Sunday, October 1, 2017

"New Light"

A few days ago on Facebook I linked to this book review, "The Great Awakening and the Collapse of New England Congregationalism," by John Turner. About the first "Great Awakening" Turner writes
...George Whitefield and a host of imitators set about convincing New England’s Congregationalists that their prior religious experiences were worthless and built upon a “sandy” foundation. Instead, “the only experience that counted was the new birth,” no longer a decades-long process but now “a momentous event that could be dated with accuracy and narrated with confidence.” ....

Most ministers welcomed the earliest awakenings. After all, they resulted in scores of new church members. Many soon changed their minds. The emotionality, the physical manifestations, the boldness of converts, were all too much. Those who soured on the revivals found themselves denounced as unconverted by itinerants and the revived in their own parishes. Very few ministers managed to hold their churches together. At best, churches divided into New Light and Old Light factions, if not into separate churches. At worst, the tumult of the awakenings spawned a host of fractious dissenting movements. Within towns and even within families, New Englanders could reach no consensus on questions such as, “what did it mean to be a professor, a new convert, a visible saint, or an experienced Christian?” ....
I wondered how this might have affected Seventh Day Baptist churches since the earliest in North America were also in New England. Janet Thorngate, who recently edited Baptists in Early North America: Newport, Rhode Island, Seventh Day Baptists, responded:
.... Initially Baptists ignored or were opposed to what has become known as America's First Great Awakening, a time of spiritual revival led by George Whitfield of England & others. According to C.C. Goen, Baptists opposed it because of their suspicion of those espousing infant baptism, their "isolationist outlook," and their aversion to strong Calvinism (some SDBs were Calvinist, some Arminian, but at this time they didn't deem the difference particularly important). Yet, ultimately Baptists profited greatly from the Awakening because many leaving the Congregational churches joined Baptist churches or formed new Baptist churches. I do deal briefly with the effects on the Newport and [First] Hopkinton churches in my book ....  There is quite a bit of reference (mostly negative) to New Lights in the [First] Hopkinton records, but estimates of how many left the church during that time were exaggerated since many left for other reasons (e.g., those moving west with the church's blessings, to form the new church in Shrewsbury, NJ, etc.) SDBs, like other Baptists, were later poised to reap significant benefits from the 2nd Great Awakening following the Revolutionary War.