Monday, December 3, 2007

Church History's Recent Ironies

I was reading through Timothy Weber's LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF THE SECOND COMING, whenever I stumbled on a startling claim. Dr. Weber writes that the entire Premillennialism movement rests on the shoulders of John Darby, a historical statement made by many church historians. Darby, according to accounts, restored a movement that had almost vanished from the American church. Early in the U. S. a group of Millerites started making the same mistakes the New Testament church in Thessalonica made. The Millerites stopped planting crops, spent all their savings and prepared for the second coming of Christ into the world they expected to take place around 1830. When they were left without crops to harvest and little respect from their starving families in desperation, the movement proved a huge embarrassment for a teaching that claimed to know when the world would end.
Darby revived the movement after encountering Margaret Macdonald, a woman preacher who spoke in tongues and lived in Scotland. Darby might have gotten the idea from ecstatic utterances according to some sources.1 What we are finding here is the claim that the entire movement that today is known as Premillennialism is rooted in a charismatic woman preacher. I was speaking about this with Mainstream Baptist leader Bruce Prescott who said he has run across similar claims regarding the movement verified by historical accounts. What makes this interesting is the influence this movement has on the Southern Baptist Convention. Many historians claim one of the major issues that divided the Convention was the issue of eschatology. Some writers claim this was THE issue that unsettled the denomination and let to the conflict. Fundamentalists who took control of the convention were tied into Premillennialism. As a seminary student in the seventies I recall several students who had gotten into this arguing with professors who by and large did not adhere to this theory. The late Dr. William Hendricks lamented in a chapel service that students at the seminary had purchased more books by Hal Lindsey, the Premillennilists author than they had purchased Bibles!
The irony of the story is that this movement has been given credit for ousting the old leaders of the convention replacing them with Hal Lindsey followers. In Southern Baptist life today there are two wedge issues that trouble Fundamentalists. One is the fact that women are not supposed to preach. The other is that people who speak in tongues are mistaken. To consider the fact that Premillennialism is rooted in the basement of these two items would be a pill hard for the convention to swallow if they only knew. In other words, the Tim LaHaye followers and left behind crowd owe their beginnings to a founder they would not claim.
Weber also calls attention to the strange belief systems that are a part of the movement. One of them is anti Semitism. It was a source of embarrassment to some of the leaders of the movement. Many writers often held to strange theories about how the world would end and adhered to a book called the PROTOCOLS. The PROTOCOLS, an anti Semitic fabricated hate work, blames Jews for problems in the world. It was a source of apocalyptic enthusiasm to many leaders. Timothy Weber claims the movement has at its base the need for conspiracy theories. This fact leads the group to myths about Jews and their part in world problems. Weber quotes an early leader, "We learn from private sources, more than once, and worthy of respect, that the Jews in Germany are not being persecuted as a race, but that Communism organized by Russian Jews is being punished by Hitler."2 The myth of Jews being behind Communism was a leading public policy of the Third Reich.
Tim LaHaye's connections to groups like the John Birch Society helps to explain the infatuation with strange conspiracy theories about the end of times. Lindsey believed that Israel would sign a treaty with the Antichrist. This would lead to a world wide conflict in which there would be great bloodshed. Hal believed the Antichrist was alive during the seventies. Hal saw visions of spacecraft filled with demons. His dogma contributed to right wing frenzies during the era. Lindsey hinted the U. S. needed to use its nuclear might and was a government consultant on foreign policy. Hal blamed the Council on Foreign Relations as as source of secretive problems in America. The Council is the conspiracy theorist's jackpot much like the earlier PROTOCOLS.3
According to the Wittenburg Door website Lindsey has been married four times. That is equal to both Richard Roberts and Jon Hagee's total. The question as to whether or not Lindsey could predict how long his marriages would last in contrast to the world is subject to speculation. The parody on an old hymn has been used to scoff at Premillennialism's prophetic insights, it follows. "My hope is built on nothing less/Than Schofield's notes and Moody Press." Hagee's modern support of Israel's taking over of new land is a repeat of the movement's past.
One other irony is the modern Pentecostal movement that both Roberts and Hagee symbolize. Harvard's Harvey Cox studied the movement and documented the racial harmony found in mixed congregations around the nation. A fact noted by many racially mixed Pentecostal congregations in the land. Ground zero for the movement is found in Los Angeles at the Azusa Street Church led by black evangelist William Seymour who was the son of former slaves. The black preacher got his training from Charles Parham. Parham was a racist and Klan leader. He would not allow Seymour into this class room with whites to learn about speaking in tongues. Word was that William sat outside in the hallway and took notes on how to practice tongues. Reliable sources have it that Parham would have been disgusted that his movement would have led to the mixing of races in a church service.4
Parham started the movement with his influence on Seymour and holding a ten week revival in Houston, Texas. Charles also adhered to the racist British Israel movement. A little known teaching that believes Europe is made up of the lost tribes of Israel. Parham believed that Queen Victoria was a descendant of King David of the Bible. The followers believe that American whites are chosen people blessed by God since they descended from the seed of Abraham. Other ethnic groups are not so fortunate and cannot help their racial background. After all, God did not chose them.
Buried at the foot of the statue of Jesus of the Ozarks is Gerald L. K. Smith. Many readers will recall invitations to the moving spiritual experience a Christian might find at the Passion Play in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Smith started the play. Gerald was into white supremacy and ran for President under the platform of "we got to do something about the Jews". Smith was invited to preach a series of revival meetings at J. Frank Norris' First Baptist Church in Fort Worth. Norris never invited Smith back after he learned that Smith did not believe Jesus was a Jew.6 Jews, according to British Israel, were mixed races who just thought they were descendants of Abraham. But unlike white Anglo Saxons, they did not have the bloodline. The irony of women preachers, Pentecostals, Premillennialists and beliefs about Jews is an interesting forgotten part of the history of the American church.

1. Timothy Weber, LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF THE SECOND COMING, Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, Ill. 1983, pg. 22.
2. Ibid. pgs. 189, 198.
3. Ibid. pgs. 217-221.
4. 2004/04/23
5. 12/1/076.
6. Barry Hankins, GOD'S RASCAL, Univ. Of Kentucky Press, Lexington, Kentucky, 1996, pg. 134,

1 comment:

Gary said...

Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,

I ask you to consider these points:

1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean? Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

Did he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only? He would not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the world?

Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian Faith? Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three original languages, continues to convey his true words?

2. There is NO translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into ANY language, ANYWHERE on earth, that translates the Bible as the Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of your faith.”

Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism? And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain interpretation, would tell the people of the world that God forgives sins in water baptism??

3. Why is there not one single piece of evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000 years after Christ believed that: Water baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith? THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide faith and belief as a free gift, with no strings attached, WHEN exactly does God give it?

4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism didn’t seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, these early Baptists re-interpreted these verses to fit with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism verses” literally?

Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are literally correct?? If we believe God’s Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call AND when they are baptized? Why not believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes and when a sinner is baptized?

Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

God bless you and keep you!