- In the decades after the American Revolution, religious leaders, faced with a mostly unchurched public, sought innovative ways to attract people to Christian life. Preacher Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875) introduced a series of such practices that came to be known as the "new measures."Revivalism, introduced as far back as the 1740s, and camp meetings had come to have an important role especially on the frontier. By the 1820s, Methodists, Baptists and Cumberland Presbyterians had taken the lead in inviting frontier residents into the church. In that decade, Finney began holding revivals in New York and neighboring states, at which he aimed to lead believers through a crisis experience to repentance and acceptance of a new life in Christ. Taking a pragmatic approach, he refined a series of techniques that made him the leading evangelist of his era.The "new measures" included protracted meetings, the anxious or inquirer's meeting, the anxious bench, and directed prayers for known sinners. Finney was also the first to allow women to offer verbal prayers in mixed gatherings. Protracted meetings were revivals with no set end date; they would continue nightly as long as results were obtained. Finney adapted and developed the Methodist practice of setting up an area where people unsure about the condition of their souls (that is, anxious about salvation) could be counseled toward further repentance. In his prayers, he would name specific individuals believed to be in need of and approaching a state of repentance.Finley's measures, widely accepted on the frontier, provoked opposition from leaders of the organized Calvinist and Lutheran churches, many of whom believed that the timing of true revivals within Christianity as well as individual conversions were God's exclusive concern. Finney, influenced by Methodist Arminianism, assumed that humans could turn and repent at any time. It was the evangelist's task to issue the call, in the belief that God would accept repentance. He denied that the new measures contradicted the Bible in any way, and called them effective tools in winning souls.Among Finney's most important critics was German Reformed theologian John W. Nevin. He said that Finney had placed far too much emphasis on human action in the conversion process, downplaying the key Reformation principle of salvation by grace in favor of salvation by human endeavor. Despite criticism, Finney's new measures were widely adopted by the growing churches, though often modified over time. Finney's use of the anxious bench, for example, became the altar call so prominent in contemporary mass evangelistic meetings. The role of women in Finney's evangelistic meetings foreshadowed the changing status and role of women within the church.Further reading:■ Several of Charles Finney's books, including his Lectures on Revivals of Religion, have been placed on the Internet by the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, URL: http://www.ccel.org/f7finney■ Charles G. Finney, An Autobiography (New York: A. S. Barnes, 1876); , Lectures on Revivals of Religion (New York: Leavitt Lord, Boston Crocker & Brewster, 1835)■ Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, Charles G. Finney and the Spirit of American Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1996)■ Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform: American Protestantism on the Eve of the Civil War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.
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