“Let Every Christian Denomination Cheerfully Unite”: The Origins of Presbyterian Interdenominationalism

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Abstract

The history of religion during the eighteenth century is, fortunately, a well-developed and researched field. Despite the strides taken, however, little has been written on denominational attempts at Christian unity. Historians have instead focused on the multitude of conflicts, both social and religious, that marked the period and preoccupied churchgoers. Although this perspective is indispensable for any understanding of the eighteenth century, it is incomplete. The current portrayal of the late colonial religious scene as one of violently opposed denominations presents the well-known instances of denominational unity, such as the bishopric crisis, the constitutional crisis, and the War for Independence, as products of political or temporal motivations. Overlooked are the religiously motivated attempts between churches to cooperate, such as the interdenominational journey begun by the Presbyterian Church during the French and Indian War. By examining the Presbyterian struggle to establish a stronger spiritual bond between Christian denominations, it sheds new light which calls into question the current understanding of church participation in the pivotal events of the eighteenth century. Harkened by a divine punishment, Presbyterian interdenominationalism reveals not only that ecclesiastical harmony was pursued in an era defined by conflict, but that these unions could also be motivated by religious rather than solely political ideology.

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