Lecture 9: The 19th Century
Course: Essentials of Church History
Lecture: The 19th Century
I. Solutions to the Rising Resistance to the religious Structure
As we’ve seen in the wake of the great outpouring of energy in the 16th century Reformation, the 17th century brought a rising amount of doubt regarding dogma, thus resulting in the thirty years war. So the solutions to the rising resistance to authority and religious structure could be characterized by orthodoxy, rationalism and pietism.
Orthodoxy focused on three different categories. There was the reformed sort, the Lutheran sort and the Catholic sort. There was rationalism that was expressed in philosophies such as empiricism and deism, especially with David Hume and his critique of empiricism. You have German Pietism with Spener and Franke, then came Kafka and Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians, John Wesley and the Methodists.
Now for the American thirteen colonies, the 18th century brought to North America the same Pietistic currents that had brought to Germany and England. Presbyterians for instance were divided by a controversy between those who insisted on strict adherence to the teaching of Westminster (the old side) and those of the new side whose emphasis was on the experience of redeeming grace, although eventually the two sides would come together for a time but the controversy eventually led to a schism that was made more acute due to the great awakening. From an early date, many among the North American colonists had felt that a personal religious experience was of great importance for Christian life. But that feeling became more generalized in a series of events that began in 1734 when the first signs of a great awakening appeared in Northampton, Massachusetts.
II. Three Great Evangelists
A. Jonathan Edwards
Jonathon Edwards a staunch Calvinist pastor who had been trained at Yale was convinced of the need for personal experience in conversion. He had been preaching at Northampton for several years with average results when his preaching began evoking responses that surprised him. His sermons were not exceptionally emotive, although they did underscore the need for conviction of sin and of divine forgiveness. It was 1734 when people began to respond to his sermons, some with emotional outbursts, but many with a remarkable change in their lives and with increased attention to their devotional lives. In a few months the movement swept the area going into Connecticut. Soon it subsided, and after three years its extraordinary signs had almost disappeared. But the memory remained as well as the hope that it would be rekindled. Shortly thereafter George Whitfield visited New England and his preaching led to many experiences of conversion as well as outward expressions of conversion and joy. He was at Oxford at the same time with John and Charles Wesley who were members of the so-called “Holy Club”. Whitfield had participated in some drama classes at Oxford, but then he committed himself to the ministry asking John Wesley to do field preaching with him. Meanwhile, George Whitfield left England to establish an orphanage in Georgia. He then proceeded to preach up and down the coast and over the course of his life crossed the Atlantic some fourteen times, each taking two months sailing time. Having a powerful preaching presence, one London leading light said of George Whitfield “all he needs to do is say Mesopotamia and it will cause the crowd to swoon”. He had powerful skills in oratory, but more importantly he had sermons which focused upon the grace of Jesus Christ and he had the ability to talk in winning ways about the new birth which was the theme that ran through many of his sermons. He spoke of the new birth, its necessity, and its reality in the power of the Spirit.
B. George Whitfield
Whitfield would often find opposition in the towns he preached in. There were ministers of different denominations in these places and at that time it was unheard of to work across denominational boundaries. There were Congregationalists, Baptists, and others. But George Whitfield was a person who could embrace the wider Christian community. When he spoke, he would often invite other churches to attend his preaching. Whitfield was known to do field preaching and thus gather large crowds. Some would come to hear the latest news, some out of religious inquiry and curiosity. It has been said that he was a person that the colonists heard the most from. He preached in an outdoor venue in New England known as the Pulpit Rock which formed a natural amphitheater. As many as five thousand congregated there to hear him preach. He was, indeed, a powerful speaker and he began to have an effect on the colonies. So the Great Awakening continued to sweep up and down the thirteen colonies through the ministry of George Whitfield. And during this time, the colonies began to think in terms of their own self-identity.
His preaching sessions would result in people weeping in repentance, some shouted for joy at having been pardoned and forgiven of sins and there was a few who were so overwhelmed they fainted. There were times when there were ruffians who would come and throw stones and make trouble in the gatherings that Whitfield brought together. But for the most part the crowds were well behaved. The people’s reactions to his preaching were somewhat out of character for the solid New England sorts. Such reactions led the enemies’ of the great awakening to accuse the new leaders of undermining the solemnity of worship and of substituting emotion for study and devotion. It must be said however that many of the leaders of the movement were not particularly emotive, that many were scholars. In any case the goal of the movement was not worship services marked by continuous shows of emotion but rather a single experience that would lead each believer to great devotion and more conscientious study of scripture. This can be seen in Jonathan Edward’s sermons as they are not emotive harangues, but instead, they are careful exposition of profound theological matters. Edwards believed that emotions were important, but such emotion, including such a high experience as conversion, should not eclipse the need for right doctrine and rational worship.
III. The American Colonies and the Great Awakening
A. The 1730s
The first Great Awakening took place in 1730’s, primarily under the auspices of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield and other important preachers. The leaders of the Awakening were orthodox Calvinists. It is precisely the Calvinism which Whitfield preached that led to the break with Wesley and Edwards who wrote solid profound defenses of the doctrine of predestination. Although, the early stages of the movement were led by Congregationalists and Presbyterians, it was the Baptists and the Methodists who profited most from it. At first the Baptists opposed the movement, calling it frivolous and superficial, but the awakening led many people to conclusions that were favorable to the Baptists. Indeed if an experience of conversion had such central importance in the Christian life, this then raised doubts as to infant baptism. The awakening emphasis on personal experience eventually led the Presbyterians along with the Congregationalists to reject infant baptism and became Baptists. Entire congregations did so. The great awakening also led both Baptists and Methodists to the western frontier. At this time whites were constantly appropriating Indian lands and it was the Methodists and Baptists who, imbued with the spirit of the Great Awakening, took up the task of preaching to those western settlers and organizing their religious life. For that reason these two groups became the most numerous in the early settler areas.
B. The 1770s
Finally, the Great Awakening had political consequences. This movement embraced the thirteen colonies which eventually become the United States of America. Thanks to a sense of commonality developing among the colonies, along with new ideas circulating regarding human rights and the nature of government. Eventually these ideas would produce momentous events.
The thirteen colonies continued to grow and it was in the 1770’s that the Revolutionary War struck with great force. This was a time of great hardship and suffering for the people of the countryside and there was a real downturn in church attendance. The war also had a powerful effect on certain groups. Of course, the Anglicans did not benefit from the war, being identified with England during this time period was a very unhappy thing altogether. Thus many of the Anglican ministers travelled north to Canada because it was simply too difficult to remain in the colonies. With close associations with England, many thought that the Anglican ministers were traitors. There was one pastor sometime after the war said that Anglicanism was losing members hand and fist and that in a matter of two short decades would be no more in the colonies.
Francis Asbury who had newly come to the colonies from England as Bishop of the Methodists in the colonies actually had to hide out in barns and other places for nearly two years. His English accent and his English birth did not do him well. Many thought that he was a spy and so he got shot at a few times.
IV. The Second Great Awakening
A. The 1805 Awakening
By the end of the 18th century, the Cane Ridge revival broke out in 1805. With a preponderance of Congregationalists that were a part of the first great awakening, it was in the second great awakening we find a great emphasis with the Presbyterians and Baptists.
This awakening was difficult to chart as it appeared in many localities at the same time. The early colonial awakening of course had been perpetrated to some degree among both Baptists and Methodists and during the 1790’s scattered revivals had begun to occur among the Congregationalists in the remoter sections of New England. In Virginia the most significant event was the revival among the students at Hampton Sydney and at Washington Colleges in 1787 which resulted with some thirty to forty men going into the Presbyterian ministry. Joined by James McGreevy, a graduate of John McMillan’s Law College at Pennsylvania, these men fanned out into the Carolinas and Tennessee and Kentucky and were responsible for the quickening religious interest which culminated in 1800 in the great camp meeting revival that was held in Logan County Kentucky.
The excitement generated there spread rapidly throughout Kentucky and Tennessee and back into the Carolinas, Virginia and Pennsylvania and then northward to the new settlements beyond the Ohio River. In central and western New York there were revivals of sufficient numbers and scope. Local analysts referred to that year as the year of the great revival.
And in 1802 there was a revival at Yale, where as a results, a notable series of chapel sermons by Timothy Dwight (1752 – 1817) led to one third of the student body confessing Jesus Christ. President Dwight had stumbled into the revival quite inadvertently. Distressed by the free thinking views being espoused by the students he had boldly launched an attack in which he sought to demonstrate that the only alternative to godliness was first anarchy and then despotism. The intensity of the student response was surprising; it convinced Dwight that revivals could be exploited as an effective antidote to infidelity, and this he preceded to do. The revival at Yale was significant for several reasons. Dwight commanded wide respect among the old Calvinist and under his leadership these heirs of the modernist revivalist party among the Congregationalists were brought into the revivalist camp. It was also significant in terms of the students he sent out to become leaders of the revival campaign. Most notably was Lyman Beecher (1775 – 1863) right up to the Civil War, and Nathanial W. Taylor (17786 – 1858).
Beecher was to be the great organizer and promoter of the New England great awakening while Taylor was the theologian who worked out the appeal by providing the intellectual defense. Finally, through the contagion of Yale’s example, the revival spread to other colleges and soon became an established institution on most American campuses with the number of hopeful converts being regularly reported. In this way additional members were recruited to carry on the campaign. One thing that needs to be said here is that the new revivalism was markedly differently than the first revivalism of the first great awakening under Jonathan Edwards. The outpouring of God’s Spirit was regarded as a by-product of the faithful preaching of Gods’ word. Christians waited for these earlier revivals. Calvin Colton remarked “as men are want to wait for showers of rain without even imagining that any duty was incumbent upon them as instruments”. In the second awakening however a change began to be introduced, more and more preachers sought to provoke a revival by use of a means that were calculated to make the hearers make a decision and to make it right, thus the revival became a technique . A technique, to be sure, that had earlier been self-consciously developed by George Whitfield, but never had it been quite so instrumental in character. Up until that time, revival had always been in a sense, an end in itself, now it became an adjunct to other ends and discourses could be written on the necessity of revival to religion, to the perpetuity of our society, and our civil institutions.
B. A Spiritual Awakening
One of the distinctive features of the second great awakening is the use of camp meetings. There is a strong use of gathering people together and they would do so for extended periods of time in quite often rural places. It took some time to get to these camp sites and so spending a few days there was the natural consequence.
James McGready stormed into Kentucky in 1796 had become the pastor of three small congregations on the Gasper and the Muddy Rivers. The Red, the Gasper, and the Muddy Rivers and all of those happened to be in Logan County. When put together with the parishioners of other churches it made for a large group. So this larger group dynamic was something that was tapped into. When these folks came together listening to the impassioned preaching; this began to illicit a growing response, but it was not until that their pent up emotions burst loose and resulted in a four day sacramental meeting held at the Red River in June. It was two Presbyterian ministers who were there to assist McGreevy and the two brothers, William, a Presbyterian and John, a Methodist minister were also present. During the first three days McGreevy, Hodges and Franklin spoke and several times the audience was reduced to tears. On the final day, John McGee, the Methodist brother could restrain himself no longer. He rose and began to exhort the people to “let the Lord Omnipotent reign in their hearts”. And when a woman shouted for mercy he moved to her side and this is what he said, “Several spoke to me, you know these people, Presbyterians are much for order, they’ll not bear this confusion, go back and be quiet. I turned to go and was near falling but the power of God was strong upon me I turned again and losing sight of fear of man I went through the house shouting and with all possible ecstasy and energy. Soon the floor was covered by the slain, as it says, and their screams for mercy pierced the heavens, according to McGready, the most notorious and profane swearers and Sabbath breakers were pricked to the heart and many were crying out “What shall we do to be saved? News of the excitement at Red River spread rapidly and flushed with success, McGready decided to capitalize upon this interest by circulating word among the scattered settlements that the service would be held the last week in July. Stirred, possibly by curiosity as much as anything else, great numbers came and they set up in makeshift tents of sheets, quilts or branches were erected and there was a large meeting, variously estimated at from ten to twenty-five thousand. Even ten thousand was a fantastic total at a time when Lexington, the largest settlement in the State had only one thousand seven hundred and ninety-five inhabitants.
This outbreak of revival in the second great awakening turned out to be quite an influential movement within the church structure. There was a great deal of interest on the frontiers and that’s exactly where the Baptists and the Methodists had located. And further, with the Methodists you had the circuit riding preachers and in those days it was possible for a person to go to a revival meeting and get saved and be baptized and the very next day could be sent out as a circuit riding preacher. Francis Ashbury was really quite aggressive in grabbing individuals who had a down home way about them, non-educated but people whose hearts were touched by the Lord and he would send them out on circuits and what they would do is find folks that were interested in hearing the gospel and they would make a regular circuit. Their efforts resulted in a great number of people being saved.
The Cain Ridge revival had been organized by the Presbyterians. There continued to be periodic revivals all through this period and all through the frontier country. There were some folks who would shout and some would weep with tears and some physically falling, running, jumping, and jerking which were attributed to the smiting power of the Holy Spirit. The accounts of these physical manifestations were undoubtedly exaggerated by both friendly and hostile witnesses but they were sufficiently numerous to arouse misgivings in the minds of many. One of the outcomes of this was the emergence of two groups. There were those that were for it and there are those who were against it. As such, the new lights were interested in supporting the revivals and the old lights said this was a violation of the dignified and Godly worship. You had an interesting stand-off between these two groups during this time.
C. Charles G. Finney
New measures were most exemplified in the work of Charles G. Finney. Finney would talk to the audience, he was a trained attorney and he used this training in his ministry. He would look them straight in the eye and he would ask questions. He had quite a gripping way having what they called the anxious bench, and those people that were really interested in hearing the word and perhaps devoting their lives, would sit on that anxious bench and he would come and give them special attention. He would single them out in his preaching which was an innovation at the time and he would ask them direct questions, he would in that way have the audience in the palm of his hands. And so what he does is he talks about prevailing prayer and he always has an extended set of meetings where people would come out over 6the course of several successive meetings. He would do it in the evenings so that farmers would come off the farms and be a part of this and so Finney became a very controversial figure within the revivals with his new measures. As we see in the thirteen colonies you have an increase of understanding with this revival movement. In the very founding of the colonies there was a sense that these Puritans believed that they were doing something new in this new and howling wilderness. And that their job was to get it right whereas the Reformation in England had only been partial, but now there was a chance to do it proper, so they saw the work as being a city set on a hill and they believed that this new venture, the new world had the hand of God upon it and so this effort in the Americas had a manifest destiny. There was reason for God to bless this effort and this effort really becomes crystallized in various kinds of speeches and sermons.
V. President James Monroe and his Doctrine of Manifest Destiny
The idea of the manifest destiny really becomes crystallized in 1823. President James Monroe had proclaimed his doctrine that the United States would not continence new European ventures into the western hemisphere. The destiny of the new nation seemed particularly manifest in connection with that hemisphere. At about the same time the ambassador of Mexico to the United States took note that many people with whom he spoke in his host county were convinced that the eventual result of the wars of independence in Spanish America would leave most of the continent to the United States. Coined in 1845, the phrase “manifest destiny” referred specifically to western expansion of the Pacific by occupying Oregon whose possession was disputed by Great Britain and all Mexican land directly west of the United States. American expansionism had previously played an important role in Texas and the expansion of the colonies radiated out. You want to keep a close track here of our religious history.
VI. Slavery and the Churches
One of the things that took place in leading up to the civil war, the Methodists was convinced that slave ownership was wrong. Francis Ashbury had wanted the Methodists to vote that into their constitution and their by-laws, their ways of doing business. That was narrowly defeated, and unfortunately many of the converts that had been slave owners who had been unwilling to let their work force go. This caused a growing tension in the church. It is not simply the Methodist church but the Presbyterian church and the Baptist Church almost all of the main churches running up to the civil war with the increased tension on the question of slavery split into north and south, those who allowed and those who did not allow slavery. The South became even more racist and anti-intellectual; in the North urbanization brought about rapid growth and ecclesiastical structures proved unequal to the challenge of that growth. In the midst of such diversity one of the elements contributing to the unity of the nation was the notion that it had a providential role to play in the progress of humankind. Usually that role was understood in terms of racial, religious and institutional superiority of the white race, the protestant faith and the democratic government based on free enterprise.
A. Josiah Strong
Thus late in the century the general secretary of the evangelical alliance Josiah Strong declared that God was preparing the Anglo-Saxon race for a great moment. The final competition of races, then that race representing the largest liberty, the purist Christianity, the highest civilization would fulfill its God given destiny of dispossessing the weaker ones, assimilating others and molding the rest so as to Anglo-Saxonize humankind. And such sentiments expressed by one of the conservative wing of American Protestantism were similar to those of the liberal wing who held that Protestantism and freedom of opinion were the great contributions of the Nordic races against the tyranny and Catholicism of the Southern European races. Therefore people of Nordic origin had the responsibility of civilizing the backward races of the rest of the world.
B. Dwight L. Moody
During this time period there continued to be revivals and now urban revival in the time of 1858 broke out in some of the urban centers. Dwight L. Moody was a revivalist of great significance. Dwight L. Moody was a Chicago shoe salesman who was moved by the lack of religious life among the masses of that great city. He began by bringing people to the Congregationalist church of which he was a member, but he soon moved on to founding an independent church. He also became involved in the work of the YMCA where he was noted for his zeal in communicating the Gospel to others. It was in 1872 while visiting London in connection with his responsibilities that he was first invited to preach. The result was so encouraging that Moody then felt called to preach to the urban masses. First in England and then in the United States, his method consisted of simple and emotive preaching calling people to repentance and to accept salvation offered in Jesus Christ . He was convinced that the conversion of the masses meant better living in the cities and in the countryside. Therefore he had little to say regarding the conditions and structures that led to so much human misery but there was no doubt that his message and style were singularly well adapted to the felt needs of the urban masses. Soon, he had many imitators, some more successful than others. The revival became part of the American urban landscape.
VII. Non-Christian Religions
One of the other factors that we need to take a look at is the fact that there was a rise in new religions. One of the most remarkable phenomena in the religious life of the United States during the 19th century is the birth of several movements that was so different from traditional Christianity that they could well be called new religions. The largest of these was the Mormons, and then there was the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Science.
During his early years Joseph Smith founder of Mormonism seemed to be a failure, his parents were poor rural folk, they moved to New York from Vermont seeking and failing to find better economic conditions. Young Joseph was turned away as it were from the Presbyterian Church and then he claimed that an angel named Moroni appeared to him and had given him a collection of Golden Tablets written in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs as well as two seer stones with which he dictated his translation of the sacred tablets for others who wrote on the other side of the curtain. The result was the book of Mormon was published in 1830. The book also included the testimony of several witnesses who affirmed that they had seen the tablets before Moroni took them back. Shortly after publishing his book Smith had many followers who all migrated from upper New York State across through Ohio Indiana and finally they make their way down to Utah. The Mormons eventually became the largest non-Christian religion in the world with a powerful economic structure standing behind them.
B. Jehovah Witnesses
The Jehovah Witnesses were the result of the manner in which many were reading scripture as a book; they thought that there were hidden clues regarding future events at the end of the world in the Bible. Charles T. Russell the founder of the new faith declared that the three great instruments of Satan were the government, business and the church. He also rejected the doctrine of the trinity, the divinity of Jesus, and declared that the second coming had taken place in 1872 and that the end would be in 1914. The year 1914 brought WWI but not Armageddon as predicted by Russell who died two years later. He was then succeeded by Joseph Rutherford, better known as Judge Rutherford. It was he who in 1931 named the movement Jehovah’s Witnesses and who also organized it into a vast missionary machine while reinterpreting Russell’s teachings after the fiasco of 1914.
C. Christian Science
Christian Science of course is an interesting Christian tradition that is not so very far from certain kinds of Gnosticism, basically saying that what we see is not really real. Mary Baker Eddy had suffered repeated illnesses and so she went to P. P. Quimby who claimed that illness was error and that the knowledge of truth would suffice to cure it. Having been cured by Quinby she became his disciple and apostle. She published science in health with a key to scripture. During her lifetime this book was published 382 times using traditional terms of Christian Orthodoxy such as God, Christ, Trinity, Salvation and so forth. In a spiritual sense this differed from the traditional one which reminds of us the ancient Gnostic interpretations of scripture where words such as truth and life took a unique meaning. She held that illness was a mental error, a mistake in perspective and that to heal it one should not make use of physicians or drugs but rather of the spiritual science which Jesus employed. So the Church of Christ Scientist was officially founded in 1879 and it soon had followers throughout the nation. Next came transcendentalism; also there were spiritualist centers as well. So religion took a number of different forms in the new world.
VIII. Catholicism in Europe and Latin America
A. The French Revolution and the Catholic Church
One of the things that took place right at the end of the 18th century was the French Revolution; it had a powerful impact upon the entirety of Europe but it also influenced events in the United States of America. On May 4th 1789 the Third Estate had more members than the other two together. And among the clergy less than a third was prelates. When the time came to open the sessions the third estate insisted that assembly should function as a single chamber with decisions to be made by a simple majority. And as this assembly continued, it resulted in a revolution of a bloody character having a very anti-Christian flavor about it. One result of the French Revolution was that human reason once again was raised with a reaction against the corrupt use of Roman Catholicism that had been exercised in France for so many years. So there was a new political reality that emerged in Europe. The Napoleonic Wars was another result of the French Revolution which created chaos throughout Europe. Reigning houses had been overthrown in Spain, Portugal, the Low Countries and Scandinavia. After Napoleon defeated the main powers that had opposed him, it was Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia that determined the future shape of Europe’s political map. The borders of France were set where they had been before the revolution. The House of Bourbon was restored in the person of Louis XVIII brother of Louis XVI. And most of the monarchs whom Napoleon had deposed were restored to their thrones. But under the surface of the international peace that took place in the wake of that set, social and political tensions led to conspiracies, revolts and upheavals and one of the main sources of unrest was the quest for national unity among Italians and among Germans. Neither Italy nor Germany had yet achieved its political unity and in each of these two countries there was a growing sentiment that the time had come for such unity. In 1848 the forces of Germany were coming together. There are a number of other kinds of developments that take place in the wake these events that also rose out of the French Revolution. So you have a new political landscape in Europe. There is a new trajectory that is taking place in Catholic theology, in protestant theology.
B. Latin America and Catholicism
One of the things that took place in the shadow of the French Revolution was the colonial period of the church in Latin America. This included the virtual naming of bishops by the governments of Spain and Portugal. Tension between these two countries was felt in the church whose higher up officials were in the hands of those individuals. Although a few bishops supported the cause of Spanish American independence, most supported the Crown. Many by means of pastoral letters condemned the rebellion, after independence most of them had to return to Spain leaving many dioceses vacant. It was impossible to name replacements as Spain insisted on her ancient rights of royal patronage. The Popes waivered in his attitude toward Spain but those new nations comprised a substantial part of his flock. For a number of reasons the new political leadership toward Catholicism was complex. Although they called themselves Catholic, the very early constitutions affirmed that Roman Catholicism was a national religion in these countries. The tensions with Rome were such that some, particularly in Mexico, proposed breaking with Rome and creating national churches. Projects appeared again and again in later years whenever the Pope seemed inclined to oppose the political interests of a nation.
After independence the conflict between liberals and conservative was also reflected in their divergent religious policies. While conservatives wished to continue the ancient privileges of the clergy and the church, liberals opposed many of them. It was then that many native clergymen who had early supported independence joined the conservative ranks. The early liberals did not oppose Catholicism as such but only what they took to be the narrow ideas and practices of clergy and church while native born still looked to Spain as the center of the universe. But the constant conflicts between liberals in leadership of the church led to increased anti-Catholic feelings in liberal ranks. And so in this century there were a number of countries in South America that moved toward their own independence. The tensions which had existed from the very beginning with the church and the Pope continued to emerge in these settings.
IX. The 19th Century and Social Changes
By the beginning of the nineteenth century the industrial revolution had reached most of Europe and even some areas of the new world. Its impact went far beyond economic matters, extending to the whole of life. There were mass movements of people seeking employment in industrial centers or simply leaving lands now devoted to crops to be used for industrial purposes. The traditional extended family, the parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, was weakened by those movements. The nuclear family had to bear a greater burden of responsibility in the transmission of values and traditions. More people came to see their lives as their private responsibility and therefore individualism and preoccupation with the “I” became a common theme in both philosophy and literature.
B. Scientific Progress
The industrial revolution had also contributed to the idea of progress. Throughout most of history people had thought that the old and tried ideas and practices were better than most innovation. Even at the time of the Renaissance and the reformation when many new ideas were introduced, people sought to return to the ancient sources of religion, art and knowledge. But now, people were no longer looking to the past but to the future. Applied science had proved able to produce wealth and comfort that did not exist previously. Future possibilities created by the industrial revolution as passing clouds applied technology would soon solve them. And then society would benefit from this new order. Since most intellectuals belonged to those leading classes, these ideas found echo in their teachings and writings. In a sense even Darwin’s theory of evolution was an expression of faith in progress applied in this case to the natural sciences. Not only human kind, but all of nature is progressing.
C. Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin published his book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. Now, it’s interesting to note that this book really does open a new chapter in the self-consciousness of the church. And there are many who begin to talk about how the church needs to handle the changes that were taking place, especially those set forward by the writings of Charles Darwin. His book set forward the notion of evolution and there were many who responded to this. There were some who were quite positive with respect to the Doctrine of Evolution, Henry Ward Beecher put it this way, “If ministers do not make their theological systems conform to the facts as they are, if they do not recognize what men are studying the time will not be far distant when the pulpit will be like the voice of one crying in the wilderness and it will not be prepare the way of the Lord either”. The providence of God is rolling forward in a spirit of investigation that Christian ministers must meet and join.
One of the things that seemed to be at issue with the publication of Darwin’s book was a fundamental issue of biblical authority. Most of the heated debate centered on the notion of biological evolution, for it was a dramatic issue and by its apparent contradiction of the Bible Darwin’s theory seemed to strike at the very root of a biblically grounded faith. Charles Hodge the towering theological oracle of Princeton Theological Seminary declared in 1874 that a more absolutely incredible theory was never propounded for acceptance among men and Mark Hopkins, the equally distinguished President of Williams College denounced the whole concept as essentially atheistic. A different verdict however had been pronounced three years earlier by Hodges neighbor James McCosh, president of Princeton University, “I am inclined to think” he said, “that the theory contains a large body of important truth, if one distinguished the major assumptions of the biblical accounts of creation from the their literary form. McCosh saw no reason why creation as described in Genesis should be regarded as inconsistent with developmental theories. Holding fast to the traditional theories of design in nature he interpreted natural selection as the product of supernatural design. One of the controversies that developed then out of this confrontation of the new biology, the new geology which stated that the earth was not young but was rather old, is the fundamentalist modernist controversy. The fundamentalist/modernist controversy centered in part on how one handles the question of Darwin’s theory and there were different takes on how that went.
D. Evolutionary Liberalism of the Church and The Social Gospel
To oversimplify the controversy, the followers of Darwin believed that in the fundamental progress of all things and the more conservative religious personages did not feel that that was the case. Modernists wanted to set forward a new moral standard; they wanted to have a new dress, shorter dresses, drinking, smoking, movies etcetera for Christians. They wanted to fit in with the world; they wanted to accommodate the Christian faith so it would be more appealing to the changing social realities of the late nineteenth century. They were interested in the ‘social gospel’ and what the Kingdom of God meant bringing it in for all of us in community. They were open to the new learning, they were open to evolution, to biblical criticism, to comparative religious studies and they really felt that that was the way forward where progress was being made. They emphasized the kingdom coming to earth and so this dovetailed nicely with their understanding of the nature of the social gospel. They were convinced that secular universities were the seat of profound learning and that is where they wanted to send their children. They were fairly liberal in their politics and they were focused on the community.
E. The Fundamentalists
Compare that with the fundamentalists who instead of new moral standards, wanted to retain the old Victorian ideas of conservative dressing style; they wanted to stay away from those things which had the appearance of evil. They wanted to promote modesty as opposed to shorter dresses and those kinds of things. Instead of the social gospel, there was an emphasis upon personal piety, there was also an emphasis upon personal conversion and so D.L. Moody was the kind who represented the fundamentalist. Whereas the modernists were open to new learning, the fundamentalist were suspicious of new learning. They thought that many of these theories were suspect at the very best and undermined certain kinds of principles that really lifted up truth. Instead of the Kingdom coming to earth, fundamentalists were waiting for the second coming of Christ for there was no human solution to the problems that faced society apart from the intervention of God himself. And instead of promoting secular universities the fundamentalists promoted and funded a whole set of bible and Christian colleges as alternative education for their young people. Instead of liberal politics, the fundamentalists were conservative in their politics, instead of focusing on community; they tended to focus on the individual. So there are a number of things going on in terms of Protestant theology of the time. But clearly it was important to deal with these new currents of thought.
A number of things have to be bypassed but clearly the modernist/ fundamentalist controversy is very important and really framed the profile of conservative protestant Christianity. Certainly here in the United States that kind of modernist/fundamentalist controversy did not take place in the same way on the continent. So you have very different things going there but it’s an important factor in the United States and it has had an effect on worldwide Christianity because those fundamentalists and the dispensational movements that have grown out of it have been very aggressive in terms of evangelism.
X. Colonialism, Economic Imperialism and Worldwide Evangelism
There was a very important world missionary conference that took place in 1910 called the Edinburgh conference. This conference was a gathering that focused on world missionary issues. The nineteenth century is really marked by geographic expansion, comparable only to that of the sixteenth. While the sixteenth was the great age of catholic expansion the nineteenth played a similar role for Protestantism. Although the consequences of that vast enterprise are still not clear, there is little doubt from the point of view that the history of Christianity, the most important event of the nineteenth century was the founding of a truly universal church in which peoples of all races and nations had a part. On the other hand however, it is necessary to point out that this took place within the context of colonialism and economic imperialism, a framework that also left its stamp on the church. There were a number of different missionary enterprises.
William Carey is often called the father of modern missions. He devoted a great deal of his time to learning the languages of India and translating the scriptures into them. He is just a singular individual who by dent of force created a great deal of missionary interest. He gathered other pastors together and helped to found mission societies, the particular Baptist Society for propagating the gospel amongst the heathen was founded in large part because of his work. Three years later, partly because of the example of the Baptists, a group of Methodists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists founded the London Missionary Society. The Church Missionary Society dating from 1789 drew its members form evangelical wing of the Anglican Church and during this period there was a huge upsurge in missionary enterprise. William Carey had put the challenge before his English brethren to say we need to be active in evangelizing the world and from his efforts and from the efforts of these various missions’ agencies that arose during this time we find that there was a tremendous expansion of world missions. There were missions sent throughout Asia and Oceana. In Asia, the area that first felt the impact of the new wave of colonial expansion was the Indian sub-continent; now India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Christianity had existed there since ancient times and Catholicism had been introduced in the sixteenth century.
During the eighteenth century the early Protestant missionaries had arrived under the auspices of a Danish king profoundly affected by Pietism. But it was in the nineteenth century with the sudden growth of British influence that the greatest protestant missionary events took place. There was also expansion in other parts of the world including China, and Africa. The results of these missionary efforts in the nineteenth century that we now see the millions of Christians and the world wide population of Christianity growing most quickly in Africa and in the southern hemisphere.
So the nineteenth century was a period of incredible change in regards to political horizons with the growth of the United States. You have the French Revolution, changes in European landscape; you have the political change in Latin America. There were changes in Protestant theology, the upsurge of the philosophy of progress, Darwin’s evolutionary theories with the church having to face it all. Philosophical and theological questions and in addition to this there was a strong missionary emphasis that took place and is still taking place. We see missionaries going out with the wonderful blossoming of the Christian Church in a world-wide context. We see in the decades following the planting of Christianity there was a rise of national workers, so much so that we are now coming to a time when various countries within Africa and various countries in Southeast Asia are now beginning to send missionaries to the European west. This is a wonderful transformation, a wonderful development that is changing the face of the world wide Christian movement. In our next segment we’ll take up the changes that take place in the twentieth century.