Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 1740-1800: Strict Congregationalists and Separate Baptists in the Great Awakening

Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 1740-1800: Strict Congregationalists and Separate Baptists in the Great Awakening

Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 1740-1800: Strict Congregationalists and Separate Baptists in the Great Awakening

Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 1740-1800: Strict Congregationalists and Separate Baptists in the Great Awakening

Excerpt

The Great Awakening in New England brought not peace but a sword. Although genuine revival came to many churches throughout a wide region, there were numerous places where revivalism became an uncontrollable ferment, dismaying even its friends by the resultant "errors in doctrine" and "disorders in practice."

Efforts on the part of the standing order to subdue the new religious enthusiasm soon provoked a revolt. Out of the complex of issues that led to open rupture came almost one hundred separatist churches, marking a permanent shattering of the Congregational establishment in New England. A large proportion of these revivalistic separatists passed over into the Baptist fellowship, powerfully augmenting and revivifying this denomination, which had remained aloof from the Awakening, and eventually producing significant changes in it.

There are two ways in which an investigation of separatist phenomena might be conducted. One would be a thorough depth study of a small number of separatist churches presupposed to be typical, with generalizations based on the findings. The other would be to extend the scope of the study in an effort to determine insofar as possible the location, circumstances, and characteristics of every discoverable separatist congregation. In spite of the loss of depth in the latter method, I have chosen it: so little has been done in this area that a panoramic view of revivalistic separatism seems desirable.

This choice meant that it was not possible in every case to go to sources. There was indeed opportunity to consult various manuscript church records, as well as letters and journals of important participants in the separatist movement, and good use was made of them in the text. Some materials of this nature are printed, in whole or in part, in various historical collections. In many instances, however, there was no choice but to rely on records and manuscripts quoted liberally in the local church, town, and county histories which are so conveniently abundant for New England. Their availability broadened the scope of the investigation and made it possible to demonstrate that separatism was much more widespread than has been suspected previously. A major help also was the fact that many of the men who participated . . .

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