In the century from 1815 to 1914, the churches of North America experienced an expansion all but unprecedented in the modern history of Christianity. In an era of break-neck population growth (United States, from 8,400,000 to 99,100,000; Canada, from about 600,000 to about 8,000,000), rates of church adherence increased even more rapidly - in the United States from under one-fourth ofthe population to over two-fifths, and in Canada from an even smaller proportion at the start of the period to an even higher proportion at the end. Yet this era was just as noteworthy for how innovatively religion was being organised as for how rapidly the churches were growing. Christian believers in the United States gloried in their 'freedom', by which they meant they neither enjoyed nor sought the protection of establishment. In Canada, there was less enthusiasm about disestablishment, but by the second half of the century a similar state of affairs prevailed there. The self-starting efforts of denominations and the mobilisation of voluntary societies had taken the place of formal church-state ties, but the result was a more thorough Christianisation of the population than in Europe and an exertion of social influence at least as powerful as in the old world. In 1854 the learned Swiss emigre Philip Schaff returned to Europe and reported on his new land. Schaff granted that Americans had taken an unprecedented step in separating the churches from 'the temporal power', but insisted none the less that 'Christianity, as the free expression of personal conviction and ofthe national character, has even greater power over the mind, than when enjoined by civil laws and upheld by police regulations.' To Schaff, the proof could be discerned in practice:
the strict observance of the Sabbath, the countless church and religious schools, the zealous support of Bible and Tract societies, of domestic and foreign missions, the numerous revivals, the general attendance on divine worship, and the custom of family devotion - all expressions of the general
Was this article helpful?