Agonizomai: Blasts From the Past<br>The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry - Gilbert Tennent

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Blasts From the Past
The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry - Gilbert Tennent

Though the style and tone of contention varies from historical period to period, this little piece was very controversial for its vituperative content and its barbs against the "Old Side" proponents in the Presbyterian Church in the Colonies at the time, who resisted the spirit of the revival during the first Great Awakening in America. Tennent accused the denomination of engaging clergymen who were mere "professionals", and who were in the ministry because it offered a living and a vocation, but not out of any conviction by the Spirit of God.

Sad to say, the vitality of the Reformation and the sanctifying persecutions of the Puritan era had, in many places, given way, in only about 100 years, to a dull orthodoxy and to pulpits occupied by men who weren't even saved. Methodism (originally a movement within the Church of England) had begun to sprout in answer to the deadness of the formal church in the Homeland and men like Whitefield were being used of God in the Great Awakening, both in England and the Colonies. But the Whitefields of the world were not permitted to preach in many of the established churches, and so they often set up open air pulpits and preached to crowds in the fields and the byways and the markets.

Men like Tennent stuck it out with the formal Denomination and with the attendant restrictions, customs and regulations. One of these was a geographical slicing up of counties into parishes. People were used to the idea of being baptized (baby-dipped), confirmed, married and buried in the same church and to sitting obediently in the same pews in the same buildings year after year regardless of the quality and faithfulness of the minister. This sermon by Tennent was a heartfelt, if somewhat acrid, cry against the perceived wrongs then going on in the church. Perhaps he was only reacting to the reactionary anti-revivalistic elements in his denomination.

I have excised one small sentence from the text because it seemed to speak in inappropriate terms about people of color.

Years later, Tennent is said to have regretted preaching this sermon because of its harsh and censorious nature. The late Dr. John H. Gerstner said that those who heard this sermon knew exactly which unconverted minister Tennent was referring to! Anyway - I give you 70 minutes of Tennent raging against the dying of the light (to quote Dylan Thomas)... and I'm tempted to offer a prize - or at least recognition - to anyone who manages to sit through it all in one go. Send me an email if you manage it.

The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry


Blogger Beloved Spear said...

That particular sentence does seem to merit's deeply jarring to both ear and Spirit.

6:05 pm  
Blogger agonizomai said...


Exactly! That's why I axed it.

I'm glad we agree on this.



6:14 pm  

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