Evangelical Protestantism

Evangelical Protestantism

Evangelical Protestantism emerged in Britain during the 1730s. The conversion of John Wesley in 1738 is often regarded as the beginning of the evangelical movement. Evangelicals like Wesley insisted on rigorous standards of personal conduct, frequent examination of conscience, the infallibility of the Bible, detailed Bible study and lay activity. Unwelcome in Church of England pulpits, Wesley was forced to preach out of doors and to eventually develop an organisation of his own. As well as the Wesleyan Methodists and Primitive Methodists, evangelicals came from older Nonconformist bodies such as the Congregationalists and Baptists.

At the end of the 18th century evangelicalism had spread to the Church of England. Charles Simeon at Cambridge University began encouraging the training of Evangelical clergymen. Simeon argued that there was a great need to raise moral enthusiasm and ethical standards among the clergy. The Clapham Sect, whose group included William Wilberforce and Granville Sharp, was another centre of the evangelical movement in the Anglican Church. Their primary interest was in the moral improvement of the working classes. This involved some evangelicals such as Lord Ashley and Michael Sadler becoming involved in the campaign against child labour. Evangelicals also played a important role in the Anti-Slavery movement and the Temperance Society. Wealthy individuals such as Angela Burdett-Coutts were inspired by the Evangelical movement to give away their money to good causes.

In 1848 saw the emergence of the Christian Socialist movement. Preachers such as Frederick Denison Maurice, Charles Kingsley and Thomas Hughes. began to influence many that Jesus Christ was the world first socialist. One of those who became convinced of this was James Keir Hardie, a trade union leader and lay preacher for the Evangelical Union Church. Later, Hardie was the become the founder of the Labour Party.

Primary Sources

(1) James Keir Hardie, From Serfdom to Socialism (1907)

This generation has grown up ignorant of the fact that socialism is as old as the human race. When civilization dawned upon the world, primitive man was living his rude Communistic life, sharing all things in common with every member of the tribe. Later when the race lived in villages, man, the communist, moved about among the communal flocks and herds on communal land. The peoples who have carved their names most deeply on the tables of human story all set out on their conquering career as communists, and their downward path begins with the day when they finally turned away from it and began to gather personal possessions. When the old civilizations were putrefying, the still small voice of Jesus the Communist stole over the earth like a soft refreshing breeze carrying healing wherever it went.

(2) In 1910 James Keir Hardie explained the influence that Christianity had on his political beliefs.

I have said, both in writing and from the platform many times, that the impetus which drove me first into the Labour movement, and the inspiration which has carried me on in it, has been derived more from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth than from all other sources combined.