Full Text for American Religious Scene- Volume 43 - Arminianism (Video)

No. 43. >> Thank you, Professor. I wondered whether people really bought Calvinism. It seems harsh. Making God into a tyrant who enjoys sending people to hell. I can really see why folks would reject it. But why did Arminianism become so prevalent in America? >>DR. LAWRENCE R. RAST, JR.: That is a very astute question, David. There was more to it than simply theology. Now, for our purposes, of course, that's what we focus on. But there were other things at work on the American scene during this time that contributed to this decline of Calvinism and the rise then of Arminianism. Think about it, if you would. In fact, historians have talked about an overall shift that occurred in American thinking, a paradigm shift, that occurred during this period of time. Especially beginning about 1790 and then moving on through 1830, 1840, perhaps as late as 1850. One historian in particular has called this period the Period of the Democratization of American Christianity. Nathan Hatch wrote a book, published it in 1989, by that very title in which he traced the theological shift from Calvinism to Arminianism and said, in fact, that theological shift was the driving force between a basic change in the way of thinking for all Americans in regard to theology. But also politics and economics. Very briefly what he argued here was that at the same time this theological change occurred, which moved the focus away from God as predestinator, either to heaven or to hell, to God who waited upon a person to make a decision or a choice of heaven or hell, at the same time that theological shift occurred, there was a change in economics. As people moved from the older Agrarian republicanism to now a more vigorous market capitalism. And simultaneously in politics there was a move from the older republicanism to a new kind of radical democracy. Now, briefly what were these two big shifts? In terms of economics, what Hatch traces is that in the Revolutionary -- preRevolutionary period, there was a kind of mutual dependency that characterized most working relationships. Many times you had out on the frontier and among the farms folks having their little plot of land that they would carve out for themselves. And then sharing a large area of common land. And there was an interrelationship and an interdependence between the various settlers on the frontier as they developed their farms. Their farming was characterized by subsistence. That is they simply produced to feed their families and survive. What little extra they may have been able to produce, they then used to barter with other farmers and with an emerging merchant class. However, as time went by and as the farms grew and as techniques improved, what farmers were able to do was more and more to produce for the market. To grow larger crops. To sell them at key times. And then to take in trade for them money that they then used to purchase goods and services. No longer subsistence farming. But producing for the market. In the cities there was a move at this point in time from the older arrangement where oftentimes some kind of tradesmen would have a few employees. They would work making shoes as an example or barrels or something of the sort producing a significant number of items for use for sale, for barter and the like. But as time went by, increasingly they simply produced these wears for the market. What Hatch argues is that in this transition from producing for self or for modest barter and sale to simply producing for the market was to demand technological innovation and to create new relationships that were competitive in nature. So moving from the old interdependency and community oriented scheme to a much more individualized kind of arrangement. Thus, in the old system if your crops failed on the frontier, oftentimes your neighbors would help you out. Give you a little bit to get by in the difficult circumstances. Later on, however, in the new market, if your crops failed, oftentimes your neighbor would then buy your farm and put you to work for him. Changing inherently the relationship you had. Politically things shift, as well. In the early Republican period under the leadership of the likes of Jefferson you have a very stratified idea of who should lead. The early Republicans believed that not all men, while they may have been created equal, not all men were given to lead. And therefore, only those who owned land, who were educated, who had succeeded in life, only these should take on responsibility for leadership. A good case in point of this way of thinking might be the Electoral College where you have a popular vote of some sort leading to choices of electers for President that then ultimately would make final decisions regarding leadership in the American nation. As time goes by, this gives way to a much more radical individualized democracy. Best characterized by Andrew Jackson and his coming to the Presidency in 1828 by arguing one man, one vote. That is to say each American citizen, male citizen, white American male citizen, should have the right to control his own destiny. Think about then what's happening concurrently in this overall perspective. The older Calvinism saying: Your eternal destiny is determined by a distant God who has made some determination over your eternal future in a hidden past. In terms of your relationship with others economically, community oriented. And in politics giving responsibility over to those whom God has apparently called to lead. To now in Arminianism that your destiny is up to you and your choice. Your economic future is largely up to you and your savvy. If you succeed, you can take credit. If you fail, it's your own fault. And in politics saying: I want my voice to be heard. The vigorous individualism and democratized thinking of the American scene. This will transform the churches. Moving from this older notion of the elect community to the radicalized individual democratized churches. And it's those churches that succeed in this particular Synod. The way it plays itself out is utterly fascinating. I'll give you a story. The story of the great Cane Ridge Revival of 1801. One of the most significant events in American religious history. In fact, Professor Paul Conkin has called this America's Pentecost. What's he mean? Go back, if you will, to the immediate post Revolutionary period. The Constitution is being developed. The frontiers are being opened. The markets are beginning to emerge. But all is in transition between 1785 and 1800. As Americans move west, they tend to locate themselves initially in Kentucky and Tennessee. Following the routes of either over the mountains from Savanna in Charleston, down the Shenandoah Valley and through the Cumberland Gap or making the arduous track over the mountains to Pittsburgh and catching the Ohio River making their way west that direction. As they move into Kentucky and Tennessee, initially there are very few churches. And there is always, always a lack of clergy. Now, many who make their way west have their roots in the Scotch-Irish Presbyterian tradition. And as they get into the west, the older community seems to be fraying at the ends. Little to hold it together. What held the Presbyterian communities together back east and back in Scotland was the kirk, the church. But now it seems to be struggling to hold things together. How shall we address this? As Scotch-Irish Presbyterians struggle with this emerging reality, they go back to an earlier practice that characterized the Presbyterian communion in the early 1600s when a significant number of Scotsmen made their way across to Ireland. Isolated there and not part of the official church, they struggled to maintain their communities. They were always lacking clergy. And so what they did was to develop what came to be called sacramental seasons. And basically what these were were large gatherings of a variety of smaller Presbyterian communities all coming together at one time over a span of days. The purpose of which being the celebration of the Lord's Supper. Practice and reception of the Lord's Supper was an important and central part of the Presbyterian communities' experience. And they were determined to maintain this as a way of creating and sustaining community among them. And what they then would do would be have a number of pastors get together who would preach, prepare and finally celebrate the Lord's Supper for the sake of the Presbyterian community. Now, as that Presbyterian community stabilized in Ireland and congregations were formed and settled, pastorates emerged, it typically was the case that sacramental seasons declined. However, they were remembered. And as a result, on the American scene during the 1790s, they began once again to appear in significant numbers. Basically what you had was this: A four-day event running from Friday to Monday. The clergy would get together from the scattered -- the scattered Presbyterian clergy would get together. Determine a series of dates for these. Usually one early in the summer. One later in the summer. And then advertise them throughout the western areas. Saying: All Presbyterians gather together at X place on these days for the celebration of the Lord's Supper. People would begin to arrive Thursday. And then on Friday the event proper would start. It was characterized by almost constant preaching. From morning until well into the late evening. There would always be somebody preaching. One pastor would preach for several hours. He would be succeeded by another. And another. And another. People who were present at the event would come and go. Having set up their tents or their wagons in the woods surrounding the particular area that have been chosen. The preaching followed a very typical pattern. On Friday the theme would be thanksgiving. Thanksgiving that another year had past. The winter had been conquered. And the people of God were coming again once again to celebrate what they held together in Christ. On Saturday, the theme shifted. The theme was preparation. And in this particular theme, the pastors would preach largely focusing on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. And then announce to those who were gathered together that if they desired to take the Lord's Supper, to receive the Lord's Supper on the following day, they should present themselves to the preachers for examination. So as the preaching went on, other pastors were examining potential communicants in their knowledge of the Scriptures, the Catechism, and as to the character of their moral life. If they were deemed prepared, worthy and well fit, they were given a small token, a communion token. It didn't cost them anything. But what it did give them was the means by which then they would be admitted to the Lord's Table on Sunday. Only with the token could one come to the table. So again, that goes on all Saturday. Preparation, examination. And then on Sunday, the focal event of the larger gathering finally occurs. The celebration of the Lord's Supper itself. It begins with what is called the fencing sermon. When literally the pastor who was preaching puts a fence around the Lord's Table, the gathering area, saying things like: If you have not been examined, if you were not deemed prepared, do not approach the Lord's Table. If you are of another tradition, if you are not a Presbyterian, do not approach the Lord's Table. You will not be admitted. If you had been examined and you had been deemed well prepared yesterday but now you've fallen into some gross sin last night -- there was always a rum wagon at these events -- you drank too much rum, don't come to the Lord's Table. But if you've been examined, you're considered worthy and well prepared and you haven't fallen into gross sin, then comes to the Lord's Table. Now, obviously the sermon was a lot longer than that. But once it was completed, then as preaching continued, again, preparing people and underscoring the basics of the faith, then beneath the preaching stand, the central pulpit, there would be pastors who would meet with 12 -- initially with 12 congregants at a time who would receive the Lord's Supper, reenacting the upper room and Maundy Thursday. That became too much as time went by and they would have larger gatherings as the pastor went through the communion liturgy. Then distributed the Lord's Supper to the faithful who had been prepared. It usually took all day, particularly as the crowds increased. In fact, over the 1790s, the numbers continued to grow at these large gatherings of the Presbyterian faithful. Sometimes up to 2,000, 3,000, 5,000, 6,000. They just keep getting bigger and bigger. On Monday things draw to a close. Preaching continues. Again, the theme being thankfulness. But in this case thankfulness for having been gathered together with the faithful to receive the Lord and his gifts. And then preparing for folks to make their way back to their homes. And slowly things would break up. These were the sacramental seasons. And they were a pastoral way of addressing the lack of community on the American frontier. A way of drawing the faithful together around the Lord's dominical institution. Namely, the Lord's Supper itself. As Presbyterian clergy tried to be faithful to their scattered sheep. But as already implicit in what I had described before, is that these, while they may have been designed for the Presbyterian faithful, did not only attract Presbyterians. In fact, they were significant social events on the frontier. And everybody showed up. It was something to do. And so all would be present. And as a result, you oftentimes had people of different traditions who would participate in one form or another at these particular gatherings. In fact, an early Lutheran missionary on the frontier, Paul Henkel, was present at several of these and described them in his own journal. Initially he thought maybe these are acts of God, good things. But as time went by, he became increasingly suspicious of them. And finally came to the conclusion that they were against the Spirit of God rather than for it. Why did he make that conclusion? Well, the sacramental seasons themselves change in character over time in fundamental ways. In fact, they move from being largely gatherings of the Presbyterian faithful to over time becoming what we today know as camp meetings and revivals. What happens? Very simply, Cane Ridge. In 1801 a Presbyterian sacramental season is held at Cane Ridge in Bourbon County, Kentucky, a little bit northeast of today's Lexington. There a Presbyterian pastor by the name of Barton Stone has announced with his co-clergy that they would be holding a sacramental season in August of that year. Everybody shows up. Everybody shows up. The low-end estimates for Cane Ridge are 12,500 participants. The high end estimates that I've read are 30,000 people. Regardless of the exact number, it's a lot of folks. But it's not the numbers that make Cane Ridge unique. It's what happens there. That is to say we've already noted it's a social event. Everybody participates. The rum wagon is there, which greases the skids for certain kinds of activities. In fact, oftentimes people are critical of the Baptists for bringing the rum. This is previous to the temperance movement. Be that as it may, what we find is that American democratizing principles come to the forefront here. That is to say while the Presbyterians may have organized this event, what's to keep somebody else from participating in this event officially or unofficially? That is to say why can't I set up my own preaching stand or pulpit in competition with the Presbyterians? Say I'm a Baptist. I disagree with Presbyterians as to the subject and mode of baptism. That they baptize children and do so by sprinkling I think is absolutely contrary to the Bible. Therefore, I feel compelled to stand up and preach. Maybe not formally in a pulpit. But I'll find a stump or a wagon and stand up and begin to preach against the Presbyterian preacher. Well, what does that do to the Presbyterian? If I'm say 50 feet away preaching against him. Correcting his errors even as he speaks. What will his response be? He has to address my concerns. He has to respond to what I'm saying. And the basic character of the event changes. No longer the Presbyterian faithful being prepared for the reception of the Lord's Supper. But now an apologetic enterprise as I attack and he is forced to defend. It changes the fundamental dynamic. And what if the case is that I'm a really good preacher and he's not so great? He's a reader. He has his manuscript in front of him and drones on. While I, on the other hand, happen to be very quick on my feet. Engaging. Clever. Who would the people rather listen to? Then throw in the mix other traditions. Maybe you have a Methodist preacher who is present, as well. You could also have a Lutheran. Although, it didn't really happen much. You could have an atheist. There were more unchurched people in Kentucky in the 1790s than any other part of the American nation at that point in time. The dynamic changes. And what it does is begin to create a real sense of competition between the preachers. In fact, there's a story of one of the great Methodist itinerant preachers at the time. A man by the name of Lorezno Dow preaching in the context of one of these mixed gatherings. And he's interacting with his audience. Hanging Calvinism and its fatalism. It's a horrible theological system with a tyrannical and evil God. And one of the participants who is there shouts out to him and says: Do you even know what Calvinism is? And Dow without missing a beat comes back and says: Of course I do. Calvinism is this: You can and you can't. You shall and you shan't. You will and you won't. You'll be damned if you do. And damned if you don't. Well, the entire audience breaks into hysterics at that point as does the preacher. And the challenger walks away in shame. Dow has captured the essence of Calvinism. And more than that, he has connected in a basic way with his audience. Yeah, you'll be damned if you do and damned if you don't. There's the fatalism of Calvinism. So what's the option? Dow says: The choice is yours. A powerful message once again. And one that fits well with these democratizing tendencies we've been discussing. Back to Cane Ridge. Put together these kinds of clever, sharp and well-spoken preachers. All in a mix at a place like Cane Ridge. Working against one another. But also having a profound effect on their hearers. Bringing out laughter. Weeping. Sometimes shouting. And a whole series of what are called remarkable evidences of the Holy Spirit begin to emerge. And here we return to our friend, Barton Warren Stone. He describes what starts to happen at Cane Ridge and the results of it. Simply put: The hearers of the various preachers respond in physical ways and emotional ways to the preaching. He notes several of these evidences or exercises as he calls them. He says the main one that most people noted were called the shakes or the jerks. And what these were were not just a little shakiness on the part of the hearer. But violent shaking on the part of the hearer. As Stone describes it, going almost all the way back so the head nearly came to the ground. And then nearly all the way forward so that the head nearly touched the ground once again. Violently shaking back and forth like this for several hours on end. And the person experiencing this being unable to stop. Not being able to control these manifestations. The second exercise he describes are the barks, which are, he says, simply the jerks or the shakes characterized by a person moving far back and then as they come forward, as air exhales from their chest cavity across the vocal cords, a woof comes forward. But you do this repeatedly and quickly over the space of several hours and it sounded to many like the barking of a dog. In fact, as Stone describes it in his autobiography, he says people called this the barks very pejoratively. Particularly due to one instance where a man who was taken by the jerks ran out into the woods, grabbed onto a tree. And as he was shaking, a man found him and said that this first gentleman was barking up the wrong tree. He said it in the biography. Beyond that there were the running exercises, as they were called. Where a person with the jerks would then have them manifest themselves in the legs and the person would run, again, for hours on end, and not be able to stop himself or herself. Perhaps one of the most striking examples of the visitation of the Spirit in Stone's mind was the falling down exercise. Where a person would simply collapse with a loud cry. And then lie motionless for hours on end, once again. First giving evidence of a kind of painful continence in their face and grimaces and the like. Slowly giving way to a very peaceful look. And when they finally came out of this state, saying that they had experienced the presence of God. And they spoke to all of those around them about the love of Jesus. Others were the singing exercise. And the laughing exercise. The variety of manifestations that exploded on the scene at Cane Ridge. Now, people have wondered: What was at work here? At the time the event was interpreted one of two ways. The more conservative traditional Presbyterian clergy saw it as the work of the devil. And they ceased to hold their sacramental seasons. They stopped almost immediately upon the events of Cane Ridge. Others, however, viewed these, as we've been describing Stone's language, manifestations of the Spirit of God. Now, if they were that, in fact, manifestations of the Spirit of God, if a pastor was convinced of that, if a hearer was convinced of that, what were the effects? Well, let's take a hearer first. Imagine you're a Presbyterian Church member or that you've been attending Presbyterian sacramental seasons over the course of say six or seven years. And you've been hearing from the preachers Calvinism. You're either elect or reprobate. You're either in the kingdom of God or out. And at some point the Holy Spirit will give you an effectual call. An inward call. That you will be able to experience and be able to point to as a point at which God has made things real for you. And you would then be admitted to church membership. But until that happens, you must be considered one of the reprobate. You've heard this preached. But now suddenly you're in the midst of this preaching. The preachers are proclaiming their message. And you are suddenly ceased with one of these manifestations of the Spirit. The question about your election disappears. Because the Spirit has visited you. And you have responded. You have given yourself over to this. So that now you can locate the point at which you moved from unbelief to belief. From being outside the kingdom to being one of the converted. From being reprobate to being elect. You can point to the place. You can name the place, the time and the circumstances surrounding it. Now, what about if you're a preacher and you accept these as visible manifestations of the Spirit? You then begin to preach in a way to encourage these things to occur again. And in fact, what the preachers do is ask themselves: What was I preaching about? What was my manner when I proclaimed this message and the people began to show these manifestations? And they developed specific techniques to make them recur. One of the great questions will be: Should we encourage these excessive responses? Or were these simply necessary on the frontier? A unique outpouring of the Spirit that got the movement going, that moved us away finally from the older Calvinism. But then can be channelled, shall we say, into a more technical presentation of the Gospel that accomplishes the same end without the radical kinds of behaviors that are demonstrated. That is to say not to reject out of hand the more spectacular manifestations of the Spirit. But at the same time to look deeper for the content, the substance of the experience. Those who came later tended towards that latter position. And in this respect there was no one more important than Charles Grandison Finney. Charles Finney took what had been happening on the frontier for 20 plus years at this point, put it together in a systematic fashion, a programmatic fashion and then promised that if one preached according to these principles and in the proper ways, that one would achieve results. Finney was born in Connecticut. Grew up in New York state. Entered into law practice as a young man. And intended his whole life simply to be a lawyer because it paid well. He was young, handsome, vigorous and extremely successful. And as such did not see much need for the church. But he always stayed rather on the fringe of it. He was impressed by preachers who could affect their hearers. And so struck up friendships with several of them. One young preacher consistently pressured him: Join the church. Join the church. Join the church. Finney said: I'm not sure of the use thereof and how it would benefit. But after pressure -- continual pressure from friends, he finally said: What I will do is take the evidence for and against Christianity. Consider it and then make my decision. He worked hard at it. Finally he came to the decision himself in the early 1820s and said: I have done this now. I've weighed the evidence. And I have rendered a verdict. The Christian witness is true. And I submit myself to it. As such, I am now a Christian. His friends were delighted. And the church encouraged him to think about entering the ministry. He himself said: Yes, I think I have an inclination that way. But when they then encouraged him to attend seminary, he said: I don't need to. I have read the Bible. I know what's in it. And I'm prepared now to present that evidence to others. He always thinks like a lawyer throughout his entire ministry. And I'm ready to argue with them as to the way they should choose. He does that. And he does it in a particularly successful and effective fashion. There is no greater revivalist on the American scene than Charles Finney. He has significantly impactful revivals. In the mid 1820s in upstate New York, Rome, Utica, central New York. 1831 in Rochester, New York, he makes an enormous impact. His reputation grows to the point where finally in the mid 1830s he moves to New York City itself and there at the Broadway Tabernacle carries out his revival meetings. He is best remembered for his techniques at moving people. And that is to say when pressed with this question: What is the essence of moving a person from unbelief to belief, for Finney it is the willful action of the hearer. The choice of making Christ their personal Savior. As such, he will develop his techniques, vernacular preaching, publicity and the like. But most importantly what he calls the anxious or mourners bench. As the place where one makes the decision. Thus, the preacher's purpose is to present the evidence. What God has done for you. What the devil desires against what God has done. The way of life. The way of death. The way to heaven. The way to hell. And then to drop into the sinner's lap the choice. Now the choice is yours. Everything he preaches, everything he does in his revivals is geared towards moving that sinner to get up out of their seat, come forward to what is now called the altar area and to there sit on the bench, make the decision for Christ and come into Christ's kingdom. Everything is geared to make that happen. Finney puts these techniques together into an enormously important book called "Revival Lectures." And in it he distills what he believes religion is all about. He takes Arminianism to its radical extreme saying: Religion is a work of man. It consists in this: Obedience. Sinners are to be made to feel that they have something to do. That is what religion is all about. The anxious bench, he goes onto say, simply holds the place that baptism did in the early church. It is the public profession of an already existing faith. What you as a preacher, therefore, need to do is call sinners to the altar and then help them make their way through to that choice. This revivalistic Arminianism would take on its most extreme form finally in the preaching of preachers like Finney as they would talk about human conversion and salvation. They would say an important election is at hand. The question is: Will you be saved? God has voted yes. Satan has voted no. A tie. Your vote must decide the issue. That's a long way from the older Calvinism where God is in control of all things. Where God has determined whether you will be elect or reprobate. Where God in the end will judge on the basis of that earlier decision. Now God has made his decision. He would like for you to be saved. But Satan has come along and has cancelled out the vote of God. It is up to you. You must decide the issue. Again, think about this in the broader American setting. And the impact that this would have on a country that is emerging from the older republican Agrarian ideas to a more radical democracy to a market driven economy. The older Calvinism simply doesn't fit. It's fatalistic, deterministic. The new Arminianism says you will decide the issue. And as such, it largely sweeps Calvinism from the scene. And in that context a whole new series of church bodies appear on the American scene and come to dominate its thinking in ways that still affect us today.