Models for Reformation: Charles G. Finney (1792-1875)

“Now the great business of the Church is to reform the world, to put away every kind of sin. The Church of Christ was originally organized to be a body of reformers … the Christian Church was designed to make aggressive movements in every direction – to lift up her voice and put forth her energies against iniquity in high and low places – to reform individuals, communities and governments, and never rest until the kingdom and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High God – until every form of iniquity be driven from the earth.“1

The foremost itinerant revivalist of the Second Great Awakening was also the leader of many reform movements of the early 1800s. Finney taught that man had the ability and moral responsibility to repent of any and all sin. He identified the social and moral problems of the day as sin that must be repented of immediately. Social reforms which Finney championed included abolition, dietary reform, dueling, education, gambling, hygiene and temperance. As the president of Oberlin College, he pioneered co-education of the sexes and enrolled both blacks and whites. The first black woman in America to receive a degree graduated from Oberlin.

His most controversial measures included allowing women to lead prayer during meetings, appealing by name to sinners while preaching, long protracted meetings without a planned format, and teaching the possibility, even the necessity, of totally eradicating sin both in the individual and in society. Some estimate that over 80 percent of his converts during the revivals stayed true to Christ without ever backsliding. In later years, he moved away from sensationalism and put more emphasis on the power of the Holy Spirit through prayer.

1 Charles G. Finney, Systematic Theology.

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