June 14, 2014 at 10:44 am #16534
I struggled for a long time to understand the cause of the rise and fall of Christian culture. It is clear that Christian culture peaked between roughly 1600 and 1800, particularly in Protestantism. The moral strength of Protestantism is well documented in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and is apparent from studying history. During this time, Protestants were the most biblical and most moral people in history. They more closely conformed to the spirit of the Torah than anyone else ever did, including Jews. But what caused this to happen and what caused it to stop? This is the mystery that I think I have finally unraveled.
Christianity was relatively unproductive for its first 1500 years. It produced some nice churches and art, but not much more. Certainly early Islam was much more productive than early Christianity. During this period, Christianity was divided between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church which really weren’t very different from each other. Christianity has long debated the relationship between faith and works. This debate can be seen in the New Testament itself. The compromise of the early Church was to say that both faith and works counted, sort of as having independent value. This had two serious problems. First, for the average Christian, faith was a lot easier than works, so the Christian put their hopes in faith to compensate for their poor works, leaving them leading rather immoral lives. And second, the corrupt leadership of the Church could twist works to mean whatever they wanted, such as indulgences to finance the church, and this took works away from its moral foundation.
The Catholic Church was plagued by corruption at the top for most of this first 1500 years. This finally led to the Reformation which rebelled against the Catholic Church and began Protestantism. The Reformation began rather inauspiciously led by Martin Luther who rejected works and only cared about faith. Luther seemed to have no interest at all in morality. I will let Luther speak for himself:
Be a sinner and sin vigorously; but even more vigorously believe and delight in Christ who is victor over sin, death and the world…. It is sufficient that we recognize through the wealth of God’s glory the lamb who bears the sins of the world; from this sin does not sever us, even if thousands, thousands of times in one day we should fornicate or murder.
Luckily Luther wasn’t the only voice at the beginning of the Reformation, just the most famous (and the least moral). Others like Zwingli and the early Anabaptists were more reasonable. But the most important early Protestant was John Calvin who influenced virtually all of Protestantism for the next 200 years. Calvin reintroduced works by saying that while only faith matters, faith necessarily produces good works, and therefore anyone who does not do good works cannot possible have faith. This is a very strong connection between faith and works, much stronger than earlier forms of Christianity had. Calvin taught that humanity is totally depraved, naturally sinful. He taught that only a small preselected number of “the elect” were chosen for salvation, that Christ’s death only paid for the salvation of this small group. Calvin taught that who is saved, who is a member of the elect, is predestined because it has been decided by God, and that people are powerless to do anything about it. So while people can’t control whether they are members of the elect, people can try to determine whether they are. Clearly a sinful person or a person lacking in faith couldn’t possibly be a member of the elect.
All this sounds very alien to modern thought, for reasons I will explain later. But think about the practical impact of such a theology. People have no control over their salvation, they are at God’s mercy. This would cause extreme humility before God. And while people can’t control their fate, they may change what they believe their predetermined fate is through their actions. This would cause serious soul-searching and serious Bible study in an attempt to understand where one stands. A person would not consider himself saved unless he has studied the Bible and lived a virtuous life. Only after doing these things might he hope that he is one of the elect. So it is this remarkable theology of Calvin that caused the incredibly moral early Protestant culture.
Figuring out the cause Christianity’s rise was much easier than figuring out the cause of its fall. I knew that Christianity began to decline in the 1800s in America, so I looked for prominent American Protestants from this time period. I was looking for someone who would break the connection between faith and works. Since I am not Christian and know little about the various Christian denominations, I just looked for popular books written by Christians at this time. So I started with the Autobiography of Charles G. Finney. I had expected not to like him, but as I read his story, I became sympathetic to him. Finney greatly valued morality and works. Finney rejected the predestination of Calvin and said that anyone could be saved if they accepted Christ and acted morally. For Finney, the order was to accept Christ and allow the Holy Spirit into one’s heart, and then to be guided to moral works. This is a more optimistic and seemingly more humanitarian theology than Calvin’s. Here is a long quote from this book that is worth reading to see how Finney argued against Calvin’s ideas:
As an illustration of what I have found in this and other countries, more or less ever since I have been in the ministry, I will refer to a sermon that I heard from the Rev. Baptist Noel, in England, a good man, and orthodox in the common acceptation of the term. His text was: “Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” In the first place he represented repentance not as a voluntary, but as an involuntary change–as consisting in sorrow for sin, a mere state of the sensibility. He then insisted upon its being the sinner’s duty to repent, and urged the claims of God upon him. But he was preaching to an orthodox congregation; and he must not, and did not fail to remind them that they could not repent; that although God required it of them, still he knew that it was impossible for them to repent only as He gave them repentance. “You ask, then.” he said, “what you shall do. Go home,” said he in reply, “and pray for repentance; and if it does not come pray again for repentance; and still if it does not come, keep praying till it does come.” Here he left them. The congregation was large and the people very attentive; and I actually found it difficult to keep from screaming to the people to repent; and not to think that they were doing their duty in merely praying for repentance.
At the time I was in Philadelphia, and indeed throughout all my ministerial life, I have found it very common for ministers and professors of religion to assume the inability of sinners to do what God required them to do, and to encourage them to do something else. They did not dare encourage the sinner to remain perfectly still and wait God’s time without doing anything; but would tell him, as I have said, to use the means of grace and pray that God would change his heart, and in the performance of duty to press forward and wait God’s time to convert him.
Such instructions always pained me exceedingly; and much of my labor in the ministry has consisted in correcting such views, and in pressing the sinner immediately to do just what God commands him to do. When he has inquired of me if the Spirit of God has nothing to do with it, I said, “Yes: as a matter of fact you will not do it of yourself. But the Spirit of God is now striving with you to lead you to do just what He would have you do. He is striving to lead you to repentance, to lead you to believe; and is striving with you, not to secure the performance of mere outward acts, but to change your heart.” The church, to a very great extent, have instructed sinners to begin on the outside in religion; and by what they have called an outward performance of duty, to secure an inward change of their will and affections. But I have ever treated this as totally absurd, as heretical, entirely unorthodox, and in the highest degree dangerous. I have ever taught that until the sinner’s heart was changed, there could be no virtue in any of his outward actions. That no self-righteous, outward efforts could secure the favor of God, and that until the sinner changed his heart all his outward efforts were hypocrisy, a delusion, and an abomination.
Almost innumerable instances have occurred in which I have found the results of this teaching of which I have complained, to be a universal misapprehension of the sinner’s duty; and I think I may say I have found thousands of sinners of all ages who are living under this delusion, and would never think themselves called upon to do anything more than merely to pray for a new heart, live a moral life, read their Bibles, attend meeting, use the means of grace, and leave all the responsibility of their conversion and salvation upon God.
Finney seemed reasonable to me. And in fact he was a very successful preacher who converted many people to religion and undoubtedly improved their morality. But then suddenly it struck me, as I thought about the political history of the late 1800s and early 1900s, that Finney is in fact the problem. He was certainly a good man with good intentions, which just shows that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Let me explain.
Consider the differences between Calvin and Finney. With Calvin, the Christian is plagued with doubt, studies the Bible, does good works, and only then does he have some hope of salvation which is never assured. Calvin puts all power in the hands of God. Finney reverses all of this. With Finney, the Christian first accepts Christ, then is visited by the Holy Spirit, and only then does good works and maybe studies the Bible. Finney puts all power in the hands of men, not God. It is up to men to choose whether to accept Christ, and if they do, they can be sure of salvation. So what is the primary effect of this change? The primary effect is to replace doubt with confidence. With Calvin, the Christian can never be sure of where he stands so he always has doubts. These doubts force him to search for answers, to search in the Bible. And these doubts force him to focus on fixing himself, not others. This guarantees that this Christian will worry about the log in his eye before worrying about the specks in the eyes of others. But with Finney, the Christian considers himself saved before he even begins to worry about morality. This eliminates all doubts. Yes this Christian may have as much concern about morality as Calvin’s Christian, but since he has no doubt about his own status, he has little doubt about his own moral judgement. So there is little need to study the Bible before moralizing. And since this Christian considers himself saved, and therefore superior to the “unsaved”, he is much more likely to see the specks in the eyes of others than to see the log in his own eye.
Finney produced the modern American character, extremely confident and self-righteous, even while being relatively ignorant. He also produced the moralizing political campaigns of the late 1800s and early 1900s that made me see what went wrong. I am specifically referring to the Prohibition, the campaigns against prostitution, and the campaign for women’s suffrage. Without getting into politics, I will just say that I consider all of these badly misguided moralism. These campaigns were the result of Christians worrying about the morality of others without worrying much about their own morality. And it is this general view that produced modern Liberalism. Liberalism is nothing more than Finney’s Christianity with God removed. Liberals are self-righteous moralizers who campaign to impose badly misguided (anti)morals on others while never questioning the morality of their own actions. Liberals are so filled with self-confidence that they never bother to question their moral beliefs, so they easily support all kinds of bad anti-morals. Modern Christians are no different in this regard.
Poor Finney just didn’t see this coming. He knew the Bible and encouraged good morals, but his changes eliminated the needed doubt to ensure Bible study and sound morals. Finney would be horrified by the modern world, but he inadvertently caused it.
It is interesting to compare humility with doubt. Can one really have humility without doubt? In effect, the post-Finney Christian claims to have humility while lacking doubt. This Christian criticizes doubt as being opposed to faith. But the Calvinistic Christian is consumed with doubt while also having supreme faith. There is no conflict, his faith is in God and his doubt is in himself. This is as it should be. I am not a Christian, I don’t believe in a supernatural god, and I reject faith. I am a skeptic who questions everything. Ironically, this puts me in a very similar position to the Calvinistic Christian because both of us doubt everything in the physical world and both of us are constantly looking for answers. I would say that, unlike these Christians, I lack humility. But which is really more important, humility or doubt? While I may hate someone and consider them worthless and want to kill them, I am always held back by doubt as to whether my judgement is accurate. But the humble Christian who lacks doubt doesn’t hesitate to kill heretics because he is sure that he is right and they are wrong. Those Protestants who followed Calvin’s views were among the most peaceful and tolerant people in history because of their self-doubt.
Modern Christianity is a moral disaster. What can be done? As a non-Christian, I am not in a position to tell Christians what to do, but I will give my suggestion anyway. Calvinism is not intellectually acceptable in our time because of its concept of predestination. But doubt must be brought back and the decision of who gets saved must be returned to God. So a reasonable form of Christianity would use the Protestant concept of faith while saying that one can never be sure that one’s faith is strong enough to ensure salvation, and that faith is expressed through studying the Bible to know exactly what one’s faith means, and through works which illustrate one’s commitment to faith. That is my suggestion, but ultimately it is up to Christians to either find a way back to morality, or slide into the moral abyss.October 3, 2014 at 10:56 pm #25994
fschmidt, at the risk of being presumptuous as I am no scholar, I can say with confidence that you have missed the point entirely. You spoke a lot about faith and works, mostly as to how different “theologians” interpreted that relationship. Well the Bible is clear so why not read it. Of faith and works it says that faith without works is a dead faith, meaning if one believes, they will be motivated by their faith to act on it. The two cannot be separated no matter what intellectual argument is made.
What is even more fundamental is that Jesus dies for ALL mankind for ALL time. He did NOT die for an elite group or any group but for all mankind. To claim differently is to promote apostasy as Jesus made it clear that He came to save the sinner, not a particular sinner but all sinners.
Your intellectual attempt to propose that “modern Christianity is a moral disaster” is so arrogant as to be difficult to address. Suffice it to say that Christianity has never changed. Individuals may stray for the path is narrow, but Christianity is more solid than any other creation for it is God’s work, and it has and will continue to bear fruit for those who believe and adhere to it. I pray you may come to see that in time.
For God, Family, Country, & Liberty!October 4, 2014 at 1:57 am #26011
Sorry Ghost Prime, but you missed the point entirely. I am not even Christian, so I have no interest in debating Christian theology. I simply reported what various Christian theologians believed and what the effect of these beliefs are on public morals. What you are disagreeing with is the beliefs of John Calvin. John Calvin was a scholar, was highly intelligent, and knew the Bible very well. You may disagree with his beliefs, but you can’t blame his beliefs on ignorance or stupidity.
That modern Christianity is a moral disaster is obvious to anyone whose head isn’t buried in the sand. Unquestionably, modern Christianity is violation of the third commandment in that it is a gross misuse of God’s name. I can’t think of a worse religion in all of history that used God’s name. And nothing is more arrogant than modern Christianity that is so sure it is right and everything else is wrong, when every modern Christian society is a moral disaster. In contrast, I respect many religions including early Protestantism (especially Puritans), Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Karaite Judaism, and early Islam.October 4, 2014 at 2:29 am #26013
Great propaganda piece for the anti Christian’s not much more. Someone else posted the same thing pertending to author the post like it was original. Stupid pepole spending their time trying to denigrate things they don’t have the capacity to understand.October 4, 2014 at 3:00 am #26016
74, good point. I should have left it alone but I could not as it was so full of holes.
For God, Family, Country, & Liberty!October 4, 2014 at 12:09 pm #26021
TrollingOctober 4, 2014 at 8:13 pm #26050
The biggest hole i saw was that the conclusion for all Christianity was based off of 2 mens point of view. That is like saying all Americans are either doctors or lawyers. The sadest thing is that he missed the key to it all, a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not enough to belive God exists. The devil believes that and is destined for hell. It is not enough to just be good and follow the rules. The Bible says there will be those that cast out devils and performed miracles in Jesus name yet He will say depart from me I never knew you. Christ’s gift at the cross is available to all but you must accept it. You could have a million dollars in the bank but if you do not accept it and make the withdrawl it will sit there unused. Our righteousness or qualification for heaven is as filthy rags. We are made able to enter heaven by acceptance of Christ’s payment for our sins. Faith is our connection to God. That faith allows the change in us to take place. That change is made evident by our actions. We are flesh and our flesh fights our spirit. The side that you feed the most will win those battles. That’s where reading your Bible comes in. It feeds your spirit. We were blessed with free will and it is our choice what side we feed.October 4, 2014 at 8:34 pm #26052
matt, I didn’t say “all Christianity was based off of 2 mens point of view”. I was only talking about Protestantism and I mentioned these 2 men as the main examples of 2 ways of thinking. The other views being expressed in this thread are those of modern Protestantism which is probably the most evil religion in history. Decent Christians can join the Eastern Orthodox Church which is close to the original form of Christianity and is a good religion.
I wrote a post today that is relevant to this thread. It’s here:October 4, 2014 at 9:54 pm #26054
Its because Christians lost their balls along the way . They are facing Muslims that are how early Christians behaved , and they cant cope . We are not the Crusaders anymore . ………problem is , they are . The more I understand Judaism , the more appealing its starting to become . Everybody has their own path , just stay true to it if it fits your beliefs . We all are tested now and again . Dust yourself off and keep going .October 5, 2014 at 1:30 am #26125
Tolik I have to agree with your opinion to a point. I too feel Christian have lost their babackbone. I believe it is due to a poor definition of meekness that is being preached. Most Christians are being taught meekness is being non confrontational, don’t rock the boat, be tolerant of others and just pray God changes them and don’t offend people. There is nothing further from the truth. Meekness is absolute power under control, having the power to destroy something and not doing it. Jesus is meekness. He cared for others yet they were sinners. He had the power to call down the whole host of heaven while hanging on the cross yet chose not to in order to save humanity. He stood for what was right and spoke up when he saw something was wrong. Men have been the biggest casualty of bad meekness teaching. If more men had integrity and stood up for what is good and right America would not be where it is now. Please elaborate on your view that we each have our own path and if it fits your belief go with it. I do not want to misunderstand you. It just sounds like if it feels good then do it.October 5, 2014 at 5:35 pm #26172
Matt76 , Well , its simple , and the very reason our forefathers had the wisdom to put freedom of religion into the Constitution . One should never FORCE their religion onto another person . What is right and fits the beliefs of one person , may not fit another . Religion is a man made thing , God is something different . I am a Christian , BUT I’m older , and have been around the block of life once in awhile . I have found that its PEOPLE that make a religion bad , more often than not . I have some issues with Christianity and the people that are in it . I think Islam is evil . Its hard to take Christianity seriously , when they allow their holidays to be a circus , very undignified , Why do Christians allow Christmas and Easter , etc . to be commercialized , with false fantasy characters lying to the people …………….they just sit back and allow the stupid jingles and mockery to continue without objection . Jews and Muslims dont degrade their religion and holidays , by putting it on the level of a 4 year old . They dont create fantasy characters to explain their faith to their children , there is no easter bunny or santa in Islam or Judaism . Thats another thing I dont agree with , both Islam and Christianity tell people that they cant go to heaven unless they convert to one or the other . Judaism is the only one of the three that tells you that you dont have to be a jew to go to heaven . Jews dont care if their religion grows or not , and dont go around knocking on doors trying to get converts . I find the practice of knocking on doors very offensive , its disrespecting another persons constitutional right not to be bothered , its also making your faith look bad , because the intrusion is unwelcome . Muslims kill people to further their cause ……….so as I said , one religion does not fit the thinking of all people , and the more I learn about judaism , the more appealing its starting to become to me . They just seem to be more practical and pragmatic about things to me . this is a long post and I apologize for that to anyone reading it , but God does not fear questions , or he would not have given us free will , people fear questions . Most Christians and Muslims are narrow minded , and resent questions , again people are what make things a bad thing . In order to find the truth , or what you feel to be as close to the truth to you , you MUST question it . The person that finds their religion on their own , will get more rewards from it , than the person born into it , who just blindly follows it without question , and really doesnt understand the ” Why ” of it . To me , those people are potentially dangerous to any society . Your saying that if it feels good to you , than go for it ……..no , thats not it , if it feels CORRECT , then go for it . There is a big difference . Why do you think there are so many splinter groups in all religions , religions are man made , and one size does not fit all . For me , I think the Jews have it right in the respect that they dont use violence to further their religion , or dont go intruding on another persons space , handing out a pamphlet , or knocking on a door , jews are just jews , they stay to themselves , and dont bother anybody , if you want to know about their beliefs , they are happy to tell you ……….the difference is , you must ask them first . they dont preach to you . Things like that . I hope that answers your question , if not , PM me so the whole forum doent have to read a Russian novel lol .October 5, 2014 at 7:48 pm #26195
Tolik, you sound unusually reasonable. Every religion has its faults and Rabbinic Judaism is no exception. My favorite religion is Karaite Judaism. If you are interested in different religions, you might want to check out my website.October 5, 2014 at 10:09 pm #26201
fschmidt Christianity is not the problem! Man is the problem! Christian Culture is not falling, it is always been man falling.
Also do not agree that Islam is or has grown faster, they are killing here other by the thousands all over the world, so many countries it is to many to list here. They are so many types of Islam it makes Christianity look like we are together. Islam like the ISIS have destroyed more of them self’s in the last ten years then anything that Christianity has done to it’s self.
I also think that what Islam is doing is helping Christianity. Right now Islam has more problems then any other Religion.
Christianity has had many for 100’s of years saying the same think that it is falling but it is still on of the largest Religions in the World.
Christianity is the only way to eternity! Believe in Jesus Christ.October 6, 2014 at 4:38 am #26224
Freedom , no offense bro , but you just proved my point . ” We are right and everybody else is screwed up ” . Thats the very attitude of Christians and Muslims , that is driving me towards Judaism . The cravat about all this crap , is that you have to die to find out what the truth really is . Just sayin .October 6, 2014 at 5:03 am #26226
I do not talk about religion as a rule. It can get you killed.
Never be afraid to do the righteous thing, nothing righteous is ever easy.
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