The First Great Awakening

By Emmanuel Oluwatoba | Niger, Nigeria


The Great Awakening was a movement that started between the 1730s and 1740s. Around this time, passion for religion started to wax cold. As a counter to this trend, the Great Awakening gave listeners a sense of personal guilt and the need for salvation through a series of preaching. This Great Awakening was characterized by large revivals led by protestant ministers, which led to an increase in membership and the formation of a new religious movement.

The First Great Awakening

A decline in religious involvement due to religious experience becoming more formal and less personal, led to many craving for revival. Jonathan Edwards (an Anglican Minister considered to be one of the chief founding fathers of the Great Awakening) centered his message on the fact that humans were sinners and he also preached justification by faith alone. In 1741, Edward’s sermon, “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God” became famous and news of it spread rapidly and his sermon was frequently reprinted.

George Whitefield also had a significant impact on the Great Awakening as he embarked on a series of journeys in which he went preaching from colony to colony. A widespread revival was seen during his journey in 1739 – 1741. As he toured the colonies, he would preach to large crowds in the open air. Whitefield’s influence reportedly led to the revival of a once-dimming Christian faith. Other people who led the Great Awakening include but are not limited to the following; David Brainerd, Theodore Frelinghuysen, Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Davies, etc.

Not everyone bought the ideas of the Great Awakening, with others favoring the traditional, formal style of worship. In 1742, there was debate and division in England clergy over the Great Awakening; those who favoured the old-fashioned traditional ways were called “Old Lights,” while those who embraced the Great Awakening were called “New Lights.”

Teachings During The Great Awakening Versus What The Scriptures Teach

The Great Awakening brought various philosophies, ideas, and doctrines to the forefront of the Christian faith, some of which are offshoots of Calvinism and are in obvious contradiction to what the Bible teaches. For example, one of the major ideas during this period was that all people are born sinners. This is something the Bible does not teach but sadly, it is often propagated by almost all the denominations of the world today. The Bible teaches that sin is committed and not inherited (I John 3:4). We do not become sinners because our parents were sinners but we become sinners when we commit sin.

Another teaching during the movement was that all people can be saved if they confess their sins to God, seek forgiveness and accept God’s grace. But the scriptures teach that people can only be saved if they will believe, repent, confess and be baptized in water for the forgiveness of their sins – Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9-10. For several years, many have tried to dismiss the relevance of baptism with reference to the salvation of man but the truth is that the scriptures teach that baptism saves us (I Peter 3:21) and that baptism puts us into Christ (Galatians 3:27). God is praised for the few people who understand this divine truth.

Another popular idea during the Great Awakening was that religion should not be formal and institutionalized, but rather casual and personal. This sounds like regardless of where and how anyone worships God, it really does not matter. In other words, one could worship God as a Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Jehovah’s Witness, etc. it does not matter. Besides, the religious leaders during this movement were from different religious backgrounds and belong to different denominations. But the truth is, we cannot be united in diversity. We cannot serve God acceptably when we are divided – belong to different denominations and hold various conflicting doctrines. Denominationalism (division) is condemned in God’s Word (I Corinthians 1:10-13). What Christ prayed for is for all His disciples to be ONE (in doctrine, practice, etc. – John 17:21; Ephesians 4:3-6).     


Various religious movements have emerged and still emerging in the world today. They all have various ideas and themes that they champion. Their aim could be good and intelligent. But no matter the level of their zeal, their efforts will only be in vain if;

(1) They teach and practice things contrary to what is taught in the Bible (II John 9; Matthew 15:8-9);

(2) They do not recognize that Christ built only one church (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4).

(3) They do not recognize the ONE church built by Christ as the only authorized institution saddled with the responsibility of preaching and teaching the gospel of Christ.

In order to avoid being zealously religious without God, we must learn to do things in God’s way (Romans 10:1-3) and take our own ideas completely away from it.

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