The History of the Church
Taught at Spring Meadows Presbyterian Church in Las Vegas
Session 8 Appendix
[I SINCERELY apologize for the appalling length of this appendix. There was just so much to cover that it ended up being very long. I ended up cutting out a lot and I tried to be as concise as possible.]
Part 5: The Reformation (1500-1600AD) – [Continued]
3.) The Reformation Beyond Luther –
- The Other Great Reformers
There were five other monumental reformers beyond Luther. I know many will probably lambast me for leaving out other great lights, and I fully admit that there are many, but these five clearly stood out above the rest. These five were Ulrich Zwingli, William Tyndale, Philip Melanchthon, John Calvin, and John Knox. Zwingli led the Reformation in Switzerland. Tyndale led the Reformation in England, which spilled over into Wales and Northern Ireland, and he translated the Bible into English using the original languages, leading to tremendous improvements upon Wycliffe’s version. His efforts led to his burning at the stake. Melanchthon led the Reformation alongside Luther in Germany and due to his efforts many missionaries were sent out throughout Scandinavia where the Reformation absolutely flourished. Calvin led the Reformation in Southern Switzerland and in France, and in Geneva where he did his work he harbored literally countless numbers of Protestant refugees where he would often pick out those with great potential and would train them to be leaders and would send them back out to spread the Reformation. Calvin went on to become the greatest theologian of the Reformation and in my estimation the greatest theologian of all time, primarily through his monumental work The Institutes of the Christian Religion. Knox went on to lead the Reformation in Scotland. All of these great leaders were Reformed in their theology and fought against the remaining elements in Luther’s theology that were still too Catholic. Melanchthon had to be more cautious until Luther’s death when he became more vocal regarding his agreements with Calvin concerning the Lord’s Supper. Melanchthon also later in life began to become more vague concerning the doctrine of election and this led to problems within later Lutheranism. Zwingli was the only one of these men who did not hold to the Reformed doctrine of the Lord’s Supper, taking the memorial view, which later became the view of the Anabaptists and today is unfortunately the majority view amongst the world’s conservative evangelicals.
- Persecution of Protestants
The Persecution of Protestants at the hands of the Catholic Church throughout the Reformation age was intense, brutal, and relentless. Many Protestants were burned, hung, strangled, and most of all slaughtered in battles where they were terribly outnumbered by Catholic armies. Despite all of this, Protestantism continued to grow and grow and grow throughout Western Europe, especially on the British Isles, throughout Germany, Scandinavia, Switzerland, and France.
- The Early Protestant Families
- Preliminary Remarks
The church has always been broken down into families. Many heretical groups such as Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witness, Roman Catholicism, etc., who have extremely tyrannical forms of centralized leadership, love to pounce on this fact as proving that biblical Christianity must somehow be false. But in the New Testament we see that there were many different churches in different regions, all with slightly different theologies. We have seen through our study of church history that early on the church began to distinguish between the Eastern Church and the Western Church. We have seen that within the East there began to be distinguishing marks between the churches in each country. We saw the development of the unique Celtic Church. We have seen how the monastic orders provided sharp distinctions within the Western Church as the Middle Ages developed. Hence, the fact that families developed within Protestantism is absolutely nothing surprising.
Lutheranism as the name indicates developed under the leadership of Martin Luther. He was greatly aided by Melanchthon. Luther was a staunch Augustinian regarding predestination and election. However, due to the influence of Melanchthon the Lutheran family eventually adopted what would become a more Arminian approach to those doctrines. Luther did not believe in the Catholic doctrine of the Mass or the doctrine of transubstantiation, which stated that while the bread and wine continue to look, smell, taste, and feel like bread and wine, that they nevertheless became the literal body and blood of Christ. Luther rejected most of this, but he believed that the body and blood of Christ are added to the elements in some sense and this doctrine became known as consubstantiation. Melanchthon eventually rejected this doctrine and tried to move Lutheranism away from it as he had Luther’s doctrine of election, but he failed. Therefore, to this day the primary distinguishing theological mark of the Lutheran family is the doctrine of transubstantiation. Most of the Lutheran family adopted episcopal forms of church government and a more lax view regarding art in church.
- The Continental Reformed Family
This family is not to be strictly equated with Reformed theology. Reformed theology refers primarily to being Calvinist and covenantal in one’s theology. Reformed theology became the theology of the Continental Reformed, of many Anglicans, of the Presbyterians, of the Puritans, and of many Baptists. The Continental Reformed family developed in Switzerland under the influence of Zwingli and Calvin. It later rejected Zwingli’s doctrine concerning the Lord’s Supper and fully adopted Calvin’s view. It spread throughout Switzerland, Germany, and France. Eventually the French Reformed became known as the Huguenots and were some of the most godly and most persecuted Christians in history. Often the Continental Reformed family and the Presbyterian family are equated with each other, but this is not entirely correct. The two are highly, highly similar, but they do have some very specific historic differences. The primary difference is that the Presbyterian family has always placed a much higher premium upon missions and evangelism. The Continental Reformed have never rejected these doctrines, but have placed a much higher emphasis on growing the church through the family. The Presbyterians have always understood that the primary way God grows His church is through the family, but they have also, rightly in my opinion, emphasized the need for robust doctrines of missions and evangelism.
- The Anglican Family
The Anglican family developed under the influence of Henry VIII, who was king of England at the time of the Reformation. The Reformation in England was at first mostly connected to the Continental Reformed family due to the influence of Tyndale. These Christians would eventually become the Puritans. Henry VIII left the Catholic Church because the Pope refused to grant him an annulment from his marriage to his wife Catherine, who had not borne him any sons. However, Henry felt that most Protestants had taken things too far and so he defended a staunch form of episcopal church government and tried to keep the church outwardly looking as Catholic as possible, going even much further than the Lutherans regarding ornate artwork in the churches. These doctrines became the major distinguishing theological marks of the Anglican family.
- The Presbyterian Family
The Presbyterian family was led by the great John Knox, who fought tirelessly to establish Presbyterianism in Scotland against the efforts of Mary Queen of Scots, who was a devout Catholic. Mary was eventually executed for her part in an assassination plot against the Queen of England at the time, Elizabeth. Because of this and Knox’s efforts, Presbyterianism became the official religion of Scotland. Obviously I am biased as an unapologetic advocate of conservative, confessional, historic Presbyterianism, but it really is a historic fact that Scotland went from being a very barbaric, uneducated, impoverished land on the outskirts of European civilization, to the leading example of freedom, intellectual integrity, theological soundness, and cultural advancement in the world up until the time of the American Revolution. It is also a fact that the intellectual backbone of the American Revolution was the American Presbyterian church led by John Witherspoon. King George himself called the American Revolution, “That damned Presbyterian revolt.” Even after the Great Awakening in Colonial America, when the Baptists and the Methodists came to dominate the American religious scene, the Presbyterian Church, led by the scholars at Princeton Seminary, were seen as the intellectual leaders of the American church, defending her against the rising tide of Liberal Protestantism. The major distinguishing theological marks of historic Presbyterianism have been its firm stance on the Presbyterian form of church government and a commitment to missions and evangelism. The Continental Reformed family was not as strong on the first point in its early days, allowing for the congregational form as well, something that had a huge impact upon the later Puritans.
- The Puritan Family
The Puritans developed in England as a protest movement against the compromises of the Anglican Church in making so many concessions to older Catholic theology. They wanted to purify the church and thus they were given this name. Many Puritans held theologically to the Presbyterian model of church government, but as time progressed more and more Puritans eventually adopted the congregational form and this is why this family eventually became known as the Congregationalists. They were first persecuted by Henry VIII, but then when Henry’s son Edward ascended to the throne he became a zealous convert to the Puritans and they were heavily favored for a short period of time. This all came crashing down when Edward died and he was succeeded by Mary, the eldest daughter of Henry and his first wife Catherine, who was a fiercely loyal Catholic and hated all Protestants, but especially the Puritans. Most Protestants fled the country, but most Puritans felt it was their calling to purify England at all costs and therefore stayed and paid the price. Many were tortured and killed. Thankfully, Mary only lasted a short time and she was succeeded by her half-sister Elizabeth, the daughter of Henry and his second wife Anne Boleyn, who was an Anglican like her father. Elizabeth genuinely tried to tolerate the Puritans, but they were so critical of Anglicanism, rightfully in my estimation, that it put her in a difficult position. For the most part, the Puritans were not persecuted under Elizabeth, but subsequent English monarchs did heavily persecute them as well as many Presbyterians in Scotland. Eventually, most of the Puritans left England for the New World and were the first major Protestant group to establish themselves where they laid the foundation for later Christian America. Eventually the intense calling to purify England faded into the background and they simply called themselves the Congregationalists.
I understand that the Puritans have gotten a very bad rap. Even within many Reformed circles they are looked down upon. I remember a former PCA pastor of mine said that the Puritans were “scary.” This is truly unfortunate because despite their very real prejudices towards Native Americans and African Americans as well as their strong tendencies towards legalism, the Puritans in my opinion were the most godly Christians as a group to ever walk the earth alongside of the early Presbyterians in Scotland and later America. They were bursting with zeal for God’s glory, they sought to apply Scripture to every sphere of life, they were highly educated, they discipled and catechized their children from birth, and despite the stereotype, they had a zest for life. The Puritans often talked about nature, sex, kids, parties, food, colors, and I could go on. They loved to drink rum at their parties and let loose while for the most part avoiding getting drunk. Many of the things for which they are remembered like the Salem Witch Trials were largely regional aberrations.
- Heretical Groups During the Reformation Era
- Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy
Up until the Reformation era these terms had been used of the Western Church and the Eastern Church respectively, but for the most part terms such as Catholic, Western, Eastern, Orthodox, Byzantine, etc., were more the norm. After the Reformation was firmly established these terms began to become the official titles for these groups. Both of these groups vehemently and passionately rejected the Reformation, especially the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and therefore in my opinion they became apostate churches and thus other religions altogether. In my estimation this is further substantiated by the fact that both groups have only become far worse since the Reformation. Eastern Orthodoxy by its own admission is plagued by cultural religion. The overwhelming vast majority of Eastern Orthodox adherents around the world today are not practicing, but simply identify with the religion out of national loyalty. And Roman Catholicism has only degenerated into all out heresy more and more, especially in regard to its doctrines of Mary.
- The Anabaptists
The Anabaptists were started by Conrad Grebel in Switzerland. I understand that the Anabaptists have been highly over-romanticized by conservative evangelicals in America largely because of how predominant Southern Baptists are within the conservative American evangelical scene and many Baptists see a historic connection between themselves and the heavily persecuted Anabaptists, but the fact of the matter is that most of the early Anabaptists were blatantly heretical. Almost all of the Reformers referred to them as radicals as many of them said that their own personal revelations superseded Scripture and many of these revelations were downright bizarre. Many of them used to disrupt godly church services, many would run through town naked screaming that Jesus was coming, many practiced civil revolt, many practiced polygamy, many denied the Trinity, many denied justification by faith alone, and I could continue for quite some time. The Anabaptists were severely persecuted by both Protestants and Catholics. And while we certainly want to condemn all forms of persecution and sympathize with anyone who is persecuted, we need to be very careful to not overly exalt the Anabaptists. A lot of the persecution they suffered was not for purely theological reasons, but because they were so out of control from a civil perspective. Later, due to the massive influence of Menno Simmons, the Anabaptists mellowed out and became the very subdued people we know them as being today through groups such as the Mennonites, the Amish, and the Hutterites. However, even these groups tended to be very, very hazy on justification by faith alone and also advocated a separatism from the world that in my opinion grossly transgresses biblical, orthodox limits.
- The Glorious Defeat of the Spanish Armada
Most of what needed to be said about this remarkable act of God on behalf of His people was already discussed in class. Suffice to say for here that because of what happened Protestantism continued to grow exponentially and even during the 1600’s with all of the Protestant/Catholic wars, there was never any grave worry that Protestantism as a whole would be extinguished.
Part 6: The Modern Era Church (1600-2000AD)
- Preliminary Remarks –
The Protestant Reformation gave birth to the Modern Era. The advancements that came from the Reformation forced the Catholic Church to compete with the Protestants and these two factors thrust Western Europe into becoming the most advanced region of the world by far and these advancements spread throughout the rest of the world very rapidly. Not all of this spread was good though. A lot of it was forced upon the rest of the world through colonization. Further, this advancement led Western Europeans, both Catholic and Protestant, to believing that they were racially superior to all other groups because of these advancements. More will be said on this below. Further, the Humanism that had been festering below the surface for centuries in Western Europe is becoming more and more emboldened by all of the emphasis on human education and achievement. By the time we get to 1700, Humanism is no longer content to sit waiting in the wings. More will be said on this below as well. In the 1600’s, the Scientific Revolution took place which radically changed the world for the better, but it did also feed all of the negatives just elucidated here. Because of the Scientific Revolution and all of the other advancements, the Modern Era emphasized science, education, logic, rationality, structure, rules, manners, the head over the heart, the intellect over the emotions, and it produced a general antipathy towards the supernatural and an absolute hatred for superstition. A lot of this was good and biblical, but a lot of it went way too far and produced a staleness, rigidity, and Western European prejudice that would take centuries to cure and it has not even been fully cured to this day.
- The Breakdown of this Era –
I personally breakdown this era into four sub-eras, namely the Age of War and Piety (1600-1700), the Enlightenment Era (1700-1776), the Age of America (1776-1900), and the Age of Missions (1900-2000). The Age of War and Piety gets its name because during this time the Protestant/Catholic wars were raging and yet at the same time this was the heyday of Protestant orthodoxy and piety. The Enlightenment Era gets its name from the fact that the Age of Piety is certainly over and has given way to the era of skepticism that became known as the Enlightenment. The Age of America gets its name from the fact that the church was predominantly located in the United States of America at this time. There were certainly many believers left in Western Europe and there were many believers in Canada, Australia, and other parts of the world due to the influence of colonization, but the overwhelming bulk of Bible believing Christians were living in the United States during this time. The Age of Missions receives its name because for the first time in the church’s history, the church became global with the widespread influence of the gospel. By the end of the Age of Missions conservative evangelical Bible believing Christianity is found in large numbers throughout South America, Africa, Asia, and Polynesia. Some of the countries where there exists vast numbers of biblical Christians are Brazil, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, China, India, South Korea, Samoa, and Tonga. This does not mean that Christians are the majority in all of these countries. Some of these countries, especially China and India, are so huge from a population standpoint, that Christians only make up around five percent of the population. But nonetheless, five percent in these countries equates to millions and millions of people and a very large percentage of the true church.
- The Predominant Protestant Heterodoxy: Prejudice –
Over the course of the history of historic Protestantism there has been plenty of heterodoxy and it has gotten much worse as time has gone on. But the one major point of heterodoxy that has been almost universal and there from the beginning has been the doctrine of Western European superiority. In the minds or Western Europeans, it seemed obvious that they were superior ethnically speaking because of how advanced Western Europe had become. However, even Roman Catholicism largely overcame this prejudice much faster than did Protestantism because it became a religion for a long time that was primarily in Central and South America. Because Protestantism remained largely Western European ethnically speaking, this doctrine became thoroughly entrenched, especially in the United States and caused irreparable damage to the church. The otherwise wonderful reputations of Protestant Christianity and the United States have been permanently stained by this reality and it is one of the key reasons why we are losing so much influence in this country. People largely don’t trust the church in America for this reason and the extent to which this sentiment still exists within the church in America, and it does regardless of what anyone says to the contrary, only makes things much, much worse.
Further, the church has always struggled with sexism throughout its history as the ancient world was so sexist and while the early church corrected a lot of this, most early Christians were not entirely cured of this mentality. Unfortunately, things became much worse in Protestantism. Protestantism so forcefully reacted against monasticism because of the corruption that we have discussed, that the family became an obsession of Protestants. And because the Bible does clearly say that the husband is the head of the household, there came to be a doctrine that men are fundamentally superior to women within Protestantism.
- The Age of War and Piety (1600-1700AD) –
I cannot touch upon every country in Western Europe at the beginning of this age because there were countries that came and went and some of the countries were very small. But before moving forward I do want to give a general breakdown of the major countries at this time. Scotland was predominantly Presbyterian, England, Northern Ireland, and Wales were predominantly Anglican, Ireland was predominantly Catholic, Scandinavia was predominantly Lutheran with the exception of the Netherlands, which was Continental Reformed, Germany was predominantly Lutheran, Switzerland was predominantly Continental Reformed, and Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Austria, and Poland were all predominantly Catholic. Puritans were spread out all over England and Wales, and throughout this century most would migrate to what is today New England. Continental Reformed were spread out into France and Germany as well. Many Catholics remained in all of the Protestant countries. Anabaptists were spread out throughout Germany and Switzerland mostly, and throughout this century many would also migrate to the New World, to primarily what is today Pennsylvania.
During this age the Protestant and Catholic countries were constantly at war. Finally, towards the end of the century the Peace of Westphalia was signed stating that Protestants would be granted tolerance in Catholic countries and Catholics would be granted tolerance in Protestant countries. This must not be confused with religious freedom though. This was merely religious tolerance. Religious minorities throughout Western Europe were still not granted full rights even after the Peace of Westphalia. And minor skirmishes within cities and villages still often erupted well after the Peace of Westphalia until around 1700 when they finally stopped.
Despite all of this turmoil and the tendency for a dead orthodoxy and legalism to crop up here and there, this was a wonderfully godly time. This was the pinnacle of Protestantism. Christians were robustly orthodox and devoted to God. This devotion was often a quiet and unassuming devotion, one that is often criticized by many conservative evangelicals today who are either part of or highly influenced by the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. But these believers for the most part quietly lived their lives, following God through non-showy good works, studying Scripture, and giving of their money to the church for the work of the kingdom. Evangelism and missions during this time was primarily focused upon Roman Catholics throughout Western Europe and it was very effective. As great as the Reformation era was, a lot of lay Christians still had a blended view of the faith where Protestant and Catholic elements often existed side by side as the leaders tried to better educate them from the Scriptures. By the time this era has come that is no longer the case. Protestants, including the laity, are fully orthodox Protestants.
- The Baptist Family
A lot of conservative evangelicals have the woefully mistaken notion that the Baptist family was simply an extension of the Anabaptists and only corrected the Anabaptists over the doctrine of immersion, a doctrine that was not practiced by the Anabaptists. Nothing could be further from historic fact. The Baptists were not an outgrowth from the Anabaptists, but were primarily an outgrowth from the Puritans. The early Baptists were for the most Puritan in their theology with the exception of infant baptism. As time wore on more distinctions became prevalent, but that was the case in the early history of the movement. This family was started by John Smyth. Most Baptists today practice a congregational form of church government, most are Arminian in their theology, and most are very conservative. However, none of these doctrines have been universal within the family. The primary theological distinctive of the movement has always been its doctrine of believer’s only baptism and the necessity for immersion.
- The King James Bible
The King James Bible came about because the Puritans were pressing King James to help fund a new English translation. The translation of Tyndale and the Geneva Bible, while excellent translations, had not been conducted by a full committee of highly qualified scholars and so there were still many problems within them that needed to be resolved. James was the son of Mary Queen of Scots and had been raised in Scotland by Presbyterians. He was in line to succeed Elizabeth to the throne of England. Because of his upbringing there was high hopes amongst the Puritans that he would bring back the reforms that had been enacted under Edward. James did succeed Elizabeth, but the hopes of the Puritans were dashed to the rocks when James came to the throne as a decadent Anglican. This infuriated the Puritans and massive tensions developed and this was one of the primary reasons for the Puritan exodus. For the Puritans that remained in England and committed to English reform, they set their sights on this new translation and in order to pacify them James agreed to largely fund the venture and the Puritans devoted the Bible to him giving it its famous name. The Puritans in the New World were at first reluctant to adopt the new translation, but over time it became the Bible of the Colonists and was a tremendous unifying force amongst Colonial Protestants and later American Protestants. It was the Bible of English speaking Christians from about the mid-1600’s until around 1960 when the English language had changed so much that it was seen that a new translation was required.
- The Westminster Confession of Faith
A number of fine confessions were produced during the Reformation era, but many of them were somewhat patchy and cumbersome to read at points. Hence, during the English Civil War during this era, where Puritanism became the national religion of England for a very short time, a new and robust Reformed confession was seen as necessary. Contributors came from all over the Reformed world. There were Presbyterians, Puritans, and Continental Reformed scholars who all contributed to the effort. The result was the fullest and most beautiful Reformed confession that has truly stood the test of time. It was used by conservative Presbyterians, conservative Puritans and Congregationalists, conservative Continental Reformed, and in modified forms by many Reformed Baptists for centuries, all the way up to the present day. It is the primary confession of faith for our denomination, the Presbyterian Church of America.
- Heretical Movements of this Era
Socinianism was the first liberal heretical group in the history of the church. It was started by Fausto Sozzini in Poland. Socinianism was different from fully fledged later Liberal Protestantism in that it did have fully defined doctrines across the board that people within its ranks were expected to follow, unlike later Liberal Protestantism which allowed for almost anything under the sun. Socinianism also did not say that one could pick and choose what one wanted to believe from the Bible like later Liberal Protestantism, it genuinely tried to defend its doctrines from the Bible. However, it denied almost every major tenet of the Christian faith, but not in any esoteric way as seen by the later Christian Scientists. The Socinians were trying to make Christianity more palpable to the growing skeptics within Western Europe as a result of the Scientific Revolution. Basically, they took a Unitarian view of God, said that Jesus was simply a great moral teacher and leader, through God’s help and Jesus’ example we save ourselves, and the cross was not truly expiatory, but was simply Jesus showing us how to sacrifice for others. All of the biblical miracles were denied or explained away.
It is extremely important to distinguish between historic Arminianism and later evangelical Arminianism, something many Reformed Christians often fail to do and this leads to a lot of condemning of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Historic Arminianism traces its roots to Jacob Arminius. Arminius himself was certainly extremely heterodox, but he wasn’t a full blown heretic. He simply rejected the Augustinian/Calvinist understanding of election, something that unfortunately the vast majority of Christians have done throughout church history. Arminius was refuted at the Synod of Dort. Here the traditional five points of Calvinism were fully articulated. Up until that time Augustine and all later Augustinians until the Reformers were somewhat contradictory over the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. They taught that all of the elect would persevere, but that some people God would temporarily grant faith but would not cause them to remain in faith. Also, the doctrine of limited atonement had always been vague amongst Augustinians throughout the Middle Ages and this continued with the Reformation. Even Luther and Calvin are not totally clear on this point. At this Synod all five points were fully clarified and articulated. From this sprouted a protest amongst many people who became historic Arminianism, which was heretical as it went far beyond the doctrines of Arminius. Historic Arminians grossly downplayed the sovereignty of God, some even denying His foreknowledge altogether. Most denied justification by faith alone, and many taught a heretical doctrine of the atonement that denied any concrete element of substitution. Later evangelical Arminians rejected these heresies, but would still not embrace the doctrines of grace. Historic Arminianism had largely died out by 1800, which is why most non-Calvinist conservative evangelicals today are referred to as Arminians by Calvinists. However, many people today are knowingly or unknowingly returning to elements of historic Arminianism and this is becoming a growing problem in the church today.
- The Quakers and Shakers
A number of heretical sects sprouted up during this period in England. The chaos of the English Civil War led to this massive problem. However, most of these groups were very small. The two biggest though were the Quakers and Shakers. The Quakers were started by George Fox in England and the Shakers sprouted off from them. The two groups were given their names because they shook and jolted as they worshipped the way many in the Counterfeit Revival Movement do today. The Shakers eventually became more and more heretical and bizarre and eventually died out. The Quakers began to become more and more orthodox, but still remained thoroughly unbiblical at a number of points. They denied the necessity of the sacraments and taught the doctrine known as the inner light by which one was to interpret Scripture and that was above Scripture. The Quakers migrated to the New World throughout the latter part of this century, into mostly what is today Pennsylvania. The Quakers in the New World thought it was their calling to convert the Puritans and they often harassed them, sparking strong reactions from the Puritans, something that is often deeply held against the Puritans to this day. While I do not condone all of the actions of the Puritans, it is very important to remember that they did not at this point believe in religious freedom, the Quakers were heretics, and the Quakers often came to their villages to harass them.
- The Enlightenment Era (1700-1776) –
Because of the Peace of Westphalia and the end of the Protestant/Catholic wars and skirmishes, many atheists, agnostics, and skeptics began to feel very emboldened and the Humanism that had been festering under the surface in Western Europe for centuries was now center stage. In the philosophical world biblical Christianity was all out attacked. This led to Secular Humanism and the Enlightenment. The cry of the day was that special revelation was not needed and didn’t really exist. Either God existed as the Deists taught, but was extremely distant, or He did not exist at all according to Enlightenment philosophers. These philosophers were extremely aggressive and successful at eroding faith in Christianity throughout Western Europe. Slowly but surely, both Catholic and Protestant churches began to empty. It is important to note at this point though, that those that still attended historic Protestant churches were for the most part, at least outwardly, orthodox. Liberal Protestantism had not yet arrived. Due to this erosion countless biblical Christians began to see the New World as their answer. Continental Reformed migrated in large numbers to New England and competed with the Puritans/Congregationalists in that region, largely losing out to the Puritan stronghold in that region. Anglicans and Presbyterians began to migrate to the middle and southern colonies. Very few Lutherans and Baptists migrated during this era. Even though Great Britain ruled over the forming colonies, they largely left this region alone as long as the colonies paid their taxes. Because of all of this a new Protestant land was forming. There were heretical groups, especially in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, there were scattered Catholics and a large number in Maryland, there were still a lot of unconverted Native Americans and African American slaves, there were Deists and Enlightenment thinkers scattered throughout as well, but the overwhelming number of the population was made up of orthodox Protestants who started to work together in ways that had often not been done back in Western Europe.
Slavery is hands down, without question, the worst sin of the church throughout its history. I know many will try to argue for the Crusades or the Inquisition or the treatment of the Jews, but the fact of the matter is that slavery is the worst by far. I will be trying to defend the church to some degree on this point only because I believe that it is my duty as a Christian apologist to do so because Secular Humanists have grossly exaggerated the extent of the church’s evil in this matter as they do with all of the sins of the church. I know this is a very politically incorrect thing to do in our current cultural climate. But, please know that I am simply trying to be historically accurate. I want to explain the church’s rationale as best I can while still making it clear how DEEPLY the church blew it in this regard. I know no matter how hard I try I will still make some mad. I know that many in our church with Southern sensibilities will think I am being too hard on the church, our nation, the South in particular, and on white Christians in general. I know that others, and not just our African American brethren at the church, will think I am being way too lenient on the above groups. All I can do is present my understanding of what happened and people are welcome to disagree with me as I admit this is a very tough topic to address, but it must be addressed nevertheless.
In one sense slavery has always been a crucial part of the church and this is one of the reasons why the church struggled to see clearly in the early days of African slavery. The church was born in the heart of the Roman Empire where slavery was rampant. Many early Christians were slaves and many were slave owners. We see this reality in the New Testament itself. It might be wondered why the apostles didn’t simply tell all Christian slave owners to free their slaves right away. The problem is that the system was so entrenched that it was not that simple. This would have created all sorts of problems from a legal, political, and economic standpoint. This is why the New Testament lays down clear guidelines for both believing slaves and slave owners and encourages slaves to gain their freedom as soon as possible and for slave owners to free their slaves as soon as is practicable. When we move into the Middle Ages, as we saw, countless believers were basically slaves under the feudal system. This system largely went unquestioned for almost a thousand years. There became a deep seated doctrine within the church that people are born into their station in life for a reason, either as a punishment for their sins or as a punishment for the sins of their ancestors, or for mysterious reasons left to God alone. Either way, the church had been conditioned to think this way for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. Further, as was stated, Western Europeans, including the vast majority of true believers as sad as it is to say that, believed in the ethnic superiority of Western Europeans. Most Western Europeans, especially true Christians, did not think this in any truly hateful way, it was simply taught to them from infancy and was everywhere reinforced for them because of the outward reality that had developed due to colonization. Hence, when Western Europeans began to discover African slavery in the 1600’s, most simply thought this was just the way of the world. And it must be remembered, that Western Europeans did not start the African slave trade for the most part. The African slave trade was already well underway in Africa, especially the Northwest of Africa. Many of the Spanish Conquistadors did add to the problems of the already existing slave trade, but this has little to do with biblical Protestant Christianity.
At first, most Christians who bought slaves did so at slave outposts in Europe during the 1600’s with little to no knowledge of the absolute horrors of the African slave trade. Most bought small numbers of slaves to work in their homes where the slaves were treated well. Now I am not in any way, shape, or form saying that all slaves in Europe during the 1600’s were treated well. I am saying that Christians treated their slaves well. And the church commanded them to do so. Were there professing orthodox Christians that behind the scenes did not? Absolutely. But that is the sin of those false believers alone. The church often could not control this to a large degree. As the Puritans moved to the New World they took their slaves with them and began to create slave outposts of their own. Most of the slaves in the New World were transported from the West Indies to places like Boston. These slaves were often kidnapped and enslaved in Africa by other Africans or by the Spanish or the Portuguese. They were then taken to slave outposts where they endured horrific conditions. Then they would be crammed onto slave ships where many were raped and/or tortured, starved, and in many cases killed. The West Indies contained some of the worst working conditions in all of history and this was largely kept hidden from the general population in Europe and the new colonies. Many of these slaves would be transported from the West Indies to Boston as stated earlier and then bought by the Puritans. Again, despite the stereotype and the admitted prejudices of the Puritans, most Puritans bought only a few slaves to work in their homes and most were treated well. The number of slaves in the fledgling New England colonies was always relatively small throughout the 1600’s.
All of that began to change when we get to the Enlightenment Era. With the massive influx of immigrants to the American Colonies during this time there came a huge demand for slaves. The number of slaves had grown naturally in the Northern Colonies due simply to population growth amongst the slaves. But the demand in the South because of agriculture was off the charts. Many Northern slave owners began to sell their slaves to Southern slave owners at high prices and more and more slave ships began to transport slaves from Africa and the West Indies to the Colonies, especially the Southern Colonies. This led to the dreaded Southern plantation. What began to happen was that huge tracts of land were bought by wealthy landowners and to work the crops hundreds and hundreds of slaves were purchased. This was an extremely dangerous and volatile situation because the South was at this time largely unpopulated, largely ungoverned, and often these plantations existed away from the rest of civilization. Therefore, ruthless slave owners could buy slaves in large numbers and treat them however they wanted with little to no consequences. Further, even those who wanted to treat slaves better, including many Christians, had a hard time enacting this on such plantations because it was hard to monitor so many slaves. All it took were a few slaves who rightfully tried to escape and this could turn even the most compassionate people into hardened overseers in order to instill fear into the large slave populations in order to keep slaves from attempting to escape.
A lot of this was front and center for the slaves themselves, but it must be remembered that a great deal of the mainstream populations in Europe and even in the American Colonies had no idea about all that was going on. If that sounds like an excuse, it must be remembered that huge swaths of white Americans, both North and South, had never even seen an African American, let alone an enslaved one. We must not forget that most Colonial Americans lived in small towns and villages where they often spent their entire lives and only left to travel on the rarest of occasions. Many worked on very small farms away from the local town and simply came into town when necessary. If these small towns or villages did not have any African American residents, as was often the case in very rural parts of the Colonies, then many of these people would never even see an African American. They were far more likely to see a Native American. And I always tell people that before we get too judgmental about your average person during this time, we must remember that the sex slave industry is booming all around us right now. It’s literally everywhere behind the scenes where absolutely satanic things occur on a regular basis. And yet how many of us see any of this on a daily basis? Almost none of us. How many of us do a great deal to stop the sex slave trade industry? Very few of us. Most of us already feel very overwhelmed with work and family and don’t really know all that is going on. The same was true for most Western Europeans and Colonial Americans. Most were busy raising their kids and working their farms and trying to keep their kids from catching diseases. It cannot be emphasized more strongly that the vast majority of slaves were owned by a small percentage of the population. During this time probably only about 10-15% of the population owned slaves and most of even this percentage only owned a few household slaves that were treated decently. But unfortunately, the vast majority of slaves at this time in Colonial America were owned by about 5% of the population and many of these owners were ruthless and extremely evil people.
A lot has been made about the notion that most Colonial Americans did not even believe that African Americans were human or could even become Christians. This notion is quite false. The vast majority did believe they were people and wanted to see them saved. It is true that they did believe they were ethnically inferior, which is disgusting, but most believed that they had souls that needed to be saved by Christ. It was primarily only a small percentage of that 5% spoken of above that tried to defend the notion that they were not fully human in order to justify their treatment of slaves. Many argue that slaves were not considered in a census or were only given partial human status on a census. However, this largely had to do with political rights. This was of course a putrid practice and I’m not condoning it, but it had little bearing on whether or not your average person saw African Americans as humans or not. The orthodox Protestant church always held that they were and sought to preach the gospel to them, which was very difficult in this era due to language, cultural, and religious barriers. But by the time we get to 1800, the vast majority of the slave population has become devout Christians. Many of the most ruthless slave owners fought against missionaries and evangelists tooth and claw, but the gospel could not be stopped and spread rapidly amongst the slave population. Many slaves were not allowed to read or go to church by their masters. So Bibles often had to be smuggled onto such plantations and certain leaders taught to read and trained to secretly pastor secret churches on these plantations. Many have also tried to argue that because slaves were considered property clearly people at the time did not consider them human. But again, this is a very recent notion. I wholeheartedly agree that to wrongfully enslave anyone is to not respect their personhood, but at the time most Colonial Americans held to both notions at the same time without any fear of contradiction as sad as that was. And unfortunately, as stated, slavery on some level has always been such a part of the church, that the notion that fully human beings can be property as well on some level has been the view of most Christians throughout our history.
Slavery first began to be exposed for what it was by the great William Wilberforce during the tail end of this era. His efforts, especially exposing the conditions of the slave trade itself, eventually led to the abolishment of the slave trade in most of Europe and in America during the early 1800’s. However, slavery itself was still legal where it already existed in the United States until after the Civil War. If that was confusing, after 1808 no one could transport slaves from other countries to our country. But slaves that were already here were not freed at this time. But Wilberforce forced many Northerners to really start thinking through the issue and most Northern States abolished slavery in their state. But it was much easier for them to do so as most slaves had already been sold South before the beginning of our nation. Wilberforce was an Anglican, but a Reformed one. He often did not like calling himself a Calvinist or Reformed as he didn’t like those labels, but he did believe in the doctrines of grace. He was highly influenced by John Newton, who was an explicit Calvinist and Reformed Christian. Newton was a former slave ship captain before his conversion who later was crucial to publicly exposing the conditions in the slave trade. He worked with Wilberforce because of Wilberforce’s influence as an outspoken Member of Parliament. Newton later wrote the most famous Christian hymn in history, Amazing Grace.
- The Conversion of the Native Americans and African Americans
For the first time in well over a thousand years the church began to see real progress amongst those outside of the European ethnicity. This progress often came within a very ugly context of prejudice, persecution, oppression, and prejudice, but nevertheless the gospel was spreading amongst non-Europeans and that is an amazing thing. The treatment of Native Americans was appalling and I am in no way trying to make light of it. But the primary reason so many Native Americans were killed was due to disease, by far. And despite a lot of somewhat stretched arguments, most Europeans were not intentionally trying to kill Native Americans with diseases. It is quite true that the Conquistadors were absolutely brutal towards the Native Americans and this led to centuries of tensions between Europeans and Native Americans. Native Americans rightfully had a lot of fear, distrust, and animosity towards Europeans from this and many Europeans’ knowledge of Native Americans came solely from what the Spanish had written about them, which was hardly fair or accurate. Hence, when the Puritans came to the New World they not only carried with them those prejudices that I’ve already discussed, but they were positively terrified of the Native Americans because of what was taught about them back in Europe. The same was very true of later Protestant immigrants. Despite all of this tension discussed here and over slavery discussed in the previous sections, thousands of Native Americans and African Americans became saved. The numbers tended to be much, much higher among the African American slave populations, but a lot more Native Americans were converted than Secular Humanists want to admit today.
- The Great Awakening
The Great Awakening was led by three great men, namely George Whitefield, John Wesley, and Jonathan Edwards. The first two were Anglicans from England who came to the Colonies to preach the gospel. The first of these two was a staunchly Reformed Anglican, while the latter was a fierce opponent of Reformed theology. The last of the three was a Puritan/Congregationalist from New England who launched the Awakening with his fiery preaching and went on to become the theologian of the Awakening and one of the greatest theologians of all time. Wesley travelled throughout both the Colonies and England leading revivals, but most of the Awakening took place in the Colonies and was shocking to the Enlightenment thinkers who felt that they were beginning to win the day. Thousands of Protestants were strengthened in their faith and thousands of unbelievers were converted to Christ. Wesley went on to become the leader of the Methodist family, the seventh family to be added to the Protestant tree. The Methodist family was overall very similar to Anglicanism, but its two primary theological distinctives were an emphasis on simplicity in theology and a firm commitment to evangelical Arminianism. Traditional Anglicanism had always allowed for both Calvinism and non-Augustinian approaches to the doctrine of election. It was during this time that the Baptist family and the Methodist family came into their own. The vast majority of converts during the Great Awakening joined one of these two families, and thousands of Protestants switched to one of these denominations, and these denominations became the largest families by far amongst orthodox Protestants in America until the 1900’s when the Baptists alone became the predominant group.
- Heretical Groups of this Era
- The Moravians
The Moravians were started by an eccentric leader by the name of Count Zinzendorf in Germany. The Moravians have, like the Anabaptists, been highly romanticized by American conservative evangelicals. But, while they were fairly orthodox for the most part, they were explicitly universalist. They were one of the first groups to be so clear and emphatic regarding this heresy.
- The Unitarians.
Unitarianism was started by Theophilus Lindsey in England. The Unitarians were in many respects simply a British extension of the Socinians. The primary difference between the two groups is that the Unitarians did not make as much of an effort to defend their views from the Bible. They were like later Liberal Protestants very loose in their professed submission to the Bible. But unlike later Liberal Protestants they vehemently denied the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and almost all other orthodox doctrines. Later Liberal Protestants allowed people to believe in those doctrines if they wanted, it was simply not required. The only concrete requirement of Liberal Protestantism has always been a passionate denial of inerrancy. Much later in history the Unitarians combined with a much smaller heretical group known as the Universalists to form the Unitarian Universalist Church that exists today. The Universalists were a very liberal group whose primary theological distinctive as one can guess was the doctrine of universalism.
- The Age of America (1776-1900) –
Due to the corrosive influence of the Enlightenment, historic Protestantism is dying in Western Europe. Despite this sad reality, the gospel has become the foundation of the new American nation. The vast majority of early Americans were devout orthodox Protestants and this majority would only grow and grow and grow until the Civil War. Male, female, rich, poor, slave, free, black, white, Native American, almost everyone was a believer. This did not mean that America was a utopia. It most certainly was not. Slavery, racism, sexism, and classism, were all major problems for America and the church throughout this era and it is truly sad that these things so distracted from what was otherwise a great time for the church of Christ.
Another important development at the early stage of this era was the rise of the Episcopalian Church. This should not be seen as a completely distinct family as they saw themselves as firmly within the Anglican tradition, but they were a distinct subset from the mainstream because they were no longer connected to the nation of Great Britain. This is why from this time on we often speak of the Anglican/Episcopal family.
- The American Revolution
The American Revolution largely came about because of the French Indian War that had taken place earlier in the 1700’s. The French had joined with Native Americans to fight against England for control of the land west of the Colonies. The problem was that most of the fighting was done by the Native Americans for the French and the Colonists for the English, only greatly intensifying the disdain between the two groups. The English were victorious, but it came at a heavy price. The Colonists felt that the English owed them, and the British had spent way too much money on the war. Because of this the British felt that they had no choice but to increase the taxes upon the Colonists and this infuriated the Colonists as they had just fought and won a war for the British. Further, many of the Colonists were starting to deeply question the doctrine of state churches. Because of the diversity of Protestantism within the colonies, most were quite untrusting of this doctrine. Also, while Colonial Protestants rightfully rejected the vast majority of the teachings of the Enlightenment, many felt that the Enlightenment philosophers were making many good points regarding many of the problems that had existed with state churches throughout Christian history. One of the greatest philosophers, theologians, and political thinkers of the age just before the American Revolution was John Witherspoon. He shaped the minds of the next generation in preaching the need to remain robustly orthodox while still questioning the long held belief in state churches. Most Americans, Christian or otherwise, agreed with him at least on the notion of religious freedom. Religious freedom, not just religious tolerance, was a very radical notion, but the fact that it was coming from such an otherwise conservative Presbyterian theologian made people take the notion seriously. By the time of the American Revolution most Colonists were sold on the doctrine. This fact, along with the tensions between the Colonists and the British, led to the Revolution and the rest is history.
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Despite the fact that Christianity was largely dying in Western Europe, one die hard preacher kept up the good faith in England. Spurgeon was a feisty Reformed Baptist who preached the word with passion despite the fact that he was often made fun of by his countrymen who were more and more seeing biblical Christianity as archaic and silly. His sermons, not surprisingly, brought tremendous inspiration and encouragement to millions of Christians in America.
- The Rise of the African American Church
Throughout the 1700’s most African American Christians banded together to form haphazard churches however they could. But in the early 1800’s they began to form their own denominations and began secretly sending missionaries, evangelists, and others to help the slaves in the South, most of whom were devout believers by this time, either escape slavery or at least be strengthened in their efforts to promote their churches in the South. Two great believers rose up during this time above the rest, although there were countless valiant brothers and sisters in Christ during this era who did so much to foster the black church against all odds. These two great saints were Richard Allen and Harriet Tubman. Richard Allen started the first African American denomination, giving African American Christians a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment. The denomination was the African Methodist Episcopal Church, often known today as the AME. It was part of the Methodist family, but it was still its own fully organized and visible denomination. While it wasn’t Reformed, it was robustly orthodox and biblical and committed to equal rights for African Americans, which was an extremely lofty goal at the time. But the denomination was such a big deal even outside of African American circles because it was one of the first orthodox denominations to advocate such things and therefore even white American Christians had to take notice. One of the most frustrating things about this era was the fact that most of the early abolitionists were part of heretical movements such as the Quakers, Unitarians, and Liberal Protestants (whom we will discuss shortly). This was the primary reason why things started to change in England. When people saw how conservative and moral Newton and Wilberforce were, it became much more difficult to simply dismiss them as liberal quacks. Richard Allen got many orthodox Christians in the North really thinking about the question of slavery from a biblical, orthodox perspective and this eventually led the North to becoming more and more against the system. From the AME later came a number of excellent African American denominations, many of which exist today and are still spreading the gospel.
The second of these great saints is Harriet Tubman. She has become such an American icon that many lose sight of the fact that she was a devoted follower of Christ. While she was no theologian and while she believed in some things that would make us as Reformed Christians very nervous, she was overall very orthodox and biblical and she spent her life tirelessly serving Christ in her efforts to free and help slaves, most of whom were, as stated, very godly believers.
- Princeton Seminary
While the Presbyterians had become a minority in the church by this time, they were still seen as the intellectual defenders of the faith by most Christians. While most Christians disagreed with them on such things as infant baptism, Calvinism, and church government, most Christians sought them out when it came to apologetics. During this era the greatest Presbyterian seminary was Princeton Seminary and it produced some of the greatest theologians of all time, such as Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and in the next era A.A Hodge, B.B. Warfield, and J. Gresham Machen. During this era and into the next era, these theologians fought against Enlightenment thought and the rise of Liberal Protestantism with all of their might. They were also some of the first white orthodox theologians to fight against the American system of slavery and because of the respect the country had for them this was a major catalyst in the move of the North towards turning its back on the system.
- A Century of Heresy
Throughout church history there have been two centuries where we have seen the most heretical groups sprout up, the 400’s and the 1800’s, and even as far as these two centuries go, the latter was the worst (the 20th century as we will see is a close third). Part of the reason for this was the religious freedom that was granted during this era. While this was for the most part a tremendous blessing to the church, it did have the unintended consequence of leading to all of these heretical groups. All of these groups were started in the United States with the exceptions of the last three we will examine. And all of these groups were very small with the exception of the last one we will cover. We will very briefly examine nine groups that arose during this time.
Mormonism was started by Joseph Smith. Mormonism is one of the most complicated religions on the map and so I cannot fully describe all of its many bizarre doctrines here. Suffice it to say for here that in Mormon theology God is a literal physical man. Not that He added a human nature to His person as we believe, but in His divine nature He is a man with a literal physical body. He was once a sinful man like us, but through His good works achieved godhood. This has been done by many others throughout the universe and can be done by men here on earth. He along with His wife produced billions of spirit children. These spirit children are then given human bodies here on earth. Jesus Himself was one of these spirit children and can be called a god, but He is not the God of this planet as is His Father.
- The Jehovah’s Witnesses
This group is not nearly as bizarre as the former, but it is extremely heretical across the board unlike some of the other heretical groups we have encountered throughout church history that tend to be heretical in just one or two key areas. The movement was started by Charles Taze Russell. The Jehovah’s Witnesses tenaciously deny the Trinity and the deity of Christ as well as the Holy Spirit. Only the Father is Jehovah. Jesus is the incarnation of Michael the Archangel, and the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force like electricity. Salvation is by works, although God by His grace does help us get there. The Jehovah’s Witnesses also deny the existence of hell.
- Christian Science
This movement was started by a woman by the name of Mary Baker Eddy. Christian Scientists deny almost every major teaching of the Bible. Their religion has far more in common with Hinduism than biblical Christianity and the only reason we even call it heretical rather than a completely different category of religion altogether is because they claim to be Christians. Christian Scientists deny the reality of matter and evil. Everything is illusory to some extent according to them and the entire goal of the religion is to come to this realization.
- Seventh-day Adventists
This group was started by Ellen G White. While this group is far more orthodox than the previous three groups, it is still well beyond the boundaries of orthodoxy for a number of reasons. It says that the Sabbath is on Saturday and must be strictly kept, it says that the food laws of the Old Testament are still in place in spite of overtly explicit biblical texts in the New Testament that state that they have been abrogated, they say that the scapegoat of the Old Testament is a picture of Satan and not Christ, and most importantly they deny the existence of hell and teach a doctrine of annihilation.
This movement was often known as the Stone-Campbell movement or sometimes just as the Campbellites, because it was started by Thomas Campbell and Barton Stone. The movement eventually led to the denominations known as the Churches of Christ and the Disciples of Christ and their offshoots. This movement was orthodox for the most part, but it explicitly taught the heresy that one absolutely had to be baptized to be saved. This is a tacit denial of justification by faith alone. Even in the medieval system with all of its heterodoxy and its doctrine of baptismal regeneration, it was still maintained that if one placed their true faith in Christ before he or she had the opportunity to be baptized, they would still be saved. Hence, this movement had crossed a serious line.
- The Salvation Army
This movement was started by William Booth. This is another movement that has been highly romanticized by conservative evangelicals in America, but while it does do tremendous charitable works for which it must be highly commended, it has always taught the doctrine that the sacraments are optional for our day. We as brothers and sisters in Christ can certainly disagree on the number of sacraments, the exact nature of the sacraments, if we should even call them sacraments instead of just ordinances, etc. But to deny their necessity and efficacy altogether is crossing a line.
This movement was started by J.N. Darby. This original movement must be distinguished from the later movement that I call semi-Dispensationalism and others call evangelical Dispensationalism, which is orthodox, albeit very problematic. The movement taught in my opinion a number of heterodox doctrines that are still taught by the later orthodox movement today. But the primary heresy of the original movement was the explicit advocacy of blatant antinomianism. The movement taught that one could live in sin his or her entire Christian life and still be considered a Christian. While the later movement is orthodox, the tendency towards blatant antinomianism is still very widespread and has caused massive problems for the American church throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.
This movement has its roots in the doctrine of John Wesley. Wesley taught that it was possible as a second work of grace to receive a form of perfection. Wesley was careful to say that this was not a full state of sinless perfection, but only a state where one can live free from blatant conscious sin. This is certainly extremely dangerous and heterodox from my vantage point, but it wasn’t heretical. However, many others later took hold of this doctrine and took it to heretical lengths, teaching that it was possible to reach a state of sinless perfection in this life.
- Liberal Protestantism
This movement was started by Friedrich Schleiermacher in Germany. Schleiermacher desperately wanted to stem the rising tide of Enlightenment unbelief that had swept over Western Europe. His solution was to try to make Christianity and Enlightenment thought more compatible. The new religion he proposed was one where doctrine was despised and a feeling of deep dependence on God was emphasized. Liberal Protestantism essentially teaches that one can pick and choose what one wants to believe from the Bible. Some Liberal Protestants retain a great number of orthodox doctrines, while others retain almost none, but both types would fully accept each other. The only absolute maxim of the movement is an absolute denial of inerrancy. What was remaining of orthodox Protestantism throughout Western Europe was largely swallowed up by this movement and most people stopped going to church altogether because going to church was seen as optional among Liberal Protestants. The movement did make some headway in the United States before the Civil War, but not much. After the Civil War with the country deeply divided, the South in shambles, and the immense rise in popularity of Charles Darwin, the religion began to make swift strides in our nation until by 1900 the country was almost evenly divided between orthodox Protestants and Liberal Protestants. Eventually orthodox Protestants became so fed up that they largely stopped calling themselves Protestant and opted instead for the term “evangelical.”
- The Civil War
The Civil War tore Christian America apart. African American Christians and most Northern Christians saw the system as needing to end, while most Southern Christians felt that it was still way too soon to end the system and would cause far too many problems. I am grossly over simplifying things here because this is a study of church history and not American history, but that is the gist of what happened. By the time of the Civil War the percentage of slave owners in the South had risen to about 30%. But even this percentage was heavily concentrated in the very Deep South in states such as Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. And it was still the case that only a very small percentage of even this percentage owned the vast majority of the slaves on huge wealthy plantations that were often worlds unto themselves and could often function without repercussions. The North more and more began to expose these plantations, but the South felt very defensive for itself and was largely in denial about how bad most of them were. The South largely defended itself by saying that the Bible does not condemn every form of slavery, which is certainly true but that in no way meant that American slavery with all of its cruelty and racist overtones was in any way biblical. The North largely defended ending the system because of how corrupt it had become rather than directly answering the biblical arguments by saying that while the Bible does allow for slavery in certain exceptional circumstances, the Bible overall takes a very negative view of slavery and therefore everyone should be working hard towards its end. The problem became that the South became more and more exasperated over the fact that most Northerners claimed to be Christians but did not seem to want to answer the biblical arguments that Southerners were putting forward. The fear in the South was that the North was becoming far more Liberal Protestant than it wanted to admit, which was not true at this time. The North on the other hand became more and more exasperated with the South as it felt that it didn’t need to answer their biblical arguments as most were not advocating condemning any and all forms of slavery and so they felt the Southern arguments were a moot point. For them the cruelty was undeniable and was therefore by definition un-Christian and that the South was simply trying to distract from the real issue at hand with self-righteous arguments, which was true to a large extent, but far more Northerners should have still given stronger biblical arguments.
Another major issue was that of States Rights. Now I fully understand that the South largely glommed on to this argument after the fact and that it was largely a smokescreen to protect them from having to give up slavery, but there is still some truth to the fact, no matter how politically incorrect it may be to say this today, that the way the North was often going about things was a bit dicey from a Constitutional perspective. The fact was that the Constitution at that time protected slavery. So the South had a point that if Northern states wanted to abolish slavery in their states, they had every right to do so, but they did not have the right from a purely Constitutional perspective to tell other states that they could not have slaves. The North felt that they were on the real horns of a dilemma. On the one hand they did not want to amend the Constitution to abolish slavery because they feared the cessation of the South. But on the other hand they were determined to keep slavery from spreading. This led to a number of measures and proposals that made little Constitutional sense. And the South pounced on this inconsistency and it gave them some semblance of a moral high ground in their own eyes, one that they emphasized far more after the Civil War than before.
As we all know things eventually boiled over and the war was fought and it was extremely bloody and awful. It was truly sad that so many Christians were fighting against each other. But it did end slavery and the African American community rightly saw the deliverance of God through that horrible conflict. But a tremendous amount of prejudice still remained in both North and South and that community had a long way to go.
- The Age of Missions (1900-2000) –
This was a truly remarkable era as it was during this time that the church began to become truly global. While we as American Christians often lament the loss of Christian America and rightfully so, we must not forget that it is a far greater thing that the gospel is spreading throughout the world in fulfillment of Scripture. As stated earlier, during this time the gospel spread throughout South America, Africa, Asia, and Polynesia, especially in countries such as Brazil, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, China, India, South Korea, Samoa, and Tonga.
- The Foundation for this Era
The foundation for this era was laid by a number of earlier missionaries who often were not as successful in their day as they had hoped, but who set such an amazing example that it helped launch the Age of Missions. Some of these phenomenal missionaries were William Carey from England who went to India, Adoniram and Ann Judson from the U.S. who also went to India, Hudson Taylor from England who went to China, and David Livingstone from Scotland who went to Africa. The major defining characteristic of these men and Ann Judson that so separated them from the bulk of previous missionaries and evangelists was the fact that they did all in their power to allow the people they were preaching to, to retain their own culture. Due to colonization, most non-European peoples saw Christianity as an oppressive and foreign white religion. And also very unfortunately most missionaries tended to reinforce this notion as they saw the gospel as being inextricably linked to white Western European culture. These missionaries reversed this trend and they laid the foundational approach for missionaries during the Age of Missions and they were also crucial in helping the church move past a great deal of its former prejudice towards non-Western Europeans.
- L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham
While D.L. Moody did his work in the previous era, he was foundational to the work of Billy Sunday and Billy Graham in this era, and Billy Graham greatly contributed to the work of the Age of Missions. Moody preached during the revivals of the 1800’s in the U.S. in the spirit of George Whitefield, speaking to large crowds fearlessly. This had a huge impact on Billy Sunday who did the same during a time when our country was more and more moving in a Liberal Protestant direction. Sunday had a tremendous impact on Billy Graham, the greatest evangelist the world has ever seen. Billy Graham was used by God to preach to more people around the world than any previous person by far. Billy Graham represented the zeal that marked this age when the gospel was truly becoming global.
- The Pentecostal Movement
I know that a lot of my Reformed brethren, including many at Spring Meadows, will be very nervous about me including this movement as a legitimate Christian family. Please understand that I am very aware of the fact that a lot of what bills itself as Pentecostal is anything but orthodox and falls under one of four categories: the Word of Faith movement, the Counterfeit Revival Movement, the Oneness Pentecostal movement, and the NAR. All four of these are terribly heretical and will be discussed later. I am not talking about such “Pentecostals” here at all. But there are orthodox Bible believing Pentecostals and despite our very serious disagreements with them over many of their heterodox doctrines, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ and they contributed mightily to the Age of Missions. A lot of the reasons why so many Reformed Christians become so nervous about this movement concerns the question of cessationism. As the word indicates this has to do with the question of the cessation of the miraculous gifts. All Christians have been cessationists to one degree or another. All true Christians, even during the Middle Ages, have agreed that the Bible is God’s final, definitive, doctrinal, special revelation. Even Christians down through the ages who believe that God has continued to give special revelation in small doses beyond Scripture have always been emphatic that such revelations never add any doctrines to the faith and that they must always be in accordance with Scripture. All Protestants have been cessationists in the sense that they have always believed that the Bible is it as far as God’s special revelation goes. No new special revelation is given after the completion of the canon according to historic Protestants and this doctrine is known as sola scriptura. Now some Protestants do believe that God gives revelations beyond the Scriptures, but they say that this revelation does not amount to fully fledged special revelation because those receiving it can and do err in their articulation of these revelations and so they must be received with great caution and always interpreted in the light of Scripture. This has always been the historic doctrine of orthodox Pentecostals. And despite what a lot of Reformed Christians tend to think, this was not a doctrine that was begun by Pentecostals. Similar doctrines can be traced all the way back to some of the earliest Reformers. And the doctrine today is not limited to Pentecostals and Charismatics. Many Christians from the other families hold to it. John Piper is an excellent example of a Reformed Baptist who holds to this doctrine. Now I strongly disagree with him, but his doctrine is not heresy and neither is the doctrine of orthodox, sound Pentecostals. As far as such gifts as healing, the working of miracles, etc., I do believe that these have ceased because of their close connection with the revelatory gifts. However, it is not heresy to believe that they continue today. Again, I disagree with such a position strongly, but the position is still not heretical. And again, it is not even limited to Pentecostals and Charismatics. Similar positions were held in the Ancient Church as we have seen, similar positions were held throughout the Middle Ages, and similar positions were held to by many Protestants, including many Reformers, well before the Pentecostals ever came on the scene. As strong of a cessationist as I am, I still believe that God does perform miracles today. I simply do not believe that any individual has the specific gift of healing or the performing of miracles on a regular basis. Other cessationists like R.C. Sproul did not even believe that God performs miracles at all today. This shows just how diverse cessationism can be.
It is true that by the time of the Pentecostal movement, most Protestants were very strong cessationists with the exception of the Holiness movement, which was a sub-group within the Methodist family and which greatly influenced the Pentecostal movement. It is true that the Pentecostal movement believes that all of the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in Scripture are operational today and that they make a very big deal of this fact. But the vast majority of the excesses that one sees on tv are from the Counterfeit Revival movement and have nothing to do with orthodox Pentecostals. Even orthodox Pentecostals are careful to say that these gifts must be carefully qualified so as not to compromise the doctrine of sola scriptura.
This movement was started by Charles Parham and William Seymour in the United States. Along with the strong emphasis on the spiritual gifts spoken of above, the primary theological distinctive of the movement is the belief that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a post-conversion work of grace whereby the believer is greatly strengthened and emboldened for Christian ministry and that it always results in the bestowal of the gift of speaking in tongues upon the believer. Most Pentecostals have been evangelical Arminian, semi-Dispensational, and baptistic in their theology, but this has by no means been true of all. Many Pentecostals are Reformed in their theology and Reformed theology is growing rapidly within the movement today, especially within the United States. I attended a Pentecostal college and one of my Pentecostal professors was as passionately Reformed as any believer I’ve met. He defended the doctrines of grace boldly and on a regular basis.
- The Fundamentalist Movement
Towards the end of the 1800’s in America and Western Europe there arose a school of thought known as Modernism. Modernism is not to be strictly equated with the Modern Era, but it was in many respects the culmination of the philosophy undergirding that era. However, Modernists saw themselves as pointing out some of the limits of Enlightenment thought while at the same time not completely repudiating that movement altogether. The Modernists believed deeply in the need for the soul, religion, spirituality, the emotions, etc., but they were very committed to scientific advancements and to avoiding traditional Christianity. By 1900 Liberal Protestantism was doing all in its power to incorporate Modernist philosophy into the church in order to be able to better defend its own theology. By 1920 most urban Americans had either abandoned Christianity altogether or were attending Liberal Protestant churches. Most rural Americans, especially in the Old South, black and white, were attending godly orthodox churches. This led to a major cultural clash known as the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy. We have seen how the Modernists got their name, but the term “Fundamentalist” came from a movement of orthodox scholars who said that there are certain fundamental beliefs that all true Christians hold to as the fruit of faith. Basically, they were simply asserting the need for orthodoxy. The intellectual leader of the Fundamentalists was the great Presbyterian scholar from Princeton Seminary, J. Gresham Machen. He lambasted the Liberal Protestants for their inconsistency, dishonesty, and constant equivocation. Rural Christians rallied to the Fundamentalist movement and in many respects saved the church. If not for these Christians the Age of Missions would not have occurred as the Missionary organizations would have been overrun by Liberal Protestants throughout the rest of the 20th century.
Over time most Fundamentalists left their denominations and started independent churches, seeing denominations as evil and as prone to liberalism. Many did start new orthodox evangelical denominations, but most chose the former approach. This led to the 9th family in the Christian tree, namely the Independent Bible movement. Most of these churches adopted semi-Dispensational theology and were primarily supported by Dallas Theological Seminary. Many of these churches eventually banded together to form groups that strongly resemble denominations even though they insist that they are not denominations. The most notable of these came in the latter part of the 20th century and goes by the name Calvary Chapel. Calvary Chapel is evangelical Arminian (even though they don’t like that label as they do strongly emphasize the sovereignty of God), robustly young earth creationist, holds to the continuation of all of the spiritual gifts, and is passionately semi-Dispensational. Despite our very strong disagreements with them as Reformed Christians, this movement is orthodox and tenaciously holds to the inerrancy and absolute authority of the Bible. They are also champions of expository preaching. And they have helped spread the gospel around the world.
As the 20th century wore on many Fundamentalists broke away from the evangelical church they had been defending as the movement became more and more anti-intellectual, legalistic, and harsh. This led to the heretical Fundamentalists of today who often tend to be racist, sexist, and defend the heresy of King James Onlyism. They primarily exist in the Deep Old South today, but their numbers are much larger than most realize. Most orthodox Fundamentalists went back to simply calling themselves evangelicals and continued to fight against Liberal Protestantism. For a long time the two movements overlapped, namely evangelicalism and Fundamentalism, especially since most white evangelicals still supported certain forms of segregation. From the late 1800’s until World War II, huge numbers of immigrants began to pour into our country. Many of these immigrants were orthodox Lutherans from Germany and Scandinavia that settled in the Midwest and the Plain States, and were for the most part accepted by most Americans. However, a large number of these immigrants came from Roman Catholic and Jewish backgrounds and many within America felt threatened by this. This led to a massive resurgence of racism in our country and only fueled the already existing prejudices towards African Americans as white Americans felt that they were losing “their” country. Asian immigrants also began to pour into the Western United States, especially Northern California. Hence, while many Americans were trying to move past the Protestant prejudice of the past and countless American Christians supported the Age of Missions, there was still a lot of tension within America itself. But by the 1970’s, evangelicals had for the most part moved past this racism and had sharply separated themselves from the heretical Fundamentalist movement. It is very unfortunate that today evangelicals are so often called Fundamentalists as this is not accurate.
Liberal Protestantism went on to become the majority religion of Americans after the 1920’s until the late 60’s with the rise of postmodernism and the sex and drug revolutions. Most people who were raised in suburban cities in the 40’s and 50’s were raised Liberal Protestant. Such families embraced a form of cultural Christianity and little to no catechizing was done. This generation was also very affluent due to the massive influx of wealth into our country after the Second World War. With the rise of the Vietnam War this generation began to question all things American, including any and all forms of Christianity, often opting instead for Eastern forms of thought. This was a massive blow to Liberal Protestants as most people stopped going to church altogether. Many from this generation returned to a vague form of Liberal Protestantism later in life, but the numbers of unaffiliated, non-practicing Catholics, and non-practicing Liberal Protestants has continued to skyrocket after this time. From this time on our country went from being a very religious country even if many practiced false religions such as Liberal Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, or Fundamentalism, to being a very secular nation.
In the late 70’s Liberal Protestantism was given a shot of energy with the rise of Progressive Christianity. This movement was a sub-set of Liberal Protestantism started by Jim Wallis here in the States. Progressive Christianity is simply the Postmodernizing of Liberal Protestantism. Postmodernism in a nutshell is a strong repudiation of the Modern Era and Modernism in particular and is committed to a relativistic outlook. Progressive Christianity grew slowly in our country until around 2008 with the inauguration of Barak Obama it began to see massive growth with leaders such as Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Rachel Held Evans. It seeks to take over the evangelical church in America and abroad and is very aggressive in its efforts. It is vehemently against inerrancy, fully supports the LGBTQ agenda, and tends to be extremely liberal politically, in many cases advocating outright socialism. In many quarters of the movement universalism or doctrines similar to it are loudly proclaimed and advocated and this is one of the reasons why universalistic tendencies are so common in the church today. It is very popular amongst people ages 15-35 who were raised evangelical in America. This is why myself and others have begun to use the term “Conservative Evangelical” to describe the church today.
- The Charismatic Movement
This is another family that makes many Reformed Christians very nervous for the same reasons discussed under the Pentecostal family. However, the same basic things need to be said here. A great deal of what calls itself part of this family is not but is part of one of those four heretical movements I discussed under the Pentecostal family. It is true that this movement heavily emphasized the spiritual gifts for today, but this is true of many Christians including the Calvary Chapel movement and even many Reformed Christians as we have seen. This movement was started in the early 60’s and has no one key founder. Its primary theological distinctives are the emphasis on the spiritual gifts for today, the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a post-conversion work of grace, but unlike the Pentecostals, Charismatics believe that often speaking in tongues accompanies the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but it does not always do so. Many mistakenly believe that the Pentecostal family and the Charismatic family are essentially the same, but this is not true as this fundamental difference exists between these two families.
This brings us to the 10th and final family branch on the conservative evangelical tree today. I have intentionally called these groups families rather than denominations because technically within each family exists a number of denominations that offer differ from each other only slightly over much smaller theological matters. For instance, within the Presbyterian family there are many denominations. As two examples, we can look at the PCA and the OPC. They are very, very similar overall, but they do have certain minor differences that have led to the two denominations. But the two denominations work closely together and are therefore part of the same overarching family. Many critics of Christianity love to point to all of the thousands of denominations around the world as evidence of absolute chaos within the church. While the church has many problems today, this critique is largely inaccurate. Most of these denominations are very similar and work very closely together and are part of one of the broader families I have discussed. And only ten basic family branches is simply not that bad, especially since many of the families are so similar. The Continental Reformed, the Presbyterian, and the Congregationalist families are all almost identical in most respects. The Anglican/Episcopal and Methodist families are quite similar and the Pentecostal and Charismatic families are almost identical as well.
Many question why I still include certain families when they have become so apostate. Many would especially question the inclusion of the Anglican/Episcopal family as still being part of the true church today. What a lot of American Christians do not realize is that while most of what bills itself as Anglican or Episcopalian in America or England today is in fact thoroughly Liberal Protestant, this family spread throughout the Age of Missions and in parts of the world there are true Bible believing Christians who still very much identify with this family. This is especially true in North Africa. Many of these Christians have had their denominations try to shove gay marriage down their throats and they have resisted valiantly. It is therefore very important to always distinguish between a church that is truly part of a family on the conservative evangelical tree and one that is not. Hence, you might have two Lutheran churches, for example, and one is Liberal Protestant and is not part of what I’m calling the Lutheran family on the conservative evangelical tree, and one that is traditional Lutheran and is therefore part of what I’m calling the Lutheran family on the conservative evangelical tree. The fact that both are called Lutheran is indeed quite confusing, but this distinction must be made.
Many have also questioned why I don’t include groups such as semi-Dispensationalism or young earth creationism as families. This is because such movements represent theological schools of thought. It is rare for whole denominations or groups to rally specifically around just one of these schools of thought. Hence, Reformed theology, for example, is a school of thought and not a family. It exists within the Continental Reformed, many Anglicans and Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, the Congregationalists, many Baptists, and many Pentecostals, Independent Bible Christians, and Charismatics. Semi-Dispensationalism is dominant within the Independent Bible movement, huge swaths of the Baptist family (especially within the Southern Baptist Convention), and Pentecostalism. It has become the dominant viewpoint amongst true Christians in America, unfortunately in my opinion, although that is beginning to change with the rise of Reformed theology in America due primarily to the influence of R.C. Sproul.
- The Dutch Renewal
The Netherlands had been a center of strong Reformed theology going all the way back to the Reformation. The country had for the most part adopted the Continental Reformed family. However, there remained large numbers of Catholics and because the Netherlands tried to give as much religious freedom as possible and was often ahead of the curve on this front, they as a side effect were always struggling against liberal and heretical tendencies within their country and church. By the mid-1800’s, like the rest of Western Europe, Christianity was not doing well in the Netherlands. But two great men, Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck, went on to lead a tremendous renewal of Reformed theology within the country in the earliest part of the 20th century. They were also a great encouragement to the scholars at Princeton Seminary who were fighting the rising tide of Liberal Protestantism in our nation. Both were phenomenal theologians, but Kuyper was more charismatic and was more of the orator of the two, while Bavinck went on to become one of the greatest theologians of all time. This renewal had a penetrating impact on the later rise of Reformed theology in the United States in the latter half of the 20th century.
- The Rise of Reformed Theology
R.C. Sproul led an unexpected and powerful resurgence of Reformed theology in the United States in the latter half of the 20th century that eventually spilled over into the broader church in the early part of this century. Sproul was mentored by the great John Gerstner and was also heavily impacted by the Princetonians and the Dutch renewal theologians. Sproul wrote countless works primarily for the laity and gave a number of teaching sessions that were extremely accessible to the church at large.
Christians in foreign countries during the Age of Missions experienced some of the most intense persecution ever seen throughout church history. These Christians were attacked by Catholics, Communists, Hindus, Muslims, Pagans, and many other groups for their faith. Many of these Christians were beaten, tortured, imprisoned, and/or killed in all manner of ways. Despite this, like we have seen so many times before, the church continued to grow and grow and grow.
- Heroes of the Age of Missions
The history of the church outside of predominantly ethnic European countries is largely still being written as it is so recent. Much more will undoubtedly be said in the centuries to come if the Lord chooses to tarry that long. There are so many heroes from the Age of Missions that could be discussed for pages and pages, but I limit myself here to some of the most important of this era and into the next.
-ii. Watchman Nee and Nora Lam
These two saints are two perfect examples of Chinese Christians who fought the good fight of the faith in their homeland of China against overwhelming odds. Both had elements to their theology that we would as Reformed Christians raise our eyebrows over, but it is very important to remember that the Chinese church was in its infancy at this point and under heavy, heavy persecution. It was often hard for missionaries to enter the country and to properly train leaders. But both were overall very orthodox and were clearly on fire for God. Watchman Nee was a leader in the growing Chinese church and Nora Lam was arrested, interrogated, tortured, and eventually sentenced to death for her faith by firing squad. But at her attempted execution not one bullet hit her and she survived and was eventually released and her story along with the stories of so many others was an inspiration to Chinese Christians throughout the country.
- Seo Sang-ryun
Seo Sang-ryun was the first person to establish a Protestant church in Korea. He was later helped greatly by missionaries from America and Scotland, but his vision for a powerful move of God in Korea was the launching point for the gospel spreading in that land, a country that today boasts of one of the strongest Christians populations in the world. The Korean church underwent heavy persecution in its early days at the hands of the Korean authorities in both North and South, and later with the rise of Communism in North Korea, Korean Christians in the North were mercilessly persecuted and most fled South. Eventually after the Korean War and the South Korean alliance with the United States the Korean church entered into a wonderful period of deliverance and it has used this freedom given by God to send out thousands of missionaries to other parts of Asia.
- Queen Liliuokalani
Queen Lili as she is often known was Queen of Hawaii before its overthrow by the Americans. The United States was determined to take Hawaii for military purposes and so corrupt politicians at the end of the 1800’s made up bogus charges against the godly queen and proceeded to imprison her and dethrone her. It was one of the most despicable acts the United States has ever engaged in. Queen Lili’s treatment was so horrific that she often wavered in her faith, but she always returned and came back stronger than ever and she was a light to the growing church throughout Polynesia during the Age of Missions.
- Ravi Zacharias
Zacharias is an Indian theologian, philosopher, and apologist. He is one of the clearest apologists of our day and he has done a great deal to spread the gospel around the world and he has been a tremendous inspiration to the rapidly growing Indian church. Zacharias did have an emotionally inappropriate relationship with another woman, although it was not a full blown sexual affair. He has repented of this and is moving forward and despite this very unfortunate episode his impact upon the global church cannot be underestimated.
- Voddie Baucham
Baucham is a passionately Reformed African American pastor who is a leader in the African American church, the revival of Reformed theology in general, and has been instrumental in spreading the gospel in Africa with an emphasis on promoting greater orthodoxy on that continent. He is hands down one of the best preachers of our day and he is never afraid to tell it like it is.
- Delano Ellis
Ellis is the founder of the Joint College of African American Pentecostal Bishops. A number of Pentecostal African American denominations adhere to an episcopal form of church government. And this organization works to better train bishops and leaders within these denominations. While I do not agree with a number of elements of Ellis’ theology such as episcopal government, what I see as an over emphasis on vestments and things of this nature, a lack of Reformed theology, and of course the distinctives of Pentecostal theology, Ellis has been an absolute stalwart advocate of historic orthodoxy within the Pentecostal African American community and the church throughout the world. Ellis took on Carlton Pearson, a very popular African American Pentecostal preacher who began advocating universalism. Despite the political incorrectness of this posture, Ellis has never lost his resolve and it has been truly powerful to watch. One of the most irritating things about my fight with the Progressive Christian movement is their constant refrain that the minority churches in our country are on their side. This is absolute gibberish. While most minority churches in our country do vote Democrat for historic reasons, there are countless minority churches and denominations that are unswervingly committed to historic orthodoxy here in the United States and to promoting that orthodoxy where the gospel has spread outside of our nation. Ellis embodies this spirit.
- Addressing the Longstanding Sexism of the Church
Towards the end of the Age of Missions the church finally started to address the sexism that has plagued us throughout our entire history. The church began to see that the Bible clearly teaches that men and women are created equal in the image of God with equal rights, but that there simply exists a difference in function between the two, very similar to how things work within the Trinity. This functional difference primarily manifests itself through the fact that men are to be masculine and that women are to be feminine and that these are definite categories. Further, this difference manifests itself in the fact that within marriage the husband is to be the head, but is not to use this headship in an abusive way, but should use it to serve his wife as is the case with all biblical leadership. Finally, within the church women are not allowed to take ordained leadership roles. However, women should be allowed and encouraged to be as involved in the church, including certain leadership roles, as much as they feel called to do so. We should not seek to limit women in any way beyond these specific strictures and we should highly exalt the ways in which God has made women superior to men such as their ability to bear children, the fact that women tend to be more compassionate, empathetic, and intuitive than men, etc. This view of men and women has come to be known as the doctrine of complementarianism and has been accepted by most of the conservative evangelical church around the world. While the church has made great strides in this area, strides we should not make light of, the church still has a long way to go.
- Heretical Movements
While the 20th century was not quite as bad as the 5th and 19th centuries as far as the sheer number and pervasiveness of heretical movements, it was still very bad and was the third worst century on this front. To make matters worse, most of the heretical movements of the 19th century have continued to grow rapidly and therefore the church finds itself today absolutely surrounded by heretical movements and it can feel overwhelming at times especially since it is so easy for the advocates of these groups to further themselves with the internet today.
This movement has already been discussed.
- The Word of Faith Movement
This movement was started by E.W. Kenyon in the United States. This movement is replete with multiple heresies and not all of these heresies are held to by every leader. However, the core element that is held to across the board is that all Christians should be healthy and wealthy and the extent to which this is not the case is due to a lack of faith on the part of the Christian. Worldly success rather than taking up one’s cross is the goal of this pernicious religion. The peddlers of this garbage are professionals at guilt-tripping gullible people, including many baby Christians and/or uninformed Christians, to give vast amounts of money to the ministries of these leaders to demonstrate their faith. These leaders are not only the thieves of peoples souls as is the case with all heretics, but they are literal thieves as well and they often live decadent and opulent lifestyles at the great expense of poor people. They turn God into a giant genie in heaven and preach the crassest form of God being a means to our own ends.
- The Counterfeit Revival Movement
This movement was founded by John Wimber in the United States. Basically the primary heresy of this movement is the advocacy of outright chaos within worship services. Many within the movement are very orthodox otherwise, although this is certainly not always the case, but across the board always exists this primary heresy. During services people bark like animals, laugh uncontrollably, scream violently, shake and contort dangerously, run and dance wildly, become “drunk” in the Holy Spirit, and are often “slain” in the Holy Spirit as well.
As the gospel has spread around the world with the Age of Missions, it has often struggled mightily against the pull of syncretism. Many converts come to Christianity with so little knowledge of the biblical worldview that a constant problem is the pouring into Scripture meanings that simply aren’t there from the parent culture. Many Christians throughout the Age of Missions still wanted to worship false gods in a secondary sense, many wanted to practice polygamy, many wanted to engage in forms of dress, dance, and other practices that are clearly unbiblical. This was a heavy strain on missionaries and evangelists throughout this time because many were trying so hard to follow the example discussed earlier regarding allowing new converts to retain as much of their old culture as possible.
One of the saddest parts of the Age of Missions is that all three of these heresies just discussed have absolutely plagued the church as it has spread throughout the world. All three of these heresies are massive problems within the worldwide church to this day. Much, much more needs to be done to correct this.
- Oneness Pentecostalism
This movement was started by R.E. McAlister in the United States shortly after the emergence of the Pentecostal family. As the name indicates this is a movement that holds to Pentecostal theology with the exception that they reject the doctrine of the Trinity. This is essentially a resurrection of ancient Modalism. Because the movement is otherwise so orthodox and because Pentecostalism is so popular today, this movement is growing rapidly around the world.
- Open Theism
This movement was started by Richard Rice in the latter part of the 20th century. It was an attempt to accommodate Christian theology to Process Philosophy, which emphasized becoming over being. Open Theism has not had a great deal of worldwide impact, but it did become popular in intellectual circles claiming to be evangelical in the U.S. and therefore it did become problematic for quite some time. However, the theology rather than the original movement is becoming wildly popular today because it is being advocated by so many within Progressive Christianity. Open Theism denies on some level all of the basic attributes of God. Even an orthodox view of the love of God is denied on some level because it is not an omnipotent love and so we can have no confidence that God will be able to fulfill His love towards us. Having said that, the primary attributes of God that the movement denies are God’s omniscience (primarily His foreknowledge), His immutability, and His eternality. In this view God is not ultimate perfection, but is becoming as God evolves forward. The main attribute the movement is opposed to is the foreknowledge of God as it is said that this attribute would destroy human freedom.
- The Enduring Positive Impact of the Church
Because there is just so much to cover in church history and because my focus has been on the persecution and spread of the church in this class, I have not been able to really highlight the positive moral impact of the church throughout its history. This is truly a wonderful story though and I highly encourage all of you to read How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin J. Schmidt. Despite the church’s grave sins, that I have not hesitated to address throughout the class, overall the church has been a tremendous force for good in the world and this book does an excellent job of documenting this. I don’t agree with everything he says, but overall it is probably the best work on the subject.