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September 28, 2022 12:01 am
Despite its vibrant Puritan roots, the church in early America gradually fell into spiritual decline. What happened? Today, Stephen Nichols examines the factors that led to this decline and the need for revival.
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In the mid-1600s New England Puritans found themselves in the middle of a theological compromise. The church began to say this will need to be regenerate.
You don't need to be a member of the pew or church.
Hence, Puritanism in order to have your child baptized. It is one step towards nominalism, and it is a step away from a faithful church Puritans first arrived in America they have a deep evangelical zeal set about translating the Scriptures for the native Algonquian people and their churches were strong, but over the years. Genuine Christianity began to slide today of Renewing Your Mind, Dr. Steven Nichols continues her look at the history of Christianity in America. The message titled halfway Christianity, but welcome back lesson, we are talking about Puritanism and it had a lot going for it was so great. I think as we think about what Puritanism was all about. We think will the next thing on the scene for American Christianity is the first great awakening when Ashley brings up the question, why do we need an awakening.
If Puritanism has this kind of a theology that's part of it, then why are we talking about the first great awakening. Well, we've got a look at what happens from roughly the 1690s to the 1740s when the great awakening comes onto the scene and what we see in that time period is a decline. This is going to be the stories will be the story again and again of American Christianity of founding of an institution and then you see decline and drift and eventually apostasy to see it happen to institutions or if you happen to denominations. You see it happen to particular churches and so this is what happens while you focus on three things in particular that happen as part of this decline out one of them is that truly unfortunate episode of new England Puritanism, and that would be the Salem witch trials, so this is 1692 6093. Now before the Salem witch trials we have to set this in the context you have witchcraft and witch trials in Europe was part of the Inquisition and historians estimate that anywhere between 30,000 to 60,000 people were killed as witches across Europe.
So when we talk about the Salem witch trials.
These didn't happen in a vacuum. They were part of this larger context when you talk about witchcraft in New England. There was writing against it. In fact, increase Mather is going to say this is that this is the father of of cotton Mather increase Mather is going to write about how there's a judgment that could be coming upon the New England colonies because of their tolerating of witchcraft and so what happens at Salem.
Well, there's a minister's family and they have a servant in the house. She is Haitian. Her name is to Chewbacca and she likely is practicing witchcraft and she involves two of the young daughters will one of the one of his young daughters, one of her friends and they have this experience of convulsions and so as this happens, and as this comes before the church. It begins the investigation and it begins the trials. By the time it is over. There are about 19 that are condemned as witches and are put to death there in Salem. One of the judges of this, some of the key figures in this is Samuel Sewall and Samuel soul oversaw the witchcraft trials but very quickly solid. This was becoming heist area and getting out of hand and very quickly after they were over.
He had a significant moment of repentance for this and published his apology. It's a very famous text from the colonial era Samuel soul's apology is one of those things was a little bit late and not enough and so much of the damage was done to New England Puritanism through the Salem witch trials, but another thing that contributed another factor here in the declension and and really much more significant in terms of the theology of New England is what was called the half way covenant now to understand this, we have to understand how infant baptism works so the way infant baptism works out, I'll take time to explain this again for our Baptist friends so they don't have this challenge to deal with this. This is specifically Congregationalist and presbyterian issue that we need to deal with but here's what was happening so you have this first generation of Puritans there baptized as infants and then they are converted and regenerate and in the language of Puritanism. They own the covenant and at their conversion, then they are admitted as full members to the church and they can have entrance to the Lords table and participate in communion and the Lord's supper, but what was happening was as these people were having children and they were getting baptized as infants they would grow up and then they would not get converted and they would remain on regenerate. But then they would marry and have kids and what are the grandparents want to do right. The grandparents want that grandchild baptized but there is a significant theological problem.
It doesn't skip generations it doesn't work that way.
It's the children of converts the children of the regenerate that are baptized that are part of the covenant community of the church. Well as you can imagine, as these grandparents were aging and as they were growing in numbers.
They had significant influence in significant power and they don't want to be told by the church officials that their squeak sweet little grandson or their beautiful little granddaughter could not be baptized is a lot of pressure was applied and coming out of that is the halfway covenant and halfway covenant was a negotiation compromise so that as long as a grandparent was regenerate in a parent was baptized could be on regenerate that child could be baptized so they were baptizing infants of unconverted parents not to grasp what's happening here to go back to that expression. We used of nominalism. Remember cultural accommodation leads to nominalism leads to cultural Christianity confessional affirmation leads to conviction needs to the true church countercultural church what was happening in the halfway covenant was literally a selling of the birthright of Puritan identity. It was a move to nominalism, it was saying you don't need to be regenerate. You don't need to be a member of the pew or church.
Hence, Puritanism in order to have your child baptized as long as your baptized that counts. Your child can be baptized. It is one step towards nominalism, and it is a step away from a faithful church, but then there's this figure, Solomon Stoddard, now Solomon Stoddard is a huge figure in colonial New England. He is the minister at first first church in Northampton Massachusetts if you want to think of the settlements in colonial New England.
You got the Atlantic seacoast as it comes down, and of course the major cities. Boston in the major church in Boston is first church. Boston within the second area of settlement was inland. It was the Connecticut River Valley.
So is that Connecticut River makes its way through Massachusetts much dissecting it in half and then coming down into Connecticut and then veering off towards the Atlantic along that Valley the river of course deposited this beautiful sort of flat land on either side.
It was a source of water was a great source of farming and it was an easy place to settle. So you got the Atlantic coast in the Connecticut River Valley. These are the two main areas and just as Boston was key over on the Atlantic seaboard. So Northampton pretty much right smack in the middle of the state is key for the Connecticut River Valley and Solomon Stoddard was pastor there for 60 years. His house was up on the hill and it is sort of blocked the sun as it would shine down upon the town square and it's almost like a symbol right of Stoddard's shadow extending over the town, he was called the Pope of the Connecticut River Valley and these are Congregationalists like that that are the opposite of Roman Catholics to show Stoddard's stature in Northampton is the second largest church and the New England colonies, which is to say, is the second largest church in America for strict Boston starter what Stoddard did was Stoddard applied the logic of the halfway covenant applied to baptism to the other sacrament that the church is to administer and that is the Lord's supper, and Solomon Stoddard called the Lord's supper, a converting ordinance so he admitted no one church members unregenerate to the Lord's table in the belief that they perhaps could be converted by this exposure to this means of grace, that is the Lord's supper.
Now you see what were doing. We've we've negotiated away one sacrament.
Baptism with the halfway covenant now or negotiating the other sacrament Lord's supper and we are moving again a step more towards nominalism Stoddard may have had the best of intentions, and in fact Stoddard was quite the revival preacher under his 16 year tenure there were no fewer than five specific what he called seasons of harvest, where there were many converts coming forward and a remarkable moving of the spirit of God. So while that was all happening. He's promoting this vision of the Lord's supper.
Now the other thing about Stoddard's will hold this will come back to it. He is the maternal grandfather of none other than Jonathan Edwards and of course this is the pulpit that Edwards is going to step into as Stoddard's assistant for two brief years before Stoddard dies and then young Jonathan Edwards 26 years old steps into the pulpit of the second largest church in the American colonies. Following a guy who had been there for 60 years and following a guy whose house cast a shadow over the church and over Edwards house so that Edwards never even saw the sun unless he had to get step out of the way of the shadow right so you will come back to that in a moment, but so far we've got the Salem witch trials which certainly do not help Puritanism. We got the halfway covenant and Stoddard's was actually called Stoddard. He and his him. His particular view of the Lord's supper, but there's 1/3 thing is just good old fashion materialism. It is the lure of this world that that that Joule right that draws our attention away from the things of God.
We talk about the Puritans were the things we talk about is a Puritan work ethic.
They they were industrious, they were inventive they saw themselves as being gifted by God, and they saw their worship to God as cultivating those gifts and being good stewards of those gifts and they saw their Christian duty to work to work as unto the Lord, and if you work as unto the Lord, you're going to be a good worker and what happened to these Puritans they got prosperous. Now when you start looking into the sermons. Edwards sermons risk chastising his congregation chastising them for their prosperity. Edwards kind of liked the finer things in life. He had a in his will.
He's going to identify his fine week that he had everyone had the ordinary wig that you know you would use for everyday experiences, but to have a fine week right. That was something Sarah. She loved a fine China and so she was always trying to find China pieces Edwards loved cheese from Boston and he loved chocolate country like this guy even more now, but it's not the prosperity it's the way the prosperity eclipses a love for God and a desire to worship God.
This was happening they were becoming so consumed with the things of the world that they were forgetting their first love and they were growing very lackluster in their devotion to God and very Lexa days ago about their commitment to their church so we've got Salem witch trials we've got what I'm calling halfway Christianity and we've got good old fashion materialism robbing our devotion and our attention. This is the decline. So what happens. Well let's first look at some precursors get us up to 1739, so some precursors before the great awakening. One of them is a Dutchman now. So far we have been talking about the Dutch that much because, well, here we tend to leave that to Dr. Godfrey. He talks enough about the Dutch but they are an important part of the story and a significant figure in the great awakening is the Dutch minister Theodore Freeling Hyson not Freeling Hyson comes to the Raritan Valley of New Jersey in the Hudson Valley of New York and he finds that these Dutch ministers that are there. Well, in his words. He calls them unconverted.
He says the problem here is the Dutch church is full of unconverted ministers and in the 1720s. He starts preaching with an intense evangelical fervor of one of the things it was the markers of the Puritans was a gospel warmth, a desire for the gospel. A desire for the awakening and you see that in Freeling Hyson so here's Freeling Hyson in the Raritan Valley, New Jersey Hudson, the Hudson River Valley, New York. These are beautiful places, right after his ministry. We also have to go to Neshaminy, Pennsylvania, and there we have Gilbert tenant and William tenant so the William tenant of the father was born in Ireland was a Church of England minister when he came to America. He converted to Presbyterianism and settled there and Neshaminy Pennsylvania right up against the Delaware River bordering New Jersey and he forms what he called the log College was a simple structure built of logs to train ministers because he was suspicious of Harvard and he was even slightly suspicious of Yale that they didn't have the religious fervor and the religious zeal and so we set up the log college to train ministers now. It's going to happen to the log college was going to move across the river from Neshaminy, Pennsylvania, and go to what was essentially a carriage stop strategically located halfway between New York City and Philadelphia and that carriage stop came to be known as Princeton, New Jersey, and it was basically how pastors and a carriage station and that's where log college was moved to changed its name to the College of New Jersey and changed its name to Princeton but back in the 1720s. No Williams son Gilbert who was trained at the log college and this is one of those cases where the sun is you no more zealous than the father and Gilbert tenant becomes a very significant preacher and the great awakening when Whitfield gets to Philadelphia.
He seeks out Gilbert Gilbert tenant published a sermon entitled the dangers of an un-converted ministry just like Freeling Hyson is saying here the Dutch churches will always unconverted ministers now tenant is saying the Congregational churches in the Presbyterian churches are full of unconverted ministers. So this is happening in the 1720s early 1730s, and then we throw into the mix. Jonathan Edwards will talk more about Edwards in our next time together, but at this point, all in one essay he sees at Northampton. He he goes there in 1727 as an assistant minister to Solomon Stoddard assessment of how they did it in those days about seven years out from when a pastor was going to die they would go to the colleges they would go to Harvard where they would go to Princeton or to Yale to to get a young minister to come along as an assistant and okay I gotta tell you this to just as an aside, I had to compete, sometimes for these graduates. First, while there weren't many of them sometimes early, graduating six or eight so sometimes towns would actually go and sort of solicit these young ministers at their graduation and one of the ways that they would try to attract them to their town was to tell them how many eligible young ladies there are in the town so I sort of picture towns with you holding up signs 42 women. One other town holds up a sign 65 right so you get the young minister he'd come they would exchange will share duties and then as the senior minister got older. The young man would take over more. The ministry than he would die and then the young men would step into the pulpit as the full minister sort of power your training at seminary and you had your practical theology sort of on-the-job and almost an internship or an apprenticeship arrangement. Stoddard forgot that he was supposed to live for seven years and two years into this arrangement he dies. So, 17, 29 Jonathan Edwards 26 years old, married for two years. They already had their first kid service can have a kid pre-much every year for the next 11 years semester of the second largest church in America and what does he do he starts preaching Calvinism. He starts preaching that salvation is a work of God, he starts preaching that God is glorified in man's dependence. He starts preaching that the work of regeneration is a divine and supernatural work and something starts to happen. 1734 1735. We have what are called the Connecticut River Valley revivals so up-and-down that Connecticut River Valley. There were revivals in 1734 1735 and wrote it up.
He wrote it up for the Boston paper and published it under the title, a faithful narrative of the surprising work of God. That article made its way across the Atlantic to old England and made its way into the hands of the recent hymn writer, the father of English hymnody Isaac Watts and his Watts read that he thought this is exactly what we need to hear in old England so he got a message back to Jonathan Edwards saying if you expand this I'll publish it as a book and Edwards did in his first book is published in holding on, under the guidance of Isaac Watts same title faithful narrative of the surprising work of God makes its way back into Jonathan Edwards hands and like most authors he thinks oh, the editor really messed up my book and Edwards copy which is up in the by Nikki rare book Museum of the book the room up at Yale University is full of all these little cross outs and marginal notes. The actual book that Edwards wrote very quickly published a second addition corrected addition in the colonies. But the point is, it's stirring is getting attention and meanwhile across the Atlantic back in old England. There are the brothers. Wesley and there's George Whitfield.
They found themselves getting kicked out of Anglican pulpits. It might have to do with the sermon they both preached John Wesley George Whitfield entitled the almost Christian and you know the almost Christian is what you you Anglicans and an almost Christian is. Guess what, not a Christian at all, just like a halfway Christianity is not a Christianity at all and so there's a revival occurring old England and then in 1739 George Whitfield makes the first of his seven transatlantic voyages lands in Delaware realizes that that's too small that's a joke and then he goes to Philadelphia and we have the beginning of the first great awakening. 1730 will pick up the story in our next time together with the first Martin Lloyd Jones once asserted that every Christian should learn from history, it's his duty to do so. That's precisely why Dr. Steven Nichols is guiding us through the history of the American church this week here on Renewing Your Mind were glad you could be with us today. This is Dr. Nichols latest series is titled Christianity in America in 12 messages. He takes us through every era of the American church from the 1500s ball the way up through the 20th century and would be happy to send you the two DVDs should just contact us today with the donation of Eddie about when you call us at 800-435-4343. You can also make your request and give your gift online at Renewing Your Mind.work you'll find more resources on church history. When you subscribe to table talk magazine. For example, I found an article by Rev. John Pena table talk magazine.com and he said this study of church history is meant to provide more than just inspiration. Serious reflection on the past protects us from error reminds us of God's faithfulness and motivates us to persevere, but encourage you to subscribe, you can do that online a table talk magazine.com will tomorrow were going to change gears a bit, but we will still have her focus on church history. Dr. RC scroll take us to a document written in the 17th century, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Westminster confession of faith and he'll explain what those who wrote it meant when they said what God God, I hope you'll join us for that tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind