Protestant Revivalism, Pentecostalism and the Drift Back to Rome
The sixteenth century rediscovery of Paul's objective message of justification by faith invaded the consciousness of men with a tempestuous fury and changed the course of history. The Protestant movement was founded upon a restoration of the primacy, supremacy and all-sufficiency of justification by faith.
No one would want to contend that the Protestant Reformation completely recovered the purity of faith which existed in the apostolic church. The Reformers did not always agree among themselves. They were not always consistent in every area. And it was inevitable that the church did not all at once abandon every error of the Dark Ages. But in spite of differences and inconsistencies, the Reformers were absolutely united on justification by faith — its objective meaning and its absolute centrality in the Christian faith.
We have already observed that there is a tendency in human nature to gravitate from the objective stance of the gospel to religious subjectivism, to shift the central focus from Christ's experience to Christian experience. This is what happened in the great "falling away" in the early church. And the same evolution has taken place within the Protestant movement.
The Error of the Sects
Even before the Reformers had passed off the stage, different sects began to grow up within the Protestant movement and to break from the founding churches. The sects said that Luther made a good start in reviving the doctrine of justification by faith, but they had the feeling that Luther stood only half way and that they must go on, higher. These sects were generally not without some truth. Often they emphasized something that was neglected by the founding churches of the Reformation. But Luther discerned that they erred on the great charter of Protestantism – justification by faith – and, as far as he was concerned, if this was wrong everything was wrong. "Whoever departs from the article of justification does not know God and is an idolater," wrote Luther. "For when this article has been taken away, nothing remains but error, hypocrisy, godlessness, and idolatry, although it may seem to be the height of truth, worship of God, holiness, etc." — What Luther Says (St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), Vol.11, pp.702-704.
These sectarian teachers did not deny justification as an initiating step in the Christian life. Their error was the old one of relegating justification to something whereby the believer can make a start and then go on to higher things. With them, justification by faith was no longer the center. Their focus was away from Christ's experience to their own, from the objective to the subjective. Luther understood their mentality when he said:
In the time of the Reformers, the Munzerites and radical Anabaptists gave great prominence to the work and gifts of the Spirit. Their cry was, "The Spirit! the Spirit!" but Luther replied, "I will not follow where their spirit leads." They were the sixteenth century charismatics.
Then there was Osiander. At first a disciple and colaborer with Luther, he broke from the Reformation teaching on justification by an imputed (outside) righteousness and began to teach that the believer is justified by the indwelling of Christ and His essential righteousness. Both Luther and Calvin recognized that Osiander's teaching was a return, in principle, to the Roman Catholic idea of justification. Some of the sects erred from the gospel in that they tried to go beyond righteousness by faith to seeking a state of absolute sinlessness in this mortal life on earth. The Reformers also recognized that this was actually Roman Catholic perfectionism in new garments.
After the time of the Reformers, the Protestant movement went through the period known as Protestant orthodoxy. Heresies were resisted by careful definition and redefinition of the Protestant faith. Faith tended to become intellectualized; and although some good theology was produced in this period, orthodoxy produced a sterile faith and a dead church.
In Germany, Pietism arose as a reaction against the dead orthodoxy of the Lutheran Church. It cannot be denied that many of the Pietist leaders were earnest, godly men; and their witness did accomplish some good. But the definite tendency of Pietism was to distort the objective gospel with an exaggerated emphasis on experience. Much of the German Pietism recaptured the spirit of the great Catholic mystics and resembled it in its sentimental (even effeminate) Christian devotions.
Eighteenth century England witnessed a remarkable movement which was also a reaction to the dead formalism of the Church of England. The truth of justification by faith had been largely lost from the church. These were the days of the foxhunting parsons who loved their dogs more than the flock. Moreover, there was a growing working class, unchurched and untouched by an indifferent church. John Wesley was probably the most outstanding man of the eighteenth century in any country in the world. He was one of the most successful itinerant evangelists since Paul. His effect on the whole national life of England (especially on the working class) was so remarkable that some credit his ministry with saving England from a revolution similar to that which engulfed France.
John Wesley believed in justification by faith and taught it with power. His "long suit," however, was sanctification. He had been deeply influenced by Moravian Pietism and certain of the great Catholic mystics. Wesley's emphasis on sanctification was both the strength and weakness of the Methodist movement. It was the strength of Methodism because such an emphasis was sorely needed. Among many, the doctrine of imputed righteousness had become perverted with antinomianism. Many were making the Reformation concept of imputed righteousness an excuse for all sorts of ungodliness. Like a John the Baptist, Wesley laid the ax at the root of the tree and called for fruit that was meet for repentance. Along with justification by faith in the blood of Christ, Wesley also emphasized repentance and the renewing power of the Holy Spirit in conforming lives to true obedience to the law of God. Apart from sanctified obedience to the law of God, Wesley declared that no soul would retain the blessing of justification.
Wesley's emphasis on sanctification was also the weakness of Methodism. As Niebuhr has pointed out:
Wesley unfortunately developed a doctrine of entire sanctification, known also as the "second blessing" or "Methodist perfection." He proposed that after justification and a process of sanctification, the believer could receive by faith a sudden second blessing which would completely purge the soul from inbred sin enabling the fully sanctified to feel nothing but perfect love. He called this experience ''a still higher salvation," "immensely greater than that wrought when he was justified" (Plain Account, p. 7). Wesley and his preachers urged their hearers to seek this second blessing of perfection with all diligence. They did, and gave proof of it in lives of earnest (and sometimes frantic) piety.
With Paul and Luther, justification by faith was the whole truth of the gospel. But in Wesleyanism, the centrality and all-sufficiency of justification tended to be lost by being subordinated to sanctification.
However, it must be said to the everlasting credit of John Wesley that, although he preached it to others, till his dying day he frankly confessed he had not attained his famous "second blessing." He always sought it but only attained to the hope of it. He was too humble and honest to confess anything but that he still felt sin strong within him — although few men exhibited the mastery over inbred sin as well as he did.
Unfortunately, not all of Wesley's followers were as prudent or as humble as the great evangelist. The trouble began when some of them did profess that they had attained the second blessing of entire sanctification. A few were preachers, and some of these soon fell to the temptation of imagining that they were superior to Wesley. The great Methodist revival was therefore plagued and embarrassed by some fanaticism. The problem did not come to the surface as long as all the Methodists were seeking perfection. It boiled over when some claimed to have attained it.
This also must be said in Wesley's favor: Most of his labors were directed in preaching the gospel to the unsaved. Hence he was obliged to spend most of his time and energy preaching justification by faith to sinners. This was a great providential blessing, for it kept the evangelist in better balance. The same thing cannot be said of all Wesley's spiritual children.
American Revivalism and the Holiness Movement
Eighteenth and early nineteenth century American Protestantism became heir of much of Methodism's religious fervor. America developed its own style and brand of revivalism. It suited the national temper and was unconsciously molded by the frontier spirit.
Frontier life was rude, raw and exciting. Some of the frontier people saw very little of churches or preachers except once a year at a big tent revival meeting. As the growing calves were rounded up once a year for branding, so the growing youth needed to be gathered in and "saved," while the older people felt their need for a good "clean-up" in the yearly revival time. As Vinson Synan has well said:
Sometimes the religious fervor was accompanied by great emotional excesses such as "godly hysteria," falling, jerking, "the holy laugh," barking like dogs and "such wild dances as David performed before the Ark of the Lord."
In the nineteenth century, Charles Finney was such a successful evangelist that, by 1850, revivalism — Charles Finney style — became like the national religion of America. Finney's Systematic Theology (still one of the most popular manuals on theology in the Pentecostal churches today) is very critical of Luther and Calvin with respect to their teaching of justification by faith through an imputed righteousness. Finney's predominant emphasis is on sanctification and God's work within human experience – an emphasis which is neither Pauline nor Reformation. His preaching led people into a very emotional, crisis experience, and a seeking after a holiness of experience that would be acceptable to God.
In all these revival influences, the predominant emphasis was to find God in a very dramatic, emotional, empirical, inward experience of the heart. There was very little focus on being acceptable to God by faith in an experience and a righteousness not our own but outside of us in the person of Christ. American revivalism was far more subjective than objective, far more experience-centered than gospel-centered.
About the middle of the last century, the Methodist Church (which was then the largest church in the U.S.A.) experienced a remarkable resurgence of interest in the doctrine of the "second blessing." As Synan writes, "The optimistic idea that one could find perfection seemed to match the general optimism that prevailed throughout American society." — Ibid., p.22. "It was a kind of evangelical transcendentalism which thrived in the idealism of a young and growing America." — Ibid., p.30. "The decade of the 1840's, therefore, witnessed a veritable flood of perfectionistic teaching in the Methodist Church. Leading pastors, bishops, and theologians led the movement, giving it institutional and intellectual respectability." —Ibid., p.28.
This development spilled over into other Protestant bodies, and by 1869 it became known as the "holiness movement." Independent "holiness" publications sprang up all over the country. The movement spread to England and found expression in the renowned Keswick Convention.
The emphasis that was popularized in the holiness movement was concerning the victorious, Spirit-filled life. Its focal point was not on justification or conversion but on the attainment of an empirical experience of holiness and entire sanctification subsequent to conversion. Boardman, Inskip, A. B. Simpson, Torrey, and Andrew Murray were some of the best-known writers and leaders of the movement. Hannah W. Smith's The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life (still circulated today) expressed very well the aspirations of the holiness people. Holiness-type books can generally be detected by titles that major on experience rather than on the gospel (The Victorious Life, Keys to Victorious Living, The Spirit-Filled Life, etc.). The punch line of these books is generally on Romans 7 and Romans 8: "Get out of Romans 7 into Romans 8" (which, incidentally, is decidedly contrary to what the Reformers all taught).
One could not disparage the holiness contribution as all bad. But the objective nature and value of justification and forgiveness cease to be the center of its thrust. They are undervalued, even demeaned in the overwhelming preoccupation with religious experience and perfectionism. The holiness movement goes aground on the rocks of subjectivism, and because of this, it is basically more in harmony with Roman Catholicism than with Protestantism.
In the 1890's the Methodist Church finally took an administrative stand against the holiness movement. Consequently, between the years 1890 and 1900, twenty-three holiness denominations were founded.
The Pentecostal Movement
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, many within the holiness movement began to speak about and seek for the "baptism of fire.” One branch of the holiness movement was called the "Fire-Baptized Holiness Church" (originating in Iowa in 1895 and led by Benjamin Irwin). Those receiving "the fire" would often shout, scream, fall in trances or speak in other tongues. This "baptism of fire" was regarded as a miraculous visitation of the Spirit that followed entire sanctification. The more conservative teachers of the holiness movement rejected this "third" blessing of fire, for they regarded the second blessing and the special baptism of the Spirit as synonymous.
But the radical "fire" advocates continued to make an impact within the movement with fiery preaching and publications like Live Coals of Fire (first published in October, 1899). This paper spoke of "the blood that cleans up, the Holy Ghost that fills up, the fire that burns up, and the dynamite that blows up." It is not hard to imagine the eccentric and mind-bending manifestations that accompanied the blowing-up stage of this religious high. The logical outcome of this religious trend was the appearance of the twentieth-century Pentecostal movement, which generally traces its beginnings to the ministry of Charles Parham at Topeka, Kansas in 1900. Says Synan:
Dr. Frederick Dale Bruner also says:
Says noted Catholic author and contemporary ecumenist, Kilian McDonnell:
"John Wesley was father to much of the 19th century American religious fervor; one of his children was the Holiness Movement which gave rise to the Pentecostalism of the 20th century." — Kilian McDonnell, "The Classical Pentecostal Movement," New Covenant, Vol. I, No.11 (May, 1972), p.1. (New Covenant is a monthly publication serving the Catholic charismatic renewal.)
The Pentecostal movement came into being directly on the issue of insisting that the physical sign of speaking in tongues was the evidence of the baptism of the Spirit. This issue of tongues caused a split between the holiness and Pentecostal movements; yet the basic emphasis of the two movements remains the same.
Pentecostalism is the inevitable end of subjective revivalism. It is American revivalism in its final form of development. The kind of revivals that operate in the United States may not be overtly Pentecostal or charismatic, but they tend in that direction because they are supremely orientated toward religious experientialism.
The Trend toward Rome
For more than 400 years, influences have been at work within the Protestant movement to erode the objective emphasis of the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith. It has been a drift back to Romanism. A few years ago, noted Roman Catholic author, Louis Bouyer, made these stunning observations:
Bouyer closes with an appeal to his fellow Catholics to prepare for the inevitable return of the "separated brethren" under the influence of contemporary revivals. The fact that many revivalists regard themselves as anti-Catholic makes no difference, for as Bouyer points out, they are simply in the dark about how the heart of their emphasis is in profound harmony with Catholicism. If the reader wants to know what Rome thinks about the most popular U.S. revivalists today, he would be well advised to secure the July, 1972 issue of The Catholic Digest.
Also a few years ago, Protestant scholar Paul Tillich1 observed that we have reached "the end of the Protestant era."
The last decade has more than justified the observations of Bouyer and Tillich. The drift toward Rome has become like that place in the Niagara River where the boatsman reaches the point of no return as the water rushes on toward the falls. We must now consider this development.
The Neo-Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement
From 1900 to 1960, the Pentecostal movement continued to grow outside the mainstream of Protestantism. Yet by 1960 it had attained a world-wide membership of about eight million. At that time, men like Dr. Henry Van Dusen began to call the movement the "third force" in Christendom.
Then about 1960 a remarkable change took place. Pentecostalism began to jump the denominational boundary lines and to penetrate the mainline Protestant churches. As John Sherrill says in his book, They Speak With Other Tongues, "the walls came tumbling down." Soon there were thousands, and then millions, of Episcopalian, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist and other Protestant Pentecostals. This interdenominational phase of the movement became known as the neo-Pentecostal, or charismatic, movement. It was no longer a separate denomination but an experience that transcended all denominational boundary lines. Those sharing the experience in different denominations saw themselves as having more in common with each other than with non-charismatics of the same church. Many confidently predicted that this was the beginning of the greatest revival the world had ever known.
Toward the end of the decade,
the neo-Pentecostal movement made two further astounding strides. It entered
the new youth culture and became known as the Jesus movement. (It is estimated
that ninety per cent of the Jesus People, as they are called, have some
form of Pentecostal experience.) Many from the drug culture became "high"
on Jesus instead of drugs. Then, to crown its success, the neo-Pentecostal
movement entered the Catholic Church in 1967. After a modest beginning
in its great centers of learning (Duquesne and Notre Dame), it is now
spreading rapidly in the Catholic Church, attracting the support of cardinals,
bishops and thousands of priests and nuns.
Although Pentecostalism was introduced to the Catholic Church initially by Protestant Pentecostals, it is meeting even less resistance in Catholic circles than in Protestant circles. In fact, as many Catholic authors are pointing out, Pentecostalism is more at home in the ancient church. It is more at home there because the overwhelming Pentecostal emphasis on the subjective experience is in essential harmony with the tradition of the Roman Church. Says Benedictine monk, Father Edward O'Connor of Notre Dame:
Moreover, neo-Pentecostalism certainly does nothing to unsettle the faith of Catholics in their church and traditions. Says Father O'Connor:
The Ecumenical Phase of Pentecostalism
The 1970's have brought us to a great ecumenical phase of revivalism and the charismatic movement. Says Christianity Today of February 1, 1972:
The May, 1972 issue of New Covenant (Catholic charismatic publication) features Catholics and Protestants uniting in a great charismatic fellowship. It proclaims that the charismatic movement holds the hope of healing the wound of the sixteenth century. Dr. Henry Pitney Van Dusen (Union Theological Seminary) is featured as saying:
This union is not based on objective truth but on subjective experience. American Christianity is drowning in a sea of religious subjectivism. Charismatic literature (and with it we include all this subjective revivalism) is infesting the land like the frogs of Egypt (see Rev. 16:13-14). Never has such a mass of literature been so devoid of the gospel of Christ. There is scarcely one extrinsic, objective thought in it. It is all "in and in and in"; a return to sentimental, effeminate, medieval mysticism. No wonder one of the points of dialogue between Pentecostal leaders and the Roman Catholic Church (a dialogue which is now in progress in Rome) is the remarkable similarity between Pentecostalism and Catholic mysticism. The startling fact of the crumbling of Protestant resistance to Pentecostalism illustrates the decadence of the Protestant churches. Even the word Protestant is becoming a dirty word.
A Fulfillment of Prophecy
Multitudes are exulting that the church is being stirred by the fires of revivalism. This is not a passing fad but a remarkable fulfillment of Bible prophecy. If the Protestant movement had not cast away the historical system of prophetic interpretation (which was espoused by the Reformers) in favor of futurism and preterism (developed by the Jesuits),2 it might have escaped the delusion of these last days.
Protestants once generally accepted the fact that the two-horned lamb-like beast of Revelation 13 was a symbol of the papacy. Armed with the objective truth of justification by faith, the Reformation broke the stranglehold of papal thought and set the nations free from papal domination. But the modern Pentecostal movement represents a restoration of the ancient Roman church’s power to dominate the minds and enslave the consciences of men. The prophet declares:
"Fire . . . from heaven... in the sight of men" is an astoundingly accurate picture of American Protestantism caught up in the fires of false revivalism and Pentecostalism. Fire is the favorite symbol of the charismatic movement — and it is the symbol God uses to describe that movement because it is a counterfeit outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is not really fire from heaven, but it appears to be fire from heaven. It is "fire….from heaven…in the sight of men." But by its influence it will cause "the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed" (Rev. 13:12).
The last days are to be marked by great religious deceptions. Working in the guise of "fire …from heaven" (the pseudo-baptism of the Holy Spirit), "the spirits of devils" will "go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of the great day of God Almighty" (Rev. 16:14; see also 2 Thess. 2:8-12).
Already it is considered as blasphemy to speak against the supernatural workings within the new Pentecostal movement. A spirit of boastful certainty and arrogant intolerance has often been manifested by those who "have the Spirit." The preoccupation with inward experience is leading multitudes back to the religious philosophy of the medieval church. Rome knows the score. She reads what is to be. Some well-meaning men seem to be as paralyzed as Mellanchthon was when he did not know whether or not to speak out against the spiritualistic enthusiasts who came to Wittenberg while Luther was hidden in the Wartburg Castle. It was this issue that led the great Reformer to come out of hiding and to risk his life. Cried the “Spirit-filled” leaders on being granted an interview with Luther, "The Spirit! the Spirit!" The Reformer was decidedly unimpressed, "I slap your spirit on the snout," he thundered. He saw that the great truth of justification by faith was diametrically opposed to these "German prophets," as he styled them.
We have now come to the time
when the great issues of the sixteenth century have to be fought out again.
This time the conflict will be more severe, and it will be final. Roll
up the old denominational boundary lines. There is going to be a regrouping
of the religious world. On the one side there will be a grand union of
Catholics, pseudo-Protestants, and Pentecostals in what appears to be
a movement for the conversion of the whole world. This movement is described
in Revelation 13. On the other side there will be a movement to restore
the everlasting gospel in its pristine purity and power. This movement
is described in Revelation 14. In our concluding study we must consider
the features of God's final message.
is not our model as a teacher of the gospel, but he is cited because he
does have a keen insight into church history.