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Whitefield’s Unintended Consequences


George Whitefield was only twenty-one when he was ordained to the Anglican clergy in 1736. Lee Gatiss writes, “He was for a time a chaplain at the Tower of London and preached in various churches in the City” and elsewhere, but being “often scathing about the lifeless, unspiritual nature of the clergy and their leadership . . . many churches were closed to him because of this.” Consequently, he gravitated toward open-air preaching, reaching enormous crowds. “The world became his parish.” Although it would be difficult to overstate the value of Whitefield’s ministry, it did not come without some negative, unintended consequences.

Whitefield may be fairly criticised, however, for undermining the Church of England in one respect. As Packer insightfully puts it, he ‘did in fact unwittingly encourage an individualistic piety of what we would call a parachurch type, a piety that gave its prime loyalty to transdenominational endeavours, that became impatient and restless in face of the relatively fixed forms of institutional church life, and that conceived of evangelism as typically an extra-ecclesiastical activity.’ He may not have wished to have this effect, but involuntarily he did. It has taken evangelicals many years to rediscover the local church itself as a vehicle for evangelism and we must continue to value this God-given means for reaching our nation for Christ and not rely entirely on extra-parochial, parachurch missionary activity. A passion to see new spiritual life through evangelism must, rather, be part of the DNA of each local church, whatever is happening elsewhere.

—Lee Gatiss, The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway, 2012), 28.



Posted 2018·10·23 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Church History · George Whitefield · The Sermons of George Whitefield

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