Christianity: 1914 – 2020 Present and Future
An Age of Ideology
In Europe, Christianity provided the main World View for hundreds of years.
- As we’ve seen, a number of movements started to challenge that supremacy:
- In the 1600’s, Descartes issued his ‘Cogito ergo sum’ as an attempt to arrive at a rational (i.e. purely reason based) approach to understanding ourselves and reality.
- Over the next couple of hundred years, the very existence of God came to be questioned.
- Marxism, Darwinism.
- Following World War I, a number of different World Views, or major ideologies, came into existence, all of which challenge Christianity.
- Nationalism and Fascism, Communism, and Individualism.
- Nationalism – arising out of the American and French revolutions came the ideology of tribal exclusivism – which eventually became identified with militarism, imperialism, and racism. Think of some of the tenets and practices of Nazi Germany along these lines. Often ultra-Nationalism expresses itself in Fascism – opposed to liberalism, Marxism (we’ll talk more about this), and anarchism.
- Communism – The idea that a society can be centrally planned and managed from a scientific, materialistic socialism – arising from Marx, and implemented in various ways, some of which survive in some form today.
- Individualism – social Darwinism, the idea that individuals, groups, and peoples are subject to the same Darwinian laws of natural selection as plants and animals – led to a self-serving, highly competitive individualism.
- While not religions, they took on many of the characteristics of religious faiths in the 20th century.
- A World View that affects behaviour, thinking patterns, expectations, and often vehemently oppose any differing thought patterns or outlooks.
- Nationalism reduces to extreme Patriotism, Communism to class struggle as the base reality, and Individualism to secular humanism.
- Self control and freedom of choice in these systems doesn’t really exist.
- Christianity has in various ways responded to these, and needs to continue to respond to them.
World War I was the first ‘Total War.’
- Prior to 1914, it seems as though Europe was making progress towards being able to resolve differences peacefully.
- There were ‘peace societies’ in several countries, and a number of international conferences tried to formalize this cause, and efforts were made to negotiate ‘cooling-off treaties’ to deter countries from rushing hastily into war.
- For example, a conference in 1907 at The Hague proposed the idea of an international court of justice – unfortunately the Permanent Court of International Justice wasn’t founded at The Hague until 1922 – after the First World War.
- But, tensions between countries in Europe ran high, in part because of imperialistic confrontations abroad led to an arms race and Europe was ready to explode – which it did following the assassination of the arch-duke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary in Sarajevo in June 1914.
- At the start of the war, countries were optimistic that their armies would speedily be victorious, and that would end all the problems at home.
- In fact – the war dragged on for 4 years, and decimated an entire generation of young men.
- War was for the first time fought on land, on and under the sea, and in the air.
- Industry was harnessed to providing military materiel. Governments tightly controlled industry, food production, allocation of labour, and raw materials. Civil rights were curtailed. Opponents to war were pressured to conform. Censorship and propaganda were used. The intent was to create in the people a sense of solidarity, and that the fight was righteous.
- Many church leaders on all sides reinforced this ‘righteous’ belief.
- On the part of the ultimately victorious Allies, the war became a moralistic and ideological fight against tyranny, despotism, and militarism – which ruled out any possibility of negotiating a peace that would return Europe to the previous balance of power. The Central Powers had to be entirely defeated so that a new world order could emerge. ‘The War to end all Wars’ was a common phrase. This was a struggle between democracy and authoritarianism.
- At the Paris Peace conference after the Central Powers surrendered in 1918, the mood was still rooted in nineteenth century nationalism – national self determination – and security against Germany.
- The hopes for strengthened international law, and international organizations dedicated to maintaining peace, came to nothing. There was no new world order.
- The court at The Hague was established, as was the League of Nations urged by US President Wilson, which he hoped would result in international agreement on political independence and territorial integrity of all countries. Unfortunately, it was less than successful.
- The US refused to take part, and Germany and newly communist Soviet Russia were excluded.
- The war had messed up the economies of the West, and shattered much of Germany, leading to widespread unemployment and, especially in the defeated countries, resentment at the imposed peace treaty conditions.
- Far Left- and Right-wing parties started to appear – Labour in England, the Social Democrats in Germany which became the Nazi party.
- Russia and Germany looked on the League of Nations as Western plots to overthrow communism and to keep Germany down.
- Totalitarianism was one result of the post-war problems.
- Totalitarianism is characterized by:
- Official ideology that covers all aspects of human existence, and promises a perfect state of mankind.
- A single national party led by a dictator or small group dedicated to that ideology.
- Political police using the most current techniques directed against all ‘enemies’ of the regime – whether internal or external.
- Full control over media and education.
- Systematic Propaganda to manipulate and control the public.
- Control over the economy, control over all means of combat.
- Aim to create a society lacking any sense of individual freedom – all is dedicated to the state.
- Right-wing totalitarianism at its extreme is generally termed as ‘fascism’
- Characterized by an emphasis on notions such as authority, hierarchy, order, duty, tradition, reaction, and nationalism.
- This rose in Italy starting in 1919, and also in Germany and Spain.
- Left-wing totalitarianism at its extreme is generally termed as ‘communism’
- Characterized by an emphasis on ideas such as freedom, equality, fraternity, rights, progress, reform and internationalism, nationalizing the economy, eliminating the concept of private property.
- However in practice: intolerance of political opponents, suppression of freedom of speech, lack of respect for the democratic principle of a majority vote, use of violence.
- This rose in Russia in 1917, and later in Yugoslavia, North Korea, China, and Cuba.
- Totalitarianism is characterized by:
Side note: Here’s a handy reference (though simplistic) of the general spectrum from far left-wing to far right-wing:
Christianity and Totalitarianism
In Italy under Mussolini:
- 1929: Achieved a reconciliation between the Italian state and the Roman Catholic Church, a rift since 1870.
- The pope of the time, Pius XI, was a foe of both communism and traditional liberalism.
- He was willing to put up with the problems of fascism in order to solve the ‘Roman question.’
- The papacy gave up territorial claims (i.e. the former ‘papal states’), agreed to keep out of politics, and accepted that the state should approve nominations for bishop.
- Italy recognized the Vatican City as an independent sovereign state with the pope as ruler, compensated the Church for revenues lost because of the seizures of 1870, and made Catholicism the state religion.
- Pope Pius praised the dictator, ‘Il Duce’, as a ‘man sent by providence.’
- Any criticism of fascism was usually restricted to specific issues within Italy about religious issues.
- Pius supported external issues such as Italian expansionism (e.g. into Ethiopia in Africa or supporting Franco in the Spanish civil war.)
- Mussolini himself was actually anti-clerical – and cynical of the Church.
- The Catholic Church also had ties with other fascist movements in Europe – Austria under Dolfuss, Spain under Franco, and groups in Portugal, Hungary, France, and Belgium.
- Again perhaps reflective of Pius’ dislike of both Communism and Liberalism / Democracy, and recognition that the days of divine monarchy were gone – and Fascism was the best alternative.
Germany under Hitler
Hitler took power in 1933 as Chancellor, and by 1935 was dictator of Germany.
- German National Socialism (the Nazi party) fed on Germany’s disillusionment with the war and resentment over the peace, fear of communism, and the economic crisis that followed WWI.
- Nazism stood for the absolute unity of the German people under the leader (the Führer), and the control over all political, economic, and social structures.
- Hitler nationalized businesses, implemented centralized economic planning, and worked to subordinate all classes and different interest groups to the state. The intent was to create an ideal super-community.
- Unlike Fascism in Italy, German Nazism looked backwards to a primitive, idealized past – the idea of the Aryan superior race, and inferiority of other races – which is most famously known by the identification of the Jews as a corrupting influence.
- In order to return to this ‘lost innocence’ of the past, it was necessary to purge all impurities.
- Hitler even decreed Christianity to be a Jewish plot. “The heaviest blow that ever struck humanity was the coming of Christianity. Bolshevism is Christianity’s illegitimate child. Both are inventions of the Jew.”
- Nazism also include the key concept of space – the master race would need room to live (Lebensraum.)
- Which led to aggression against neighbouring countries, leading to the invasion of Poland which started WWII.
- The combination of acquiring more space, and the resulting conquered peoples containing impure races, especially Jews, led to the Holocaust – estimated 6,000,000 died in pursuit of Hitler’s ‘final solution’ – the extermination of the entire Jewish population of Europe.
- Hitler had been born and raised Catholic, but abandoned that for the secular philosophies of the day.
- But, he never formally cut his ties with the Church, nor was he ever excommunicated.
- He envied the Catholic Church for the power it had over its members, but despised Protestantism for its lack of unity.
- Cynically, part of his rise to power included a claim to support the Church’s position in the state.
- Protestant church leaders were cool to the new state that came after WWI, the Weimar Republic, which seemed to be dominated by socialist and Roman Catholic politicians.
- After 1929, as Nazism gained popularity, many Protestant church leaders praised Hitler’s anti-communism and call for ‘positive Christianity’ – and overlooked the anti-Semitic and pagan side of Nazism.
- Conservative church leaders felt that if Nazism were treated with understanding, it would grow out of its faults (such as racialism) and bring about national regeneration.
- Many approved Hitler’s overthrow of democracy in 1933 as a first step towards replacing what they viewed as a ‘Marxist’ (i.e. heading towards communism) republic with one led by ‘Christian’ rulers.
- Hitler also posed as ‘pro-moral, pro-family’ which appealed to church leaders.
- Both Catholic and Protestant leaders had the same outlook – uncomfortable with National Socialism, but approving of many of the professed ideals.
- After 1933, Hitler agreed to a deal with the Vatican that guaranteed Catholics freedom to profess and practise, and the independence of the Church. It also established diplomatic relations with the now internationally recognized statehood of the Vatican, and continued Catholic involvement in society.
- Many Catholic leaders after this feared that disagreement with the Nazi regime would endanger the freedoms that this deal guaranteed.
- Hitler violated the agreement almost from the start – the state actually provided no protection of Catholics from attack, for example.
- He gradually destroyed Catholic organizations, shut down schools, clamped down on the Catholic press.
- Parts of the Protestant church in 1933 called for the unification and ‘nationalization’ of the then 28 provincial state churches – under a single bishop.
- In line with Hitler’s policy of centralizing control over all groups.
- They went so far as to adopt an ‘Aryan paragraph’ which allowed dismissal of all people of Jewish origin from church staff – even if they were Christians now.
- Hitler basically ignored all this, and rejected the idea of a National Socialist state Church.
- Ultimately Hitler’s view was that the church’s only function was to cater for the misled people who still had religious needs.
- Any church, including a state led Church, could divide loyalties – which he certainly didn’t want.
- After 1934, Hitler listened more and more to anti-Christian Nazis who called for the elimination of all church groups.
There were Christians who were alarmed at the increasing control Nazism was taking on religious matters.
- 1933 saw the formation of a ‘Pastor’s Emergency League’ to counter the ‘German Christian’ ideas. It resulted in the formation of the ‘Confessing Church.’
- It called the German church back to the central truths of Christianity, and rejected the totalitarian claims of the state in religious and political matters. This was intended as a theological stance, against the ‘German Christian’ movement. Intended to defend the Christian faith against innovations.
- For example, they still affirmed their loyalty to the state, and didn’t speak out against the Nazi regime at a time where it might have made a difference.
- Hitler didn’t see it as a purely theological stance.
- True Christianity challenged his totalitarianism – it taught the overall Lordship of Christ in the world.
- The Gestapo – the state secret police – harassed this group.
Catholic Church actions against Nazism
- 1937 – Pius sends an official letter to German bishops to be read in all Catholic churches. It protested against the state oppression of the Catholic Church, and called on Catholics to resist the idolatrous cult of race and state, to resist perversions of Christian doctrines and morality, and to remain loyal to Christ and His Church and to Rome. It did not actually condemn the totalitarian state.
- Hitler knew he had general public support, and continued to apply pressure against church activities and the clergy, to avoid the possibility of organized resistance.
- In 1941, Bishop Galen of Münster attacked the Nazi euthanasia program (the mentally ill, physically deformed, and incurably sick were to be killed). This raised such a public outcry that Hitler had the program suspended.
Unlike right-wing Fascism, the far left-wing ideologies are specifically anti-religion.
Karl Marx in the 1800’s had laid out a political and economic way of organizing society, where the workers own the means of production. He proposed that this was the next necessary step in the progress of history.
- A reaction against industrialists and bankers who grew rich off the labour of others, which is how he viewed capitalism at work.
Vladimir Lenin extended Marx’s work to emphasize the working classes, revolution as the means for social change, and the utopian ideal of a classless society.
- The idea of ‘The Party’ – a small, tightly-knit organization that instills political consciousness into the masses (the ‘Proletariat’) and leads in the struggle or revolution for power, to the point of actually seizing power on behalf of the workers.
- ‘Democratic’ principles are involved to the extent that the party bodies are elected by party members – but no deviation is permitted from the party ‘line’.
- Hostility to all religion is a central theme of Marxist-Leninism.
- Marxists claim that the socio-political order determines all phenomena – including religious beliefs – which implies atheism. Religion is false consciousness, resulting from class divisions, and will die a natural death when society is restored to a ‘normal’ state in communism.
- Christianity (as with any religion) brings with it a world view at odds with Communist doctrine.
- The Russian Orthodox Church had been subservient to the state for some time (from our past studies.)
- However, under the Czars, social conditions in Russia were very bad. More and more Orthodox Christians believed that the condition of workers and peasants must be improved – although most rejected socialism as a solution.
- When the initial March Revolution took place in 1917, the Orthodox Church convened a council – but went against public opinion by re-introducing the old patriarchal system of Church government.
- When the Bolshevik counter-revolution took place later in 1917, they confiscated Church property, cancelled state subsidies for the Church, and made marriage and education purely civil.
- In 1918, the patriarch excommunicated the government leaders, and organized demonstration and armed resistance and called for a restoration of the monarchy.
- The new government ordered separation of Church and state, and permitted freedom of religion as long as ‘they do not disturb public order or interfere with the rights of citizens.’
- The Orthodox Church was disestablished (i.e. no longer the state Church), and all churches were no longer protected under law.
- The unwritten rule in Soviet church – state relations was that the right to a limited freedom of worship would extend only to groups which could prove their loyalty to the regime.
- 1925 saw the state formation of the ‘League of Militant Godless’ which used propaganda to put down religion and promote science and materialistic philosophy.
- A 1929 law banned churches from engaging in social, charitable, or educational work, hold prayer, Bible study, women’s or young people’s meetings, or even give their members material aid. Churches were free only to worship, not to have any influence on society.
- Every congregation had to register with the state. Meetings required special permission. Local officials could close a church if they decided the building was needed for some public purpose.
- Through the 1930’s persecution increased – thousands of clergy were imprisoned or executed.
- By 1939, the Orthodox Church was a on the verge of disintegration. Lutheran, Baptist and Evangelical groups also. All religious groups suffered similar treatment from the state.
Rome vs Moscow
- You can see from the above why the Catholic Church in Rome was so anti-communist.
- In 1930, Pope Pius XI called on a world-wide day or prayer on behalf of suffering Christians in Russia, and was joined by the Anglican and German Lutheran churches.
- Russia responded by creating a “Militant Atheists International’ to combat the Vatican.
- In 1937, Pius issued a letter to Bishops condemning the ‘errors of communism’. He criticized the expansion of communism from Russia into Spain and Mexico, and offered the doctrines of the Catholic Church as an alternative to communism.
- ‘Communism is intrinsically wrong and no one who would save Christian civilization may collaborate with it in any undertaking whatsoever.’
- This was only days after similarly criticizing Nazi Germany.
- The Vatican placed itself firmly on the side of persecuted believers in totalitarian countries – though usually not to the extent of condemning specific states or leaders.
German and Italian efforts to engage in expansion brought Europe to war, starting with Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939.
- Over the next 2 years, this expanded into a second round of total war as the US also entered in.
- National churches were not so ‘all in’ as they were during WWI – it was viewed less as a ‘crusade.’
- German Protestant and Catholic leaders alike publicly urged their people to support the war effort.
- In Russia, this was ‘The Great Patriotic War’, and the remnants of churches there also supported the war.
- Initially Russia and Germany were allies
- Stalin recognized the value of the church’s contribution to public morale during the war, and allowed the Patriarchal Church to revive. Atheist propaganda was reduced.
- Following the war, the Orthodox Church and other religious groups regained status as protected under law, though still closely supervised by the state.
- In Japan, most Christians had united into one church, under government pressure – they urged their followers to support the ‘Great Endeavour.’
- Germany, in the areas it conquered in Eastern Europe, treated priests, pastors, and devout laymen as common criminals. Thousands were executed or sent to concentration camps.
- There were some Christians in Germany, both Catholic and Protestant, who openly opposed the Nazis.
- However, Hitler treated them harshly. After one of the assassination attempts on his life, a number were tried and condemned, even though there was no evidence to link them to the attempt.
- Other prominent church men were executed – the Jesuit Alfred Delp, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the founders of the Confessing Church.
- AFTER the war, the memory of this opposition led to a revitalization of the role and responsibility of Christians in political and social responsibility, and rejection of any false religious glorification of the state.
- But most church resistance was meagre. They were concerned with individual personal faith, traditional submission to the state (a German trait), and a conservative outlook that rejected anything left-wing, and so more accepting of Nazism’s claim to be the only alternative to Communism.
In the 1930’s, Americans were divided about the totalitarian regimes.
- Some were so anti-communist that they backed the opposite extreme – the fascist movements.
- Hitler was reportedly commended by one church leader (Frank Buchman in 1936) as ‘a front line of defence against the Anti-Christ of Communism.’
- Others, after years of economic depression, embraced socialism, which is on the left-wing spectrum which has its extreme in communism.
- Liberal Christians often went this way.
- However – very few went as far as embracing communism or joining the communist party.
- Also during the 1930’s the peace movement grew, as did the concept of isolationism – not wanting to get involved in another European war.
The Vatican remained fairly silent during the war – issuing no round condemnations of Germany, Italy, or Russia
- Italy because the church was reliant on the state for its continued existence.
- With Germany and Russia the pope faced a dilemma:
- Condemning Nazi crimes might only increase the atrocities and result in more suffering.
- But, remaining silent would shatter the Vatican’s reputation as the guardian of moral and spiritual values.
- Pius was criticized for remaining silent – he might have influenced and prevented or reduced the Holocaust.
- His defenders said that by remaining neutral, the Pope could be in a position to negotiate reconciliation, and would avoid lending any religious support to the conflict.
Protestant churches and organizations faced a similar crisis of conscience.
- In 1938 in a conference in Madras, India observed that a militant ‘new paganism’ had risen which demanded religious type devotion from its followers.
- But – afraid that believers in the Soviet Union, Axis countries and Japanese occupied lands would suffer retaliation, no specific national sins were pinpointed or condemned.
- During the war, the council assisted the ‘orphaned’ missions of Germany and other European countries in Africa and Asia to continue.
- It demonstrated that a Christian world fellowship, transcending nation and denomination, was possible.
WWII and its immediate aftermath brought a number of new situations for Christianity to wrestle with:
- Deliberate expansion of war against civilian populations with mass bombings.
- Indifference before and during the war to the sufferings of Jews and other minorities.
- Alliance of the Western democracies with the totalitarian, communist Soviet Union.
- Development of a military-industrial complex (Eisenhower’s term) – leading to the arms race and the cold war.
- Anti-communist reaction in the West which became deeply entrenched in the social fabric of liberal democracies.
- This last became especially pronounced in the United States. “The ‘American way’ was hard work and rugged individualism, and ‘compromise’ with this global adversary was an inconceivable alternative to ‘victory’”.
- Protestant churches regularly condemned communism from the pulpits.
WWII ended the Fascist regimes – but not the Communist ones.
- Communism continued to expand – China in 1949 when Mao Ze-dong’s forces defeated Chiang Kai-shek’s, and the People’s Republic of China was established.
- Mao believed that Christianity was tied to Western colonialism, and to the Vatican and American anti-communism. All foreign missionaries were expelled, all church organizations were liquidated, and Christians were persecuted.
- He developed a variation on Marxism that was different than Lenin’s, though still Communist overall.
- He stressed Chinese nationalism, and blamed colonialism for the country’s problems.
- Since the 1970’s, however, China has become more open and at least willing to deal with the West.
- After Mao’s death in 1976, churches were allowed to reopen, and expanded rapidly.
- It seemed China was heading towards democratization – until the violent end of the student protest in 1989 in Tiananmen square, where hundreds, if not thousands were killed by state intervention.
- The USSR exercised close control over its client SSR’s
- Persecution against Christians in the USSR also continued.
- In the 1980’s, times had changed. World opinion produced some moderation. Billy Graham was allowed to visit and preach.
- Gorbachev in 1985 opened things further. Bibles were allowed in the country, closed churches reopened.
- Poland retained a level of religious freedom unusual for a communist state. Most of the population identified with the Roman Catholic Church. Ultimately in 1989, establishing the first non-communist government in Eastern Europe since the late 1940’s.
- In East Germany (GDR), there was a substantial level of religious freedom, but also discrimination in employment against practising Christians.
- Following 1989, when Russia didn’t intervene in Poland, then Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania replaced their communist regimes with democratic ones.
- Christians were visible in all of these – for example in the GDR where churches served as gathering points, and church leadership negotiated with state officials and counselled the people to moderation and non-violence.
- In the last decade, however, nationalism is resurging in much of the democratic world.
- We can hope that there is no widespread return to totalitarianism, but peoples’ faith in Liberal Democracy, ascendant for 70 years, is decreasing.
Observations about Christianity and Totalitarianism
Why so much about Fascism, Nazism, and Communism?
- For the lessons it teaches us about compromise.
- Many groups compromised in order to achieve certain goals.
- Catholics in Germany to be allowed state granted permissions to practice, for example.
- Yet – in hindsight, that compromise led to consequences which substantially harmed the Christian church.
- The adage ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ is fraught with danger. For example, many in the US embraced Donald Trump because he appeared to be standing up against the anti-Christian stand of the Democratic leadership.
When we allow our own, not specifically Christian, ideological concepts to influence our Christian behaviour, we’re in trouble.
- Or, when we take a partial stand on Christian principles to the exclusion of others.
- We are left vulnerable when challenged on those other principles.
- For example in Italy, when the Catholic Church agreed to reconciliation with the Italian state, but with the proviso that it not engage in political opposition.
- The Catholic Church then wasn’t in a good place to object to or try to restrain the developing problems in the Mussolini regime.
Today, though we’re not living in a totalitarian state, there are some similarities:
- We see it especially in the US today, where religious groups make political alliances which compromise the Gospel and bring it into disrepute.
To me, our lessons are:
- Remain true to Christ and His call.
- Don’t try to merge Christianity with personal or societal convictions.
- Remember our calling – we are Christ’s ambassadors to a lost and dying world.
The Christian Church and the Jews
A partial basis for the persecution of Jews leading up to and during WWII comes from the way the Christianity in general has treated Jews for the past 1900 years.
- Originally Christianity was an outgrowth of, and regarded by outsiders as a part of, Judaism.
- Jewish authorities persecuted the church, objecting to its doctrines (e.g. that Messiah has come) and the admission of Gentiles without their having to accept the Law.
- After the Jewish revolts against Rome of AD 66-74 and 132-135, most Christians dissociated themselves from the Jews, and the two groups were substantially separate from then on.
- Jewish Christians’ refusal to support the revolts caused them to be viewed by the Jews as national enemies.
- After this time, few Jews were converted to Christianity.
- Increasingly, Christians came to view Jews as deliberate haters of the good.
- Their rejection of Jesus as Messiah, of the New Testament and its moral teachings was partly to blame.
- When Constantine officially recognized the Christian church in 313, state persecution of Jews increased.
- Previously, they had been granted special dispensations under Rome, such as not having to sacrifice to the emperor, or hold to the pantheon of Roman gods.
- But, no longer. They were gradually deprived of all rights.
- For the next 1400 years, church and state held basically the same attitudes towards the Jews.
- During the Dark Ages from about 500AD, through the Middle Ages, up until about 1500, Jews were exposed to constant harassment, frequent expulsions from nations, and sometimes massacres.
- They were banished from England in 1290, from France in 1306, 1322, and 1394, and from Spain in 1492.
- Jews were often forced to wear specific clothing, or live in special streets or districts called ghettos (the original meaning of that word.)
- Martin Luther in the early 1500’s made bitter attacks on Jews.
- Think about Shakespeare’s portrayal of Jews – especially of Shylock in ‘The Merchant of Venice.’
- From about 1350, Poland was the chief centre of European Jewry.
- But, the growth of the Roman Catholic Church there increased hatred against them.
- Economic pressure and the Russian pogroms (massacres) from 1881 – 1914 sent nearly 2 million Jews from Eastern Europe, primarily to the US. (‘Fiddler on the Roof’ takes place late in this period – around 1905)
- Unfortunately, it wasn’t Christianity, but the Enlightenment – the establishment of philosophies based on reason rather than religion – that started changing ideas about the Jews.
- French Jews were completely emancipated during the French Revolution, in 1790. Over the next 100 or so years, this spread through most of Western Europe.
- Prejudice remained, however.
- Anti-Semitism as a movement started in the late 1800’s and spread through the world.
- Christians often used the New Testament to justify their prejudice – after all, it was the Jews who killed Jesus, and their refusal to accept him as Messiah makes them rebels against God.
- Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ was the ultimate outgrowth of this – he demonized the Jews as a major enemy of the state, and about one third of the world’s Jews were killed in the holocaust.
- Since WWII a lot has changed.
- Vatican II (1965) formally renounced anti-Semitism by the Catholic Church. Amongst other things, recognizing universal responsibility for the death of Christ. I.E. that Christ’s death is the responsibility of all of humanity – we are all sinners, and He died for sinners.
- 1948 saw the founding of a Jewish state – for the first time in over 2,000 years.
- This was supported by many of the ‘Christian’ nations – partly because of a sense of guilt over the Holocaust, and partly because many saw the return of the Jews to Palestine as a fulfilment of prophecy. Sections from Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Revelation were used to support this.
- Unfortunately, much remains to be done.
- Neo-Nazi groups deny the reality of the Holocaust.
- There is deep enmity between Jews and Arabs, which continues to worsen.
- Although some promising and important strides have been made in 2020.
- Anti-Semitic sentiment in Europe has seen a resurgence in recent years.
- Left wing politics are becoming more critical of Israel.
- World-wide, current estimate by the Anti-Defamation League is that over 1 billion people in the world (one quarter of those surveyed) have anti-Semitic attitudes – even people who have never met a Jew.
Racial tensions with religious overtones
Ethnic and racial strife with religious overtones has been a serious problem for the Church for many years.
- Relations between Black and White, especially in the US and South Africa.
- In South Africa, Apartheid, begun in 1948, was supported by most white church leaders – but South Africa became an international outcast because of it.
- Apartheid was a legal framework that codified the de facto situation of racial segregation and white supremacy in S.A.
- This required racial classification and ID cards, residential separation, separate public amenities and accommodation, discrimination in employment, white-only suffrage.
- S.A Christians played a large role in the struggle against Apartheid – e.g. Bishop Desmond Tutu
- Some churches – especially Pentecostal type – were fully integrated and showed that it was possible.
- By 1990, mainline churches were speaking out about it.
- Finally in 1991, President de Klerk began to repeal the legislation that provided the legal base for Apartheid.
- Nelson Mandela, imprisoned for almost 30 years for treason, was released, and elected president in 1994.
- The US had abolished slavery 50 years before WWI – but religious supported discrimination still existed.
- Segregation was deeply rooted in many churches.
- Even up until the 1960’s, even in churches of Christ in the US, the thought “separate but equal” held sway, even in much of the north.
- The beginnings of the Civil Rights movement in the 60s – both African Americans, and white Christians convicted of their sin of racism. Martin Luther King, Jr was the most prominent figure of the movement.
- Legal integration was achieved – for example, schools were desegregated.
- However, social and economic gaps remained and still remain.
- Israel – as we’ve seen – is a source of racial tension especially between Jew and Arab.
- The controversial Israeli settlement policies, the on-going efforts to find a political solution, the isolation of the Palestinians in Gaza are all active today. Though events of 2020 may be leading to a resolution.
- Northern Ireland was another area where religious influenced tensions existed.
- The differences were more historic and political rather than religious, with the English treatment of Ireland, and the partitioning into Northern Ireland and Ireland or Eire.
- However – that history led to the north being primarily Protestant (Anglican), and the south being primarily Catholic, and so there was religious differences as well at play.
- Thankfully, most of this is at rest, with the Good Friday Agreement from 1998, with the populations of both Northern Ireland and Ireland supporting it in referendums, which ended direct London rule in Northern Ireland.
Civil Religion is where a number of religious ideas, symbols, and concepts are brought into the church, and help support the state and secure popular allegiance.
- This usually comes from the society, based on its history, and blurs religion and patriotism.
- Various examples exist Japanese Shinto, Islamic Shi’ism in Iran, and the American concept of being ‘one nation under God.’
- Usually some secular symbol becomes viewed as sacred.
- In the US, for example, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are the ‘sacred documents’, and the president seen as the ‘high priest’ charged with maintaining them, and the flag is reverenced by many.
- State wars become ‘righteous conflicts’.
- Regional ways of life get conflated as being synonymous with ‘God’s way.’
Theology in the Twentieth Century
The last 100 years has seen, and continues to see, a large diversity in theological thinking – from speculative to radical to painstaking scholarship.
Early 20th Century – Liberal Theology
Remember the context – start of the rise of totalitarianism, with the embedded promise of a perfect society on earth.
Adolf von Harnack (Berlin, 1851-1930). Concept that experience rather than doctrine should be an authentic source of truth.
- Concern to make the teaching of Jesus relevant to his own day.
- Stressed the role of Jesus as a liberator who released men from legalism and showed them the presence of God and the way of love.
- A weakness – trying to reduce the whole teaching of Jesus to three general truths, or to only certain elements from the whole teaching of Jesus.
Walter Rauschenbusch (America, 1861-1918) Concept that ‘the Kingdom of Heaven’ means not the community of the redeemed, but the transformation of society on earth.
- The Gospel means social reform and political action.
- Weakness – really hard to show that Jesus understood or taught about the kingdom in this way, and again, the Gospel can’t be reduced to just one or a few aspects.
What is the Essence of Christianity?
Alfred Loisy (France, 1857-1940) the truth of Christianity is something living, and is constantly re-shaped by the present.
- That includes the Gospels – they don’t report accurately the teaching of Jesus, but rather express the faith of the early church.
- Weakness – if the Gospels aren’t accurate, then what can be any foundation for truth?
R.J Campbell (Britain) – minimized the distinction between God and man, and made the incarnation no more than the supreme example of God’s indwelling a human being.
Weakness of all of these:
- Recognition of the centrality of the cross and power of grace. “I was turned from a Christian to a believer; from a lover of love to an object of grace.” (P.E. Forsyth)
Is the Bible Unique?
One group tried to illuminate the Bible by comparing it to similar or parallel features in other religions, usually ancient ones.
- The claim that Biblical and Christian thought isn’t as unique as was commonly supposed.
- For example, looking at ancient Babylonian texts to shed light on Biblical ideas about the beginning and end of the world.
Albert Schweitzer (1875 – 1965) had a somewhat counter view to Liberal theology:
- The kingdom of God refers not to human society or activity, but to the sovereign rule of God breaking in on history.
- God’s supernatural action, in accordance with the expectations of Jewish apocalyptic literature (e.g. Daniel.)
- Then developed this idea to argue that Jesus’ primary motivation was the end of the present world order, and His death on the cross was an attempt to bring about this end.
- He also proposed ‘reverence for life’ as the solution for the world’s problems.
- Weakness: Elements of truth – but that final jump is too extreme with no evidence in Scripture.
- However – his faith moved him to become a doctor and help him preserve life.
In America, a reaction against Liberal theology was the development of ‘Fundamentalism.’
- Initially this meant the verbal inspiration and infallibility of the Bible.
- Also, the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross, the reality of eternal punishment, and the need for personal conversion.
- Later, ‘Fundamentalism’ came to describe an overly defensive attitude, anti-scholarly, anti-intellectual, and anti-cultural.
Karl Barth (1886-1968) also reacted against Liberal Theology.
- He saw in the book of Romans the themes of the sovereignty of God, God’s grace and revelation, and human finiteness and sinfulness. God is wholly other. Christianity is not ‘religion’ at all – it is God’s sovereign and revealing word, to which people can only respond.
- Any point of contact between God, who is wholly other, and us lies solely in God’s revealing word.
Reinhold Niebuhr (1893-1971) made use of Marxist ideas against liberal theology and social gospel movements.
- Because of the evil in people and society, Christian political action called not simply for love, but for an attempt to give groups in society enough power to defend themselves against exploitation by other groups.
- Relations between individuals are a matter of ethics – relations between groups are a matter of politics.
- Later, he stressed that the final answer to the human problem lies beyond history, in the love of God and the cross of Christ. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should opt out of the politics and power struggles of our time.
Jesus: History or Faith?
Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) was sceptical about the historical reliability of the Gospels as reports of facts, and about the extent of our historical knowledge of Jesus.
- Used something called ‘Form Criticism’, which assumes much of the Bible circulated orally before being written down. The ‘forms’ behind the writing might be preaching, argument, or teaching – but not historical reporting.
- The gospels reflected the theology of the early church, rather than the facts about Jesus. (Similar here to Loisy, above.)
- Bultmann embraced the liberal belief in the priority of experience over doctrine – so could conceive of the earliest churches proclaiming the resurrection as their experience of God, rather than being concerned with historical facts about Jesus of Nazareth. For example, Jesus was just a good teacher, anything about Him performing miracles, or proclaiming the kingdom, were the ‘experience’ of his followers after His death, read into his life after the fact.
- Arguing that we can therefore know nothing about the life and personality of Jesus, he said this was actually a positive advantage to genuine Christian faith. He is not the Jesus of history, but the Christ of faith and present experience.
Further, Bultmann believed the Bible embodied a pre-scientific view of the world that he called a ‘mythical’ outlook.
- To communicate the message today, it has to be ‘de-mythologized’ and rephrased in today’s language.
- This doesn’t reduce its power to save people – but to make clearer to modern humanity what the Christian faith really is.
- One difficulty – when you de-mythologize, how do you know when to stop? It’s a fairly arbitrary decision.
- Do you just discount the miracles? Do you reject Jesus’ claims to be one with God? How do you translate the resurrection into today’s concepts?
- One unfortunate result of all of this is that Bultmann’s work was widely read, and has undermined confidence about the right way to use the Bible, and suspicions about the supernatural in Christianity.
- For example, William Barclay, an Anglican, wrote a series of NT commentaries which are really pretty good – except they completely deny the miraculous. His take, for example, on the ‘miracle’ of the loaves and fishes is that when the little boy shared what he had, that shamed the rest of the people into revealing that they also had food, and there was enough for all. The ‘miracle’ was in the opening up of peoples’ hearts in the situation.
Positivism and Christianity
- Positivism is the philosophical doctrine that all valid knowledge comes through, and can only come through, the methods of the sciences. This is a common view held today by non-Christian westerners.
- Auguste Comte (France, 1798-1857) had postulated that humanity has gone through three stages of human thought:
- Theological – the gods are responsible for events.
- Metaphysical – Philosophy, “cogito ergo sum” etc. – better explanations, but still not based entirely on fact.
- Positivism – all claims to knowledge must be tested by scientific fact. Scientific knowledge is ‘positive’ knowledge – no longer depends on superstition or speculation.
- A weakness here is that the decision to restrict all knowledge to scientific observation is a personal decision, and not a logical necessity.
- Science, for example, says nothing about itself – i.e. whether science can answer all questions, or reveal all facts, that exist.
In Britain, this was taken further, to ‘Logical Positivism’
- A.J. Ayer (1910 – 1989) published a work in 1936 in which he argued that “statements which cannot be checked or verified by observation through the physical senses are not so much false or undemonstrable as simply meaningless.”
- Statements like “God is love” were held to be ‘non-sense.’
- The book had enormous influence.
- A major criticism against this was the raising of the question, “What was the logical status of Ayer’s own principle of verification?” It couldn’t be checked by scientific observation, so it would exclude itself as a ‘meaningless statement.’
- Existentialism is a philosophical theory or approach which emphasises the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.
- Søren Kierkegaard (Denmark 1813-55) stressed the importance of first-hand practical decision and involvement, as opposed to mere intellectual assent to abstract truth. (There’s a mouthful. Basically, just because an idea sounds good, isn’t enough reason to go along with it – it needs a more personal and direct testing)
- In Christianity, it becomes important that personal commitment becomes critical, it is personal decision, rather than abstract reason, which brings a person into relationship with God.
- Existential thought was sometimes anti-Christian, and sometimes pro-Christian, as in the case of Kierkegaard.
- Two main pro-Christian concepts to arise here are:
- God must not be changed into an ‘it’ by being regarded as a mere object of thought or experience.
- No human person is to be reduced to a mere ‘case’ or number.
- Both have existence beyond that of an ordinary object with a known set of properties.
- Development of the idea that there is a relationship between language and the world. Elements of the world correspond with elements of language.
- The worldview of a people helps define that language. If some given element of the world isn’t important in the worldview, then its language will either not reflect that element, or reflect it poorly.
- Amongst other things, this helps inform us that translation isn’t as simple as just understanding basic word definitions – a failure to comprehend the worldview of the author means a failure to adequately translate the sense of what was written.
We’re All Neurotic
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was an atheist, and a positivist.
- His description of Religion is ‘the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity.’
- Neurosis is defined as a conflict between different parts of the mind, which results in stress or anxiety.
- ‘God’ is a device conjured by from the mind to cope with its own inner tensions. ‘The face which smiled at us in the cradle, now magnified to infinity, smiles down upon us from heaven.’
- Weaknesses – Freud’s theories about religion owe more to philosophical speculation than to scientific observation – i.e. they go against his own positivist convictions.
- One result of the work of Freud and his followers is that Christian pastoral counselling has sometimes taken on some of Freud’s psychological insights.
- However – psychiatrists themselves still argue over the value and validity of different approaches in psychiatry.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Germany, 1906-45) put forward the idea of religion-less or ‘worldly’ Christianity.
- The church should be concerned not with religious matters but with Christ.
- The Sermon on the Mount shouldn’t be disregarded on the pretext it sets out an impossible standard intended only to convict people of sin (a religious view.)
- Preaching salvation by faith alone makes for ‘cheap grace’. Grace comes only when people step out and follow Christ in costly discipleship.
- He also condemned religion that would call on God only when in need, like a crutch, or only to explain otherwise inexplicable occurrences.
- God’s reality is revealed as Christians serving their fellow humans in a costly and positive way amidst life as it is, using Christ as the pattern. He was ‘there only for others’ – which is what really points to the reality of God.
- Bonhoeffer himself did just that – and Hitler had him put to death for it. He was arrested in 1943 for being involved with smuggling 14 Jews from Germany to Switzerland, and put to death in 1945.
The idea that the Bible isn’t just a collection of various books, but expresses a single message – the unfolding of God’s saving acts in the history of Israel and the church.
- This arose in the 1940’s and was developed over the next couple of decades.
- The key to all history lies in the salvation history of Israel, Christ and the church. History is linear, not cyclical, and has a future goal.
- The variety of the Bible can be lost from view. If you read with only one idea in mind, then you lose sight of other riches in Scripture.
- There were faults in the linguistic methods used.
- It fails to pay attention to the relations between theology and history, and between the ancient text and the modern reader.
- One result of the shortcomings was ‘redaction criticism’ – which emphasized the diversity of the Bible.
- How each writer shaped the material to his own specific reasons for writing or his theological interests.
- The practical result is to see the Bible as containing not one theology but many.
- It is less ‘Biblical’ to look back to a fixed body of doctrine than to state anew what God is for the present.
- Excavations have found inscriptions from the Canaanite era, which have given more credence to the accuracy of the OT.
- The Dead Sea Scrolls, found in 1947 have pushed back the oldest known OT scriptures by over one thousand years.
- Not everything historic in the Bible has been validated by archaeology – but the body of confirmation of the Bible’s accuracy in this area is growing.
- 1962-65 Catholic Church conference, showed new openness to many theological questions, including dialogue with Protestant churches and even with non-Christian religions. We already mentioned the renunciation of anti-Semitism that came from this council.
- Various Catholic writers have also expressed ideas along the lines of drawing a distinction between nominal church membership and a genuine commitment to Christ, and stressing the priesthood of the whole people of God.
How Many Theologies?
- For centuries, there was only one Theology – that written in the context of Christendom in the West.
- It was assumed to be universal, and should therefore be transplanted to the non-Western world.
- The 20th century saw the weakness of that position exposed more and more in the Third World.
- Western theology has not addressed the problems of poverty, social injustice, racial discrimination, institutionalized violence, and economic dependence.
- From this have come two thoughts.
- First – we really do only need one theology – but it has to be purely Biblical theology.
- Second –theology is application of the Gospel in the context of a culture, language, values, and emphases.
- There is a difference between gospel – a message centred on the person and work of Christ – and theology – the human discipline that attempts to understand the gospel and its implications for practical life.
- As I look back on this study – it seems to me that much of the tension in Christianity is between the attempt to maintain a traditional theology that worked at a time in the past, and the attempt to create a new theology to apply to more current situations.
- That historic Theology to large extent grew out of the need for the Church to address different situations and needs which were relevant at the time – and then became institutionalized.
- The time frames involved were long – but the rate of change in the world compared to today was much slower, so recognition of this fact has taken a while.
- Similar to the way immediate concerns and issues have become part of Christian church theology in the past, Central America during its revolutionary periods in the 20th century has been similar. Much of this revolution was in reaction to the gaps between rich and poor nations, concluding that Capitalism would never close these gaps, and seeing that nations like China and Cuba were demonstrating that Marxism could work.
- Latin Americans associated the church – especially the Catholic Church – with existing power structures and European imperialism.
- Many RC priests began to share the revolutionary perspective.
- Gustavo Gutierrez of Peru, one of the founders of the Marxist revolutionary movement, wrote “we must not begin with theology, or with the Bible, but with our own place in the world and our own attempts to change it. The Bible becomes relevant only if or when it speaks on these ‘questions derived from the world’.”
- Salvation means to struggle against misery and exploitation.
- Jose Miranda of Mexico believed that the OT and teaching of Jesus attack the principle of private property. Western Christians have failed to see this – they have come to the Bible with capitalist presuppositions.
The Gospel for Africa and India
Just as in Central America, the churches in Africa and India have worked to try to provide a theology that is both true to the Gospel, and free from Western cultural additions.
- For example, the emphasis on the individual as the moral agent – internalizing God’s will and training conscience. As opposed to more collective societies where correct practices are determined more by the group – family, tribe, village – than by the individual. Christianity works in both – but a theology that stresses one in a society based on the other won’t work well. Or, the Western separation of religious and secular areas of life – in many areas, religion is everything, as was true in Europe before the Enlightenment. (See “Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible”, E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, 2012, Intervarsity Press)
- African cultures generally stress the reality of the Spiritual realm, and reject undue emphasis on individualism and abstract theory. All of which differ from main Western theology and Christian World View.
- India is similar – where in order to reach Hindus, the Gospel message has to be taught in a way that will be compatible with Hindu forms of thought and social norms.
- The challenge with both of these (as it is in Western theology) is to arrive at a theology which achieves these goals, while not becoming syncretistic (e.g. the attempt to understand the Bible through the filter of Greek philosophy as we’ve seen in earlier church history.)
- The ability, as Paul practised, of becoming all things to all people in order that he might win some.
The early European missionary societies sent out missionaries who generally carried with them and taught from the background of three historical facts:
- The West at the time (1800’s through early 1900’s) was globally dominant politically and economically.
- Missionaries carried not only Christianity, but values and perspectives typical of Western society, such as a naturalistic worldview.
- Missionary work contributed to the disruption of order in traditional non-Western societies and brought a new desire for development.
As a result, missionary planted churches tended to look in many ways like those from which the missionaries came.
- They also tended to rely heavily on foreign leaders for many years, and the view of the missionary societies tended to reinforce this.
- For example, in 1910 at the first World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh, only 17 of 1,200 representatives were from the ‘younger churches.’
- The invitations sent out to the participating missionary societies sent “some of their ‘leading missionaries’, and ‘if practicable, one or two natives.’”
- However – these churches did illustrate that the Christian faith is for all people.
- One thought to come out of the conference was that of “The Evangelization of the World in this Generation.”
- Another was the recognition that there was resistance to establish truly indigenous churches – self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating. The missionary efforts had become self-reinforcing.
By 1914, most of the areas of the world had had the gospel preached.
- Only a few countries were still closed to missionaries, such as Afghanistan, Tibet, and Nepal.
Following WWII, missions expanded further.
- North America became a leader in sending missionaries – by 1973, 70% of all Protestant missionaries came from North America.
- Japan was opened to mission work. No longer was there a single, state sponsored Christian Church.
- Both Catholic and Protestant populations grew dramatically. By 1980 there were about 750,000 Catholics in Japan; that number is dropping, in 2014 to around 440,000. By 1980 there were over 950,000 Protestants; that number is also dropping, today around 510,000.
- The churches of Christ had at least one missionary family in Japan prior to 1945. We met Harry Fox, born to that family in Japan in 1921, while we were in Utah. He returned to Japan as a missionary in the 1940’s, and among other things, founded the Ibaraki Christian University, one of the first Christian universities in Japan.
- Korea, Indonesia, Burma, Cambodia, as well as previously closed countries like Bhutan, Nepal were also more open to Christian missionaries.
- India became an independent nation in 1947, and placed restrictions on the entrance of Missionaries.
- Don Perry from the Niagara peninsula was one who spent time in India as a missionary, though I’m not sure of the time frame.
- One result of the restrictions was the growth of national leadership in the church.
- By 1990, the Christian population of India was over 30,000,000. That has decreased somewhat – in 2011 (most current census I could find) the number is about 28,000,000.
- Papua New Guinea, just north of Australia, was almost completely unfamiliar with white people until WWII. Missionaries arrived, and within a few years over 90% claimed to be Christian. In 2011 census, over 95% identified as Christian.
- Art and Ruby Ford were missionaries there, as have been other church of Christ members from Ontario.
- Africa has seen – and continues to see – great Christian growth.
- In 1900, the estimate is there were 9,000,000 Christians – in 2000, estimated at 380,000,000.
- A church of Christ sponsored group, ‘Gospel Chariot Missions’, has been growing dramatically.
- They emphasize local trained missionaries, have schools for training, make regular circuits of various countries using specialized trucks and vans they call ‘Gospel Chariots’. They currently travel through 20 of Africa’s 54 countries – a number that keeps expanding as they build more chariots.
- They have baptized thousands, and support the new churches, encouraging local members to attend short term Bible Schools, take correspondence courses, or attend Nations University of Louisiana, through distance education, becoming local indigenous leaders in the new churches.
- One of the changes in international church growth is that people are turning to Christianity – but not necessarily to Western Christianity. Indigenous churches that can relate more to the local society are having a great success.
- In some cases, the ‘Western’ flavour churches in many non-Western countries are declining, while the ‘indigenous’ churches are increasing.
- A continuing challenge, especially for third world countries, is whether Christianity has anything to say to the millions of people struggling against poverty and social injustice, and searching for liberation and development.
- The Western tendency to reduce the Gospel to a ‘spiritual message’, and fail to be concerned for social righteousness, is a hindrance in these areas.
- The truth is that Christianity is NOT a Western Religion – it started as an Oriental religion (in a technical sense) in the Middle East, and is intended by God to be a global religion – to all nations.
- Another challenge is to complete the move to overcome the tendency of missions to be paternalistic to becoming partners with Indigenous peoples.
Pentecostalism and the Charismatic Movement
Pentecostalism is another movement that arose during the 20th century.
- Pentecostalism is a stream within Christianity which places a personal experience of the Holy Spirit as high among the marks of a Christian.
- Catholics tend to ‘channel’ the Spirit through bishop and the sacraments, and Protestants through the Bible.
- John Wesley is in a way a forerunner of this movement. His heart was ‘strangely warmed’, he emphasized the inner ‘witness of the Spirit’, and taught that sanctification was a second work of grace distinct from and following justification.
- Pentecostalism rose in the USA.
- Late in the 19th century, there was increased opposition in ‘mainline’ churches to ‘holiness’ teaching. Several ‘holiness’ churches resulted.
- Increased belief in Baptism in the Holy Ghost and fire.
- Renewed interest in Spiritual gifts, particularly healing.
- Topeka Kansas brought these threads together in 1901 under Charles F. Parham, a preacher who established glossolalia – the concept of speaking in tongues unknown to the speaker, especially during worship.
- The doctrine was developed that speaking with other tongues was the initial evidence that a person had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
- In 1906 in Los Angeles a revival began – a three year long meeting which really forged the link between speaking in tongues and Spirit baptism.
- This was the launching pad for Pentecostalism.
- Pentecostalism has since spread through the world – numbering around 280,000,000 members.
- Pentecostalism isn’t specifically a denomination or a Protestant sect.
- It actually represents a fourth major strand of Christianity – beside Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant.
- It is comprised of many denominations. Assemblies of God, Church of God in Christ, Church of God, Pentecostal Holiness Church are some. We’re familiar with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, about 1199 churches with 235,000 members.
- In many Latin American countries, Pentecostalism is the second largest strand of Christianity after Catholicism.
- Generally, Pentecostal churches are orthodox as far as the major Christian doctrines are concerned.
- Beyond this:
- They see Christ in four roles – Saviour, Baptizer in the Spirit, Healer, and soon-coming King.
- Tongues are the initial physical sign of Spirit-baptism.
- Healing also plays a significant role, and teaching on healing often includes the doctrine that all illness is the result of sin or lack of faith.
- Demon possession and exorcisms are regularly practiced.
- Conviction that the second coming of Christ is at hand. This has been a bit of a strain – been over 100 years now – but the hope remains.
- Worship is patterned on I Cor 12-14, including the portions speaking of spiritual gifts – e.g. prophecy.
- Early on, Pentecostalism grew fastest in the poorer classes – as did Methodism initially in England.
- From the beginning, both white and black have been equal and play identical roles in the churches.
- In the 1950’s, Pentecostalism was recognized as genuinely Christian in the World Council of Churches, and Pentecostalism joined into that council.
- Aspects of Pentecostalism have worked into various Protestant and even some Catholic churches – especially the enthusiasm in worship, and some of the charismatic elements.
Bible Translation in the Past 100 Years
- Bible Translation has continued, as we discussed in a previous lesson, into new languages.
- However, new translations have also cropped up where there were existing translations already in place.
- In English, the 20th century saw over 45 new translations such as the Revised Standard version (RSV 1952, 1971), New American Standard Bible (NASB 1971, 1995), Good News Bible (1976), New International Version (NIV 1978, 2011), the New King James Version (NKJV 1982), New Living Translation (NLT 1996), and others.
- French – 16 new translations
- New Roman Catholic translations include 17 in Spanish since 1945 and seven Italian between 1965 and 1971.
- Vatican II (1961-65) encouraged the wide dissemination and study of the Bible – a huge change to the earlier approach that only trained theologians could read and understand the Bible for the Church.
- It also authorized use of the mother tongue in worship, and authorized Roman Catholics to work with other Christians in Bible translation.
- Linguistic principles have been brought in for more recent translations – a relatively new approach.
- Previously, an academic knowledge of Greek or Hebrew was sufficient.
- Today, though, it is generally accepted that it is also necessary to understand the basic principles which apply to all languages if the meaning is to be communicated effectively.
- Many of the new versions, such as the Good News Bible, are not just paraphrases, but based on the principle of providing the closest natural equivalent of the original.
- Understanding the original language intent for words is important – such as the idea that ‘repentance’ carries the components of bad behaviour, sorrow, and a change of behaviour.
- No attempt is made to create a word-for-word translation, or to translate the same source word the same way in all the places it is used.
Ecumenicalism is the doctrine or concept that promotes cooperation and better understanding among different religious denominations, aimed at universal Christian unity.
- In the 20th century, this grew out of the mission societies, and the cooperation between them.
- Several groups which had previously separated reunited – in Scotland, two Methodist groups in England.
- One way it found expression was in the 1948 formation of the World Council of Churches, which we’ve already encountered. Member churches include many Protestant churches, the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, and Pentecostal churches. The Roman Catholic Church is represented by ‘participating observers’.
- Various discussions and meetings have occurred between many different churches, including the Catholic Church – aided by the WCC.
One area that continues to challenge, and will likely continue to do so is the tension between the call to live in unity with all believers, and the concern for doctrinal purity for the sake of the Gospel.
- “Why can’t Christians just all get along?” speaks to the first.
- “The Bible as our only authority” speaks to the second.
Other challenges include:
- Tension between doctrinally conservative and more liberal groups.
- Political tensions – differences on how to resist dictatorial governments, for example.
- Differences in organization and structure – congregational churches vs hierarchical churches for example.
- Differences on how to view non-Christian religions. Is Christianity truly exclusive, or are there many paths to truth?
Present and Future
Christianity will continue to face challenges as the world continues to change.
- It must continue to be able to apply the Gospel to new situations, changing as needed in practice and theology, while remaining true to the revealed will of God.
In North America, ongoing changes which will challenge Christianity – us – include:
- Individual spiritualism – we don’t need to be part of a church to be right with God.
- Rejection of established religion – the patriarchal imposition of outdated concepts that are irrelevant to my life.
- Scandals in churches – for example, paedophilia being recently big news in Catholic Churches.
- ‘Single issue’ Christianity – for example, abortion being the only criteria used to determine what’s right or wrong.
- Increased ‘sacred land’ claims and struggles from Indigenous peoples – what is our relationship to them as the descendants of the colonial powers?
- Anti-intellectualism in modern Fundamentalism – distrust of science, truth being relative rather than absolute, subjective rather than objective.
- The resurgence of Nationalism, anti-democratic authoritarianism. The decline of liberal democracies.
- New ‘cold war’ – now three-cornered.
- The shift of the centre of gravity of Christianity from the West into Latin America and Africa.
- Missionaries are now coming from the developing world to Europe and North America.
- The continued tendency to self-reliance caused by increasing affluence – I can trust in myself, I don’t need God.
- Although we may see some change in this depending on how the Corona Virus works itself out through this year, and its aftermath.
- Differences between generations (a perennial issue )
- For example, exercising discipline in Sunday school – to one generation, it was perfectly fine to give a slap on the wrist to a misbehaving child – but to a later generation, “Don’t you dare touch my child.”
- The role of women in church leadership – compounded by our lack of recognition of roles required outside the assembly. I.E. the view that the only place for Christians to minister is inside the assembly – and that completely leaves women out.
- Social changes – acceptance of divorce, LGBTQ – we’re working out the implications for the church.
- Genetic manipulation – “better humans”, selecting out predispositions to genetic diseases from fertilized ova – where does life begin, and how to we understand how to approach these approaches?
- Living and reaching out in a society that is increasingly indifferent, and in some ways opposed to, Christianity.
- The ‘feminization of poverty’ – how to address injustices suffered by many women in the modern world – abuse, single parent challenges, made worse by patriarchal structures in society. How to maintain male leadership in the church, without it being male dominance.
- Care for the physical world – depletion of natural resources, the consumer economy, growing inequality between rich and poor – not just within a nation, but between nations. Are we stewards of creation? If so, then what does that really mean to us in terms of how we live? Do we care enough about the rest of the world to lower our standard of living to both a sustainable level, and to a level which is accessible to all of humanity?
- What will replace our traditional means of work? As population increased in the 18th century, and there wasn’t enough work on the farm, the Industrial Revolution provided needed employment. Now that the Industrial Revolution is working itself out logically so that more can be accomplished with fewer workers, how do we react? How will Christianity react?
Who will provide the theological foundation and framework to address these things?
- Historically, scholars and great thinkers have had the task of clarifying the mind of the church – i.e. developing or articulating theology.
- Another way is to see theology as something given by God, and graciously revealed to those who will receive it.
- In this approach, to engage in theology is to move onto ground where ‘we have to remove our shoes’ – opening ourselves up to God’s truth, which will provide the theology while remaining grounded in Him.
Questions: Lesson 7
- In what ways should society inform Christianity? In what ways should Christianity inform society?
- Is there such a thing as a ‘righteous war’ (i.e. where the church should support it)? Why or why not?
- What are some ways in which it is OK for a church to be allied (in some fashion) with the government or country? What are some ways in which it is not OK?
- Registering as a charity
- Obeying the laws of the country as long as they don’t contradict God’s will for Christians.
- Not OK
- Being restricted in operation in return for special treatment or favours (including the right to exist)
- Syncretism – incorporating aspects of government / country / society into the church
- Are there any ways in which you think we are syncretistic in our church?
- Are Christianity and Science opposed to each other? Why or why not? Or, in what ways yes, in what ways no?
- What are ways we can start dealing with present and future challenges to Christianity?