(The link to the Burk Parson talk at Ligonier is in the sidebar under Church History)
The Puritans Desire to Reform the Church of England
The Puritans wished to see installed in every parish an earnest and spiritually minded pastor able to preach. They demanded the abolition of the clerical dress then in vogue; of kneeling at the Lord’s Supper; of the ring ceremony at weddings; and of the use of the sign of the cross at baptism.
In the clerical dress then in use they saw the claim of the clergy to powers which reminded them of the power of Catholic priests. In kneeling at the Lord’s Supper they saw adoration of the physical presence of Christ as taught in the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.
Before long they went even further in their demands for the purification of the Church. They wished to see in each parish, elders chosen to exercise discipline. They wished to have the ministers chosen by the people, and the office of bishop abolished. All ministers, they believed, should be on an equal footing. This amounted to a demand for the presbyterian form of church government in place of the Episcopalian.
Although the Puritans objected strongly to the episcopal form of church government and to many of the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England, they were strongly opposed to separation from that Church. They wished to stay in that Church and to reform it from within, molding it after the pattern of Calvin’s church in Geneva.
The Separatists or Congregationalists Leave the Church of England
The Separatists were also Puritans, but they were radical. They saw that the process of reforming the Episcopal Church of England from within would at best be long and tedious, if not entirely hopeless. They therefore separated themselves from the Church of England and became known as Separatists or Dissenters. In the matter of church government they believed not only that each local church or congregation is a complete church in itself; but also that no church should have anything to say about any other church. Because they believed that all local churches should be independent of each other, they were called Congregationalists or Independents. All Puritans, both those who remained in the Church of England and those who separated from it, were Calvinists in doctrine.
A New English Bible Is Obtained through Puritan Effort
In 1603 James I succeeded Elizabeth upon the throne of England. At once the Puritans addressed to the new king a petition in which they set forth some very moderate requests. A conference between bishops and Puritans was held in the presence of the king. No changes in the affairs of the Church desired by the Puritans were granted. But one thing of very great importance was granted — a new translation of the Bible. The result was the King James Bible, published in 1611. This Bible is the translation which has until recent times been in universal use among all English-speaking people.
For almost forty years after the death of Queen Elizabeth the Puritans were oppressed and persecuted. But in the “Long Parliament” which met in 1640 the Presbyterian Puritans finally found themselves in the majority. They immediately set themselves the task of “cleaning house.” The two chief oppressors of the Puritans — the Earl of Strafford and Archbishop Laud — were brought to trial, condemned, and executed by beheading.
King Charles did not like the turn of events. He decided to seize on a charge of high treason the five members of Parliament who were the leaders of the opposition. The House of Commons refused to give them up. The queen then urged Charles to take those five members by force, saying, “Go, coward, pull those rogues out by the ears.” The next day the king, attended by an armed force, went to the House of Parliament. The five members had been forewarned, and had left the House and concealed themselves in the city. The king left the soldiers at the door and entered the House alone. He looked around and saw that the five members were not there. “I see the birds have flown,” he said, and left.
The king now resolved to use military force to compel Parliament to submit. He left London and raised the royal flag at Nottingham. With this act he plunged England into civil war.
On the side of the king were the majority of the nobles and the country gentlemen. Because of their daring horsemanship the king’s men were called Cavaliers. On the side of Parliament were the shopkeepers, small farmers, and a few men of high rank. Because the king’s Cavaliers wore long flowing locks, those opposing them wore their hair closely cropped so that it showed the shape of the head. For that reason they were, in ridicule, called Roundheads.
The course of the war at first favored the king. One of the gentlemen farmers in the army of Parliament was Oliver Cromwell. With the eye of genius he saw at a glance what was the trouble. Said he to Hampden, who was a Puritan and a member of Parliament, “A set of poor tapsters and town apprentices cannot fight men of honor successfully.”
Cromwell is one of the great characters of history. As colonel of a troop of cavalry he showed great skill and courage. His regiment became famous as Cromwell’s Ironsides. It was never defeated. It was composed entirely of “men of religion.” They did not swear or drink. They trusted in God and kept their powder dry. They advanced to the charge singing psalms.
An army of twenty-one thousand men, patterned after the Ironsides, was organized. It was called the New Model. It was a body of religious enthusiasts such as the world had not seen since the days of the Crusades (ch. 19) . Most of the soldiers of this army were fervent, God-fearing, psalm-singing Puritans. When not fighting they studied the Bible, prayed, and sang hymns.
The Cavaliers were scattered as chaff before the wind in the Battle of Naseby. The king surrendered; he was tried and found guilty as a tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy, and was condemned to death. On January 30, 1649, Charles I ascended the scaffold in front of the royal palace of Whitehall in London, where a great multitude had assembled to witness the execution.
The Westminster Assembly
While the war was running its course, Parliament set itself the task of making changes in the Church. In 1643 it abolished the episcopal form of church government. It called an assembly of one hundred twenty-one clergymen and thirty laymen to provide a new creed and form of church government. This Westminster Assembly (so called because it met in Westminster) contained a few Episcopalians and Congregationalists, but the overwhelming majority were Presbyterian Puritans.
The Westminster Confession and the two Westminster Catechisms are an excellent presentation of Calvinistic or Reformed doctrine.
By 1648 Parliament had accepted these various documents—although certain modifications were made in the Westminster Confession. The Confession was also adopted by the General Assembly of Scotland. The work of reforming the Church in England in the Calvinistic sense was complete.
The Synod Of Dort
In 1588, 1560 – October 19, 1609 Arminius was ordained a minister of the Gospel As a minister, Jacobus was eloquent, educated, and enlightened. His sermons attracted large audiences, not only for their clear content, but for the controversy they created. According to Arminius, the orthodox Reformation faith (commonly now termed Calvinism) was wrong.
(1) God did not extend His saving grace only to those whom He predestines to salvation, but to all men. (2) Nor is the will of man so bound in sin that he has no ability to act for good, but rather he is able to take a step toward God out of a spark of good within.
(3) Nor does God sovereignly choose (elect) some men for salvation, out of all who receive the just condemnation for their sin, but rather God has elected those whom He has foreseen will believe.
(4) Nor is man totally disabled by sin to merit favor with God;
(5) nor is he fully depraved.
By 1592 Arminius had been formally accused of Pelagianism (a fifth century controversy which emphasized the
freedom of man’s will), and departure from the two reformed creeds: the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. Accusations of departing from the faith would continue to follow him until his death in 1609.
During his life, Arminius had asked for a Church council to be called to discuss afresh the concepts of predestination,election, and reprobation. Nine years after his death, such a council was finally held.
When the Synod of Dort met, from November 13, 1618 to May 9, 1619, delegates from the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands, England, Germany, and Switzerland attended. The teachings of Arminius were considered, but they were unanimously rejected and condemned. The established Calvinistic Reformed doctrines were affirmed in the Canons of Dort.
Though Arminian theology was officially condemned at the Synod of Dort, its influence did not go away. It was accepted by multitudes in the Anglican Church, and by many in the dissenting denominations, including the Baptists and the Methodists. Arminian theology continues to be widely accepted in much of Christendom.
The Episcopal Church Is the First in America
The Episcopal Church was the first church to be introduced into America. This was the Church which the English settlers brought with them to Jamestown in 1607.
The Episcopal Church was from the beginning the Established or State Church of Virginia, and remained so throughout the colonial period. It also became the Established Church of Maryland and of all the English colonies south of Virginia, as well as of New York.
The Congregationalist Church Is Established in New England
King James I of England meant business when he threatened that he would make the Puritans conform, or that else he would “harry them out of the land.” He made things so unpleasant for the nonconformists that the congregation of Scrooby in England was forced to seek refuge in Leyden in the Netherlands in 1609.
On December 21, 1620, the Pilgrims came ashore on a rocky ledge which was to become known as historic Plymouth Rock. They bowed their heads in gratitude to God for their safe arrival in the New World.
The settlers at Plymouth were for the most part poor and humble folk. They were looked upon as radical Puritans because they had separated from the Church of England and held the Congregational theory of church government. In other words, they were Separatists. Most of the Puritans wanted to stay in the Church of England and regarded the Separatists as self-righteous trouble-makers. In fact, the Separatists were despised by all their fellow countrymen. The colony at Plymouth always remained small.
In the course of ten years thirty-three churches sprang up in Massachusetts. They all adopted the Congregational form of government, though one or two ministers were inclined to Presbyterianism.
In 1636 the foundation was laid for a college at Cambridge in Massachusetts. It was named Harvard College (now Harvard University) in honor of the Rev. John Harvard, who gave a large sum of money and his library to this institution.
In 1701 another college was established in Connecticut. First located at Saybrook, it was removed to New Haven in 1716. Two years later it received the name of Yale in honor of Elihu Yale, who gave generously toward its support.
As William Penn welcomed Quakers to Pennsylvania, so he welcomed all other religious groups as well–Lutherans,, and Mennonites found a haven of rest in ‘The Keystone State’. The first German Reformed Church was established in 1710 at Germantown, ten miles north of Philadelphia. Germantown itself had been settled in 1683 when thirteen German Mennonite families came to America. Later, a large number of Swiss Mennonites settled in Lancaster County. When the Swiss Reformed settlers arrived in the area, they were welcomed, as were the German Lutherans.
Then there were the German Baptists, who first appeared in 1719. Partly in humor, the other colonists gave them the me Dunkers, which comes from the German word tunken, meaning “to dip.” The Dunkers were able to organize a church in 1723. In many ways the Dunkers were like the Quakers and the Mennonites. They dressed in a simple manner practiced a congregational form of church government.
Several of the foremost Puritan leaders, were favorable toward Presbyterianism. One important event for the Presbyterians in America was the passing of the Adoption Act by the Synod of 1729. This required all Presbyterian ministers in the New World to embrace without reservations the Westminster Confession. Presbyterian beliefs and practices were to influence in many important ways the development of the country.
In the early part of the 18th century religious life was at a low ebb. Then a tremendous change came over the religious life of the colonies. It has become known as the Great Awakening. A series of religious revials took place in various colonies. Jonathan Edwards is inked with the great awakening in New England. He was the outstanding intellectual figure in colonial America and one of the greatest minds America has ever produced. He graduated from Yale at 17 and later became minister of a Congregational church in Massachusetts.
He preached sermons directed against Arminianism. When he preached his sermon Sinners in the hands of an Angry God, head to request silence, for there was such loud weeping.
The Presbyterians Enter the West
The Scotch-Irish were the last Europeans to come to America in large numbers before the end of the colonial era. Naturally they had to find homes along the western frontiers of the colonies. Wherever they settled they founded churches, and by 1760 there were Presbyterian churches along the frontier from New England to South Carolina. Consequently the Presbyterians were the most favorably located for taking up the work in the new West across the mountains; they were closest to it, and they were also most used to frontier conditions of life.
Throughout the new West, Presbyterians and Congregationalists established schools and colleges. They made by far the greatest contribution to the educational and cultural life of the frontier.
However, the Baptist and Methodist churches grew in membership far more rapidly than did the Presbyterian and Congregational churches. There were several reasons why the Presbyterians lagged so far behind the Baptists and Methodists. The Presbyterians demanded a well-educated ministry; the Baptists and Methodists did not. A Presbyterian minister was required to give all his time to the ministry; the Baptist and Methodist ministers were employed in other work during the week, and functioned as ministers only on Sunday. It meant that a Presbyterian church could not be organized until there were a sufficient number of members to support a minister. It cost less to support a Baptist or Methodist church than a Presbyterian church. Besides, the frontiersmen felt closer to the Baptist or Methodist minister, who worked with his hands as they themselves did, than to the scholarly Presbyterian minister. They felt that a Methodist or Baptist preacher was “one of them.” He spoke their language. His more or less crude, highly emotional sermon appealed to the rough frontiersmen more than did the scholarly sermon of the Presbyterian minister. Among the Baptists and Methodists there was a deep-seated prejudice against educated and salaried ministers.
The Baptists Work Effectively on the Frontier
The general run of Baptists were poor and without much education. With self-supporting, uneducated preachers sprung from among the common people, and a purely democratic form of church government, the Baptists were well fitted for the rough conditions of life on the frontier.
Methodism Has Strong Appeal
Of all the churches the Methodist was the most successful in extending itself among the frontiersmen in the new western country. In the earlier days, at least, the Methodists were even more successful than the Baptists. Their greater measure of success in winning men and gathering them into churches was due to two things: their doctrine and their organization.
The Presbyterians and Baptists were both Calvinists, though the Baptists preached a milder form of Calvinism than did the Presbyterians. As Calvinists both the Baptists and the Presbyterians preached the doctrine of predestination, of God’s absolute sovereignty and electing grace. They preached that man’s destiny lies wholly in the hands of God.
The Methodists were Arminians. They preached the doctrine of man’s free will — that man holds his destiny in his own hands. This doctrine had great appeal. The frontiersman felt that he was carving his own destiny out of the western wilderness. The doctrine of man’s free will preached by the Methodists fitted in admirably with frontier conditions.
The form of organization of the Methodists was also better suited to frontier conditions than that of the Presbyterians and the Baptists. Under the Presbyterian and Baptist systems the preachers, generally speaking, were confined to their own local church. It was not so with the Methodist preachers. “All the world is my parish,” was Wesley’s motto.
Smith was born December 23, 1805 in Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont, the fourth of ten children. He was destined to be reared in ignorance and poverty under the guidance of a superstitious father who liked to search for buried treasure. When Joseph was ten the family moved to Palmyra, New York where pious controversy was present. Later, Smith would testify that the religious arguments greatly troubled him. He wondered which church to join. He claimed that one night, God the Father and God the Son appeared to him offering Divine guidance. In 1819 another Divine visitation took place. This time Smith was told not to join any of the denominations. More visions would follow. On September 22, 1823 when Joseph was eighteen, an angel named Moroni led him to some golden tablets buried in a stone box in the “Hill Cumorah” four miles from Palmyra. On these tablets, fastened together with gold rings, was the history of ancient America. The history had been recorded in “reformed-Egyptian characters (sic)” and then buried in AD.This ancient “language” was able to be translated because of some special eye glasses which had also been left. The glasses were two crystals set in a silver bow. Using these “Urim and Thummim”, as Smith called them, he translated and then published The Book of Mormon (1830).
The actual translation took place behind a curtain. Smith dictated the work to Martin Harris who sat on one side of the drawn drapery. When Harris tired of writing, Smith would let Oliver Cowdery act as the writer. The result of all this labor was a very unusual story of the people of North America. Once the translation was completed, Smith took the golden tablets back to the hill where he had first found them. The angel Moroni came and carried the plates away, along with the special spectacles.
While Mormons regarded Joseph Smith as a prophet of God who restored the true church, those within the true Christian Church regarded him as a false prophet, who denied or changed the major teachings of Christ, while living a shameful and licentious life based on plural “marriages.”
Mormonism teaches that through Joseph Smith alone, the perfect knowledge of Jesus Christ was returned to the earth. With the restoration of the Gospel of Christ through the Prophet Smith came the true and holy priesthood of God—the authority from God to administer in the ordinances of salvation.
Immigration Swells the Rolls of the Catholic Church
The enormous wave of immigration from 1830 to 1870 caused not only the Lutheran but also the Catholic Church to grow. One third of the German immigrants were Roman Catholic. During these years thousands of Irish as well as German immigrants poured into our country. And the Irish were practically all Roman Catholic.
This was the period during which the Roman Catholic Church became a significant body in the United States. In 1830 the number of Catholics was somewhat over half a million. Thirty years later the number had increased to four and a half million, and nearly every important city in the country had a Catholic bishop.
The Charismatic Movement
Pentecostalism began in the early twentieth century. Its doctrinal distinctive was a dramatic encounter with God termed baptism with the Holy Spirit. This experience was one of empowerment for Christian life and service, and the evidence for having received this experience was speaking in other tongues.
The Congregational minister, Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843-1921), is widely credited with making popular dispensational teaching by the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. This theological system is based upon a seven-era method of “rightly dividing” the Scriptures. It was first proposed by John N. Darby in 1830 (see chapter 15). The system makes dramatic distinctions between seven dispensations, treating believing Israel and the believing Church as two distinct groups (rather than one body of believers).
Orthodox Presbyterians Form a New Church
A fairly recent church to come out of the struggle between Modernism and the historical Christian faith is the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. For many years the Congregational and Presbyterian churches were the chief bearers in America of the Calvinistic banner. When the Congregational Church, under the influence of the New England Theology, lowered that banner, the northern branch of the Presbyterian Church, called the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., continued for many decades to hold it high. Its famous seminary is that at Princeton. Around it cluster the illustrious names of the Hodges, of Green, Wilson, Vos, Patton, and Warfield. All these men were great scholars and very able champions of historic Calvinism. But at last Modernism made its subtle inroads into Princeton Seminary and, as we have seen, into the Presbyterian Church.
Then in 1929, under the heroic leadership of Professor J. Gresham Machen, the Westminster Seminary was established in Philadelphia as a protest against the Modernism at Princeton.
Organized at a constitutional assembly in December 1973, this church was first known as the National Presbyterian Church but changed its name in 1974 to Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). It separated from the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Southern) in opposition to the long-developing theological liberalism which denied the deity of Jesus Christ and the inerrancy and authority of Scripture. Additionally, the PCA held to the traditional position on the role of women in church offices.
In December 1973, delegates, representing some 260 congregations with a combined communicant membership of over 41,000 that had left the PCUS, gathered at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and organized the National Presbyterian Church, which later became the Presbyterian Church in America.
In 1982, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, joined the Presbyterian Church in America. The Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, had been formed in 1965 by a merger of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, General Synod.
The PCA has made a firm commitment on the doctrinal standards which had been significant in presbyterianism since 1645, namely the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. These doctrinal standards express the distinctives of the Calvinistic or Reformed tradition.