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God and the 19th Century

The 19th Century brought about a range of competing movements, some good, some bad, all depending on your viewpoint. Taking our viewpoint as a reference, here is the story of that century, starting with the good, then working downwards.

Let's be reminded of Jesus' Great Commission, the job of the Christian and the Church.

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

In all the centuries of the Church, very little of this had been done, except at the point of the sword, with the threat of accept my doctrines or die, rather than making disciples through the exercise of love. The 19th Century was going to change all this.

William Carey, a cobbler from Northamptonshire, became one of the greatest missionaries since the days of the apostles. In 1792 he wrote a pamphlet, "an Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of Heathen." It had an incredible effect and the following year Carey effectively launched the modern missionary movement. Within just a hundred years, Bible translations multiplied fivefold and mission organisations grew from seven to about 100. Missionaries were sent out to every corner of the World, converting tribes and disciplining nations and within a century the number of professing Christians had more than doubled.

There were the Great Awakenings in America. The first was sparked off by George Whitefield from England, featuring the great preacher and theologian, Jonathan Edwards. The second, featuring Charles Finney, brought great social reforms and a great "back to the roots" movement of a more authentic Christianity. The third, lasting the whole second half of the century, brought a lot of religious fervour, though not all of it on the positive side.

Out of this came a great feeling that God was either about to wrap things up or provide new revelations to His Church, or both. A lot of strange ideas came creeping out of the woodwork and the interesting thing to note is how many of them were simple re-hashes of ancient heresies, inspired by the teachings of Plato.

The Jehovah's Witnesses' central deviation from normal Christian belief is that they believe that Jesus is a created being, less than fully divine. This is just Arianism from the 4th Century, a consequence of the dualism of Plato that could not conceive of a spiritual God actually having a physical body.

The Mormons may have smiling faces, homespun wisdom and sharp suits, but underneath it all is not just dodgy underwear, but some very strange beliefs. If we start with Arianism (relegating Jesus to a created being) and work our way through to Gnosticism (claiming special revelation), then you get an idea where they are coming from.

Theosophy is another cult harking back to Plato, as well as Eastern mysticism. Spiritism claims both Plato and Socrates as precursors to Christ. One doesn't even know where to start with Christian Science, neither "Christian" nor "Science", with enough deviations from mainstream Christian belief to keep Justin Martyr and Tertullian occupied for a whole lifetime. A heresy of heresies!

Steve Maltz
December 2013 (This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again)

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