This week we will start on a sub-set of God, Jesus, the Church, Religion & Society. I say this because it is an overview of American beliefs over the life of our nation. It will take more than one part to cover this issue. It is an historical perspective on American beliefs.
Americans have never been a perfect people by Biblical standards – no nation has been or ever will be, therefore Jesus came to save all of humankind. Ever since the colonists first arrived on America’s shores there has been an ebb and flow of faith in the American society. Several major waves of change affecting America’s faith – such as the First Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening, and turn-of-the-century revivals – successfully moved the nation in a positive direction. The First Awakening produced an awareness of individual responsibility, an institutional separation of church and state that secured the rights of conscience and religious non-coercion in the civil arena, and Christian cooperation among denominations rather than the strife that had been common. The Second Awakening secured the belief in human equality among God’s creation without regard to race. The turn-of-the-century revivals produced the end of institutional child abuse and slavery.
Unfortunately, along with the good changes, heterodox movements also sprang up within each of the spiritual waves. Within each spiritual movement there also occurred what Jesus described in Matthew 13:25…along with the good crop, the enemy came in and also planted weeds. From the First Awakening emerged a strong unitarianism, restorationism, and primitivism. The Second Awakening brought universalism and transcendentalism. Turn-of-the-century revivals brought forth isolationism and false pietism that rejected interaction with the culture as well as a social justice gospel that replaced Bible-centered teachings with a man-centered humanism. The median public point for religious values and beliefs ended up moving further away f! rom Biblical principals and truth that when the wave started.
Many may be, as was I, unaware of the basics of some of these movements, so I will try in a few words to explain some of them:
- Unitarianism is the belief that God exists in one person and not three. It is a denial of the doctrine of the Trinity as well as the full divinity of Jesus. It is not Christian. Jehovah’s Witness falls under this umbrella. This type of belief is also called monarchianism.
- Restorationism, also known as primitivism, is the belief that Christianity should be restored along the lines of what is known about the apostolic early church. This vision seeks to correct the faults or deficiencies in the church by appealing to the primitive church as a normative model. Anabaptists and Puritans fall under this umbrella.
- Universalism is the theological view arguing that all persons will ultimately be saved. Some also teach that there is no such thing as a literal Hell or eternal punishment. Some followers of this movement even believe that the devil might be saved. The Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association merged in 1961 to form a single denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association.
- Transcendentalism was a philosophical movement that developed in the late 1820’s and 1830’s in the eastern region of the United States. Its core belief was in the inherent goodness of both people and nature. They believed that society and its institutions ultimately corrupted the purity of the individual, and had faith that people are at their best when truly “self-reliant” and independent, thus denying the “sin nature” the Bible tells us about.
- Pietism emphasized the need for a “religion of the heart” instead of the head. It was characterized by ethical purity, inward devotion, charity, asceticism, and mysticism. Pioneers of the movement wanted a deeper emotional experience rather than a preset adherence to form, no matter how genuine. Radical Pietists distinguished between true and false Christianity, thus false pietism.
- Asceticism is a lifestyle characterized by abstinence from worldly pleasures for the purpose of pursuing spiritual goals.
I hope this has helped in the understanding of the movements that came into existence during the early years of this nation. With such confusion of Judeo/Christian principals brought about by man, is it any wonder that this nation is having such problems with its foundations?
Next week we will look at how these “waves” are now coming faster and occurring more rapidly than at any time in the past. This is creating a real challenge to God’s churches, many of which are trying to accommodate these changes at the expense of God’s Word.
– Bob Munsey