Essentials of Church History - Lesson 10

The 20th Century

Wesley's preaching and the holiness movement were major influences in beginning the modern Pentecostal movement. Charles Fox Parham was instrumental in the formation of the Pentecostal movement, sometimes referred to as the "first wave." The second and third waves of the Pentecostal movement, as well as the ecumenical movement, have had a significant impact on individuals and churches across the world during the twentieth century.

Gordon Isaac
Essentials of Church History
Lesson 10
Watching Now
The 20th Century


I. Modern Pentecostalism

A. Wesley's Preaching and the Holiness Movement

B. First wave (Charles Fox Parham)

1. William J Seymour

2. John G. Lake

3. Ivan Voronaev (Odessa, Russia)

C. Second wave - new Pentecostalism or the Charismatic Renewal

D. Third wave - signs and wonders

II. Twentieth Century

A. World War I

B. Russian Church

C. Roman Catholic Christianity

D. Protestantism in Europe

E. Protestantism in the United States

F. Ecumenical Movement

  • Specific political and cultural events combined to form a setting when Jesus lived, which can be described as the "fullness of time." In the founding and development of the early church, Pentecost, the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 and the persecution of Christians were significant.

  • Because of Palestine's central location in the Middle East, it was important to other countries militarily and economically. The apostles and other Christians were able to travel to spread the gospel throughout the world. Constantine's conversion and his support of Christianity had a greatly affected its growth and development. The ecumenical councils met to discuss and articulate a biblical view of God, as well as Christ's divine and human natures.

  • Individuals like Augustine helped shape the theology of the church. Charlemagne and Gregory the Great expanded the political influence of the church. The monastic movement, rise of Islam and the Crusades were significant during this period of time.

  • The influence of Catholicism expanded in the 15th and 16th centuries because of the exploration sponsored by Spain and Portugal. A central figure in the Reformation was Martin Luther. His theological ideas initiated and shaped the Reformation movement and are still influential today.

  • Zwingli and Calvin were influential leaders in the Protestant Reformation movement. The Anabaptists and Mennonites are movements that still have an influence on theology in the church today.

  • The political events in the 16th century had a great impact on the Reformation movement in England and Scotland.

  • The Catholic heritage of France made it difficult for Protestant groups to thrive. The Catholic reformation spawned the beginning of several movements that still exist today. The Council of Trent clearly delineated major differences between Catholic and Protestant theology. We still struggle with some of the same political and social implications of our beliefs with which the reformers wrestled.

  • A prevailing attitude during this time was that religious tolerance was a better policy than emphasizing doctrinal disagreements that led to wars. Why be concerned about details of doctrine that produced nothing but quarrels and prejudice when natural reason, something all people have in common, can answer the fundamental questions regarding God and human nature? Political and religious leaders in England and Europe contributed to the debate between Reformed theology and Rationalism. Subjects addressed are the Thirty Years War, Puritan revolution in England, Reformed Orthodoxy, Westminster Confession, Deism, Rationalist option in the wake of the confessionalization of Europe, George Fox and the Spiritualist option, Pietism with Zinzendorf, the Moravians, John Wesley and the Methodists.

  • Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield were well-known preachers in the Great Awakening in the American colonies in the early 18th century. Camp meetings were common in meetings during the 2nd Great Awakening. Preachers like Dwight Moody began a movement which resulted in urban revival. Mormonism and Jehovah witnesses were two religions that were founded. The fundamentalist vs. modernist controversy, as well as the geographic expansion of missions, still affect the world today.

  • Wesley's preaching and the holiness movement were major influences in beginning the modern Pentecostal movement. Charles Fox Parham was instrumental in the formation of the Pentecostal movement, sometimes referred to as the "first wave." The second and third waves of the Pentecostal movement, as well as the ecumenical movement, have had a significant impact on individuals and churches across the world during the twentieth century.

The people, events, and movements that shaped church history from the life of Jesus to the twentieth century. The class looks at the early church, Constantine, the church in the Middle Ages, the Reformation in Europe and Great Britain, and Protestantism in France. It then moves into more recent centuries and deals with the issues of doubt and dogma, and finally the Great Awakening with Edwards, Whitefield, and eventually Wesley. 


I. Modern Pentecostalism

I think one of the most important movements within the twentieth century with regard to the church was that of modern Pentecostalism. One author Harvey Cox who has just retired from Harvard University, Harvard Divinity School has written a book about charismatics and basically in that book he says they are the elephant in the living room. They are so huge and we sometimes don’t mention the Pentecostals as a movement. Starting at the beginning I’ll try to describe the Pentecostal movement to you in three waves. I think the first wave we can talk about as we move into this.

A. Wesley’s Preaching and the Holiness Movement

But let’s go back and talk about modern Pentecostalism in its various forms. One of the things that is true is that the modern Pentecostal Movement comes out of the Methodist Movement. In the Methodist movement with John Wesley and his preaching, there is a particular approach to the work of the Holy Spirit which leads directly into Modern Pentecostalism. Not to say that the Spirit was not at work in the church before the Wesleyan movement but it is to say that the modern Pentecostal Movement seems to find its roots there. In his preaching one of the things that John Wesley would say is that the Holy Spirit needs to warm the heart. He was deeply concerned about righteousness, about Godliness and Holy living. And we see this captured in his understanding of sanctification. The essence of his Wesleyan emphasis captured beautifully in Augustus Toplady’s old hymn “Rock of Ages.” The words to that hymn go in this way:

Rock of Ages cleft for me
let me hide myself in thee;
Let the water and the blood;
from thy riven side which flowed;
be of sin the double cure;
cleanse from guilt and make me pure.

Though we sing this hymn every once in a while, we perhaps don’t think of what it means. Well, when we take a look at Wesleyan holiness, we see that John Wesley himself speaks of justification and sanctification in such a way that they are really quite distinct. For him justification is forgiveness for past sins, what we might call conversion. This forgiveness is full and complete as it is none the less still leaves a residue of sinfulness, a tendency toward sinning. There is need for a second work of grace according to Wesley, which is sanctification done through the Holy Spirit. When Wesley talks about these things he sets them out in his little treatise entitled “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection,” published in 1739. This sets forward for his people the belief that it is possible to be entirely sanctified. There is a thing he would call Christian Perfection, this is not divine perfection or evangelic perfection, rather it is a perfection which is possible for humans to attain to. Now he never claimed to attain to it himself but he did believe that that second work of grace was possible, was necessary for a Christian to find and through that second work of grace it was possible to come to the place where one could speak of being entirely sanctified.

“A tree is known by its fruits,” Wesley wrote, “as he loves God, so he keeps his commandments not only some or most of them, but all of them from the least to the greatest he is not content to keep the whole law and offend in one point, but has in all points a conscience void of offense toward God and toward man. Whatever God has forbidden he avoids and whatever God has enjoined he does.” That is a short form of his understanding of Christian perfection which is accomplished through the Spirit. Or again he says in his Plain Account, “by perfection I mean the humble gentle patient love of God and our neighbor ruling our tempers, words, our actions. I do not include an impossibility of falling from it, either in part or in whole, and I do not contend for the term sinless, as to the manner, I believe its perfection is always wrought in the soul by a simple act of faith consequently in an instant. But I believe in a gradual work, both preceding and following that instant. As to the time, I believe this instant generally is the instant of death, the moment before the soul leaves the body. Yet I believe it may be ten, twenty or forty years before. I believe it is usually many years after justification; but that it may be within five years or five months after it. I know no conclusive argument to the contrary.”

B. First Wave (Charles Fox Parham)

So Wesley’s Plain Account of Christian Perfection is something of a manifesto for the holiness movement. It was actually reprinted as a part of every book of discipline during the early years of the Methodist Church history. This double cure in fact stood at the very heart of the holiness movement around the world. Gradually as Methodism matured and entered into the second half of the 19th century however it began to drift away from its old Wesleyan roots and take more modern forms of church practice and life. With this Wesleyan holiness understanding, you begin to see that there is a great reliance and expectation of a second work of grace. This leads us to a more modern description of Pentecostalism in its more modern forms.

Here we would have to say that the first wave of Pentecostalism can be traced to Charles Fox Parham, a minister of the gospel in Topeka, Kansas. And he was a former Methodist himself who had been very deeply influenced by The Fire Baptized Holiness Church which was in Iowa. A church that had begun to teach not only the double cure, justification and sanctification, but a third work of God’s grace as well. The third work was called the Baptism of the Holy Spirit attested by the speaking in tongues. Now it is interesting to note here that even in the Wesleyan movement in John Wesley’s time there were moments of emotional outbreak, there were individuals that spoke in tongues, although it never became codified doctrine within the Wesleyan movement and was not held up as the test of being baptized in the Spirit, but none the less in that Methodist movement there were times when there was an outpouring of Spirit and people had ecstatic utterances.

Now Parham established a little bible school in Topeka, Kansas in 1900, with some forty students and the story of these early beginnings in Topeka is told to us by Parham’s own wife in her little book on his life and she picks up in chapter 8 a wonderful story by Lillian D. Thistlewaite, one of the students in that little school let me read a portion of that for you from her book, “In the year 1900 Charles Parham and his wife and family and a number of bible students gathered in the Bethel Bible School to study the work of God using no text except the Bible. The method of study was to take a subject and learn the references on that subject; also where each quotation was found and present and to present to the class in recitation as though they were seekers, praying for the anointing of the Holy Spirit to be upon the message in such a way as to bring conviction. Just before the Christmas holidays we took up the study of the Holy Ghost. Mr. Parham was going to Kansas City to conduct some meetings there and to bring some friends back with him to spend Christmas. Before leaving, this is the substance of what he said; ‘students I have studied the teachings of the various Bible schools and Full Gospel movements, conviction, conversion healing and sanctification are taught virtually the same. But on the baptism there is a difference among them where some accept Steven Merits teaching of baptism and sanctification, while others say that it is only the anointing and there is a baptism for the laying on of hands or the gift of the Holy Ghost. Yet they agree on no definite evidence. Some claim this fulfillment of promise by faith without any special witness, while others because of wonderful blessings or demonstrations such as shouting or jumping. I honor the Holy Ghost’s anointing power both in conversion and in sanctification. Yet I believe there is a greater revelation of his power. The gifts are the Holy Spirit. With the Baptism of the Holy Spirit the gifts as well as the graces should be manifested. Now students, while I am gone, see if there is not just some evidence given at the baptism so that there may be no doubt on this subject.

On Mr. Parham’s return to the school with his friends he asked the students if they had found any Biblical evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. The answer was unanimous, speaking in other tongues. Services were held daily and each night all felt the influence of a mighty presence in our midst. The service on New Year’s Eve was especially spiritual as each heart was filled with the hunger of the will of God to be done in them. One of the students, a woman named Agnes Osmond, had been in several other Bible schools and asked Mr. Parham to lay hands on her so that she might receive the Holy Spirit. As she prayed her face lit up with the glory of God and she began to speak in other tongues. She afterward told us that she had received a few words while in the prayer tower. But now her English was taken from her and with floods of joy and laughter she praised God in other languages. That was on Wednesday.” This account of course is a famous statement of what occurred on that amazing night that is seen as a kind of precursor to what is going to come at Azusa Street. Parham himself received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues as well. For the next few years Parham and his students began to go around traveling and preaching in various centers. Parham ended up in Houston, Texas where in 1905 he opened up another little Bible training school of 25 students. This is an important development because in that school there was a black Holiness Preacher named William J. Seymour, the most important single figure in the beginnings of modern Pentecostalism.

1. William J Seymour

Seymour had come from Louisiana and had studied under the teaching of Parham not only of the double cure but the triple cure: justification, sanctification and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit attested by speaking in tongues. Eventually of course Seymour left Houston and went out to minister in Los Angeles, California. He began to have meetings in Los Angeles, “It was a rather run down meeting house, 312 Azusa Street and then what he found that the meetings began at about ten o’clock in the morning, they hardly stopped before ten or twelve at night and sometimes two or three in the morning because so many were seeking, so many were slain under the Spirit of God. People were going three times a day to the altar with row after row of seats having to be emptied and filled with seekers. We cannot tell how many people had been saved and sanctified and Baptized with the Holy Ghost. Healed of all manner of sicknesses, many were speaking in new tongues and some were on their way to a foreign field with the gift of the language were wanting get more of the power of God,” these are famous words by W. J. Seymour. So 312 Azusa Street was actually an old livery stable, formerly a church, it had been used most recently as a place to house horses. But it was there that The Azusa Street revival broke out. And one of the things that characterized The Azusa Street Revival was that blacks and whites worshipped together. And this Pentecostal movement seemed to help overcome the racial barriers that had been so much a part of the American Christian life up until that time.

And so this first wave is what we might call old Pentecostalism, or classic Pentecostalism. The Los Angeles Times had given an account of this Azusa Street Revival. This is what they said, ”breathing strange utterances and mouthing a creed which it would seem no sane mortal could understand, the newest religious sect has started in Los Angeles. Meetings are held in a tumble down shack on Azusa Street near San Pedro Street and the devotees of this weird doctrine practice the most fanatical rites, preaching the wildest theories and working themselves into a state of mad excitement in peculiar zeal. Black people and a sprinkling of white compose the congregation and night made hideous in the neighborhood by the howling’s of the worshipers, who spend hours swaying back and forth with the nerve wracking attitudes of prayer and supplication. They claim to have the gift of tongues, to be able to comprehend what is being said.” You can see from the account of the Los Angeles Times, not everyone warmly welcomed The Azusa Street Revival. But none the less it has become important in the history of the rise of Pentecostalism. This old style Pentecostalism was taken out of Los Angeles. There were Azusa pilgrims who journeyed throughout the United States spreading this Pentecostal fire primarily in Holiness Churches, missions and camp meetings. For some time it was thought that it was necessary to journey to California to receive the blessing. Soon however people received the tongues experience wherever they lived. And then American Pentecostal pioneers who received the tongues at Azusa Street went back to their homes to spread the movement among their own people, at times against great opposition.

There were a number who went to the south and made inroads there. There were some who traveled to foreign countries. The Pentecostal experience became known in Northern and Western Europe. There was a Baptism in the Spirit in New York City in 1906, Thomas Ball Barrett of Norway, a Methodist Pastor received the gift of the Holy Spirit in New York City and then returned to Oslo where he conducted the first Pentecostal services in Europe in December of 1906. From Norway Barrett traveled to Sweden and England, France, and Germany where he sparked other national Pentecostal Movements. Under Barrett such leaders as Lewi Pethrus in Sweden, Jonathan Alexander Paul in Germany and Alexander Boddy in England were brought into the movement. So you see the Pentecostal movement had a powerful influence.

2. John G. Lake

African Pentecostalism owed its origin to the work of John Graham Lake, who began his ministry as a Methodist preacher but whom later prospered in the business world as an insurance executive. In 1898 his wife was miraculously healed under the ministry of a divine healer, Alexander Dowie, and at one point, Lake testified to an instant experience of entire sanctification in the home of Fred Bosworth, an early leader in the Assemblies of God. In 1907 he received the Pentecostal experience and spoke in tongues under the ministry of Charles Parham who visited Zion City, Illinois while the aging Dowie was losing control of his ministry. Out of Zion came a host of almost five hundred preachers who entered the ranks of the Pentecostal movement, chief of whom was John G. Lake. After his Pentecostal experience Lake went to minster in South Africa. In April 1908 he led a large missionary party to Johannesburg where he began to spread the Pentecostal message throughout the nation. Coming with him was his wife and seven children as well as Holiness evangelist Thomas Hest Mohawk and J.C. Lehman. So before the end of the first year in South Africa there were a number who had experienced the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. There were a number of different church groups that rose up out of this missionary movement, two large and influential Pentecostal Churches in Southern Africa emerged.

The white branch took the name Apostolic Faith Mission AFM. In 1910 borrowed from the name of that famous mission on Azusa Street and this is the church that eventually gave David du Plessis to the world as Mr. Pentecost. The black branch which eventually developed into the Zion Christian Church the ZCC, which by 1993 claimed no less than 6 million members. And despite some doctrinal and cultural variations was recognized as the largest Christian church in the nation. In its annual Easter Conference at Petersburg, this church gathered upwards of two million worshipers; the largest annual gathering of Christians on earth.

After his African missionary tour Lake returned to the United States where he founded churches and healing homes in Spokane Washington and Portland Oregon before his death in 1935. Throughout the rest of the century Pentecostal denominational missionaries from many nations spread the movement to all parts of Africa. In addition to the AFM and ZCC churches the Pentecostal Holiness church in South Africa was founded in 1913 under the leadership of Lehman who had come with Lake in 1908. In 1917 the Assemblies of God entered South Africa when the American church accepted the mission already established by R.M. Turney.

3. Ivan Voronaey (Odessa, Russia)

So you can see that there were all kinds of roads that lead out from Azusa Street. This included Odessa, Ukraine in 1922 where Russian born Baptist Pastor Ivan Voronaev established a Pentecostal church in the Soviet Union. Although he was arrested, imprisoned and martyred in a Communist prison in 1943 this pastor’s church has survived incredible persecution to become a major religious force in Russia and the former Soviet Union by 1993.

This first wave of Pentecostal pioneer missionaries produced what has become known as the classical Pentecostal Movement with over 11,000 Pentecostal denominations throughout the world. These continue to proliferate throughout at an amazing rate as the century came to an end. In retrospect the pattern established in South Africa was repeated in many other nations as this movement spread around the world that is as an enterprising Pentecostal pioneer such as Lake broke the ground for a new movement which was initially despised and rejected by the existing churches. This phase was followed by organized Pentecostal denominational missions and their efforts which produced fast growing missions and indigenous churches. 

C. Second Wave – New Pentecostalism or the Charismatic Renewal

The second wave was the penetration of Pentecostalism into the mainline Protestant and Catholic churches as charismatic renewal movements with the aim of renewing and reviving the historic churches. These people identified themselves as Charismatics. Strangely enough these newer waves also originated largely in the United States. These included the Protestant neo-Pentecostal movement which began in 1960 in Van Nuys, California under the ministry of Dennis Bennett, Rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Anglican Church. Within a decade this movement had spread to all the 150 major protestant families of the world, reaching a total of 55 million people by 1990. The Catholic charismatic renewal movement had its beginnings in Pittsburg, PA in 1967 among students and faculty of DuQuesne University. In the more than thirty years since its inception the Catholic movement has touched the lives of over 70 million Catholics in over a hundred and twenty nations of the world. In October of 1962 the glossolalia phenomenon or speaking in tongues broke out at Yale University among members of the Evangelical Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. Included in this new Pentecostal revival were Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists and even one Roman Catholic. Five were members of Phi Beta Kappa, and some were religious leaders on campus, they were soon called the glosso yaillees. Thereafter the movement spread to Dartmouth College, Stanford University, and Princeton Theological Seminary. There are a number of ways in which the Pentecostal movement in its second wave had reached into the mainline denominations. This is called the New Pentecostalism or the Charismatic Renewal. The second wave has been, has persisted in the mainline denominations and has had a wonderful result in many different ways. 

D. Third Wave – Signs and Wonders

The third wave of Pentecostalism is called The Signs and Wonders movement. This was first coined by C. Peter Wagner in 1983 sayings it this way, “I see historically that we are now in the third wave. The first wave of the moving of the Holy Spirit began at the beginning of the century with the Pentecostal movement. The second wave was the charismatic movement which began in the fifties in the major denominations. Both of those waves continue today. I see the third wave of the eighties as an opening of the straight-line evangelicals and other Christians to the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that the Pentecostals and Charismatics have experienced but without becoming either Charismatic or Pentecostal. I think we are in a new wave of something that now has lasted almost throughout the whole century,” that comes from Peter Wagner “The Third Wave” from The Pastoral Renewal, August of 1983. This movement was also called The Signs and Wonders and The Vineyard movement. It was a rapidly growing movement drawing adherents from both charismatic and non-charismatic churches. The movement stresses power evangelism, whereby the Gospel is explained and demonstrated by way of supernatural signs and wonders.

There were three key leaders to this movement; John Wimber was probably the central figure of the movement. He was the founder of the Vineyard Church movement upon coming out of Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel Movement where he taught with C. Peter Wagner at Fuller Theological Seminary. The course was entitled ‘Signs Wonders and Church Growth’. The second figure is C. Peter Wagner, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, especially their School of World Missions where he co-taught with Wimber. The third person was Paul Cain, an influential modern day prophet, a disciple of William Branham, whom Cain called the greatest faith healer of our time and the greatest prophet of all time. Branham was a heretical false prophet, who held erroneous views on the Godhead and on the Trinity. In The Signs and Wonders movement, tongues speaking can be found but the gift of tongues is not stressed as much as it is in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. The Signs and Wonders movement does stress the gift of prophecy and the gift of healing, but more importantly in that Signs and Wonders movement all of this is done as we might say as a form of power evangelism. The signs and wonders are not for the sake of attesting to the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, but are rather given as a work of God in order to bring people to saving faith. It’s a structure that C. Peter Wagner hopes to see used in effective evangelism for non-Christians.

II. Twentieth Century

So we have taken some time to describe it just a bit and now we need to move on from Pentecostalism to talking about the twentieth century. And clearly we are talking about an age of drastic change aren’t we. Here is a quotation from Emil Brunner a Swiss theologian of some note of the 20th century, “We have become conscience of the fact that in the course of some fifteen centuries something like a Christian civilization has been created and of the other fact that in our days this Christian civilization is at stake and its survival is questioned. A new epic has begun in which the scholar, the artist, the seer, and the saint are replaced by the soldier the engineer and the man of political power; an epic which is no more capable of producing real culture but merely an outward technical civilization.” You can hear in this quotation something of lament of the change of civilization toward technology. Technology in such an overpowering way that it seems to drive civilization and not simply a tool of civilization any longer. Of course standing behind these words also is Emil Brunner’s experience of the Second World War and the kind of a despotic oppression that took place in the nation of Germany though the person of Adolf Hitler.

I’m thinking of my own grandfather now who was born in 1896. I remember visiting him in his later days, sick and in the hospital. I went to visit him and he said, he reminded me, he says, “you know Gordy I saw my first automobile when I was ten years of age. I had not seen one before, I had always ridden a horse and I did work by hand on the farm and there the car was. It was making noise and rattling down the road and in my grandfather’s lifetime he saw his first automobile, he had experienced two world wars, he had experienced the growth of technology in major ways, electric lights, he had seen the development of refrigeration for homes, he had seen the development of the personal computer, he had experienced air travel, planes and he had also seen a man land on the moon.

So the 20th century is absolutely mind boggling. In terms of the changes that have taken place and so we need to spend just a few minutes charting out some of the differences and changes that have taken place in this time period. Throughout the 19th century, western civilization had considered itself destined to lead the world into an age of happiness and abundance. The industrial revolution had created wealth and comfort that two centuries earlier would have been considered unattainable. In Asia, Africa, and Latin America the native populations appeared eager to absorb the ways and wisdom of industrial Europe and United States. The cause of missions prospered in spite of such setbacks as The Boxer Rebellion in China, and there were hopes that in the very near future most of the world’s population would be Christian. For almost a century with minor exceptions, European powers had lived in peace with each other. Under the surface however were destructive currents that would eventually plunge the world into the most devastating war it had ever known. A war can be followed by revolution, economic upheavals and an even more destructive conflagration. The relative peace of the nineteenth century in Europe was possible in part because competition between European powers took the form of colonial expansion. While Europe was at peace; war by proxy overseas became a common feature of international policies. By 1914 however most of the territories of Asia, Africa and Latin America had been colonized if not politically, at least economically. Europe then turned its attention to its own southeastern region, the Balkans, where the progressive breakup of the Turkish Empire had created a number of states with unstable boundaries and governments.

A. World War I

These lands became the bone of contention among European powers. It was out of that contention that World War I would emerge. The very technological industrial progress of which the west boasted would then be seen in its destructive power. For this war provided the occasion for the military use of technology in submarine, aerial and chemical warfare. The very fact that the industrial powers now controlled distant lands meant that most of the planet was directly or indirectly involved in the conflict. The war which lasted four years involved thirty nations and a total armed service of sixty-five millions of whom almost one seventh died and more than one third were wounded in battle. The civilian casualties of the war, although more difficult to assess, were at least as many as the military.

Meanwhile chaos in Russia had led to revolution and after the revolution there followed the Second World War. And in the midst of all of these conflicts, in the midst of all this change we find that there continued to be unrelenting change. During the Second World War we came upon the birth of the Atomic Age and for the first time this presented humankind with the ability to destroy itself. How could such a thing transpire? How could such a thing happen? If anything the development of the atomic bomb seemed to make all of the apocalyptic visions of the Book of Revelation seem to come true. So this is a drastic age of change and what we want to do is take a quick look and see if we can’t cover a good portion of the world’s churchly expressions in a very brief amount of time.

B. The Russian Church

The fall of Constantinople in 1453 was interpreted by many in Russia as God’s punishment for having agreed to reunion with heretical Rome. Eventually the theory developed that just as Constantinople had replaced Rome as the second Rome, now Moscow was the third Rome; the new Imperial City whose providential task was to uphold orthodoxy. In 1547 Ivan IV of Russia took the title of Czar or Emperor by which he meant that he was the successor of the ancient Caesars of Rome and Constantinople. Likewise in 1598 the Metropolitan of Moscow took the title of Patriarch. To support this self-understanding the Russian Church produced an array of polemical writings against Greeks, Catholics and Protestants. By the 17th century these notions were so entrenched that an attempt at rapprochement with the Greeks led to schism in Russia. Czar Alexis I, 1645-1676 saw this rapprochement with Greek Christians as a preliminary step to the conquest of Constantinople and therefore encouraged Patriarch Nikon to revise the liturgy so as to bring it into agreement with Greek practices. Many in Russia, particularly among the lower classes reacted violently. They were suspicious of everything foreign, particularly since it appeared that it was the aristocracy that was interested in promoting the new ideas.

The result was a schism of the old believers, some of whom then joined the peasants in rebellion. This was crushed with great bloodshed and the peasant’s condition of serfdom worsened. The old believers continued in existence, although they split over a number of issues, particularly over whether to accept priests coming to them from the Orthodox Church or not to have priests at all. Some were drawn to apocalyptic extremes and thousands committed suicide as proof of their faith. Eventually however the more extreme groups disappeared and the old believers lived on as a minority group within Russia at least until the twentieth century. Czar Peter the Great 1689 – 1725, took a different tack. He was not interested in rapprochement with Greek Christians but rather with opening his country to western influences. In the life of the church this led to increased interest in both Catholic and Protestant theology. Those who followed these conflicting schools of thought did not generally abandon their orthodox faith, rather they sought to develop an orthodox theology using either Catholic or Protestant methodologies.On matters that were open to debate some followed the Catholic lead while others took their cue from Protestantism. The School of Kiev whose great figure was Peter Mohyla was associated with Catholic tendencies while Theophanes Prokopovic and his followers felt that the protestant ought to be heeded by Russian orthodoxy.

Early in the 19th century the influence of the enlightenment or romanticism gave the Protestant leaning Russians the upper hand. Later in the century there was a nationalistic reaction with greater emphasis on the value of traditional Russian things, the Slavophile Movement. The principle figure of this movement was Aleksey Khomyakov 1804 – 1860, who applied Hegelian categories to show that true orthodox understanding of Catholicity is a perfect synthesis of Catholic thesis of the unity in the church and the Protestant antithesis of the freedom of the gospel.The Russian Revolution put an end to much of this debate. A different western philosophy, Marxism had gained the upper hand. In 1918 the church was officially separated from the state and this was ratified by the constitution of 1936 which guaranteed both freedom for religious worship and freedom for antireligious propaganda. 1920 religious teaching in schools was outlawed. Two years earlier all seminaries were closed. After the death of Patriarch Tikhon 1925; the Russian Orthodox Church was not allowed to elect its successor until 1943. By then, partly as a result of the war with Germany the government had decided to recognize the continued existence of the church. The same year seminaries were reopened and also permission was granted for the printing of some books and periodicals and for the manufacture of items necessary for worship.

As in the case of other Orthodox churches under Communist rule the Russian Church has found its liturgy capable of supporting the faithful and transmitting the traditions to new generations. Late in the twentieth century, after almost seventy years of Communist rule the Orthodox in the Soviet Union were still some sixty million strong. And now after Gorbachov and now under Putin the Orthodox Church continues to grow and continues to be strong and actually finds itself in open opposition to many of the western churches which have entered the erstwhile Soviet Union since its fall. So the Russian Orthodox Church has retained its position and continues to be a voice of Christianity in Russia, although it does stand against Catholicism and Protestantism as such.

C. Roman Catholic Christianity

We now turn to Roman Catholic Christianity where we need to mention the fact that there have been many changes in the Roman Catholic Church in the twentieth century. Some of those changes were produced by historical events of the Second World War but also there have been the changes within Roman Catholicism due to the Second Vatican Council and also to the ecumenical movement. This twentieth century has seen a great number of changes. A statement coming out of The Second Vatican Council is as follows, “ Let us be free of the scandal of having some nations, the majority of whose citizens call themselves Christian and enjoy great riches while others do not have what is needful while some hunger, disease and all sorts of misery .” The Roman Catholic Church had its reaction to the modern world during the nineteenth century during The First Vatican Council. The Roman Catholic community at that time reacted against the philosophy of progress and the doctrines of evolution by setting forward the truth of Catholic theology. It was during this time, the First Vatican Council that the infallibility of the Pope was set forward as a doctrine and the bodily assumption of Mary was set forward. So while Protestants in facing the onslaught of Biblical criticism and a doctrine of evolution and these kinds of caustic, deeply suspicious values over and against conservative Christianity; Protestants set forward the doctrine of inerrancy and what one might call the infallibility of the text, the Roman Catholics set forward the infallibility of the Pope in order to secure doctrine against the corrosive powers of modernity.

Now as we come to the 20th century we find that there is something of a new direction that is taking place. The history of Roman Catholicism during the 20th century is to a large extant the history of the conflict between those who wished to continue in the direction set at Trent and at the First Vatican Council and those who wished to see more openness in the church and a move creative encounter with the challenges of the modern world. World War I had just broken out when Pope Pius the X died and was succeeded by Benedict XV. He had been make an archbishop by Pius X whose policies he was determined to continue. Like the previous three Popes, he insisted on his right to rule the Papal States which he claimed Italy had usurped from the Holy See. He directed most of his early efforts to the pursuit of peace but he was repeatedly rebuffed by the belligerent powers. When peace finally came, and the League of Nations was established he was not in a position to influence events in a decisive way. After the war he was able to sign concordats with several of the new states that resulted from peace negotiations. In general he was perceived as more open than his predecessor but was not a very affective Pope. His successor, Pious the XI, was a scholar and able administrator and during this time period of successful Popes we begin to find a greater degree of openness.

During the Second World War Pope Pius XII presented some opposition to Hitler but there have been complaints registered against Pope Pius XII that he didn’t do enough. There were some Jews that were saved through the efforts of good Catholics in Italy, but there are many who say it simply wasn’t enough. But during these days the Roman Catholic Church had to negotiate through very difficult circumstances and Pope Pius XII did pave the way for the great changes that took place during the next pontificate. His encyclical of 1943 divino afflante spiritu encouraged the use of modern methods of Biblical study. Although he later insisted on the need for caution in that enterprise, the Biblical studies that had been undertaken would later be taken to contribute to the renewal of the church. The reform of the liturgy which was one of the earliest actions of the Second Vatican Council had been encouraged by him, albeit with great caution. But none the less he did help to open the door for good things yet to come. The election of the next Pope was more difficult than the previous one had been. When the election of Cardinal Wolcale was announced after the eleventh ballot many commenced or commented that the 77 year old cardinal had been elected as a transitional Pope, to give the Cardinals time to determine the course to follow in the future. But the brief Pontificate 1958 – 1963 of the elderly Pope who took the name John the XXIII was marked by momentous changes. His very decision to take the name John, which had been tainted with the bitter memories of the Avignon Papacy and Pizon antipope John the XXIII was an indication that the new pope was willing to break new ground. He soon distressed many in the curia as well as his guards by the unprecedented visits to the poorer neighborhoods of Rome, some even voiced fears that he might be too simple of a man for the heavy responsibilities that rested on his shoulder. But he was a man of wide experience and profound wisdom who had shown indelicate posts in Bulgaria, Istanbul and France that he had understood the intricacies of negotiation also having lived in Turkish Istanbul and secularized Paris he knew to what degree the church had cut itself off from communication with the world at large. His great task would be to restore that lost communication and it would be a task requiring all his diplomatic skills for there were many in the Curia and in other high positions in the church who did not share his perception of the situation.

And so it was that quite against all expectations Pope John XXIII set forward the Second Vatican Council. The task of the council was to assemble and it wished to see vast changes in the life of the church, particularly in the manner in which it addressed the modern world. The first document to be discussed dealt with liturgy. Of all the documents prepared beforehand this was the one that proposed the most significant changes. For the liturgical renewal, liturgical changes had been one of the concerns of the previous Pope. Even so the conservative minorities sought to block the proposed changes and those who proposed an updating of the liturgy won the day. When the text was returned to the commission that had drafted it the instructions accompanying it were a clear defeat for the conservatives. From that point on the documents written by the preparatory commissions were generally returned for rewriting with instructions for drastic changes. The Second Vatican Council breathed new air into the Roman Catholic Church and really was a mode by which the church began to relate to the modern world in a new manner. There was a new openness an embracing of a new ways of describing things even though there continued to be a great deal of tension there were a number of Roman Catholic theologians and scholars whose works were censored and not allowed to be published. There were a number of those that took place, but that also indicates something of the creativity that was working its way out in the Roman Catholic Church. So that new openness continues even now with the newest Pope Benedict XVI Joseph Rotsinger who is in his own right a trained and respected theologian.

D. Protestantism in Europe

We turn our attention now to Protestantism in Europe and during the 20th century there were a number of different events that took place. Of course Protestantism had to negotiate the difficult aftermath of WWI and WWII. Most notable in this time frame were individuals such as Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonheoffer Emil Brunner, and Rudolf Bultman, all of whom wanted to revitalize Protestantism in its own way. When 1914 came and some 94 theologians, German theologians, signed Kaiser Wilhelm’s manifesto, which was the prelude to WWI, Karl Barth knew that something was dramatically wrong with protestant theology. The neo-Protestantism that he had studied during his time is school simply did not have the nerve necessary to stand against the warring tendencies of the Keiser. So Karl Barth set to work and with the help of some others, created a theology that eventually was, that came to be known as neo-orthodoxy. It was a return to the sources and it was an attempt to restate the power of the Word of God in human culture. Barth’s commentary on Romans originally written for his own use and that of a small circle of friends was published in 1919. There he insisted on the need to return to the faithful exegesis rather than systematic constructions. “The God of scripture,” he declared, “is transcendent never an object of human manipulation. The Spirit that works in us is never something that we possess but is always and repeatedly a gift of God.” Barth returns to the radical critic that arose in the reformation time period not only against immorality and against war but also against self-satisfied religion. And that was his greatest benefaction for the Protestant world during this time period.  Barth and Bonheoffer were leading voices during the Second World War in opposition to Adolf Hitler when he came to power and these two struggled mightily against the co-opting of the German church during that time period. Dietrich Bonheoffer struggled in such a way that finally he joined a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and finally he was put to death just some 45 days before the Allies liberated the concentration camp at which he was martyred.

Karl Barth continued with his theologizing well after the Second World War, had a long career and was very influential with the publishing of his "Church Dogmatics" Protestant theology was robust and was engaged in questioning dealing with church and state matters. It was also attempting to draw the church back to a robust engagement with the modern world. Such voices as Jürgen Moltmann, c.f. the Story of Christianity by Justo Gustavo p. 369 comes out of the struggling the wrestling, trying to find hope in the shadow of the destruction that took place during the Second World War. And he also has been a powerful voice within European Protestantism. This move that took place after the war had powerful consequences and there were many voices, that is not to say that it is singular. Rudolf Bultman had his program for demythologizing the New Testament which Karl Barth disagreed with. But none the less there was a robust discussion that took place within European Protestantism at the time.

E. Protestantism in the United States

In the United States there was a slightly different kind of circumstance that obtained; the modernist fundamentalist controversy continued to spin out and in the United States where revivalism had become a part of the fabric of American Christianity we saw that there was a new emphasis upon revivalism and certainly The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the great revivals after the Second World War were characteristic of that time.On a parallel track there was a growth of dispensationalism, a conservative form of Christianity that emerged directly out of its fundamentalist roots. And it retains a very distinctive eschatological point of view, which not all evangelicals hold to but dispensationalism continued to gain strength. The evangelical world followed behind the lead of Billy Graham. He began his revival meetings in the fifties and the Evangelistic Association was incorporated during that year. He continued to set forward a basically conservative message of salvation in his revival meetings. And his voice was a voice which helped to gather together what one might call the new evangelicalism. No longer fundamentalist, because the fundamentalist had been separatist and had tried to escape the modern culture. Now the New Evangelical movement was attempting to reengage culture and become a part of the life, of the modern world.

Also during the twentieth century we need to draw attention to the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and the National Association For the Advancement of Colored People, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference which Dr. King founded and a number of other Christian non-violent Christian organizations did not suffice to channel all the frustration and anger of the disenfranchised black community but in the sixties’ there was the civil rights movement which helped to break through some of the worst of the oppression of the black community. And the Christian movement evangelicals and more liberal folks joined hands in order to make that happen.

F. The Ecumenical Movement

One last word, one of the characteristics of this century is the rise of a very important movement; the Ecumenical Movement has been an important movement in the 20th century. It emerged out of the Edinburgh Conference on World Evangelization and from that movement there were a number of different organizations that developed. But on the modernist side of that development the National Council of Churches was established in 1908 and then that organization was transformed into the World Council of Churches in 1948. The Ecumenical movement attempted to give a voice for world Christianity and it gathered around it representatives from all branches of the Christian church in order to find in sources of commonality; and to find unity in the church. On the fundamentalist side there were the new evangelicals or the National Association of Evangelicals which was established in 1942. They were more conservative groups that developed as well. Clearly the World Council of Churches developed a whole series of conferences, gatherings that met in order to discuss the circumstances in the church and there were also conferences under the aegis of the of Luzon [Philippines] Conference on World Evangelization which emerge as well. The early conferences that were organized by the World Council of Churches were held in Amsterdam Netherlands] in 1948 in Evanston [Illinois] in 1954 in New Deli [India] in 1968 Uppsala [Sweden] in 1968 and there were many others as well. The ecumenical movement continues to be a source of hope that Christians might continue to understand one another better and also to join forces to work for world evangelization.

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