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 13: A Fresh Outpouring
Young Dwight L. Moody had recently moved to Boston to work as a shoe salesman for his uncle. He was converted to Christ under the instruction of his Sunday school teacher, Mr. Kimball, but he had trouble with his faith. He sought the help of his aunt, to whom he said:
"I like the pastor, and Mr. Kimball; but these rich and pious folks at Mt. Vernon make me sick and tired."
"Never mind, Dwight, the Church is the Bride of Christ."
"But the young folks are so lofty and proud. Is that Christianity?"
"Lad, we are to fight the fight of faith. Do you love the Church?"
"Well, I guess I do!"
"Then forget the rest."
Even after he was converted and when he had accepted the advice of Aunt Typhenia, Moody had difficulty with his religious life. Somehow he could not speak of his experience to others. Again he sought his auntís advice.
She asked him, "Do you love Christ?"
"Well, I guess I do!"
"Then donít worry, lad, over how you talk; just try to tell the people what he has done for your soul, and heíll do the rest."
In 1856 this stocky young man arrived in Chicago determined to make $100,000 in the business world and then retire. Eager to be a success, Dwight Moody easily secured a job as a shoe salesman. His lively and pleasant manner made him an outstanding salesman, and he never lost the ability to "sell" the cause of Christ. He quickly joined a church, rented several pews, and filled them with boys he had rounded up off the streets. But this was too much for the very prim and proper congregation.
Seeking more favorable surroundings elsewhere, young Moody found a weak and struggling Sunday school in the Chicago slums. Within a short time he had collected so many boys for classes that the building could not hold them. First he hesitated to teach, but finally he accepted a class. So fast did the school grow that it had to move to different quarters and spread into an additional building. Every Sunday morning Moody could be seen riding toward Sunday school on a pinto pony carrying a full load of children.
Matching his success as a Sunday school missionary was his business career. In fact, he was well on the way to becoming a leading business figure in the shoe industry, but something stopped him. He could not serve two masters. A break was certain to come.
One day, one of his fellow Sunday school teachers, deathly ill, called on Moody to inform him that he had to return home to die, but before he went he wanted to set things right with the girls of his class. He was sure he had not converted a single person. Moody had had an experience teaching this class. "They laughed in my face." He. agreed to accompany the teacher in visiting the girls.
Marvelous results followed. Moody, for the first time, prayed directly for the salvation of a person, and his prayers were answered. One by one the girls were converted by the dying teacher and the shoe salesman. Finally, after a wonderful meeting together, the teacher prepared to leave.
Moody told the story as follows: "The next evening I went to the depot to say good-by to that teacher. Just before the train started, one of the class came, and before long . . . they were all there. What a meeting that was! We tried to sing but we broke down. The last we saw of that dying teacher, he was standing in the rear car, his finger pointing upward, telling us to meet in heaven,"
Shortly thereafter, Moody gave up his job to devote himself fully to the Lordís work. From this time, 1860, until 1870 he was a whirlwind of activity and energy. When a speaker failed to show up at a Sunday school convention, he undertook his first public exhortation -- over 60 were converted. He was active in Y.M.C.A. work; he did chaplain work for Camp Douglas, a prisoner of war camp just south of Chicago; he carried on his regular Sunday school work; and he started Sunday evening services.
One man observing Moody in action at this time remarked, "I never saw such high pressure; he made me think of those breathing steamboats on the Mississippi that must go fast or bust: a keen, dark-eyed man with a shrill voice, and a thorough earnestness."
But by 1867 he felt himself preached out. Somehow his message was not what he thought it should be. Several things happened to make another great change in his life. He went to England and heard the famous Baptist preacher Spurgeon. There he also met Henry Moorehouse, who returned to America with him and gave a series of sermons on Godís love. As a consequence Moody gained a new respect for Biblical preaching and for the concept of God as love. He turned to the Bible and saw it in a new light. He studied it with a concordance and traced the word "love" from Genesis to Revelation. Henceforth, he was to be strictly an expositor of Scripture.
In 1872 just before departing for England he had a renewal of his conversion experience. As he walked the New York streets one November night he cried out: "O God, why donít you compel me to walk close to thee, always? Deliver me from myself! Take absolute sway! Give me thy Holy Spirit!"
He fled to a friendís room nearby and experienced such an outpouring of Godís spirit in his heart that he could not speak of it. He knew only that Godís love was completely filling and overflowing his heart. Before that happened he was as one trying to pump water out of a dry well, but after that experience his heart was like an artesian well that never ran dry.
Off he went to England with a singing partner, Ira D. Sankey, whom he had met at a Y.M.C.A. conference and had persuaded to return to Chicago. What a team they made in England! Moody a short, barrel-chested, huge man, well over two hundred and fifty pounds, with a bushy beard and flaming eyes; Sankey, a somewhat taller, rather distinguished-looking, man with a sweet, full, baritone voice.
They landed in 1873 and took England and the British Isles by storm. At first there was much opposition to them, but all was overcome by them. The people heard them gladly. Publishers were besieged with orders for gospel hymnbooks and Bibles. Though the mass of their thousands of listeners came from the uneducated lower class, even the learned heard them and not without some approval.
When Moody, who had had a very inadequate education, was once chided for his poor grammar, he responded: "Thatís all right, brother. What little grammar I have, I use for the Lord Jesus Christ. What do you do with yours?"
Moody and Sankey returned to America as conquering heroes. Everybody had heard of their fame; newspapers and magazines had spread the good news. Their American revival started in Brooklyn in October, 1874. Five thousand people filled the building three times a day. On they swept to Philadelphia, where 13,000 heard them in each meeting. For ten weeks they held forth in New York City while 500 ushers tried to handle long lines of people who came to hear. Over 1,500,000 had heard them by that time. Special tabernacles were built to house the audiences.
Truly this was a fresh outpouring of the Spirit through revival. before Moodyís life was ended he was supposed to have converted over 1,000,000 to Christ and many millions had heard his message and Sankeyís songs. This was the beginning of a new era in American Protestantism, a resurgence of revivalism, but a new kind of revivalism.
Moody was to the religious world of the hectic Ď80ís and Ď90ís what Rockefeller was to oil and Carnegie was to steel. He dealt with huge masses of people, he exhibited all the daring, the certainty of conviction, and the tireless energy that marked the captains of business. But he was a captain in the Lordís legions.
Moody and Sankey popularized the place and function of the gospel hymns in revival meetings. Their hymnbook sold millions of copies, and though sold cheaply it brought in handsome sums in royalties. Not a penny of this remained in Moodyís pocket -- all went into his religious enterprises.
Another novelty widely used by Moody was the inquiry room, where those distressed of soul repaired for advice. This was similar to the older anxious bench but was private and gave an opportunity for personal contact between the preacher and the convert.
His business acumen was evidenced in the care with which he mapped out the strategy of his revivals. Every detail was cared for. He was one of the first to use advertising as a medium for informing the people of his services. Children of the Sunday school distributed thousands of pamphlets, and billboards carried notices of his meetings. But all was in good taste. Though he was unordained, he had a church of which he was minister in Chicago; but he always urged converts to join their own Churches. Men were not converted to float about from Church to Church.
Moodyís message was dynamic, simple, and straightforward. He had no doubts as to the literal accuracy of every portion and part of Scripture, but he had a leniency about him that was not evident in many another revivalist. One of his closest friends was the great naturalist and upholder of evolution, Henry Drummond. Dwight Moody always respected him.
What did Moody accomplish? He created a series of institutions to carry on Christian work: First, there was his church, and the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. In his home town of East Northfield, Massachusetts, he founded a girlsí school and Mt. Hermon, a boysí school, which have become outstanding educational institutions. Into all these he poured his money, and they stand as monuments to his activity.
In a sense, Dwight L. Moody represents the end of one phase of American Protestant life. He died in 1899, but his revival methods continued to play an important role in American life. Under his guidance revivals became for the huge new cities what they were formerly for the smaller towns and country -- they were ways of winning members for the Church.
Toward the end of his life, Moody complained that church members crowded in to hear him preach and so kept away the unconverted. This was a real problem for revivalism, yet it started a fresh impulse in American life. Moody became the symbol and the center of the movement. American Protestantism was not anxious to give up the method of soul-winning that proved so fruitful under a spiritual giant such as Moody.
Giants are usually followed by men of lesser stature, and so it was with Moody and his successors. He set the pattern for the revivalists accompanied by the gospel singer, and he set the pattern for the inquiry room and advertising. Many who copied the pattern lacked the masterís touch. Where he was free and generous, they were often narrow and niggardly.
Many wondered why Moody did not attack the theory of evolution or Biblical criticism; he obviously did not believe in either. He was too full of sweetness for such attacks, and he recognized that good Christian men such as his friend Drummond held them with no ill effects for their faith. Later revivalists considered these the twin devils of the modern world, to be attacked with zeal and hatred. Moody only felt that intellectual training was of no help in understanding salvation, but they took the next step and glorified ignorance as conducive to the operation of the Spirit.
There was no lack of evangelists after the death of Moody. Their numbers were legion. Dr. Reuben Torrey was Moodyís successor in the Chicago and Northfield, Massachusetts, enterprises. One of the real eye catchers was B. Fay Mills, who introduced a number of innovations in revivalism. Under him revivalism became big business. Each city was thoroughly canvassed beforehand, and committees were put in operation in every district. He had a complete organization from musicians to financial director. No offering was accepted until the last day, and all knew this and prepared for it.
Mills developed special days, such as "Good Cheer" days and "Midweek Sabbaths," during which all the secular business in a city would close down for a day. Thus everything in town revolved about the revival. Finally came the use of pledge cards. When the congregation was fully prepared to accept Jesus, assistants in the crowd would quietly pass out pledge cards, on which a convert had only to sign his name to a pledge to "follow Jesus" and to "live a Christian life."
Early in 1909 Boston was seething with religious fervor and excitement. The former stronghold of the Puritans and the Unitarians, now dominated by the Roman Catholics, was anxiously awaiting the arrival of J. Wilbur Chapman and the gospel singer Charles Alexander. For weeks everything built up to the great arrival. Protestant Churches systematically evangelized their parishioners. Teams of laymen went about arousing interest. Preachers prepared their flocks.
Boston was ripe for a great revival. It had not experienced a genuine thoroughgoing awakening since Moodyís last visit. People were in a humble and contrite spirit as the result of a financial depression in 1907. Everything stood ready; the fields were white unto the harvest.
The great day dawned and thousands of people poured into Tremont Temple, while other thousands milled around outside. So the revival bandwagon was set rolling to the songs and hymns of Charlie Alexander. J. Wilbur Chapman took over with his exhortation. This was to be no wild-eyed, rousing meeting; rather, it was a systematically planned, carefully calculated program of evangelism. Chapman spoke in a sincere, direct, dignified manner. Of course emotions were tense and at times tears flowed. This was inevitable when one "got religion."
All over the city prayer meetings, hymn sings, and night marches were held. On the fourth day, 166 outlying churches took up the campaign, but all roads led to Tremont Temple. There was the heartbeat of the revival. Even Harvard students participated in some meetings. Evangeline Booth of the Salvation Army turned out to help with a unit of the Army band.
The final meetings were held in Mechanics Hall, where 10,000 people pushed in each evening while an equal number, disappointed, milled about outside. Surrounding New England towns sent special trains into Boston. When all was finished over 2,500 had pledged to lead new lives in Jesus. Nobody knows exactly how many actually remained within the Church, but this was one of the last great Moody type revivals.
Meanwhile, revivalism continued to play an important part in American Protestantism within the larger Churches and also as a fruitful source of smaller "holiness" groups. Revivalism was fully supported by the three great Churches -- Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian. Congregationalists also gave their support in certain areas, but some of them, along with a few Presbyterians, doubted the wisdom of such an extreme emphasis on revivalism. Only the Anglicans and Lutherans were thoroughly opposed to revival techniques. They felt that it dissolved a real sense of Godís Church and placed all the emphasis on manís feelings of the moment.
The fact was that not even the larger Churches that approved of revivalism made sufficient use of it to appease considerable numbers of people. At this time, around the turn of the century, there arose in America a large number of smaller Churches, such as the Pentecostal groups, the Assembly of God, and others, that relied fully and completely on the extremely emotional revivalistic gospel and the swing of gospel hymns.
Some were called in derision "Holy Rollers" or "Holy Jumpers." Their meetings were usually held first in large tents as were many revivals. People would crowd in to sit on benches spaced about five feet apart. Between the benches and in the aisles were sawdust and hay. As the meetings progressed a great bass drum beat out the rhythm of the hymns until the whole crowd, caught by the rhythm, began to shout, clap their hands, and go into furious motions. They believed themselves possessed of the Spirit. No regular Churches could provide them with sufficient outlet for such emotion, so there were many independent organizations started.
Up and down the nation through towns and villages traveled the revivalists. The big tent, the sawdust trail, and gospel hymns became commonplace in religious life. In came the revivalist to hold forth for several days or several weeks. And often he left with pockets full and spirits high. He was bringing Christ to the multitudes. Anybody who could exhort, who appeared sincere, and who had a plan for organization could become a revivalist. It was a good business for many; it was a sincere effort on the part of others.
One of the last of the line of these revivalists was William ("Billy ") Sunday, famous baseball player for the old Chicago White Sox. Converted, he served for a while under Chapman and then hit the sawdust trail. He had an efficient organization which surveyed the field of labor, made a definite financial agreement with the local churches, handled the advertising -- which was terrific -- and trained the ushers and musicians.
Billy Sunday was a salesman for Christ, and so he looked upon himself. He seems to have been an accomplished "ham" actor who appealed to the instincts of the crowd. Always attacking something, he posed as a fearless fighter against the devil, evil, liquor, cards, gambling, wicked women, Huns, Bolsheviks, and Roman Catholics.
His message was one of hatred, fear, and violence as he scared sinners out of hell. A trail of smashed chairs and shattered tables was left behind him. He was fighting for the Lord, and in doing it he built up a handsome purse for himself. Billy Sunday produced plenty of excitement at his revivals. He would get on the floor and pound, calling on the devil to come up and fight him, and when the devil did not appear he stood before the crowd, arms raised, as the defender and champion of the faith. Perhaps he was looking for the devil in the wrong place.
But not all forms of revivalism degenerated into such extremes of exhibitionism. In 1880 the Salvation Army was introduced into America. In the London of 1878, William and Catherine Booth, ex-Methodists, organized a religious group along the lines of an army in order to fight for the souls of the downtrodden in slum areas. They did not stop with a simple preaching of the gospel; they also fed, clothed, and trained the men they had rescued. The object was to rehabilitate the outcasts of society.
In America the Salvation Army engaged in street preaching, entered saloons to conduct meetings, and sought out the poor and destitute in the worst slums. Their uniforms and bands became a common sight in the poorer districts. Many Churches disapproved of their tactics and refused to co-operate with them. For a while, internal dissension threatened them, but after 1886 the Booth family took command of the situation and built a strong, successful organization.
The Army accused the conventional Churches of a tendency to lapse into social clubs that were not really concerned with the total welfare of their fellow human beings. Revivalists, on the other hand, were interested only in saving a manís soul, and they assumed the body would take care of itself if the soul was right with God. Who could minister unto the needs of the modern, homeless, lost city dweller? That was the job of the Salvation Army.
The Army was accused of being undemocratic and of being like a Roman Catholic order because of its armylike regulations and organization. In a sense it was a closely knit, carefully disciplined religious order. Only in that way could it meet the needs of modern urban masses. Many thanked God that some group in Protestantism saw the great need and ministered to it.
But the organization was not really autocratic -- it just possessed more order and discipline in its ranks than the regular Churches, such as the Methodist, Congregational, and Presbyterian. These and other Protestant Churches looked on the Army as a mere sect. Slowly the Army won popularity by meeting a need that no other group did. It founded institutions of rescue and rest, the slum brigade and slum settlement homes, nursery schools, orphanages, shelters, and war-relief work. It sought new light in Godís Word for the people in the slums of modern cities and found sufficient insight to revolutionize the city ministry.
It was a hot summer, in 1861, when 251 students from colleges and Y.M.CA.ís gathered at Mt. Hermon, Massachusetts, for religious stimulation and edification under the leadership of Dwight L. Moody. For twenty-six days the students met together and saw the conference take a turn which they had not planned. It became a full discussion of the mission problem.
It was not strange that their talk should turn to missions. One of the finest effects of Moodyís work was its stimulation of mission work. Under the impact of his movement seven Cambridge University men offered themselves as missionaries to China, and in 1885 one of them visited American colleges to tell their story. And in 1880, the Interseminary Missionary Alliance was formed among college students. Twenty-one of the men present at the Mt. Hermon meeting planned to go to the foreign field.
During the meeting one of the addresses was "All Should Go and Go to All." No longer was the problem who should go; the question now was what sufficient reason could a student give for not going into foreign missions. America was full of Christians and could well spare men. As the days wore on, more and more men pledged themselves to the missionary task. Before they were finished, almost eighty more men declared themselves available.
Out of this meeting came the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, one of the most important contributions of American Protestantism to world Christianity. In 1888 the permanent organization was formed under the chairmanship of an outstanding young American who was present at the Mt. Hermon meeting, John R. Mott. Within a short time this became the most important movement in American student life, bringing large numbers to its conferences.
The purpose of the S.V.M. was to enlist students for foreign mission work, and its slogan, "The Evangelization of the World in This Generation," spoke of their zeal and determination. It became the source of the vast reservoir of missionaries who went from America at the turn of the century.
The urgency of the group was expressed by Mott when he said: "Every reason for doing this work of evangelization at all demands that it be done not only thoroughly but also as speedily as possible. The present generation is passing away. If we do not evangelize it, who will? We dare not say the next generation will be soon enough."
These men were not starry-eyed idealists unaware of the difficulties involved in their slogan. They faced them but countered by saying that if the first generation of Christianity could accomplish so much, then certainly they could, under Christ, accomplish the evangelization of the world in their generation. They reminded critics that this had been the same goal for every generation of Christians; the S.V.M. was simply the first group to adopt it officially as a slogan. As Mott put it, "The watchword has exerted a most helpful influence in the lives of individual Christians. By emphasizing Christís command, it furnishes a powerful motive."
The movement with its slogan was to have vast consequences throughout the world. Between 1899 and 1914 it rallied 4,521 missionaries to leave American shores to work in China, India, Africa, and the Pacific islands. As a consequence America took over the leadership in the foreign mission enterprise both as to funds and manpower.
Another important consequence of the S.V.M. was its impact on England and the European nations. Out of it came the Student Christian Movement in Great Britain and Ireland, the primary source of English missionaries. This organization grew in world proportions until it included a number of lands in the Worldís Student Christian Federation, 1895. Thus revivalism was productive of one of the truly creative movements in modern Christianity. In this organization college and university students studied the meaning of their Christian faith in relation to the problems of the modern world. They received inspiration through conferences and literature. They were presented with the challenge of directing their lives to a Christian faith that was vital for the whole world.
Students were only one source of the vigorous new missionary life that pulsated through the bodies of American Churches. In order to carry on the work money was needed, and efficient organization had to be supplied. It was at this point that the good women of the Churches stepped forward to provide the devotion, talent, and time to play the Martha for the large numbers of students willing to leave all as did Mary and follow the Lord whithersoever he might lead.
Another important step in creating support for the missionary enterprise was the Laymenís Missionary Movement, founded in 1906. Before the mission program could have real utility it had to have the support of large numbers of church people. The only way possible to do this was through the laity. The laymenís organization did just that. It arose out of the inspiration of the S.V.M. and drew into itself businessmen and others interested in providing funds for the work. Most of these men were influenced by revivalism.
The Y.M.C.A. was also an important source of foreign mission workers. In 1889 the North American Y.M.C.A. formed a foreign division and made plans to develop associations in foreign fields. Under the leadership of John R. Mott, who remained a layman, the "Y" had a phenomenal growth in foreign lands. Truly this foreign work was an accurate indication of the vitality of American Protestantism. Never before had it been so vigorous and active both at home and abroad.
While all this activity was taking place within the Church, world events were so shaping up that it was possible and almost inevitable for Christians to take up anew the challenge of missions. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century was the age of colonialism and imperialism. France, England, and Germany engaged in a race for the domination of the raw materials and also of the peoples in Asia and Africa. Continents were divided into spheres of influence as vast segments of land were parceled out among the great powers.
The remarkable thing was that the missionary enterprise partook of such a small degree of imperialism. By and large it was the only movement from the West that did not seek to exploit colonial peoples, and wherever it was sufficiently strong it forced governmental officials to deal more justly with the native peoples. But the missionaries could not avoid the fact that they were often present in foreign lands only because their own nation or some other Western nation was in control. If they sought no advantage from this arrangement, they could overcome their initial handicap. When they sought extra protection and privileges, they destroyed their effectiveness.
In 1898 the United States went to war against Spain and emerged with the Philippine Islands, Puerto Rico, and a protectorate over Cuba. The war was caused as much by the excitement built up by the American press and pulpits as by the misconduct of the Spanish. Their treatment of those possessions was little different in 1898 from what it was in 1798, yet in 1898 a war resulted. The consequence was that America found itself catapulted into the arena of foreign affairs.
The pulpit and religious papers were solidly in favor of the war, and after the war they promoted the American retention of the territory in order to prepare the natives for freedom. The first step to freedom was to bring them the gospel as interpreted by Protestantism. Here was a chance for American Churches to operate on a foreign field under American control. They did not pass up the opportunity. As a result new work was undertaken in the Philippines and Puerto Rico, and in light of Americaís enhanced position in the Far East mission work in China and Japan became of greater importance. The foreign mission movement entered a new age.
The fresh life in the foreign mission movement had consequences for religious life not only in foreign lands but also in America. With unprecedented numbers entering foreign service and with ever-increasing funds being raised for missions, it was inevitable that it was to have some effect on American Protestantism.
For one thing it made Americans in general and Christianity in particular aware of different peoples and customs. Though missionaries went only to preach Christ and him crucified, they constantly faced the question of how this could be done. They at first simply ignored the whole foreign culture to which they preached. but they soon found this was impossible. They had to find the best means of making the gospel relevant, and so they took a new interest in other religions and cultures.
Furthermore, while working on the foreign field, they found that needless competition between various Protestant groups only stood in the way of evangelism; therefore, they were forced to seek cooperation with one another. This had consequences not only on the foreign field but also on the Churches at home in America. They had to reappraise their common faith as well as their differences.
Finally, the increased use of laity both in the Churches and in the colleges made for a Christianity of greater life and vitality. It made all Christians feel responsible for spreading the gospel. This was not simply a job for hired pastors or professionals. The great leaders who left businesses remained laymen while they led the missionary enterprise. Dwight L. Moody, Robert E. Speer, and John R. Mott are examples. So the expansion of foreign missions brought the layman into a new position of importance in American Christianity.
Meanwhile, going hand in hand with the increased tempo of revivalism and the redoubled efforts at foreign missions was a fresh impetus to reform. This took the form of the Sabbath movement and the temperance movement, both of which had long been dear to the hearts of revivalistic Christians.
All those coming out of revivalism were greatly disturbed by the slow distintegration of the strict Sabbath. They felt that it should be a day devoted exclusively to religious activity with absolutely no merrymaking. Large numbers of German, Scandinavian, and southern European immigrants thought otherwise. To be sure, the religious among them started the day with church, but the remainder of the day was to be spent in recreation and relaxation. God made the day for manís recreation. So they made merry, sang, laughed, and even drank.
Against this view of Sunday the revival Christians protested with all their vigor. Sabbath clubs and organizations were founded to enforce laws against the merrymakers. But the full weight of their wrath was let loose on drinking. At first the temperance movement in America was purely a voluntary society that aimed at temperate use of milder alcoholic beverages. In the 1840ís it developed into a movement that was opposed to all use of alcohol as a beverage and advocated law to prevent its usage.
Immediately after the war, in 1865, a National Temperance Convention was called, The battle lines were drawn between the brewersí and distillersí industry and the revivalists. In between was the mass of people not quite certain which way to turn, but most of them preferring their glass of beer. In 1869 the National Prohibition Party was founded on the principle of putting all alcoholic beverages under the ban of law.
Though the revivalistic Churches supported its program, it met with little success. Again the ladies had to take over and promote a cause. In 1874 the Womenís Christian Temperance Union was founded, and in 1895 the Anti-Saloon League of America. Miss Frances E. Willard became the leader of the W.C.T.U. They started a vigorous campaign, using revival techniques to convert the nation to total abstinence by choice and through law. They were not to succeed for almost twenty years, but then they were to gain a temporary victory.
So a rich new energy was brought into the Churches through revivalism. It was the time-tested source of strength whereby American Protestantism sought to meet the new problems it faced in the big cities, the colonialism of the century, and the rising scientific thought. Revivalism produced great preachers and giants in leadership and organization. It produced a certainty and conviction that could not be stopped. It won millions for the Churches and imbued all with a new moral fervor. Revivalism brought fresh impulses into student life, rallied the women and young people into many societies, poured out thousands of missionaries, produced new groups to work in the slums, created institutions of mercy and charity.
But the very certainty of conviction and the very intenseness of zeal were to prove its undoing. It was so sure of its grasp of truth that it quickly became the Pharisees praying, "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers," and continuing with drunkards, card players, or dancers.
Those who were converted behaved in a certain way. Those who did not so behave were not Christian. So the revivalistsí question, "Brother, are you saved? " was a "loaded" question. One was "saved" only if he acted as the revivalist said he must. Christianity was too easily identified with a series of negative actions -- a series of things that one did not do.
Furthermore, in its strong emphasis on individual conversion it often overlooked Godís Church as a channel through which God reaches man. All one needed was a certain kind of experience, and that would automatically provide a complete answer for the Christian life. What of those who quietly grew up in Christian homes and never had such an experience and yet lived the life of repentance, sacrifice, and love? That was the question Bushnell asked of the revivalists. They never answered it. They were too busy winning souls.
What of the great injustices in society, in economic life, in politics? Convert the individual and all else will follow, was the revivalistsí answer. Or, better still, replied another group, these things donít count; only eternal souls matter. Soon the world will end anyway. Something was wrong with such a view. Surely the Church as the fellowship of believers must act in concert against great injustices that violate Godís law. The dream of the Puritans had been lost. The soul of the Christian was divided from his body.
Not only did revivalism divide manís soul from his body, it also tended to ignore his mind. Moody, Chapman, Mills, and Sunday were opposed to all attempts to relate the latest findings of man s mind to the deepest insights of his Christian faith. They cried out that the Bible and conversion were enough, man needed no more.
But had not the Church given birth to the universities? Had it not founded the earliest schools in America? Was not the mind of man also created by God? Did not the faith relate to the whole man and the whole of his society? Revivalism tended to ignore these basic questions as it concentrated on one great problem: Are you saved? In so doing it helped to promote Christian faith in America, but at the same time it de-emphasized the role of the Church by concentrating on an individual experience, and it also made Christianity a stranger to large segments of American intellectual, cultural, and political life.