By Rev. Dr. Tommy Davis
All throughout history there has been events unfolding that has affected the church in one way or another. Persecutions made her stronger. Religious freedom under certain regimes made her compromise due to complacency; and wealth that attracted the greedy to the priesthood is still a modern phenomenon. But out of all these, I believe that it was the era of ideologies that has so saturated our contemporary world that Christianity is considered just another alternative to the many lifestyles rather than an absolute truth to be lived by.
Ideological outlooks takes the form of religious conviction because it rules individuals and entire nations and commands an allegiance of the mind. Ideologies control the activities and the lives of its subjects. There are three principle topics that deserve attention that would shed light on the period of ideologies which is said to be the period from 1914, which marked the beginning of the first World War, to 1996 in world history: communism, nationalism, and individualism, which includes self improvement and selfish ambition, terms mentioned in Bruce Shelly’s Church History In Plain Language.
In response to this form of modernism there arose a movement from within Protestantism in the 1920’s called Fundamentalism. This movement, which sprang in between the two World Wars, focused on restoring the spirit of the early apostolic church and the Reformation doctrine that had spread during the American revivals. The objective would seek to safeguard the “fundamentals” of the Christian faith. This would comprise of the Virgin Birth, the resurrection of Jesus, and the deity of Christ as being fully God and fully man united in one nature; His substitutionary atonement , the inerrancy of the Bible in its original writings, and the Second Coming of Christ.
Protestants thought it necessary to point out the distinctives of Christianity in an age of higher biblical criticism and comparative creeds that was beginning to war for the minds of the masses. It was important to affirm the central truths of the Christian faith in a time when many theologians began to accept what may not warrant biblical justification. It was on these grounds of biblical orthodoxy that birthed the founding of the Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia founded by J. Gresham Machen, who left Princeton, and started Westminister with a host of other professors.
It was during these series of events that another conflict was taking place that centered around the theory of Evolution. A stern prosecutor named William Bryan (a fundamentalist) took issue with evolution and argued that such theory weakened a belief in God and posed as a menace to morality. On the other hand, contending for the evolutionary cause was Clarence Darrow an agnostic and enemy of Christian fundamentalism. The clash between these two men came to be known as the Scopes Trial, (and later, the Monkey Trial) in which John Scopes, a biology teacher in the state of Tennessee was accused of teaching evolution. Mr. Scopes had previously taught math but turned to biology.
John Scopes was accused of violating the Tennessee Butler bill which states, “It shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the universities, normals, and other public schools of the State…to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” Even though this violation was a misdemeanor, it carried a fine of between $100.00 and $500.00 .
Scopes was found guilty and fined the $100.00 but the public was already filled with evolutionary ideology that eventually saturated the community opinion. Many believed that there was no conflict with Christianity and evolution. Higher biblical criticism played a major part in this because if the text is doubted, then the creation account can be dismissed as myth. The fundamentalist preacher won the case with the jury, but the public was a different story.
Perhaps it should be recognized that the evolution theory shaped the mind of one of the most notable men in Germany who came to power in 1933. He was capable of stabilizing the economy through price controls by implementing a totalitarian regime that would deprive millions of their citizenship rights in the name of purifying the race. This figure was named Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi movement. Under his socialist government, he would tightly manage the country’s economic resources and seek to unite the country as a German citizenry. “Nazi ideology,” as Bruce Shelley put it, “preached that Germans possessed unique qualities arising from their homeland.” (1) This is an evolution concept that conveys that German blood is a dominant factor, and that every other “race” is an aberration. This idea led to the extermination of millions of Jews under German control.
The socialist construct that permeated Hitler’s economic system was a method that hampered innovative ideas that could progress an economy. Price regulations without the permission of supply and demand, and employment under strict government control produced a weak economy in the long run. The socialist arrangement confiscated property for the “benefit” of the whole. According to Hitler it was government, not the free-market, that should allocate resources through central planning. Not only would this prove unsuccessful in Germany, (especially since the government deprived certain people –like Jews– of their citizenship rights which meant less resources for them) it would show itself unsuccessful in every other country. If there is no incentive in making a profit to market a product, it leads to the slow of ideas that discourage its citizens from contributing to the economy. No market can survive under statist control.
Hitler continued to spread his “gospel” through the many annexations of other countries between 1939 and 1941 which was the initiation of World War II. Germany would eventually surrender in 1945 due to allied forces that included Britain, the United States, and the USSR. After the Second World War Germany was divided. Berlin, which lay in Soviet territory, was also divided. The Berlin wall was constructed in 1961 to keep dislocated workers from fleeing to West Germany. With the fleeing of skilled workers to the West, an economic catastrophe would visit East Germany. This wall of separation would remain as a division for nearly thirty years until the ending of the Cold War in 1989 that sent the Berlin Wall tumbling down. As Shelley noted: “..World War II had a devastating impact on Christianity, both physically and morally.” (2) Heavy persecution saw many churches demolished with many believers and clergy losing their homes and lives. During this time “millions lost their lives” (2).
Christians found themselves trying to find common ground. A cooperation between the churches founded the World Council of Churches in 1948. This was termed the ecumenical movement which is similar in meaning to the word “Catholic” which is defined as universal or worldwide. The World Council of Churches included all major Christian churches except for Roman Catholic; and even then, the Roman Catholic church found itself struggling for identity after losing many priests and nuns. The Gospel message did, however, find rich soil in Africa and Asia. As Shelley noted: “Africa belongs to what we commonly call the Third World. It is one of those underdeveloped and developing regions, neither Communist nor non-Communist. But it is in this Third World that Christianity has emerged with new vigor in the Age of Ideologies” (3).
It was also after the Second World War that the philosophy of self took on a more dominant form. The psychologists’ became people’s savior; and it was this form of new age therapy that found many clients from the armed forces. Shelves would soon be filled with self-help publications that would promote this individualism. Television would multiply such viewpoint the more. This era would see the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973. Non-conformist within Protestant Christianity would oppose much of this new wave of self. This group came to be known as the Religious Right, a political non-conformist group who would fight against the cultural change that seemed to reject biblical authority. Again, Shelley explains: “To counter the agenda of the cultural left the Religious Right preached, promoted, and marched against abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, homosexuality, pornography, and the increased government involvement in education and welfare.” (4)
Not exempt from this shift in values was the progressive church. It soon became popular for parishioners to seek houses of worship, not to show God of His worthiness, but to get some form of personal gratification. Church goers became liabilities to one another rather than assets. Churches became entertainment centers and social clubs that centered on what was politically correct rather than on what was biblically correct. Denying self (as the Scripture teaches) became self-esteem. Homilies on sin and repentance was replaced with the personal improvement gospel. Contentment was replaced with material wealth in what we call the prosperity gospel.
One needs not to go far to find the consequences of the ideological age. The Democratic Party still hold to the socialist philosophy by taxing the rich for the purposes of wealth redistribution through government control (communism); the regulating of prices (minimum wage laws) that stagnates the economy by causing unemployment; the government control of education which rewards teachers in underperforming schools through repeat funding; the teaching of evolution as a scientific fact, and the prohibition of prayer in public schools. These are just a few of the consequences of counterfeit wisdom. The Age of Ideologies needs to be repealed and replaced with biblical authority with the rule of God’s law.
1. Shelley, Bruce. “Church History In Plain Language.” Nashville: Nelson, 1995 p.422
2. (supra, p.427)
3. (supra, p. 462)
4. (supra, p. 477)