A HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY

notes prepared by Larry Brown

 

Part four: Christianity in America

 

The first English colonies were founded on religious principles. It is ironic that some who escaped Europe for religious freedom were not so tolerant of others when they got to America. Pres. Taft: “Our ancestors … if you are going to be exact, came to this country to establish freedom for their religion and not the freedom of anybody else’s.” (Church, American Creed, 2)

 

Puritan colonies: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire

·         The Plymouth colonists were Separatists and repudiated the Church of England, whereas Massachusetts Bay maintained ties with the Church of England, but organized along Congregationalist lines, where every church has the right to elect their own leaders.

·         Many New England Separatists organized into presbyteries (small groups of congregations) and synods (groups of presbyteries). Most Presbyterian churches are Calvinist in doctrine. [Presbuteros in Greek means “elder.”]

·         Mass. Bay was not a democracy. They argued the principle was not found in scripture, “the meanest and worst of all forms of government.” Winthrop associated the word liberty with license for sin. Not opposed to an official state church, they rejected religious tolerance: “Tis Satan’s policy to plead for an indefinite and boundless toleration… All Anabaptists (etc) shall have free liberty to keep away from us” (Sweet 51). Tolerance was sedition, treachery to the Truth. The opinion of others could not stand against the certainty of Calvinist convictions. In condemning the “heretic” Anne Hutchinson, Thomas Shepard said that tolerance was “the foundation of all other errors and abominations in the churches of God” (Wills 20).

·         Under Calvinism, “Lifelong anxiety and self-deprecation became the hallmarks of the American Puritan. He made a virtue of uncertainty until he came to identify feelings of assurance about salvation as signs of its absence. The only way to be sure was to be unsure … Puritanism required a believer to find certainty in uncertainty” (Edmund Morgan in Wills 55).

·         Quakers were considered religious fanatics and disturbers of government. “Quaker ministers were not interested in polite discourse, civility, and compromise but in overthrowing the New England church system. They would obey no law that would interfere with their obedience to the Light Within” (Barbour, Quakers, 50-1). Quaker missionaries who arrived by ship in Boston (1656) were immediately jailed without trial, their books burned, and eventually forced to return home. Ships which transported Quakers were fined. Massachusetts had a death sentence for Quakers that had been banished and tried to return; the penalty was abolished by Charles II in 1660.

·         How could those who had escaped religious persecution, believe it right to persecute others? John Cotton, a chief spokesman for the colony, argued that previously they had been coerced to follow the traditions of men, whereas now they were only urging others to follow the commands of God, confident that they had completely restored the church, an idea which Roger Williams argued against (see below). Williams said that turning Massachusetts into God’s singular instrument was a form of idolatry (Wills 42).

·         The New England settlers had a heightened awareness of the demonic world. Having discarded the Catholic beliefs and practices of patron saints, exorcism, holy water, and crucifixes, Protestants had rejected all of these as superstitious but retained the belief in dark magic they were meant to counter. “The Puritan psyche was ghoul-haunted in a way that is hard for us to imagine now” (Wills 37, 39).

·         Puritans had a strong sense of divine mission. John Winthrop, governor of Mass. Bay, described the role of the Puritan colony as a “city on a hill” where “the eyes of all people are upon us” (in Perry Miller, The American Puritans, 1956, 82). In their sermons and writings the Puritans compared themselves to the Israelites, a chosen people, brought to a promised land. The native Americans were seen as the Canaanites, heathens to be wiped out.

·         This Exodus “myth” survived for a long time. In his second inaugural address, Jefferson (a deist) referred to it: “I shall need the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life.” On our national seal the slogan in Latin proclaims America as “the new order of the ages.” In 1850 Herman Melville wrote, “ We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people, the Israel of our time.” During the 19th century expansion into Mexican and native American territory, the theme of “Manifest Destiny” rang out: “We do but follow our destiny as did the ancient Israelites.”

·         Another common theme was America as the kingdom of the new millennium. Timothy Dwight (1752-1817), president of Yale, said that the revolution was ushering in “Immanuel’s Land,” and America would be “the principle seat of that new, that peculiar Kingdom which shall be given to the saints of the Most High.” (Valedictory Address, July 27, 1776; in Armstrong, Battle for God, 2000)

·         In contrast, Lincoln in his second inaugural address warned that it is presumptuous of any group or nation to claim God’s special favor, ignoring that God’s judgment stands against all human pretensions: “Both [sides of this civil conflict] read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.” (Hughes, Myths Americans Live By, 2003)

·         We have the wrong picture of Puritan times if we think that all colonists were highly religious. Statistics show that only 1 in 5 New Englanders were regular churchgoers, and these numbers were higher than in most other colonies (Finke 26).

·         By 1691 the idea of a Puritan theocracy became impossible; they signed a new charter granting “liberty of conscience to all Christians, except Papists [Catholics].” (Sweet 76)

·         1st Amendment prohibited the federal government establishing one religion, but not states. Nine of the original colonies had some form of state-supported official church and tax-paid clergy. This situation lasted until 1833 when Massachusetts became the last state to abolish a state-sponsored church. After the Civil War, the 14th amendment applied the Bill of Rights to all states.

·         In 1957 Congregationalists and many Reformed Churches (Zwingli) formed the United Church of Christ.

 

Rhode Island

·         Roger Williams was expelled from Mass. Bay and later Plymouth for his stand against continued association with the Church of England, against Sabbath laws (objected to a man being whipped for hunting on the Sabbath), religious oaths (“so help me God”) in civil courts, taxes to support clergy.

·         He also supported Indian rights, objecting to taking land without paying. John Winthrop countered that it was God’s land and He had taken it from the natives, the true usurpers, and given it to the Christians (Wills 45). When in 1936 Williams was banished from Massachusetts in the middle of winter, Native Americans took him in. He later bought land from them and founded the Providence Plantation.

·         Williams formed the first Baptist church in America (1638), supporting adult baptism, the right of individual conscience in religious matters, and established in RI separation of church and state, “the first civil government in the world to achieve complete religious liberty” (Sweet 67) – but at first not for Jews, Muslims, or atheists.

·         The church is not a hierarchical institution but a gathering of believing individuals.

·         Critics referred to his “lively experiment” in freedom as Rogue Island (Church, The American Creed, 14).

 

Pennsylvania Quakers (also New Jersey, Delaware)

·         William Penn (1681) also believed in church/state separation. With the forgiveness of a 16,000 pd debt owed by the king to his estate, Penn set up his colony as a “Holy Experiment.” He granted religious liberty to all who “acknowledge Almighty God to be the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the world” which included Catholics and Jews, although they weren’t allowed to hold public offices. Quakers actually represented less than 5% of Pennsylvanians (Finke 30).

·         Because of their pacifist views, Quakers were considered disloyal to the new nation after the Revolutionary war.

·         Quakers were some of the first to oppose slavery on religious grounds, although many in the early years, such as Penn, owned slaves. At first there was an inhibition against criticizing fellow Friends. Fox “cautioned” that slaves should be treated well, but backed off from condemning it outright. Quaker opposition to slavery gained wider acceptance in the mid-1700s with the influence of John Woolman and Anthony Benezet (Wills 137).

 

Maryland (Catholic)

·         Lord Baltimore established a colony safe for Catholics, but promoted religious freedom for Protestants for practical reasons, knowing that his colony couldn’t survive if it remained only Catholic. Their Act of Toleration only applied to Trinitarian Christians, all others were to be “punished with death, and their lands and goods confiscated” (Sweet 80).

·         American Catholics remained in the minority until the mid-1800s with massive immigration from Ireland, Germany, and Italy. The 1790 US Census listed less than 2% claimed to be Catholic; in 1906 over 17%.

 

Virginia, Carolinas: Anglican

·         estimated that in Virginia only one in 20 attended church. Many early colonists were suspicious of Anglicans and their continued ties with the Church of England. The church also had trouble obtaining ministers as they had to be ordained by the bishops in England (first American bishop in 1784).

·         After the War of Independence Anglicans changed their name to the Protestant Episcopal church in 1789.

 

Deism

·         First stated in 1624 by England’s Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Deism promoted a universal religion in accord with reason (not revelation), reducing doctrine to a few basic, rational truths on which all could agree (“We hold these truths to be self-evident” echoes Locke). The Divine Architect had created the world, endowed man with reason, and established natural laws that can be understood by reason. After creation, he did not interfere in the world with miracles, or an Incarnation. Newtonian physics explained the universe as a set of self-perpetuating laws, without the need of divine intervention.

·         Deists believed that people are basically good by nature, not innately sinful. If given the proper education and the opportunity, they could overcome societal ills of poverty, disease, crime. The human condition is not inevitable, but can be improved. This optimism stemming from the Enlightenment was one of its weaknesses; Voltaire satirized the idea of the “best of all possible worlds” in Candide.

·         Most deists were concerned with ethical behavior, social justice, and opposed all forms of tyranny.

·         Several of our most important founding fathers were either deists (Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, Madison) or Unitarian (Adams).

·         Thomas Paine (“Common Sense”) was incorrectly called an atheist for his attacks on Christianity (“a fable which for absurdity and extravagance is not exceeded by anything found in the mythology of the ancients”), but he wrote against atheism as well. “Creation is the bible of the deist … the only religion that has not been invented. … Were man impressed as fully and as strongly as he ought to be with the belief of a God, his moral life would be regulated by the force of that belief. He would stand in awe of God and of himself, and would not do the thing that could not be concealed from either.” Unlike Locke, Paine did not accept divine revelation, miracles or prophecy, and mocked basic doctrines, saying Mary was “debauched by a ghost” and called the incarnation “the amphibious idea of a man-god” (Wills 157-8; see Collected Works, ed. Fohner, 697, 792, 824, 826).

·         Ben Franklin remained open to the idea of divine providence guiding the nation: “God sometimes interferes by his particular providence and sets aside the effects which would otherwise have been produced by causes” (Papers of Ben Franklin, ed. Labaree, 1:264). During a tense moment at the Constitutional Convention, it was Franklin the deist who recommended that they pray: “Our prayers [during the war] were heard, and they were graciously answered. … Have we now forgotten that powerful friend, or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? … I have lived, sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of men” (Waldman 128). Franklin believed in an afterlife, and as a young man wrote an epitaph, describing his body as a worn, old book but which would “appear once more in a new and more elegant edition, revised and corrected by the Author.” Franklin wanted to see more fruits of Christianity: “I wish it were more productive of good works than I have generally seen it; I mean real good works of kindness, charity, mercy, and public spirit, not holiday-keeping, sermon-reading or hearing, performing church ceremonies, or making long prayers.” “Serving God is doing good to man, but praying is thought an easier service and therefore is more generally chosen” (Waldman 20). On the deity of Christ: “It is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon to know the truth without much trouble.” As a young man, Franklin speculated that the disinterested creator had also created a group of deputy gods who listened to prayers and attended to human needs (“Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion”, in Waldman 19).

·         America’s founders might be described as moderate deists, as they spoke often about divine providence and God’s active guidance of world affairs. John Adams believed that the settlement of America was “the opening of a grand scene and design of providence” (Waldman 37). Jefferson argued “a superintending power … must maintain the universe in its course and order” (the watchmaker tinkering with the springs). In his first inaugural address he recognized the role of “an overriding Providence” in American history and invoked the “infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe” to lead the country and give “peace and prosperity.” (Gary Smith, Faith and the Presidency 60). At the news of Napoleon’s defeat, Jefferson wrote: “It proves that we have a god in heaven; that he is just, and not careless of what passes in the world” (Waldman 82).

·         George Washington attended church regularly but did not stay for communion, for which he was criticized publicly. He believed in a providence that protected the nation and himself particularly. During one battle he had two horses shot from under him and discovered four bullet holes in his jacket but received no wounds himself. He claimed that his war victories were due to “the patronage of heaven.” To secure God’s support, Washington wrote to his soldiers that he hoped they would live according to God’s commands: “We have but little hope of the blessing of heaven on our arms if we insult it by our impiety and folly.” – “In striking contrast with 20th and 21st century invocations of God, which mostly assume Americans to be inherently meritorious, the colonials believed that they needed to prove themselves worthy of God’s help” (Waldman 43).

·         John Adams belonged to a church which eventually would become Unitarian. In his diary, he ridiculed the defense of Trinitarian doctrine as mysterious: “Thus mystery is made a convenient cover for absurdity” (Waldman 3). Adams did believe that the Christian religion was good for society in general and supported the idea of state-sponsorship of churches and ministers in New England. During Adams’ administration, the U.S. ratified a treaty with Tripoli assuring them that the conflict with Muslim pirates in the area was not a religious war: “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion” (Waldman 160). 

·         Thomas Jefferson edited his own NT (in Greek, Latin, French, and English), removing all references to supernatural events. He appreciated Jesus as a master teacher of ethics but did not believe in his divinity. Jefferson appreciated Christian ethics more than classical because they promoted public good and welfare rather than self-perfection. Jefferson: “He who steadily observes those moral precepts in which all religions concur, will never be questioned at the gates of heaven as to the dogmas in which they all differ” (Placher 261). Jefferson thought that in the atmosphere of religious freedom in America, that the various denominations would eventually crumble and turn to accept the Unitarian beliefs in one God and a moral order alone: “I trust there is not a young man now living in the U.S. who will not die a Unitarian” (Wills 161). Jefferson had little tolerance for metaphysical doctrines such as incarnation and atonement. The idea of the Trinity was “metaphysical insanity,” a Christian version of Cerberus with one body and three heads. He called Paul “the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus,” Athanasius “an impious dogmatist,” and Calvin an atheist (Apel, Nine Great American Myths, 1991, 66). Unlike Adams, Jefferson thought that organized religion had the tendency to oppose true freedom, and the alliance of church and state led to oppression (Waldman 75). Jefferson founded the University of Virginia as the first secular college in America with no professorship or school of divinity.

·         Jefferson and James Madison wrote the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, passed in 1786: “No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever, … nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.” Madison was one of the strongest defenders of the separation of church and state, which he believed was best for both (Waldman 180). Coerced faith is no faith at all and an offense against God. If Christianity were the truth, he argued, it could stand on its own merits without the aid of government endorsement.

·         Deism (along with some Congregationalist churches) eventually transformed into the Unitarian-Universalist church.

 

19th Century America: trends in church growth and decline

·         In 1776 three denominations dominated the churches in America: Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians. By 1850, however, these three represented less than 20% of the religious adherents (although their overall numbers had grown by population increases), whereas Baptists, Methodists, and Catholics had grown to 68% of all churchgoers. “To the degree that denominations rejected traditional doctrines and ceased to make serious demands on their followers, they ceased to prosper” (Finke 1, 55).

·         Example: The first Methodist Episcopal church was founded in America, 1766, and by 1850 Methodists with their emotional revivals were the largest denomination in the country. However, as the sect became an official church, it began to change, as John Wesley had forewarned: “Religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.” The solution was to make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. In 1857 one concerned Methodist feared this prophecy had come true: “Prosperity is producing upon us as a denomination the same intoxicating effect that it too often does upon individuals and societies,” noting how elaborate new buildings were paid for by selling pews to affluent members. In 1904 a Methodist bishop lamented that American Methodism, influenced by wealth and more educated, liberal ministers, had become “unevangelical, un-Wesleyan, and unscriptural.” Over a century later, in 1986 another bishop complained of the church’s decline for similar reasons: “Empty speculative babblings are uttered from the pulpit and seminary … where positive truth should be uttered with power of the Holy Spirit, convicting and not creating doubt…. Sermons are preached without a single appeal to the sinner to accept Christ now. … The churches that are drawing people to them believe in sin, hell, and death … If there is no sin, we do not need a Savior.” (Finke, ch. 5)

·         In 1867 a group broke from the Methodist church to form the Holiness Movement with a return to Wesley’s emphasis on sanctification through baptism in the Holy Spirit, out of which came the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene, among others. Modern Pentecostals are the true children of the Wesleyan movement, and their numbers continue to grow.

·         Baptist history shows similar trends. When northern and southern Baptists split over slavery in 1845, the north drifted toward the liberalism of the older denominations, with a resulting drop in membership. Northern churches in 1906 had more than double the wealth of southern Baptists but with half the members. In contrast, Southern Baptists have fought to hold onto their conservative roots. Churches are independent of higher boards and choose to hire and fire preachers, thus they are more member-led than clergy-led. Southern Baptists have held their seminary teachers to stricter conservative standards than the north.

 

US churches as of 2000

 


Catholic                62 million

Baptist (all)            33 million

Pentecostal (all types) 9 million

Methodist             8.4 million

Lutheran                  8 million

Mormon                  5 million

Presbyterian         3.5 million

Episcopal             2.3 million

Church of Christ   1.5 million

Christian Church      1 million

Jehovah’s Witness   1 million

Disciples of Christ    875,000

Adventist                 840,000


 

1996 Encyclopedia of American [and Canadian] Religions lists 19 different Presbyterian divisions, 32 Lutheran, 36 Methodist, 60 Baptist, and 241 Pentecostal.

 

Churches that have lost members in the past few decades: Presbyterian, Episcopal, Disciples, Methodists

Churches that are growing: Assemblies of God, Church of God in Christ, Seventh Day Adventists, Baptists, Nazarene, Mormons

 

 

Frontier Revival: the beginnings of the Restoration Movement

 

Barton W. Stone (1772-1844)

·         In 1801 Presbyterian minister Barton W. Stone participated in a revival in Cane Ridge, KY, with over 10,000 in attendance (some reports say 20,000). Because his church criticized him for having relationships with Baptists, Methodists, and other Presbyterians not of their particular sect, he broke away and organized the Springfield Presbytery, then dissolved it a year later, wanting to be free from any ties to human institutions.

·         The tradition of revivals in America generally ignored the doctrines that divided Christians and focused on the gospel basics: that people are sinners to whom God offers forgiveness, and the importance of holy living. In the Great Awakening of the 1730s-40s, George Whitefield had said, “Father Abraham, whom have you in heaven? Any Episcopalians? No! Any Presbyterians? No! Any Independents or Methodists? No, no, no! We don’t know those names here. All who are here are Christians” (Hughes 96).

·         One major difference in the revivals of the 19th century from the Great Awakening: belief in the freedom to choose God’s grace. Stone rejected the Calvinism of his Presbyterian roots.

·         The revivals provoked unusual physical responses such as jerking, barking, dancing. Stone did not disapprove, and continued to be more open to the working of the Spirit than the Campbellites.

·         Stone objected to confining the name “Christian” to only the immersed: “We see no more fruits of the Spirit in them, no more holiness in their lives, no more humility and self-denial than in the unimmersed … Talk no more of being washed from your sins by immersion, when we see you living in sin; and many of you living on the gains of oppressing the poor African” (Hughes 104).

·         Stone complained that many of his own followers placed biblical knowledge, religious controversy, and debate above godliness, piety, and brotherly love. For him, the emphasis fell not on separating from the denominations, but separating our lives from the ways of the world.

·         Stone (like David Lipscomb after him) saw a radical distinction between the Christian and the world. All government, even in America, was demonic and Christians should refuse active participation in politics, voting, going to war.

 

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866)

·         Campbell was a postmillennialist believing that human progress in the sciences and democracy were the beginnings of the new millennial age that the prophets had promised. In the first issue of the Millennial Harbinger (1830) he wrote: “This work shall have for its object the development and introduction of that political and religious order of society called the Millennium, which will be the consummation of that ultimate amelioration of society proposed by the Christian Scriptures.” This would include the uniting of all Christians, the elimination of injustice, and the emancipation of the slaves.

·         Preaching on the millennium beginning in America can be traced back to Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening in the 1740s. Edwards thought that these events might be “the dawning, or at least a prelude, of that glorious work of God so often foretold in Scripture which in the progress of issue of it shall renew the world of mankind.” Later in his career he became pessimistic about any lasting results of the Awakening and pushed the millennium into the distant future (Bryant, The Coming Kingdom, 1983, 49)

·         Optimism for the role of America in reshaping the world was widespread in Campbell’s day. “America in the 19th century was drunk on the millennium” (Grenz, Millennial Maze 58). New technology inspired religious visions of success. One writer called the arts and sciences “pioneers of the millennium [which] are making all things ready for the children of God to possess the earth” (Bryant 139). A Methodist publication praised the invention of the telegraph: “This noble invention is to be the means of extending civilization, republicanism, and Christianity over the earth … Then will wrong and injustice be forever banished. Every yoke shall be broken, and the oppressed go free. Wars will cease from the earth … Then shall come to pass the millennium” (Mathisen, Critical Issues, 174).

·         Unlike premillennialism which anticipates a catastrophic beginning of the millennium with the rise of the Antichrist, postmillennialism expects gradual improvement, the slow but steady influence of the gospel spreading throughout the world, with no clear inauguration of the new age (idea based on Jesus’ parable of the yeast working its way through the dough).

·         Campbell had a vision of a restored NT church which would unite all Christians under the authority of the Bible alone, and thus begin the millennium. “Just in so far as the ancient order of things or the religion of the NT is restored, just so far has the millennium commenced, and so far have its blessings been enjoyed” (Christian Baptist, February 1825). At first restoration was only the means to a larger goal of unity.

·         In his analysis of Campbell’s career, Richard Hughes argues that there was unresolved tension between the two goals of restoring the NT church and Christian unity. Campbell’s insistence on specific forms of church organization and worship was ultimately divisive and undermined his stated purpose of achieving unity among the denominations.

·         Campbell and other leaders demonstrated their naivety about history in insisting that this movement was the first ever to restore the NT church by going back to the Bible (see Anabaptists for instance).

·         One critic countered the early Campbell’s insistence that he had not started another sect: “What is sectarianism but an undue confidence in the soundness of our views of Scriptural truth, an excessive partiality for those concurring with us, and the lack of candor, tenderness, and forbearance towards those who dissent from them?” (Hughes 23)

·         Campbell insisted that there were NT Christians scattered throughout the various denominations, and he refused to identify nondenominational Christianity with any one group, including his own. Nevertheless, in his early years “he launched a devastating attack on everything and everyone who did not agree with his vision of the ancient Christian faith” (Hughes 22). His example of a hard, combative style in debate and publication set a precedent for the next century of C/C leaders.

·         In his later years, he came to see common ground in all Protestant churches, especially in matters of piety and morality, which could form a basis for unity. He was criticized by those who thought he had abandoned his principles (some even thought he was senile).

·         Hermeneutics: under the influence of Francis Bacon’s scientific philosophy (as read by John Locke), Campbell saw the Bible as a book of facts to be studied and applied. These “facts” are self-evident, needing no human interpretation. Thus he was confident that all men could read the Bible alike and agree on what it says.

·         Campbell changed his views on many issues throughout his life.

o   He opposed missionary societies early on, then later became the president of one.

o   He vacillated between insisting on immersion as the only means of salvation, and a more inclusive view: “Should I find [a person baptized as a child] more intelligent in the scriptures, more spiritually-minded and more devoted to the Lord than [a baptized adult], I would not hesitate a moment in giving the preference to him that loves most…. He that infers that none are Christians but the immersed as greatly errs as he who affirms that none are alive but those of clear and full vision.” (in Hughes 39)

o   On slavery: in 1832 he declared in the Millennial Harbinger that slavery was an economic evil. In 1845 he concluded that the institution was not unchristian.

 

In 1906 the US Census of religious bodies recognized two denominations: Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ.

·         The roots of this division went back almost to the beginning, the lines drawn between those who focused on Christian unity and cooperation (Disciples), and those who made restoration an end in itself. Certain “Campbellites” moved toward a more radical version of his goals.

·         Walter Scott (1796-1861) devised a simple “five-finger exercise” to emphasize the plan of salvation: belief, repentance, immersion, forgiveness, the gift of the Spirit and immortality. In the 20th century this scheme evolved into a more human-centered approach, with all acts being man’s responsibility: hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized – no attention to what God does in the process. (Scott eventually became disappointed in the direction of the Restoration, admitting that the church had become another sect.)

·         Arthur Crihfield published the Heretic Detector from 1837-42, pointing out all the errors of the denominations.

·         Moses Lard insisted that common sense (influence of Bacon and Locke) allows a person to know a thing precisely as it is without any difference in perception. We do not “interpret” the Bible when we simply read it. “It is a humiliating fact that [those in denominations] will not see [the Bible alike] … and a grand lie that they cannot” (Hughes 62). Lard was one who began the principle of establishing biblical doctrine and practice by “command, example, and necessary inference.” He also countered Campbell’s vacillation on baptism: “I mean to say distinctly and emphatically that Martin Luther, if not immersed, was not a Christian … But I shall be told that this is Phariseeism and exclusivism. Be it so, if it be true” (Hughes 63).

·         Ben Franklin (not the founding father), coming from a poor, rural background, emphasized a gospel for the common people, and opposed sending money to missionary societies, affluence in churches, new buildings, and the use of instruments (acc to Hughes the first to raise this issue, 1860). Instruments are appropriate “if a church only intends being a fashionable society or a mere place of amusement and secular entertainment. … These refined gentlemen have refined ears, enjoy fine music manufactured for French theaters, interspersed with short prayers and very short sermons.” He seemed more concerned about rising middle-class values. Most churches in the south couldn’t afford instruments. He doesn’t mention any scriptural objections such as the silence principle. One Kentucky preacher defended the practice, because the “singing had degenerated into a discordant bawling and screeching” that would drive away not only worshippers but even the rats (Hughes 86).

·         Robert Richardson, Campbell’s successor as editor of the Millennial Harbinger, criticized those (specifically Tolbert Fanning, first editor of the Gospel Advocate) who viewed the Bible as a scientific blueprint, who “glory in its letter … and rejoice in its facts,” who reduce spiritual life to a process of reasoning and thereby “mistake the shadow for the substance” (Hughes 70).

 

Seventh-day Adventists

·         William Miller predicted that Christ would come again in 1843. He based his calculations on Dan 8:14 (2300 days until the cleansing of the sanctuary, assuming days = years). When is the starting date? Dan 9:24-27 speaks of seventy weeks beginning with the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem (Neh. 2:5-8), dated 445 BC by most historians, but Miller (and others) used 457 BC as the starting date, when Ezra was allowed to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:11-26).

·         When Christ didn’t come in 1843, further calculations led to a more specific date of Oct. 22, 1844 (Day of Atonement). Many followers quit their jobs, donned white robes, and stood on rooftops waiting to receive the returning Jesus. When he didn’t come again, some lost faith in Miller’s prophecies. This event is called the Great Disappointment by Adventists today.

·         Ellen G. White in a vision reinterpreted the prophecies as the time when Christ “came again” by entering the heavenly sanctuary to begin a new work of investigative judgment. At this time, Christ began cleansing the heavenly temple by reviewing the book of life, purging false believers, and blotting out the sins in the record books (which were previously forgiven on the cross) of the faithful. These sins will be placed on Satan, the scapegoat of OT sacrifices (Lev 16), who will bear these sins during the millennium (not in an act of atonement but carrying the responsibility as the originator of sin).

·         Adventists believe they are the Remnant, the few faithful people living in the last days. The church as a whole has fallen into apostasy. It is left to the Remnant to purify the church with strict obedience to all ten commandments. Adventists obey many OT food laws for health/purity of the body: no pork, shellfish (Lev 11, Dt 14), no caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes. Many avoid secular entertainment such as movies and TV, dancing, card playing, certain music: “Christ’s followers will shun any melody partaking of the nature of jazz, rock or related hybrid forms, or any language expressing foolish or trivia sentiments.”

·         The gift of prophecy is one of the identifying marks of the remnant church. In these last days, prophets will arise to guide the church, one being Ellen White (died 1915). Her writings are not considered equal to scripture, however. All prophets must be tested to see if their statements agree with the Bible, they must confirm the incarnation of Christ (1 John 4:2-3), and they must bear good fruit (Matt 7:16-20).

·         White had a vision of the ark of the covenant, in which she saw the original ten commandments with a halo highlighting the 4th commandment. Adventists believe that the Sabbath commandment remains in force today. Indeed, no NT text authorizes a change from Saturday to Sunday. Only two passages (Acts 20:7, 1 Cor 16:2) refer to the church meeting on the first day of the week. As a Christian Jew, Paul continued to observe the Sabbath (Acts 16:13). In Col. 2:16-17, Paul says Gentiles are not bound to observe sabbaths, but in context he refers to the special sabbaths of the annual Jewish festivals, not the regular weekly worship.

·         The Sabbath is a day of rest, beginning at sunset on Friday evening. Like the Jews, Adventists prepare food the day before. Acts of mercy are permitted, as Jesus argued (Matt 12:12). “Activities that enhance communication with God are proper; those which distract from that purpose and turn the Sabbath into a holiday are improper.”

·         In worship Adventists include a foot-washing rite before partaking of communion (about every three months).

·         Unlike many evangelicals, Adventists are not Calvinists, and teach believer’s immersion for forgiveness.

·         Adventists see signs of the End in modern history. The great Lisbon earthquake (1755), meteor shower (1833) were seen as natural signs. The great spiritual awakening in America in the 19th century, the spread of the gospel worldwide, and the resurgence of the Papacy are spiritual signs. Moral decline, the sexual revolution, global wars such as WWI and WWII.

·         Adventists believe in conditional immortality, that only those in Christ will receive immortal bodies at the resurrection. At death the soul “sleeps” until then.

·         NOTE: The Bible never says that the soul goes to heaven immediately after death; this would de-emphasize the importance of the Resurrection. If the dead are already in heaven with God, why do they need bodies? Scripture never describes the soul as immortal and capable of existing by itself. A soul needs a body just as a body needs a soul. The dead will be raised at his coming and along with the living will be transformed into new immortal bodies (1 Cor 15).

·         According to Adventist eschatology, only those in Christ will rise at his coming. At the end of the 1000 years unbelievers will be raised, judged and be totally destroyed (both body and soul, Matt 10:28), but not before suffering the guilt of rejecting God (those who rebelled more will “suffer” more). “The punishment of the wicked will be eternal, not eternal duration of conscious suffering but punishment that is complete and final.” Unbelievers are never promised in scripture the immortality given to Christians at resurrection.

·         Once the earth has been cleansed of all wickedness, the redeemed will return to live on their re-created home, the new earth.

·         Resource: Seventh Day Adventists Believe, 1988.

 

Mormons

·         The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was one of several restoration movements in the early 19th century, seeking to restore primitive Christianity from the apostasy of the denominations.

·         Joseph Smith had a series of visions beginning in 1820. In 1823 he claimed to be visited by the angel Moroni, whose father Mormon had recorded a history of God’s people in early America on gold plates written in Reformed Egyptian. Certain Israelites, tribes of Nephi and Laman, came to America in 600 BC. Jesus came and preached to them after his resurrection. The unbelieving Lamanites exterminated the Nephites about 400 AD. Native Americans are the descendants of the Lamanites. This restored history gave America an even more important role in God’s kingdom plans.

·         The new Mormons caused controversy wherever they went. To escape persecution in Missouri, they founded the community of Nauvoo in Illinois. In 1844 Smith and his brother were arrested, then murdered by an angry mob who broke into the jail. The next leader, Brigham Young led the Mormons to Utah, their promised land, in 1847.

·         According to Mormons, the Bible is considered to be inerrant if “translated” correctly. Smith “corrected” over 3400 verses in his “translation” of the Bible from the KJV (not Hebrew or Greek). The canon remains open to new revelation, however. Besides the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants (continuing revelations to Mormon presidents) and the Pearl of Great Price (other teachings by Smith, including the books of Moses and of Abraham) are considered authoritative, and are needed to correct biblical omissions.

·         Mormon doctrine changes according to new revelations. In 1890 they revoked their earlier practice of polygamy. (One early Mormon apostle claimed Jesus was married to Mary, Martha and Mary Magdalene, but this is no longer official doctrine)

·         Mormons are tritheists, believing in three separate deities. God, Elohim, was once a man on another world who died and was resurrected, and grew in wisdom and power to become the Almighty. He continues to have a physical, glorified body of flesh and bones.

·         Jesus was the incarnation of Jehovah, the first spirit child of Elohim (similar to Arianism). When the Bible speaks of God as a spirit, it refers to Jehovah before he had a body. Jesus/Jehovah was the creator of this world.

·         The Holy Spirit is a spirit without a body but in the form of a man. He can only be in one place at a time, but his influence reaches everywhere.

·         Like Jesus we are the spirit children of our heavenly “parents” (our divine mother is never identified). We are of the same species as God and have the capacity to become gods ourselves. Human souls existed before this life (cf. Origen), and in some way our lives now were predetermined by actions in our pre-mortal life. (For Smith, this explained why some are born black or white.) We had to become physical, mortal beings to develop our godlike qualities by testing and experiencing free will on earth.

·         Lucifer, another spirit son of God, rebelled when he was rejected and Jesus/Jehovah was chosen for incarnation. He wanted to be the savior as well, and swore to save everyone, not just a few, as he would have forced everyone to obey. God cast him out for desiring to take away our free will (agency). Satan and his demons are spirit only and envy our bodies. (recorded in Smith’s revised Genesis)

·         When Adam (who was the angel Michael) and Eve became flesh, they first had immortal bodies and were incapable of bearing children. But God had commanded them to multiply. When Eve disobeyed God, she became mortal, and Adam faced a dilemma: if he did not join her in disobedience, they could not remain in the garden together. He chose to give priority to God’s first command to procreate, ate the fruit, and became mortal as well. In the Book of Moses, Adam says, “Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy.” Eve responds, “Were it not for our transgression, we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption.” The fall was actually God’s plan, by which Adam and Eve could become mortal, and provide billions of pre-mortal spirits with mortal bodies, the necessary step in man’s ultimate exaltation to godhood. Mormons highly regard Adam, but do not worship him (as is sometimes accused).

·         OT saints knew of Jesus and the plan of salvation. Adam and Eve were baptized believers. Noah preached repentance and baptism into Christ before the flood. These OT truths were obscured by poor translations, truths which Smith “restored.”

·         Only Mormons are allowed in a temple once it has been consecrated. In the temple, they perform special ceremonies including celestial marriages (united for all eternity) and baptism for the dead, those who didn’t hear the gospel (1 Cor 15:29). Christ preaches to the spirits in the afterlife (1 Peter 3:18-20) who must accept the vicarious baptism for it to be valid.  See early Christian writings Hermas, Similitude 9.16 for suggestions of this idea.

·         Mormons abstain from coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco.

·         Every member is considered a missionary.

·         Some Mormons claim to learn new languages in six-week study sessions before going on mission trips; they see this as the gift of tongues.

·         Eschatology: Mormons teach their own version of Premillennialism. During the 1000 years Mormons will witness to “good” unbelievers and to Christians of other denominations, giving them the opportunity to accept the “true” church.

·         Baptism for the dead will continue during the millennium as there is too much work to complete before then; the resurrected dead will help to correct the ancestral records.

·         After the millennium, there are three degrees of glory in heaven. The celestial glory is reserved for faithful Mormons and children who died before the age of 8. Those in the highest level of the celestial were eternally married on earth, become gods, and continue to have spirit children. The terrestrial glory is for lukewarm Mormons, other Christians, or those who accepted Christ only in the afterlife and someone was baptized for them. The telestial glory, the lowest state of heaven, seems to be like Purgatory, where unbelievers are purged of their sins, without accepting Christ. The telestial glory is far better than this life, but will seem as punishment in comparison to the celestial. Mormons believe that all but those who commit the unforgivable sin will eventually be in at least the lowest heaven (almost universalism). Only “sons of perdition,” those who were once believers but then deny the Holy Spirit’s testimony of Christ, will be banished to outer darkness.

·         Common ground with C/C: not Calvinist, believer’s immersion for remission of sins necessary for salvation (but by the proper priestly authority), weekly communion (but water instead of wine).

·         Sources: Gospel Principles. 1978, 1997. Hoekema, Anthony. The Four Major Cults. 1963. Millet, Robert L. The Mormon Faith. 1998.

 

Jehovah’s Witnesses

·         Charles Taze Russell broke from the Presbyterian church, disagreeing with the Calvinist doctrines of predestination and eternal torment. He started the Watchtower tract society in 1881, and later published Studies in the Scriptures. The New World “Translation” is their authorized Bible text (1950). The Bible cannot be understood without the Society's explanations. "It is not sufficient to possess a Bible and study it, or join in with some religious body that believes in open Bible study. No matter how hard and seriously and prayerfully we study, we cannot get the true understanding apart from the [Watchtower] organization and the spirit."

·         The Watchtower teaches that only the Father "Jehovah" is the true God. The doctrine of the Trinity was invented by Satan and came to Christianity through pagan religions such as Hinduism.

·         Jesus is "a god" (Jn 1:1 NWT) but not "the God." He is a created god (classical Arianism), the firstborn of creation (Col 1:15); all else was created through him. Jesus was originally the archangel Michael, whose life-force and personality were transferred to earth to be born as the man Jesus.

·         The holy spirit is God's active force. The holy spirit is not capitalized in their publications, and is not viewed as a person.

·         There are two classes of Christian Witnesses. The "ransom sacrifice" of Jesus covers only the 144,000 or Anointed Class (Rev 7:4). Only the 144,000 are justified by faith, sanctified, reborn, baptized with the spirit, and will live for eternity in heaven. The second class is known as the Great Multitude (Rev 7:9) or other sheep (John 10:16). The doctrine of the other sheep arose in 1935 when the Watchtower’s membership was soon going to pass 144,000. A new revelation explained what would happen to those who were not anointed, to give them some hope. If you ask a Jehovah’s Witness if he is going to heaven you’ll often hear, “No. That’s for the Anointed Class only.” The rest of the approximately 6 million Witnesses will live on a paradise earth where they must strive on their own to attain human perfection, “molding themselves to righteousness” until the end of the 1000 years.

·         A critical date for Witnesses is 1914, when Jesus “returned” invisibly in the heavens “turning his attention toward earth,” the "appointed time of the nations" ended, and the beginning of the end of the world commenced. This year also witnessed upheaval in the demonic world as seen in WWI. This is another example of Witnesses reinterpreting failed prophecies, as 1914 was supposed to be the End (“Millions alive today will never die”), as was 1874, 1925, and 1975 (“Stay alive ‘til ‘75”).

·         To arrive at this date, the Witnesses use “rook-jump hermeneutics” as one critic described it, taking the seven “times” of Daniel 4, associating that with Rev 12:6, 14 (3 ½ years = 1260 days, so seven years = 2520 days), then making each day a year (Ezek 4:6). They add this date to 607 BC, their date for the fall of Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar (rather than 586), and arrive at 1914.

·         The beast of Rev 17 is the United Nations (formerly the League of Nations), and the great harlot is the rest of Christendom. All who oppose Jehovah and his Society will be destroyed at Armageddon. Witnesses will remain unharmed and will be the only survivors to gather the billions of bones on the earth (Ezek 39:11-16). Afterward the earth will become a paradise for 1000 years (Isa 11). All people will be united by one language, the original pre-Babel Hebrew.

·         During the millennium, the earth will be repopulated. Surviving Witnesses will have more children (this doctrine may have changed in recent years), and people will be resurrected with mortal bodies and have a second chance to accept God’s message preached by the Watchtower. So that the earth will not become overcrowded, these resurrections will not occur at one time but at various intervals during the millennium (some say each century). Christ will determine who deserves this second chance; they will include godly people who lived before Christ and others who might have obeyed if given the chance to hear the “truth.” Some of those who will not be raised are Adam and Eve, Cain, victims of the flood, Sodom, Judas, and apostate Witnesses. Judgment Day actually extends over this 1000 years of testing. Those who reject God and his Witnesses in this second chance will die during the millennium and never rise again (no eternal punishment). Those on Paradise Earth will have resurrected bodies that must be maintained through eating, rest, etc. The 144,000 in heaven will be pure spirits with no need of bodies.

·         The Jehovah's Witnesses celebrate the communion supper once a year at the Jewish Passover. During the service the cup is passed from member to member,  none of whom partake except the few who are of the 144,000 (to whom God has revealed this truth in their hearts).

·         They deny the traditional shape of the Cross: Jesus was crucified on a simple upright stake, with His hands nailed above His head.

·         At one time blood transfusion was forbidden (Lev 17:14). Since the 1960's, however, there has been a slow but steady easing of that restriction, so that now many components of blood are allowed, and, under certain circumstances Witnesses can even store and re-use their own blood.

·         Witnesses cannot serve in the military or in politics; they cannot vote or serve on a jury. To salute a national flag or sing a national anthem is an act of idolatry. Holidays and celebrations, such as Christmas (Jer 10:3-4), Easter, and birthdays, are rejected as pagan in origin. Involvement in sports or the arts is discouraged as too secular and a waste of time.

·         Common ground with C/C: non-Calvinist, adult immersion (public declaration of faith, not for forgiveness)

·         Sources: Penton, M. James, Apocalypse Delayed. 1985; Hoekema, Anthony. The Four Major Cults. 1963.

 

Dispensational Premillennialism

·         The optimism of postmillennialism took a hard blow from the Civil War, in the land that was supposed to usher in the age of peace. Other factors that conflicted with the dream of a Christian (i.e. Protestant) America were the enormous influx of Catholic and Jewish immigrants during the 19th century, the impact of Darwinism, and the rise of liberal theology. The times no longer seemed to be getting better and better to Protestants.

·         Premillennialism became the prominent view among conservative Protestants in the 20th century. The horrors of WW1 confirmed that this could only be the beginning of the End. Human effort and progress would not be enough to bring in the Kingdom. “The millennial hope was preserved by moving the return of Christ to before the millennium, to become the event that could bridge the growing gap between hope and historical reality” (Bryant, The Coming Kingdom, 141)

·         Premillennialism was taught by some early Christians in the 2nd century but fell out of favor after the time of Augustine (5th century). His interpretation called Amillennialism was the view held by most of the church, Catholic and Protestant, for 1500 years. Amillennialism reads the 1000 years of Rev. 20 as a symbolic number for the entire Christian era, after which Christ will return.

·         Premillennialism returned in the 19th century to become the prominent view among conservative Protestants, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. First conceived by John Nelson Darby in 1827, Dispensational Premillennialism entered widespread public currency with the publication in 1909 of the Scofield Reference Bible which included notes based on this interpretation.

·         Dispensationalism sees God’s work of salvation occurring in three* stages: the OT dispensation led to the coming of Christ, but when the majority of Jews rejected him, God went to plan B, the era of the predominantly Gentile church. At the end of the present church dispensation, God will remove all true Christians from the world at the Rapture, and during the third dispensation lasting seven years, God will begin again with the Jews to bring them to Christ. [*The Ryrie Study Bible lists seven dispensations but the first five are in the OT age]

·         OT prophecies about the Jews returning to the land: the Balfour Declaration (1917), in which the British pledged support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, was seen as fulfillment of prophecy. This belief intensified when Israel became a state in 1948, which Jerry Falwell called the greatest day in history since the ascension of Christ (Armstrong, Battle for God 217).

·         Rapture: according to Darby, Christ will actually return twice. First, Christ will come to take all true believers to heaven where they will escape the Great Tribulation on earth led by the Antichrist. After the rapture no true Christians will remain on earth. The rapture will separate true believers from the apostates who falsely wear the name of Christ.

·         The Great Tribulation: During the next seven years, the focus of God’s plan for salvation will shift to Israel, the primary victims of the Antichrist’s persecution. Premillennial excitement increased with the forming of the state in Israel after WWII, and conservative religious views continue to influence our foreign policy in the Middle East.

·         The Antichrist idea is based on piecing together several different figures in scripture with little regard to their original context: the abomination of desolation (Dan 9, Mt 24), the Man of Lawlessness (2 Th 2), the Beast (Rev). Based on Dan 9:27 premillennialists say he will rule for 7 “years.”

·         The infamous Sign of the Beast (666) has been identified in recent times with such things as microchips, universal bar codes, fiber optics, television sets (by which “they” spy on every household), Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s red birthmark, the Susan B. Anthony dollar (symbol of feminism).

·         The Antichrist will supposedly receive a mortal wound but survive (Rev 13:3), leading some to point to the assassination attempts on Pope John Paul II and (on the other side of the political spectrum) Ronald Reagan (whose full name has 6-6-6 letters). “Contemporary Americans … have a peculiar propensity to mythologize their world. The symbol of the Antichrist permits persons to view even the most common events in their lives against a cosmic background. … Human history is thereby transformed into a drama of universal proportions … a strategic battleground between God and Satan” (Fuller, Naming the Antichrist, 1995, 167).

·         The Antichrist supposedly will set up a world government (Rev 16:14-16) consisting of ten kingdoms (Rev 17:12). This belief has led evangelicals to fear the UN or other international bodies; for instance, Greece became the tenth nation to join the European Economic Community in 1979.

·         After seven years of tribulation, at Christ’s 3rd coming he will defeat the Antichrist at the battle of Armageddon and rescue the Jews, winning their gratitude and worship. 144,000 will convert to Christianity. Then he will establish his millennial kingdom in Jerusalem. Premillennial excitement increased with the forming of the state in Israel after WWII, and conservative religious views continue to influence our foreign policy in the Middle East.

·         Many see Russia as the enemy that will attack Israel from the north: Jer. 1:14, Ezek. 38:15, Daniel 11:15. Ronald Reagan among others thought that Zech. 14:13 referred to atomic war: “Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouths.” Since this was seen as prophetic fulfillment of God’s will, some dispensationalists disapproved of nuclear disarmament (Wills 377-8).

·         Armageddon: Megiddo, ancient fortress in Israel, site of countless battles throughout history. Based on Ezek 38-9, Zech 12-14; Lk 21:20, Rev 16:16, 19:19, 20:7-9. [Note Rev 20 depicts Satan being released after 1000 years but is defeated without even a battle.]

·         If the time of the rapture is sudden and unpredictable, why do so many look for signs of the End in current events? Some hold the view that the rapture will occur in the middle of the Great Tribulation (3 ½ years), and that Christians will indeed see the rise of the Antichrist before they are taken away.

·         These predictions of future events may seem irrelevant to non-dispensationalists, but this worldview, made even more popular with the Left Behind series of books (over 70 million sold), has a serious impact on Christian thinking about involvement in social issues. If the world will continue to deteriorate until the Second Coming, then attempting to improve society by fighting poverty and injustice is at best futile and at worst opposed to God’s sovereign purposes. Cyrus Scofield said, “The true mission of the church is not the reformation of society.” Christ nor the apostles were reformers. Social improvement is Satan’s way of deceiving us that we do not need salvation (Wills 369). In fact, taken to its logical extreme, bad news for society becomes good news for the Christian, since it’s seen as hastening Christ’s return. That’s one of the problems with premillennialism, because it can often lead to Christian indifference.

·         Barton W. Stone, David Lipscomb, and James A. Harding all held premillennial beliefs, but in bitter debates from 1915-40s, the majority of the Churches of Christ rejected this doctrine, in part because the C/C position was that the restored church is the kingdom promised by God in Daniel 2, whereas premillennialism places the kingdom in the future.

 

Amillennialism

·         To listen to many Christians today, the Bible is filled with prophecies about the millennial reign of Christ on earth. However, only one chapter, Revelation 20, refers to the 1000 year period. Revelation uses symbolism to represent spiritual realities, not literal prophecies.

·         Augustine argued that Scripture does not teach a literal 1000 year reign on earth by Christ, but the 1000 years refer figuratively to the entire Christian era, in which Christ is now reigning. The following verses contradict premillennial teachings. Jesus told Pilate, “My Kingdom is not of this earth” (John 18:36). Paul says that Christ reigns with his followers now (1 Cor 15:23-6, Eph 2:6-7). Jesus’ reign on David’s throne began with his resurrection (Acts 2:30-1) and will last until Death is defeated (1 Cor 15:24-8). In the rest of NT, there is no suggestion of an intermediate age between the present age and the age to come (Mt 12:32, Lk 20:34-5). At the end of this age, Jesus will return, the dead will be raised, and the day of judgment will occur.

·         Jesus warned his disciples not to be led astray by those pointing to false signs of the End: “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end” (Matt 24:6). When have there not been wars in the Middle East, or somewhere in the world? How could we know if any one of these conflicts was the sign of the End? Likewise famines and earthquakes are common events that will happen throughout human history and are not signs of the End, Jesus says.

·         Jesus told his disciples that even he did not know the time of his coming; only the Father knows that day (Matt. 24:36). If he did not know the time of his return, he could not have provided warning signs.

·         Christ’s second coming will be without signs or warning. He said, “I will come like a thief in the night” (Matt 24:42-4; 1 Thess 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Rev 3:3, 16:15). If more people would take the Lord’s words seriously, there would not be endless books and websites speculating about signs of his return. We must always be ready for him to come at any time.

·         Amillennialism argues that the term "antichrist" is not a title for an eschatological super-villain; the term occurs only in John's epistles (not Revelation!): 1 Jn 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn 7, where John says there are many antichrists present in his day, identified as those who deny that Christ has come in the flesh. These heretics (called Gnostics in the 2nd c) believed a mixture of Christian and Greek ideas, in particular that matter was itself evil, and that God could not reside in an evil body. Jesus must have merely appeared to be a man, but was actually a phantom, a spirit being. Against this antichrist heresy, John emphasizes that he touched Jesus in the flesh and knew him as a real man (1 Jn 1:1).

·         Other texts that premillennialists believe refer to the Antichrist are taken out of context and loosely combined with other texts:

·         The Amillennial position teaches that we should not waste time looking for signs of the End, or the identity of an Antichrist as a world political figure, but we should focus on the consequences of Christ’s first coming, and continue to live faithful lives to his glory. If we do so, we will be prepared for his second coming, whenever that may be.

 

Civil War

·         Splitting over slavery, the Southern Baptist Convention separated from the northern churches in 1845, following a similar split by the Methodists the year before. In the 1863 Southern Presbyterian Review, Thomas Smith claimed “God’s manifest presence and providence with the Confederacy” with whom God had entrusted “an organized system of slave labor, for the benefit of the world, and a blessing to themselves while imparting civil, social, and religious blessings to their slaves” (Silver, Confederate Morale and Church Propaganda, 1967, 30).

·         Those against slavery cited the 8th commandment, saying that the master had stolen from the slave what was rightfully his. Slaveholders responded that the commandment, correctly applied, protected them in their right to “property” of which the North wanted to deprive them.

·         One famous sermon by Benjamin Palmer in New Orleans said that God’s mission for the South was to preserve the biblical institution of slavery. “By nature the most affectionate and loyal of all races beneath the sun, they [negroes] are also the most helpless, and no calamity can befall them greater than the loss of that protection they enjoy under this patriarchal system. Freedom would be their doom” (in Wills 313-4).

·         The curse of Ham proved that negroes had incurred God’s displeasure. Slaves had been predestined to a level of society fitted to their capacity: “God assigns to every man, by a wise and holy decree, the precise place he is to occupy in the great moral school of humanity” (Mark Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, 2006, 81).

·         After the defeat of the South, the Southern Presbyterian Review wrote that although the cause of the South had been just, southern ministers had erred in one respect, believing that “God must surely bless the right” whereas God throughout history often has allowed the righteous to be overthrown. “We accept the failure of secession as manifestly providential. The overthrow of that just cause made evident not so much the prowess of its foes, nor even their prodigiously superior resources, as it did the direct hand of the Almighty” Of course, northern ministers interpreted their victory as God’s vindication of their own cause (Noll 77).

·         Lincoln in a “Meditation on the Divine Will” wrote: “The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war, it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party” (Noll 88).

 

Other 19th century events:

·         American Society for the Promotion of Temperance, 1826: Per capita alcohol consumption in the early 1800s was double what it is today, with the shortage of clean water and lack of alternative drinks (Rorabaugh, Alcoholic Republic, 1979, 9).

·         The Order of the Star-Spangled Banner and the American Protective Association were two of several anti-Catholic associations, formed in response to millions of Catholic immigrants, which one man described as a “peaceful invasion of an army larger than the Goths and Vandals that conquered Rome.” Propaganda included forged letters describing papal instructions to Catholics on killing Protestants and overthrowing the government, and lurid tales of sexual exploits between priests and nuns, with the resulting babies being murdered and buried in the convent basement (Fuller, Naming the Antichrist, 1995, 97-9).

·         In 1854 Pope Pius IX pronounced the doctrine of immaculate conception, that Mary was born without the taint of original sin (roots much earlier but now official).

·         In 1864 Pius published the Syllabus of Errors, condemning atheism, pantheism, Protestantism, religious freedom, democracy, secular education, civil marriage.

·         In 1869 the Vatican Council was the first in 300 years since Trent: they approved the doctrine of the infallibility of the pope when speaking officially “ex cathedra,” without requiring the agreement of a church council.

 

20th Century

 

Fundamentalism

·         Named after a series of books in 1910 by British theologian James Orr, written in response to “modernism,” stressing five fundamentals, what one must believe to be a true Christian: the virgin birth, the physical resurrection, inerrancy of scripture, substitutionary atonement, and the second coming.

·         Charles Hodge at Princeton said that the position of scriptural inerrancy did allow for some exceptions: trivial discrepancies in numbers and dates, minor copyist errors, common sense standards of what constitutes accuracy; for instance, saying “the sun rising and setting” doesn’t mean that the Bible presents a geocentric universe. (Wacker, Religion in 19th c America, 141)

·         In the 1930s-50s dispensational premillennialism was added to some lists of fundamentals that must be believed in order to be a true Christian.

·         Church historian Martin Marty distinguishes fundamentalism from conservative Christianity by its combative tone, fighting against what it perceives as the current embodiment of the Antichrist: liberalism, evolution, communism, labor unions, the New Deal, Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, the United Nations, feminism, etc. (Fundamentalisms Observed 1991).

 

Women’s rights 

·         From its beginnings, fundamentalist and premillennial teaching came into conflict with the rising women’s rights movement in the late 19th c.  (Bendroth, Fundamentalism and Gender, 1993).

·         Fundamentalists said that the curse on Eve had condemned women to be subordinate in all aspects of life, not just spiritual but even in matters of work outside the home and voting. Her sin proved that women were easily deceived and could not be responsible decision-makers and leaders (her partner in sin was rarely mentioned in these debates). This curse would last until the final dispensation.

·         Some used the bride of Christ analogy to support subordination of women, just as the church has no right to teach anything but only to be taught by her Husband. Others even went so far to say that since we will all be “like Christ” and are called “sons of God” in scripture, that in the next age everyone would be male (Bendroth 46, 49).

·         Many women evangelists of the day, however, were more persuaded by Wesleyan perfectionism which taught the effects of the fall were not permanent. Along with Pentecostals they argued that women were now full participants in the new age which had already come with the resurrection and the outpouring of God’s spirit.

·         Fundamentalists accused feminists of conforming to worldly standards, whereas feminists argued that the former were doing the same, going along with our culture’s patriarchal bias rather than the word of God.

·         More moderate premillennialists saw women prophesying as a sign of the coming End (Joel 2).

 

Pentecostalism

·         Growing out of the Holiness movement (which broke from Methodism in the 19th century) and Wesley’s idea of total sanctification subsequent to conversion, Pentecostalism teaches believers to seek a higher, more perfect and satisfying level of spirituality after conversion to Christ. The special sign that one has achieved this higher “baptism in the HS” is speaking in ecstatic tongues (not real languages as in Acts 2).

·         1906 Azusa St. church revival in Los Angeles is recorded as the first modern instance of speaking in tongues.

·         1914 Assemblies of God founded, 2.5 million today; Church of God in Christ predominantly black Pentecostals

·         Open to participation by women, blacks, Hispanics, very popular in Latin America

·         Whereas Fundamentalists wanted to return to the original Word, identifying faith with doctrine, Pentecostals wanted to return to the original experience, bypassing speech for ecstasy and transcendence. Fundamentalists condemned Pentecostals for their superstition and unreason, declaring the age of miracles had passed (B.B. Warfield).

 

The Social Gospel

·         After the Civil War, the Industrial age changed America from a mostly agrarian society into one of big business. Wealthy capitalists like Carnegie and Rockefeller argued from evolutionary theory that survival of the fittest was the economic law of the land. (As Gordon Gecco in the film Wall Street says, “Greed is good. Greed works.”)

·         Earlier Baptist, Methodist, and Disciples churches had prided themselves in their ministry to the poor; now they noted with satisfaction their social status, soaring budgets, large buildings and influential members.

·         Prestigious urban preachers spoke with naïve disinterest on the subject of the poor. D. L. Moody: “It’s a wonderful fact that men and women saved by the blood of Jesus rarely remain the subjects of charity, but rise at once to comfort and respectability.” Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), wealthy from his high church salary, royalties and lecture fees, admonished striking workers: “Some say that a dollar a day is not enough for a wife and five children. No, not if the man smokes or drinks … Water costs nothing, and man who cannot live on bread is not fit to live.” In Boston, Catholic leaders preached that voluntary poverty was a virtue and involuntary poverty the consequence of disobedience. (Askew, Churches and the American Experience, 1984, 158-166)

·         Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918) ministered to poor German immigrants near the tough Hell’s Kitchen area in NYC. He wrote A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917) in response to the problems he saw and the lack of attention given by churches to societal ills. America’s rugged individualism had taught Christians that addressing social and economic injustices was not part of the gospel, only saving souls for the next life.

·         “The social gospel is the old message of salvation but enlarged and intensified. The individualistic gospel has taught us to see the sinfulness every human heart … but it has not given us an adequate understanding of the sinfulness of the social order and its share in the sins of all individuals within it. It has not evoked faith in the will and power of God to redeem the permanent institutions of society from their inherited guilt of oppression and extortion … The social gospel seeks to bring men under repentance for their collective sins and to create a more sensitive and more modern conscience.” [SG 5]

·         Rauschenbusch argued that most battles over theology deal with issues far removed from daily life (nature of the Trinity, etc). The Social Gospel brings Christianity into the marketplace and the streets, more concerned with taking action than debating doctrine. (Its critics point to this as a failing, but in turn seem to emphasize only doctrine without action.)

·         Defining the sin of Adam as the greatest imaginable sin (Calvinism) diverts the church’s attention from the modern world’s growing capacity to sin in more complex, subtle and far-reaching ways.

·         “Men press their covetousness to the injury of society. They are willing to frustrate the cause of liberty and social justice in whole nations in order to hold their selfish social and economic privileges. Men who were powerful enough to do so have left broad trails of destruction and enslavement through history in order to satisfy their selfish caprice, avarice, and thirst for glory.” [SG 46]

·         “Sin is not a private transaction between the sinner and God alone.” God identifies himself with “the least of these” and shares their suffering.

·         "Through much of Christian history, ethics amounted to charity, spiritual practices of aiding the distressed or alleviating the suffering of the poor. Only rarely did it occur to Christians that they might be able to change the actual conditions that created poverty, violence, and oppression. Christians typically accepted social structures as part of the divine order." (Bass, A People's History of Christianity, 2009, 247)

·         Rauschenbusch argued that the Social Gospel was a return to the message of Jesus about the Kingdom of God, but understood as a transformation of society on earth, brought about through education, legislation, and human achievement. This faith in the evolution of human society was a secular version of the Post-Millennialism of 19th century conservatives like Campbell, except that this “golden age” would come about by human effort rather than the work of God.

·         Because of their pessimism about the future and the expectation of the imminent return of Christ, some premillennialists saw the Social Gospel as the “black winged angel of the pit”: “Satan [wants] a reformed world, a beautiful world, a world of great achievements … He would have a universal brotherhood of man … eliminate every human ill … a world without war…” (Weber, Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming, 1979, 93).

 

Christian views on war through the centuries

·         Calvin thought of church and state as a close partnership, with the state protecting the rights of the church and Christians taking their part as citizens of the state. Christians were not to fight in wars of aggression but only in “just wars.” Luther supported the nobility in their war against the peasants’ revolt.

·         Radical reformers (Anabaptists, Mennonites, Quakers), however, separated themselves from the state, and were devout pacifists. David Lipscomb also opposed Christian involvement in war, believing that such things were part of this age, not the age to come.

·         Colonial clergymen were almost unanimous in their support of war against the native Americans, who were considered children of the devil and predestined to damnation (Sweet 396).

·         Churches split over the war of Independence; Anglicans and Methodists with ties to the Church of England remained loyal to England, while Quakers and Mennonites continued to be pacifists.

·         As Lincoln noted (above), both sides in the Civil War believed that their cause was just in the sight of God. The North’s “Battle Hymn”: “He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat. He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat … As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.” The South had as their Motto, Deo Vindice, “God will Avenge.”

·         During WWI a booklet distributed by YMCA urged prospective soldiers to “see Jesus himself sighting down a gun barrel and running a bayonet through an enemy’s body.” To kill a German was a blessing to him to release him from the tyrannical government which he serves. (Sweet 401)

·         American wars are typically seen as conflicts between good and evil. Woodrow Wilson spoke before Congress in 1917: “We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no domination. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind” (164). Before WWII Roosevelt argued: “ There never has been, there never can be, successful compromise between good and evil. Only total victory can reward the champions of tolerance and decency, freedom and faith” (169). During the rise of the Cold War in the 1950s Billy Graham preached against Communism in almost every sermon: “Only as millions of Americans turn to Jesus Christ … can this nation possibly be spared the onslaught of a demon-possessed communism. … America is the last bulwark of Christian civilization [whereas] Communism is masterminded by Satan” (172). [Hughes, Myths]

·         After WWI America took an isolationist position, and more Christians preached pacifism. Reinhold Niebuhr, however, argued that although men on both sides of the war were sinners in need of redemption, there was relatively speaking a right cause and a wrong one. Formerly a pacifist himself, Niebuhr acknowledged the evils of war, but felt that the possibility of Nazi victory was worse. To say, as did pacifists, that the war was simply a conflict between two rival imperialistic powers was both ignorance and moral confusion. (Sweet 431). Niebuhr typically sees Christian ethics as compromised by the necessity of working in a fallen world (realist vs idealist)

·         At the start of the Cold War, Niebuhr again offered keen insights. “Despite his own belief that Communism was a terrible, evil system, Niebuhr now warned Americans against self-righteousness, against assuming that their nation represented the antithesis of Communism or that it could play the role of God’s earthly surrogate in overcoming Communism” (Allitt, Religion in America since 1945, 2003, 27) “Our orators profess abhorrence of the communist creed of materialism but we are rather more successful practitioners of materialism as a working creed than the communists” (Niebuhr, Irony of American History, 1952, 16).

 

Churches of Christ and Race Relations (Hughes)

·         Although Campbell freed his slaves, he couldn’t say that slavery was a sin, since it is upheld in the OT and not condemned in the NT.

·         In the Gospel Advocate Lipscomb criticized a Texas church which refused a black person membership, calling it a sin that white and black churches were segregated, even saying that a racist “Christian” is “guilty of a presumptuous sin in the sight of God, for which we can hardly believe pardon can be found.” Such congregations were not truly within the church of Christ. “Jesus impersonates himself in the least and the most despised of his disciples; and as we treat them, we treat him. To object to any child of God participating in the services on account of his race, social or civil state, is to object to Jesus Christ and to cast him from our association.”

·         During the 1920s, the GA reported that there were “many” members of C/C who were also members of the Klan.

·         In the 1940s, Foy Wallace complained about the effect that black preachers had on the crowds, even causing some of the white women to dare to shake their hands after the service: “for any woman in the church to so far forget her dignity, and lower herself so, just because a negro has learned enough of the gospel to preach it to his race, is pitiable indeed.” He cited with approval N. B. Hardeman refusing to shake hands with blacks at a gospel meeting. When Marshall Keeble wrote a humble letter in response, Wallace called him, “the greatest colored preacher that has ever lived [because] he knows his place and stays in it.”

·         Keeble was invited to speak many times at the Lipscomb lectures but was always segregated with his students in one corner of the balcony.

·         In 1960 Carl Spain openly dared to accuse the churches of racism at the ACU lectures. ACU changed its policies to allow blacks in 1962, Harding in 1963, Lipscomb in 1964.

·         The Nashville Christian Institute was a black elementary and secondary school from 1941-1967. In its final year, it was sold and the half million in proceeds went to Lipscomb due to the influence of Athens Clay Pullias on the board. Fred Gray, a black C/C minister and attorney for Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, sued claiming that Lipscomb, which had refused to accept blacks for so long, now sought the closing of the school for its own enrichment.

·         The civil rights movement and the death of MLK were almost completely ignored in C/C publications, with the exception of the death of Keeble, who was praised for never leading a protest march or demonstration. In 1968 the 20th Century Christian magazine published an issue with several black writers, causing circulation to drop 50%.

 

 

 

Major Sources:

Finke, Roger and Rodney Stark. The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy. 1992.

Hughes,  Richard. Reviving the Ancient Faith: the Story of Churches of Christ in America. 1996.

Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A History of Christianity. 1953.

Placher, William. A History of Christian Theology. 1983.

Sweet, William. The Story of Religion in America. 1950.

Waldman, Steven. Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America. 2008.

Wills, Garry. Head and Heart: American Christianities. 2007.