Millerite Movement in the Second Great Awakening of American History

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The Millerite Movement happened in the context of this nation’s Second Great Awakening: a religious revival that carried the country into reform movements. The Second Great Awakening had its start in Connecticut in the 1790s and grew to its height in the 1830s to 1840s.[1] During this time in the United States history, churches experienced a more complete freedom from governmental control which opened the doors of opportunity to a great spiritual awakening in the American people.[2] This awakening focused on areas of both religious and social issues of that era which were important to the religious movements and the nation as a whole. The Second Great Awakening was driven by these issues which included an increase in the evils associated with the recent rise of industry and a lack of the political ideals of freedom of choice. On the social front, the Second Great Awakening rose up to combat these matters and to promote temperance in lifestyle and more equality among people. The religious aspect emphasized the importance of the soon second coming and that everyone had a chance at salvation.

In order to evaluate the Millerite Movement, it is important to look at the general religious and social movements of the Second Great Awakening. Out of this period arose many new religions and the growth of other preexisting religions. Some of the prominent new religions included the Mormons, the Shakers, and the Millerite Movement which later evolved into Adventism. Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists, and particularly the Methodists all saw immense growth in membership. Each of these groups had the following beliefs in common: the rejection of Calvinism and the soon second coming of Christ. Calvinists believed in predestination and this was the target of rejection by the Second Great Awakening. People were awakened to the notion that everyone had a chance to receive salvation and that it was not predetermined.[3] The Shakers and other more prominent protestant faiths also believed strongly in the equality of social status, the level of education available, and gender, particularly in the area of voting.[4]

Also common to these religious groups was the practice of temperance. At the heart of the Second Great Awakening was Charles Grandison Finney. He was a lawyer who became a Presbyterian minister and believed that since we could choose to sin, we could also choose to abstain from sin. This idea that men and women could take charge of their spiritual future encouraged groups to band together to rid their society of evils that cursed this young American country. The American Temperance Society formed to avoid consumption of any alcoholic beverages. Before this time, it was suggested that people drink in moderation, however, many people, especially isolated farmers, drank heavily. Once the Awakening hit the nation, people rose up against alcohol abuse and formed the temperance movement.[5]

The fundamental theology of the Second Great Awakening can be summed up in the following points: salvation came by choice and not predestination, Christ was coming soon, the push for equality and to live temperate lives free from sin.

The Millerite movement began with a man named William Miller. He was a farmer and an atheist until a miracle directed his interests to the bible and prophecy. His calling and beginning was not unlike that of Joseph Smith of the Mormons or Mother Ann of the Shakers and many other reformers. He grew up in less than desirable conditions which shaped him for his future.[6] He felt called directly by God. “God directed the mind of William Miller to the prophecies and gave him great light upon the book of Revelation.”[7]

Since William Miller and the Millerites focused so heavily on the second coming, little is said about their other beliefs or how they grew in context of the Second Great Awakening. It is very clear that they held an Anti-Calvinist view as they were eager to share with...
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