2. Threats Inside and Out, 1765–1775
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2 Threats Inside and Out, 1765–1775 If there was hope by 1765 that the Presbyterians would continue to progress on their interdenominational journey, immense clouds of doubt were seen gathering in the distance. On February 6, 1765, British Prime Minister George Grenville introduced the Stamp Act resolutions, helping to spark the American Revolution.1 The subsequent constitutional debates concerning the civil and religious liberties of the colonists largely preoccupied the energies of the Presbyterians. Leaders within the Presbyterian Church established the denomination as a vessel for the colonists to better understand and address the imperial conflict. Even though, during these years, Presbyterians proposed both denominational and colonial unity, these suggestions introduced new meanings to the original call. The Presbyterians were still hoping to help heal the divisions in Christ’s kingdom, but they also looked to unions for the protection of American liberties, both religious and civil. Still, these unions had religious objectives, and they were firmly rooted in ecclesiastical traditions of resistance that dated back to the Protestant Reformation.2 These amendments to the interdenominational goals of 1758, however, introduced new concerns that worked in tandem with the intermittent Old/New Light conflicts, and proved a distraction for many churchgoers, but the long sought-for unity of Christendom was never forgotten.Throughout the period, leading Presbyterians continued to push for true eternal cooperation among churches and Christians. In 1765, the year after his death, a series of sermons by Gilbert Tennent was published. They were originally given before the Synod of New York Threats Inside and Out / 37 and Philadelphia in May 1759, but their publication in 1765 served as a timely reminder of the church’s reunion goals.3 As was his tendency, Tennent wasted little time calling his fellow Presbyterians to wholeheartedly take up the title of “Peacemakers.”This would be difficult, he acknowledged, as human nature strove against such activity and “persons of narrow minds and divisive practices,are applauded.”Nevertheless,“in the judgment of our Lord, the Peacemakers are blessed, for they shall be called the children of God.” The reoccurring Old Light/New Light issues were certainly on the minister’s mind, but he did not limit his discussion to the denomination. The divine charge “doubtless extends to all the connections of mankind, in families, church and state;” and, Tennent continued, “peacemakers therefore are such who are themselves quiet and peaceable, who sincerely love peace and earnestly endeavor in obedience to God, and regard to man to promote it,wherever their influence reaches,thro’the general series of their behavior, by the use of all lawful means.”4 There were many obstacles between Christians and peacemaking, Tennent noted, such as “rash-judging”and “unscriptural terms of communion,” but there was one that appeared to bother him most, “uncharitable divisions .” Reminiscent of the plan of reunion, Tennent cried, “Alas! what multitudes are prejudiced against christianity altogether, by the numerous schisms of the church of CHRIST, and their carnal contentions.” Instead of a reflection of Christ’s own perfect example or the realization of his prayer “that his people may be one as he and the father are one” the world was treated to Christians who “labour to ruin one another’s reputations, provoke mutually not to love, but wrath, and practically confine christianity to their several parties, as tho’CHRIST was divided or had many bodies!”5 At the heart of Christendom’s divisive tendencies was the problem of pride, Tennent argued, and it was pride that “blows up peace in families, church and state; it sets men on striving who shall be greatest.”To counteract this, he called his audience to “love our brethren with a pure heart fervently; this will incline us to cover their infirmities, and to live at peace with them; love endureth all things: if we love our brethren more, we shall be willing to bear more with them; and to provoke them less.”6 Although Tennent hoped for such a unity among Christians, he did not believe it would or should come at the cost of what “the Apostle Paul” called “christian liberty.” As Christians, he stated, it was necessary that “we . . .believe and love lesser points of truth,without imposing them upon others.” Here denominations played a useful role, but such associations could be abused and encourage more rifts within the universal church. As the body of Christ, churches served varying roles, “and tho’ the body mystical hath some parts which are reckoned less honorable, yet there...


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