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.

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