Monday, June 19, 2006

Nonconformist boom years

Today I attended the Reformed Minister's Fraternal at Honiton in Devon. The pastor of the host Church, (Honiton Congregational) Peter Robinson, spoke on Congregationalism's Boom Years. He gave a well researched and illuminating paper that detailed the extraordinary growth of Nonconformist Churches during the years 1790-1840.
According to Paul Cook in his The Forgotten Revival "Between 1790 and 1840 some half a million people were gathered into the Nonconformist churches of England and Wales alone, one of of every ten of the population of the time. God had stretched forth his arm to perform an astonishing work which shaped the history of the nation for over one hundred years. It laid the foundation of all the social, educational, penal and political reforms of the late Victorian age". (1984 Westminster Conference Paper p. 88).
Many of the Nonconformist Churches of this period were vigorously Calvinistic in doctrine and passionately concerned to reach the lost with the gospel at home and overseas. New Churches were planted and old ones witnessed extraordinary growth and blessing.
What are some of the features of this period of revival?
They Prayed: There was an increasing dependence on God in the work of outreach and evangelism. We too need to pray that God will 'rend the heavens and come down'.
They Co-operated: Evangelical Churches pooled their resources across denominational boundaries to support evangelistic activities. Have we so stressed the independency of local churches that gospel partnerships have been neglected?
They Innovated: This period saw the multiplication of new ministries and societies that aimed at reaching the people with the gospel. Are we willing to exercise faith be adventurous or have our Reformed Churches become to risk adverse to try anything new?
They Preached the Word: They believed that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Nonconformists invested in the financing of intenerate preaching ministries and in training men for the preaching ministry. Have we lost confidence in the power of preaching?
For details of Peter Robinson's paper click here .


Isaac M. Alderman said...

Are Methodists considered non-conformists during this period? I believe that just after Wesley's death (1791), there was a major growth in their numbers, up through the time that they had a fracturing, of sorts (I think 1803-5-ish). Or are nonconformists only those who filed for legal protection under the act of toleration?

Guy Davies said...

During Wesley's time, many Methodists were communicant members of the Church of England. Their Societies functioned alongside the C of E. After Wesley's death, a permanent rift emerged between Methodism and the Established Church. Gradually Societies became Churches and appointed their own Ministers. At than point Methodism became a Nonconformist grouping.

The revival of 1790-1840 was distinct from the earlier Methodist Revival. It was mainly a revival of the old dissenting Churches.

See Paul Cook's The Forgotten Revival referred to in the article. Iain Murray discusses Methodism after Wesley in his Wesley and Men Who Followed Banner of Truth Trust, 2003.

I hope that helps,

Guy Davies