Lecture 8: Age of Doubt and Dogma
Course: Essentials of Church History
Lecture: Age of Doubt and Dogma
A. Age of Doubt and Dogma
We continue our study of Church History through the Ages. During the Reformation time period in the 16th century, it was a time of incredible development. It was a time of great foments, great and wonderful things took place and correspondingly difficult and adverse things also took place. And as we turn the page on that and move forward in our thinking about Christian History we come to an age of doubt and dogma. The 16th century had been a period of enormous religious vitality that swept Protestants and Catholics; theologians and rulers, the high and the low. Those who contended on both sides of the religious struggles of the time were convinced that they were doing so for religious reasons.
Charles V on the Catholic side and Frederick the Wise on the Protestant knew of no higher interest than the cause of God’s truth as they saw it. They subordinated their political and personal ambitions to that cause. Luther and Loyola lived through years of intense anguish before reaching the conclusions and attitudes that made them famous. Their actions and those of their immediate followers bore the stamp of those profound religious experiences. But as the years went by there was an increasing number who did not share the enthusiasm and often not even the convictions of earlier generations. Eventually even some who were involved in wars of religion gave signs that political and personal considerations were paramount. Typical was the case of Henry IV of France who repeatedly changed his religion in order to save his life or to achieve his political goals. When he finally attained the throne his policy of limited religious tolerance was one of the pillars on which he built modern France.
During the 17th and 18th centuries many followed Henry’s example. The Thirty Years War to which we turn next in our consideration had consequences in Germany similar to those of the earlier wars of religion in France. More and more, German princes and their ministers made use of religion in order to further their political programs. This hindered the political unity of Germany at a time when nationalist sentiment was on the rise. Therefore many Germans came to the conclusion that doctrinal disagreements should not lead to war; that religious tolerance was a wiser policy.
Partly as a result of this and partly as a result of new scientific discoveries rationalism took hold of Europe. Why be concerned about details of Christian doctrine that produce nothing but quarrels and prejudice when natural reason, a faculty common to all human beings can answer the fundamental questions regarding God and human nature. Would it not be more profitable to construct a natural religion on that basis? And to leave matters of detail and all that can only claim revealed authority to the credulous and fanatical? Hence the 17th and 18th centuries are characterized by doubts regarding the traditional dogmas of both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. On the other hand there were others whose zeal for true doctrine was no less than Luther’s, Calvin’s or Loyola’s.
But this was no longer the time for great theological discoveries leading along unknown paths. Theologians in the 17th and 18th centuries zealously defended the great figures of the 16th but without the fresh creativity of that earlier generation. Their style became increasingly rigid, cold and academic. Their goal was no longer to be entirely open to the Word of God, but rather to uphold and clarify what others had said before them. Dogma was often substituted for faith, and orthodoxy for love. Reformed, Lutheran and Catholic alike developed orthodoxies to which one had to adhere strictly or be counted out of the fold of the faithful.
Not all however were content with such orthodoxies; the Rationalist option was already on the table. Others whose beliefs were not acceptable in their native country migrated to new lands. Some sought an alternative by emphasizing the spiritual dimension of the gospel. Sometimes ignoring or even denying its relation to physical and political realities. Still others, the Methodists in England and the Pietist on the continent organized groups of believers who while not severing their ties with the established churches sought to cultivate a more intense and personal faith and piety.
We’ll deal first with the religious wars that took place in Germany; then we’ll turn our attention to the development of deism and the options that proceed out of that. We’ll find that Reformed Orthodoxy with the delineation between Armenianism and the Synod of Dort become important. We’ll find also that there is a Rationalist option with Descartes, Empiricism and Deism. We’ll find also that there is a Spiritualist option in this time period spearheaded by George Fox and the Quakers and Emmanuel Swedenborg. There is also a Pietist option with the German Pietist Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians and John Wesley and the Methodists.
As we move through this time period we need to recognize that there is a real change in the atmosphere and a change in the approach that takes place during this period.
B. Peace of Augsburg
The peace of Augsburg which put an end to religious wars in Germany in the 16th century could not last. It stipulated that princes or rulers, both catholic and protestant would be free to determine the religion of their territories and that those of their subjects who wished to do so could migrate to lands whose religion coincided with their own. This agreement however included no Protestants but those who subscribed to the confession of Augsburg. And therefore all others including Calvinist were still considered heretics and subject to persecution. Since the freedom to choose their religion was granted only to rulers; many of their subjects were restless and unhappy. Finally the peace of Augsburg included the ecclesiastical reservation by which it was guaranteed that ecclesiastical territories would remain Catholic even if their Bishops became Protestant. For all these reasons the peace that was achieved at Augsburg was at best an armistice that would hold only as long as each side felt unable to take military action against the other.
It should be said here that Ecclesiastical territories during the 16th century up to a third of the land mass was actually owned by the church. So when you take a look at the map of this time period there are incredible portions that are under the rule of the church. So the church would allow peasants to come onto that land and farm but they had to pay a tax in order to do so and there were other stipulations as well. This land was a real source of revenue. It’s interesting to note that in this Peace of Augsburg provision is made only for Roman Catholics and for Protestants of the Confession of Augsburg, in other words Lutherans and all other were excluded. Without getting involved in a lot of the detail of the proceedings we need to recognize that Europe fell into what is known as the Thirty Years War. The Protestants and the Catholic’s had had this rather loosely held armistice and finally it broke out rather badly. In Bohemia events were leading to confrontation. This was the land of the ancient Hussites who aligned themselves with Reformed Protestantism and to whom were now added a large number of German Calvinist immigrants to make the majority of the population heretical in Catholic eyes. Rebellion threatened and the Holy Roman Emperor kind of bungled the whole business. There was an event which precipitated the beginning of the war. When the council in Prague refused to listen to the objections to the Kings policies, the Bohemian Protestants revolted. They threw two of the Kings advisors out the window, though not badly hurt as they fell on a pile of garbage.
C. Thirty Years War
This episode took place in Prague and marked the beginning of the Thirty Years War; probably the bloodiest and most devastating European war before the twentieth century.
The Bohemians then called Frederick Elector of the Palatinate to be their King, the Palatinate although separated from Bohemia by Catholic Bavaria was mostly Reformed and therefore seemed the natural ally to the Bohemian’s. Rebellion soon spread east of Bohemia to the neighboring provinces of Silesia and Moravia and to make a longer story shorter there were all kinds of folks who entered into the battle. Protestants and Catholics interestingly enough there was enough intrigue to go around because actually Cardinal Richelieu of France gave money to the Protestants because it served his political purposes. Finally what happens is the King of Sweden intervenes in the war. Gustavo’s Adolfos had inherited the Swedish throne and he was only sixteen or only seventeen years of age in 1611 when this takes place. But the king proved to be a very able ruler and he mounted an attack and had a Swedish army come down into Brandenburg and through a series of very well planned campaigns Gustavo’s Adolphus defeats the Roman Catholic forces. Unfortunately Gustavos Adolphus also lost his life in the campaign.
D. Peace of Westphalia
The Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648; it put an end to the conflict that came to be known as The Thirty Years War. France and Sweden profited most from the war for the former expanded her borders to the Rhine while the latter received vast lands on the Baltic and the North Sea. Since both France and Sweden wished it German princes were given greater powers to the detriment of imperial authority. In effect they blocked the national sentiments of Germany and kept it broken up into isolated duchies‘; that was their desire. The immediate result of that war are a general amnesty to all who fought during the war and the opportunity to follow one’s own religion; as long as we are talking about Catholics, Lutherans and Reformed.
Buildings and institutions were to revert to the religious confessions that had held them in 1624. The Peace of Westphalia 1648 is one of those important dates to remember in European history because it extends that kind of religious freedom necessary. In the end nothing had been resolved. Perhaps rulers should not allow their decisions to be guided by religious or confessional considerations but rather by their own self-interest or by the interest of their subjects. One of the outcomes of The Peace of Westphalia is the rise of the modern secular state. That is the attitude where one has to recognize that perhaps rulers of countries needed to take into consideration their own concern as opposed to religious concerns or confessional considerations. There appeared an attitude of doubt regarding matters that previous generations had taken for granted. On what grounds did theologians dare to affirm that they were correct and that others were mistaken? Could any doctrine be true that produced the atrocities of the Thirty Years War? Was there not a more tolerant, more profound and even more Christian way to serve God than simply following the dictates of orthodoxy, be it Catholic or Protestant? These were some of the questions posed by the 17th and 18th centuries partly as a result of The Thirty Years War and similar events.
E. Beginning of the Enlightenment
One of the things that we need to point to here is that there is a growing self-understanding within Europe of its modern roots. It is in this time period in the wake of The Peace of Westphalia that The Enlightenment begins to emerge. “Enlightenment,” said Emmanuel Kant, “is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage.” Tutelage is man’s inability to make sense or to make use of his understanding without direction from another. “Sapere aude” that means “dare to know,” have courage to use your own reason; that is the motto of The Enlightenment.
We find that Enlightenment spirit beginning even at this very early stage in the middle of the 17th century. The Enlightenment is really the combination of two factors: the modern world combines together the humanistic spirit of the Renaissance and the scientific revolution of the 17th century. And this is what really ushers in the modern world.
F. England in the 17th Century
Now let’s turn now just for a moment back to England and find out how our friends are doing there. What we find that in the wake of the reign of Elizabeth, which lasts until 1603 and the increase in the Reformation both in Scotland and England, we find that there is now a new wave. The Marion exiles have returned from Geneva and they have begun to exert their influence within the country of England. In the English circumstance Elizabeth had the ability to hold the Anglican Church together. There were moments when it was quite difficult because there was a rising tide of Puritanism within the country, but she had been able to do this. The Puritans stood for the Reformed faith as known in Switzerland and France. They objected to the sign of the cross in Baptism and to kneeling at Communion for fear of adoring the elements. They opposed the use of surpluses and alms, liturgical garments in use in “High Church” settings; and the introduction of certain rites and ceremonies. Largely because of their Sacerdotal implications, they just smacked too much of Roman Catholicism.
Reformed theology in Switzerland and in France by its very nature was reactive and was focused against Roman Catholic expressions and so it was possible for individuals to talk about, even Thomas Cranmer in his recantation speaks of the Pope as the antichrist and all these Papal ceremonies as being accretions that are ungodly and immoral. So you see the Puritans strain is rather a serious strain, one which takes the whole matter of religion very seriously and this becomes an important movement within England. When Elizabeth died in 1603 she lift no direct heir but declared her legitimate successor to be James the son of Mary Stewart who was already King of Scotland.
The transition took place without major difficulties and thus the House of Stewart came to reign in England. The new King James I of England but James the VI of Scotland did not find the government of England an easy matter. The English always considered him a foreigner. His plans for the union of the two kingdoms which eventually did come about, won him enemies both in Scotland and in England. Elizabeth’s mangers in favor of trade were bearing fruit and therefore the merchant class which resented the king’s policies in support of nobility and his favorites was becoming increasingly powerful.
But James greatest conflicts were with those Protestants who thought that the reformation had not progressed sufficiently in England and that this was due to the policies of the sovereigns and their advisors. Since neighboring Scotland, from whence the new king had come had moved further along the road of Reformation English Calvinist’s felt the time was ripe for similar changes in their own land.
These more radical Protestants were not organized in a single group nor in all matters and therefore it is difficult to describe them in general terms. They were given the name Puritans because they insisted on the need to purify the church by a return to biblical religion. They opposed many of the traditional elements of worship that the Church of England had retained. They had a different interpretation of the meaning of the Lords Supper that led long and bitter controversy. They insisted on the need for a sober life guided by the commandments of Scripture, lacking in luxury and ostentation. John Milton is Puritan and of course you may know of John Milton for Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, he was one of these Puritans; such men who objected to ceremonial and to gorgeous furnishings in the churches.
They believed not only that there was beauty in chaste simplicity but they also maintained that this characterized the early church. And that the gradual departure from this simplicity after the third century indicated a spiritual deterioration. Notice the argument about the 3rd century. Remember back Constantine in 313 had said that Christianity was one of the recognized religions of the empire.
And so this Constantin approval of Christianity according the Puritans is the source of Christianity’s problems in the 16th and the 17th centuries. It is interesting to note how important a factor that was for them. They called attention to the prohibition of graven images in the second commandment and urged that the glory of the deity could never be properly depicted on colored windows or in sculpture, and that attempt to do so led to error. They would have agreed heartily with Bernard Lord Manning who said, “To call on the name of God if men truly know and mean what they are doing is in itself an act so tremendous and full of comfort that any sensuous or artistic heightening of the effect is not so much a painting of the Lily as a varnishing of sunlight.”
At the Hampton Court Conference, called by James I in January 1604 the Puritan leaders were treated with great disrespect by their Sovereign. It’s said that the Puritans were insulted, ridiculed and laughed to scorn, without either wit or good manners. At the end, the king addressing the learned and courteous Puritan leader Dr. Reynolds of Oxford testily declared that he “would make them conform or harry them out of the land or worse.” Almost the only good result of this conference was the production of the Authorized Version of the Bible which was completed in 1611. This James I was the James that we hearken to when we talk of the King James Bible. He placed much more stock in the divine right of Kings and his right as a noble than he did, I believe, in the word of God. When royal proclamation demanded complete conformity to the settled order of The Church of England on the part of all and acknowledgement of the king’s supremacy, fifteen hundred clergymen refused to sign the new cannons. Many were shielded by sympathetic bishops, but three hundred ministers in England were ousted and silenced, others were imprisoned. This was the first great rift in the English Church.
Bancroft was now Archbishop and as a strong High Churchmen, believed in the divine right of prelacy in the church. According to Bishop Kennet he proceeded with rigor, severity and wrath against the Puritans. It was at this time that ornaments and ceremonies which had been discarded for many years were brought back into The Anglican Church. The situation with respect to the Puritans began to get worse and worse under James rule. James personal character did little to increase his prestige, he was a homosexual and his favorites enjoyed unmerited privilege and power in his court and in his government. While insisting on his right to be an absolute monarch, he wavered between stubborn rigidity and weak flexibility. Although he managed his finances honestly he was prodigal in spending for superfluous matters and important projects were hindered for lack of funds. James tried to follow a religious policy similar to Elizabeth. Only the Anabaptists were systematically persecuted for their egalitarian ideas horrified the King. Catholics were seen as loyal to the Pope and therefore as potential traitors but if the Pope was willing to acknowledge James right to the throne and to condemn regicide, which some extreme Catholics proposed as a solution to England’s rebellious troubles, the King was willing to tolerate Catholics in his kingdoms. Presbyterians, whom the King had come to hate in Scotland, were tolerated in England and James even granted them some minor concessions. But the one thing he would not abandon was the Episcopal system of government, for he was convinced, and rightly so, that the bishops were some of the most committed and useful supporters of the crown
One of the things that we find that while Parliament was in session James had been compelled to call it in order to approve the new taxes. The lower chamber of The House of Commons included many Puritans who now joined with others in an appeal to the King against Bancroft’s Cannons. James called a conference that gathered at Hampton Court over which he presided. When one of the Puritans made passing reference to a Presbytery, the King declared that there could be no closer connection between a monarchy and a Presbytery than that between God and the devil. All attempts at conciliation failed and the only result of that meeting was the new translation of the bible that appeared in 1611. That was the beginning of growing enmity between The House of Commons and the more conservative among the bishops. In 1605, The Gunpowder Plot was discovered, a repressive law against Catholics had been issued the previous year on the pretext that they were loyal to the Pope. It seems that the real purpose was to collect funds that the authorities used mostly to impose heavy fines and to confiscate property. In any case some Catholics decided that it was necessary to be rid of the King.
One of them rented a property whose underground storage extended below parliaments meeting place. The plan was to place several barrels of gun powder under the meeting room making it appear they were full of wine and blow them up while the king was opening the next session of Parliament. This would kill both the King and the Puritans who now sat in Parliament. But the plot was discovered and the main conspirators as well as several whose participation in the plot was never proven were executed. In some areas Catholics were hunted down, James himself seems to have had attempted to distinguish between the guilty and those who simply happened to be Catholic. But he did take the opportunity to impose more fines. The new King, after James dies, he was succeeded was his son Charles I. Charles first had an unhappy reign. In 1633 he made William Law the Archbishop of Canterbury. William Laud was a High Churchman and so suppressed Puritanism with a tremendous rigor. There was war with Scotland. In 1640 Charles called a meeting of Parliament hoping to obtain funds for his war against the Scottish rebels. But it soon became clear that many in the Commons were in less than sympathy with the king than with his enemies and Charles dissolved the assembly, thereafter called The Short Parliament.
Encouraged by such a turn of events the Scots invaded English territory and the Kings troops fled in disorder. Once again Charles was forced to convene parliament thus began The Long Parliament which would be of great importance for the history of England. The years immediately preceding the first meeting of The Long Parliament had been marred by difficulty, social and economic upheavals. The parliament took steps to assure that its measures would have permanent value. In May 1641 it passed a law establishing that the assembly could not be dissolved by the King without its own agreement. Although that law deprived him of an important prerogative the King did not oppose it but rather hoped that his problems would be solved by a series of complicated intrigues. But finally what happens there is a civil war that breaks out and Charles is finally put to death and during this time period the Puritans take charge of government and there is a Protectorate that is established Oliver Cromwell becomes the Protectorate of the nation .
During this time period there is a great deal of latitude that is given to church expressions and finally when the country couldn’t continue on the hope of a stable republic failed. It had been the case that while Cromwell was in charge there was a stable republic but when he died that stable republic failed. And so they cast about for what to do and so they decided to restore the monarchy. Parliament recalled Charles II to his father’s throne and this brought about a reaction against the Puritans. Although Charles at first sought to find a place for Presbyterians within the national church, the new parliament opposed such projects and preferred the traditional Episcopacy. Thus the new government restored both the episcopacy and the Book of Common Prayer, which had been set aside. In some ways what had happened during this civil war period is it had become so identified with the Puritans and Presbyterianism that a once the Protectorate failed there was a backlash against it. So the Book of Common Prayer was reissued there were laws issued against dissidents and non-conformists. By non-conformists I mean not conforming to the Act of Uniformity which stipulated the proper was of doing worship.
In Scotland the consequences of the restoration were more severe, that country became staunchly Presbyterian and now by royal decree the Episcopacy was reinstated and the ministers of Presbyterian persuasion were disposed in favor of others who were willing to preach in favor of Bishops. This resulted in riots and revolts. Archbishop James Sharp the prelate of Scotland was murdered and this brought about the intervention of the English in support of the Scottish Royalists.
G. William and Mary as English Monarchs
After three years under James II, the English rebelled and invited William Prince of Orange and his wife Mary to occupy the throne. William landed in 1688 and James fled to France. In Scotland his supporters held on for a few months but by the following year William and Mary were firmly in possession of the Scottish Crown also. Their religious policy was fairly tolerant. In England tolerance was granted to any who would subscribe to the thirty-nine articles and swear loyalty to the sovereigns. Those who refused to swear, called non-jurors, were granted tolerance as long as they did not conspire against the sovereigns. In Scotland Presbyterianism became the official religion of the State, and the Westminster Confession its doctrinal norm. It was during the Protectorate that the Westminster Confession was established as orthodox expression of Reformed teaching in England. And the Westminster Confession with its catechism is a very interesting document and represents Reformed Orthodoxy.
H. Reformed Orthodoxy in Europe
Reformed Orthodoxy on the continent took a little different form. In 1619 there was a fellow by the name of Jacob Arminius and he had been teaching in universities there and taught the book of Romans and had asked the question, “whether or not grace was possible to reject.” He came to the conclusion that it could be rejected, which was quite against Calvinist Doctrine of the time. So in 1619 the Synod of Dort was convened, there were representatives of most of the major countries of Europe and it was in that synod that the positions of Arminianism and Orthodox Reformed teaching were set out. The Armenians claimed that while sin infects everyone, they would not tend to use the phrase total depravity. They would tend to say we are marked my sin and we need the prevenient grace of the Holy Spirit to help us to believe on the Lord Jesus.
On the other side the Reformed side was that all of human capacities had been touched by sin and they affirmed the teaching of total depravity. The Reformed position also set forward the doctrine of the limited atonement, the Armenians for their part claim that God extended grace universally. And so down the line there a number of different positions on these points. The Reformed position is known as TULIP, it is an acronym total depravity, and uh down through the rest. Protestant orthodoxy was characterized both by the Synod of Dort and by the Westminster Confession.
When we take a look at the five points of Calvinism, “T” is for total depravity, “U” is for unconditional election, we spoke briefly about Calvin’s notion of double predestination, “L” is for limited atonement, “I” is for irresistible grace, and “P” is for perseverance of the saints. On just about every point, the Arminian position would be slightly different instead of total depravity they would talk about sin but they would say that one retains free will and with one’s free will one can still identify the good even though free will is not strong enough to enable you to do it. On the other side of unconditional election they would say that there is a rather foreknowledge of election and what they would say is that God knows who will by means of the help of the Holy Spirit choose him so that he chooses those who choose him. So it is an interesting and subtle way of dealing with that problematic. “L” for limited atonement, on the Arminian side they would say that the atonement is unlimited; it is open for everyone who will say yes. “I“ for irresistible grace. The Arminian for their part would say, “no”; grace is resistible, it seems to be the case that human beings are able to resist God and thus say no to Him. And so they held out for that as a human possibility, if one wants to put it that way. Then “P” then is for the perseverance of the saints. Orthodox Reformed would say Once saved, God will grant you grace to persevere until the end, that’s of course also implied within the “U” for unconditional election. If you have been elect, elected by God you are elect from the foundation of the earth, and your decision is not a part of the matter although they would say that God does not save you apart from your will, but they would say that God is the one who does the choosing, therefore he also was the one who grants the ability to persevere, the Armenians on their side would say that it is possible for someone to fall from the faith.
So the Westminster Confession agrees with Dort that the result of Adams sin is original corruption whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled and made opposite to all good and wholly inclined to all evil, confirms limited atonement. And so there is much in common between these two pieces, and these do represent Reformed Orthodoxy. Now when we take a look at the rest of the scene during this time period we see there is a rise in Rationalism, an attitude that reached its apex in the 18th and 19th centuries was characterized by its interest in the world and by its confidence in the powers of reason. In Western Europe there had been a growing interest in nature since the thirteenth century. That was the time of Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas who reintroduced Aristotelian philosophy as a foundational tool for theology. One of the points of contrast between Aristotelian and Platonism, that until then had dominated theological thought, was precisely that the new philosophy emphasized the importance of sense perception. This meant that the observation of the world could lead to true and significant knowledge and therefore from the time of Albert the Great (who wrote about animals) there had been a growing interest in the world of nature.
The later middle ages with its distrust of speculation continued the same tendency. In a way the art of the Renaissance with its appreciation for the beauty of the human body and of the world was a further expression of this interest. But by the 17th century many thought that the goal of reason was the understanding of the world of nature. By the 17th century that was the thought, but parallel to that interest in the world there appeared mostly at the time of the Renaissance a growing confidence in the powers of reason. And this found its expression in a number of scientific discoveries, new tools, telescopes, new military machinery; all kinds of human discoveries were now taking place. There was a burgeoning scientific community and there were new discoveries that were going on.
I. Rise of Rationalism
In light of this there is a powerful movement also philosophically. Renee Descartes, who lived from 1596 to 1650, begins his philosophical system that was based on a great confidence in mathematical reasoning. Joined to a profound distrust of all that is not absolutely certain he would therefore compare his philosophical method to geometry, a discipline that accepts only what is an undeniable axiom. One of the things that is foundational for his theological structure is this, this dictum that you may be familiar with “cogito ergo sum”, “I think, therefore I am.” That becomes the starting point for his philosophy, this “I” whose existence cannot be doubted is only the philosopher as a thinking thing. For the existence of his body has not yet been proven and must be doubted. But then he goes on to establish our thing so his philosophy, this Cartesian Philosophy led to further theological and philosophical developments had at its heart something of a radical questioning and this was a part of the mindset of the time.
One of the movements that is important in this period of time is “Empiricism” Following from this way of thinking and also from the fact that sense perception is very important you have the philosophy of John Locke who in 1690 published his essay on human understanding. He had read the works of Descartes and agreed that the order of the world corresponded to the order of the mind, but he did not believe that there were innate ideas which one could discover by looking into one’s self. On the contrary, he held that all knowledge is derived from experience; both the outer experience of the senses and the inner experience by which we know ourselves and the functioning of our minds. This means that only true knowledge is that based on our three levels of experience, our own selves whose existence we continually experience; those outer realities that are presently before us, and God, whose existence is proven at each moment by the existence of the self and its experiences. Apart from these three levels there is no certain knowledge. Locke’s opinions regarding empiricism begin find their way into more religious thought forms and Deism becomes a very great movement at this particular time. Over and against Orthodoxy and conservative Christian positions which seem to be quibbling and that which led to The Thirty Years War. The common alternative was that of the Deists or The Free Thinkers. They were called deists because they rejected what they considered the aberrations of the atheists and free thinkers in contrast to those who held to the narrow limits of orthodoxy.
So you see Deists fought on two sides. On the one hand they fought against narrow dogmatism and on the other side they fought against those who had no faith at all. And so they tried to find this middle path. The first great figure of deism was Lord Herbert of Cherbury who held that true religion must be universal, not only in the sense of calling for the allegiance of all but also in the sense of being a religion that is natural to humankind. Such religion is not based on particular revelations or on historical events but rather on the natural instincts of every human being. Its basic doctrines are five: The existence of God; the obligation to worship God; the ethical requirement of such worship; the need for repentance; and reward and punishment both in this life and the one to follow.
Although there may be possibly, there may possibly be divine revelation any doctrine that claiming to stem from it must not contradict these five basic points and in any case since such revelation is given only to part of humanity there is no reason to expect all to accept it. Shortly after the publication of Locke’s essay John Toland published what would become one of the classics of Deism and just the title itself is quite instructive. Christianity Not Mysterious or A Treatise Showing That There Is Nothing In The Gospel Contrary Or Above It And That No Christian Doctrine Can Be Properly Called a Mystery. And then Matthew Tindal published a book entitled Christianity as Old as the World or The Gospel of Republication of The Religion of Nature. So notice what’s happening in Deism, you have a rejection of divine revelation opting instead for human reason. It is very interesting to take a look at this because what that means is that basic tenants of the Christian faith, such as the incarnation; how can you explain this simply by means of reason. So what happens is there is an undermining of some of the essential factors in the Christian faith. Now at this early stage, many of Deists look much more like conservative Christians than some of the liberal theologians that we have in the church today. But non-the-less you have such an adherence to human reason that revelation is being pushed off to the side. At this time there is also a rise in the critic against the church and so the Deist’s while they continue to be quite religious they none the less leave less and less room for what one might call orthodox or apostolic Christian teaching.
L. Rise in the Critique Against the Church
On the continent in France there is really quite a sharp critique which is raised by Voltaire who was a rationalist and quite a despiser of Roman Catholic political and religious activity in France. One of Voltaire’s contemporaries Montesquieu sought to apply the principles of reason to the theory of government. He thus came to the conclusion that republic is a better form of government than either despotism, which is based on error, or monarchy whose foundation is a prejudice called honor. Such power corrupts, Montesquieu suggested, that government should be exercised by three powers that would balance and limit each other, the legislative, the executive and the judicial. Thus by 1748 several decades before the American and French Revolutions Montesquieu was proposing some of the basic doctrines of those movements. Rousseau was setting forward teaching of progress. In a number of different ways the thought form of this time period is moving in Deist directions. In France Voltaire seemed to delight in pointing out the incongruities and contradictions in the bible. Here are just a few examples concerning Adam and Eve On the sixth day God makes man and woman, but the author forgetting that the woman has been made already afterwards derives her from one of Adams ribs. Adam and Eve are put in the garden from which four rivers issue and of these rivers there are two Euphrates and the Nile which have their sources a thousand miles from each other. There are a number of different sayings that come from Voltaire’s lips. He in referring to Catholicism says “crush the infamous thing.” He had been so offended by what Christianity and particularly Roman Catholicism had done in France that he wanted to set himself over and against it all together.
Also the religion of reason in Germany begins to take the shape of positive critique on scripture. If indeed religion needs to be carried out by human reason then it follows that the text of that religion needs to be looked upon as literature. So what happened in Germany was that there were a number of individuals who began to study the Scripture with this kind of radical suspicion. There were exposes of troublesome passages of scripture and it was set out as being contradictions in the biblical texts, so there was a growing hostility for revelation and for any proof of religion. This time period is one in which there is a continued undermining of a belief in dogma and there is rising doubt all around.
Now then there were different options that were available during this time period of rising doubt. One of course that we have already talked about here is Deism. There was Deism and the critique of traditional Christianity. A transformation of that Christianity had to come to grips with human reason. Understanding Christianity as a religion which has evolved and which one could say is the highest evolution of the moral expression of human religion but which has no particular claim on all of humanity but is simply an expression of the best of human reason.
M. Spiritualist Option
Then you also have the Spiritualist option which comes through different individuals. You have the Pietists and then we’ll have a chance to chat rather briefly about the Great Awakening. But we need to move rather quickly here in order to pick up some of the pieces. George Fox, to pick up the Spiritualist option, his dates are from 1624 – 1761, born in a small English village and he was of humble origin, he was a cobblers apprentice, but by 19 years of age, disgusted at the licentiousness of his fellow apprentices’ and feeling compelled by this Spirit of God he quit his occupation and began a life of wandering and attending religious meetings. George Fox set out a heartfelt religion and he believed that it was through God’s and the inner light that one came to truth.
So it was not through dogma that one came to truth it want orthodox Christianity that had its hold on George Fox but it was this rather life in the Spirit, life with God through the inner light is previous to any communication by any external means. So he is closing outside empiricism and he is relying upon that internal light that is produced by the spirit. George Fox of course is a nonconformist, there were many Quakers who were persecuted in the early years in England, and indeed even here in the early years of the colonies Quakers were not received with open arms. But the Spiritualist Option was attractive in a day which doubted the truth of dogma. Spiritual worship often times took the form of sitting in quietness together. Until someone had a revelation and then one would speak out. The Quakers were also concerned about welfare for the poor and establishing a community of love, so in The Friends meetings decisions were not made by majority vote. If an agreement was not reached the decision was postponed, the meeting continued in silence until the Spirit offered a solution. So there was much waiting upon the Spirit in the Quaker movement.
One of the most famous of Fox’s followers was William Penn after which the State of Pennsylvania is named. His father was a British Admiral and William Penn received a special right to establish a colony in the new world. Another Spiritualist, an interesting character Emmanuel Swedenborg his dates are 1688 – 1772 also had something of a Spiritualist tendency and many years of scientific inquiry and Swedenborg kind of blended his scientific interest with a vision that he said carried him into the spiritual world where he had been able to see eternal truths. After that vision he wrote voluminously on the true meaning of reality and of scripture and according to him all that exists is a reflection of the attributes of God and therefore the visible world corresponds with the invisible one the same is true of scripture which reflects truths that can only be known by those who have entered the spiritual world and so he set out his own understanding of things in that spiritualist shape.
N. Pietist Option
We now turn to the Pietist Option and we could actually spend quite a lot of time on that option but we don’t have that time so we just need to speed right through. In the years following we have spoken of Reformed Orthodoxy also Lutheran Orthodoxy and the tendency within Lutheran Orthodoxy was to set forward the importance of doctrine and there was a codifying of doctrine and there was a corresponding lack of love and so they talk about cold Orthodoxy. And there was a fellow by the name of Phillip Jacob Spener his 1635 – 1705 and he has rightly been called “The Father of Pietism.” He was born and raised in Alsace in an aristocratic family of deep Lutheran convictions. He studied theology at the best Protestant Universities and after receiving his doctorate became a Pastor in Frankfort, there he founded groups of bible study and devotions that he called “Colleges of Piety.” In 1675 he published the book Pia Desideria in which he outlined a program for the development of Piety. This became the fundamental charter of Pietism. In this book he sets out certain reforms, first he wants to have a more extensive use of the Word of God among the people. He was concerned that a cursory reading of the Bible was not enough and that the reading that one gets on a Sunday morning wont sustain one for real life in the world. So he urged people to greater bible reading. Wanted more extensive use of the Work of God to sustain people this private reading of scripture was really foundational for him. The second proposal picks up one of Luther’s central concerns that were lost in the period following him and that is the priesthood of all believers that needs to be reestablished. It’s not that simply the pastor of the congregation that is important, but all the people need to be engaged in ministry.
The third proposal could be found in Luther also, namely in his preface to the Book of Romans in the New Testament, people must learn in Spener’s language it is by no means enough to have knowledge of the Christian faith and to follow the churches precepts but that everything depends on one’s life on using ones faith practically. So here he is talking about the praxis pitatis what he is saying is that faith is a powerful action in our lives is not passive, it is not some small thing but actually is the motive power for all of life. Faith is what makes life work, he set that forward. The fourth proposal concerned religious controversies and ones attitude toward those of different beliefs and he claims that we need to show charity when we have religious controversies Notice how this corresponds directly to the kind of reaction that took place after the Thirty Years War. Spener’s fifth proposal has to do with education; he wanted to change the study pattern in the universities. Studying theology without leading a life in accordance with the demands of the gospel is of no value. Therefore the lifestyle of the students should be better supervised. He wanted to see that the students actually lived out what it was that they confessed.
One of the things that he wanted to be sure was that these new pastoral candidates had in their education practice of those things that they were going to eventually do in their ministry comfort the sick preach so forth. Spener also brought a sixth proposal to the table; his sixth proposal is the recommendation of Arndt’s Pastille. Johann Arndt was a warm hearted pastor and he recommends that sermons should be preached so that they might best accomplish their aim; namely increasing faith in its fruits among those that hear them. It was said of the day the sermons were quite often more of a theological treatise than they were directed toward faith. So Spener wanted all of those things to take place. Phillip Spener was very important in terms of setting forward this heartfelt religion and in his wake August Hermann Franke comes to faith and really helps to bring certain legs to Spener’s proposals.
August Hermann Francke eventually becomes a professor in Halle and in his Halle position he establishes an orphanage which has a powerful effect in the community there and there is a center for Pietism at the university. So for a couple of decades there was a Pietistic influence on faculty and a number of Pietists were produced in that time frame.
Resulting from the Pietist movement there are a number of individuals who go out in foreign missions. Also associated with this German Pietist movement we need to mention Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf he is a very interesting character who also is not so much about doctrine but as about heartfelt faith. And so he comes to saving faith and because of his status in life he is able to offer his estate to the Moravians who had been ousted from their homeland, he grants them a place to live and there they reside and they establish a place called Herrnhut or the Lords Watch. From this movement of heartfelt Christian faith there are a number who are sent out as missionaries first to Greenland and to the Caribbean to Africa and India, South America and North America where they founded the communities of Bethlehem and Nazareth in Pennsylvania and at Salem in North Carolina and this movement began with some refugees in Count Zinzendorf’s welcome. Also John Wesley and Methodism is a part of this option that stands over and against the Deism of the day. John Wesley has a warm heart experience; well first he prepares himself for the ministry, Anglican ministry and is ordained. He goes to the New World, but by his own accounts during that time period he probably was not saved, that is what he says anyway. He came back somewhat of a beaten man and while hearing the preface to the book of Romans written by Martin Luther he hears that rousing introduction to the Book of Romans and he has what he calls a warm heart experience, he says “I want away from Aldersgate my heart being warmed” and from that day on he held a shining faith.
He was called by his friend George Whitfield to come and do field preaching, something which is really out of the ordinary in its time. And he and George Whitefield begin preaching to the common people and revival breaks out. There are many people who come to faith and that movement continues to grow in England and that is what the Methodist movement became. Now it is interesting for me to note that John Wesley actually spent approximately three months visiting Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians in Moravia. So it is very interesting the interrelationship between German Pietism, Zinzendorf Moravian warm heart experiences, as well as the Methodist movement. And in some ways one could call the Methodist Movement the English form of Pietism.
As we come to this stage we’ve seen that this is a rising age of dogma and doubt. We have talked about The Thirty Years War, The Puritan Revolution in England, The Rise of Puritanism. We’ve talked about Reformed Orthodoxy with the Synod of Dort in 1619, The Westminster Confession of 1648, we’ve talked also about the rise of Deism, we have talked about that Rationalist Option in the wake of confession of Europe. We have also talked about the Spiritualist Option through George Fox and then Emmanuel Swedenborg. We have talked briefly about the Pietist Option with German Pietism, Zinzendorf and the Moravian’s, John Wesley and the Methodist’s.