What Caused the North/South USA Church splits in the 1800s?

Discussion in 'Church History' started by JBaldwin, Feb 21, 2009.

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  1. JBaldwin

    JBaldwin Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    This discussion on another thread has prompted me to start another thread.

    What were the causes of the church splits (North & South) in the USA in the 1800s?

    Where was the reformed faith in all of this?

    What was the primary church of the South?
  2. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    The slavery issue and/or secession and loyalty to the Union.

    With the Baptists it came in I believe 1845 when the Northern Baptists were seeking to prohibit the appointment of missionaries who were slaveholders, If I recall correctly. So the Southern Baptist Convention was formed.

    With the Old School Presbyterians it came in 1861 If I recall correctly over the Gardiner Spring resolution that called for loyalty to the Union. The Presbyterians had split into Old School and New School churches by that time. The Old School and New School factions had made up by the end of the 1860's, but there weren't many New School churches in the South to begin with, maybe just a handful of presbyteries. What was left of the Northern (variously PCUSA or UPCUSA) and Southern Presbyterian (PCUS) churches after the controversies over liberalism did not reunite until 1983. Of course the OPC had already seceded from the northern church in 1936 and the PCA from the Southern church in 1973. The EPC was formed in 1981, with some churches coming out at that time due to a temporary "escape clause" around the time of the merger that allowed them to leave with their property.

    Of course with the evisceration of the Northern Baptists by liberalism and the multiplication of various separatistic fundamentalist Baptist groups in the North like GARBC, etc. there has been no north/south reunion among the Baptists. There are many SBC churches in the North and West today of course, but not of course not in the concentration that you find in the old South.

    I believe the Methodists were actually the largest church at one point in the 19th century, but have been shrinking ever since liberalism took hold. I am less familiar with the timing of their split, but they split North and South as well, reuniting around 1940. Churches like the Wesleyan church and the Free Methodists had left the main Methodist church over slavery around the 1840's.

    -----Added 2/21/2009 at 03:26:57 EST-----

    For the confessional Reformed Faith, the Old School Presbyterians would be the place to look.

    There were other groups like ARP and the RPCNA and other groups descended from the Covenanters, and their position on the sectional controversies is interesting but the Old School Presbyterians were the main American Reformed church of that day. The various Dutch and other continental Reformed churches were to my understanding almost if not totally confined to the North due to the immigration patterns.
  3. Theognome

    Theognome Burrito Bill

    I'll write up in far more detail later (I'm still cooking stuff and won't be done 'til evening), but what Pilgrim wrote of is an effect, not necessarily a cause. Go back another 20 years to the tent revivals and itinerant 'pseudoPelagian' preachers of the 1820's, which in turn led to the 'great burnout' of the 1830's. Most of the issues Pilgrim brought up in his post were the result of this- folks no longer trusting in the pure teaching of the Gospel and seeking man-centered issues to nail to the cross instead of trusting in Christ risen.

  4. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Puritan Board Doctor

    My answer was to the question of what caused the North/South splits. It wasn't theology. Charles Hodge, Gardiner Spring, W.G.T. Shedd, James H. Thornwell, Girardeau, B.M. Palmer, R.L. Dabney etc. were all sound Reformed men who opposed the deviations seen with the Second Great Awakening, although of course they had their differences in various areas. They were all of the Old School. (Albert Barnes, Finney, etc. were New School) The later separation into Northern and Southern churches was not over the issues that you mention. The Northern Presbyterians reunited with the New School in 1869, which laid the groundwork for their demise. The Southern Old School and New School churches reunited in 1864 but the New School was much smaller in the South.

    The Old School/New School split that you are apparently referring to was not along sectional lines, although New School Presbyterianism was primarily in the North.
  5. jwithnell

    jwithnell Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Could be a few things -- you had a highly experience/emotional outbreak that led to the forming of the Cumberland church in the early 1800s and an old school/new school division that resulted in several synods being expelled in the 1830s (I don't recall the basis of the argument off the top of my head. I first looked it up when I saw some notes in the Session Minutes from the Leesburg Presbyterian church in an historical library.)

    The clearest north/south division started in the 1810s when General Assembly called for a gradual emancipation of slaves but at the same time, disciplined a pastor who had fired up the southern churches with his writings against slavery. At the time of the War Between the States, the denomination split; the southern church formed at First Presbyterian Church in Augusta and remained a distinct denomination until the PCA pulled out in the 1970s and the remaining churches merged into the mainline church in the 1983.
  6. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    Among the main tributaries of Baptists (northern Baptists and southern Baptists), reasons for division were several:

    * Tension between the Baptists in both regions regarding the appropriate biblical response to slavery (BTW - easier to be "prophetic" and progressive in the north when the economy did not depend upon it).

    * Feelings of regional victimization due to perceived lack of proportion of appointment of home missionaries to the southern region by the American Baptist Home Mission Society was also a factor. "How come they keep all the money and missionaries for the north?" Southern Baptists tested their suspicion of bias by putting forward a slaveowner for position as a home missionary in the sourth. When the American Baptist Home Mission Society refused to appoint the slave holder, James E. Reeve, the Georgia Baptists saw this as a confirmation of their suspected bias.

    * Philosophic differences over organizational style. The northern "yankees" were fiercely independent and wanted loose structures (e.g., the "society" model). Congregations in the south wanted more concerted efforts patterned after the historic Baptist association. The northern approach (coupled with a good deal of theological lattitudinarianism) resulted in anemic growth; the sourthern approach (both doctrinally and organizationally) produced more than 10x the ultimate size of church body.
  7. Rich Koster

    Rich Koster Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    The 1840ish era was a cause for splits in several denominations over slavery and prejudice that existed in them. It is a sorry testimony, but it is in the books.
  8. AltogetherLovely

    AltogetherLovely Puritan Board Freshman


    This is very interesting. I've never heard any extended answers to this. Looking forward to more responses.
  9. JBaldwin

    JBaldwin Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    What was the predominant denomination in the South during this period? What about in the North?
  10. Edward

    Edward Puritan Board Doctor

    As for the splits - slavery/abolition was the primary cause. The splits ended up being largely along national lines.

    As to the question as to the 'predominant' church, that presupposes an error. There was not a single 'predominate' church across that diverse nation.

    In the coastal south, the Episcopalians would have been the most significant group. In the Piedmont, the Presbyterians would have been the leading group. Catholics were strong in South Louisiana and adjacent areas, and in Maryland and parts of Texas.
  11. Whitefield

    Whitefield Puritan Board Junior

    In 1850 Methodists were only second to Catholics in numbers in the U.S. In 1844 the Methodists split over slavery into the Methodist Episcopal Church, North and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Both bodies continued to grow throughout the 19th century. Here is a map showing the density of churches by county in 1850.

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