Historical Events: The Third Great Awakening

The Third Great Awakening was a global religious revival beginning in the United States. The movement lasted from 1855-1930. The focus of the revival was briefly altered by the American Civil War, but the movement was not halted. The Third Great Awakening can be recognized as a distinct social movement from the Second Great Awakening, occurring directly after and as a result of the Second Great Awakening. Whereas the Second Great Awakening was a religious revival across the United States, mainly on the country’s frontiers, the Third Great Awakening was a revival in the cities that spread out to the world and became a global phenomenon. Prominent figures of the Third Great Awakening include Dwight Moody and William J. Seymour, among several others.

Lighting the Lost Cities

Dwight Lyman Moody was working at this uncle’s shoe store when a man named Edward Kimball visited and spoke to Moody about the love of Jesus Christ. This prompted Moody to join Kimball’s Sunday school at Mt. Vernon so he could learn more. Moody shortly thereafter devoted his life to serving God and found his way to the city of Chicago, Illinois where he became involved with the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Moody started his own school known as Moody’s Mission School where he reached out to the youth of the inner city who were lost and confused. He opened the Illinois Street Church in 1864. As his followers grew, more and more people came to hear what he had to say from all over the major city.

Dwight Lyman Moody
A portrait of Dwight Lyman Moody

Whereas the First and Second Great Awakening were largely born out of the frontiers of the United States – out in the wilderness or small towns – the Third Great Awakening brought religious revival straight to a major city for the first time at the onset. This makes sense, as that was where the need was concentrated during this time, and where a revival could make the biggest difference. The United States had expanded from coast to coast and was on the brink of civil war due to the dehumanization of black slaves. Poverty ran rampant in the major cities and many had turned away from their roots which had built the strong nation. The Third Great Awakening would also be instrumental in seeing the American people through the firestorm which was about to be unleashed.

The Nation Breaks

Stress was at an all-time high across the United States leading up to the outbreak of the American Civil War. Tensions led to physical fights in the halls of Congress. Propaganda efforts went into full swing to justify the enslavement of black Americans and counter the Abolitionist activists. Cooperation between the North and South deteriorated over the issue of slavery. After the North refused to capture and extradite black slaves who had escaped across the border from the South, the Southern States seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America. For a brief time, it seemed as if there might be peace as the nation divorced into two separate countries. However, this did not last, and before long the two sides came to blows at the Battle of Fort Sumter.

Even though this was a tumultuous and divisive time, D.L. Moody saw the mobilization of troops through major cities as an opportunity to spread the word of God. He first preached to Union soldiers at Camp Douglas outside Chicago. His efforts would take him across the country to other cities, military bases, and battlefields. Moody preached to both Union and Confederate troops. He helped to bolster the spirits of the Union troops fighting to end slavery. Moody also served to guide Confederate troops toward reconciliation and to question the cause they were fighting for. Above all, he brought much-needed comfort to the young men and boys suffering on both sides of the battlefield.

The Light Spreads

D.L. Moody continued his work through the end of the American Civil War, returning to his school in Chicago after the cessation of the conflict. After his school was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire, he took that as a sign to take his mission abroad. Moody traveled across the United Kingdom and Ireland for a brief time before coming back to the United States. During this time, he trained many missionaries who would go out and spread his message of unity among Christians and the bridging of denominational divides. When he returned to the U.S., he began traveling around the country preaching and training new missionaries until he died in 1899. This resulted in missionaries traveling to Europe and Asia, with revivals starting up in Britain and Korea as a result.

Around this time, another prominent figure would undertake a similar journey of training missionaries to travel the globe and spread the word of God. That person was William J. Seymour who began what is referred to as the Asuza Street Revival in 1906. Seymour was a black preacher who drew large crowds of poor, rich, black, white, and everyone in between. As with Moody, many of those who attended Seymour’s sermons became missionaries who would travel abroad. This spread the word of God to Africa and Asia, as well as other parts of the United States. The Manchurian Revival of 1908 may also be considered part of the Third Great Awakening and was affected by these missionaries.

William J. Seymour
A photograph of William J. Seymour

W.J. Seymour was the son of freed black slaves born in the wake of emancipation. He was learning to be a pastor under Charles Parham at a church in Houston, Texas. Here, he was preaching while Neely Terry was visiting from Los Angeles. She was impressed with his speaking ability and his message, and so she invited him to come to L.A. and preach. Seymour accepted and was on his way to California. During this time, there was internal conflict when members of the Holiness Church Association of Southern California rejected his message. However, other members of the community helped Seymour continue to preach by providing him with a place to stay and a new location to meet.

Seymour drew large and diverse crowds, bringing people together in the bitterness of the post-Civil War era. This helped heal the divide in the nation, as many were unhappy about the peace which had been brokered. Also, many struggled to forgive one another after so much blood was shed. The American Civil War was the bloodiest and most socially-destructive conflict in the history of the United States. Family members had been made to hate one another. Neighbors fought and killed each other. Fathers were turned against sons and there were many times when the fragile peace seemed it would be lost and the people would take up arms against their fellow countrymen once more.

However, Seymour’s work served to teach people about the importance of forgiveness. No matter how hard it might have been, the American people would have to make peace with one another or become the architects of their own destruction. As the word of God spread throughout the American people, they stumbled their way into peace, even if they could not forget the horrors they had inflicted on one another. Over time, many also came to see the former black slaves as fellow Americans too, united as one under God. In the end, while resentments and divides would remain, enough was healed in time for the United States to stand as one unified country during the Great War that would become known as World War I and World War II.

The End and the Beginning

The Third Great Awakening overlapped with the Great War. Many consider WWI and WWII to be the same conflict with a 10-year armistice. This was the deadliest armed conflict in human history which culminated with the Axis Powers battling against the Allies for control of the globe. The world shifted and tore itself apart piece by piece. Friends became foes as there were many betrayals and the sides were not so clear. Marxism – the Gnostic ideology which inverted many teachings of the Bible – split into fascism and communism, with the Nazis and the Soviets becoming the most prominent faces of the two new ideologies. Communism stayed true to traditional Marxism, whereas fascism was “Marxism perfected” as Adolf Hitler would say. They were two sides of one coin who both perceived each other as heretics.

The Americans, British, and Nationalist Chinese found themselves in an unlikely alliance with the Soviet Union while the Germans, Japanese, and Italians forged equally perplexing bonds. At this time, most countries on Earth would eventually find themselves in one of the two camps. Perhaps by coincidence, or perhaps not, the countries which were recipients of missionaries from the Third Great Awakening tended to find themselves on the side of the Allies. The unified Americans would produce much of the hardware supplied to the Allies throughout the conflict and would have troops fighting in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Many South Africans, Koreans, and Nationalist Chinese also fought against the Axis Powers alongside the Americans and British. In the wake of the conflict, the Nationalist Chinese would sustain the Republic of China on Taiwan in the face of the red terror from Communist China. The South Koreans would also hold the line decades later against the consuming horde of Communist Chinese, North Koreans, and Soviet tanks.

Manchurian Revival
The Manchurian Revival spread the Third Great Awakening to China and Korea.
A Light Shines Ever In the Dark

The Third Great Awakening was instrumental in both healing and unifying the American people after the bitter American Civil War, and in preparing them for the role they would play in the battles to come. The missionaries produced from the Third Great Awakening also provided connections across the globe which helped shape the alliance which strike down the Axis Powers and stand against the dark specter of Communism left in their place. This prevented the world from being completely consumed for a time and helped to pull the people of Earth out of the dark places made by the horrors of the Great War and Cold War.

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Published by Louis

I am a freelance writer and English tutor from the United States.

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