Chapter 8: The Rise of the Evangelical Conception of the Ministry in America (1607-1850), by Sidney E. Mead
[Sidney E. Mead received his Ph. D. at University of Chicago Divinity School and was a member of the faculty there from 1941 to 1960. He was President of Meadville Theological School in Chicago, then taught at Claremont School of Theology, the University of Iowa, and a number of other schools of theology. His many books include: The Quest for Being (Prometheus 1991), Paradoxes of Freedom (Prometheus 1987), The Metaphysics of Pragmatism (Prometheus 1996), with Richard Rorty, John Dewey: An Intellectual Portrait (Prometheus 1995), with Christopher Phelps, From Hegel to Marx (Columbia University Press 1990), and Convictions (Prometheus 1990).]
The whole history of the Church confirms the sentiment taught expressly in many passages of Scripture, and by implication, on every page of the New Testament, that the great agency appointed and employed of God in the work of instructing and saving men, is the living rninistry of Christianity.1
The intent of this chapter is to discuss what the conception of the ministry and the practice of the ministers tended to become in America -- and why -- during the two hundred and fifty years from the planting of the first permanent English colony in 1607 to the stabilization of the new nation on the verge of the Civil War. It is designed primarily to help to provide a historical background and context for the discussions of the problems of the ministry today. In the mind of the author, it is one of his "essays to do good" by making a contribution to the kind of self-understanding that is the peculiar province of historical interpretations to provide. Such an approach demands the sketching in of a broad historical setting for the developments which are the immediate concern of the work. This will help to explain why the essay begins with matters apparently far off from the ministry itself, although the intention is to include nothing that does not contribute to a direct answer to the question stated in the first sentence.
The most obvious characteristic of organized Christianity in America is its diversity and fragmentation into many independent bodies, which makes it almost impossible for the historian to generalize about it with any assurance. It is a commonplace that the explanation of most of this striking diversity is transplantation through immigration. By the decade of 1850-60 America had become the repository of offshoots of almost all the religious groups of mother Europe, had added a few of her own, and all were luxuriating under the warm and vivifying sun of religious freedom and stimulated by the fertile opportunities for life and expansion offered by practically unlimited social and geographical space.
But just as the "American," as Crevecoeur noted, while first of all a transplanted European had nevertheless become a new creature, so these many transplanted European religious groups, although bearing enough family resemblance to their Old World progenitors to be recognized as of direct descent, yet had all been changed by the subtle magic of the new land and were different from any previous churches in Christendom. Hence the common descriptive categories of "church" and "sect"; of "right-wing" and "left-wing" Protestantism which make sense in distinguishing the divisions of Old World Christianity, are not applicable without confusion and distortion to the American scene. For there by around 1850 "churches" and "sects" as known in Europe had disappeared, while characteristics of both had been merged with others improvised to meet new situations to make the "denomination" and the "society" -- two distinctively American organizational forms. Unlike traditional churches, the definitive nature of these forms was neither confessional nor territorial, and they were neither Erastian nor Theocratic in relation to civil government, but "free." And since there were no longer "churches," neither were any appropriately called "sects" in the traditional sense. Rather the denominations and their arms for co-operative endeavors, the Societies, were primarily purposive, voluntary associations engaged in the free society in the propagandization of the Gospel -- each according to its own light, understanding, and ingenuity. Meanwhile, in the great bulk of American Protestantism an "evangelical" understanding of the faith had gradually supplanted the traditional sacramental outlook. With these great shifts extending over two centuries and a half and culminating in America in the decade of the 1850s, both the conception of the ministry and the practical life of the minister were metamorphosed into ways of thinking and doing that were different from anything previously known in Christendom.
The principle of adaptation . . . is certainly the life and virtue of the voluntary system.2
At the time when Englishmen first set their feet on America's eastern seaboard with the purpose of remaining as settlers, the prevailing intention was colonization -- the projection of the empire into outposts where loyal citizens might reap profits from virgin land, unmined hills, unfished seas, and uncut forests. This called for the planting of small replicas of English towns with all their accepted customs, manners, and forms based on and cemented together with the true Christian religion as "now professed and established within our realm of England." England of course was passionately Protestant -- at least as passionately so as the phlegmatic reserve of the English made possible and respectable. From the glorious days of their virgin Queen, after whom the first permanent colony was named, Protestantism had of necessity been synonymous with patriotism, and the clergyman-chaplain who accompanied the first expedition was recognized as the emissary of the "supreme Governor" of the English Church as well as of Christ, and as such was accorded the deference due his doubly representative office. The first charters and laws reveal the assumption that such position and deference would be maintained -- with authority backed by coercive power if necessary -- so that the Establishment would be perpetuated.
But the English Establishment itself was a majestic and dignified breezeway between Catholicism and Protestantism, firmly attached to both, but too open either to obstruct the passing zephyr or be permanendy injured by offering too rigid a resistance to the hurricane. It was a magnificent exemplification of the English genius for compromise and adaptation -- qualities giving those who possessed them a high survival value in the emerging new world of rapid change bordering on turmoil. These people, even in their darkest hours, could say with almost irritating nonchalance, "There will always be an England" -- but without meaning thereby that it must necessarily be exactly like the England I know. John Robinson spoke as much as an Englishmen as a Christian when he reminded his Pilgrim flock on the eve of their departure that there might be yet more light to break forth from the Word of God. Even the angular-minded New England Puritan Biblicist recognized that "it is the way of Christ in the Gospel to set up the practice of his Institutions as the necessities of the people call for them." 3 In 1767 the arch-Anglican, Dr. Thomas Chandler of New Jersey, reflected the same sentiment by insisting that while Episcopacy was of divine right and as obligatory as "baptism or the holy eucharist," yet "bishops according to the belief of the church of England, are necessary only where they can be had!" 4 Thus, foreshadowing what we have come to regard as something typical of the American mentality, when "all of Europe's logic" found itself arrayed against "all of New England's experience," it was the experience that won and became decisive.5
One may say that the trait here suggested indicates a genius for improvisation -- or a somewhat stupid dependence on "muddling through" -- or a tenacious belief in general revelation -- but recognized it must be. And historically it sets the English empire apart from the Catholic Spanish and French empires, which were born with a kind of institutional rigor mortis that confused forms with godliness and made adaptation next to impossible. We may contrast this rigorism with Nathaniel Ward's dictum as the self-appointed spokesman for the most rigid of the English -- the Bay Puritans -- that while Scriptural injunctions make it impossible for the State "to give an Affirmative Toleration to any false Religion, or Opinion whatsoever" on the basis of concession as a right, yet it "must connive in some Cases."6
"Connive" the colonists did all up and down the coast, and for so many reasons, and with such a motley host of dissenters, that finally the nice distinction between concession of principle and connivance in practice was itself lost in the intricate web of argumentation necessary for its maintenance. Step by step they "adapted" themselves into a positive defense of religious diversity which spelled out religious freedom. Indeed, religious freedom was in a real sense the elevation of "connivance" forced by necessity to the eminence of a principle of action.
Adaptation was thrust upon the ministers from the beginning. Typical was the Rev. Jonas Michaelius of New Amsterdam who, in explaining to his brethren back home in 1628 some of the irregularities attending the formation of his church and why he departed from its accepted forms in administering the Lord's Supper to the French "in the French language, and according to the French mode," noted simply that "one cannot observe strictly all the usual formalities in making a beginning under such circumstances." 7 Willingly or not, graciously or grudgingly, all the ministers who came had to recognize this bare fact or die with their churches. It is the combined experience of such people in all the churches that spells out the overall motif of adaptation.
But the English while showing a genius for adaptation have commonly appeared to be backing into the future by supporting even their revolutions by appeal to the past -- to Magna Carta and the traditional rights of Englishmen -- thus in their way showing "a decent respect to the [accepted] opinions of mankind." In this regard, for example, the American Revolution was no exception, and while Ezra Stiles applauded Jefferson in 1783 because he had "poured the soul of the continent into the monumental act of independence," yet he could not forbear exclaiming: "O England! how did I once love thee? how did I once glory in thee!" until "some demon whispered folly into the present reign." 8
In religious affairs this is paralleled by the tendency chronic in Christendom but perhaps more acute among Englishmen, to support every contemporary innovation by an appeal to "primitive Christianity." Thus John Wesley in 1784, after vainly trying to get the Anglican bishops to ordain his Methodist preachers for America, proceeded to a kind of Presbyterian ordination -- explaining that he had remembered or discovered precedent therefore in the practice of the ancient church at Alexandria. In this act of his evangelical contemporary Benjamin Franklin might have seen another illustration of what a "convenient thing it is to be a reasonable Creature, since it enables one to find or make a Reason for everything one has a mind to do." 9 Actually, however, he and his fellow Deists were not too different from the clerical innovators, for they rested their attack against contemporary ecclesiastical institutions on the pure religion and morals of Jesus-whom they saw as the first great Deist!
It should not surprise us to note that throughout the whole period of rapid adaptation to the exigencies of the "frontier" through the change of old and the proliferation of new forms, most of the ministerial leaders continued to insist, and apparently to believe, that there was really nothing new but only the repristination of the apostolic and hence normative ways. In 1783 Ezra Stiles was "not simply satisfied, but sure, from a thorough perlustration of all ecclesiastical history, that they [Congregational churches] are nearly apostolical as to doctrine and polity." Indeed, he added, there is "no doctrine no ordinance or institution of the primitive church, but may be found in general reception and observance among us."10 This tendency helps to explain the somewhat puzzling fact that although the ministers of America have been the most pragmatic of all, and have been inclined to agree with Thomas Jefferson that "if we are Protestants we reject all tradition," nevertheless, they have in profession been the most extensively and woodenly Biblicistic.
The times in which we live, as also the state of our American churches, have each their peculiarities, tending to modify very considerably the duties of pastors.11
Throughout the complicated process of adaptation to the exigencies of the new situation faced in America, one institutional development stands out as having tremendous influence on the conception and practice of the ministry, namely, the tendency in all the transplanted churches of whatever polity to gravitate toward an actual "congregationalism" or localism. Leonard Bacon, long-time pastor of Center Church in New Haven and perhaps more to be remembered for substance than for wit, noted in May, 1852, that "parochial and self-governed churches . . . is the distinctively American method of religious organization."12 This was not just an exhibition of New England provincialism or Congregational bias, but an essentially correct historical observation.
During the early planting days of small things all the churches, whatever their polity and however rigidly it was insisted upon, had to begin as local, particular congregations whose ministers only later could be drawn together into Presbyteries, Ministeriums, Conventions, Conferences, or whatever their traditional polity called for. Meanwhile, the minister was likely to be completely isolated from the sustaining power and status-giving context of his church, and, thrown into intimate face-to-face contact with his lay people, made dependent upon his own character and something as intangible to most colonists as "the Spirit" for whatever of prestige he could gain and leadership he could give. Henry M. Muhlenberg, sent from Germany via England in 1742 to set the disordered Lutheran house in order and save it from Count Zinzendorf's brand of unification, discovered on the eve of his arrival in the Philadelphia area that
A preacher must fight his way through with the Sword of the Spirit alone and depend upon faith in the living God and His promises, if he wants to be a preacher and proclaim the truth [in America].13
In this situation the laity, in the absence of any visible and present reminders of ecclesiastical ubiquity and power to awe or influence them, tasted and relished the possibilities of control to such an extent that later they only grudgingly could be induced to surrender a part -- and among Protestants they never surrendered all of it.
This development is most strikingly illustrated in the history of the Church of England in the colonies, which in the South was established from the beginning by the Charters, rather consistently supported by successive laws, and generally nurtured by the civil rulers. But with real Episcopal control as far away as London and tangibly represented only by relatively ineffective Commissaries, overall supervision of the scattered parishes theoretically devolved upon the Governor and Assembly while in practice actual control fell into the hands of lay Vestries. Thus the Vestries in America soon gained effective control of the spirituals as well as the temporals of the churches, largely through assuming power to hire and set the salary of the clergyman, plus a studied neglect of presenting him to the Governor for permanent induction into the "living" until forced to do so.14 "In 1697 the Arch- bishop of Canterbury expressed surprise that the clergymen might 'be removed like domestic servants by a vote of the Vestry,'''15 but obviously neither he nor anyone could do anything about it.
Further, because of the scarcity of regular clergymen the custom of hiring lay readers became common, and in some places these congregationally appointed officers were the backbone of the church.16 Hence it is not surprising that from an early date the greatest coolness toward and open opposition to completion of the Anglican Church in the colonies with an Episcopate came precisely from those areas where that Church was ostensibly established. William White declared in 1782 that
there cannot be produced an instance of lay-men in America, unless in the very infancy of the settlements, soliciting the introduction of a bishop; it was probably by a great rrlajority of them thought an hazardous experiment.17
Even the Venerable Society with all its resources, prestige, power, and numerous dedicated missionaries was unable during the eighteenth century to make effective headway toward an Episcopate, and for the want thereof, the missionaries spearheaded the calling of "conventions" of the clergy in the 1760's. One or another of these conventions asserted the "right to interfere in parochial affairs," recommended men for missions, effectively protested the settlement of others, and ruled that every priest "should consider himself obliged to attend the stated meetings."18 It is obvious that these conventions greatly resembled the New England Congregationalists' ministerial associations, although they actually wielded much less power because it was only assumed. However, they were effective enough to alarm some church authorities in England at this show of "Independency" on the part of their daughter in the colonies.
Small wonder that the Anglican missionaries began sadly to report that Dissenters were saying that "they saw no advantage in conforming, because there was 'no material Difference between ye Church & Themselves," and Dr. Chandler in 1771 expressed the prophetic fear that
possibly in Time we may come to think that ye Unity of Christ's Body is a chimerical Doctrine -- that Schism is an Ecclesiastical Scarecrow -- & that Episcopal is no better than ye leathern Mitten Ordination.19
After the achievement of independence when the Episcopal Church of its own volition got an Episcopate, and in spite of the pompous pretensions and sober protestations of such High-churchmen as Connecticut's Samuel Seabury, the new American church in order to attain organization on a national scale had to make the lay voice in its councils an essential part of its being.
This had been anticipated by the Rev. William White who had warned in August, 1782, that the outcome of the Revolution had broken both the civil and ecclesiastical chains that heretofore had held the Episcopal churches together, and hence "their future continuance can be provided for only by voluntary associations [of discrete churches] for union and good government," for in America there "will be an equality of the churches; and not, as in England, the subjection of all parish churches to their respective cathedrals." And this, he thought, will make it "necessary to deviate from the practice (though not from the principles) of that Church, by convening the clergy and laity in one body." The former, he predicted, will "have an influence proportional to the opinion entertained of their piety and learning," and he hoped they would never "wish to usurp an exclusive right of regulation."20
Later developments attested to White's prophetic ability. By the 1850's it was a commonplace observation that in America the Episcopalians "have allowed the laity a share in ecclesiastical legislation and administration, such as the high church in England never granted" and that as a matter of fact even a bishop "maintains his authority for the most part only by his personal character and judicious counsel."21 In this respect they were hardly distinguishable from, and certainly no more securely authoritarian than, the clergy of the congregationally organized denominations. In fact in 1836 Calvin Colton, erstwhile Presbyterian minister and journalist who had recently been converted to the Episcopal Church, argued with convincing cogency that in the government of the Church of his present choice constitutional provisions provided for more lay power than in the other denominations. No one, he thought, could deny that the Secretary of the America Home Missionary Society actually wielded more uncontrolled power than "the whole college of Bishops presiding over the Episcopal Church of the United States" since "the clergy Employed" and "the congregations assisted" and "the kind of doctrine [permitted] to its beneficiaries" was "under the absolute control of the society."22
But of course by this time the acceptance of religious freedom and separation had changed all the one-time churches and sects into voluntary associations and had shorn their ministers of all but persuasive or political power.
As might be expected the most radical congregational development -- which somewhere along the line assumed that eloquently descriptive title of "local autonomy" -- took place in the churches of the Bay. It is not commonly noted that this was something evolved in the process of adaptation and not the original intention. One cannot here retell the extremely complex story pictured in exquisite detail in Perry Miller's From Colony to Province. Sufficient to note that the original overall conception was that of "a speaking aristocracy in the face of a silent democracy" -- the former being in the local church a kind of ministerial presbytery "not one among the membership, but a separate power [ordained by Christ], holding a veto upon the people," and in the community at large the General Court in its civil-ecclesiastical capacity plus the Synod which alone had the power to declare the truth which bound the consciences of all men.23 But in the tumultuous days of the "Half-Way Covenant" discussions when a faction of the First Church in Boston withdrew to form the Third (or Old South) Church and called for a council, the loyal members under the aged John Davenport "defied the entire polity by saying 'that to grant a Council tends to overthrow the Congregational way"' and Davenport urged the Court not to "further 'men's opinions' even though these be 'consented to by the major part of a Topical Synod."' Meanwhile, as the local churches were revolting against overall control, there was widespread revolt against the power of the ministers in the local churches until "after the Reforming Synod [of 1697], the clergy found themselves shorn of every weapon except moral persuasion, and their threat of [Divine] vengeance." And already, as Urian Oakes had declared in 1673 "in many churches 'a few Pragmatical and Loquacious men' are . . . exercising real power, while the constituted authority is helpless."24
Connecticut Congregationalism did not move as far or as fast in this direction. There the essence of the "Proposals" which had failed in Massachusetts were incorporated into civil-ecclesiastical law through the Saybrook Platform of 1708 which so effectively "Presbyterianized" the Congregationalism of this self-styled land of "sober-habits" that its leaders commonly made no distinction between the two polities. Indeed, Lyman Beecher thought that "a Presbytery made up of New England men, raised Congregationalists, is the nearest the Bible of anything there is."25 That such "Presbyteries" were effective is made clear by the short and efficient way in which the Associations and Consociations of Connecticut eliminated the budding Arian and Socinian ministers from their midst at the opening of the nineteenth century. But soon thereafter Connecticut Congregationalism in the midst of theological and ecclesiastical controversy "trotted after the Bay horse" as the die-hards said, along the road to "local autonomy" -- a trend that was augmented by the revolt against supposed Presbyterian encroachments under the Plan of Union in the New England diaspora.
Washington Gladden, that eminent representative man of nineteenthcentury Congregationalism, while advocating a modified socialism in political and economic affairs, as ardently advocated anarchy in ecclesiastical matters. By "the primary Congregational principle," he concluded, each church had "the right to make its own creed." And since the old creeds "had become utterly antiquated" his own personal theology within the vague limits of "a brief confession of the 'evangelical faith"' "had to be hammered out on the anvil for daily use in the pulpit. The pragmatic test was the only one that could be applied to it: 'Will it work?"'26
Similar developments took place among the Presbyterians and have been precisely delineated by Professor Trinterud in his excellent reappraisal of their colonial period.27 Within that Church the course of the controversies over the revivals tended to demonstrate the impossibility in the long run of any effective ecclesiastical control according to traditional standards over those considered to be innovators, heretics, or schismatics if they had the support of a local church and a group of like-minded cohorts -- and if their efforts were "successful" in producing tangible results.
However, the Presbyterians so far as the clergy were concerned did not move even as far as the Episcopalians toward congregational control. This was partly because of their form of government and their long experience in running their own affairs both as an Established Church and as dissenters. But the struggle for dominance between Synod and Presbytery in which the latter won at least the crucial right of control over examinations for ordination, permitted thereafter within the overall context of the denomination a kind of "localism" -- that is, for example, one presbytery might emphasize Christian experience judged by one's "walk," and another correctness of doctrine judged by subscription to the accepted standards.
Henceforth this kind of "localism" has been an essential characteristic of the free-churches, and a barrier to any tendencies toward overall uniformity imposed from above. Its development, and the more radical congregationalism described, meant that the minister in whatever church was from an early date placed in an intimate relationship with the lay people, and was maintained and if necessary judged by them or by his neighboring peers in the ministry. Not all of the laity were as crudely assertive as Crevecoeur's "Low Dutchman" who, that "American farmer" said,
conceives no other idea of a clergyman than that of a hired man; if he does his work well he will pay him the stipulated sum; if not he will dismiss him, and do without his sermons, and let his church be shut up for years.28
But the laity were in a position to wield decisive power in every denomination.
And this did a great deal to prepare the ministers for separation by training them in dependence upon persuasion unbacked by even a possibility of coercive power, and teaching them reliance upon political sagacity and the necessity for very down-to-earth political activity at least in ecclesiastical affairs. Under freedom and separation such action was no longer optional, but necessary, and de Tocqueville should not have been as surprised as he apparently was to discover that in America everywhere "you meet with a politician where you expected to find a priest."29 Horace Bushnell in 1854 uttered the fervent prayer in a letter to a friend:
May God in his mercy deliver me . . . from all this ecclesiastical brewing of scandals and heresies, the wire-pulling, the schemes to get power or to keep it, the factions got up to ventilate wounded pride and get compensation for the chagrin of defeat.... Lord save me from it!30
But the very vehemence of his utterance betrays his awareness of the real situation -- that there was no balm for the politically allergic in the American denominational Gilead.
Lyman Beecher described the true situation.
No minister can be forced upon his people, without their suffrage and voluntary support. Each pastor stands upon his own character and deeds, without anything to break the force of his responsibility to his people.31
This kind of political relationship, because of overt and immediate dependence upon the local congregation, tended to make the American minister -- unless of more than average abilities or wealth -- very sensitive to the peculiar provincialisms of his parish and often subservient to and the spokesman for them. And this often created within him a strong tension between the universality of the Christian Gospel and the limits imposed by a parochial layman's apprehension of it, thus many times in effect imposing upon him the hard choice between applying his professed standards of Christian love and justice to the local scene and securing food, clothing, and shelter for himself and family. When this situation is recognized one is in a position to realize that the remarkable thing is not that ministers were sometimes timid, evasive, and timeserving, but that as a whole they displayed such a degree of efficiently applied dedication, intelligence, and courage that the sober foreign visitor was led to declare in 1845 that "in the active discharge of the duties of their oflice they perhaps surpass all" ministers in other countries.32 This is a tribute both to their adherence to the Christian faith -- wherein they might appear to be as harmless as doves -- and to their political sagacity -- wherein they had to be as wise as serpents.
. . . a grand truth of revelation [is] the divine unity of the Church. We have all, who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, substantially one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. We are all called in one hope of our calling, and in one body, and that the body of Christ. We have all one Saviour, one Gospel, one Bible, one Heaven, one destination, one and the same eternal home; by whatever name we may here be called.33
Throughout the long hard process of institutional adaptation to the exigencies of a new world during which traditional churches and sects were metamorphosed into denominations and a kind of congregationalism came to prevail in every group as lay influence burgeoned, the spiritual and ideological apprehension of the faith itself was being transformed from one primarily ritualistic and sacerdotal to one primarily evangelical -- a change that greatly affected the whole conception of the ministry.
It is extremely difficult to trace this change and give it historical structure amidst all the diversity and contending claims of the American denominations, since what happened was due more to a subtle change of emphasis than to the introduction of new elements. It was merely that something which had always been represented in Christianity by a minority voice gained the dominant voice in America by around 1850 -- but perhaps in the perspective of history only temporarily so.
As Dr. Hudson notes, this subtle change began during the Reformation in England with the gradual fading of emphasis on the sacerdotal aspect of the ministry, and it is further complicated by being inextricably bound up with the corresponding change that took place in the conception of society and its government. Both were carried to their logical and perhaps "enthusiastic" extreme in the United States.
At the dawn of England's colonial thrust into the American continent, the prevailing view did not distinguish between the ends of State and Church -- the two being conceived indeed as "personally one Society, which society . . . [is] termed a Commonwealth as it liveth under whatsoever form of secular law and regiment, a Church as it hath the spiritual law of Jesus Christ."34 Thus the whole venture in Virginia was premised upon the view that the King's "principall care" in all his "Realmes" was "true Religion, and reverence to God," defined, as in the first Charter, "according to the doctrine, rights, and religion now professed and established within our realme of England." Hence, as declared in 1610, "our primarie end is to plant religion, our secondarie and subalternate ends are for the honour and profit of our nation."35 Therefore all laws and regulations were designed in order that "all his [the King's] forces wheresoever" might "let their waies be like his ends, for the glorie of God" from whom "we must alone expect our success." Hence there were elaborately detailed laws "declared against what Crimes soeurer, whether against the diuine Maiesty of God, or our soueraigne, and Liege Lord, King James" with the threat of death for anyone who "shall willingly absent himselfe, when hee is summoned to take the oath of Supremacy."36
Within this context, in many areas the representative of the king was interchangeable with that of the archbishop. For example, the clergymen, in the absence of bishops, were subject to being "censured for their negligence by the Governor" and even threatened with "losing their Entertainment."37 The minister's duties as emissary of both Christ and King were defined in detail by law. He was to preach every Sabbath morning 'after diuine Seruice," to "catechise in the aftemoon," to "say the diuine seruice twice euery-day," morning and evening, to "preach euery Wednesday," and to "keepe a faithful and true Record . . . of all Christnings, Marriages, and deaths" within this parish. He was to "chuse vnto him, foure of the most religious and better disposed" men to inform him of "the abuses and neglects of the people in their duties, and seruice to God" and to help him oversee the upkeep of Church property.38
The Lavves Dinine, Morall and Martiall etc, codified and published in 1612 in order that all residents might "take survey of their duties, and carrying away the tenour of the same, meditate & bethinke how safe, quiet, and comely it is to be honest, just, and ciuill,''39 make two things clear -- that the savage punishments threatened would guarantee that the offender's life would be neither safe nor quiet, and that the "duties" were primarily what we should call religious observances. The Laws of 1619 which passed the newly formed representative House of Burgesses, while mitigating the punishments threatened, defined the duties of the clergyman almost word for word as did the earlier laws. And they emphasize the official oneness of Church and State by stipulating that a Church member for "enormous sinnes" might be suspended "by the minister," but that excommunication required the approval of a regular Quarterly meeting of "all the ministers" and the consent of the Govemor -- wherewith the offender was subject to seizure of person and confiscation of goods.40
That from the beginning the routine observances of the Church in the worship of God were deemed an essential aspect of the being and well-being of the Commonwealth is made abundantly clear from the early records. John Smith in 1630, in answering criticisms of the colony current in England, recalled that
When I first went to Virginia, I well remember wee did hang an awning (which is an old saile) to three or foure trees to shadow us from the Sunne, our walles were rales of wood, our seats unhewed trees till we cut plankes, our Pulpit a bar of wood nailed to two neighboring trees. In foule weather we shifted into an old rotten tent; for we had few better.... This was our Church, till wee built a homely thing like a barne, set upon Cratchets, covered with rafts, sedge, and earth; so was also the walls . . . that could neither well defend [from] wind nor raine.
Yet wee had daily Common Prayer morning and evening, every Sunday two Sermons, and every three moneths the holy Communion, till our Minister died: but our Prayers daily, with an Homily on Sundaies, we continued two or three yeares after, till more Preachers came: and surely God did most mercifully heare us....41
The overall conception, then, was that of the sacramental efficacy of the regular observances of the Church in relationship to the State, in which the work of the priest-clergy was to direct all the individuals composing the dual Society into the daily walk defined by the Church, for the sanctifying of the whole. This it was that assured that "their waies . . . like his [the King's] ends" were all "for the glory of God."
This overall conception -- defined with varying degrees of clarity and insisted upon with varying degrees of rigor in particular times and places -- together with the consequent priestly conception of the nature and work of the ministry -- remained the predominant one in the Church of England in the colonies. In spite of all colonial vicissitudes the formal definition of the work of the ministry remained as stated in the Virginia laws of 1619: "duely [to] read divine service, and exercise their ministerial function according to the Ecclesiastical laws and orders of the Churche of Englande...."42 Thus the goal and the determination of the generations of dedicated ministers who served the English Church throughout this period might be expressed in the words of that early governor of Virginia, Sir Thomas Dale. The chief end, he suggested, is "to build God a Church," and in order to do this "I am bound in conscience" to leave "all contenting pleasures and mundall delights, to reside here [Virginia] with much turmoile, which I will rather doe than see God's glory diminished, my King and Country dishonoured, and these poore soules I haue in charge reuined."43
But meanwhile the complex movements of history had pushed concern for the individual "poore soules" into the foreground of service for "God's glory," while the communal concern suggested by the words for "King and Country" tended to fade into the misty background of consciousness. William White recognized in 1782 that the future of the Episcopal Church in America, where the distinction between "Church" and "Dissenters" would not be known, depended on not "confounding english episcopacy, with the subject at large." But, he noted,
unhappily there are some, in whose ideas the existence of their church is so connected with that of the civil government of Britain, as to preclude their concurrence in any system, formed on a presumed final separation of the two countries.44
The old conception was long in dying in the Episcopal Church -- and perhaps it never really died at all -- as witness the repeated suggestion that the name be changed to The National Church of America, not to mention the continuing deference paid to Canterbury.
But when White wrote in 1782 Methodist preachers had already been welcomed by the Rev. Devereaux Jarrett into the bosom of the Church of England in Virginia. Two years later they would go their separate way -- with John Wesley's reluctant blessing, and with his injunction uppermost in their minds: "You have nothing to do but save souls." Here was suggested the very center of the evangelical conception of the ministry -- something quite different from the English episcopal view.
On the graph of the history of Christianity in America the great curve of "evangelical" Protestantism turns upward from the beginning of the revivals which swept the colonies from the 1720's, moves sharply upward with freedom and separation, and reaches its highest point sometime in the 1840's. The Rev. Albert Barnes -- that distinguished Presbyterian minister and careful scholar whose Commentaries sold over a million copies -- stood very near the peak in 1840 when he wrote:
We [evangelicals] regard the prevailing spirit of Episcopacy, in all aspects, high and low, as at variance with the spirit of the age and of this land. This is an age of freedom, and man will be free. The religion of forms is the stereotyped wisdom or folly of the past, and does not adapt itself to the free movements, the enlarged views, the varying plans of this age. The spirit of this age demands that there shall be freedom in religion; that it shall not be fettered or suppressed; that it shall go forth to the conquest of the world. It is opposed to all bigotry and uncharitableness; to all attempts to "unchurch" others; to teaching that they worship in conventicles, that they are dissenters, or that they are left to the uncovenanted mercies of God. All such language did better in the days of Laud and Bonner than now.... The spirit of this land is, that the church of Christ is not under the Episcopal form, or the Baptist, the Methodist, the Presbyterian, or the Congregational form exclusively; all are, to all intents and purposes, to be recognized as parts of the one holy catholic church.... There is a spirit in this land which requires that the gospel shall depend for its success not on solemn processions and imposing rites; not on the idea of superior sanctity in the priesthood in virtue of their office; not on genuflections and ablutions; not on any virtue conveyed by the imposition of holy hands, and not on union with any particular chureh, but on solemn appeals to the reason, the conscience, the immortal hopes and fear of men, attended by the holy influences of the Spirit of God.... 45
During that decade the Rev. Robert Baird, in his treatise on Religion in America, redected current acceptation by dividing all the Protestant denominations into "evangelical" and "unevangelical." The former, he said, were characterized by adherence to the great doctrines that Christians had always deemed essential for salvation, plus (although he did not use this terminology) explicit individual apprehension of the faith through a conversion experience. Church polity, he intimated, whether Episcopal, Presbyterian, or Congregational, was a matter of human preference, perhaps largely determined by tradition.
Baird's contemporary exponent of "American Lutheranism," Samuel Simon Schmucker (1799-1873), agreed that there are fundamental "unchangeable . . . points of doctrine, experience, and duty in the Christian religion . . . which, in the judgment of the great mass of the Protestant churches, are clearly revealed in God's Word." But, he thought, "whilst each denomination must naturally prefer its own peculiarities" -- as we "Lutherans . . . prefer the doctrines, the organization and usages of the American Lutheran Church" -- it would be a "dangerous error" to regard "these peculiarities as equal in importance with the great fundamentals of our holy religion, held in common by all." In summary he quoted with approval Professor Samuel Miller of Princeton (where he had received his seminary training), that "it would never occur to us to place the peculiarities of our creed among the fundamentals of our common Christianity."46
Concurrent with the development of this sense of common evangelical Protestant doctrines during the two hundred years of fragmentation into denominations in America, had come the increasing emphasis on a personal conversion experience which had spawned the "revival system" as a means of reaching individuals gathered in groups for such personal decisions. Meanwhile, the conception of the church under the impact first of "toleration" and then of complete freedom and separation had largely lost the sacramental dimension which traditionally had sanctified her regular observances under Episcopal direction by making them intrinsically meaningful, and had become that of a voluntary association of explicitly convinced Christians for the purpose of mutual edification in the worship of God and the propagandization of the Christian faith as the group defined it.
Necessarily during this long process the conception of the relationship of the church to the society and its government was also transformed. The sense of organic unity of Church and State which had drawn such a vague line between the duties of the representatives of each, while not completely forgotten, tended to fade under the evangelical impact. This development is most strikingly seen in the history of the Methodists. During the famous Christmas Conference in Baltimore in 1784, the assemblage asked the question, "What may we reasonably believe to be God's Design in raising up the Preachers called Methodists?" and recorded as answer, "To reform the continent, and to spread scriptural Holiness over these lands."
Whatever was meant by the two phrases, it seems clear that some distinction was intended between reforming the nation and spreading "scriptural Holiness." But thirty-two years later such distinction had so faded that Bishop McKendree could answer that "God's design in raising up the preachers called Methodists in America was to reform the continent by spreading scriptural holiness over the land." By that time the basic conviction was that "if the man's soul was saved fundamental social change would inevitably follow."47 In brief, the securing of "conversions" plus, it should be added, "the perfecting of the saints," was equated with, or took the place of, responsibility for the society. Hence "to reform the nation" had come to mean "to convert the nation" in the Methodist way.
Those of the Reformed or Puritan tradition -- whose most influential spokesmen were Congregationalists and Presbyterians -- never assumed so much. In the first place, in keeping with their more churchly tradition, no matter how evangelical they became they never totally lost sight of pastoral care. However actual practice might deviate from the ideal, they continued to stress the dual character of the minister's work. "The great end for which the gospel is preached . . . is, the conversion of sinners, and the spiritual advancement of believers" was the motto. And J. A. James who declared that "the salvation of souls [is] the great object of the ministerial office" immediately explained that
this is a generic phrase, including as its species the awakening of the unconcerned; the guidance of the inquiring; the instruction of the uninformed; and the sanctification, comfort, and progress of those who through grace have believed -- in short, the whole work of grace in the soul.48
In the second place, they never lost their strong sense of the church's direct responsibility for the being and well-being of the commonwealth. But they soon learned that under religious freedom in the Republic this had to be instrumented through the indirect influence on the general population of voluntary associations of what Lyman Beecher called "the wise and the good." In 1829 he declared:
These voluntary associations concentrate the best hearts, the most willing hands, and the most vigorous and untiring enterprise. And being united by affinities of character, they move with less impediment and more vigor than any other bodies can move, and constitute, no doubt, that form of the sacramental host by which Jesus Christ intends to give freedom to the world.49
Such sentiments lay back of the numerous Societies organized between 1800 and 1850 to work for the reformation of individual morals or social betterment. Together they constituted what a contemporary participant described as "a gigantic religious power, systematized, compact in its organization, with a polity and a government entirely its own, and independent of all control."50 So pervasive were these Societies that in 1850 a Unitarian minister, but by no means an enemy to evangelical sentiments, complained that "the minister is often expected to be, for the most part, a manager of social utilities, a wire-puller of beneficient agencies," and his character is often judged "by the amount of visible grinding that it can accomplish in the mill of social reform. . ."51
Such widespread co-operation in Societies demanded, of course, that the individuals engaged should meet on common ground -- and while for the committed Christians who provided the central impetus the ground was that of evangelical Christianity, the more inclusive ground of the community at large was belief in the necessity for good morals. Hence de Tocqueville, acute observer that he was, perhaps pointed to the true state of affairs when he noted that
The sects which exist in the United States are innumerable. They all differ in respect to the worship which is due from man to his Creator; but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to man. Each sect adores the Deity in its own peculiar manner; but all the sects preach the same moral law in the name of God.52
But since evangelicals generally assumed that Christianity was the only sound basis for good morals and hence of American liberties, and that a Christian life began with a conversion experience, the sense of Christian responsibility for the society itself tended to reinforce the evangelical emphasis on revivals.
More subtly, the evangelicals' zeal for the conversion of sinners adumbrated the view that the revivals themselves had a kind of sacramental quality, since their conduct was the outward evidence of the inward desire to sanctify the whole Society unto God, and indeed did so. In America, Albert Barnes wrote for The Christian Spectator in 1832, one seldom sees
a city, or town, or peaceful hamlet, that has not been hallowed by revivals of religion; and in this fact we mark the evidence, at once, that a God of mercy presides over the destinies of this people....53
Meanwhile, the long line of handbooks or lectures on revivals of religion that marched forth from the American presses indicate that the conduct of revivals tended to become as self-conscious, formalized, and ritualistic as the Episcopal "forms" which the evangelicals so vehemently rejected. The Rev. Calvin Colton, writing in the early 1830's to inform "British Christians," began by noting that "American revivals . . . may properly be divided into two classes: one, when the instruments are not apparent; the other when the instruments are obvious."54 Until recently, he thought, the former were the rule. "Christians waited for them, as men are wont to wait for showers of rain, without even imagining, that any duty was incumbent on them, as instruments." But now "the promotion of revivals by human instrumentality has, . . . been made a subject of study, and an object of systematic eflort." "The first class of revivals," Colton thought, was merely
a school of Divine Providence, in which God was training the American church for action -- and raising up a corps of disciplined men, . . . who should begin to see and feel, more practically, that . . . men are ordained to be the instruments of converting and saving souls -- and the instruments of Revivals of Religion.55
Therefore, revivals are now regarded as "the Divine blessing upon measures concerted and executed by man, where the instruments are obvious." Indeed, said Enoch Pond of Bangor Seminary in his Young Pastor's Guide published in 1844, while there should be at all times "a feeling of entire dependence on the aids and influences of the Holy Spirit," nevertheless, "in laboring to promote a revival of religion, or the conversion of a soul," one should adapt and use means "as though no special Divine influences were needed or expected in the case."56
Meanwhile, all seemed to be elated to note that the revival system was snowballing in the churches. "Every fresh revival, of any considerable extent," Colton had added,
multiplies candidates for the ministry, who, . . . after a suitable training and culture, themselves enter the field, and become active and efficient revival men. The spirit of revivals is born into them [in their second birth], and bred with them, and makes their character.57
During the period since 1800, wrote Robert Baird in 1843, revivals "have become . . . a constituent part of the religious system of our country" to such an extent that "he who should oppose himself to revivals, as such, would be regarded by most of our evangelical Christians as, ipso facto, an enemy to spiritual religion itself."58
It is worth noting in passing that Horace Bushnell, who is often regarded as an enemy of revivals, actually wrote in 1838 "to establish a higher and more solid confidence in revivals."59 Nor did he shy away from the excitement they commonly generated. "Nothing was ever achieved, in the way of a great and radical change in men or communities," he said
without some degree of excitement; and if any one expects to carry on the cause of salvation, by a steady rolling on the same dead level, and fears continually lest the axles wax hot and kindle into a flame, he is too timorous to hold the reins in the Lord's chariot.
All he wished to "complain and resist" was "the artificial firework, the extraordinary, combined jump and stir" which some suppose "to be requisite when anything is to be done." What he pleaded for was a little less self-conscious and officious management -- a slightly more subtle approach. In the "jump and stir" context, he argued, making "conversions . . . the measure of all good" can have "a very injurious influence" by concentrating the attention of the church on "the beginning of the work" of the gospel, which is "to form men to God," and to depreciate the substantial and necessary work that takes place during "times of non-revival."60 But aside from this mild warning, which even Charles G. Finney might agree with after 1835, Bushnell was an evangelical of the evangelicals.
No wonder, then, that Theodore Parker -- whose passion for social justice led him to suppose that the revivals did not reach the right people -- grumpily suggested that "the revival machinery" which was set in motion in 1857-58 was "as well known as McCormick's reaper" and used about as mechanically.61
It is obvious that within this broad context the conception of the minister practically lost its priestly dimension as traditionally conceived, and became that of a consecrated functionary, called of God, who directed the purposive activities of the visible church. The "visible church" included of course the denomination and the Societies as well as the local congregation. Already in 1828 the "Bible Societies, Sunday Schools, Tract Societies, Concerts of Prayer, and Missionary and Education Societies" had become so important that the president of Washington College in Virginia thought that
when they become fully known, they must, and will, in some measure, form a test of Christian character. They have so much of the Christian spirit, that all who love the gospel will love them, and every true Christian will do something for their advaneement.62
Twenty-four years later President Heman Humphrey of Amherst, advising his son on the duties of the ministry, after dwelling upon the work of the local parish, urged him not to neglect the denomination and the societies. "There is," he said, "a general as well as a particular oversight of the churches, which devolves upon the pastors, or upon the pastors and delegates," and "it may be necessary also, that you should devote a good deal of time to the direct management of Missionary, Bible and other benevolent societies." Indeed, "somebody must do it, or they cannot be kept up,"63 and it was to him unthinkable that they should not be.
This suggests the evangelical conception of the kinds of ministries possible. Parish ministers, missionaries, secretaries of societies, teachers and professors, and in some cases, evangelists or revivalists as well as other functionaries, were all looked upon as equally engaged in the legitimate ministry of the one church.
Chief among the activities of the church which defined the common ground of the ministry was the conversion of souls. Albert Barnes spoke for all the evangelicals when he said,
the grand, the leading object of an evangelical ministry everywhere -- [is] the conversion of the soul to God by the truth, the quickening of a spirit dead in sin by the preached gospel, the conversion and salvation of the lost by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit.64
Consequently, the work of the minister tended increasingly to be judged by his success in this one area. J. A. James argued that "if souls are not saved, whatever other designs are accomplished, the great purpose of the ministry is defeated."65 And Heman Humphrey went even further in advising his son:
I do not suppose that the exact degree of a minister's fidelity, or skill in dividing the word of truth, can be measured by the number of conversions in his parish, nor even that uncommon success in "winning souls to Christ" is a certain evidence of his personal piety. But I think it is an evidence that he preaches the truth.66
Meanwhile, long experience had provided a convincing demonstration that such success depended upon the religious state of the preacher. The Rev. Gilbert Tennent in 1740, presuming to warn against "The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry," bowed in passing to accepted Presbyterian doctrine by asserting that of course, "God, as an absolute Sovereign, may use what means he pleases to accomplish his work by." But he added as a good pragmatic empiricist, "We only assert this, that Success by unconverted Ministers' Preaching is very improbable, and very seldom happens, so far as we can gather." And why should it -- "since they themselves know nothing of the struggle of soul through which earnest seekers after God must go, they are but little help to those who are seeking God."67
A hundred years later sober evangelicals argued that "our own personal religion is the mainspring of all our power in the pulpit" and "whatever other deficiencies we have, the chief of all lies in the heart" that "fount of eloquence." Therefore,
an unrenewed man, or one with a lukewarm piety, may preach elaborate sermons upon orthodox doctrines, but what are they for power and efficiency, when compared with those of the preacher, who feels as well as glories in the cross, but as the splendid coruscations of the aurora borealis to the warm and vivifying rays of the sun?68
In this sense the evangelical conception was that the institutional ministry should be charismatic, and not formal. Hence the reiterated assertion of the rejection of all forms as inimical to the gospel -- for which the Episcopal Church was an ever-present and welcome whipping boy. "The Saviour," argued Albert Barnes, "originated the evangelical system and detached it at once, wholly and forever, from the Jewish forms." And all historical experience shows that "It has never been possible permanently to connect the religion of forms with evangelical religion" -- "the religion of forms has never been permanently blended with the gospel." Hence, for example, while there are clergymen of undoubted evangelical sentiments in the Episcopal Church, "they are compelled to use a liturgy which counteracts the effect of their teaching."69
It was this evangelical conception of the sole efficacy of a converted ministry, plus the stress placed upon the conversion of sinners, that was the source of all the familiar disagreements over the nature and amount (if any) of formal training and education necessary for the minister. To this we shall recur in the next section.
I know a minister who pulls his own teeth, and manufactures artificial teeth to be inserted in their place. But all ministers cannot do this. Some ministers can be mechanics, husbandmen, artisans, teachers; but all are not adapted to such employments. There is a diversity of gifts, "even where there is the same good spirit.70
In keeping with the general theme of this chapter and within the context developed above, our discussion may now be rounded out by a more particular attention to certain aspects of the ministry during our period.
Calling to the Ministry, "License," and Ordination
In no major denomination was there any radical departure from the traditional view of Christians that the ministry is a vocation to which individuals are "called" of God, but always in the context of a church which guards entrance upon the duties of the office with regulations deemed Scriptural, and defines the minister's role. All evangelicals were agreed that basic piety was essential in the individual called -- that "he whose business it is to convert men to Christ should himself be converted; he who is to guide believers should himself be a man of faith"71 -- and that "for the lack of this, no talents, however brilliant or attractive, can compensate."72
They differed primarily on the "orders" of the ministry, and the nature and efficacy of the traditionally accepted forms of ordination -- items that mark the dividing line between the "Catholic" and Episcopal groups and all others. By and large the latter from their beginnings in America were consciously under the necessity to steer the middle course between belief in the efficacy of the forms (which they imputed to the English Episcopal Church), and the immediacy of the "enthusiasts" and Quakers who seemed to eliminate the role of the church entirely and lead to antinomianism and anarchy. Throughout the colonial period these groups traveled the middle road to the evangelical conception of which they had arrived by around 1850 -- not without controversy, of course.
In guarding the office, all the evangelical churches recognized the necessity somehow to take cognizance of five things in the examination of the candidate: the authenticity of his religious experience, the acceptability of his moral character, the genuineness of his call, the correctness of his doctrine, and the adequacy of his preparation. The differences, not only between denominations, but also between factions within each group, came over the relative emphasis to be placed on each of these five, and in what individual group within the church the power of examination and judgment lay. All five might be, and increasingly were, subsumed under the evangelicals' conception of "the call" and the evidence therefore. The "call," wrote the Rev. H. Harvey, a Baptist, has three aspects: the internal call, the call of the church, and the call of providence. The evidence of the first is "a fixed and earnest desire for the work," "an abiding impression of duty to preach the gospel," and "a sense of personal weakness and unworthiness and a heartfelt reliance on divine power." The church bases its call upon evidence of the candidate's "sound conversion," "superior order of piety," "soundness in the faith," "adequate mental capacity and training, scriptural knowledge," "aptness to teach," "practical wisdom and executive ability," and "a good report of them which are without" (i.e., general reputation). These qualifications may be present either "in their germ and promise" or "in their fully-developed form." And since
the individual himself is not the proper judge as to his possession of these qualifications, the church is the natural medium of the call, and its decision ought ordinarily to be accepted as final.
Third is "the call of providence" which comes "to the man of prayer . .. in the events of his life" -- or in other words, what Lincoln called the "plain physical facts of the case." Hence, for example, if circumstances "absolutely forbid" the candidate's "entering the ministry," the presumption is that he is not called to do so.73
Evangelicals generally practiced a form of probation by granting a candidate deemed worthy, a license "for the trial and improvement of [his] gifts." This meant that he would be "received by the churches as an accredited and regular preacher" although he could not "administer the sacraments."74 Among Congregationalists and Presbyterians licensure was the prerogative of Associations and Presbyteries, among Methodists of the Quarterly Conference, and among Baptists of the local church -- which might as in the case of William Miller of Adventist fame, most eloquently state that
We are satisfied Br. Miller has a gift to improve in Public and are willing he should improve the same wherever his lots may be cast in the Zion of God.75
The licentiate was under the scrutiny both of lay people in local congregations and the ordained men whose fraternity he aspired to enter -- and subject to the approbation or censure of either or both. Hence in effect during the period of probation, the candidate was under constant examination by the church regarding the genuineness of his "call."
Commonly ordination took place when he received a call from and was settled over a local congregation, or as among Methodists, when he was sent to a church or a circuit by the bishop, in whom the power of ordination lay. In other groups the power of ordination was by 1850 settled in what even the Baptists on the frontier commonly called "a presbytery of ministers."76 The evangelicals generally would agree with Thomas Smyth to "include under the term presbyterian, all denominations which are governed by ministers who are recognized as of one order, and who, as well as their other officers, are chosen, are removable, and are supported by the people." This included the Baptists, Lutherans, Reformed, "the Protestant Methodist church," and "the whole body of the New England Puritans" as well as the Presbyterian churches.77
Social Sources and Social Status of the Ministers
The descendants of Europe's "right-wing" State churches maintained a position of prestige, power, and dominance in America throughout the colonial period. All of these bodies shared with Massachusetts Bay Puritans the dread of leaving "an illiterate ministry to the Churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the Dust." And even though this was the twilight period of aristocracy, still the conception of learning verged on the ideal of universal knowledge, and was almost the exclusive privilege of the upper classes, automatically conferring prestige and social status on the educated man.
This meant that not only were the ministers of these churches largely recruited from "good" families, but that whatever their origin, entering the ministry itself conferred a measure of prestige in a community. Not unnaturally the clergy of the two legally established churches were most conscious of their position. An English visitor to the Bay in 1671 -- not entirely unprejudiced of course -- found the rulers so "inexplicably covetous and proud" that "they receive your gifts but as an homage or tribute due to their transcendancy, which is a fault their clergie are also guilty of...."78 And Burr concludes that the missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New Jersey "generally regarded the Church as an island of refinement and rational piety in a restless sea of ignorance, 'Enthusiasm,'skepticism, and open infidelity" -- a regard that reflects the relatively high opinion they held of themselves.79
The social status of the minister, then, down through the eighteenth century, in practically all the groups derived from his belonging to, or being elevated to, a class, plus a kind of imputation of charismatic power to the clergy by the general population. This was true even of Baptists and Quakers. The former maintained an educated leadership in the line of Roger Williams and John Clarke that founded Brown University in 1765. To be sure, many of the Quakers who so shocked the colonists in the seventeenth century were practically without formal education or family position. But during the eighteenth century Friends combined the gains of the Counting House with the quiet piety of the Meeting House and found themselves in the possession of material prosperity, social prestige, and political power that at least equaled that of Anglicans, Presbyterians and Congregationalists.80
After 1800 as the nation moved rapidly through "the era of good feelings" into the era of Jacksonian equality, ministers were recruited more and more from the lower social and economic strata of the society. This change is reflected, for example, in the formation of Education Societies to help worthy and pious but indigent young men along the road to theological training. And the observation of Frederick von Raumer in 1846 that in America there were proportionately more clergymen and on the average they were better paid81 is probably a comment on his estimation of the low pay of European ministers rather than a suggestion that their American brethren were affluent. Certainly the most common complaint of the ministers of all denominations was insufficient salaries.
Meanwhile, the relatively high status of ministers in the society perhaps was due primarily to the generally prevailing and sometimes almost superstitious regard for "the Book" and "the cloth." Baird explained that most Americans "have been taught from childhood that the preaching of the Gospel is the great instrumentality appointed by God for the salvation of men,"82 and hence, even though not church members, they quite generally respected the churches and clergy. For example, General Andrew Jackson -- not particularly famous for evenness of temper and sweetness of disposition -- apparently did not resent Peter Cartwright's shouting in his face when he entered the church, "Who is General Jackson? If he don't get his soul converted God will damn him as quick as he would a Guinea Negro."83 The Governor of Ohio and his wife would entertain "Brother Axley" of the Scioto Circuit at dinner, even though "he knew nothing about polished life" (says Cartwright of all people), ate his chicken after the manner we have come to know as "in the rough," and "threw the bone down on the carpet . . . for the little lap dog."84 And the incorruptibly English Frances Trollope who thought that "strong, indeed, must be the love of equality in an English breast, if it can survive a tour through the Union," was surprised and shocked to note the high position and regard accorded by the people of Cincinnati to itinerant preachers who, to her, seemed "as empty as wind" which they resembled in that "they blow where they list, and no man knoweth whence they come, nor whither they go."85
The obverse side of the prevalence of this kind of sentiment through out the population is that what anticlericalism there was in the United States was "sectarian" rather than "secular." In fact, if one means by secular "not religious in character," it would be difficult to find any genuinely secular anticlericalism or antiecclesiasticism anywhere during our whole period. Almost without exception, the outstanding political leaders of the Revolutionary epoch were Deists, who like Thomas Paine opposed atheism with even greater vehemence than they did clericalism. Commonly, as did Thomas Jefferson, they based their attack against existing ecclesiastical institutions on the pure religion and morals of Jesus -- and hence were insofar "sectarian."
No doubt there were some genuine atheists, at least according to their own unsophisticated estimation, especially, for example, on the early Kentucky frontier. But one cannot always trust the testimony to this provided by the frontier preachers. Probably the majority so called were at most "infidels" in the Paine sense, but preachers commonly were not precise in their definitions. Hence, when Cartwright notes that among the Germans "many who were Catholics, Lutherans, rationalists and infidels, were happily converted to God,"86 it does not appear that his distinctions were particularly clear.
Sectarian anticlericalism was of course almost universal in America. If all the Protestant groups are seen on a continuum with say Quakers on the left and "catholic" Episcopalians on the right, one can say that each group tended to criticize the "clericalism" of all the groups to its right. Indeed such criticism was an essential element in each group's definition of itself
Aside from this prevailing climate of sentiment, the status of the minister depended in part upon the general cultural level and attainments of the denomination to which he belonged. Voluntaryism which encouraged mobility between groups tended to give each denomination a drawing power related to its social and cultural reputation and class structure, so that a minister on first sight would probably be judged by his group.
Obversely, the general reputation of the group naturally exerted a kind of power over the minister, impelling him to acquit himself as became its representative. For example, the Rev. Heman Humphrey, president of Amherst College, obviously felt that the Presbyterian minister could not "be excused from fostering schools and colleges," and to that end should use all available means, even "if need be, unite with others in memorializing the city government and the legislature."87 But Peter Cartwright, who actually during his lifetime did a tremendous amount for education by the distribution of literature and the support of schools, had such a conception of Methodism and the "Western world" as seems at times to have made him compulsively boorish.
But finally the ministers who, as Lyman Beecher said, were "chosen by the people who have been educated as free men," and were "dependent on them for patronage and support,"88 achieved such status as their reputation for personal piety, character, and ability made possible in the society in which they lived. What Timothy Dwight said of the clergy of Connecticut might be applied to the clergy generally. They have, he said,
no power [officially], but they have much influence . . . the influence of wisdom and virtue . . . which every sober man must feel to be altogether desirable in every community. Clergymen, here, are respected for what they are, and for what they do, and not for anything adventitious to themselves, or their office.89
And the distinguished professor of history in the University of Berlin concluded in 1846 after his tour of the United States that "the absence of an elevated wealthy hierarchy and of a direct worldly infiuence, has not diminished but rather increased the respect paid to the American preachers.''90 Such judgments, of course, constitute a high and not undeserved tribute to the exemplary personal lives and good character of these men, and to the effectiveness of their ministry.
Training of Ministers and the Relation of Theological
to Secular Learning
No Protestant group of any consequence has ever officially denied the necessity for some kind of special preparation for its ministers. They have differed over the content of such education, its form, and the most desirable and efficient ways and means of instrumenting it.
The great watershed in ministerial education is the period of the Enlightenment, or, in America, the Revolutionary epoch (roughly 1775-1800).91 Before that time learning as such was all of a piece. With that period came the beginnings of the general estrangement of Protestant Christianity from the dominant intellectual currents of the modern age, during which the churches relinquished the control of education, which previously had been their prerogative. Consequently, from the beginning of the nineteenth century the education sponsored directly by the denominations has been on the defensive. Meanwhile, the fragmentation into denominations meant that not only were all the groups thrown in common on the defensive against the rising "secular" learning, but each was in effect thrown on the defensive against the education sponsored by all the others. Donald C. Tewkesbury's classical study of The Founding of American Colleges and Universities before the Civil War92 is convincing evidence for this.
It is a commonplace that down through the eighteenth century it was assumed that ministers should be intellectual leaders in their communities. Cotton Mather, who himself had no small reputation for learning in all areas, obviously assumed this in his "Directions for a Candidate of the Ministry" in 1726.93 His minister was first to cultivate "PIETY" -- which is "CHRIST" formed in you; and Christ Living in you" -- and fill his life with "Essays To Do Good"; second, to cultivate "that Learning and those Ingenuous and Mollifying Arts, which may distinguish you from the more Uncultivated Part of Mankind." What he suggests is a very broad general education, plus, of course, particular learning in church history, theology, and systems of divinity.
Seventy years later a Boston minister writing fatherly open Letters to a Student in the University of Cambridge, Massachusetts94 noted that "by design" he had refrained from asking "whether it is your intention to be a lawyer, a physician, or a minister; -- whether study is to be the employment of your life, or the pleasing entertainment of a leisure hour," because even "if I could predict your future employment, it would produce no change in the tenor of my counsels" as it should "have no influence in the choice of your studies." And, he added,
general knowledge is the object contemplated by a publick education. And . . . your acquisitions should be as various as the branches of science cultivated at the university; and as extensive as the transient tenor of four years will allow.
But in Mather's comment on "the almost Epidemical Extinction of true Christianity . . . in the Nations" is revealed his sense of living in the twilight of an era. That he had perhaps unwittingly set his face toward the good time coming is revealed in his injunction that "the END of all your studies must be the "SERVICE OF GOD" and the MOTTO upon your whole ministry . . . CHRIST IS ALL. Avoid, he said, that "Fashionable Divinity" which "says nothing of a conversion to God" and in all "your Preaching" aim to "Save them that hear you" by spreading "the Nets of Salvation for them . . . with all possible Dexterity."95 Already as he wrote revivals were under way in the Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian churches to the south, and Mather unknowingly was fanning the spark in New England that eight years later would burst into flames in Jonathan Edwards' Northampton church -- flames which would consume much of the world he looked back upon, and from which the new world would emerge.
It now seems fairly obvious that Mather's suggestion that all preaching be directed toward the conversion of sinners to God contained within it an emphasis that -- granted the American situation -- would in the long run tend to undermine his view of the kind of general education necessary for the minister. By 1831 all the evangelicals of whatever denomination and wherever located on the variegated cultural map of America would agree with Albert Barnes' formal statement that the chief end of the ministry was "the conversion of souls" -- "to save souls, and to labour for revivals of religion,"96 and hence that "this . . . is the starting point from which we are to contemplate the kind of preparation [necessary] for the ministry." Inherent in this view was the conception that the minister's formal education was instrumental to this end, and therefore its content would be determined by the situation he was expected to face.
Hence scholar that he was, of Presbyterian tradition, and laboring in the relatively high-level cultural context of Philadelphia, he concluded that effective work in the conversion of souls and the conduct of revivals "demands in the ministry all the culture which can find mind to confiict with mind." Since "the gospel is such a system . . . [as] supposes a decided act of the mind in its reception, or its rejection," ministers must be prepared to present it to men's minds, although this means "a comparatively long and tedious training, involving often an apparently great waste of time."
Every preacher, he continued, "stands there professing his ability to explain, defend, and illustrate the book of God" and since "there are henceforth to be no trammels on the freedom of the mind, but such as reason, and conscience, and thought can fasten there," the minister must be prepared through education to meet and conquer the prevailing "infidelity" and superstition of the age. Indeed,
Unless you can train your ministers to meet them in the field where the freedom of mind is contemplated, and let argument meet argument, and thought conflict with thought, and sober sense and learning overcome the day-dreams and dotage of infidelity . . . you may abandon the hope that religion will set up its empire over the thinking men of this age.97
It is obvious that Barnes, unlike Mather, attempted to justify the broadest possible education for the minister, not on the ground that he might be the intellectual leader of his community and set the educational standards and patterns for all, but that he might be prepared to meet the learned skeptics and infidels in that community.
But Methodist circuit riders on the rough frontier who were fighting the battle for the conversion of souls in a different cultural context, while -- or rather because -- they held essentially the same instrumental view of education as did Barnes, could see no need for "fancy" learning.
Peter Cartwright, who knew the West as well as Barnes new Philadelphia, thought that
the great mass of our Western people wanted a preacher that could mount a stump, a block, or old log, or stand in the bed of a wagon, and without note or manuscript, quote, expound, and apply the word of God to the hearts and consciences of the people.
Hence he ridiculcd the "many young missionaries sent out. . . to civilize and Christianize the poor heathen of the West." These men who "had regularly studied theology in some of the Eastern states, where they manufactured young preachers like they do lettuce in hot houses" did not understand the Western world, and of course "they produced no good effect among the people" there.
In contrast to them,
A Methodist preacher in those days, when he felt that God had called him to preach, instead of hunting up a college or Biblical institute, hunted up a hardy pony of a horse, and some travelling apparatus, and with his library always at hand, namely, Bible, Hymn Book, and Discipline, he started, and with a text that never wore out nor grew stale, he cried, "Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world."
Of course Cartwright himself knew it was not quite as simple as that. He recalled that he had started on a circuit in 1803 under the guidance and instruction of an older brother in the ministry and that "William M'Kendree," his presiding elder,
directed me to a proper course of reading and study. He selected books for me, both literary and theological; and every quarterly visit he made, he examined into my progress, and corrected my errors, if I had fallen into any. He delighted to instruet me in English grammar.
And this way of training while already in the ministry, wherein men "could [both] learn and practice every day . . . would be more advantageous than all the colleges and Biblical institutes in the land."98
It is in this sense that theological education for ministers during the heyday of evangelicalism tended to become more and more instrumental. It was determined primarily by the felt need to train men to become effective revivalists. Its intellectual content as such was more and more geared to training men to fight a rearguard action against the hosts of "secularism" that had seized the initiative in education. Hence the theological schools were increasingly laid open to the full sweep of whatever movements or fads originated in the "secular" schools.
How this came about is the long and complicated story of the "secularization" of our civilization in modern times, which increasingly has placed theological education on the defensive. It is important to realize that Pietism, which emerged in the second half of the seventeenth century and swept throughout Protestantism during the eighteenth, bore within itself a strong tendency to relinquish the intellectual battle with the "world" -- a tendency which seemed so striking to A. N. Whitehead. "It was a notable event in the history of ideas," he said, "when the clergy of the western races began to waver in their appeal to constructive reason."99
What Professor John T. McNeill says of John Arndt, might be said of Pietism in general: its
aim was to induce theologians and lay people to turn from controversy to fellowship and charity, and from the confessions of faith to faith itself. He held it essential to add holiness of life to purity of doctrine.100
Philipp Jacob Spener (1635-1705), the apostle of Pietism, held that the aim of preaching should be to "awaken faith and [to] urge the fruits of faith," and hence that the aim of ministerial training should be "not only to impart knowledge but to have truth penetrate the soul." This led him to argue strongly for "practical studies" and "nonpolemical and edifying books" to "replace controversial theology.''l0l
Pietism flowed into the American colonies through many channels. The basic sentiment was latent in much of seventeenth-century Anglicanism and, more obviously, in all of New England Puritanism, ready to be cultivated by such ministers as Cotton Mather at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and Devereaux Jarrett at its end. It was carried directly from Europe by such leaders as Count Zinzendorf, Henry M. Muhlenberg, and Theodore Freylinghuysen, and -- crossed with English evangelicalism or Methodist -- it blossomed with several mutations and sports in the hothouse atmosphere of the Great Awakenings. But whereas on the continent and in Britain Pietism and Evangelicalism spawned movements that were largely held within the saving forms of the dominant churches, in America where the church forms were already greatly weakened, Pietistic sentiments tended through revivalism to become so dominant that denominations were formed on this basis alone.
This tendency inherent in Pietism was augmented by the fact that all the ideological lines of the eighteenth century came to focus on the idea of uncoerced, individual consent as the basis for all man's organizations -- with a consequent depreciation of all inherited forms and traditional formulations.
Pietists, with their emphasis on personal religious experience, were prepared to rebuild the church on this basis alone. At the same time, the climate in which the intellectuals moved -- those who were leading the social and political revolutions of the age -- was rationalistic. Inherent in both Pietistic and Rationalistic sentiment regarding religion was a basis for religious freedom and separation of Church and State in practice. In the accomplishment of this practical goal these movements complemented each other to the end of the eighteenth century, and there was very little controversy between their representatives in America.
The achievement of separation dissolved this bond between Pietistic revivalists and Rationalists. At the same time the events of the French Revolution made plausible in religious circles the view that rationalistic "infidelity" was inimical to all order and government as well as to Christianity itself. Consequently came the widespread reaction against the whole ethos of the eighteenth century, during which the churches tended to turn back to the dogmatic formulations of classical Protestantism for theological structure. At the same time the basic sentiments of the Enlightenment continued to inform the emerging modern world. Insofar, then, learning and intelligence came increasingly to be defined in terms of the burgeoning scientific movement -- the afterglow of the Enlightenment -- while religion was generally defined in the terms of traditional dogmatic theology seen through the somewhat foggy sentiments of American revivalistic evangelicalism. Through this fog the evangelicals generally fumbled for an educational program that would be both intellectually respectable and dogmatically sound.
It is within this context that the generally familiar ways and means of training ministers must be seen. So long as the culture sustained -- as it did on the whole through the eighteenth century -- a conception of "general education" for all learned men, prospective ministers were exposed to the same basic training as others. The nine colleges founded by the several denominations during the colonial period were of this nature, but since they were dominated and staffed by clergymen, ministerial training was a central aspect of their work. In 1754, for example, President Thomas Clap of Yale declared that "Colleges are Societies of Ministers for training up Persons for the Work of the Ministry.102
Meanwhile, from early in the eighteenth century, specifically theological training was commonly acquired through study under the supervision of established clergymen, either parish ministers or ministerial professors. Such training combined advanced study with practice in the regular duties of the parish. Several of the outstanding ministers of New England thus conducted theological schools in their homes -- their wives providing and supervising food and lodging for the students.103 William Tennent's famous "log college" merely combined features of both established colleges and such personal instruction and direction, and provided more emphasis upon personal religious experience and revivalism than was customary. To apply a distinction that became common in the nineteenth century, the colleges provided training for the ministry, settled clergymen provided training in the ministry.
But in the period of very rapid growth and expansion following independence, it soon became evident that a system of theological education must be developed to meet the greatly increased demand for ministers and to give candidates training more adequate than could be provided by one man. The establishment of professional schools especially in law and medicine (an indication of the rise of professional self-consciousness) was an added stimulus. Finally, competition between denominations, and even between factions within denominations, in which each sought to assure its perpetuity by providing schools where future leaders might be well indoctrinated in the peculiar tenets of the group, played no small part. Once begun, the founding of seminaries proceeded rapidly, and between 1807 and 1827 no less than seventeen permanent institutions had their beginnings.104
Meanwhile, during the Revolutionary epoch and immediately following, "there arose an active sentiment in favor of state-controlled institutions of higher education and an equally active sentiment against sectarian colleges." During this period generally successful efforts were made by the states either to take over all the colleges or at least to secure strong representation on their boards. Five of the twelve permanent colleges founded between 1800 and 1819 were state institutions,105 and until the Dartmouth College decision in the latter year the future of denominational colleges was problematical. That decision guaranteed the perpetuity of private institutions by indicating that they could not be taken over by the states -- and the golden day of denominaional colleges followed (1830-60).
But while denominational schools thus gained legal security, no legal decision could return to the churches the initiative in setting the patterns for education in the culture. Further, several factors in the situation militated against their doing so. Outstanding was the rivalry and competition between denominations, which one leader recognized in 1858 as "contagious, as well as debilitating.''106 F. A. P. Bernard of the University of Mississippi noted in 1856 that nearly all our colleges are
the creations of the different religious denominations which divide our people. They are regarded as important instrumentalities, through which the peculiarities of doctrine which distinguish their founders are to be maintained, propagated, or defended.107
Hence, being as Tewkesbury said an integral part of "the larger strategy of the campaign of evangelism," they were self-consciously defensive -- against the rising "secular" learning, against Roman Catholic learning, and finally, against the "sectarian" learning of the other Protestant groups. The intensity of the defensive rivalry between groups is suggested by the fact that the mortality rate of colleges founded before the Civil War in sixteen of the states was 81 per cent.108 Hence it is not unfair to say, as above, that a primary controlling motif of the education provided was instrumental -- not learning for learning's sake, but for the sake of the peculiarities of the founding sect.
This situation tended to sharpen the distinction between theological and secular learning. However, since the evangelical-revivalistic mind was not particularly keen when it came to making sharp and precise distinctions, this dichotomy did not become a problem during our period. But already in 1853 an outstanding clergyman noted sadly "an impression, somewhat general, that an intellectual clergyman is deficient in piety, and that an eminently pious minister is deficient in intellect.''109
Sermons and Preaching
While the church is considered as the pillar and ground of the truth, preaching must, beyond all question, be regarded as its most important duty.... The preaching of the gospel by the living voice . . . has, in all ages, been the principle instrument in the hand of God, by which the church has been sustained and advanced.110
The preceding chapters of this book make clear that the great traditional doctrines of Christianity have provided the substance of what was preached in every age. The peculiar form and content of sermons in particular times and places have been determined by three factors. The first is the prevailing conception of the chief end of the ministry, which has been illustrated above in discussing the evangelicals. Second is the status and role accorded to the minister by the society in which he is placed. Third is the immediate cultural context, since the minister in preaching has always, willy-nilly, felt the necessity to adapt himself somehow to the general level of interest and understanding of the people who sat in the pews.
As noted above, when pietistic sentiments and revivalistic techniques swept to the crest of evangelicalism in America, the conversion of souls tended to crowd out other aspects of the minister's work. This greatly affected preaching. In the Preface to the 1828-29 volume of The American National Preacher, the editor said he noted among some ministers "a strong temptation to preach more frequently to saints, than is consistent with the rule of giving to every one his portion in due season." Hence, he declared his intention as editor thereafter "to insert a greater proportion of such Sermons, as are designed, by divine help, to have an immediate and permanent effect on sinners." Indeed, he thought, the preacher "surely may even forget those already gained, if so doing, he can persuade others to turn, ere they reach the impassable gulf." A decade later Robert Baird explained that in America preaching was designed primarily "to bring men to a decision, and to make them decide right on the subject of religion." And, sober Presbyterian though he was, he thought "we ought not to be too timid or fastidious as to the means employed in awakening them to the extremity of their danger.111
Here Baird stood in line with Jonathan Edwards who, when criticized for frightening people in hell-fire sermons, replied that he thought it not amiss to try to frighten them out of hell. Baird's contemporary advocate of "an earnest ministry" noted that the Sunday School, the cheap tract, and the religious periodical had become "competitors" with the pulpit "for the public mind," and concluded that the ministers would have to turn on more heat.112 Charles G. Finney, always more blunt in saying what many of his Congregational and Presbyterian brethren really thought, openly advocated the creation of excitement in order to attract the attention of the unconverted -- a view with which, as we have noted, Horace Bushnell was inclined to agree.
The real danger, thought J. A. James in 1848, lies in "dull uniformity, and not enthusiasm," and he advocated as ideal a middle course in preaching between "the contortions of an epileptic zeal" and "the numbness of a paralytic one."113 The writer who introduced James to his American readers summed it up by saying that America demanded a ministry that was learned, scriptural, spiritual, and practical. But among these qualifications, evangelicalism -- conditioned by the American situation -- tended to bring the stress down on the "practical." "American preaching," declared Robert Baird, "is eminently practical.''114 James emphasized that from the earnest minister, people "do not look for the flowers of rhetoric, but for the fruit of the tree of life" which establishes "his character as a useful preacher."115
This emphasis on the "useful" "practical," and immediate results of preaching, in the context of voluntarianism, pressed ministers to adapt their preaching to the prevailing cultural level about them. Hence Baird was no doubt right in supposing that in the United States preaching varied more "in manner than in substance," for while all preach the same gospel, "much depends on the kind of people" the minister "has to do with."116
Thus as in the context of evangelicalism, learning for the minister was increasingly conceived as instrumental, the conversion of sinners became the real test of effectiveness, and preaching tended to become almost exclusively persuasive. Exposition of the Word tended to be supplemented by application of the Word to the consciences of men for immediate decision. Of the three parts of the usual sermon in the previous period -- exegesis of a text, laying down of the doctrine, and application -- the third almost crowded out the other two. Even as learned and sober an adviser to ministers as J. A. James by implication belittled the first as "a meatless, marrowless bone of criticism," the second as "a dry crust of philosophy," and extolled the third as "the bread which cometh down from heaven."117
This kind of emphasis, plus the felt necessity to adapt to the cultural level of the people addressed, meant that the traditional "plain style" which educated preachers of all ages had consciously striven for was in America always in eminent danger of being leveled into plain vulgarity -- as witness the succession of revivalists from Buchard and Finney to Billy Sunday.
For the same reasons, the preaching of such earnest evangelicals tended increasingly to become anecdotal, thus making sometimes dubious application of the principle of the parables. This was perhaps particularly the case among the pietistic Methodists. Certainly the circuit riders became consummate storytellers, as witness Peter Cartwright's Autobiography -- the bulk of which appears to be made up of stories he had told hundreds of times in the more than fourteen thousand sermons he is alleged to have preached. These stories are obviously worn smooth from long usage, and every one is a clever illustration of a sermonic point -- sometimcs, indeed, more clever than fair or discerning.
For example, he did not demolish the "proselyting Baptist" preachers' arguments for immersion by amassing Scriptural and logical opposition, but said that
they made so much ado about baptism by immersion, that the uninformed would suppose that heaven was an island, and there was no way to get there but by diving or swimming.118
And on another occasion -- on a bet involving "a new suit of clothes" -- he overcame the arguments of "a Baptist minister, who was tolerably smart" by laying down the premise that "that Church which has no children in it [is] more like hell than heaven." Therefore, he concluded triumphantly, "there being no children in the Baptist Church, it . . . [is]more like hell than heaven." This was practical preaching, adapted to the listeners, and it was immediately effective. "I was listened to for three hours," Cartwright gloats, "and it was the opinion of hundreds that this discussion [with the defeated Baptist] did a vast amount of good.''119 At least it was such preaching that enabled these Methodist "shock troops" of Christendom -- as Bushnell called them -- to set the whole "western world" on fire with the gospel, and to become by 1850 the largest Protcstant denomination in America.
The rivalry between religious groups inherent in the free-church system in America where around 90 per cent of the people were unchurched in 1790, also greatly affected the form and contcnt of sermons -- as is suggested, for example, by Cartwright's relationships with Baptists, Presbyterians, and others. The minister's self-conscious definition of himself as a leader of his group demanded constant definition and defense of its peculiar tenets, and by the same token, attack on the tenets of all other groups.
This, to be sure, had its bad features and was always in danger of being carried to extremes. But the constant controversies were by no means merely battles in a war of attrition between the growing evangelical groups. All, of course, opposed "unevangelical" groups -- ranging from Roman Catholics through Unitarians and Universalists to infidels and atheists. This was the war from which there was no release. But evangelicals thought of their "churches" as "denominations" where "the word 'denomination' implies that the group referred to is but one member of a larger group, called or denominated by a particular name."120 Professor Hudson has documented how "the denominational theory of the church" took form in the minds and practices of some "seventeenth century Independent divines within the Church of England." Central to this theory was the view that
God hath a hand in these divisions to bring forth further light. Sparks are beaten out by the flints striking together. Many sparks of light, many truths, are beaten out by the beatings of men's spirits one against another.
Hence, in the context of a common Christianity and always conscious of "our own frailty," each sought, as Thomas Hooker put it, merely "to lay down . . . the grounds of our practice according to that measure of light I have received," accepting always the possibility of more light to come through earnest discussion of differences.121
The eighteenth-century rationalists played a primary part in giving constitutional and legal structure to the practice of separation of Church and State. And their conception of religious freedom, on which such separation rested, clearly made the controversy between those of different religious "opinions" a positive good as the way by which error is eliminated and truth approximated.
The relationship between these views of seventeenth-century English Independents and eighteenth-century American rationalists has not yet been made clear by historians. But certainly both views -- if they are separable -- lay back of the "denominationalism" that gave organizational shape to Christianity in the United States between 1787 and 1850.122 Already in 1828 George A. Baxter, president of Washington College in Virginia, was defending the necessity of "the controversies which must arise between different denominations in the church." The "two great principles which ought to direct all the intercourse of the church," he argued, are "the love of peace, and the love of truth." But "truth" should not be sacrificed for "peace," and indeed the Reformation was founded upon the conviction that "not only peace, but life itself, should be hazarded for the cause of truth." Hence in America, while we must love peace and abhor "the spirit of party" with all its dangers, nevertheless the discussion even with intent to proselytize must go on.123
It is this view and spirit which lies back of most of the controversial preaching and the great debates between leaders of different denominations during the first half of the nineteenth century. It helps to explain the zest with which ministers entered the fray as champions of the views of their particular group, supposing as they did that this was one road to truth. And their supposition was apparently borne out by their experience. Alexander Campbell is somewhat typical. His own position was hammered out and hence the Disciples' position made clear in the series of public debates he held between 1820 and 1843 with outstanding Baptist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic representatives, and with the infidel Robert Owen.
The latter debate, held in Cincinnati in 1829 in fifteen successive meetings, puzzled and shocked the impeccable Mrs. Trollope. Day after day, she noted, the Methodist meeting house which would seat about a thousand people was crowded with eager listeners. No one's mind seemed to be changed by the debate, but the thinking of both sides was clarified. Meanwhile, the disputants, she noted, never "appeared to lose their temper," spent much time together, and "on all occasions expressed most cordially their mutual esteem." And little as she understood the genius of American "denominationalism," she sensed its power and paid it a high tribute in concluding that while she was "not quite sure that it was very desirable" that such a debate "should have happened any where" she was sure that "all this . . . could only have happened in America."124
The dependence of our ministers upon their flocks for their salaries seems not to affect in the least their faithfulness in preaching "their repentance towards God," and "repentance towards our Lord Jesus Christ."125
The story here told is indeed that of a "1iving ministry of Christianity" which grew in and with the changing scenes in America from the first feeble plantings to the stabilization of a great new nation. It is the story of adaptation to the exigencies of a world that was new both geographically and culturally, in which faithful ministers guided the churches through sweeping institutional changes, and through the rough ideological waters of these troubled centuries. At the center of the story stands religious freedom and separation of Church and State, which posed problems undreamed of during the previous centuries of Christendom, and the sweep of "evangelicalism" which enabled the denominations to triumph in a world of regnant individualism.
By around 1850 they had demonstrated that armed only with persuasive power, they could "Christianize" the nation -- set the accepted mores and moral patterns, and provide the foundation of commonly shared religious beliefs which were so essential for the being and well-being of the Republic. And withal, they had built for themselves and their churches a position of dignity, respect, and high regard. Lord Bryce's tribute published in 1894 is as applicable to the pre-Civil War period:
No political party, no class in the community, has any hostility either to Christianity or to any particular Christian body. The churches are as thoroughly popular, in the best sense of the word, as any of the other institutions of the country.126
Who can deny to the overwhelming majority of these ministers the appellation of good and faithful servants who not only kept the faith, but also fought a good fight, and one by one finished the hard course set before them in and by this terrifying but magnificent new world of America?
1 Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church [Old School] in the U.S.A. with an Appendix. XI (1846). (Philadelphia, 1846), 355.
2 Andrew Reed and James Matheson, A Narrative of the Visit to the American Churches, by the Deputation from the Congregational Union of England and Wales, II (New York, 1836), 194.
3 Quoted in Perry Miller, The New England Mind from Colony to Province (Cambridge, 1953), 97.
4 Quoted in William White, The Case of the Episcopal Churches in the United States Considered, Richard G. Salomon, ed. (Philadelphia, 1954 [first pub. 1782]) 40.
5 Miller, From Colony to Province, 97.
6 "The Simple Cobler of Aggawam" (1647), in Perry Miller and Thomas H. Johnson, The Puritans (New York, 1938), 231.
7 In 1. Franklin Jameson, ed., Narratives of New Netherland 1609-1664 (New York, 1909), 125.
8 The United States Elevated to Glory and Honour. A Sermon Preached before His Excellency Jonathan Trumbull, Governor and Commander in Chief, and the Honorable the General Assembly, of the State of Connecticut, Convened at Hartford, at the Anniversary Election, May 8th, MDCCLXXXlII. 2d ed. (Worcester, Mass., 1785), 79, 53, 52.
9 Autobiography, in Frank L. Mott and Chester E. Jorgenson, Benjamin Franklin (New York, 1936), 34.
10 The United States Elevated to Glory and Honour, 137, 101.
11 Enoch Pond, The Young Pastor's Guide: or Lectures on Pastoral Duties (Bangor, 1844), vi.
12 The American Church. A Discourse in Behalf of the American Home Missionary Society, Preached in the Cities of New York and Brooklyn, May, 1852 New York 1852), 19.
13 The Journals of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, trans. Theodore G. Tappert and John W. Doberstein, I (Philadelphia, 1942), 67.
14 Note concise discussion of this point in "The Virginia Clergy; Gov. Gooch's Letters to the Bishop of London 1727-1749," The Virginia Magazine of History, XXXII (July, 1924), 214-16.
15 Elizabeth Davidson, The Establishment of the English Church in Continental American Colonies (Durham, 1936), 19.
16 Nelson R. Burr, The Anglican Church in New Jersey (Philadelphia, 1954), 217-8.
17 The Case. . ., 29
18 Burr, Anglican Church in New Jersey, 292-94.
19 Ibid., 253.
20 The Case. . ., 23, 22.
21 Frederick von Raumer, America, and the American People, trans. William V. Turner (New York, 1846), 328, 329.
22 Thoughts on the Religious State of the Country with Reasons for Preferring Episcopacy (New York, 1836), 90-91.
23 See in Williston Walker, The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism (New York, 1893), "The Tentative Conclusions of 1646," 191 92; and chap. 17 of the Cambridge Platform, 324-37.
24 The quotations in this paragraph are all from chap. 8 of Miller's From Colony to Province, in the following order, 110, 110, 107, 110, 142, 111.
25 Charles Beecher, Autobiography, Correspondence, etc., of Lyman Beecher, D.D., (in two vols., New York, 1864), I, 116.
26 Recollections (Boston, 1909), 287, 163.
27 Leonard J. Trinterud, The Forming of an Amencan Tradition: A Re-examination of Colonial Presbyterianism (Philadelphia, 1949).
28 J Hector St. John Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer. Reprinted from the original edition, with a prefatory note by W. P. Trent and an introduction by Ludwig Lewisohn (New York, 1894), 64.
29 Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. Ilenry Reeve, 4th ed., I (New York, 1841), 335.
30 Mary Bushnell Cheney, Life and Letters of Horace Bushnell (New York, 1880), 324.
31 Works, I (Boston, 1852), 14.
32 F. von Raumer, American, and the American People, 338.
33 Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church [New School] in the U.S.A., at Their Adjourned Meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio; with an Appendix. A.D. 1847 (New York), 160.
34 Quoted in Evarts B. Greene, Religion and the State: The Making and Testing of an American Tradition (New York, 1941), 12.
35 A True Declaration of the Estate of the Colonie in Virginia.... Published by Aduise and Direction of the Councell of Virginia (London, 1610), 5. In Peter Force, Tracts and Other Papers Relating . . . to the Origin, Settlement, and
Progress of the Colonies in North America III (Washington, 1844, # 1).
36 For the Colony in Virginia Britannia. Lavves Diuine, Martiall and Martiall, etc.. (London, 1612). In Force, Tracts, III. #2, 9, 20.
37 Ibid., 11; Lyon Gardiner Tyler, ed., Narratives of Early Virginia 1606-1625 (New York, 1907), 271.
38 Lavves Diuine, Morall and Martiall, etc., 11.
39 Ibid., 7.
40 Narratives of Early Virginia, 272.
41 "Advertisements for the unexperienced Planters of New-England' or any where. . . ," London, 1631. In Edward Arber, ed., Travels and Works of Captain John Smith, II (Edinburgh, 1910), 957-58.
42 Narratives of Early Virginia, 271.
43 Quoted in Arber, ed., op. cit., II, 251.
44 The Case...., 31, 4546.
45 "The Position of the Evangelical Party in the Episcopal Church," ~n Miscellaneous Essays and Reviews, I (Chicago, 1855), 371-72.
46 The American Lutheran Church, Historically, Doctrinally, and PracticallyDelineated, in Several Occasional Discourses (Springfield, 1852), 247; and Church Development on Apostolic Principles. An Essay Addressed to the Friends of Biblical Christianity (Gettysburg, 1850), 40. In keeping with the sentiment of the time, Schmucker held that the "fundamentals" were those enunciated by the Evangelical Alliance in 1846; see Evangelical Alliance. Report of the Proceedings of the Conference, Held at Freemasons' Hall, London, . . . 1846 (London, 1847).
47 Wade C. Barclay, History of Methodist Missions, II (New York, 1950), 8.
48 John A. James, An Earnest Ministry the Want of the Times, Introduction by J. B. Condit (New York, 1848), 40. And see, e.g., the discussion of the objectives of the ministry in A Practical View of the Common Causes of Inefficiency in the Christian Ministry of the Congregational and Presbyterian Churches of the United States. By a Baconian Biblist (Philadelphia, 1830), 3 ff.
49 "Propriety and Importance of Efforts to Evangelize the Nation," The National Preacher, III (March, 1829), 154.
50 Quoted in Gilbert H. Bames, The Anti-Slavery lmpulse 1830-1844 (New York, 1933), 17.
51 Andrew P. Peabody, The Work of the Ministry, A Sermon before the Graduating Class of the Meadville, Pennsylvania Theological School, June 26, 1850 (Boston, 1850), 7.
52 Democracy in America, I, 331.
53 Miscellaneous Essays and Reviews, II (Chicago, 1855), 106.
54 History and Character of American Revivals of Religion, 3d ed. (London, 1832), 2.
55 Ibid., 4-5.
56 The Young Pastor's Guide: or Lectures on Pastoral Duties (Bangor, 1844), 187, 140. See also 138, 139.
57 History and Character of American Revivals of Religion, 9.
58 Religion in America (New York, 1845), 200 202.
59 "Spiritual Economy of Revivals of Religion," Quarterly Christian Spectator, X (1838), 132.
60 Ibid., 143, 144, 145.
61 Works, edited with notes by George Willis Cooke, IV (Boston, 1908), 385.
62 George A. Baxter, "Responsibilities of the Ministry and Church," The American National Preacher, III (Dec., 1828), 112.
63 Twenty-four Letters to a Son in the Ministry (Amherst, 1842), 256, 259. Enoch Pond of Bangor Seminary expressed similar sentiments; see The Young Pastor's Guide, 229, 234.
64 Miscellaneous Essays and Reviews, I, 355.
65 An Earnest Ministry, 39.
66 Twenty-four Letters . . ., 93.
67 Taken from Trinterud, The Forming of an American Tradition, 89-91.
68 James, An Earnest Ministry, 62.
69 Miscellaneous Essays and Reviews, I, 331, 332, 338, 339.
70 The Young Pastor's Guide, 233.
71 James M. Hoppin, The Office and Work of the Ministry (New York, 1869),
72 Nicholas Murray, Preachers and Preaching (New York, 1860) 26.
73 H. Harvey, The Pastor: His Qualifications and Duties (Philadeiphia, 1879),
74 Humphrey, Twenty-four Letters . . ., 1O-ll
75 Miller's ministerial license is reproduced in L. E. Froom, The Prophetic Faith of our Fathers, IV (Washington, 1954), 495
76 See W. W. Sweet, Religion on the American Frontier, The Baptists
1783-1830 (New York, 1931), 138, 139, etc. Baptists
77 Ecclesiastical Republicanism: or the Republicanism, Liberality, and Catholicity of Presbytery, in Contrast with Prelacy and Popery (Boston, 1843), 52, 53
78 Letter of John Josselyn, as reproduced in Miller and Johnson, The Puritans;
79 Burr, Anglican Church in New Jersey, 180.
80 See F. B. Tolles, Meeting House and Counting House . . . 1682-1763
81 America and the American People, 338.
82 Religion in America, 189.
83 W. P. Strickland, ed., Autobiography of Peter Cartwright, the Backwoods Preacher, (New York, 1856), 192.,
84 lbid., 94
85 Domestic Manners of the Americans (New York, 1904), 109, 113.
86 Autobiography, 456
87 Twenty-four Letters . . ., 261
88 Plea for the West, 2d ed. (Cincinnati, 1835), 60-61
89 Quoted in Chauncey Fowler, The Ministers of Connecticut in the Revolution (Hartford, 1877), 5.
90 F. von Raumer, America and the American People, 338-39.
91 See S. E. Mead, "American Protestantism during the Revolutionary Epoch," Church History, XXII (Dec. 1953), 279-297.
92 New York, 1932.
93 Manuductio ad Ministrium, Directions for a Candidate of the Ministry Reproduced from the original edition (Boston, 1726), with a bibliographical note by Thomas J. Holmes and Kenneth Murdock (New York, 1938).
94 John Clarke, Letters to a Student in the University of Cambridge, Massachusetts (Boston, 4244).
95 Manuductio ad Ministerium; the quotations in this paragraph are from 94 24, 93, 98, 104, in that order.,
96 Miscellaneous Essays and Reviews, I, 103
97 lbid., 104, 107, 110, 114-15, 116.
98 Autobiography. The quotations in these two paragraphs are from 358, 307, 243, 63, and 78,in that order. As late as 1879 Alfred Brunson, one of Cartwright's younger contemporanes who had come to Wisconsin in the 1830's, was still not convinced that there was "anything superior to our old mode of training preachers in the work, instead of for the work." A Western Pioneer . . ., II (Cincinnati, ), 328.
99 Adventures of Ideas (New York, 1933), 27-28.
100 Modern Religion Movements (Philadelphia, 1954), 52. 0l Ibid., 57.
102 Quoted in Tewkesburv, Founding ...., 55.
103 See William O. Shewmaker, "The Training of the Protestant Ministry in the U.S. of America before the Establishment of Theological Seminaries," Papers of the American Society of Church History, 2d Series, VI (1921), 73-202 Mary Latimer Gambrell, Ministerial Training in Eighteenth Century New England (New York, 1937), Samuel Simpson, "Early Ministerial Training in America," Papers of the American Society of Church History, 2d Series, II, 117-29, B. Sadtler, "The Education of Ministers by Private Tutors, before the Establishment of Theological Seminaries," The Lutheran Church Review, XII (April, 1894), 167-83.
104 See Leonard Woolsey Bacon, A History of American Christianity (New York, 1901), 251-52, W. W. Sweet "The Rise of Theological Schools in America," Church History, VI (Sept., 1937), 260-73.
105 Tewkesburv, Founding . . ., 64, 70.
106 Ibid., 76.
107 Quoted in ibid., 4-5.
108 Ibid., 28.
109 Bela Bates Edwards, "Influence of Eminent Piety on the Intellectual Powers," in Writings (Boston, 1853), II, 497-98.
110 George A. Baxter, "Responsibilities of the Ministry and Church," The American National Preacher, III (1828-29), 106.
111 Religion in America, 211, 209.
112 J. A. James, An Earnest Ministry, 20-21.
113 An Earnest Ministry, 52. Religion in America, 195.
114 Religion in America. 195
115 An Earnest Ministry, 49-50
116 Religon in America, 190, 124
117 An Earnest Ministry, 49
118 Autobiography, 134.
119 Ibid., 226, 228.
120 "Denominationalism as a Basis for Ecumenicity; a Seventeenth Century Conception," Church History, XXIV (Mar., 1955), 32-50.
12l Ibid., the quotations are from 33, 40, 35.
122 See S. E. Mead, "Denominationalism; the Shape of Protestantism in America," Church History XXIII (Dec., 1954), 291-320.
123 "Responsibilities of the Ministry and Church," The American National Preacher, III (Dec., 1828), 110-12.
124 Domestic Manners of the Americans, 132-33.
125 Religion in America, 196.
126 James Bryce, The American Commonwealth, 3d ed., II (New York, 1908), 711.