The Church in History: The Church in America by Dr. T.Y. Hiter

The “arrival” at some degree of standardization of religious message by the Baptists and the arrival on the American frontier of the Scots-Irish, with their disdain for established religion and preference for loud and enthusiastic preaching did not result in an immediate and sweeping conversion of the Scots-Irish to the Baptist Church, but it did provide a slow but steady trickle of converts for the Baptist missionaries who were beginning to venture out to the frontier in search of souls to convert and also freedom from religious hierarchy. In fact, the two groups were made for each other, but if for that reason alone, they each seemed to be somewhat wary of one another. It is a cautious dance that has continued right into the 21st Century.

Some of the border folk did embrace the Baptists, but others found their way into Methodist or Presbyterian congregations. Interestingly, a good many Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist ministers also found their way into the Baptists. The Baptists, with their emphasis on congregational independence, simply offered far greater latitude in message for a preacher who had his own ideas about converting the heathen on the frontier, be they Spanish, French, Scots-Irish or Indian. Two Presbyterians were especially well-known for this, though they did not initially know or converse with one another: Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone each felt more contained by the Presbyterian hierarchy than they could easily live with, and so both became Baptists, and were soon ordained as Baptist clergymen. Note that this was before “Associations” were formed among Baptists: all a man needed was one congregation who liked his message, and he could be ordained.

Sometime shortly after 1800, all this religious ferment, added to the great western push into Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as the Old Northwest, made possible by the American victory in the Revolutionary War, led to the beginning of a sweeping frontier revival that was so large and all-encompassing that it soon was being called “The Second Great Awakening”. The major difference in this and the first Great Awakening was the people it reached. Whereas the first brought people back into the established Churches, the Second Great Awakening brought new converts into the Christian Church altogether. In 1807, at a place called Cane Ridge, Kentucky, it exploded into a full-blown revival. There, for several months, Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian preachers preached from the pulpit in the Cane Ridge Meeting House (which is still there, by the way!), from tree stumps, and from overturned wagon boxes as thousands of frontier people, most previously unaffiliated with any Church, came to Jesus for the first time.