Less than seventy years after the establishment of our governing documents, and around a century since the beginning of the Great Awakening, certain individuals sought to secularize the political arena, calling for the immediate end of all activities which stemmed from religion, such as prayer and worship, within the halls of our Capitol. Congress declined, stating,
“Had the people, during the Revolution, had a suspicion of any attempt to war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in its cradle. At the time of the adoption of the Constitution and the amendments, the universal sentiment was that Christianity should be encouraged, not any one sect.” – House Judiciary Committee, Thirty-Third United States Congress (1853-1854)
Still today, many people share this belief, realizing the roots of the War for Independence were the results of seeds planted during the Great Awakening. Many Christians claim that had it not been for the Awakening, there would have been no Revolution. Indeed, it was through that famous revival that God united all aspects of society through the avenue of the church, readying America for such a conflict.
For the colonies, the Awakening had a rather curious effect, of all things unifying the colonies spiritually. George Whitefield, the first evangelist known to travel up and down the east coast, visited all thirteen colonies during that revival. His messages emphasized the depravity of man regardless of one’s race, profession, or social status. As a result, men and women of all walks of life repented alongside one another and pleaded with God for the salvation of their souls.
The important byproduct of this was the establishment of the philosophy of egalitarianism, the belief in human equality with respect to social, economic, or political affairs. In other words, as we are each and every one us equally sinful in the eyes of God and in need of His Son’s saving blood shed on Calvary, so should we view one another equally on this physical earth, regardless of one’s race, profession, or social status. And thanks to Mr. Whitefield and other preachers’ sermons, colonists began to feel even more bound together by way of their shared mass conversions and the men who had led them to Christ.
It didn’t stop there. The Awakening inspired individuals to make the role of religious influence much more important in their personal lives as well. No longer did the Anglican Church have a stranglehold on colonists’ spiritual welfare anymore. Neither would the authority of Mother England impose on their everyday life soon thereafter. Dr. David Gibbs of the Christian Law Association notes,
“When individual Christians began to make independent decisions about what to believe and where to worship, a democratic spirit was created that helped lay the foundation for the American Revolution.”
But wouldn’t the differing doctrines of the many denominations hinder the creation of the bond of unity needed to become one nation? The answer is a surprising “No.” The effects of the Awakening are to be thanked once again as many of its different preachers declined to inject themselves excessively into doctrinal disputes. Instead most aligned themselves with the preaching of “pietism,” or rather on how to lead a holy life, within their sermons.
Professor Ellis Sandoz, Louisiana State University, explains, “The denominational differences are minimalized partly as a result of the homogenizing and democratizing effects of decades of revivalism from the Great Awakening and its rumbling echoes and aftershocks.” It was this unique solidarity amongst the different churches which eventually aided in the promotion of independence, as many of the first cries for colonial liberty originated from behind the pulpit.
Sadly in this age, this wonderful and widespread unity betwixt the states, between individuals, and amongst churches is something only rarely thought, and only wistfully, today. With the media on both sides of the aisle spreading the culture of discord and hostility everyday, it is quite easy for the Christian patriot to throw up his hands in despair, and give up hope for our beloved nation.
But the hand of God did not move unprovoked in that age, and in select societies throughout the country, the saints do pray down that same power today. The Holy Spirit still works in the hearts of individuals and entities, reviving souls and saving more for the most holy purpose of His work in our world these days. Let us hope and pray that the wave of revival, with which God impacted the colonies in that age, may today encompass every aspect of our lives.
That the spirit which made this great nation may unite, and save, it once again.