A History of Christianity
Chapter 7: NEW DENOMINATIONS, NEW OPPORTUNITIES
1600 to 1900
This chapter covers the following topics:
Arminians, Baptists and Quakers
For more than a century, memories of Münster plagued the Anabaptists. They were driven underground throughout Europe. Their persecution continued, long after they had abandoned violence. Because of this, their voice was among the first to call for religious liberty. Their experience with established governments made them even more suspicious of authority than the Calvinists were. In both the Netherlands and in England, they participated in political revolutions and helped frame the earliest written demands for constitutional government, representative institutions, and civil liberties.
The Baptist Churches got their start through a combination of Calvinist and Anabaptist ideas. In Geneva, Switzerland, the work of John Calvin was taken over and followed faithfully by Theodore Beza (1519-1605). Beza carried the doctrine of predestination one step further; he taught that Jesus did not die for everyone, but only for those who will follow Him. One of his students, a gifted Dutchman named Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), disagreed. After he returned to the Netherlands he gave the appearance of supporting traditional Calvinist teaching, while gradually moving away from it. He taught that God did select who would be saved, but because of His infinite wisdom, He chose those who would follow Him in the first place. From this he developed a doctrine called Arminianism, which teaches that (1.) Christ died for all, though only believers benefit, (2.) it is possible to fall from grace and be lost, and that (3.) keeping the faith to the end depends not only on God's help, but also on one's personal actions.
No prophet is accepted in his own country, as Jesus once said, and in 1618 the Dutch Reformed Church held a meeting, known as the Synod of Dort, to debate the issue of Arminianism vs. predestination. Predestination won, and Calvinist beliefs were put down in a formula called "the five points of Calvinism," which became the creed of the Dutch Reformed Church:
Arminianism did much better in England, because the Anglicans and most non-Calvinist Protestants didn't have a problem with it. When new denominations like the Baptists, Methodists and American movements like the Assemblies of God came along, they incorporated it into their basic doctrine, renaming it "free will" teaching.
In the previous chapter, we noted that a group of Puritans called the Separatists fled from England to Holland to find religious freedom in the days of James I. Among them was John Smyth, who came under the influence of both the Mennonites and Arminians. After his death one of his associates, Thomas Helwys, brought part of Smyth's congregation back to England, and in 1612 founded the first English Baptist Church.
Members of this denomination are known as General Baptists, because in 1633 one group broke away and went back to the doctrine of predestination; they are called Particular Baptists. Both groups grew until they numbered 300 churches between them by 1660, but persecution, at the hands of both the Anglicans and the Puritans made life difficult. They were also divided over the question of which side to support in the English Civil War; one pastor who favored the monarchy, Vavasor Powell, asked his congregation whether God would have "Oliver Cromwell or Jesus Christ to reign over us?" Not until after the Glorious Revolution did the Baptists, like other non-conforming Protestants, enjoy tolerance from the state.
With freedom of worship came a loss of zeal and a general deadness in the Baptist churches, something which has happened in other times with other people. The once-buried Arian heresy, which taught that Jesus is not the son of God, made a comeback in some congregations, while others adopted a Unitarian theology. The Great Awakening which produced the Methodists in the eighteenth century also brought new life to the Baptists, and got them started in the worldwide Protestant mission effort. William Carey (1761-1834), the great missionary we call "the father of modern missions," was a Baptist, for example.
Seventeenth-century England saw several nonconformist sects, like the Adamites, who worshiped in the nude; Arians; Soul Sleepers, who didn't believe in Hell and thought they were immune to sin; and the Libertines and Antescripturians, who denied Bible authority. One of those groups is still with us today: the Quakers. In 1650 a judge sentenced a young man named George Fox to six months in jail on charges of blasphemy. Before the sentence was passed, Fox told the judge to tremble in the fear of God; it is not enough to profess faith in God, but every man must follow him, too. The judge laughed, because he heard about people trembling with emotion at meetings led by this lay minister. So he told Fox, "You folk are the tremblers, you are the quakers." Originally a derisive term, the name "Quaker" stuck, and those who call themselves "The Society of Friends" are still known as Quakers to outsiders.
George Fox (1624-91) started the Quaker movement because he was tired of formal religion. Whether the English Church was Roman, Anglican, Presbyterian or Congregational, it was always under the control of the state. Fox was bothered by a church that needed a national government to promote it, and probably felt it was impossible for a church that functioned with officials appointed by a worldly institution could escape the taint of worldliness. Fox called every established clergyman a "priest," whether he was Catholic or Protestant. The liturgy might vary, but the system never did. After several years of spiritual searching, he heard a voice which said, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition."
People sensed the power of God when Fox preached. Sometimes he did so after an ordained minister finished; other times he spoke outdoors. Men argued with him; one even hit him on the head with a brass-bound Bible because he could never win an argument with Fox on matters of Scripture. One day on Pendle Hill, in northern England, Fox had a vision of Christ gathering a multitude to Him. This motivated him to become the first modern evangelist, preaching in the open air to thousands. Soon he trained sixty young men and women to become evangelists like himself, and they fanned out across the country. The movement grew rapidly; three years after the Pendle Hill vision there were fifty thousand Quakers, and by 1700 there were a hundred thousand.
Wherever they went, the Quakers practiced some unusual customs which made it hard for others to accept them. Among these is their total commitment to pacifism, encouragement of lay participation in their services, and their refusal to pay the compulsory state church tithe or to swear by oaths in a law court (because Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that nobody should take an oath). They also refused to speak deferentially to Judges and other authorities. After a meeting with Oliver Cromwell, in which Fox pleaded for religious freedom, Cromwell remarked that in the Quakers he had found a people he could not influence, "either with gifts, honors, offices or places."
Thousands of Quakers were imprisoned for their beliefs, and three were hanged in Boston in 1660 because they chose to keep their convictions rather than submit to the government. The public outcry over their deaths helped pave the way for religious freedom in America. In the next section we will look at how one Quaker, William Penn, founded the state of Pennsylvania.
As early as 1659 a Quaker, John Taylor, was preaching to the American Indians. His courage and friendship won him many Native American converts. An eighteenth-century Quaker prophet from New Jersey, John Woolman, was one of the first to speak out against slavery, because he could find nothing in the Bible to justify one man owning another. He also believed that long hours at hard labor led to drunkenness, and calculated that a six-hour work day was long enough to employ everybody and maintain society. Today there are about 200,000 Quakers worldwide, mostly in the United States, Great Britain and East Africa; two American presidents, Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon, came from Quaker families.
The first colony founded for religious purposes was Massachusetts, started by the Pilgrims in 1620. As noted previously, its founders were members of the Puritan group known as Separatists, who were looking for a place where they could worship without the king's interference. Life for them was tough for the first few years, since they were so far away from civilization; half of the original 100 colonists died in the first winter. However, the experience learned from Jamestown, and some help from friendly Indians like the amazing Squanto, allowed them to prosper in the end. By 1628 the number of settlers in New England had grown to 300.(1)
At the end of the 1620s the mainline Puritans decided that the Pilgrims were right. The Church of England resisted all efforts to redeem it and the only way to create a godly state was to build it from nothing. In 1629 they gained control over the Massachusetts Bay colony, and in the following year sent more than 1,000 colonists to found the city of Boston. Whereas Virginia had been under-researched and undercapitalized (4/5 of Virginia's colonists died from deprivation or the Indians before the growing of tobacco allowed it to turn a profit in the 1620s), the Puritans knew what they were doing and had the resources to do it properly. By 1640 Massachusetts had a population of 10,000 and was so securely established that its survival was never in doubt.
Like the Church of England they had escaped, the Puritans had a low tolerance for dissenters, and their movement, being made up of committed dissenters, produced splinter groups in abundance. In 1635 a Baptist minister, Roger Williams, founded the colony of Rhode Island to escape persecution in Massachusetts. One year later Thomas Hooker founded Connecticut, because he thought life in Massachusetts wasn't strict enough!
South of New England, other denominations were taking root. In 1632 King Charles I gave Lord Baltimore a grant to found the colony of Maryland. Officially it got its name from the current queen, Henrietta Maria; the truth was that Lord Baltimore was a Catholic, and wanted a refuge for his fellow Catholics, who like the Puritans, were persecuted by the middle-of-the-road Church of England. The Dutch Reformed Church got its first foothold in New York and New Jersey, which were Dutch colonies before the English took them over in 1664. Likewise, the Lutherans first came to America as a Swedish colony (modern Delaware), which was founded in 1637 and later became English. George Fox visited America on a missionary trip in 1672, and another Quaker, William Penn, founded Pennsylvania in 1681. Pennsylvania was the first colony after Rhode Island to promise religious tolerance for everyone, even Jews; consequently it was a great success from the start. As late as the 1750s, Pennsylvania's government was run by the Quakers, and both Ben Franklin and the Declaration of Independence would call Philadelphia their home.(2) Baptists, Presbyterians and Methodists also came to the mid-Atlantic and southern colonies in the eighteenth century, but they were not important until after the American Revolution.
The Puritan victory in the English Civil War caused many supporters of King Charles to emigrate to Virginia; in fact, we still call Virginia "the Cavalier State." Likewise, the failure of the Commonwealth and the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II saw a wave of Puritans flee across the Atlantic to Massachusetts. Then in the 1670s, chronically disobedient Massachusetts came to the attention of the king. This colony sheltered the killers of the king's father, barred the king's church, and ignored his taxes and regulations. A colony is supposed to be loyal and profitable, so Charles and his son, James II, decided it was time to pull rank. The Crown canceled the Massachusetts charter, dissolved the local government, and incorporated all the northern colonies into a "Dominion of New England," which a royal governor ruled. This dominion only lasted until the Glorious Revolution ousted James II, but the power of the Puritans was permanently broken. No longer was voting and holding public office in Boston restricted to Puritans. No doubt some thought this was the devil's work, and that may have inspired the most notorious episode in colonial American history, the execution of 20 humans and two dogs in the Salem witch trials of 1692. After that Puritan influence on New England gradually declined; the founding fathers who came from Boston, like Samuel Adams, had Puritan backgrounds, but that only made them live upright lives; it didn't motivate them to set up a country for the godly. The descendants of the Puritans can be found today in the Congregational Christian Churches.(3)
Revival began as a movement among the Lutherans called Pietism. It was started in the late seventeenth century by a German named Philip Jacob Spener (1635-1705), who wanted to recapture Luther's appeal to the heart. He gathered people in his home to pray, study the Bible, and share Christian experiences. These meetings, called collegia pietatis, gave the movement its name. One of those who attended the meetings was a young professor named August Francke (1663-1727), who started coming in 1687. Five years later Spener secured an appointment for Francke at the newly founded University of Halle, and Francke turned that into a center for Pietist activity.
In spite of his efforts, Spener could not win acceptance for his group from mainline Lutherans, so the Pietists became a separate denomination in his lifetime. Spener's godson, Nikolaus Ludwig Count von Zinzendorf (1700-60), introduced Pietism to England and started the Moravian Church. Zinzendorf had been converted to Pietism when, as a teenager, he saw a painting of Jesus wearing the crown of thorns, which had this inscription: "All this I did for you. What are you doing for me?"
Moravia is an old name for part of what we now call the Czech Republic. This was the home of John Huss, but the church he started was all but wiped out in the Thirty Years War. A few Hussites survived, who held services in secret and prayed for the rebirth of their Church of the United Brethren. In 1722 a group of them, led by a carpenter named Christian David, approached Zinzendorf and persuaded him to give them protection. He settled them on his estates in Saxony, and named the community Herrnhut ("The Lord's Watch"). During the next few years other Protestant refugees--Lutherans, Reformed, Separatists and Anabaptists--came there, and in 1727 the Holy Spirit fell on the group so strongly that the Brethren felt moved to unite with those present of other faiths and form the Moravian Church.
The Pietists and the Moravians became the vanguard in the Protestant missionary movement. Today every church is expected to send out missionaries, but few Protestants did so in the first two centuries of their existence. Perhaps this is because they were devoting all their energies to keeping alive against Catholic pressure; you may remember that the missionary activity in Asia and America during this time was mostly Catholic-sponsored. August Francke inspired in his students a missionary zeal to spread their faith wherever they went, so when the king of Denmark asked for missionaries to take the Gospel to India, he found them at the University of Halle. Soon after that the Moravians also began to take the Great Commission seriously. In the first half of the eighteenth century they sent brave missionaries to Greenland, Lapland, Africa, Asia, and to the Indians in North America, causing far more influence than their numbers might suggest. In England and America their devotion launched the Great Awakening; the Wesley brothers, for instance, met them in Georgia and were greatly impressed by their spirituality.
Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) brought the Great Awakening to Puritan New England and is often regarded as the first great thinker in American history. In 1727 he had a personal experience which gave him a new awareness of God's might and power, and of his own dependence on God, which he later described in his biography, Personal Narrative (1739). In his congregation at Northampton, Massachusetts, he began preaching sermons on justification by faith, and at the end of the year "the spirit of God began extraordinarily to set in." Revival grew during the following year, until Edwards could say that "This town was never so full of love, nor so full of joy, nor yet so full of distress, as it was then." The revival spread to the surrounding communities and to Connecticut during the next few years. During this time Edwards preached powerful sermons on the need for salvation; his most famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," if you'll pardon the expression, literally scared the Hell out of those who heard it!
In 1735 the governor of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, called for missionaries to preach in his new colony. The Wesleys accepted, but they were dissatisfied with their results in America, and returned to England in 1738. Upon their return they heard a Moravian, Peter Böhler, preach about salvation, and that struck John profoundly, because up to this point he had not known whether he was worthy of God's grace, despite all his works. Within three days the two brothers experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Charles while recovering from an illness, John at an Anglican meeting on Aldersgate Street, London, where a passage from Martin Luther's Preface to Romans was read. It was the most important event of the Great Awakening; John later said that, "What happened in that little room was of more importance to England than all the victories of Pitt by land and sea."(5)
The Wesleys now believed that despite England's claim to being a Christian nation, most of its people had not heard the good news of salvation, so they must take this message to them. As opposition grew to their ministry, most churches closed their doors to them, so they began preaching outdoors. This turned out to be a blessing, because coal miners, factory workers and many other working class people who never set foot in a church came to hear them. John traveled more than 250,000 miles to spread the Gospel during the next fifty years; he also invented the religious tract and the monthly magazine to spread God's message even farther. Whenever it was time to move on, he left behind an organization, called a "Methodist Society," to carry on the work. Yet it wasn't until near the end of his long life that he considered his societies a new denomination, rather than an outreach of the Church of England.
Charles couldn't travel as much as his brother, but he left his mark nonetheless. Before this time few hymns had been written in English, except Bible verses put to music. Charles became the most prolific and most untiring hymn writer ever known, producing more than 7,000 hymns and poems. Many of them are of such high quality that they are still in use today, even in English-speaking congregations outside the Methodist Church. John called the Methodist Hymn Book of 1780 "a little body of experimental and practical divinity."
The rest of his life was spent traveling and preaching, making him the Billy Graham of the eighteenth century. Whitefield visited almost every part of England and Wales, traveled to America seven times, and paid fourteen visits to Scotland. His first sermon in his hometown of Gloucester was of such fervor that someone complained to his bishop that Whitefield had driven fifteen people mad. So many people came to hear him that it became natural to preach outside--few buildings were big enough to hold the crowds. A famous actor named David Garrick said, "I would give a hundred guineas if I could say 'Oh' like Mr. Whitefield."
Unlike the Wesleys, Whitefield did not become the founder of a major denomination; he was always more interested in starting churches than administering and caring for them. After 1740 he disagreed with the Wesleys on the nature of salvation; he held firm to the Calvinist view (predestination), rather than to the Arminianism of the Methodist Church. This persuaded him to found a separate denomination for "Calvinist Methodists," which he called the English Calvinist Methodist Connexion; it was absorbed into the Congregationalist Churches of England in the nineteenth century.
This reasoning was a product of the Renaissance and the Reformation, two movements which got people thinking because they had overturned so many assumptions about life which they had previously accepted without too much questioning. If through some sort of "time machine" you could travel back to the Middle Ages, and you asked somebody in that time why he followed certain customs, he would say that his ancestors had always done things this way, and why would anyone want to behave differently? If you asked him where the Church got the doctrines it taught, he probably wouldn't know, unless he was some scholarly character like Thomas Aquinas. With the Renaissance, however, Western civilization adopted the Greek attitude that we must question everything, and knowledge will ultimately give us the meaning of life. This works in many ways, though. To some, like the leaders of the Reformation, this meant trying to show the rational basis of Christianity. However, in other cases the result was an effort to discard religion completely, to replace it with a life totally based on reason; most of our modern philosophers have tried to do this. Still others have tried to escape from reason altogether, whether it be human rationalism or a logical church; examples of this include the Pietists, Quakers, and today's mystics.
The first modern scientists, starting with Copernicus, took the first view, arguing that God created an orderly universe, and that the more we learn about it, the more it glorifies the Lord. When the Catholic Church put Galileo on trial, it thought Galileo was teaching something contrary to the Bible, when in fact what he really disproved were those beliefs of Aristotle and Ptolemy which had become Church doctrine. For Galileo, all scientific discoveries were fully compatible with the Bible, and more observations would vindicate him in the end, as they did.(6) The great scientists of the seventeenth century, like Kepler, Newton, Pascal and Leibnitz, all agreed with this. They saw it as their duty to find out as much as they could about how the universe works; they didn't investigate why it works because they never questioned who was responsible for it all. The idea that a design can come into existence without a designer would have seemed utterly preposterous tothem. Even Descartes considered himself a good Catholic, and while we may disagree with his philosophy, we would agree with his conclusion that the complexity of mathematics proves the existence of God. It is no accident that science as we know it exists because the men who developed the basic scientific laws and methods came from a Christian background. Miracles can also be accepted, as John Locke (1632-1704) explained, because they are God's way of proving His authority; to him even miracles were rational, but human reason cannot understand how they work.
The next generation of philosophers took a different view. Instead of assuming that God was behind it all, they created a view of the universe that they centered on man, and eventually boxed God out of the equation. Baruch Spinoza (1632-77) introduced the idea of pantheism, meaning that everything in the universe is part of God, including us. David Hume (1711-76) became the first skeptic, because he found it impossible to prove the existence of the soul or self; therefore all our ideas about religion, including the existence of God, are unreliable. Miracles violate the laws of nature and are thus improbable. From this it was a short step to Deism, the idea that God is an impersonal being, who may have created the universe but doesn't care what happens to it now.(7)
The eighteenth century is often called "the Enlightenment" or "the Age of Reason" because from the point of view of its philosophers, man had finally been set free of the fear of God, and now without the shackles of superstition holding him down he could go on to produce a perfect society, one free of war, tyranny, bigotry, and all the other evils they saw in the world around them. Unlike the other thinkers discussed so far, these were not men shaped by the Reformation. Instead they picked up where the Renaissance humanists left off; instead of man made in God's image, here was man starting from himself absolutely. The goal of the Enlightenment was not righteousness, but the advancement of reason, nature, happiness, social progress and liberty.
The leader of the Enlightenment was undoubtedly François-Marie Arouet, better known to us as Voltaire. He believed there is a god, but it is a god beyond all rational thought, and thus irrelevant. This God may be adored and served, but not argued over or made into the reason for an institution. Voltaire attacked the Church with all the wit he had to bear, because he saw nothing in it but deceit and corruption. He was inspired by the progress of human rights in Protestant countries like England and the Netherlands, but never seemed to think that Bible-based teaching was responsible.
The philosopher who finally put all this together into a neat anti-Christian package was Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78). He was a man of contrasts, perhaps because at various stages in his life he was a Protestant, a Catholic, and finally a Deist. He wrote music, novels and many works on education and politics, and always talked about the dignity of man, but his personal life was sordid (he fathered five illegitimate children and dumped them in an orphanage). To Rousseau man has the potential to be perfect, a "noble savage," but everywhere society puts chains on him. In response he declared that any social organization is a form of oppression; to him those things we call "irresponsible behavior," like delinquency on debts and sexual misconduct, were nothing more than displays of "natural virtue." His advocacy of personal rebellion became immensely popular among those folks inclined to ideas like "If it feels good do it," and by the 1790s an entire generation of Frenchmen had grown up reading his works, making them respectable. The Reformation and the Enlightenment both had noble goals, but they came from absolutely different backgrounds, and produced absolutely different results.
Unfortunately for those who value conformity, ideas are like baby birds; it's hard to put them back in the egg after they've hatched. Those Unitarians who left eastern Europe spread their beliefs wherever they went. John Biddle (1615-62) introduced them to England during the Civil War period. Unitarian ideas remained confined to individuals until about 1700, when the spiritual deadness of English churches allowed them to creep in. Soon many Presbyterian and Baptist congregations were Unitarian in doctrine, if not in name. A liberal Anglican, Theophilus Lindsey, left the Episcopal Church and founded the first fully Unitarian church, in London in 1774.
English Unitarians reject "all creeds of human composition," but in the early nineteenth century they took on the organization of a denomination. They spread rapidly to America, especially after Joseph Priestly, a Unitarian minister, emigrated "across the pond" in 1794 (science students, this is the same Joseph Priestly who discovered oxygen). 1825 saw the founding of both the British and Foreign Unitarian Society, and the American Unitarian Association.
Unitarian ideas can now be found in most Protestant denominations. Away from Unitarian congregations we call them Modernism. Modernists do not believe in the supernatural, miracles, the virgin birth or the deity of Christ; they consider the Bible to be a Jewish history book, not the Word of God. Some modernists even claim that God is female or asexual.(8) This hybrid of Christian and humanist thinking has gone so far beyond traditional Christianity that many Christian fundamentalists view it as a pseudo-Christian cult. If there is a lesson to learn from the Unitarians, it is this: don't let the ideas of imperfect men steal your faith!
Napoleon's takeover wasn't the end; it was only the beginning. With him the upheavals that shook France spread to the rest of Europe. States and institutions that people had lived with for centuries vanished overnight; new ones with strange names appeared in their place. Every time a battle took place, the political picture changed. What next year's alliances would be, what next year's map would look like, were questions no one could answer. Finally in 1815 Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo and packed off to St. Helena, and representatives of the nations of Europe met at the Congress of Vienna to plan Europe's future. Meanwhile, the Spanish and Portuguese colonies of Latin America had been left on their own while Napoleon ruled most of Europe, and they liked running their affairs so much that they declared independence when their colonial masters tried to return. Ten years of more fighting followed, the result being that nearly all of the New World became free.
Why wasn't the French Revolution as complete a success as the American one had been? First, the United States had much of the western hemisphere to itself, and in that hemisphere the Americans were blessed with a seemingly endless supply of undeveloped resources to pay off the national debt with. The institutions of American society were relatively weak, and generally friendly to what the founding fathers were doing. The French, on the other hand, were surrounded by aggressive neighbors who preferred kings to republics, and it always seemed that king, court and church were out to make mischief upon the new regime. Most important of all was the background of the main participants. Nearly all of the founding fathers of the American Revolution had been born and raised as Christians, and though many of them no longer believed in the teachings of traditional Christianity it was still a powerful moral influence on them all. In France, on the other hand, the writer-philosopher who was all the rage at the time was Jean Jacques Rousseau, and we saw what he taught! The result was that the French lacked a moral backbone to tell them when to stop.
When not working overtime to crush subversion, revolutionaries experimented with creating a proper republican religion. The movement started with anti-Christian prejudice, since the Catholic Church was closely associated to the old regime. Churches were closed and images destroyed; clerics earned the label "enemies of the people" if they did not take their pay and direction from Paris (instead of Rome). In November 1793 revolutionaries wearing floppy red liberty caps marched into Notre Dame Cathedral and converted it into a temple of reason, enthroning a dancer of questionable morals to represent the goddess of reason. In June 1794 the leader of the revolutionaries, Maximilien Robespierre, celebrated the new creed with a festival to the Supreme Being; at the high point he ignited a paper-mache monument built to represent evil, and out of its ashes sprang a scantily clad actress, who represented wisdom and invited everyone to pay homage to the "Author of Nature."
Even the old calendar was scrapped. September 22, 1792, the date of the monarchy's abolition, became the first day of Year 1 of liberty. The calendar of the Revolution had twelve months, each divided into three "decades" of ten days each. They gave the months poetic names recalling the prevailing weather or events in the agricultural cycle. For instance, late July-early August became the month of Thermidor, because it is the hottest time of the year, and they called August-September Fructidor, meaning month of fruits. However, the date of the birth of Jesus, which marks the dividing line between B.C. and A.D., was too important for Western civilization to forget; Napoleon trashed the revolutionary calendar in its eighth year, and reinstated the old one.
The early nineteenth century saw a conservative reaction against the excesses of the revolutionary era. The kings of Europe had been seriously threatened by the aggressions of Napoleon, and took steps to keep revolution from happening again, which included strengthening the Church. For example, in the eighteenth century the Jesuits were expelled from France, Portugal and Spain, because the rulers of those countries no longer trusted anyone whose only goal in life was advancing the cause of the Church over that of the people. Their unpopularity compelled the pope to dissolve the Jesuit order in 1773, but they had been so useful that another pope brought them back forty years later, and this time war-ravaged Europe did not protest. In post-Napoleonic Spain the conservative backlash went to extremes; even the Inquisition was restored for a twenty-year period.
Pope Pius IX was an important figure for many reasons. First, he ruled longer than any other pope, 32 years (1846-78), which allowed him to leave his mark on a whole generation. Second, he presided over the First Vatican Council and made the two most important doctrinal statements since the Counter-Reformation. At first he was a liberal, sympathizing with those Italians who wanted democracy, modernization, and a unified Italian nation (instead of a jigsaw puzzle of six Austrian-dominated states). When a wave of unsuccessful revolutions swept Europe in 1848, he prayed, "Bless Italy, Great God, and preserve her with thy precious gift of faith." That changed when the Italian nationalists chased the pope out of Rome, since an Italian state without Rome in it didn't make much sense. He didn't return until 1850, with the help of an army sent by the new French leader, Napoleon III. Somebody once said that "a conservative is a liberal who got mugged the night before," and the pope's bad experience made him a staunch reactionary for the rest of his life. That would cause him to lose his earthly dominion, the Papal State.
In 1860 a second attempt was made to unify Italy, and this time it succeeded. The nationalists in north and south Italy had to march through the pope's territories to meet each other, since the Papal State still zigzagged across central Italy the way it had in the Middle Ages. In doing so they took away two-thirds of the Papal State and added it to the new Italian state, leaving only a rectangle-shaped block of land around Rome. This was left to the Papacy because Napoleon III still had French troops protecting the pope, even though his sympathies were now with the nationalists. Then in 1870 the Franco-Prussian War broke out, and a German invasion of France gave Napoleon the excuse he needed to withdraw his soldiers. As the French got out, Italy's King Victor Emmanuel entered Rome, and the pope's once-extensive land holdings shrank to a handful of buildings: the Vatican, the Lateran and Castel Gandolfo. For nearly sixty years after that the pope was a "prisoner of the Vatican," refusing to come out until Benito Mussolini agreed to the Lateran Treaty, which gave the Papacy more favorable commercial and political rights (1929).
As political power ebbed away, Pope Pius IX worked to strengthen his spiritual power. In 1854 he proclaimed the doctrine of Immaculate Conception, which teaches that from the moment of her conception the Virgin Mary was free from sin. This gave the Church a logical argument for the veneration of Mary, an issue which had long been a bone of contention between them and the Protestants. Ten years later he produced the Syllabus of Errors, a list of modern things for Catholics to avoid which included civil marriage, liberal theology, freemasonry, religious toleration, political liberalism, and even the Bible societies of Britain (because Protestants ran them).
Pius IX saw the peak of his power when he convened the First Vatican Council in 1869. This council, which lasted until 1870, saw the ultimate confrontation between conservative and liberal Catholics, and the pope's conservatives triumphed, in part because the council was packed with Italians (there were 276 Italian bishops and 256 bishops from elsewhere). In July 1870 the Council passed a resolution declaring the pope infallible when speaking on religious matters. Thus Pius enthroned what had long been Church tradition. He once rebuked a dissenting bishop by saying, "Tradition, I am tradition!"(10)
Despite the pope's successes, he could not mend the damage caused by modern thought. Modernization of their countries forced Catholic leaders in Europe to choose between their church and national interest, and they usually chose the second. In Germany, following unification at the hands of Otto von Bismarck, there was an anti-Catholic movement called the Kulturkampf, which expelled the Jesuits, took education completely under state control, and canceled many privileges the Church had previously enjoyed. A similar movement in Austria legalized civil marriages and made Protestants equal under the law. The process which secularized France during the French Revolution gathered speed after 1870; by 1905 all government subsidies to religious institutions stopped, and Church buildings became state property, which were held in trust by "associations for public worship," but could be closed if the government decreed it.
In this confident, expanding society there were men full of ideas with capital to invest. The most obvious place to invest was in the coal and iron industries, so a series of complementary innovations in both resulted in the increases in output above. Examples of these included pumps for removing water from mines, improved techniques for smelting ore, and a network of canals to cut the cost of transport. The most important link in the chain was James Watt's steam engine, invented in 1769. At last the factories had a source of energy that did not depend on climate or season (unlike wind and water mills), and could run any time of day or night. The subsequent invention of the steam locomotive provided a source of transportation that could outrun any man or animal, and removed the limits once put on industry by geographical location. For the first time in 2,000 years the speed of transportation increased; journeys once measured in weeks dropped to a few days. They built railroads across England so rapidly that probably half of the newly completed 1,000 miles of canals never repaid their cost. By 1815 Britain was forging a million tons of iron per year--more than the rest of Europe put together. Coal production rose to 15 million tons per year--more than five times that of the rest of Europe.
Britain's oldest manufacturing industry, the textile trade, grew in stride with iron and coal production. Here the breakthrough came from spinning; with the introduction of the Hargreaves eight-spindle machine in 1767 the productivity of the average worker immediately increased eight times. By 1790 water-driven eighty-spindle machines were in use, the quality of machine-spun yarn had improved and its cost had fallen to a tenth of the homespun equivalent.
All this made the British government filthy rich. In 1815 British tax collectors brought in $7 billion (measured in 1997 US dollars), more than the rest of Europe put together. The nineteenth century saw political and military power go to the countries that followed Britain's example (France, Germany, the United States and Japan); those that didn't industrialize fell to the rank of minor powers.
Europe's population not only grew; it became more urban. In fifty years the number of cities with more than 100,000 people increased from 28 to 45, while London grew to an unheard-of size (from one to three million). Moreover, in Britain, a new type of city appeared. These grim concentrations of factories, slums and overcrowded apartments--led by Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow and Leeds--showed how far Britain had moved from the farming village, county town and capital city hierarchy that still characterized everyday life on the Continent.
The value of Britain's industrial centers was obvious by 1850. The United Kingdom was now producing more than three quarters of the continent's coal, well over half the iron, and two thirds of all textiles. Of course, things like that couldn't go on forever, and a young British politician, Benjamin Disraeli, warned Parliament of this: "The Continent will not suffer England to be the workshop of the world." But for the time being it had to.
Not that everything was right in Britain. For the first time in history a person could expect to grow up in a completely different culture and technology than that of his parents. One Dr. Johnson got worried about the increasing pace of change: "The age is running mad after innovation, all the business of the world is to be done in a new way." Worse than that, most of the income from these industries went to a handful of people, not the masses of humanity that flocked from the countryside to find jobs in the "dark satanic mills," despite poverty and atrocious working conditions. The rhythm of the factory clock replaced the rhythm of nature in the daily lives of the people; God's sun was rarely seen in this dreary, grey environment. The new wealth created in the factories was distributed so unequally that the rich and poor were--to use another phrase of Disraeli's--becoming Two Nations. Radical politicians didn't see more democracy as a solution to this problem and some proposed a "socialist" solution, which to them meant guaranteeing everyone a job, an education and a minimum standard of living.
A by-product of the Industrial Revolution was that it launched the second great revival in England (1800-1870), known as the Evangelical Revival. This movement was marked by a greater concern for the welfare and morals of the working class; it supported improved factory conditions, limitations on child and female labor, more schools, and rescuing workers from their greatest scourge, drunkenness. The nineteenth-century historian, W. E. H. Lecky, was not a Christian, but he credited this revival with saving England from the bloody revolutions that shook France, Russia, and so many other countries. He wrote that it caused "a great moral revolution in England: it planted a fervid and enduring religious sentiment in the midst of the most brutal and neglected portions of the population, and whatever may have been its vices or its defects it undoubtedly emancipated great numbers from the fear of death and imparted a warmer tone to the devotion, and a greater energy to the philanthropy of every denomination both in England and in the colonies."
The Church of England was slow to respond to this new situation, because an act of Parliament was required to create every new parish, a long and costly procedure. The new urban masses were thus beyond the reach of the Anglicans, but the Methodists, who could preach in places as simple as a barn, and did not need ordained ministers, were well suited for this mission. Congregationalists and Baptists did nearly as well as the Methodists, simply because they did not need to wait for the government's permission to act.
The new conditions were also fertile grounds for nonconformist Christians, now that the establishment no longer persecuted them. The Oxford Movement (also called the Tractarian Revival) thought that what the Anglican Church needed was more emphasis on tradition, ritual and sacraments. When it failed to cause a revival, 900 of its members became Roman Catholics; one of them, John Newman (1801-90), eventually rose to the rank of cardinal. Other groups worth noting were John Darby's Plymouth Brethren and George Williams' Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), which started in 1844 as a nondenominational movement for evangelizing young men (only in the twentieth century did it turn into an athletic club).
The most successful nonconformist movement was the Salvation Army, founded in 1878 by William Booth (1829-1912), a former minister from the Methodist New Connexion. This was not a religious organization so much as a social one, which preached salvation while helping the poor and was organized along military lines. William and his wife Catherine found their main opposition from mainstream churches, who thought the Salvation Army, with its uniforms and music, was the devil's way to make Christianity look ridiculous, and from members of the liquor industry, who viewed the Army's teetotalism as a threat to their business. They prevailed because they understood the techniques of mass communication and religious advertisement better than their opponents. Today they have one and a half million members, working in ninety countries.
Humanitarians, both Christian and secular, were offended by the meager pay, long hours, and hazards of the early factories, and denounced this as a form of "white slavery." It didn't take long for them to view black slavery as equally bad or worse. Here the move to abolish slavery was started by an Anglican minister, William Wilberforce, who called it an "odious traffic in human flesh" in a letter to a newspaper when he was only fourteen (1773). Because much of Britain's trade depended on slave labor, Wilberforce set up the Abolition Committee in 1787, and invented pressure-group politics to further the cause. The Committee got information about how slavery worked, especially its atrocities, and spread it around until the common voter experienced revulsion at the practice, and used petitions to influence members of Parliament. Missionaries in Africa and America also did their part by sending back letters describing how slavery dehumanized life for blacks. All this worked; Britain abolished the Slave trade in 1807, and outlawed slavery altogether in 1833, just before Wilberforce's death. Then Britain put pressure on other countries with slaves to do the same, especially the United States and Brazil.
Only slowly did anti-Catholic prejudice decrease in England. Since the Glorious Revolution, rousing a mob to action by warning of a Catholic menace had been easy, just by shouting slogans like "no popery." The granting of full freedom to Catholics in 1829, followed by the reestablishment of a Roman Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850, raised Protestant fears, and were denounced as a form of "papal aggression." There was also a racial factor--many saw Irish Catholic immigrants as a threat to jobs held by Englishmen, especially when the Potato Famine caused Irishmen to leave their island in droves. Dr. Arnold, the headmaster of Rugby School, said: "I look upon a Roman Catholic as an enemy in his uniform, I look upon a Tractarian (pro-Catholic Anglican) as an enemy disguised as a spy." It was finally just before World War I that Catholic life in England became generally acceptable.(11)
During the Enlightenment it became fashionable for skeptics to doubt anything which came from the Bible, because if they could prove the Bible false, then there would be nothing left to justify Christian faith. This included the possibility that the people in the Bible never existed. To the skeptics the stories of the patriarchs became myths told around the campfire, they declared the miracles of Moses and Joshua unbelievable, and they stripped the supernatural from Jesus, making him nothing more than a great teacher like Confucius. A search for the "historical Jesus" began, which is still going on today, judging from the cover stories it generated for Time, Newsweek, and US News & World Report in the same week of April 1996. The Documentary Hypothesis declared that the first books of the Old Testament were put together from several documents written by anonymous authors, who lived long after Moses (the traditional author of the Torah) did.
Fortunately for us, the science of Biblical archaeology arose in the mid-nineteenth century to reverse this trend. The discoveries made in the ruins of the Middle East have frequently confirmed the accuracy of the history, customs, etc., mentioned in the Bible. Among these are the Dead Sea Scrolls, which proved that the books of the Old Testament were written before the time of Jesus, with only the slightest changes, and the lost city of Ebla, which has clay tablets mentioning many places familiar to Abraham, including Sodom and Gomorrah.
Christians need not fear archaeologists who conduct balanced historical work; consider the story of Sir William Ramsay. This scholar started as an atheist, and went to Greece and Turkey, thinking he could prove the Bible false by digging up evidence proving that the most detailed book of the New Testament, the Book of Acts, had errors concerning dates, places, and the names of important people. In this he failed; not only did everything he find agree with what Luke wrote, but by the time he returned to England he had become a defender of the Scriptures' accuracy!
A more serious body blow to the faith of Christians came from the theory of evolution. This arose from the speculation of philosophers concerning how the universe and earth came into being, without assuming that God created them in six days. I won't go into the details on where evolution came from or why I believe it is wrong; I taught that in a separate course and if you weren't there you can get the details by reading the text I wrote entitled The Genesis Chronicles: A Proposed History of the Morning of the World, especially chapters 1 & 6. At last atheists and agnostics had a way to explain how we could exist without a wise, loving Creator. Calling man a "naked ape" was bad enough; now God's existence became unnecessary. Soon everybody who didn't like traditional Christianity jumped on the evolution bandwagon, using Darwin's theory to justify their own ideas. Karl Marx, for instance, declared that evolution was biological proof that communism could work, while rich capitalists like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller thought that "survival of the fittest" justified their ruthless actions to put competitors out of business.
C. H. Spurgeon, the celebrated Baptist pastor of nineteenth-century England, pronounced evolution a monstrous error that would be ridiculed in another twenty years. Others tried to find a common ground between the contradictory theories of evolution and creation, calling it various names like "theistic evolution." Yet the evolutionists won the argument, by portraying opponents as ignorant bigots. Only since 1950 have creationists come up with enough scientific evidence to persuade many that the Genesis account might be correct after all, and most of today's Christians still believe in evolution (though creationists are not as small a minority as the liberal media would have us believe). In the meantime evolution, which I consider to be the worst lie of the past 200 years, was used to justify every sin imaginable, from abortion to racism.
As the nineteenth century went on, other new philosophies gathered strength. From Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), a skeptic who declared that God is totally irrelevant except as a source of morality, came G. W. F. Hegel (1770-1831), who saw religion as an imaginative (if inaccurate) way to picture philosophical truth and the world as a manifestation of God. Two of Hegel's followers were Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-72), who saw God as just another name for nature, and Karl Marx (1818-83), the founder of communism.
Marx did not believe that anything supernatural existed, and that only man and matter were important. To him, all history is a class struggle, between men who have something and those who don't. Eventually, though, a communist society will arise, class differences will cease, and even the state will wither away because it is no longer needed. Like the humanitarians of the early nineteenth century, he was appalled at what the Industrial Revolution had done to ordinary people, but never believed that their problems would be solved in a utopian upsurge of brotherly love. He expected life to get worse for the oppressed workers (the "proletariat"), until they rose up, overthrew the ruling class, and created a new society; consequently he was openly revolutionary. There was no place in his plan for God, Christians or any sort of religion; in fact, he called religion "the opiate of the masses." Bertrand Russell once remarked that Marx claimed to be an atheist, but he had an optimism about the future of man that only a believer in God could justify!
Another atheist who became a prophet after his lifetime was Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). Nietzsche declared to the world that God is dead, and man is now on his own. He must invent new rules and values; traditional Christian ones were no good because they preserved the weak. This declaration of a new order, where only might makes right, would make Nietzsche very popular in Nazi Germany.
A thinker who was horrified at the direction in which politics and philosophy was heading was a Danish writer, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55). We regard Kierkegaard as the father of existentialism, the idea that nobody can properly explain God. To Kierkegaard God was always the other, so different from ourselves that it is folly to manipulate or describe Him, or to prove His existence by rational arguments. A god that a living person can know is an idol--not the one true God. Humans can only understand God in a human form, thus Jesus was really God traveling incognito.
Kierkegaard may have thought he was defending Christianity from totalitarian ideas, but he also put a limitation on the Church. By declaring that one can only learn about God by himself, and not with the help of others, existentialism discourages witnessing and missionary work, making it harder to loosen humanism's grip on today's society. Twentieth-century existentialists like Karl Jaspers (1883-1969), Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), and Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-80) turned this viewpoint into an anti-Christian one, by claiming that God is dead and there is no way we can prove otherwise.(12) In the next chapter we will examine the three most powerful ideologies Christianity has to deal with in our own time.
This is the End of Chapter 7.
A History of Christianity
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