Monday, September 03, 2012

The Turn of the Century WC: Black and Drury

For the last three weeks I've been reading through Black and Drury's, The Story of the Wesleyan Church So far:

Chaps 1-2  About Wesley and the origins of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in abolitionism
Chaps 3-4  About its activist early days that were low church, pro-women (and anti- some other things)
Chaps 5-6  The post-Civil War let down, when the best and brightest returned to the Methodists

Today, I'm looking at chapter 7, which brought the Wesleyan Methodists to the end of the 1800s and chapter 8, the birth of what would snowball into the Pilgrim Holiness Church.
End of the Century Wesleyan Methodism
Three elements in this chapter seem to point to the most important events just before the turn of the century within the WM Church. The first is that they finally called it a "church" instead of a "connection" in 1891. The second was the founding of Houghton College, the first college venture that really stuck within the denomination. The third was the beginning of significant missions, in particular the sending of the Johnston's to Sierra Leone, West Africa in 1889. Father and son would die within five years.

Of great interest was also the founding of African-American conferences that were separate from the white conferences. This was not forced on these Wesleyans--they wanted to have their own districts--but it seems a defeat and that is how Black and Drury take it.  Surely there was another way to allow them to have their own connection while being full members of integrated districts.

Also of interest in this chapter is the move toward "pre-millennialism."  At the turn of the century, dispensationalism was becoming a strong force in America with its sense of a rapture, tribulation, and anti-Christ.  Up to that point, Black and Drury argue, Wesleyan Methodism had been "post-millennial," optimistic about the possibility of changing the world.  Enter the gloom of impending crisis, where things would get worse and worse until the second coming.

By the way, they were all wrong, weren't they? Over a hundred years ago the Left Behind types were preaching it was all going to happen ASAP and it didn't.  SO STOP IT!  Dispensationalism has only survived because of short term memory.  

Birth of the Pilgrim Holiness Church
Well, not exactly.  There were a number of holiness associations that rose in the late 1800s, several of which would later snowball into the Pilgrim Holiness Church. But the one later Pilgrims have always pointed to is the formation of the International Holiness Union and Prayer League that took place in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1897 in the home of Martin Wells Knapp.  That location would become God's Bible School.  Both the school and the paper he founded, The Revivalist, are still going strong. Knapp would die before he realized he had founded a church.

His co-founder was Seth C. Rees.  Rees was a Quaker, and I have occasionally mentioned elements of Quaker thought that I consider strengths of the Pilgrim heritage of the Wesleyan Church.  Holiness was the key basis for the new group.  This is the doctrine of a second experience that empowers a person not only to do the right thing but to do so gladly and easily. They were, in short, Pentecostals before tongues got mixed into the equation.

They were fiery preachers. They were entrepreneurial with a very loose organizational structure. "For decades, Pilgrims were more like a ragtag band than an orderly denomination" (104). Their motto was "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."  Of course they saw a lot of non-essential things as essential, no doubt.

One thing they didn't know was the later wall fundamentalism created between social ministry and evangelism.  They preached getting saved, getting sanctified, the possibility of healing, and the soon return of Christ (the "fourfold gospel")... and they ministered in the slums, in prisons, started city missions, went to hospitals...  Like the Salvation Army, the Pilgrims were full blown "social" alongside their full blown "gospel."


John C. Gardner said...

The period from 1880-1910 has been classified as the Nadir of American Race Relations. This was a period of extra-legal violence, the rise of legal segregation(in both north and south), and economic peonage. Voting rights were also restricted. It is a sad commentary on America of that period. It is thus understandable that black Wesleyan Methodists would want autonomy from white Americans and that white Wesleyans were ready to accede to the culture of the times. This was also an era of Social Darwinism, low taxes(little public support for black education) and small government. It was a period also when many former white abolitionists and their descendants abandoned the black population. All of us should be saddened by this period of our history which also saw the former Confederates developed the Lost Cause Mythology that the war was over states rights rather than slavery. Anyone who doubts the role of slavery should read the Cornerstone speech of Alexander Stephens(the vice-president of the Confederacy). I also showed in my dissertation the role of race in the prior decade from 1848-52.

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks for that info, John. Would it be fair to say that states rights was the way in which the South tried to fight the increasing pressure of the North to try to eliminate slavery? In the same way, states rights is currently the way Republicans have been fighting national health care reform?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

John and Ken,

States, as every other entity, have to survive, economically. That is a fact of life. The South was mainly an agricultural society which had to rely on slavery (workers) to get the job done.

The North, on the other hand, was more industrialized. Therefore, just as it is anachronistic to say something is "scripture for today" without understanding the ancient context, it is presumptive to assume that the industrialized North could understand the needs of the South. The same could be argued about small businesses versus large corporations!

How people "see" things is their prejuidice/bias and a lot of variables go into coming to terms with their judgments and priorities. Hasn't it been researched that most people judge on feelings, not on facts?

So, I do not think it had anything to do with their views about slaves or themselves (modern day politically correct "prejuidice"), other than seeking to survive.

Isn't it a fact that some Africans sold their "brothers" into slavery? So, weren't the Southern genteel culture functioning according to their understanding of "social order", meaning that slaves were brought into this country for a certain purpose. What was wrong was not so much the issue of slavery itself, but the fact that the slaves had no choice about the matter...They did not enter into a business contract in the same sense that others in our society did.

John C. Gardner said...

The original workers in the South and North until the period from 1660-1710 were indentured servants whose term lasted up to 7 years. Slavery was already forbidden in Europe and it was simply an exploitation system of one race by another as a white supremacy device and a coercive economic system. Free labor was available in New England and the Northwest for farming(even on comparatively large tracts of land after the invention of the McCormack reaper). Slavery was endemic to many societies including in the ancient Greco-Roman world. But, America claimed we were an exceptional country with a god given mission. Slavery was(and is)morally repugnant. White mid-westerners and many yeomen farmers in the South and New Englande labored in hot climates without slavers(cf the life of Lincoln). States Rights was the gloss which justified slavery(see the pro-slavery writings of John C. Calhoun and other noted racists). Examine the historical writings of T. H. Williams, Charles Dew and Kenneth Stampp on slavery and government.

John Mark said...

Ken, you may be right about states rights and health care, but surely you are aware of the schools (Wheaton, Biola, I think and some others) who are suing the Feds over the contraception language in the bill. To me this is an entirely different matter. There are times when you seem to have a libertarian bent (a minor one, perhaps) that should make you sympathetic to some of the nuances of the arguments against totally government run health care....even though the system as it stands is not perfect by far.

Ken Schenck said...

JM, I don't know enough about Obamacare to endorse or reject it. I like the idea of universal health care, am nervous about our government running it. My comment on states rights is just one potential piece of the puzzle. My hunch is that issues like this one have many pieces, some of which we will like and some of which we would reject. The net sum would be my vote... but since I don't make those decisions ;-)