Monday, September 04, 2006

The Decline of Welsh Nonconformity 10: Conclusions

There is one clear objection to this view of nonconformity in decline: the revival of 1904. Surely, this great revival gives the lie to notions of Christianity in crisis? Yet the tides of revival ebbed with astonishing speed. The slide towards doctrinal compromise was unaffected, although the revival had touched the colleges.[1] With its emphasis on individual experience, the revival, if anything, accelerated the move towards a pietistic Christianity that had little to say to the world outside the churches.

To what extent, then, was nonconformity in decline before 1914? The decline was not fatal, was not the precipitate decline in numbers that was to take place after 1918, and especially after 1950. But, nevertheless, it was a serious decline. Welsh nonconformity, in exalting subjective experience over objective faith opened the door to doubts about the authority of the Bible. Welsh nonconformity exalted cultural and social activity over religious activity, bringing in members who valued churchgoing for its social role. The danger here was that members who came to see the church as little more than a social club would leave when better social activities became available. The church, uncertain of its own doctrines, was unable to enunciate a constructive alternative to a socialism that would eventually rob it of its place in many Welsh hearts. To put it bluntly, in the years 1890-1914, nonconformity took a decisive step towards irrelevance.

[1] Davies: Light, p.101. See also: Sheehan: ‘Decline’, pp.15-22.

Appendix: Loss of Membership in the Calvinistic Methodists (Presbyterians) and Baptists, 1897-1907:

Calvinistic Methodists:
Average number of Members lost per year between 1897 and 1900: 2,631
Members lost 1905: 5,492
Members lost 1907: 5,437

Average number of Members lost per year between 1897 and 1902: 2,639
Members lost 1906: 5,949
Members lost 1907: 5,489

Members excommunicated average 1890-1903: 1,243
Members excommunicated 1906: 2,417
Members excommunicated 1907: 2,457
In both denominations the greatest losses took place in Glamorgan and Monmouthshire (Source: Jones, Faith, pp.363).



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