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

The dominant feature of the First Great Awakening was the return of people to the well-known and reasonably well-established Churches that already existed. The Second Great Awakening had the opposite effect. Although true that some, at least, of the established Churches did grow in membership, notably the Methodists and Baptists, much of the growth in overall Church membership after 1810 or so came among previously unknown or non-existent bodies. We’ve already spoken of the Restoration Movement of Campbell, Stone and Smith, and the resulting thousands of independent, (but, they would argue, non-Baptist) congregations all across Kentucky, western Virginia, Tennessee, and Ohio. As the Old Northwest and the Louisiana Purchase territories began to settle, the Restoration Churches moved along the frontier and became major religious forces. The Methodists were also ready to expand, and did. The Methodists had an advantage in some ways in that they had a Church hierarchy, that is, an administrative structure in place to keep up with the new converts, and to train and send preachers into the field to establish and maintain the new congregations. But over and above all that, there were several brand new denominations formed, in addition to the Restoration movement.

One was the Cumberland Presbyterians. The old, regular Presbyterians were, like the Methodists, a hierarchical Church, with firm rules about how to train ministers and run worship. Some of their clergy, though, disagreed strongly with this conservative approach, and wanted to loosen up. Remember that both Campbell and Stone had been Presbyterians, in their earlier life. Well, in 1810, several Presbyters assembled in Kingston, Tennessee, and formed the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Presbyterians, but with a distinct baptist flair. In western New York, the religious fervor of the Cane Ridge revival swept into a region already being called “the Burned Over District”, where all manner of religious experimentation was going on. Many people were joining groups with an anabaptist bent. Others were renouncing sexual activity, like the Shakers, while some neighbors were joining groups that espoused what we today would call a “free love” philosophy. The old Puritan Church was rapidly falling apart, and in its place rose the Congregationalists, Unitarians, and, eventually, Transcendentalists. Into this lurid mix of almost “modern” religious variety came a teenaged boy named Joseph Smith. Smith had visions, and one of his visions was of a cache of golden plates, which he was tasked by an angel to translate. His translation eventually became “The Book of Mormon”, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” grew out of that.