and the clergy had nothing to say about the election of their presiding elders. There was constant agitation within the Methodist ranks to overcome these differences, but every such attempt was looked upon by the bishops as dangerous and radical. Finally, in 1830 a large number withdrew from the General Conference and founded the Methodist Protestant Church, which gave full rights of representation to laymen and refused to operate with bishops.
While the Methodist Church was having internal difficulties because of its Church government, it was making astonishing progress not only on the frontier but also among German-speaking peoples. In 1800 a German-speaking Methodist group, the United Brethren, was founded. In 1803 the Evangelical Association, centering in Pennsylvania, was founded as a German Methodist group. So Methodism gained among German-speaking peoples.
Revivals brought growth and strife to American Protestantism. In looking about to find ways of meeting the challenges of deism, the vast masses of unchurched peoples, the great space to be covered, the disintegrating morals, and the threat of financial collapse after the Revolution, the Churches found their answer in revivalism. It was nothing new in America. It was not turned to deliberately in order to meet these challenges. Rather, it was deep within the Church and simply welled forth in the face of need.
The tragedy was that it brought so much strife and unrest as well as so much good. It placed a stamp upon American Christianity that remains to the present day -- even in the form of Churches that split off as a result of revivalism. It was a blessing and a curse -- the one could not be had without the other.