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)
do believe, without a doubt
The Christian has a right to shout.
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. Entitled "The Methodist," this spiritual song
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.
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." 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
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.
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.
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.
the end, he did come tumbling down. His heart was "glowing,"
Christ's love was "flowing," and "peace, pardon,
and comfort" he found.
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." 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."
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.
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. 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" 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."
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.)
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." 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.