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The Struggle in American Churches

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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April 30, 2021 12:01 am

The Struggle in American Churches

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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April 30, 2021 12:01 am

If you're a Christian and someone calls you a fundamentalist, how would you react? Today, W. Robert Godfrey continues his discussion of the divide between the modernist and fundamentalist movements in America and remaining tensions today.

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If you're Christian then someone called you a fundamentalist. How would you react. Today we find the word fundamentalist use in all sorts of words and I think usually annoys me as a historian I think very unfairly.

We have to remember that the history of the word fundamentalism was of people who wanted to maintain the fundamentals of Christian faith Renewing Your Mind on this Friday in the in the 1920s there was a split in the church between fundamentalist and modernist the center of that controversy was the Scopes monkey trial in the debate over evolution is a divide that continues to have an impact on the church today. Dr. J Grissom matron was a vocal leader of the conservative fundamentalist side.

Needless to say, the modernist were not pleased with them and try to remove him from his post at Princeton theological seminary. Let's continue our study now. Dr. Robert got were continuing to look out to Dr. matron in the brave new world of life after the monkey trial in 1925 and died in 1929, the Gen. assembly received the report of this second study committee and the committee concluded that Dr. matron was temperamentally defective, bitter and harsh in his judgments implacable to those who did not agree with him, and part of truth.

Those things were simply not true of Dr. Mitch but he was held up to this sort of ridicule in the church and the committee said we need to change things at Princeton and so in 1929 Princeton seminary was reorganized and although Princeton had represented the conservative wing of the Presbyterian Church, through its whole history. Now the insistence was Princeton needs to represent the whole church and Dr. matron concluded that Princeton could not continue its historic mission. Under those circumstances, and so matron and several Princeton faculty members.

Although by no means all withdrew from Princeton to found a new seminary and they concluded that they wanted to found the new seminary in Philadelphia because it was the mother city of American Presbyterianism not so known as a Presbyterian city today but nonetheless he thought there was real symbolic value in moving to Philadelphia and he wanted to make clear the theological commitments of this new seminary and so he named it Westminster seminary after the Westminster confession of faith to which he and the faculty were committed of the powers that have sort of taken over the Presbyterian Church were furious that he did this and they were confident it was going to deflect a lot of students have a lot of money. Karl Marx is nearly always right. Follow the money and they wanted to stop him, but of course they had long supported union seminary in New York is an independent seminary and so they couldn't now having supported Presbyterians in the liberal seminary that was independent attack conservatives in a conservative seminary was independent, but Dr. matron was convinced that things were going from bad to worse in the Presbyterian Church and his next area of concern after the founding of the seminary was what's going on in foreign missions, what kind of missionaries is the Presbyterian Church sending out here pious presbyters from all over the country were sending money to send out missionaries and matron became concerned that not all those missionaries were theologically reliable. They were going out to the field maybe to do good, but not always. To preach the gospel and so Dr. matron concluded that this was intolerable and in 1933. He set up the independent board for Presbyterian for mission, and this is where the liberals thought they could get it now. He was attacking one of the established institutions of the church. Now he was deflecting money from one of the established boards of the church and therefore in 1934, the Gen. assembly directed all Presbyterian office bearers on the board of the independent board to resign or else some of them did resign, but Dr. matron refused to resign and the church determined to put them on trial for this now. This is probably more detail that we really need, but Dr. matron fall.

He had been at Princeton was a member of New Brunswick Presbyterian, which was the Presbytery that surrounded geographically, Princeton when he moved to Philadelphia. He said a request that his ministerial credentials be transferred to the Presbytery of Philadelphia still a very conservative prospector more conservative than New Brunswick. The Philadelphia Presbytery had sent the request for his ministerial credentials. New Brunswick had sent the credentials back to Philadelphia.

But the clerk of the Presbytery of Philadelphia had neglected to return the receipt for the credentials to New Brunswick and so when they decided to put them on trial. New Brunswick claim jurisdiction because they hadn't gotten the receipt of the transfer. Dr. matron would be put on trial in Philadelphia. He'd of been acquitted, but they tried them in New Brunswick convicted him and suspended him from the ministry so between 1925 when the conservatives had a majority of the Gen. assembly to 1933. The church had so changed that matron from being the hero and the leading voice in the church now was disciplined by the church and in light of that withdrew from the church and organize the Orthodox Presbyterian church in the summer of 1936, so it sucked. Kind of sad story. And of course the sad thing about church splits in the whole history of the church is it whenever a body splits are good people on both sides. It's never that all the good people go one way a split almost always weakens the conservative movement, which is not to say it isn't sometimes necessary, but it always it should be done with a bit of regret because it does weaken the movement. Nonetheless, matron was so thankful that they finally had a confessional Presbyterian Church, which they named the Presbyterian Church in America, and then they were sued by a congregation of the northern Presbyterian Church that was called the Presbyterian Church of America and the courts held the two names were too similar and that the major group could not call themselves the Presbyterian Church in America. And so then they chose the title Orthodox Presbyterian Church, one of the real sad moments of church history.

I think it is that within six months of the founding of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church Dr. major was dead died when he still had from a human point of view years of potential left of leadership, wisdom, maturity, scholarship. He died having gone to North Dakota in December to preach the gospel. He was worn out with the stress. The struggle and he contracted pneumonia and died on New Year's Day in 1937.

So don't preach in North Dakota in December and don't get worn out, but surely here was a life well lived a life in which shows so many wonderful things were accomplished.

Sadly, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church split into just six months after his death, into the Bible Presbyterian Church, leaving the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. But the the fruit of that effort is still really significant we have the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. To this day many of the leaders of the PCA were people very much influenced by Dr. matron and what he had done and accomplished many in the Christian Reformed Church were greatly influenced in the middle of 20th century by what was done by Dr. matron so the fruit of his labors were were very significant, but they illustrate for us what was happening in churches far and wide in America of this divide between fundamentalist and modernist and also how the notion of what fundamentalism was had begun to change from originally being a scholarly cultured influential group defending Orthodox Christianity. They had emerged as a group seem to be better intolerant negative uneducated and regrettably fundamentalism in the 1930s did take on a number of those features in almost all of the denominations. The mainline denominations. The fundamentalist lost the battle and many of them separated to form new denominations, and in many of those new denominations.

There was a measure of bitterness about what had been done to them. There was, in some circles, a reaction against education is not really so important as dispensationalism became more influential in some of those groups not so much amongst Orthodox Presbyterians, but in many of the other denominational groups. There was such a pessimism about the future. Such a sense that Christ must surely be coming soon that there was a sense what I bother with education, there's not time for that luscious got the gospel out to. In which there is a rise of a lot of Bible institutes you don't need a liberal arts degree.

You don't need a seminary education.

Just go to Bible Institute find the basic things to preach or get out on the field, whether it's at home or abroad, and preach and so fundamentalism does take on a kind of different sociological character. It does move out from places of influence in Dr. matron say what happened at Princeton seminary was regularly reported on the front page of the New York Times that was important stuff, but now fundamentalist increasingly were marginalized and things really did change. They became very separatist stick many of them in their own mentality, not wanting to cooperate with anybody unless they take the first step down the slippery slope to liberalism. So today we find the word fundamentalist used in all sorts of ways, and I think usually it annoys me as a historian I think very unfairly. We have to remember that the history of the word fundamentalism was of people who wanted to maintain the fundamentals of Christian faith. There been a number of scholarly efforts to try to define fundamentalism in this original era. Some of tried to link it to eschatology some of tried the link it to temperamental bitterness. I think George Marsden did it best in his book fundamentalism American culture where he said it's conservatism that's become more aggressive. I think that's right but I think the aggression the more aggressive spirit comes from the fact that new enemies have emerged enemies within the church that need to be opposed in any case, Dr. matron was a great example of the conservative side. I think at its best in the American experience. But what is happened.

By the 1930s. As I've already said nobody is an evangelical because everybody is either a modernist or a fundamentalist now that struggle certainly was in many ways the most public. The most obvious. The most reported on struggle in the American churches in the 1920s and 1930s but was not all that was going on in the American churches. It was not all that was going on in the American Protestant churches already mentioned in our first lectures at some dramatic things were happening amongst black Protestants in America.

They were not so much caught up in this controversy. The black denominations were still very Bible believing what in the same.

After World War I, as I said before World War I. 90% of Blacks in America lived in the South, and 80% of the more rural, but by the early 1960s, 66% of Blacks had moved into the urban North and that's a dramatic change that was going on precisely through this. Where it seemed there would be more opportunity in the north more work in the North a better kind of work that would lead to more prosperity in the north and when the Blacks moved out of the South.

They took their churches with them in the early 60s. Two thirds of Blacks in America were Baptists of that is, there were Protestant. I was almost everybody and one third were Methodists. Those were the great denominations to be found amongst black Christians in America will return to look at that little bit more later but but here we have to remember there are varieties of groups in America and the fundamentalist modernist controversy was not particularly a key controversy amongst the black churches. There was another group emerging in the early part of the 20th century.

That also was somewhat separated from this modernist fundamentalist controversy. This is the group that we know today as Pentecostalism Pentecostalism's foundations are usually seen as happening in 1901 in Topeka, Kansas, where a young lady at a Bible school in Topeka Kansas spoke in tongues for the first time or one of the first times are so bitter debate about exactly who gets to go first in some of these things, but the origins of Pentecostalism can be traced back to developments in the late 19th and on into the early 20th century, one of the important developments.

I think sometimes overlooked one important foundations sometimes overlooked is the tendency in the 19th century among some evangelicals to perfectionism of the doctrine of Christian perfection. We mentioned relative to Finney. It really has its roots in the teachings of John Wesley, John Wesley believed that it was possible by faith to be entirely sanctified and some of the smaller Methodist denominations in America. Wesleyan denominations in America followed Wesley on that point and many be on the Wesley movement began to embrace that idea in the 19th century for Wesley, it was always discussed in terms of faith in Christ. But when you get into the middle of the 19th century and beyond.

The teaching on perfection begins to take on a slightly different emphasis and Finney's colleague Asa may hand writes a book on perfection, which he calls the baptism of the Holy Spirit and now perfection is being more link to the work of the spirit than the work of Christ on on the one hand, that might not of been regarded as such a huge shift but you see what's happening there. You're having a notion of a second blessing after conversion linked to the Holy Spirit and leading to a whole new plane of Christian living and this is exactly what Pentecostalism is going to argue as it comes along. Many of the early Pentecostals also believed in Christian perfection, but they were beginning to say you see there is a promise of the work of the Holy Spirit that's going to come into the Christian life to lead the Christian as a second blessing to hold another plane of Christian experience and the Pentecostals would come to say the key mark of that. The key sign of that blessing is speaking in tongues. Now when we go back to the origins of Pentecostalism.

It seemed like a really tiny movement. It seemed like a really strange movement and when Sydney Ahlstrom, one of the most distinguished historians of American Christianity in the 20th century published his big fat book on American Christianity in the I think early 1970s, he gave about three pages to Pentecost. That's how marginal it seemed to a great historian today. It's unthinkable that you could write a history of our time without talking about the huge impact of Pentecostalism estimated that today there may be half a billion Pentecostals in the world. Is it certainly one of the explosive movements of the 20th and early 21st century and this was a movement that was taking shape that was being born that was being formulated again outside of the mainstream outside of the fundamentalist modernist controversy are sixfold likes to quote Catherine Coleman as a Pentecostal preacher. Having said I'm just too dumb not to believe the Bible. I mean, I was sort of the dominant Pentecostal letter.

We don't get involved as liberal stuff needs any of that out of these even think about it, but these early Pentecostals.

They didn't have a lot of education in the early years, many of the Pentecostals came out of the poorer sociological segments of society. They just didn't seem very important to most people. They were huge numbers in the early 20th century at all and they were born out of in many ways an eschatological conviction because in the earliest days the Pentecostals believed that Jesus was coming soon and that Jesus was going to pour out his Spirit in remarkable blessing on the church to speed the work of evangelism at the end of the age and they call this theology that dominated early Pentecostalism. The latter rain theology phrase taken from the letter of James, and what they said is as Christ poured out his spirit at Pentecost and in the age of the apostles, the early rain of miracles through the Holy Spirit. So at the end of the Christian image. The latter rain would come in Christ would pour out his spirit again in miracles and he would do it for the sake of evangelism and almost all of the earliest Pentecostal teachers said the gift of tongues is the gift of foreign languages so the wing go on the mission field and communicate more quickly to people in unbelief. That was the real expectation that tongues would be languages to aid foreign mission now.

Didn't take too long to figure out that by large these tongues work for night's then then they developed the idea that these were angelic language that these were blessings for the prayer life of Christians. But that was not the original thought that was nothing original expectation. The original expectation was the Christ is giving the Holy Spirit to his church. At the end times Pentecostals then later shifted their theology to say will know.

Actually, these gifts have always been present in history. If you didn't have such prejudice church historians writing, church history, you'd see the record of the presence of the Holy Spirit to do miracles. But I think it's important for the historical record for us to recognize that the real origins of Pentecostalism was in this end time expectation. We don't need education, we don't mean the study languages we can have such miraculous power in the Holy Spirit, the Christ is going to gather many many people from far and wide through the ministry through the work through the witness of Pentecostals and whatever else we say about Pentecostals we have to recognize that they came to that work with remarkable passion with remarkable dedication with remarkable self-sacrifice and that they set out from early on to try to show the change. Though the Holy Spirit makes in one of the things that is often been written about now is how in those very early Pentecostal meetings. Some of them before the first world war. There were always meetings for Blacks and whites met together for the very few places in America at that time were Blacks and whites met together and that they saw that too is a sign of the extraordinary work of the Holy Spirit in changing hearts and changing lives and changing minds and in testifying to Christ. Now those early Pentecostals were all very dedicated preaching Christ in the blood to preaching the cost of calling people to faith. They did not come in the first instance to preach the second blessing, but in the first instance, they were very dedicated to really preaching salvation and preaching Christ and then say, but if you really want power in Christ. If you want to be fully used by God for his purposes.

There is a second blessing for you. You don't have to stay up a rather pitiful state of Christianity.

They find among Presbyterians. They probably did say that but I'm sort of adding that keep you awake. You have to stay at that at that low level, but there's a way to be raised to hold another another plane and with Pentecostalism. Another offshoot of Christianity was ushered into the church. The church continued to splitter through the 20th century and we see the results of the today we need to understand the roots of all of these ideas so that we can stand on the foundation of biblical truth, Dr. Robert Godfrey is our teacher this week here and Renewing Your Mind and we been sharing portions of his sweeping series of survey of church history with concentrated on the 20th century this weekend that we'd like to send you this portion of the series. There are 12 messages contained on two DVDs and will send them to you for your donation of any amount you can find us or you can call us with your gift at 800-435-4343.

On a personal note, this series has been a particular help to me.

My wife and I both grew up in a liberal mainline denomination, and by the 1980s, we recognize that what we were hearing for the pulpit each Sunday didn't line up with Scripture by God's grace, we discovered a church that adhered to biblical truth. At the same time, we discovered Dr. RC Sproul and Ligon are ministries. That's why I'm grateful for the work that he began 50 years ago and it's also why am honored to serve your now alongside such a dedicated group of people. Thank you for joining us this week for these messages from Dr. Godfrey. We hope you'll join us next week as we have the privilege of hearing doctors pull series on the reluctant prophet Jonah will see God's hand of Providence, caring for the people of Nineveh teaching Jonah important lessons, so we hope you make plans to be here Monday for Renewing Your Mind

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