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Preparing The Ground For A Movement

Quick Recap: The Early Church was made up entirely of Jews. We know from Acts 2:46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.

By the year 68 Paul, Peter, James and all of the Church leadership are gone with the exception of John. When the Second Generation of Christians began to lead the church it began to veer off course.

By approximately 250 the church is quickly changing, but the changes that are made have nothing to do with Scripture, and everything to do with self-perseveration. As the Roman Government continued to persecute the Jews, the Christians made decisions to distance themselves from the Jews and Jewish practices.

By the 1500’s the Holy Roman Empire has become the political leader in the world. And it has become corrupt. The office of the Pope, Bishops, and Cardinals have become prizes to be won.

October 31, 1517 Luther nailed a copy of his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church in an effort to reform the Catholic Church. He would eventually be excommunicated by the Catholic Church and charged with Heresy. But his contributions to the Church cannot be overstated.

Luther was followed by John Calvin, a second Generation Reformer and held a mixture of beliefs. Like most Second Generation leaders, his teachings veered from the Church that Calvin imagined. 

The Church of England

Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon in an effort to bolster England's alliance with Spain. Henry had always been a religious man. He heard mass five times a day unless he was hunting (then he could only hear three). He was also deeply interested in theological disputes. In 1521, with Lutheranism infecting the English universities, Henry wrote a Defense of the Seven Sacraments against Luther. The pope rewarded him with the title "Defender of the Faith."

By 1526 Henry began to seek ways to end his marriage with Catherine because she had failed to give him a male heir, and he had fallen in love with 19-year-old Anne Boleyn. Getting an annulment was fairly easy in the sixteenth century, if both parties wanted one. But Catherine was unwilling and Pope Clement had no choice but to refuse Henry the annulment. Anne Boleyn became pregnant in 1532, and Henry had the new archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, declare his marriage to Catherine invalid, and married Anne Boleyn in 1533.

When the pope threatened excommunication, Henry passed one act forcing all to recognize the children of his new marriage as heirs to the throne. Then he passed another Act making him the "supreme head" of the church in England. He dissolved monasteries, redistributing their property to his nobles to reinforce their loyalty. Monks who resisted were executed, and the money from their treasuries went into his coffers.

Henry wanted a Catholic church that was always loyal to him and to England. So while he broke from Rome, he continued to uphold transubstantiation (Communion becomes the actual body and blood of Christ) and demanded clerical celibacy. Henry's break from Rome was fundamentally over control of the English church. Though he instituted some Protestant measures during his reign (like putting English Bibles in all the churches), and though he always supported his Protestant-leaning archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer, Henry sided with Rome on key issues of doctrine and practice.

John Smyth became a preacher in the Anglican Church (Church of England) in 1600. By 1607 he renounced Anglicanism and fled to Amsterdam, which was known for its religious toleration and its already-sizable community of Separatist exiles. He desired to create a church like the one described in the Book of Acts with Autonomous leadership made up of bishops and deacons who were subject to the laity (common people). He also believed that Baptism should be administered to adults. He said it was a baptism of the Spirit, the confession of the mouth, and the washing with water. Believing that there was no true church from which a valid baptism could be obtained, Smyth baptized himself.   

May 24, 1738 John Westley attended a reading of Luther’s commentary on the book of Romans. He would write in his journal “while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” John and Charles Wesley and about a dozen other students at Oxford, formed a spiritual society for the purpose of overcoming the formalism and ritualism of the Episcopal church and to stimulate spirituality.

They first met in private home "societies." When these societies became too large for members to care for one another, Wesley organized "classes," each with 11 members and a leader. Classes met weekly to pray, read the Bible, discuss their spiritual lives, and to collect money for charity. Men and women met separately, but anyone could become a class leader.

The New World

It’s easy to forget that America was settled by groups that were religious radicals.  They were not the leaders of European churches but the dissenters of the European churches. When they arrived in the New World, they discovered a vast frontier that needed to be explored and tamed.

This frontier was the right place to allow your radical views and belief system grow, and nurture. There was no police or Church to keep you in line. Before 1750 the lower classes were generally not a part of the church.  Only the wealthy and powerful were allowed in the churches.  But in the New World preachers and churches invented a New Technique in order to reach the un-churched masses. American Churches planned revivals to reach out to the lost in the communities, and the rich and the poor were able to hear the gospel. And with there being a host of revivals, lead by many different voices and religious groups, it didn’t take long for those voices to become mixed.

There were five Southern Colonies: Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The Anglican Church was the established religion. The Laws were opposed to religious freedom. The Anglican church in America was a far cry from the church in England. There was no one to enforce the settlers obedience to the clergy.  Clergy did not want to go to the new world, so they were scarce. So, the church would take those who were trouble makers or poor speakers and send them to the new world.

Maryland stood out as the exception as it was originally a catholic colony. George Calvert was secretary of state for King James I and wanted to start a colony where Catholics would not only be welcomed but be expected. In 1632 Maryland Colony was established and the Roman Catholics, specifically the Jesuits, came by the droves.  But the Jesuits were hard core and not well accepted by the settlers and often crucified by the Indians. The protestants rebelled against the Jesuit priests so Cecil Calvert began to tell the Jesuits that they were not welcome, but more moderate Catholics could come.

In 1649 they signed the Act of Toleration. This is the most remarkable document in the new world. This document said that all religious convictions would be accepted as long as they believed in the trinity. This excluded the Jews, eastern religions, and atheists. But “those who deny the trinity will be punished by death and the removal of property and goods.”

The four New England Colonies were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. These were predominately Puritans, with a large number of Separatists, Baptists, and Quakers. These colonies were established on a Puritan Methodology

The Middle Colonies had four colonies: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware. They were predominately inhabited by the Pennsylvania Dutch and allowed more religious freedom. The first baptist church in the new world was founded in Providence Rhode Island in 1639.

The New world was not friendly to the Quakers because of their extreme actions. While we think that our culture has a strange expression of beliefs and rights, the story is told that there were 4 Quaker Women wanted to emphasize the Biblical Premise that the people were naked for not having the truth. In an effort to teach this principal, these 4 women disrobed and began to walk around Boston Common among the Puritans naked. They were arrested, tried and hung for their lewd behavior.

Pennsylvania founded by William Penn over religious causes. Penn was a converted Quaker who used his fathers connections asked for and was granted land.  It practiced Religious freedom, and Pennsylvania became a haven for all religiously persecuted people. 

While the seeds of restoration were planted in Europe, in the New World the movement grew like weeds. By the 1700’s there were a registered 16 different religious groups that had established themselves in the New World: The Anglicans, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, Roman Catholics, Dutch Reformed, Mennonites or Anti-Baptists, French Reformed, Puritans, Church of the Brethren or the dunkers, Moravians, German Reformed, Lutherans, Jews, and Orthodox Catholics.

The New World was entering the Great Awakening. There is no way to give the statistics in a way to make you understand the impact. The preaching took place often in the open air so there is no way to determine the full impact of the number of those who were saved. The speakers began a practice of offering a call to the alter, or invitation so that they could keep accurate records of those who had “Come to the Lord. It is estimated that 25 and 50 thousand people were saved.

By 1800 The Baptists have grown from only two churches to the largest religious group in America. The Anglican Church suffered greatly because of the Colonies became states.  They lost their authority, their establishment, a lot of their people, and many members of their clergy left the country and went back to England or to Canada. And there was a new group on the horizon, simply called the Christian movement. They grew out of a desire for unity of all Christians.

James O’Kelly

James O’Kelly was a boxer who was converted at the age of 40 and became a Circuit Preacher for the Methodist Church. O’Kelly loved John Wesley, and was inspired by Wesley’s approach to the scripture being the only authority in life and worship.  O’Kelly was fond of beginning his sermons with, “We are Christians simply.” He was powerful in the pulpit and drew great crowds.

In 1771, John Wesley sent Francis Asbury to the New World to serve as a bishop to the church. Since there was lack of oversight in the New World, Asbury immediately seized authority and power over the church. He not only ruled the church, but he did so with an iron hand. He refused to take counsel from anyone, and spoke with God’s full authority. In very much the style of the pope.

In 1792, there was a General Conference held in Baltimore. James O’Kelly was a man of limited influence, but he introduced a motion that challenged Asbury’s episcopal authority. O’Kelly wanted the church to retain it’s democracy and for the preachers to have the freedom to change circuits, serve the sacraments, perform the rites of matrimony, baptize, and perform burial rites. At first O’Kelly had the majority on his side, but Asbury began to exert his authority and the crowd quickly changed their voice. O’Kelly stood before the assembly, held his New Testament above his head, and declared: “Brethren, harken unto me, put away all other books of forms, and let this be the only criterion and that will satisfy me.” He fully believed that his appeal would win the day. He was wrong.

Within the month O’Kelly would withdraw from the Methodist Church and take 10,000 Methodist Ministers with him.  O’Kelly, much like Wesley, had no intention of splitting from the church, but the die was cast. He desired a free church or no church at all.

They met in August 1794 in Surry County Virginia to consider how they were to be governed. It was an uneasy experience for them, just like it is for everyone who desires to be committed only to the Scriptures. Many churches declare that they are lead by the Scriptures and only the scriptures. But if that is the case then why are there so many different tribes, not only in name, but in faith and practice.


Show Video of Chairs by Rich Atchley

This has been the struggle in our tribe for generations. Especially, since we are autonomous and have no governing board or convention. We all claim to be led by Scripture, we all claim that we want to get back to the Bible and do Bible Things in Bible Ways. But what we fail to understand is that we all read the Bible with our preconceived ideas and prejudices. 

The first Christian Church was formed In August, 1794. At the meeting in Surry County Virginia, Rice Haggard, suggested that this new church simply be known as Christians, and furthermore, all followers of Christ simply be known of as Christians. The motion was unanimously adopted, and they adopted the name Christian Church. They also agreed that the Bible would be their only creed, Jesus was King and Head of their people, and they would renounced all human institutions. They ordained elders for their church.

A movement was on the rise. Three Presbyterian Ministers, in different parts of the world, are about to come to similar conclusions that will once again change the face of the practice of faith in the new world and beyond.   



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