THE MODERN CHURCH
THE PURITAN MOVEMENT. THE WESLEYAN REVIVAL. THE RATIONALISTIC MOVEMENT. THE ANGLO-CATHOLIC MOVEMENT.
In our study of the modern period, the last three centuries, our attention will be directed mainly to the churches which arose out of the Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church has pursued its one way, entirely apart from the Protestant world; and is outside our horizon. Our aim will be to sketch very briefly certain important movements which, since the Reformation, have influenced the lands mainly Protestant, as England, North Germany, and America.
Soon after the Reformation three distinct parties appeared in the English Church; the Romanizing element , seeking friendliness and reunion with Rome; the Anglican, satisfied with the moderate reforms accomplished under King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth; and the radical Protestant party, aiming for a church similar to those established in Geneva and in Scotland. This latter party became known about 1654 as “the Puritans,” and so strongly opposed the Anglican system under Queen Elizabeth, that many of its leaders were driven into exile. The Puritans also had their division into two elements, those favoring the Presbyterian form, and the more radical element seeking the independence of each local society in a State Church known as “Independents” or “Congregationalists.” As yet, however, all these parties remained as members of the
In the strife between Charles I and the Parliament, the Puritans were strong champions of popular rights. At first the Presbyterian wing became dominant, and under the order of Parliament, and assembly of Puritan ministers held at Westminster, in 1643, prepared the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the two catechisms, long regarded as the Presbyterian and Congregational standards. During Oliver Cromwell’s rule (1653-1655) the Independent or Congregational element triumphed. With Charles II (1660-1685) the Anglicans again assumed power, and the Puritans were persecuted as Non-conformists. After the Revelation of 1688, they were recognized as Disserters from the Church of England, and obtained rights as separate organizations, entirely outside the Establishment. Out of the Puritan movement arose three churches, the Presbyterian, the Congregational, and the Baptist.
In the first half of the eighteenth century, the churches in England, both Established and Dissenting sank into a state of decline, with formal services, cold, intellectual belief, and a lack of moral power over the population. From this condition England was awakened by a group of earnest preachers led by the brochers John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield. Of these Whitefield was the greater pulpit orator, stirring the hearts of untold thousands both in England and America; Charles Wesley was the scared poet, whose hymns have enriched every collection since his day but John Wesley was the unquestioned leader and statesman of the movement. At the age of thirty-five, an Anglican clergyman, John Wesley found the reality of a spiritual religion among the Moravians, a body of Dissenters from the Lutheran Church. In 1739 he began preaching “the witness of the Spirit” as a personal consciousness, and formed societies of those who accepted his teachings. At first these societies were conducted by class leaders, but later Wesley called forth a body of lay preachers who carried his doctrines and their experience to every part of Great Britain, and to the American colonies. His followers were early nicknamed “Methodists,” and Wesley accepted the name. In England they became known as “Wesleyan Methodists,” and before his death numbered many thousands.
Although for many years violently opposed in the Church of England, and shut out of its pulpits, Wesley always declared himself its loyal member, regarding his society not as a separate denomination but an organization within the English Church. Nevertheless, after the American Revolution in 1784, he organized the Methodists in the United States, numbering to the Episcopal plan, and gave them “superintendents,” a title which he preferred to “bishop”; but in America, the name “bishop” was preferred and became general.
The Wesleyan movement awakened the Christian life among Churchmen and Dissenters to new power. It also led to the formation of Methodist churches under varied forms of organization in many lands. On the American continent at present, the enrolled membership of Methodists is about eleven millions. No single leader in Christian history has obtained so large a personal following as John Wesley.
The Reformation established the right o private judgment regarding religion and the Bible, independent of priestly or churchly authority. An inevitable relult came to pass, that while some leaders of thought accepted the old views of the Bible as a supernatural book, others began to regard reason as the supreme authority, and to demand a rational and not a supernatural interpretation of Scripture. Those scholars who followed reason as against the supernatural, were termed “rationalists.” The germs of rational existed in England and in Germany from the beginning of the eighteenth century, but its activity as a distinct movement in the church began with Johann Semler (born 1725, died 1791), who claimed that nothing received from tradition was to be accepted without proof, that the Bible was to be judged by the same criticism as that applied to other ancient writings, that all accounts of miracles were to be discredited, and that Jesus
was only a man not a divine Being.
The rational spirit grew until nearly all the universities of Germany were controlled by it; and it reached its culmination in the publication of Friedrich Strauss’ Life counts were “myths” or legends. This word was translated by George Eliot(Marian Evans) in 1846, and obtained a wide circulatation in England and America
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