Church History: A Biblical View
Part VI - The Modern Age: Lesson No. 37 - Intra-Church Movements
Almost since the time of Christ there have been those who have adopted a "unitarian" view of God; that is, that He is one being only. (The opposing view, known as "trinitarianism," is that there are three divine beings the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.) From time to time individuals and groups with unitarian views have become more assertive. Encouraged by rationalism (a philosophy which advocated that reason was the chief source and test of knowledge), unitarian views began to make significant headway in Eighteenth Century England. Most of those who were attracted to unitarian views were found among the Presbyterians and General Baptists. In 1772 the English Parliament refused to receive a petition circulated by Theophilus Lindsey and carrying two hundred and fifty signatures of clergymen which asked that clergymen be relieved of subscription to the Thirty Two Articles to pledge fidelity to the Scriptures. As a result, Lindsey withdrew from the establishment and organized a Unitarian Church in London
in 1774. In 1779 Parliament enacted legislation to substitute profession of faith in the Scriptures in place of required acceptance of The Thirty Nine Articles and in 1813 removed all penalties against unitarians. In 1785 the first Unitarian Church in New England was begun. In 1961 Unitarian and Universalist churches in the United States and Canada effected a union known as Unitarian Universalist Association. Many Congregationalists also were attracted to Unitarianism.
Starting with a denial of the Trinity, Unitarians went on to form one of the most doctrinally liberal denominations. Unitarians also denied the divinity of Christ (Jn. 1:1), the divine inspiration of the Bible (II Tim. 3:16,17), and eternal punishment in hell for the wicked (Matt. 25:41,46). It is not unusual for those who deny the separate existence of three divine beings to feel driven to deny that Jesus was divine. Obviously if the Father is the only divine being, then Jesus cannot be divine. (The other alternative is the impossible theory that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are just different facets of the one divine being.) The Bible says that there is one God (Deut. 6:4) but this one God is composed of three divine beings (Gen. 1 :26; 3:22; Jas. 3:9).
By the Eighteenth Century Lutheranism in Germany had become a dry, dogmatically strict, intellectual religion. Emphasis was given to pure doctrine and the sacraments. A vital relationship with Christ and a commensurate purity in life were minimized. Practically the whole religion of the laity was to accept the dogmas regarded by the clergy as pure and to participate in the public worship services. Not surprisingly, there was a reaction to this dry, stale type of religion. It was a movement known as Pietism. Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705) is usually regarded as the founder of Pietism. In 1670, while chief pastor in Frankfort, Germany, he gathered into his house a group of people who wanted more out of religion than the Lutheran Church offered. Their activities centered upon Bible reading, prayer, and discussion of the Sunday sermons. Their aim was a deepening of individual spiritual life. Groups such as those which met in Spener's home became known as collegia pietatis, whence the name "Pietism." Spener advocated that such groups should be constituted in every church, thus having ecclesiola in ecclesia ("churches within churches"). Pietists also sought improved morality, a greater knowledge of the Scriptures, better training for the clergy, moderation in food, drink, and dress and rejection of dances, cards, and the theater. The religion of Christ was more of a way of life than intellectual knowledge. Theological controversy was unprofitable and best avoided. If the heart was right, Spener thought, doctrinal differences were relatively unimportant.
Though Pietists were not physically persecuted, their teachings did arouse a great deal of controversy with those whose emphasis was on "pure doctrine." However, Pietists did find refuge with the Elector of Brandenburg, who eventually made August Hermann Francke (1663-1727), one of Pietism's chief advocates, a professor in the University of Halle. That city therefore became the center of Pietism. Despite a general suppression of intellectual endeavors and an ascetic attitude toward the world (even to the extent of repressing play among children), Pietism did contribute to an improvement in the spiritual training of clergy, laity, and children.
The Moravians (from Moravia in Czechoslovakia) traced their spiritual heritage to the Hussite Unity of Brethren, but because of the Thirty Years' War and severe persecutions they had been much reduced and scattered. The Moravians had stressed purity of morals, apostolic discipline, and true Scriptural teaching. Consequently, they found much in common with Pietism. Some Moravians found refuge on the estate of Count Nicolas Ludwig von Zinzendorf and founded a village known as Herrnhut (1722-1727). Zinzendorf was a man of Pietistic leanings and soon found himself in a position of leadership over the Moravian brethren on his estate. The Herrnhut Moravians strove toward near monastic status. Children were brought up under supervision apart from parents. An attempt was even made at regulation of marriages by the community. Moravians sought a community separate from the world. Zinzendorf wanted the Moravians to be nominally part of the Lutheran Church but maintain themselves as an ecclesiola in ecclesia, thereby fostering a warmer "heart-religion" in the whole. However, most Moravians wanted a separate denomination and finally won the upper hand. Moravians soon became noted for their missionary zeal which led them to plant their religion in such places as America, Greenland, the West Indies, South Africa, Egypt, Surinam, and Guyana. They had a great influence upon John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.
IV. Exercises (Please click on "File" on your browser window, then "Print" to print out this page.)
(1) (T or F) Truth is secondary to sincerity.
(2) (T or F) The gospel requires Christians to be ascetic and monastic.
(3) What is Unitarianism?
(4) What other basic doctrines do Unitarians deny?
(5) How can there be one God but three divine beings?
(6) What was Pietism ?
(7) Does one have to sacrifice piety in order to attain intellectual knowledge of God's word, or vice versa?
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