passing of the First Amendment was astonishing. As revivalists invaded the south and the west, church membership grew impressively, with little legal help from the state.
With new revivals being reported all the way from Yale College to the mountain ridges and hollows of pioneer Kentucky, the effects were often paradoxical. On one level they were democratic, levelling. Gone were the heavy layers of hierarchy, hands of bureaucracies, and ties of many precedents. People had equal access to God for conversion and at least in theory equal status before God after it. Uneducated citizens could feel the Spirit and get up and preach, beginning steps that led them from place to place to start new communities, new churches. They brought order and stability, once the emotional highs of revivals had passed.
On the other side of the paradox, it became clear that revivals were also instruments of social control. Before long the new institutions in frontier towns, now rivals of the outposts of Congregationalism, Presbyterianism, and Episcopalianism, competed for a market share and acquired means for doing so. The Methodists developed intricate networks for chartering and supervising 'circuit riders' and missionaries, in patterns that allowed for little deviation from norms set by higher-ups. The Baptists were more unrestrained: any Christian among them could set up shop as a missionary or pastor, and many did, to spread their churches especially across the south.
The post-Revolutionary churches developed a style that has been called voluntaryistic (as opposed to 'voluntaristic'), which meant that they were seen as agencies dependent upon the will and decision of the individuals who made them up. They depended less on an ontology of the church, on a sense of its 'givenness', with its existence independent of the will of people, and more on a sense of what seemed manifest: that the people, to be sure, 'under God', were the creators and determiners of the church. They were free to compete, and they did.
Chaos could have ensued, but did not always do so. The most prominent example of the voluntary church in action was the development of what the historian Charles Foster called 'An Errand of Mercy'.27 This was a network, one that replicated and was connected in many cases with counterparts in Great Britain, of agencies designed to effect legislation, assure educations, develop charities, and promote morals. These were often lay-run efforts by leaders who came from across denominational lines. They crusaded against alcohol, duelling, sometimes against slavery and for patriotic support of the nation and its symbols, Christian education as in Sunday Schools, and various efforts to effect justice.
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