Of Growth
And Strength


Shouting Methodists
By Winthrop S. Hudson


In England by the year 1800 the Methodists had reportedly lost their shout and were vying to be accepted as emotionless religion Yet their legacy from the days of John and Charles Wesley could not be more different. The Methodist Shout, Methodist Enthusiasm, Spirited Methodism, Methodist wild fire, the dance, falling out, all were for almost 75 years the normal fare in their meetings. And when Methodism came to the US these practices and manifestations continued in force until the Civil War. (Inserted)

"I do believe, without a doubt
The Christian has a right to shout.[1]

When one thinks of early nineteenth-century Methodists, one immediately thinks of the name which was commonly applied to them. People spoke of Methodists as "shouting Methodists," and it was a name Methodists were glad to accept and make their own. This is made evident by a song in Stith Mead's Methodist songbook of 1807, Hymns and Spiritual Songs. It is a song extolling the Methodists, and it was sufficiently esteemed to be placed in the cornerstone of Foundry Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.[2] Entitled "The Methodist," this spiritual song declares:

The World, the Devil, and Tom Paine
Have try'd their force, but all in vain.
They can't prevail, the reason is,
The Lord defends the Methodist.
They pray, they sing, they preach the best,
And do the Devil most molest.
If Satan had his vicious way,
He'd kill and damn them all today.
They are despised by Satan's train,
Because they shout and preach so plain.
I'm bound to march in endless bliss,
And die a shouting Methodist.

What was meant by the term "shouting Methodist"? At the very least, it meant that Methodists were a noisy lot, interrupting the preacher with "Praise the Lord," "Hallelujah," and "Amen." Alexander Campbell declared that the Methodist church could not live without her cries of "glory! glory! glory!" And he reported that "her periodical Amens dispossess demons, storm heaven, shut the gates of hell, and drive Satan from the camp."[3] But Methodist noise was not limited to ejaculations. Singing and clapping, groaning and crying, praying and exhorting, contributed to the din. In the same songbook of 1807, the initial impression of a convert is reported:

The Methodists were preaching like thunder all about.
At length I went amongst them, to hear them groan and shout.
I thought they were distracted, such fools I'd never seen.
They'd stamp and clap and tremble, and wail and cry and scream.[4]

A later Methodist songbook, The Hesperian Harp of 1848, has a "dialogue song" between a "Methodist" and a "Formalist," in which the "Formalist" gives a similar picture of the Methodists.

Such groaning and shouting, it sets me to doubting.
I fear such religion is only a dream.
The preachers were stamping, the people were jumping,
And screaming so loud that I nothing could hear....
The men they were bawling, the women were squalling,
I know not for my part how any could pray....
Amid such a clatter who knows what's the matter?
Or who can attend unto what is declared?
To see them behaving, like drunkards, all raving,
And lying and rolling prostrate on the ground.
I really felt awful, and sometimes felt fearful
That I'd be the next that would come tumbling down.

In the end, he did come tumbling down. His heart was "glowing," Christ's love was "flowing," and "peace, pardon, and comfort" he found.[5]

These were the "shouting Methodists," and it is clear that "shout" was a prominent part of Methodist vocabulary. Nowhere is this more evident than in the refrains of their spiritual songs. "Shout, shout, we're gaining ground," they sang. "We'll shout old Satan's kingdom down."[6] The word would appear in casual conversations. An aged person, for example, would rejoice at being still able "to shout," and a death would be recorded: "She went off shouting."[7]

What did it mean to "shout"? "Shouting" was never mere noise. "Shouting" was neither preaching nor exhorting. Exhorting was a noisy performance, but the word had a technical meaning that was not broad enough to include even the "action sermon." Nor was "shouting" praying, not even when praying became a babel of unison but individual prayers, not even when praying became a din as a congregation sought to "pray down" a sinner or to contend in prayer for the souls of the penitent.

"Shouting" was praise or, as it was often called, rejoicing. Both its practice, including the clapping of hands, and its meaning was partly shaped by Old Testament texts.[8] Initially "shouting" was probably no more than uttering ejaculations of praise. But it quickly became, in addition to these ejaculations, a type of singing, a type of song, a "shout song," or just a "shout."[9]

If a "shout" was an ejaculation of praise and a song of rejoicing, it also became the name of a religious service, a service of praise, a praise meeting. People spoke of going to "preaching," of going to a "class meeting," and of going to a "shout," a praise meeting. "When we get home," they sang, "we'll have a shout in glory."[10]

Finally, for some, a "shout" became a dance, a shuffling of the feet, a jerking of the head, a clapping of the hands, and perhaps an occasional leap. Most often it was a circular march, a "ring shout." Thus Webster's Third New International Dictionary defines "shout" as "to give expression to religious ecstasy, often in vigorous, rhythmic movements (as shuffling, jumping, jerking) specifically, to take part in a ring shout." (This is the true legacy of the early Methodists that they have striven so hard to cover up and deny -- I dare say that they as a whole were more charismatic that the charistmatics of our day and as a whole early methodists were more pentecostal than the almost flavorless Pentecostals of our day. What has changed it is the professional Levites that have taken over every one of these revivals and made the people disciples unto themselves and taught their doctrines and traditions of men purposely killing the spirit of God for control and respectability issues.)

The term "shouting" suggests confusion, and this was the initial impression one gained of Methodist meetings. Devereux Jarratt, a Methodist himself prior to the separation of 1784, reported of a Methodist gathering in 1776 that "the assembly appeared to be all in confusion, and must seem to one at a little distance more like a drunken rabble than the worshippers of God."[11] The development of a specialized vocabulary with highly technical meanings, on the other hand, suggests that there were patterns of group activity in the midst of the confusion, a degree of order and method in the apparent madness. Perhaps the patterned activity of the folk religion of the Methodists can best be grasped by viewing it through the lens provided by the Kentucky Revival.