Church History-13. The Sinner’s Prayer

church-history

(The following article is reprinted with the permission of the author. Many thanks to my good friend and fellow teacher, Steve Staten, for allowing me to display the article here.)

The Sinner’s Prayer

By Stephen F. Staten

A Brief History of a Novel Practice

C.S. Lewis used the term “a great cataract of nonsense” to describe how people use a modern idea to construe Bible theology. One such example, perhaps the best example, is a conversion method called the Sinner’s Prayer. It is more popularly known as the Four Spiritual Laws.

Lewis used this term to describe what happens when someone looks backward at the Bible based only on what he or she has known. Instead, an evangelical should first discern conversion practices from Scriptures and then consider the topic in light of two thousand years of other thinkers. As it is, a novel technique popularized through recent revivals has replaced the biblically sound practice.

Today, hundreds of millions hold to a belief system and salvation practice that no one had ever held until relatively recently. The notions that one can pray Jesus into his or her heart and that baptism is merely an outward sign are actually late developments. The prayer itself dates to the Billy Sunday era; however, the basis for talking in prayer for salvation goes back a few hundred years.

Consider the following appeal:

“Just accept Christ into your heart through prayer and he’ll receive you. It doesn’t matter what church you belong to or if you ever do good works. You’ll be born again at the moment you receive Christ. He’s at the door knocking. You don’t even have to change bad habits, just trust Christ as Savior. God loves you and forgives you unconditionally. Anyone out there can be saved if they … Accept Christ, now! Let us pray for Christ to now come into your heart.”

Sound familiar? This method of conversion has had far-reaching effects worldwide as many have claimed this as the basis for their salvation. Yet, what is the historical significance of this conversion? How did the process of rebirth, which Jesus spoke of in John 3, evolve into praying him into one’s heart? I believe it was an error germinating shortly after the Reformation, which eventually caused great ruin and dismay in Christendom. By supplying a brief documentation of its short, historical development, I hope to show how this error has served as “a great cataract of nonsense”.

THE REFORMATION

Although things weren’t ideal after the Reformation, for the first time in over a thousand years the general populace was reading the Scriptures. By the early 1600s, one hundred years after the Reformation was initiated, there were various branches of European Christendom that followed national lines. For instance, Germans followed Martin Luther. There were also Calvinists (Presbyterian), the Church of England (Episcopalian), various branches of Anabaptists and, of course, the Roman church (Catholics). Most of these groups were trying to revive the waning faith of their already traditionalized denominations. However, a consensus had not been reached on issues like rebirth, baptism or salvation- -even between Protestants.

The majority still held to the validity of infant baptism even though they disagreed on its significance. Preachers tended to minimize baptism because people hid their lack of commitment behind sayings like “I am a baptized Lutheran and that’s that.” The influence of the preachers eventually led to the popular notion that one was forgiven at infant baptism but not yet reborn. Most Protestants were confused or ambivalent about the connection between rebirth and forgiveness.

THE GREAT AWAKENING

The Great Awakening was the result of fantastic preaching occurring in Europe and the eastern colonies during the early to mid 1700s. Though ambivalent on the practice of baptism, Great Awakening preachers created an environment that made man aware of his need for an adult confession experience. The experiences that people sought were varied. Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield and John Wesley furthered ideas of radical repentance and revival. Although there is much to be learned from their messages, they did not solve the problems of the practices associated with baptism and conversion.

Eventually, the following biblical passage written to and inspired for lukewarm Christians became a popular tool for the conversion of non-Christians:

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. ….Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:14-20)

This passage was written explicitly for lukewarm Christians. Now consider how a lecturer named John Webb misused this passage in the mid 1700s as a basis of evangelizing non-Christians:

“Here is a promise of Union to Christ; in these words, I will come in to him. i.e. If any Sinner will but hear my Voice and open the Door, and receive me by Faith, I will come into his Soul, and unite him to me, and make him a living member of that my mystical body of which I am the Head.” (Christ’s Suit to the Sinner, 14)

Preachers heavily relied on Revelation 3:20. By using the first-person tense while looking into the sinner’s eyes, preachers began to speak for Jesus as they exhorted, “If you would just let me come in and dine with you, I would accept you.” Even heathens who had never been baptized responded with the same or even greater sorrow than churchgoers. As a result, more and more preachers of Christendom concluded that baptism was merely an external matter–only an outward sign of an inward grace. In fact, Huldreich Zwingli put this idea forth for the very rst time. Nowhere in church history was such a belief recorded. It only appears in Scripture when one begins with a great cataract of nonsense. In other words, it only appears in the New Testament through the imagination of readers influenced by this phenomenon.

MOURNER’S SEAT

A method originated during the 1730s or ‘40s, which was practically forgotten for about a hundred years. It is documented that in 1741 a minister named Eleazar Wheelock had utilized a technique called the Mourner’s Seat. As far as one can tell, he would target sinners by having them sit in the front bench (pew). During the course of his sermon “salvation was looming over their heads.” Afterwards, the sinners were typically quite open to counsel and exhortation. In fact, as it turns out they were susceptible to whatever prescription the preaching doctor gave to them. According to eyewitnesses, false conversions were multiplied. Charles Wesley had some experience with this practice, but it took nearly a hundred years for this tactic to take hold.

CANE RIDGE

In 1801 there was a sensational revival in Cane Ridge, Kentucky that lasted for weeks. Allegedly, people barked, rolled over in the aisles and became delirious because there were long periods without food in the intense heat. It resulted in the extreme use and abuse of emotions as thousands left Kentucky with wild notions about rebirth. Today it is generally viewed as a mockery to Christianity.

The excesses in Cane Ridge produced expectations for preachers and those seeking religious experience. A Second Great Awakening, inferior to the first, was beginning in America. Preachers were enamored with the idea that they could cause (manipulate) people into conversion. One who witnessed such nineteenth century hysteria was J. V. Coombs who complained of the technique:

“The appeals, songs, prayers and the suggestion from the preacher drive many into the trance state. I can remember in my boyhood days seeing ten or twenty people laying unconscious upon the poor in the old country church. People called that conversion. Science knows it is mesmeric influence, self-hypnotism … It is sad that Christianity is compelled to bear the folly of such movements.” (J.V. Coombs, Religious Delusions, 92ff).

The Cane Ridge Meeting became the paradigm for revivalists for decades. A lawyer named Charles Finney came along a generation later to systemize the Cane Ridge experience through the use of Wheelock’s Mourner’s Seat and Scripture.

CHARLES FINNEY

It wasn’t until about 1835 that Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875) emerged to champion the system utilized by Eleazar Wheelock. Shortly after his own conversion he left his law practice and would become a minister, a lecturer, a professor, and a traveling revivalist. He took the Mourner’s Seat practice, which he called the Anxious Seat, and developed a theological system around it. Finney was straightforward about his purpose for this technique and wrote the following comment near the end of his life:

“The church has always felt it necessary to have something of this kind to answer this very purpose. In the days of the apostles, baptism answered this purpose. The gospel was preached to the people, and then all those who were willing to be on the side of Christ, were called out to be baptized. It held the place that the anxious seat does now as a public manifestation of their determination to be Christians”

Finney made many enemies because of this innovation. The Anxious Seat practice was considered to be a psychological technique that manipulated people to make a premature profession of faith. It was considered to be an emotional conversion influenced by some of the preachers’ animal magnetism. Certainly it was a precursor to the techniques used by many twentieth century televangelists.

In opposition to Finney’s movement, John Nevin, a Protestant minister, wrote a book called The Anxious Bench. He intended to protect the denominations from this novel deviation. He called Finney’s New Measures “heresy”, a “Babel of extravagance”, “fanaticism”, and “quackery”. He also said, “With a whirlwind in full view, we may be exhorted reasonably to consider and stand back from its destructive path.” It turns out that Nevin was somewhat prophetic. The system that Finney admitted had replaced biblical baptism, is the vertebrae for the popular plan of salvation that was made normative in the twentieth century by the three Bills — Billy Sunday, Billy Graham and Bill Bright.

DWIGHT MOODY AND R. A. TORREY

However, it wasn’t until the end of Finney’s life that it became evident to everyone and himself that the Anxious Bench approach led to a high fallout rate. By the 1860s Dwight Moody (1837-1899) was the new apostle in American evangelicalism. He took Finney’s system and modified it. Instead of calling for a public decision, which tended to be a response under pressure, he asked people to join him and his trained counselors in a room called the Inquiry Room. Though Moody’s approach avoided some of the errors encountered in Finneyism, it was still a derivative or stepchild of the Anxious Bench system.

In the Inquiry Room the counselors asked the possible convert some questions, taught him from Scripture and then prayed with him. The idea that prayer was at the end of the process had been loosely associated with conversion in the 1700s. By the late 1800s it was standard technique for ‘receiving Christ’ as Moody’s influence spread across both the United States and the United Kingdom. This was where a systematic Sinner’s Prayer began, but was not called as such until the time of Billy Sunday.

A. Torrey succeeded Moody’s Chicago-based ministry after his death in 1899. He modified Moody’s approach to include “on the spot” street conversions. Torrey popularized the idea of instant salvation with no strings attached, even though he never intended as much. Nonetheless, “Receive Christ, now, right here” became part of the norm. From that time on it became more common to think of salvation outside of church or a life of Lordship.

BILLY SUNDAY AND THE PACIFIC GARDEN MISSION

Meanwhile in Chicago, Billy Sunday, a well-known baseball player from Iowa, had been converted in the Pacific Garden Mission. The Mission was Chicago’s most successful implementation of Moody’s scheme. Eventually, Sunday left baseball to preach. He had great public charm and was one of the first to mix ideas of entertainment with ministry. By the early 1900s he had become a great well- known crusade leader. In his crusades he popularized the Finney-Moody method and included a bit of a circus touch. After re and brimstone sermons, heavy moralistic messages with political overtones, and humorous if not outlandish behavior, salvation was offered. Often it was associated with a prayer, and at other times a person was told they were saved because they simply walked down his tabernacle’s “sawdust trail” to the front where he was standing. In time people were told they were saved because they publicly shook Sunday’s hand, acknowledging that they would follow Christ.

Billy Sunday died in 1935 leaving behind hundreds of his imitators. More than anything else, Billy Sunday helped crusades become acceptable to all denominations, which eventually led to a change in their theology. Large religious bodies sold out on their reservations toward these new conversion practices to reap the benefits of potential converts from the crusades because of the allure of success.

Both Dwight Moody and Billy Sunday admitted they were somewhat ignorant of church history by the time they had already latched on to their perspectives. This is highly significant because the Anxious Seat phenomenon and offshoot practices were not rooted in Scripture nor in the early church.

BILLY GRAHAM, BILL BRIGHT

Billy Graham and his crusades were the next step in the evolution of things. Billy Graham was converted in 1936 at a Sunday-styled crusade. By the late 1940s it was evident to many that Graham would be the champion of evangelicalism. His crusades summed up everything that had been done from the times of Charles Finney through Billy Sunday except that he added respectability that some of the others lacked. In the 1950s Graham’s crusade counselors were using a prayer that had been sporadically used for some time. It began with a prayer from his Four Steps to Peace with God. The original four-step formula came during Billy Sunday’s era called in a tract called Four Things God Wants you to Know. The altar call system of Graham had been refined by a precise protocol of music, trained counselors and a speaking technique all geared to help people ‘accept Christ as Savior.’

In the late 1950s Bill Bright came up with the exact form of the currently popular Four Spiritual Laws so that the average believer could take the crusade experience into the living room of their neighbor. Of course, this method ended with the Sinner’s Prayer. Those who responded to crusades and sermons could have the crusade experience at home when they prayed,

“Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.”

Later, in 1977 Billy Graham published a now famous work entitled, How to Be Born Again. For all the Scripture he used, he never once uses the hallmark rebirth event in the second chapter of the book of Acts. The cataract (blind spot) kept him away from the most powerful conversion event in all Scripture. It is my guess that it’s emphasis on baptism and repentance for the forgiveness of sins was incompatible with his approach.

 

THE LIVING BIBLE AND BEYOND

By the late 1960s it seemed that nearly every evangelical was printing some form of the Four Spiritual Laws in the last chapter of their books. Even a Bible was printed with this theology inserted into God’s Word. Thus, in the 1960s, the Living Bible’s translation became the translation of choice for the crusades as follows:

“Even in his own land and among his own people, the Jews, he was not accepted. Only a few welcome and received him. But to all who received him, he gave the right to become children of God. All they needed to do was to trust him to save them. All those who believe this are reborn! –not a physical rebirth resulting from human passion or plan–but from the will of God.”(John 1:11-13, Living Bible, italics mine)

The italicized words have no support at all in the original Greek. They are a blatant insertion placed by presuppositions of the translator, Kenneth Taylor. I’m not sure that even the Jehovah’s Witnesses have authored such a barefaced insertion in their corrupt Scriptures. In defense of Taylor’s original motives, the Living Bible was created primarily with children in mind. However, the publishers should have corrected the misleading verse in the 1960s. They somewhat cleared it up in the newer LB in the 1990s, only after the damage has been done. For decades mainstream evangelicals were using the LB and circular reasoning to justify such a strong ‘trusting moment’ as salvation, never knowing their Bible was corrupted.

A whole international enterprise of publishers, universities and evangelistic associations were captivated by this method. The phrases, “Receive Christ,” and “Trust Jesus as your personal savior,” filled airwaves, sermons, and books. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion counselor-training program helped make this concept of conversion an international success. Missionaries everywhere were trained with Sinner’s Prayer theology. Evangelicalism had the numbers, the money, the television personas of Graham and Kennedy and any attempt to purport a different plan of salvation would be decried as cultic and “heresy.”

Most evangelicals are ignorant of where their practice came from or how Christians from other periods viewed biblical conversion. C.S. Lewis regarded it as chronological snobbery when we don’t review our beliefs against the conclusions of others:

“Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.” (Learning in Wartime, 1939)

While most do this unknowingly, evangelicals are skewing church auditoriums all over the world from a clear picture of conversion with a nonsensical practice. 

Stephen Francis Staten

This article is an overview of an ongoing research project.

The Jesus Robe

robe

THE JESUS ROBE

By Dr. G. Steve Kinnard

When we love people, we need to love the WHOLE person. To illustrate this point, I want to use the image of the JESUS ROBE.

I read a wonderful book recently entitled the Kingdom Conspiracy. In this book, Scot McKnight talks about two different views of the kingdom that exist in evangelical churches today. One is the “skinny jeans” version of the kingdom. A younger, hipster-looking crowd wearing “skinny jeans” espouses this view. It’s the view that “kingdom work” is equated with feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, building houses for the homeless, and all of this is good Matthew 25 kind of stuff.

Then, McKnight talks about the “pleated pants” view of the kingdom. People that hold to this view tend to be older and are more comfortable in “pleated pants.” Their version of the kingdom is that “kingdom work” is planting churches, going on mission teams, evangelizing the neighborhood, teaching people the Bible, and all of this is good Matthew 28:18-20 kind of stuff.

McKnight’s then makes the point that the proper view of “kingdom work” is not a either skinny jeans or pleated pants. “Kingdom work” does not only consist of helping the poor like the skinny jeans group. Nor does “kingdom work” only consist of breaking open a Bible and teaching people about Jesus like the pleated pants group. Kingdom work is both/and. It is both Matthew 25 and Matthew 28. Instead of wearing skinny jeans or pleated pants, we need to wear (and I came up with this image) the robe of Jesus. Jesus, in his kingdom work, loved the WHOLE person. He met physical needs and spiritual needs.

One great place where you see this happening is in John 5. This is the story of Jesus healing a sick man by the pool of Bethesda. John writes:

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [4] One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well. [1]

What’s going on in this story? It’s Sabbath, and Jesus goes to the pool by the sheep gate. He sees a man who is sick. So Jesus starts a conversation based on where the man is at the time. Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to get well?” The man explains his condition, “I’ve been sick for thirty-eight years and no one has helped me.” Jesus takes that as a “Yes,” and he heals the man.

Later, Jesus finds the man at the temple. He starts another conversation with the man. This time he doesn’t ask the man if he wants to get well. The man is cured. Instead, he takes the man where he is at that point in his life and speaks to the inner sickness of the man—the man’s spiritual condition. Jesus says, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

Jesus loved the WHOLE person. He helped the man with his physical ailment, and he helped the man with his spiritual hurt. That’s “kingdom work.” That’s “kingdom work” Jesus style. That’s wearing the robe of Jesus. It’s not either skinny jeans or pleated pants; it’s both.

The love of Jesus integrates meeting the physical hurts of people (poverty, hunger, sickness, addiction, mental health issues, lack of education, lack of opportunity) and helping the spiritual hurts of people (sin, bitterness, emotional stress, guilt, hopelessness). The love of Jesus integrates the skinny jean’s view of the kingdom and the pleated pant’s view of the kingdom and becomes—the “Jesus robe” view of the kingdom. We wear the robe of Jesus when we address people’s physical needs and their spiritual needs. That is “kingdom work.”

I want to share for a moment with some of you that might travel to a country where you need to sensitive in the way you speak to people’s spiritual needs. Be aware that meeting spiritual needs can happen without initially inviting someone out to church. In the passage from John 5, Jesus speaks to the man’s spiritual hurts by having a conversation with the man. In certain countries, you have to be wise when it comes to meeting people’s spiritual needs. To invite someone out to church might put you or others in jeopardy. If you are there representing, HOPE ww, then it might put HOPE ww in jeopardy. So be wise. If you are visiting a country and you don’t know the political climate of that country, then learn from the local disciples about the best way to meet people’s spiritual needs. Meeting spiritual needs might best be done by having a conversation with someone or simply sharing your life with that person.

In conclusion, LOVE is about LOVING the WHOLE person. LOVE is about meeting physical needs and spiritual needs. So let’s put on the Jesus robe and do “kingdom work” the way Jesus did. Let’s wear the robe of Jesus and LOVE people by meeting both their physical and spiritual needs. That’s “kingdom work.”

When you do “kingdom work,” check what you’re wearing. Not skinny jeans. Not pleated pants. Make sure you are wearing the JESUS ROBE.

[1] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Jn 5:1–15.

Church History-12. The Restoration Movement. “The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery”.

church-history

In the early nineteenth century in America, a movement began that sought to unify churches by asking churches to rid themselves of creeds and denominational doctrines and to cling to the Bible. This movement became the Restoration Movement because its focus was the restoration of New Testament Christianity.

On July 23, 1804, the Presbytery (Eldership) of the Springfield Presbyterian Church wrote a last will and testament for its institution and died. They no longer wanted to be considered a denomination. They wanted to be a church of Christ and follow the Bible. The following is that last will and testament. It is foundational document of the Restoration Movement.

The Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery

By: The Springfield Presbytery

FOR where a testament is, there must of necessity be the death of the testator; for a testament is of force after men are dead, otherwise it is of no strength at all, while the testator liveth. Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die. Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground, and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. Whose voice then shook the earth; but now he hath promised saying, yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, yet once more, signifies the removing of those things that are shaken as of things that are made, that those things which can not be shaken may remain.—Scripture


THE Presbytery of Springfield sitting at Caneridge, in the county of Bourbon, being, through a gracious Providence, in more than ordinary bodily health, growing in strength and size daily; and in perfect soundness and composure of mind; but knowing that it is appointed for all delegated bodies once to die; and considering that the life of every such body is very uncertain, do make and ordain this our last Will and Testament, in manner and form following, viz.:

Imprimis. We will, that this body die, be dissolved, and sink into union with the Body of Christ at large; for there is but one body, and one Spirit, even as we are called in one hope of our calling.

Item. We will that our name of distinction, with its Reverend title, be forgotten, that there be but one Lord over God’s heritage, and his name one.

Item. We will, that our power of making laws for the government of the church, and executing them by delegated authority, forever cease; that the people may have free course to the Bible, and adopt the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.

Item. We will, that candidates for the Gospel ministry henceforth study the Holy Scriptures with fervent prayer, and obtain license from God to preach the simple Gospel, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, without any mixture of philosophy, vain deceit, traditions of men, or the rudiments of the world. And let none henceforth take this honor to himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.

Item. We will, that the church of Christ resume her native right of internal government,—try her candidates for the ministry, as to their soundness in the faith, acquaintance with experimental religion, gravity and aptness to teach; and admit no other proof of their authority but Christ speaking in them. We will, that the church of Christ look up to the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest; and that she resume her primitive right of trying those who say they are apostles, and are not.

Item. We will, that each particular church, as a body, actuated by the same spirit, choose her own preacher, and support him by a free-will offering, without a written call or subscription—admit members—remove offenses; and never henceforth delegate her right of government to any man or set of men whatever.

Item. We will, that the people henceforth take the Bible as the only sure guide to heaven; and as many as are offended with other books, which stand in competition with it, may cast them into the fire if they choose; for it is better to enter into life having one book, than having many to be cast into hell.

Item. We will, that preachers and people cultivate a spirit of mutual forbearance; pray more and dispute less; and while they behold the signs of the times, look up, and confidently expect that redemption draweth nigh.

Item. We will, that our weak brethren, who may have been wishing to make the Presbytery of Springfield their king, and wot not what is now become of it, betake themselves to the Rock of Ages, and follow Jesus for the future.

Item. We will, the Synod of Kentucky examine every member who may be suspected of having departed from the Confession of Faith, and suspend every such suspected heretic immediately, in order that the oppressed may go free, and taste the sweets of Gospel liberty.

Item. We will, that Ja———, the author of two letters lately published in Lexington, be encouraged in his zeal to destroy partyism. We will, moreover, that our past conduct be examined into by all who may have correct information; but let foreigners beware of speaking evil of things which they know not.

Item. Finally we will, that all our sister bodies read their Bibles carefully, that they may see their fate there determined, and prepare for death before it is too late.

Springfield Presbytery,
June 28th, 1804
{\displaystyle {\Big \}}} (L.S.)
ROBERT MARSHALL,
JOHN DUNLAVY,
RICHARD M’NEMAR,
B. W. STONE,
JOHN THOMPSON,
DAVID PURVIANCE.
{\displaystyle {\Bigg \}}} Witnesses.

The Witnesses’ Address

We, the above named witnesses of the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery, knowing that there will be many conjectures respecting the causes which have occasioned the dissolution of that body, think proper to testify, that from its first existence it was knit together in love, lived in peace and concord, and died a voluntary and happy death.

Their reasons for dissolving that body were the following: With deep concern they viewed the divisions, and party spirit among professing Christians, principally owing to the adoption of human creeds and forms of government. While they were united under the name of a Presbytery, they endeavored to cultivate a spirit of love and unity with all Christians; but found it extremely difficult to suppress the idea that they themselves were a party separate from others. This difficulty increased in proportion to their success in the ministry. Jealousies were excited in the minds of other denominations; and a temptation was laid before those who were connected with the various parties, to view them in the same light. At their last meeting they undertook to prepare for the press a piece entitled Observations on Church Government, in which the world will see the beautiful simplicity of Christian church government, stript of human inventions and lordly traditions. As they proceeded in the investigation of that subject, they soon found that there was neither precept nor example in the New Testament for such confederacies as modern Church Sessions, Presbyteries, Synods, General Assemblies, etc. Hence they concluded, that while they continued in the connection in which they then stood, they were off the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, of which Christ himself is the chief corner stone. However just, therefore, their views of church government might have been, they would have gone out under the name and sanction of a self-constituted body. Therefore, from a principle of love to Christians of every name, the precious cause of Jesus, and dying sinners who are kept from the Lord by the existence of sects and parties in the church, they have cheerfully consented to retire from the din and fury of conflicting parties—sink out of the view of fleshly minds, and die the death. They believe their death will be great gain to the world. But though dead, as above, and stript of their mortal frame, which only served to keep them too near the confines of Egyptian bondage, they yet live and speak in the land of gospel liberty; they blow the trumpet of jubilee, and willingly devote themselves to the help of the Lord against the mighty. They will aid the brethren, by their counsel, when required; assist in ordaining elders, or pastors—seek the divine blessing—unite with all Christians—commune together, and strengthen each others’ hands in the work of the Lord.

We design, by the grace of God to continue in the exercise of those functions, which belong to us as ministers of the gospel, confidently trusting in the Lord, that he will be with us. We candidly acknowledge, that in some things we may err, through human infirmity; but he will correct our wanderings, and preserve his church. Let all Christians join with us, in crying to God day and night, to remove the obstacles which stand in the way of his work, and give him no rest till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth. We heartily unite with our Christian brethren of every name, in thanksgiving to God for the display of his goodness in the glorious work he is carrying on in our Western country, which we hope will terminate in the universal spread of the gospel, and the unity of the church.

[Witnesses’ Address taken from Historical Documents Advocating Christian Union, Charles Alexander Young, editor, 1904; Reprint, Old Paths Book Club, 1955]

 

Church History-11. The Anabaptists.

church-history

The Anabaptist.

There were three big names involved beginning the Protestant Reformation—Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. Out of the third and least known of the big three, Zwingli, came The Anabaptist movement, which is also called the Radical Reformation (radical from the Latin, radix, meaning “root”). The Radical reformers believed that Luther and Zwingli failed to get at the root of the problem in their reforms of Roman Catholicism—i.e., the union of church and state. They often referred to themselves simply as “The Brethern.”

The Anabaptists believed the church needed to follow the practices of the New Testament church. They refused military service. They taught that Christians must adhere strictly to the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, no matter what the consequence of following that sermon might be. They also believed and taught that Christians should help the poor. They rejected the doctrine of predestination.

One central tenet of the Anabaptist was a rejection of infant baptism, insisting on the baptism of adults. Mark Noll writes, “The Anabaptists rejection of infant baptism and their insistence upon adult baptism after an individual professon of faith grew out of a desire to distinguish Christianity from state citizenship, as well as from a fresh interpretation of teaching about baptism in the NT. As much as Anabaptist teachings anticipated later Western convictions about the separation of church and state, at least in the sixteenth century their beliefs were regarded by Catholics and Portestants alike as grave threats to the stability of European Christian society.” Thus, the Anabaptists were heavily persecuted. Other Protestant groups and the Catholic Church both persecuted the Anabaptists.

The Anabaptists were strict pacifist. One story is told of an Anabaptist who was being chased by someone who wanted to arrest him and execute him. The Anabaptist escaped over a frozen lake. His pursuer followed over the ice. The ice broke and the pursuer fell into the freezing water. The Anabaptist stopped and rescued his pursuer. The pursuer arrested the Anabaptist, took him back to town, and executed the Anabaptist for his religious convictions.

Some Anabaptists believed the end was at hand. They established towns where they strictly enforced the rules of the town. This group gave up on pacifism and embraced arms to protect their town. The best example of this occurred in Munster. They declared the city the “New Jerusalem.” John Leiden proclaimed himself king. He proclaimed that polygamy would be practiced. Some citizens grew restless with Leiden and his regime, so they opened the gates of the city to Catholic forces and they conquered the city and tortured and executed the king and the leaders of the movement.

Their confession was affirmed on Feb. 24, 1527, and is known as the Schleitheim Confession. It contains seven articles:

  1. Believers baptism over infant baptism.
  2. A ban for those “who slip and fall into error and sin” after being privately admonished twice.”
  3. The Lord’s supper is for believers only.
  4. It affirms the separation “from the evil and from the wickedness which the devil planted in the world.” Separation from all things “popish” and “drinking houses” and “civic affairs.”
  5. It downplayed the formal training of ministers asking them to rely on the Holy Spirit instead. (Luther strongly disagreed with this. He believed the clergy must be trained. He said you wouldn’t rely on a doctor that just trusts the Spirit.)
  6. The confession asserts pacifism. “The government magistracy is according to the flesh, but the Christian’s is according to the Spirit; their house and dwelling remain in this world, but the Christians’ citizenship is in heaven; the weapons of their conflict on war are carnal and against the flesh only, but the Christian’s weapons are spiritual, against the fortification of the evil.” Therefore, Christians belong to the kingdom of God and should have no dealings with the kingdoms of this world.
  7. Christians should not take oaths. Christians could not “pledge their allegiance.”

The confession says, “Eliminate from you that which is evil and the Lord will be your God and you will be His sons and daughters.” They believed in separating from culture and society. As a means of discipline, they shunned people.

Michael Sattler was the primary author of the confession. In 1524, he left the Catholic church (Benedictine Order) and in June was baptized in Zurich. After writing the confession, he was tracked by the army of Archduke Ferdinand. He was arrested and brought to trail in Rottenburg. On May 21, 1527 he was brutally tortured and then burned at the stake at the hands of Roman Catholic and civil authorities. His wife was drowned just over a week later on May 29.

What do you think our movement has in common with the Anabaptists? What are the differences between our groups? I must say that I appreciate their desire to follow the Bible in a strict and radical manner. They were so committed to their cause that they were willing to die for it. How about you?

Church History-14.Thomas Campbell’s “Declaration and Address”.

church-history

In 1809, Thomas Campbell published a tract/book that would become a foundational document for the fledgeling Restoration Movement. I printed the propositions that Campbell placed in the document. These state many of the principles of the Restoration movement. This document is in the public domain.

Declaration and Address

Thomas Campbell

Let none imagine that the subjoined propositions are at all intended as an overture toward a new creed or standard for the Church, or as in any wise designed to be made a term of communion; nothing can be further from our intention. They are merely designed for opening up the way, that we may come fairly and firmly to original ground upon clear and certain premises, and take up things just as the apostles left them; that thus disentangled from the accruing embarrassments of intervening ages, we may stand with evidence upon the same ground on which the Church stood at the beginning. Having said so much to solicit attention and prevent mistake, we submit as follows:

PROP. 1. That the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians.

2. That although the Church of Christ upon earth must necessarily exist in particular and distinct societies, locally separate one from another, yet there ought to be no schisms, no uncharitable divisions among them. They ought to receive each other as Christ Jesus hath also received them, to the glory of God. And for this purpose they ought all to walk by the same rule, to mind and speak the same thing; and to be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.

3. That in order to do this, nothing ought to be inculcated upon Christians as articles of faith; nor required of them as terms of communion, but what is expressly taught and enjoined upon them in the word of God. Nor ought anything to be admitted, as of Divine obligation, in their Church constitution and managements, but what is expressly enjoined by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles upon the New Testament Church; either in express terms or by approved precedent.

4. That although the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are inseparably connected, making together but one perfect and entire revelation of the Divine will, for the edification and salvation of the Church, and therefore in that respect can not be separated; yet as to what directly and properly belongs to their immediate object, the New Testament is as perfect a constitution for the worship, discipline, and government of the New Testament Church, and as perfect a rule for the particular duties of its members, as the Old Testament was for the worship, discipline, and government of the Old Testament Church, and the particular duties of its members.

5. That with respect to the commands and ordinances of our Lord Jesus Christ, where the Scriptures are silent as to the express time or manner of performance, if any such there be, no human authority has power to interfere, in order to supply the supposed deficiency by making laws for the Church; nor can anything more be required of Christians in such cases, but only that they observe these commands and ordinances as will evidently answer the declared and obvious end of their institution. Much less has any human authority power to impose new commands or ordinances upon the Church, which our Lord Jesus Christ has not enjoined. Nothing ought to be received into the faith or worship of the Church, or be made a term of communion among Christians, that is not as old as the New Testament.

6. That although inferences and deductions from Scripture premises, when fairly inferred, may be truly called the doctrine of God’s holy word, yet are they not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection, and evidently see that they are so; for their faith must not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power and veracity of God. Therefore, no such deductions can be made terms of communion, but do properly belong to the after and progressive edification of the Church. Hence, it is evident that no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the Church’s confession.

7. That although doctrinal exhibitions of the great system of Divine truths, and defensive testimonies in opposition to prevailing errors, be highly expedient, and the more full and explicit they be for those purposes, the better; yet, as these must be in a great measure the effect of human reasoning, and of course must contain many inferential truths, they ought not to be made terms of Christian communion; unless we suppose, what is contrary to fact, that none have a right to the communion of the Church, but such as possess a very clear and decisive judgment, or are come to a very high degree of doctrinal information; whereas the Church from the beginning did, and ever will, consist of little children and young men, as well as fathers.

8. That as it is not necessary that persons should have a particular knowledge or distinct apprehension of all Divinely revealed truths in order to entitle them to a place in the Church; neither should they, for this purpose, be required to make a profession more extensive than their knowledge; but that, on the contrary, their having a due measure of Scriptural self-knowledge respecting their lost and perishing condition by nature and practice, and of the way of salvation through Jesus Christ, accompanied with a profession of their faith in and obedience to him, in all things, according to his word, is all that is absolutely necessary to qualify them for admission into his Church.

9. That all that are enabled through grace to make such a profession, and to manifest the reality of it in their tempers and conduct, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as brethren, children of the same family and Father, temples of the same Spirit, members of the same body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same Divine love, bought with the same price, and joint-heirs of the same inheritance. Whom God hath thus joined together no man should dare to put asunder.

10. That division among the Christians is a horrid evil, fraught with many evils. It is antichristian, as it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ; as if he were divided against himself, excluding and excommunicating a part of himself. It is antiscriptural, as being strictly prohibited by his sovereign authority; a direct violation of his express command. It is antinatural, as it excites Christians to contemn, to hate, and oppose one another, who are bound by the highest and most endearing obligations to love each other as brethren, even as Christ has loved them. In a word, it is productive of confusion and of every evil work.

11. That (in some instances) a partial neglect of the expressly revealed will of God, and (in others) an assumed authority for making the approbation of human opinions and human inventions a term of communion, by introducing them into the constitution, faith, or worship of the Church, are, and have been, the immediate, obvious, and universally acknowledged causes, of all the corruptions and divisions that ever have taken place in the Church of God.

12. That all that is necessary to the highest state of perfection and purity of the Church upon earth is, first, that none be received as members but such as having that due measure of Scriptural self-knowledge described above, do profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures; nor, secondly, that any be retained in her communion longer than they continue to manifest the reality of their profession by their temper and conduct. Thirdly, that her ministers, duly and Scripturally qualified, inculcate none other things than those very articles of faith and holiness expressly revealed and enjoined in the word of God. Lastly, that in all their administrations they keep close by the observance of all Divine ordinances, after the example of the primitive Church, exhibited in the New Testament; without any additions whatsoever of human opinions or inventions of men.

13. Lastly. That if any circumstantials indispensably necessary to the observance of Divine ordinances be not found upon the page of express revelation, such, and such only, as are absolutely necessary for this purpose should be adopted under the title of human expedients, without any pretense to a more sacred origin, so that any subsequent alteration or difference in the observance of these things might produce no contention nor division in the Church.

–Thomas Campbell, 1809

Church History-10. The Reformation 1517-1800.

church-history

The Reformation 1517-1800

The Context of the Reformation:

            Let’s look at some of the events that let to the Protestant Reformation.

  1. The Spirituality of the Catholic Church was on the decline.

Calhoun writes, “In 1517 the pope was Leo X. He was one of the so-called ‘Renaissance Six.’ Those six popes, from Sixtus IV to Clement VII, according to Barbara Tuckman in her book The March of Folly, ‘Possessed no sense of spiritual mission, provided no meaningful religious guidance, performed no moral service for the Christian world.’”

The New Catholic Encyclopedia states, “There were, on the eve of the Reformation, grave shortcomings in the practice of the church, both in preaching the Word of God and in administering the sacraments—especially the Eucharist—that indicated a general tone of fatigue and apathy. A deplorable manifestation of the secular spirit was penetrating every level of ecclesiastical life. The great body of bishops had abdicated their teaching office, not in theory but in practice. Some were incapable of teaching as the least of their uneducated clergy.”

  1. Nationalism was on the rise.

Gonzales writes, “Nationalism, while spelling the end of feudalism, also marked the end of the medieval dream of a single people under one emperor and one pope (or, as was said then, ‘one flock under one shepherd’). Increasingly people thought of themselves as subjects of a particular kingdom or citizens of a nation.”  Nationalism led to strong anti-papal feelings in some nations, i.e., England.

  1. Capitalism was emerging as the new money economy. There were new ways of making money. Success did not depend upon your name and your ancestors.
  1. Development of the university system throughout Europe created centers for people to study, learn, and better themselves.
  1. The invention of the printing press allowed books and articles to spread across Europe. Gutenberg developed the printing press in Mainz, Germany in 1455. The Chinese already had the printing press, but Gutenberg introduced it to Europe.
  1. The conquest of the world by the explorers caused the world to get smaller. In 1492 Columbus set sail. Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella sponsored exploration. Catholic missions spread across the world.

The Principles of the Reformation:

The Reformation was based on five principles. Stephen Nichols lists these five principles as follows:

  1. Sola Scriptura, meaning ‘Scripture alone’: The Bible is the sole and final authority in all matters of life and godliness. The church looks to the Bible as its ultimate authority.

      2 and 3. Sola Gratia, meaning grace alone, and Sola Fide, meaning “faith alone.”  Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. It is not based on works; we come to Christ empty-handed. This is the great doctrine of justification by faith alone, the cornerstone of the Reformation.

  1. Solus Christus, meaning “Christ alone”: There is not other mediator between God and sinful humanity than Christ. He alone, based on his work on the cross, grants access to the Father.
  2. Soli Deo Gloria, meaning “the glory of God alone”: All of life can be lived for the glory of God; everything we do can and should be done for his glory. The Reformers called this the doctrine of vocation, viewing our work and all the roles we play in life as a calling.

 

Do you agree with all five of these principles? If not, why not?

Church History-9. The Renaissance and Humanism.

church-history

The Renaissance 1350-1650

The Renaissance originated in Italy with a focus on the art and the philosophy of classical antiquity. It marks the transition from the medieval world to the modern world. The name comes from the Latin words for “birth” and “back,” thus a “rebirth of culture.” This was a return to the literature and art of the classical periods of Greece and Rome.

Gregory VII turned Rome into the artistic and intellectual capital of Europe during this time. Gothic architecture rose. Flying buttresses enabled architects to build large cathedrals. When you walked into these cathedrals, your eyes were drawn upward toward the stained glass. The cathedral at Notre Dame in Paris and the cathedral at Cologne, Germany are examples of Gothic architecture.

Earl Cairns writes, “In a broader sense the Renaissance may be defined as that era of cultural reorientation in which people substituted a modern secular and individualistic view of life for the medieval religious and corporate approach to life. …The medieval theocentric conception of the world, in which God was the measure of all things, gave way to an anthropocentric view of life, in which man became the measure of all things.   Emphasis was placed on the glory of man instead of the glory of God.” This was the rise of humanism.

Along with this there was a rise of the nation states like Germany (the rise of nationalism), and the rise of the middle class.

Humanism.

Humanism (not secular humanism) is a revival in the interest in the classics. It stresses an appreciation for and an acknowledgment of human values and love of beauty.

The Humanists wanted to reform the church, and they wanted to rediscover the text of the Bible. The common Bible of that time was Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. The humanists wanted to get behind the Latin text and discover the text of the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament. The German scholar Johannes Reuchlin is noted for introducing the study of the Hebrew Old Testament back into favor. Some reformers felt the Vulgate was enough. They called the Hebrew OT the Bible of the Jews, and some even wanted to destroy the Hebrew OT. But Reuchlin stood against that tide and said that to really understand the OT, we need to read it in its original language.

A product of the Renaissance was Erasmus of Rotterdam (1511) He was an Augustinian monk who studied at the University of Paris. His “In Praise of Folly” c. 1511 was a satyr of religion and society. He also published the “Adages” which were sayings of classical writers and “The Handbook of a Christian Knight.” Erasmus said that the Christian was not an army man, but a soldier with knowledge and prayer as weapons. He writes:

“Do not tell me that charity consists in being frequently in church, in prostrating oneself

before signs of the saints, in burning tapers, in repeating such and such a number of

prayers. God has no need for all of this. Paul defines love as to edify one’s neighbor; to

lead all to become members of the same body; to consider all one in Christ; to rejoice in a

brother’s good fortune in the Lord just as you would concerning your own; to heal his

hurt as you would try to heal your own hurt, compassionately; to rebuke the erring; to

teach the ignorant; to lift up the fallen; to console the downhearted; to help the toiler; to

support the needy; in the highest degree to bring all your wealth, all your zeal, all your

care to bear on this: that you may benefit as many as you possibly can in Christ.”

Erasmus published his own version Greek New Testament in 1516. This was the first critical text of the Greek NT, i.e., a text that compared the Greek manuscripts and attempted to come up with an accurate, composite text based on the different manuscripts. As he completed his project, he found 600 errors in the Latin Vulgate. Erasmus didn’t begin studying Greek seriously until he was 33 years old.

How old are you? You’re never too old to learn Greek.