Today in Church History

December 16

George Whitefield, Revivalism

On December 16, 1714, revivalist and evangelist George Whitefield was born in Gloucester, England.

Trained initially as an actor, Whitefield was educated at Pembroke College in Oxford and ordained in 1736. At the invitation of John and Charles Wesley, Whitefield traveled to North America in 1739, where he quickly became the best-known figure in the Great Awakening. His fervent open-air preaching " filled with colloquial phrases, dramatic pauses, and vivid word pictures " met with remarkable success.

Whitefield's practice of itinerant preaching furthered tensions within colonial Presbyterianism. Revivalists felt justified in traveling from village to village, speaking to crowds whether inside church buildings or outside in the market square, with or without the invitation of the local pastor. Established pastors, however, considered such occasions of preaching as a rebuke to their own ministry and feared the disorder, error, and individualism that itinerants cultivated. The effect of itinerancy was to undermine the discipline and authority of the local church. Through the ministry of Whitefield and other revivalists, American Protestantism moved away from careful observance of traditional Old World forms and toward an emphasis on individual religious experience.

- John Muether

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