Monday, July 24, 2006

The Second Great Awakening

The Second Great Awakening was the second great religious revival in United States history and consisted of several kinds of activity, distinguished by locale and expression of religious commitment. This took place in the early part of the nineteenth century beginning in 1800.

Methodist camp meeting
In New England, the renewed interest in religion inspired a wave of social activism among Yankees. In western New York, the spirit of revival encouraged the emergence of new Restorationist and other denominations. It was also one of the influences on the Holiness movement.

Cane Ridge Revival
In the west especially at Cane Ridge, Kentucky and in Tennessee, the revival strengthened the Methodists and the Baptists, introduced into America a new form of religious expression—the Scottish camp meeting and helped the creation of new denominations, especially the Campbellites.

The Congregationalists in New England set up missionary societies, to evangelize the West. Members of these societies not only acted as apostles for the faith, but as educators, exponents of Eastern, urban culture. Publication and education societies promoted Christian education; most notable among them was the American Bible Society, founded in 1816. Social activism inspired by the revival gave rise to abolition groups as well as the Society for the Promotion of Temperance, and began efforts to reform prisons and care for the handicapped and mentally ill. They believed in the perfectibility of people and were highly moralistic in their endeavors.

Some of the larger religious movements with roots in the Second Great Awakening are the Churches of Christ, The Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Cumberland Presbyterians, Latter Day Saint movement, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In the Appalachian region, the revival used the camp meeting (probably borrowed from Scotland) and took on characteristics similar to the First Great Awakening of the previous century. The camp meeting was a religious service of several days' length, with multiple preachers. Pilgrims in thinly populated areas looked to the camp meeting as a refuge from the lonely life on the frontier, but mostly they wanted to save their souls.

Charles Finney

The sheer exhilaration of participating in a religious revival with hundreds and perhaps thousands of people inspired the dancing, shouting, and singing associated with these events.

The first camp meeting took place in July 1800 at Creedance Clearwater Church in southwestern Kentucky. A much larger one was held at Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1801, attracting thousands of people. Numerous Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist ministers participated. It was this event that stamped the organized revival as the major mode of church expansion for denominations such as the Methodists and Baptists.

This event was also instrumental in the birth of the churches of the Restoration Movement, particularly the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), The Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and the Church of Christ.

The great revival quickly spread throughout Kentucky, Tennessee & southern Ohio. Each denomination had assets that allowed it to thrive on the frontier. The Methodists had a very efficient organization that depended on ministers—known as circuit riders—who sought out people in remote frontier locations. The circuit riders came from among the common people, which helped them establish a rapport with the frontier families they hoped to convert.

Alexander Campbell
The Second Great Awakening exercised a profound impact on American history. The numerical strength of the Baptists and Methodists rose relative to that of the denominations dominant in the colonial period—the Anglicans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Reformed.

Efforts to apply Christian teaching to the resolution of social problems presaged the Social Gospel of the late 19th century. America was becoming a more diverse nation in the early to mid-19th century, and the growing differences within American Protestantism reflected and contributed to this diversity.

The effects of this Great Awakening still continue to shape the tenants of American Christianity to this day.

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