Slavery - Free Will - Revivalism - Second American Awakening
Black slaves and free whites on the American Frontier shared the same methods to demonstrate their freedom. Whites were enslaved by Calvinism and its anxiety-producing exclusion of most people from God's grace. It is not uncommon for people fleeing from their old religion to retreat into ancient "paradigms" mixed with the simple faith Christ died to give to mankind to free us from "anxiety created by religious ritual." Black slaves retreated to an African form of religion mixed with denominational beliefs to fool the "masters." Whites were heavily influenced by these methods but often found -- and find -- their paradigm or pattern in Babylon. Babylon, by the way is the original source of most ancient religions.
Bloom notes that:
"The American Religion is born about 1800, and that African-American religion was a crucial element in this origin. The ecstasies of Cane Ridge tapped a mysterious current of sensation and perseption that emanated from the slaves." (Harold Bloom, The American Religion, p. 238)
Bloom notes that this, externally, was freedom from self but internally freedom for self, to know and to be known by a black Jesus. This is why most American religions see themselves as another Chosen People. This Jesus is not touched by the rational views of modern life but must be sought in the ancient world out of which all of us come, especially in a religious sense. To one new movement, Jesus as a "phallic kind of guy" is not found in the mind or spirit through the revealed words; he is found in the woods as we beat the drums and confess our phallic shortcomings.
While externally, black religion took on the form of Baptists or other groups, internally, they restored their African roots. Paradoxically, trying to free themselves from Calvinism to which most were unpredestinated outcasts, white Americans adopted the methodology of African religion. This included the African concept of "the little man (spirit) in the big man (me)" view of the Godhead.
Laurie Maffly-Kipp, Ph.D, observes that:
"By 1810 the slave trade to the United States had officially ended and the slave population began to increase naturally, making way for the preservation and transmission of religious practices that were, by this time, truly "African-American." This transition coincided with the period of intense religious revivalism known as "awakenings." In the southern states, where the institution of slavery still prevailed, increasing numbers of slaves converted to evangelical religions such as the Methodist and Baptist faiths. Many clergy within these denominations actively promoted the idea that all Christians were equal in the sight of God, a message that provided hope and sustenance to the slaves.
They also encouraged worship in ways that many Africans found to be similar, or at least adaptable, to African worship patterns, with enthusiastic singing, clapping, dancing, and even spirit-possession.
"In the slave quarters, however, African Americans organized their own "invisible institution." Through signals, passwords, and messages not discernible to whites, they called believers to "hush harbors" where they freely mixed African rhythms, singing, and beliefs with evangelical Christianity. It was here that the spirituals,
with their double meanings of religious salvation and freedom from slavery, developed and flourished;
and here, too, that black preachers, (Note: the drum was taken away from them in 1735)
those who believed that God had called them to speak his Word, polished their "chanted sermons,"or rhythmic intoned style of extemporaneous preaching.
Part church, part psychological refuge, and part organizing point for occasional acts of outright rebellion (Nat Turner, whose armed insurrection in Virginia in 1831 resulted in the deaths of scores of white men, women, and children, was a self-styled Baptist preacher),
these meetings provided one of the few ways for enslaved African Americans to express and enact their hopes for a better future. African American Religion
Most revivalistic efforts, new and ancient, move along the same well-trodden path to freedom from "decadent and deliterious" religions.
Calvinism had a lot in common with slavery. While both white and black might have their sinful nature, some (blacks) were predestinated by God to be slaves; whites to be masters. It had nothing to do with true value. The black man simply could do nothing to be predestinated for freedom. In a religious sense,
"But Calvin also taught that God, in his infinite mercy, would spare a small number of "elect" individuals from the fate of eternal hellfire that all mankind, owing to their corrupt natures, justly deserved. That elect group of "saints" would be blessed, at some point in their lives, by a profound sense of inner assurance that they possessed God's "saving grace." This dawning of hope was the experience of conversion, which might come upon individuals suddenly or gradually, in their earliest youth or even in the moments before death. It is important to emphasize to students that,
"in the Calvinist scheme, God decided who would be saved or damned before the beginning of history--and that this decision
would not be affected by how human beings behaved during their lives. The God of Calvin (and the Puritans) did not give "extra credit"--nor, indeed, any credit--for the good works that men and women performed during their lives.
While blacks were excluded from any form of freedom, whites were excluded from spiritual freedom unless God had "freed" them by some experience. This led to extreme anxiety, especially on the American frontier. In a strange twist of logic, the anxiety of being excluded from salvation was supposed to be cured by a huge, man-induced dose of anxiety through so-called "revivals."
The "enslaved" could get free only by passing through a Red-Sea, Wilderness-wandering of suffering event. The religionists, deviating from normal Christian values, complied by waging a real battle for the newly-freed SEEKERS. This gave expression to the new Baptist view that each had to personally undergo the "old Testament" experience before Christ came to them personally. "Believer's Baptism" came to mean that one had already undergone this personal experience of Christ's personal dying all over as He is supposed to do in the Catholic Euchrist.
The bonus was that the New Lights would prove the superiority of their system over those who had oppressed by slavery or by Calvinism:
"One important result of the new revivalism was a further erosion of older Calvinist beliefs, especially the doctrine of predestination. (For information on Calvinism and predestination see under Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Puritanism and Predestination.) Although some evangelical clergymen did not abandon the idea of predestination entirely (the idea that God had preordained who would be saved and who would not was, after all, a logical extension of the conception of God as an eternal, omniscient, and omnipotent being), in practical terms they held out what amounted to an idea of universal salvation.
"Most Methodist clergymen came pretty close to embracing the idea of universalism which held that Christ's atonement was potentially universal, available without restriction to all who would repent and surrender to God.
"Alexander Campbell, the founder of the Church of Christ, made universalism the hallmark of his doctrinal system.
Of course, there is a big difference between universalism and potential universalism. Alexander Campbell believed that Christ's Atonement was available to anyone who accepted it by obedient faith. This, like the Emacipation Proclamation for blacks, spread like wildfire. Freedom from blacks did not spread because of the power of some freedom "preacher." The slaves simply slipped out of the shackles as soon as someone held "master's hands" long enough.
In the same way, freedom to accept did not spread just because Alexander Campbell spread it. Rather, like baptism, the people who were often excellent Bible students "followed the leaders" only after the leaders got it right and gave them community standing and the right to be free.
However, once "grace" was wrestled away from the Calvinist clergy, it had just passed into the hands of others who determined new terms for permitting you to have access to this new freedom. This proves that:
Nothing is clearer in history than the adoption by successful rebels of the methods they were accustomed to condemn in the forces they deposed. --Will and Ariel Durant
What was preserved from Calvinism was some form of supernatural sign that you had been singled out as one of the select few God had honored to go to heaven while the others, including infants, went to a burning hell. Faced with this eternal destiny for the majority what was a few years of slavery to blacks?
Not to worry! If the new clergy could fabricate these supernatural proofs in abundance then the New Lights would prove that they had God's blessing for a universal offer of salvation. Of course, you were still trapped: you had to manifest the signs before you were saved. Even the preachers had to be ordained and you still had to "pray through" to be saved.
To that end, a sequence which already worked was honed to a sharp edge. Donald Scott of Queens College notes that:
"Conversion consisted of a sequence of clearly mapped-out steps, each of which was accompanied by a powerful emotion that
led the penitent from the terror of eternal damnation through redemption to the promise of heavenly salvation.
The process of conversion characteristically began in a state of "concern" about the state of one's soul and "inquiry" into what were called the doctrines of salvation propelled by the question "what can I do to be saved?"
This led to a state of acute spiritual "anxiety," marked by deep fear over the prospect of eternal damnation, which in turn grew into an unmistakable sense of "conviction," the heartfelt realization that one stood justly condemned for one's sins and deserved eternal damnation.
"Conviction was the terrifying point of recognition that no matter how much one might desire it, there was absolutely nothing one could do to earn salvation. But there was something the penitent could do, indeed, was bound to do. That was to fully repent and surrender unconditionally to God's will to do with as he saw fit and to serve him fully. It was this act of repentance, surrender, and dedication to serving his will that Finney meant when in his most famous sermon he insisted that
"sinners [are] bound to change their own hearts." This moment of renunciation of sin and the abject surrender to the will to God was the moment of conversion, if it was to come, the moment at which, through the promise of Christ's atonement for human sin, a merciful God would bestow his grace upon the repentant sinner.
Revivalism and the Second Great Awakening
"A second distinguishing feature of nineteenth-century evangelicalism was its approach to religious revivals. The phrase "religious revival" was originally coined in the eighteenth century to describe a new phenomenon in which churches experienced an unexpected "awakening" of spiritual concern, occasioned by a special and mysterious outpouring of God's saving grace, which led to unprecedented numbers of intense and "surprising conversions" that "revived" the piety and power of the churches.
"In the early nineteenth century, however, as "the revival" became a central instrument for provoking conversions, it became as much a human as a divine event. In the terms of Charles Grandison Finney, a revival was something preachers and communicants did. It was a deliberately orchestrated event that deployed a variety of spiritual practices to provoke conversions especially among the unconverted "youth" (men and women between 15 and 30) in the community.
"The new, self-consciously wrought revivals took several forms. They first emerged at the turn of the eighteenth century with the invention of the camp meeting in western Virginia and North Carolina and on the Kentucky and Ohio frontier by Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists. At these meetings, the most famous (or notorious) of which took place at Cane Ridge, Kentucky in 1801, hundreds and sometimes thousands of people would gather from miles around in a wilderness encampment for four days to a week.
"There they engaged in an unrelenting series of intense spiritual exercises, punctuated with cries of religious agony and ecstasy, all designed to promote religious fervor and conversions.
These exercises ranged from the singing of hymns addressed to each of the spiritual stages that marked the journey to conversion, public confessions and renunciations of sin and personal witness to the workings of the spirit, collective prayer,
"all of which were surrounded by sermons delivered by clergymen especially noted for their powerful "plain-speaking" preaching.
"The second, major variant of the new revivalism consisted of the "protracted meetings" most often associated with the "new measures" revivalism of Finney
but which by the late l820s had become the characteristic form of most northern and western revivalism.
"Protracted meetings," ordinarily conducted once a year at a time when they would be less disruptive of ordinary life, usually lasted two to three weeks, during which time there would be preaching two or three times each day,
addressed especially to the anxious penitents who would gather on an "anxious bench" at the front of the church to be prayed for by the congregation, and prayer and counseling visits by newly converted Christians to the concerned and anxious.
Once a person had gone through the experience of conversion and rebirth, he or she would join the ranks of visitors and exhorters, themselves becoming evangelists for the still unconverted around them.
Like most urges to awake people religiously through external means, a strong belief in Kung's "now but not yet kingdom" could be brought to earth if religionists gave Jesus a push by making the earth a fit place for His habitation. Of course, they would keep their promises and Christ would let them sit on the right hand and left hand to bestow rewards and administer punishments as God's prepared swat team.
"They came to believe that it was given to them and their generation of evangelical Americans
to prepare the way for Christ's Second Coming (which Jonathan Edwards had predicted would take place in the New World)
by working unrelentingly to bring about the thousand-year reign of righteousness that would precede his return to earth.
More specifically, what this meant was that they and their communicants were to enlist themselves in a broad set of campaigns to reform American society.
Most religious denominations split because the Northern churches saw the abolution of slavery as part of the predestinated play for God's predestinate people. After all, they had proven their Christ-given agency by the great revivals. In another article we will list some of the evidence that the civil war was a religious war provoked by northern nominal Christians destined to pour out God's wrath as truth goes marching on.
Those who feel guilty that we are not able to reconstruct events like Cane Ridge and therefore feel that their religion is, as charged, decadent and deliterious, should remember that these events were never a part of the American Restoration Movement. Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians who "cooked" Cane Ridge went on to populate Quakers, Mormonism and Holiness groups. In time, the excitement gave way to more Biblical education and some of the people began to reject their old beliefs and became a seed-bed for a saner, more Biblically-based faith and practice. Alexander Campbell was never a part of these movements but taught "universalism" in the sense that anyone who so choose could come to Christ.
Alexander Campbell's unique contribution was teaching preachers who, in turn, told people that they didn't have to go to the "mourner's bench" and pray through. They could, just as God created them, hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized with no higher permission than that given to you in Acts 2:38.
In the Awakening series, we will look at some of the documentation showing that these physical manifestations were common to what many earlier people identified as mental disequilibrium often produced by the religious "doctors" trying to sell them a "cure." If you didn't need their eye-salve they would poke you in the eye and then sell the cure.
While most people involved in these movements were sincere, it is important to understand that the methods and madness produced by driving people to the brink of catastrophe often cannot be distinguished from the methods of purely pagan religious forms.
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