What role did religion play in the 18th century? (England)importance of religion and influence of the church in England

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Religion grew in importance during the eighteenth century in England, primarily due to the efforts of John Wesley and the Pietism movement. The Church of England declined in importance, as it was considered the province of the elite and the nobility; it had no appeal for the common people. To the contrary, Wesley's preaching reached out to the poor and disadvantaged. Wesley's message was a direct rejection of Calvin's idea of the "elect;" to Wesley, even the poorest and least educated could receive God's grace. Wesley's new religion, denominated "Methodism" (meant as a pejorative term because of Wesley's methodical habits) taught that salvation was available for all who sought it earnestly.

Methodist teaching originated with the Pietism movement which had begun in Germany. Its tenets were:

  • An emotional religious experience available to all, replete with preaching, prayer, worship and singing. To quote an early follower:

Just as a drunkard becomes full of wine, so must the congregation be filled with spirit.

  • Study and reading of the Bible were available to all; this an offshoot of Luther's doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.
  • Conversion as a spiritual rebirth. Those who were "born again" were expected to lead honest, moral ethical lives; but also  came from all classes and stages of life.

Wesley himself had undergone just such an experience which led to his preaching in fields, coal villages and farms. His emotional religion was in direct contrast to the complacent quietude of the Anglican Church in which he had been ordained.

Wesley's influence can hardly be underestimated. Many scholars believe that his preaching was the greatest civilizing influence in eighteenth century England, and was directly responsible for the lack of organized rebellion by the lower classes.