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CHAPTER V

THE EVANGELICAL MOVEMENT AMONG THE GERMAN IMMIGRANTS

In our last chapter we spoke of a lack of religious teaching among the German settlers along
the inland frontier. A similar fact was true of the Scotch-Irish, who were the dominant element on
the same border. In the older communities, on and near the Atlantic seaboard, the religious
privileges were as good as were known anywhere in that century. Rut there was a state church in
eleven of the thirteen colonies, its houses of worship and its parsonages were paid for out of public
taxation, and its ministers were, either in part or altogether, supported in the same manner. Where
the Church of England prevailed, the rector was provided with a farm, and this was called a glebe.
The rectors were selected by the higher authorities of the church, and not by the congregations to
whom they ministered.

There was an unfortunate side of the influence of a church supported by the civil government
and by public taxation. There was an almost irresistible drift to an accepted standard of merely
formal piety, such as is spoken of in our sketch of William Otterbein. It was often the case that the
minister was as worldly-minded as the average man of the community. If under such
circumstances, there was any spiritual life in a congregation, it was in spite of the system and not
as a consequence of it. The ministers of the Presbyterian, Congregational, and Reformed churches,
all which were kindred denominations, had a very real interest in the well-being of the people
under their care. Rut in their preaching there was too little of the reformatory and too much of the
dogmatic and argumentative. And the prevalence in these communions of very long pastorates,

even of fifty and sixty years, led to routine methods, spiritual sluggishness, and churchly dry-rot. In

a word, formalism in religion was everywhere the rule and not the exception. The times were very
much in need of a loosening up of the parched-surface. In Germany, something was being dene in
this direction by the Moravians and the Pietists; in England, by the Wesleys, whose methods were
substantially the same as those of Spener, the founder of the Pietists; in America, by Wesleyan
missionaries, by the New Lights, and at a later period by the founders of the Cumberland
Presbyterian Church.

In a political sense the American Revolution was a good, but from another point of view it was
an evil. It interrupted the peaceful trend of the evangelistic movement. Partly through the influence
of foreigners, the free thought then so rampant in Europe was scattered broadcast on the American
soil. Religion was discredited by the formalism so often seen among the church people. In the
popular estimation it was looked upon as a lifeless garment which might as well be thrown aside.
Thus was prepared a congenial field for the nurture of infidelity and near-infidelity. Experimental
religion was deemed weak and silly. Family worship was thought to be affectation, and many of the
ministers themselves gloried in letting it alone. Among the students at Yale College in 1795 were
only about five members of any church. William and Mary, which was the only college in Virginia,
was a hotbed of unbelief. Bishop Meade of the Episcopal Church said in 1810 that nearly every
educated young Virginian was a skeptic. The same fact was generally true of the professional men
in all the states. In short, the Christian religion was held in scorn and it was the common opinion
that it was outworn and would soon pass out of existence. Gross drunkenness was not only an
everyday occurrence, but it was almost as common among ministers and other church members as
among people in general.

The portrait of the times that has been drawn in the last paragraph is startling. And yet its

accuracy is attested by the best of evidence. After 1825 there was a marked improvement with

respect to religion and temperance, but this only emphasizes the fact that during the long period
between 1750 and 1825,—the lifetime of an elderly person,—America was sadly in need of
evangelical instruction.

As in the instances of Otterbein and Boehm, there were a few evangelistic reformers in all the
churches. Finding themselves lonesome in the stifling atmosphere of their own denominations, they
leaped over sectarian lines and sought each other's society in religious gatherings. These
gatherings developed into the "big meetings" held in barns and groves, owing to the lack of church
buildings of sufficient size.

Chapter V 19 Evangelical Movement Among German
Immigrants
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