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Presbyterian refers to a number of Protestant church fellowships holding to a Calvinist theology and organized according to a common Presbyterian polity. Most Presbyterian fellowships emphasize the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Scriptures, and the concept of grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Web sites for individual local churches are listed in the appropriate city or town category.



Feature Article

Gilbert Tennent and the Great Awakening

Gilbert Tennent

Born in Ireland in 1703, it is doubtful that Gilbert Tennent had any idea of where his life would take him, or that his future would be in the United States, for that matter.

However, his family moved from Ireland to Pennsylvania when Gilbert was fifteen. His father, William Tennent, was a Presbyterian minister, and founded a school that became known as "Log College," to train ministers. Although Gilbert did receive an excellent education, he did not adopt the faith of his father, to become converted until he was twenty.

Gilbert received his Masters of Arts degree from Yale College in 1725, and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1726, and was called to pastor a church in New Brunswick, New Jersey. His early sermons were not particularly inspiring but, following an illness, he recovered and began to preach with a zeal that brought about several conversions.

Thomas Prince, founder of "Christian History," the first religious journal published in North America, wrote of Gilbert Tennent, "From the terrible and deep convictions he had passed through in his own soul, he seemed to have such a lively view of the Divine Majesty, the spirituality, purity, extensiveness, and strictness of His law; with His glorious holiness, and displeasure at sin, His justice, truth and power in punishing the damned, that he preached with a power lacking in others."

Gilbert became friends with the famed evangelist, George Whitefield, and participated in the work of promoting spiritual revival in New Jersey and all of New England. It wasn't long before some of his fellow clergymen, perhaps feeling threatened, began speaking out against him, opposing both his revival activities and his emphasis on personal conversions.

Tennent lashed back, referring to opposing ministers as Pharisees who lacked the experience of the Holy Spirit upon their own souls, and compared them to Satan transformed into an angel of light. He wrote, "For I am verily persuaded the generality of preachers talk of an unknown and unfelt Christ; and the reason why congregations have been so dead is because they have had dead men preaching to them."

While his zeal, combined with his high standards, were popular among Presbyterians in general, his comments outraged many of the church leaders, some of whom were, no doubt, personally offended, but others questioned the efficacy of encouraging the lay people to question the spirituality of the clergy.

The Presbyterian Synod of Philadelphia expelled him. In response, Tennent and other New Brunswick preachers withdrew from the association, and formed a new Synod of New York in 1745, through which they carried on their work. For nearly two decades, the Presbyterians were divided into New Lights and Old Lights.

In 1743, Tennent accepted the offer of a position as pastor of a nondenominational congregation that Whitefield's followers had organized in Philadelphia, albeit not with the wholehearted support of George Whitefield himself. Tennent had declared that, although he remained supportive of Whitefield, he believed that his Anglican colleague was insufficiently committed to orthodox Calvinism. Although tensions between Whitefield and Tennent continued, the latter greatly toned down his criticism of his fellow clergy in his latter years, and advocated for a reunion with the Old Side Presbyterians, as they were orthodox in doctrine and regular in life. Still, the reunification did not occur in his lifetime. Gilbert Tennent died on July 23, 1764.

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