What Brush Should one use?: a brief look at historical and current Pentecostalism

What Brush Should one use?

Aaron T. Hale

Why did the “… fledgling Pentecostals considered the Azusa revival, … to be Pentecostalism’s central point of origin?” (Creech, 1996. p. 405). This is the central question to answer when talking about Pentecostal history. It is an interesting question since there have been charismatic’s in every century. The Quakers, those that John Calvin wrote against in his institutes, the ones Pope Gregory the Great mentioned, and there were certainly at least 120 charismatic’s in the first century who were accused of being drunk while they praised God. So, what sets Pentecostals apart from charismatic groups of history? Since there are so many theologies, many of them errant, that make up Pentecostalism and very little oversight, defining just what Pentecostalism is becomes difficult. If a person visits two Pentecostal churches their experience could be vastly different. This is really the reason Pentecostalism’s central point of origin is Azusa street. It is the only place in time that there is one central Pentecostal theology. Time space and the location in L.A. all converged to create as Cox called it an organism that would produce through “mitosis” and cover the globe (Cox, 2001 p. 55).

The dream was dying in the city of Angels, those that had come there to get rich learned they had been sold the worlds dream, just another lie, so, when William Joseph Seymour arrived in the late 1800’s, the population, especially the poorest, was looking for something new. After being rejected from preaching in other churches Seymour started his own house meetings that quickly grew to more than the house could hold. Moving quickly, Seymour and the other leaders rented on old church on Azusa street that had been used as a warehouse and stable since the last congregation left it. That building would see services night and day for two decades. In the early 1900’s the division started. First Parham and then Durham came with dissenting opinions and theology. Cox makes a good case that Parham’s dissent was driven by racism however, even though Cox tries to make the same case of Durham, the largest Pentecostal denomination in the U.S., the Assemblies of God, might disagree. Those were just the first splits, but with the splits over the next six decades, hundreds of permutations of Pentecostalism became the fastest growing sect in the U.S. As the U.S. expansion grew so did the missionary potential of this new monster. It was the worship and the testimonies that attracted Cox, and millions of others, to Pentecostalism: Hollenweger says (Hollenweger, 1998). Aikman tells of the daring exploits of Pentecostal missionaries  hiding, sometimes in coffins, to be smuggled into China (Aikman, 2003). Today, there is hardly a country in the world that does not have some Pentecostal presence in it. The history of Pentecostalism is not over, the “… battle raging between fundamentalists and experientialists within Pentecostalism” will have to be dealt with either by further splits or by capitulation. Fundamentalist Pentecostals from within predict the likely split of fundamentalist Pentecostals and experientialist Pentecostals to widen until there is a clear distinction between.

South Korea has not escaped the fervor of Pentecostal missions. Cox in 2001 said there were already as many as 5000 Pentecostal churches in South Korea (Cox, 2001). When talking about Pentecostalism in the Asian rim Cox focused his efforts in South Korea. Cox quoted Dr. Chung that said “I no longer believe in an omnipotent God”. This is the issue where what brush should be used needs to be clearly defined.  A fundamentalist Pentecostal would quickly say that rejecting such a doctrine of historical Christianity places the person outside Christianity and labeling someone that is outside Christianity as a Pentecostal is an insult to actual Pentecostals. There is historical precedence for this argument and that really begs the question what brush is being used to paint the South Korean Pentecostal movement if a chief leader of it can hold such an a-historical Christian position and still be painted within Christianity. Cox does this all over the book as he without question accepts Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Baptist, and others as Christian simply because they seem to identify as that. The narrow gate and other verses of scripture come to mind at this approach, however, it can be a useful approach as long as the reader understands it and the objections that can be raised against it. So, what does broad gate Christianity look like in Korea? Ma, a South Korean Pentecostal, in 2013 wrote “we Pentecostals were taught that only the small group of saints who were “baptized in the Holy Spirit” were the true saints of the latter days” (Ma, 2013). This is a very traditional Pentecostal doctrine, alive and well in South Korea in 2013. Yet, the picture Cox paints of Pentecostalism in that country is far more liberal and even dangerously pagan. This is due to the mitosis that Cox used to describe the Pentecostal system. Just as in the U.S. in South Korea there are obviously many permutations of Pentecostalism. The two primary results of Pentecostalism in South Korea, according to Cox, are that Pentecostal missionaries stream from that country to all over the world and that, because of the larger influence of Christianity, South Korea had become a capitalistic economy (Cox, 2001). The notable feature of Pentecostalism, Cox pointed out, is its ability to adapt to the culture it is in (Cox, 2001). It has done that all over the world, sometimes maybe a little too well.

Pentecostalism is not done, unless there is a change it will be the most dominant version of Christianity in the world. This is because, as Cox said, Pentecostals are driven to proclaim the good news. In this noetically affected state there has never been one Christian that got all doctrine right. Even Paul commiserated his inability to get it all right. The line is the gospel. There are definitely problems with Pentecostal theology, and even a problem identifying just what is Pentecostal theology is. Ten different churches might each answer that question differently. Is Christ properly proclaimed? That is the question, and in reality, that is the brush that really matters.

 

References

Aikman, D. (2003). Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is transforming China and changing the global balance of power. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc.

Creech, J. (1996). Visions of Glory: The Place of the Azusa Street Revival in Pentecostal History. Church History, (3). 405

Cox, H. (2001). Fire from heaven: The rise of Pentecostal spirituality and the reshaping of religion in the twenty-first century. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Hollenweger, W. J. (1998). Fire from Heaven: A Testimony by Harvey Cox. Pneuma, 20(2), 197-204.

Ma, W. (2013). Life, justice, and peace in the spirit: a Korean Pentecostal reflection. The Ecumenical Review, 65(2), 225-243. doi:10.1111/erev.12038

 

What is Christ’s Heart for the World?: Escobar, Barth, and Henry

Escobar’s Thesis

            Samuel Escobar is a missions minded individual. All of his theological framework is bound up in the global missions project he has dedicated his life to. To separate his theology from his missiology would leave very little of value. Escobar was born in 1936 in Arequipa in Peru (Escobar, 2012). This gives him the perspective of coming from an evangelized country and really allows him to speak authoritatively to what global missions projects should look like.       Escobar sees all of Christianity bound up in the global mission process and that view seems to drive his definition of Christology, Pneumatology, and Ecclesiological practice. The Christology Escobar used centered on Jesus’ words “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21, ESV). Escobar goes as far as to see Jesus as the first missionary that left his home to “… seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10, NIV). Even though Escobar does not, in this book, speak to the identity of God as Trinitarian he does most definitely separate the work of Christ from that of the Holy Spirit. His Pneumatology consists of five points where the guidance and power of the Spirit is: the reality of the church as demonstrated in Christ’s mission, the power for the church as taught by Christ, and linked to all growth in the Church (Escobar, 2003). Escobar finally connects all the pieces together in the brotherhood of missions or the Ecclesiological practice. He pointed out that Paul and Peter were very different in many aspects of ministry, personality and calling but they did both have in common a missionary focus that made them brothers.

What Escobar did in his vision of the missionary Jesus was establish a balance between transcendence and immanence. In this vision God exists separate from the world but comes as a missionary to the world in both the forms of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. His example is that of missionary service and his desire is for all the Church to emulate.

 Escobar and Barth

The theological theme of God, the nature, person, and work, is central to the theological approach of both Karl Barth and Samuel Escobar. Both Escobar and Barth see God in three active persons and active in revealing himself in the world today. Barth called this revealing the Word of God and set it even above Biblical revelation while Escobar called it an encounter with Jesus (Grenz, Olson, 1992; Escobar, 2003). No matter the phraseology, Barth and Escobar are talking about the same experience that a person has in salvation. While the experience may be the same for Barth and Escobar the scope is quite different. Escobar outlines an outgoing, ongoing source for going to the ends of the Earth. Escobar’s description of this revelation is transformative. Barth on the other hand is reserved in the scope of this revelation. The difference is probably due to two primary factors, one is that Barth, as portrayed by Grenz and Olson, does not have the same active Pneumatology as Escobar does where the guidance and power of the church comes from the Spirit. The other factor is time and place, the streets of Arequipa Peru in the 1940s are far different from the 1880’s streets of Basel Switzerland.

Escobar’s theology of God is a completion of Barth’s in that it expands on the idea of revelation. Barth fell short of making the connection between the transcendent God and the immanent one; however, Escobar’s missionary Jesus and active Holy Spirit fill in this gap. Barth was onto something in the nature of God’s revelation personally to each human being but he focused too much on God as revealed in man. Escobar balances this out with God revealed by a God empowered agent, man following the example of Christ. The question, what is the heart of Christ for the world, or just who is the missionary God is the theological glue that brings Barth’s theology to life.

 Escobar and Henry

Carl Henry was not a systematic theologian, however, he saw “… God as the linchpin of theology” (Grenz, Olson, 1992, p. 294). Escobar and Henry shared the vision of Jesus as the divine self-revelation. What Escobar termed the missionary Jesus who was the example for the church, Henry called, Logos the agent of divine self-revelation. In short, Henry’s Jesus, the Logos, was the link between transcendent and Immanent God; one in the same being self-revealed in the Logos. When dealing with the theology of God the nature of revelation is a central theme. Henry and Escobar seem to agree on this point of revelation as well. Henry terms this propositional revelation, or revelation fully understandable to man. Escobar does not need to make the statement because it is interwoven into the presupposition of missions. If man cannot understand and share God’s revelation, there would be no point in missionary endeavors. The Escobarian vision of Christ as a missionary presupposes that man can understand and transmit the revelation Christ was sharing. Where Escobar and Henry might separate a little bit is the area of theology in social reform. Escobar does not shy away from the missionary work of building schools and bringing clean water, however, he does seem to delineate between cultural improvement and cultural change. This is explained in the context of Henry’s and Escobar’s mission. Henry was working within and for the change of theological culture in the west, while Escobar was working and focused on cross cultural missions. The change in mission field is more than enough reason for the change in focus.

Overall, Carl Henry and Samuel Escobar are on the same page with much of their theology of God. This is because they are working from within the same evangelical theological frame work. The differences in approach are explained by differences in mission. Henry and Escobar compliment and expanded on each other because Henry gives focus on intra cultural change and evangelism while Escobar focuses on extra cultural exchange with Christ’s heart for the world.

Culturally Diverse Ministry

            What is Christ’s heart for the world? These theologians have made this clear: Christ desires that men should share with other men the fully understandable and transmittable revelation of transcendent God that Christ made immanent in His person with the power of the Holy Spirit. Three key takeaways are, it is about the Gospel, the example is Christ himself, and cultural change comes from conformity to God’s Word. When Jesus said “Go … teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” he was not talking about a language or hygiene habits or medical supplies (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV). What Jesus was talking about was the Gospel and the commandments of scripture. Escobar would call this the personal experience of Jesus. The missionary should have the same claim Paul did: boasting in the cross alone. The Gospel cares about murder but it is indifferent to whether or not someone speaks English. The Gospel calls for faith and not more streets or schools. The missionary needs to focus on bringing the Gospel in a genuine manner and letting the Gospel change the culture. There needs be no improvements to the culture, rather there should be an open Bible and a willingness to say this is what God said. Any cultural change that comes from man’s improvements is artificial and in the end will be worse than no improvements. Looking at the history of South America will confirm that. But changes that happen when people turn to faith in Jesus Christ and learn to follow the commandments in scripture are lasting. This is Christ’s heart for the world “… that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3, NIV).

References

Escobar, S. (2003). The new global mission: The Gospel from everywhere to everyone. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Escobar, S. (2012). My pilgrimage in mission. International Bulletin Of Missionary Research, 36(4), 206-211.

Grenz, S. J., & Olson, R. E. (1992). 20th-century theology: God and the world in a transitional age. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

 

Isms Create Schisms: American Evangelicalism Essay

All isms are based on human understanding. The goal here is to see the link between many isms and how they affected the world and Christianity in their time. The first and probably the loudest in terms of bloody wars were Marxism, Communism, Nazism, and Totalitarianism. These Isms are connected because they share a commune ideology however when people turn power over to the state commune it is not long before the state becomes totalitarian. The next set of isms that find a home together are Liberalism, Positivism, or Idealism, and Darwinism. In truth these ideals lead to a kind of scholastic totalitarianism. The two outliers are conservatism and ecumenism. For the most part the reason these two do not fit in with the others is that they are Christian-esc in nature. Conservatism holds to a traditional set of values so while conservatism is not specifically Christian, there certainly is quite a bit of conservatism in any orthodox Christianity in that Christians must hold some kind of traditional set of values based on scripture. Ecumenism actually is related to all the other views in that it is a specifically Christian ism that deals directly with bringing unity across groups that hold to one or another ism. Shelley, pointed out that one of the immediate responses to ecumenism was that it “… overlooked the Trinitarian basis of Christianity prized by Orthodox churches” (Shelley, 2013, p. 459). The purpose of ecumenism in the mind of the Church was to heal the scars created by other isms. Each ideology brought with it a shift in thinking that some followed and some rejected and this splintered the church; in the attempt to find common ground the ecumenical movement was born, but in the end it too will fail, for as long as there are isms, there will be divisions.

Marxism, Communism, Nazism, and Totalitarianism are the natural progression of commune ideology. Marxism is the ideology that became political reality in Communism from there, it was not much of a leap to go from Communism to Fascism(Nazism). There is not a big difference between all people are equal in a shared community to our people are equal in our community. However, once people buy into the community it is not long before that community becomes totalitarian. 1933 Nazi Germany is a microcosm for understanding the relationship between Christianity and Marxist, communist, fascist, totalitarianism. In 1935 there were 700 Christian pastors, members of the confessing church, arrested for speaking out, or being part of a body that spoke out against the peoples part (Shelley, 2013, p. 440). By this time the racist, fascist regime of the Third Reich was well underway. Separation and segregation of Jews and enemies of the state was underway. Just one year prior in 1934, the Confessing Church had, in the “Barmen Declaration”, become outspoken against the totalitarian Third Reich calling all Christians back to the ideas of compassion and Gospel centered walk. Jordan, in speaking about Communism in the twentieth century, said “… a new militant and fundamentalist fellowship developed, which was separatist in theology, pre-millennial in eschatology, and Calvinist in its conception of government and salvation” (Jordan, 2014, p. 957).  Lawson follows that same thought process when he points out that in reading history it is clear that Christians were the most outspoken against Nazism because they most clearly saw its dangers (Lawson, 2004. p 146). Looking at the evidence two things become plain, first Marxism, Communism, Nazism, and Totalitarianism are inexorably linked and second is that Christianity cannot stand linked to them. Therefore when some Christians stand for these ideologies, like in the 1930s, and others do not there is unavoidable division.

Liberalism, Positivism, or Idealism, and Darwinism are scholastic versions of Marxism, Communism and Nazism. In brief the intentions behind Liberal ideologies are very similar to the Marxist intentions. Marx did not mean to create a way of thinking that led to the Holocaust nor did Liberalism mean to lead to strict enforcement of Darwinism on young minds. However, both are known by their results. Just as Communism leaves the door open for Nazism, Liberalism leave a big hole that must be filled and that is the issue of authority. This is where Positivism and Idealism come in. Positivism states that the ultimate authority is the laws of nature while Idealism, as Voorhoeve, During, Jopling, Wilson, Kamm explain, seeks to find authority for self in “I think therefore I am” (Voorhoeve, During, Jopling, Wilson, Kamm, 2011, p. 134). Both ideologies stem from the need to find the missing authority in Liberalism. However, both are left with the problem of explaining the created order for which they are without excuse (Romans 1:20, NIV). Just like the battle against Marxism, Communism and Nazism is not over for the Christian, simply look at Christianity in China for proof of that; the battle for the hearts and minds against that totalitarian scholasticism of Liberalistic, Positivistic, or Idealistic, and Darwinist ideologies is not over.

Conservatism and Ecumenism are really Christian reactions to twentieth century ideologies. Conservatism, in a Christian context, is a reaction against the ideas of the world with traditional biblical values and Ecumenism is finding a common denominator for church unity in the face of world ideologies. Noll points out that Pope “John XXIII” said when speaking of the intent of the Vatican II counsels was to bring unity to the church for the purpose of increasing the effectiveness of the church in meeting the needs of the people (Noll, 2012, p. 290). But even though the church was reacting to the world with traditional ideas and seeking unity the question quickly arose, unity at what cost? By 1961 the new ecumenism was being criticized for overlooking the Trinitarian definition of Christianity in favor of unity (Shelley, 2013, p. 459). So, while Conservatism and Ecumenism are good goals for the church the question will remain whose ism is important enough to fight over and whose should fall for the sake of unity.

The modern church, especially in places like Europe and America, are left struggling with how to remain true to the roots and principles of Christianity in the face of so many isms from both within and without the body. Some say the West is now “post-Christian” and that the future of Christianity has no more power to affect the state and therefore it is uncertain (Shelley, 2013, p. 481). However, there is a quality to truth that cannot go away. As certain as the sun rises is also the fact that every ism and the scars they have caused will be corrected when every knee bows to the King whose totalitarian reign will be forever.

The Message They did not Want to Hear: Christian Liberalism verse Secular Liberalism

The lens of the future is the best measure for the past, in other unavoidably cliché words,  hind sight is twenty-twenty. Looking back at the age of modernism from the age of post-modernism it is easy to see the trail that led to the current Hansel and Gretel captivity. The modernistic liberalistic thought process is really the fault of the Reformers but it is not inconsistent with scripture. As Luther stood before the counsel at worms and questioned authority, placing his trust in his understanding of scripture, he was setting a president that acted like the pinpoint hole in a large dam. Even the smallest hole in a dam, if not repaired, will lead to a total failure. There are two expressions of the liberalistic mindset that have appeared on the world stage. The first was Christian liberalism; this is clearly seen in the shift of American Christianity to voluntary communities and away from Massachusetts Bay style totalitarianism. The second stream of liberalism was secular; and this is typified in the French revolution, most specifically the constitution that was drafted from that time. The question is, did this new liberal ideology take Christianity and the world back to its roots or was this new theology? The answer is that the liberating freedom for men to think has always been at the core of the oldest Christian teaching and Paul is a great example in the Mars Hill cry to have men hear about the “unknown God”; however, with the freedom to choose comes the freedom to reject: if Christians are free to choose Christ then the world is free to shun him (Acts 17:22-31, NIV).

The idea of Christian liberalism is not a new thing. So those that might claim that it is part of modernity are missing scriptural context. There are dozens of scripture verses that place the idea of personal freedom in context. For example, the Jerusalem counsel placed very few restrictions on the new Greek believers, Paul exhorts the believers to give what they decide to without “compulsion”, and the incident at Mars Hill shows that Paul was dealing with people he expected to use their minds to understand what he was teaching (Acts 15, 2 Corinthians 9:7, Acts 17:22-31, NIV). Christian liberalism however has a distinct character that is separate from secular liberalism in that Christian liberalism does not give the man freedom to choose without making the man responsible for those choices. Carter notes that the social gospels, an early nineteenth centry invention, were better excepted outside the church than within (Carter, 2015, p. 199). This is a great example, a lens, that can be used to measure the separation of Christian liberalism from secular modern progressivism. The experience of the church in this era was that of being pressed to reconcile the authority of God’s Word with modern, liberal, scientific methods because the modern man would not live by faith alone. This was a new challenge in that even the great thinkers in Paul’s day saw no need to reconcile philosophy and theology to conform to science.

The idea of secular liberalism is best discussed from what is called modern thought. Two very good examples of secular liberalism are article one of the French Constitution and what has become the religion of Charles Darwin. Article one of the French Constitution states that France is a secular republic that respects all beliefs. Notice the very specific ideology in that statement “secular republic”. This is in contrast to the American separation of church and state. In a secular republic, secular ideas are those that rule. To translate, a secular republic is a state that wants no influence from religion in the government while, in this case, promising not to influence or harass those they choose to be religious. In the American separation of church and state, the church has no power over state business and the state has no power over church business; however, in this arrangement for one to influence the other is expected. This modern mind set seized on to the writings of Charles Darwin a “scientist whose name became synonymous with evolution” (Shelley, 2013, p. 414). Charles Darwin espoused the idea that men had evolved from other life forms so that the human race was formed by a series of genetic mutations. This is exactly the idea that the modern thinkers needed to attack the authority of God’s Word. On the one hand there are men seeking truth but on the other and all too often there are men seeking to “suppress the truth” for the purpose of not having to be responsible for unrighteous choices (Romans 1:18, NIV). The modern church is stuck right in the middle because the church must state that the Word of God is the authority and men are responsible for their choices. This is a message that the framers of the French Constitution made very clear that they did not want to here.

Christian Liberalism is the idea that men are free to serve the King or reject him. This is true liberty, and true freedom. While on the other hand secular liberalism is men seeking to be free from the responsibility of sin and this is why evolution has become the modern day secular liberals religion. Even though “the Reformers displayed  remarkably little interest in cross-culture proclamation of the gospel”, the tiny hole the they poked in the dam of Christianities conscious eventually over flowed into a Protestant fervor for missions (Noll, 2012 p. 267). Liberty is at the core of Christian beliefs but where there is liberty to choose Christ there will be those that choose not to choose him. In this there will always be a distinction between Christian liberty and secular liberty.

 

 

References

Carter, H. W. (2015). Social Gospels Thrived Outside the Church. Church History, 84(1), 199-202. Retrived from: https://lopes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rlh&AN=101378852&site=eds-live&scope=site

Noll, M. (2012). Turning points: Decisive moments in the history of Christianity. (3rd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Shelley, B. (2013). Church history in plain language (4th ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

The Great Awakening Made Revolution, Constitutional Freedom, and Denominations an Outright Necessity.

It is hard to overstate the significance of the Great Awakening: it was a cultural, social, and governmental change. Shelley called it the new order and perhaps its affects are best seen when viewed against the backdrop of the infant American nation (Shelley, 2013, p. 358). The Protestant Reformation had started something unavoidable; if men were to be bound by conscience to the Word alone, as Luther’s disquisition stated at the Diet of Worms, then men would have to think about what they believed. So what the Reformation started unintentionally could only lead denominations and volunteerism (Shelley, 2013, p. 358).  This new order that was embodied in the Great Awakening was more than just a change in church structure. It is not a coincidence that the first amendment to the U.S. constitution, that gave the state no power over the church, followed hard on the heels of the Great Awakening (Gibaut, 2015, p. 216). With so many souls being awakened to their responsibility to know what they believed, naturally the last thing these people wanted was a repeat of history where the state had the power to tell the individual what to believe. So, by stuffing the pews with new converts who were being taught, in true reformed fashion, that they would stand before God for what they believed and they were captive only to the Word of God, the Great Awakening changed the course of a nation and solidified the age of denominations.

Two faces that come to mind in the American Great Awakening are that of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield.  These two might be said to have done more to shape America and the church today than iconic names like Washington and Jefferson. Washington and Jefferson’s victories on the political field did not have the cultural impact that Edwards and Whitfield did with the common man. Winiarski tells the story of Edwards baptizing ninety-seven members into a church on one day (Winiarski, 2005, p. 684).   Whitfield on the other hand possessed a homiletic eloquence that could stir the soul of every listener (Mahaffey, 2006, p. 12). Shelley notes that during the period of 1740 – 1742 as many as 25,000 new church members were added, almost doubling the number of church attendance (Shelley, 2013, p. 364). With this influx of new members the church became the largest voting body in the colonial New England. In England the King had already been declared as the leader of the church and the English state church was the official religion of the mother country. All these new thinking believers that did not want the state church telling them what to believe only added fuel to the revolutionary fire that erupted in 1777.

The social change that was planted as seeds in the Great Awakening also brought forth changes within the church. Shelley says that by 1760 there were as many as one-hundred and fifty new congregational bodies in the colonies (Shelley, 2013, p. 364). This is the cat that the Reformers let out of the bag, even though it is unlikely they intended any feline escape. However, with such an influx of personally responsible souls, disagreements about form and function were inevitable. When there are thousands of souls reading the Word for themselves in all fear of the God they have to answer to, there is no way to maintain a state sponsored status quo church. These disagreements supercharged the already present movement to denominationalism. With denominations came the need to find a ecumenical balance and the fundamentals of faith had to be laid out. This process is still underway in the church today and is a great example of just one of the ripples that spiraled outward from the epicenter of the Great Awakening

The Great Awakening was a catalyst in America for revolutionary change. As the pews overflowed and men learned of their personal responsibility to scripture, exemplified by Martin Luther and preached by Whitfield and Edwards, there was no going back to sleep. Men would have to deal with not being able to trust in a state church for the path to salvation or for cultural unity. The old system needed a makeover and The Great Awakening made two things very plain, these new congregational bodies would not be ruled by the state church of England and would not be able to agree with each other. The Great Awakening of men to their need for a personal savior made revolution, constitutional freedom, and denominations an outright necessity.

 

 

References

Gibaut, J. H. (2015). The Church: Towards a Common Vision. Journal Of Ecumenical Studies, 50(2), 216-248.

Mahaffey, J. D. (2006). George Whitefield’s homiletic art: neo-sophism in the Great Awakening. Homiletic, 31(1), 11-22.

Shelley, B. (2013). Church history in plain language (4th ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Winiarski, D. L. (2005). Jonathan Edwards, enthusiast?: Radical revivalism and the Great Awakening in the Connecticut Valley. Church History, 74(4), 683-739.

A very brief overview of the major players in the Reformation.

Introduction

The term Protestant stands for ‘those that protest’, it was not meant as a compliment by those that bestowed it however it fit the new band of Christians well and soon it would be the name by which all knew them. Luther may have started the reformation with a stroke of the hammer at Wittenberg but it did not stay there; soon after Calvin and Zwingli would birth the reformed movement. The reformed would confess the basic tenets that Luther and the Lutherans would but even at this early age of the protestant movement the differences between Calvin and Luther were starting to appear. Next came the Anabaptist and with them came the real bloodshed of the reformation. As the new Lutherans and Reformed were already being persecuted by state leaders that held to Roman Catholic beliefs, this persecution would cost Zwingli his life, the new group of Anabaptists started to be persecuted by both those that excepted the reformed ideas and the Catholic ideas; so now persecution came to the protestant movement from within and without. To combat the problem of growing tensions in the church of England between the protestant reformer’s call to separate from Rome and the Catholic sympathizers and in order to fulfill the desire of the king to keep worship under the control of the crown, the state was heavily involved in the reformation of England: “the one definite thing which can be said about the Reformation in England is that it was an act of the State” (Swatos, 1981, p. 217). However, this was seen as a compromise by the Puritans that were not satisfied with the state sponsored worship. Many of the Puritans would leave England and go to what would become America in search of the right to worship the way they chose to. As western Christianity started to fracture into all these pieces one thing became apparent to state leader and clergy man alike, those old systems that had stood for a millennia, where the lord of his lands determined the belief system of his domain, were a thing of the past. Denominationalism became needed as the blood spilled in the name of Christ flowed in the streets. It became apparent that to have peace, religion for the most part would have to move from state control into a personal system of belief (Shelley, 2013, p. 320). It was the process that Luther started, which quickly became Reformed, Anabaptist, Anglican, and Puritan that showed the need of a way to unify Christianity without enforcing belief by law; that way was Denominationalism and not even the Catholic Counter Reformation could stop the Protestant Denominations, especially in the New World of American freedom.

Lutheran 1517 -2016

            The term Lutheran was originally a derogatory statement about those that followed the crazy Luther and his bad theology. However, just like the term protestant it stuck and Lutheranism was born. Lutheranism was the first of the confessions that were born out of the Reformation movement. The primary differences between Luther and his Catholic counterparts was the understanding of justification. The Roman Catholic definition for justification was that a person was by faith given the grace to keep the church sacraments and it was membership in the church and keeping of the sacraments that brought about salvation (Shelley, 2013 pp. 251 – 253). Luther on the other hand held to justification by faith alone. In Rome’s dogma the church had been granted to power to forgive sins and that thinking lead to the selling of forgiveness in the form of indulgences. These indulgences were Luther’s first target and the primary focus of the famous ninety-five theses: “The idea for the theses was ignited after the preaching and, in effect, selling of an indulgence by a Dominican friar, Johann Tetzel, in the area bordering electoral Saxony” (Hitchcock, Perry, 2016).

Reformed 1528 –2016

Building on what Luther started, the young law student John Calvin in Geneva and Zwingli in Zurich were the founders of what is known as the Reformed confession. The Reformed confession was built on the principles of justification that Luther had laid out however they took steps even farther from Catholic tradition. While Luther and the Lutherans had maintained that there was actually the body and blood of the Lord in the communion elements the Reformed started to separate themselves from this idea. The general consensus in the Reformed circle tended and still tends to center on John Calvin’s definition that the communion elements are only spiritually the body and blood of the Lord. This understanding of communion is the major difference between Lutheran and Reformed. This difference can be observed today in the worship services of the Lutheran and Presbyterian churches.

Anabaptist 1525 -2016

The Anabaptists took the next step out of the Roman Catholic way of thinking. Luther and Calvin had no qualms about the idea of using the state to force the expression of faith that they held to. The Anabaptist on the other hand thought that the believer should commune without compulsion. This belief was based on the fact that no one in the church spoken of in the book of Acts was forced to be a member. This was all well and fine until Anabaptist theology took a turn away from Reformed theology on the question of baptism. Anabaptist were the first confessional baptism group. Prior to the Anabaptists, the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed position all called for infant baptism. The Anabaptists cited the book of Acts again showing that in the early church only those that believed were baptized. After a long debate the argument came to a head in Zurich where the Anabaptists squared off against Zwingli in debate. After the Anabaptists lost the debate they withdrew from Zurich however the city leaders of Zurich would not stand for such a rebellion and they set police to arrest the Anabaptists leaders and imprison them for a time (Shelley, 2013, p. 261). They  suffered long hard persecution at the hands of the Roman Catholics and the Reformers, however the Anabaptists teachings are alive and well today and practiced by Mennonite communities all over the world (Shelley, 2013, p. 263, 265).

English (Anglican) and Puritan 1509 – 2016

Swatos makes it clear that to understand Anglicanism one must know that it “… was forged out of socio-cultural environment… ” (Swatos, 1981, p. 218). There were three primary factors that attributed to the rise of Anglicanism. First, Henry VIII, who was king from 1509 to 1547, had sought an annulment from the Pope of his marriage to a wife that had not given him an heir. When the Pope refused the ensuing drama lead to the establishment of the Church of England that rejected the Roman Pontiff’s authorities and placed all church authority in the king. Second, because of this split with Rome, the people started to hear and believe the ideas taught by the reformers. The third was the rise of the Puritans who called for reform in the Church of England. In the wake of all of these pressures Anglicanism experienced considerable reform however this reform was not enough for the Puritans who would spread to America where freedom of religion was just on the other side of the next mountain.

Catholic Reformation (Counter-Reformation) 1545 – 1563

The Roman Catholic response to the reformers was violent as protestants were killed and their books burned (Shelley, 2013, p. 288). However it was not long before the Roman Catholic church realized that the measures were not stemming the momentum of the Reformation. So at Trent a council was undertaken that vigorously and violently rejected everything the reformation stood for (Shelley, 2013, p. 288). The two primary things that came out of Trent were the Catholic canon that include several books the Protestants rejected, this canon is used by the Roman Catholic Church today, and the firm understanding that the newly formed Jesuits order under Ignatius Loyola would be the watch men of Catholic interests world-wide.

Conclusion

Today the Lutherans, Reformed, Anabaptists, English and Puritans have learned to live in relative peace by adopting the concept of denominationalism. Harper points out that there are as many as 26,000 different denominations of Christianity in the world today and most of them can trace their origins back of one of these five groups: Lutherans, Reformed, Anabaptists, English, and Puritans. Each of these groups have found the ability to have a unique expression of their faith while still confessing, for the most part, unity in the blood of Christ.

How did Luther impact the way we think about Church?

It seems that Martin Luther is quoted on every subject from economics to sexuality. Perhaps that is a good approach for this question as well. There are two very famous quotes attributed to Marten Luther that sum up what his greatest impact was. First at his trial in 1521 Luther is quoted as saying “Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” Luther is literally going against how Christians had thought for almost 1000 years. By taking the authority out of the hands of the Church and placing it solely on scripture Luther was, though I doubt he knew it, setting in to motion events that would shape how we think today. Prior to this the Church interpreted the bible and told the people what to believe, but that did not fly with Luther. The second quote is “This doctrine [justification by faith] is the head and the cornerstone. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour….” In this quote we see the formation of the reformation. Justification by faith became the battle cry of the reformers. With the first statement Luther removed the Churches authority to tell the people how to read scripture and with the second Luther took the power of salvation out of church membership. The doctrine of justification by faith is so far reaching it is hard to accurately sum it up, however, one thing that can be said for it is that the people now understood that they were now free to be saved without church membership. This means they could and would have to truly seek out truth and that is an undertaking the start with Luther and continues until this day.

 

 

Resources

Selected from What Luther Says, an anthology compiled by Edwald M. Plass, Vol.2, pp.702-704, 715-718.

The separation of Church and State: What the Reformers Missed.

Power in the hand of the right people can be a blessing to all. Gregory the first is a prime example of this, he was more interested in helping others than personal gratification. However, there is no power that does not corrupt. As men took over the church at Rome it slowly morphed into the Church of Rome with state and ecclesial power being united. This trend continued for about 800 years as the Papacy bullied the leaders of the world into submission with excommunication and interdiction. When the protestant movement started this was still an issue. Many of the reformers like John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli were not averse to using state powers to enforce Christian rules (Shelley, 2013, pp. 258 – 271). There are three main eras that can be highlighted when looking historically at where the church and the state play unique roles. The first is the years of opposition about 1 A.D. to 300 A.D. In this timeframe the church and the state were diametrically opposed. This is not saying there was no religion in the state but rather that Christianity and the state were not playmates. The second is the years of cooperation and integration that ran from about 300 A.D. to nearly 1300 A.D. The time was not without incident but in general, the church and the state were synonymous. Next came the enlightenment and the reformation where the idea of church and state was challenged and eventually overthrown. These three time frames give the best picture right at their inception or their dissolution. One particularly telling time was the Protestant Reformation. As Christianity transformed itself from the sole ownership of the Roman Catholic Church to the protestant masses the need for the division of church and state became clear. Nowhere did this stand out more than the Anabaptism movement and John Calvin’s Geneva. It was the protestant reformation and the persecution of the Anabaptists that really brought about clarity that church and state must be separate in order to bring about the most Christian society.

The reformation broke with a vengeance on October 31, 1517 as Martin Luther nailed 95 doctrinally charged theses to the church door in downtown Wittenberg and that momentous act started a tidal-wave whose affects are still felt today. The reformers, when they first started out, were not really interested in separating church and state. John Calvin’s Geneva is a good example of this as the city elders adopted a city constitution drafted by Calvin that outlawed things like dancing, drinking, and made it illegal to not attend church (Shelley, 2013, p. 270). The climax of this in Geneva would be the incident that ended with the burning of Michael Servetus. Something to note about this incident is that though Calvin argued for a more merciful death, Calvin certainly was not arguing that Servetus should have been set free (Shelley, 2013, p. 271). Elsewhere in the world, Zurich, Ulrich Zwingli was faced with a new Protestantism in a group called the Anabaptists.  Anabaptists had different beliefs but the one that fits this conversation is the belief that church and state should be separate (Shelley, 2013, p. 260). When the beliefs of Zwingli and the people of Zurich were challenged by the Anabaptists and the Anabaptists lost the debate they were given the ultimatum to submit or die (Shelley, 2013, p. 261). The Anabaptists fled to a community only to be followed and executed. According to Shelley there were as many as 5000 Anabaptists martyred for what they believed. (Shelley, 2013, p. 262). This persecution was not because they were typically immoral or dangerous people (Newson, 2013). It was also not isolated to one area (Geraerts, 2012). It was simply because they held a different doctrinal position than the Protestant and Catholic state.

These eras of church and state have taught that when the church has the power to use the state or is the state, the death of non-believers or anyone that is seen as a disruptor follows. This is contrary to the way the New Testament Church acted and is against the idea that salvation is a free gift of God (Ephesians 2:8, NIV). If people are not free to sin and disagree, then they can never be truly Christian. That is not to say they cannot be saved but if they are not free to choose to serve God or not then they can never truly say “your will be done” (Matthew 6:10, Luke 22:42, NIV). The Anabaptists were onto something in that the true expression of Gods church is a community of believers who cling to Christ freely and share the bond of faith without compulsion (Shelley, 2013, p. 260). History has shown that the only way to have a truly Christian society is to make separate the states power from those who would use it to try and legislate what only faith can do and that is a changed heart.

 

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References

Geraerts, J. (2012). The prosecution of Anabaptists in Holland, 1530-1566. The Mennonite Quarterly Review, 86(1), 5-47.

Newson, R. A. (2013). Ethics as improvisation: Anabaptist communal discernment as method. The Mennonite Quarterly Review, 87(2), 187-205.

Shelley, B. (2013). Church history in plain language (4th ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Politics and Religion: The Good the Bad and the Church in 3rd – 4th centuries A.D.

The line between politics and religion, specifically Christianity, was very clear when it was illegal to be a Christian, however, the conversion of Constantine changed the landscape. Shelley zeroed in on Constantine’s role with these words “Prior to Constantine’s conversion, the church consisted of convinced believers who were willing to bear the risk of being identified as Christians. Now many came that were politically ambitious, religiously disinterested, and still half-rooted in paganism”  (Shelley, 2013, p. 102). For the early church the integration of church and state had both advantages and disadvantages. The good was that the persecution that had marked the first three centuries of church life was a thing of the past. Christianity had gone from the outlaw to the law. The bad was that dedication was no longer the trademark of the Christian. Everyone and anyone could call themselves Christians if they at all perceived it would gain them any socioeconomic advantage. The church was in the middle, so while the state backing that came with Constantine was a boon to the church in terms of relaxed persecution it also meant that, since the church was the state, doctrinal division was tantamount to state division; Constantine would have no division in his empire so doctrinal issues were dealt with by council and banishment.

Constantine set the pattern of church councils when he called the Nicene Council to deal with the subject of Christ’s divinity in 325 A.D. The council did not only just represent church matters, they were a matter of national empirical unity. After the council had decided the imperial hammer fell and banishment was the decree. Arius and the other heretics found that disagreeing with the church council carried an empirical price. Constantine stands apart from the rest of the Christian emperors because of his dynamic entrance.  Litfin states it very well when they talk about how the nature of Constantine’s influence started with the impossible victory that was won on the steps of Rome: “Yet we cannot deny this military victory—which happened not on some distant barbarian frontier but on the outskirts of the Eternal City itself—did capture the imagination of contemporary observers” (Litfin, 2012, p. 774). In the wake of the precedent that Constantine set, the councils marched forward with doctrinal propose for the church but also an imperial political agenda.

The political nature that Constantine brought to Christianity did not overshadow the need for doctrinal unity. With or without the unity of the empire, the nature of Christ is no small matter to the church.  Bouman quotes Luther’s observation about the link between Christ and the true church: “I have also noticed that all error, heresy, idolatry, offense, misuse, and evil in the church originally came from despising or losing sight of this article of faith in Jesus Christ” (Bouman, 1969, p. 82). Luther’s point is made all the more poignant when it is noted that all of the major early church councils were convened over some aspect of Christ: Nicea 325 A.D., the full deity of the Son, Constantinople 381 A.D., the full humanity of the Son, Ephesus 431 A.D., the union of deity and humanity in the Son, and Chalcedon 451 A.D., hypostatic union (Shelley, 2013, p. 123). As far as the matters of the real church went, these were deal breakers, the nature of Christ directly affects the nature of the gospel. With or without the imperial political nature of these few centuries in early church history, these matters still had to be addressed for Christianity to become consistent and for it to gain the momentum it would experience going forward.

The good times had come for the church, no more persecution, the church was free to stop just surviving and start turning to dealing with perversion of the faith. Not only was the church free to act it was empowered to do so by a string of Christian emperors that started with Constantine, but with good there was bad; with empirical favor came imperial politics and with no persecution came the sycophant Christ follower. The church did not waste the opportunity, the layperson might have been able to use the church for political gain but theologian and bishop alike seized the opportunity to bring unification of the doctrine. The two forces of state and church coalesced for the purpose of unity and, through the four councils, brought about unity for the state and the doctrine of the church. Those that disagreed with this new amalgamation of church and state found themselves banished. If these banished were to continue teaching it would not be in the name of the church at Rome, soon to be called the Church of Rome.

 

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References

Bouman, H. A. (1969). Significance of the dogma concerning Christ as defined by the Council of Chalcedon. Concordia Theological Monthly, 40(2), 81-91.

Litfin, B. M. (2012). Eusebius on Constantine: truth and hagiography at the Milvian Bridge. Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society, 55(4), 773-792.

Noll, M. (2012). Turning points: Decisive moments in the history of Christianity. (3rd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Shelley, B. (2013). Church history in plain language (4th ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas

Concerning the Canon: The Text That: Transforms, Worships, and has Apostolic Authorship

Introduction

Though the word canon can mean many things the definition of canon concerned here is the collection of sacred books accepted as genuine.  That issue of genuine communication from God is one particularly pertinent to the Christian since so much hangs on the Christ that is only revealed in this text. If the text of scripture were false, the Christian would have almost no grounds to stand in faith on. The Jewish canon of the Old Testament was widely accepted from the start probably because Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles accepted them. There were and still are some arguments over the Apocrypha texts and their inclusion in canon, most Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches accept the Apocrypha while most Protestant groups do not. However, the matter of The New Testament was not so easily settled. Detweiler puts the matter this way, ” The question, what is a sacred text? … sacred for whom?, made sacred by whom? and according to what definitions of textuality?”; and Detweiler replies to these questions by stating that the readers reaction to the text is what defines the text (Detweiler, 1985, p. 213). Detweiler may have been onto a part of the reason and rationale in talking about the readers reaction, however, since this is a matter that defines the terms of belief for Christianity the criterion used when selecting the books that are or are not canon is not a light matter. Shelley outlines three over-arching important factors that played into the books that were or were not excepted by the early church:  self-evidencing in their power to transform lives, used in Christian worship, and written by an apostle (Shelley, 2013, pp. 68 – 69).

The Jewish Scriptures

            The Jewish text that came to be called the Old Testament were often quoted by Jesus. Perhaps the most powerful example of this is His talk with the two on the road to Emmaus when Jesus said “… beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, NIV). This story of Jesus is not alone. Paul quoted extensively from the Jewish texts, in Romans chapter 3 alone, Paul quotes from Psalms, Proverbs, and Isaiah.  The writer of Acts extols the Bereans for examining “… the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11, NIV). The only Scriptures that had been written at this time were the Jewish texts as this event was in Paul’s second trip near 49 A.D.  All this usage of Jewish Scripture means that the Jewish text was not only accepted by the early church but they met with Shelley’s three important factors for canonical text: When interpreted in the light of Christ they are transformative, they were used in Christian worship and, if not written by, they were at least approved by the apostles.

The New Testament

The New testament is not so easy to outline as the Jewish text that were already in existence when Christ came. The task may not be easy but the need was evident. With Gnostic teachers creeping into the church and the power base that was Jerusalem destroyed in 70 A.D., the church needed a ruler by which to draw the line of what was to be called heresy. At this time the church was lead by Bishops and most recognizable and respected of this group of men was the bishop of the Church at Rome (Shelley, 2013, p. 77). Up to 100 A.D. there was no collection of canonical text (Shelley, 2013, p. 73). Since after the fall of Jerusalem the church at Rome was often looked to as the figurehead of the catholic church that spanned most of the known world it is not surprising that the first collection of New Testament texts were the ones used in the church at Rome. Called the Murtorian canon after its discoverer, this collection dates to about 200 A.D. (Shelley, 2013, p. 73). After this a list of the canon can be found in the writings of Origen, the books that he quoted from, near 250 A.D. (Shelley, 2013, p. 73).  The canon was revised yet again by the time Eusebius was writing in 300 A.D. (Shelley, 2013, p. 73). These text that Eusebius used were probably the same texts used at the 325 A.D. council of Nicea to refute Arianism that had rapidly spread throughout the Christian world (Noll, 2012, p. 45). The matter of the canon was not fixed for the western world until 400 A.D. by the council of Carthage. Looking at the list of books that were selected it is seen that they met with Shelley’s three important factors for canonical text: transformative, used in worship, and written by the apostles.

Conclusion

The text of the Old Testament was validated by Jesus himself  and He quoted from it and called it the Holy Scripture. The New Testament was about 400 years in the making and it withstood the most intense persecution that any text has ever faced. Down through the years men like Tertullian, Origen, Eusebius of Caesarea, Jerome, and Augustine of Hippo have added their scholarship to the understanding of the sacred texts and canon (Lim, 2006). However, even the modern reader can experience the transformative power of the text, hear the texts used in corporate worship, and trace the texts back to the apostles with reasonable accuracy.

 

References

Detweiler, R. (1985). What is a sacred text. Semeia, 31213-230.

Lim, R. (2006). The Ascension of Authorship: Attribution and Canon Formation in Jewish, Hellenistic and Christian Traditions. Church History, (4), 880.

Noll, M. (2012). Turning points: Decisive moments in the history of Christianity. (3rd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Shelley, B. (2013). Church history in plain language (4th ed.). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.