Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Church since the Reformation

Bath, NC, Methodist Church
While there was a great deal of historical growth of the church following the Reformation, there was little change in our understanding of the church doctrinally. 

After Henry VIII decided to separate the English church from Rome, Anglicanism eventually emerged with mostly Catholic ceremony and mostly evangelical doctrine, a settlement enacted by Elizabeth I that kept England from civil war. 

The Puritans were a group that then emerged within the Anglican Church who were opposed to that mixture on the grounds of purity and polity. In purity, the Puritans wanted the Catholic ceremony cleansed and a more spartan service of worship.

Progeny of the Puritans
In polity, the Puritans held two opinions which eventually led to two denominations. Presbyterianism (a church government by ruling and teaching elders or presbyters) was one of the Puritan directions, a further development of Calvinism/Reformed theology in church government. Presbyterianism was the state church of England under Cromwell and was later established as the Church of Scotland, spreading from there worldwide through immigration and missions. 

Other Puritans saw Congregationalism (congregational government) as the right kind of church government, and this group of Puritans later founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A later development among congregationalists would be Baptists, who believed in congregational government (polity) but with an added conviction on the purity of the membership – limiting membership to regenerate (saved) persons. In order to insure that purity of a saved membership, they added the requirement of believer’s baptism, hence the epithet Baptist.

Methodists and kindred families

The Great Awakenings of the 1700s were led by John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield. Loyal Anglicans, they insisted on the necessity of the new birth, and thousands who had been left behind by the Anglican Church in Britain were saved. Under the leadership of bishops Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke, the Methodists spread like wildfire on the American frontier, from 20 congregations in 1770 to 19,883 in 1860. Wesley’s teaching on Christian perfection and sanctification (holiness) led to divisions among Methodists, especially in the late 1800s. Wesleyan and holiness churches developed, the largest in California called themselves the Church of the Nazarene. They believed in sanctification as a second work of grace in the believer, often as a crisis event, perhaps the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Out of the holiness movement emerged the Pentecostal churches in the early 20th century. They added a third work of grace, the gift of tongues as the initial evidence of Spirit baptism. In a mere century, the Pentecostal/charismatic movement has grown from zero to 400 million, and is responsible for causing evangelical Christianity worldwide to grow at twice the rate of world population. Without the Pentecostals, evangelical growth in the last 100 years would have declined. Pentecostalism is incredibly diverse, with a heritage of divide and grow. Church researcher David Barrett says there are 11,000 Pentecostal denominations and over 3,000 independent charismatic denominations such as the Vineyard Churches. 

The charismatic movement began in 1960 when an Episcopalian rector at St. Marks Episcopal Church in Van Nuys, CA, named Dennis Bennett announced to his congregation that he had received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. From there the movement has spread within old-line historic denominations including Catholics, Lutherans, American Orthodox, Reformed/Presbyterian groups and a normal group of Baptist churches

What the Pentecostal/charismatic movement has contributed to the doctrine of the church is an emphasis on the empowerment of the individual by the Holy Spirit leading to a healthy resurgence of wide participation by laypeople in ministry and worship. The church is seen less as a hierarchy and more of a fellowship. They expect God to be active in their lives and in their church’s worship. They also believe in bold witnessing and exuberant worship, areas that needed a healthy boost, and they are good at becoming indigenous in many cultures, leading to strong growth of the church around the world. The problem with the Pentecostal/charismatic movement, especially outside North America, is the unhealthy emphasis on health and wealth prosperity theology.

Fundamentalist/Modernist Controversy

In early 20th century North America, those with conservative theology (fundamentalists) in many denominations were alarmed to see their seminaries and institutions controlled by liberals (modernists), and they revolted. They wanted a return to theological purity. Some left their denominations and formed new ones. Some formed independent churches, a new development. Some, like Southern Baptists, moved to shore up their conservative heritage by adopting statements of faith like the Baptist Faith and Message in 1925.

In a reaction to the splintering of denominations, the early 20th century also saw a strong ecumenical movement born out of the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference with a desire to fulfill the unity of John 17:21-23. These missionaries saw denominational barriers as a hindrance to the spread of the gospel on the mission field. While there had been much cooperation on the mission fields of the world among mission agencies, Bible societies, and student volunteer movements, the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy had taken most mainline Protestant churches in a liberal direction. But unfortunately, by the time the World Council of Churches formed in 1948, the most the member churches could agree on was a bare confession of Jesus Christ, and many of them had lost their missionary zeal. Financial support for Marxist groups in Latin America and a zeal for liberal ideologies has angered and turned away many supporters.

Among Roman Catholics, big changes took place under Pope John XXIII when in 1962-1965 he called the twenty-first church council in twenty centuries – Vatican II. There the Catholic Church mandated significant changes in worship, religious liberty, and relationships with other churches and world religions. Protestants, for example, were upgraded from being anathematized (condemned to hell) to being simply “separated brethren.” Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has had dialogues with a number of denominations including Lutherans and evangelicals. The major obstacle is still the Catholic insistence that everyone recognize the primacy of the Pope in order to have full communion. For evangelicals and Baptists, there are also many serious theological differences.

Parachurch organizations have helped evangelicals come together in unity in the last half of the 20th century. This unity was always based on common doctrinal convictions, especially surrounding the gospel. Organizations like Campus Crusade for Christ, Intervarsity, Bible Study Fellowship, Christian Women’s Club, Mission America Coalition, and others have promoted more of a spiritual unity than an organizational or institutional kind.

Lessons from the Post-Reformation Church

1.      Denominational distinctives are born out of important convictions, but are secondary to the spiritual unity of the Body of Christ.
2.      We should learn, understand, and treasure our heritage and distinctives as Southern Baptists.
3.     We can and should learn valuable lessons from other evangelical groups outside of Baptists.
4.      A question to ponder: Are you a Southern Baptist because it is your convinced conviction or only because you were married or born into a Southern Baptist church?

Sources: John Hammett, Theology 3 notes; Wikipedia "charismatic movement"; Hogg, Church History II notes.