We cannot begin to understand the present condition of the United States apart from the decline of the Reformed Faith. The War of Independence was a triumph for Puritan postmillennialism, but it was also a major factor in its decline. The Puritan faith suffered on two counts. First, because the war was so closely identified with Puritanism, and especially with Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, all Puritan pastors, of whatever church affiliation, were very active in the chaplainry. The churches suffered to a degree from this loss. Second, and more important, many of their churches were destroyed, deliberately burned by the British forces. This constituted a major and devastating loss to an already sometimes impoverished people. From this setback, Puritanism never fully recovered. Instead of facing people in time of peace with a commanding position, Puritanism came through the war with disastrous losses and disorganization.
At the same time as the Augustinian faith in God’s decree was declining, an Augustinian despair was flourishing. Instead of the confident hope that Christ’s kingdom would prevail, there was now a belief, strengthened by the French Revolution, that man, godless man, rather than Christ, would command the nations. As a result, the medieval idea that the church is man’s only hope in this world, and that the church must be a convent or monastery for Christians to retreat into, captured America. The result was revivalism.
The Scourge of Revivalism
With revivalism, dramatic changes took place. Alexander Hamilton, seeing the drift away from a Christian emphasis, had planned before his death to start a new political entity called the Christian Constitutional Party. With the new monastic spirit, such an idea was impossible. Politics was left to the politicians; Christians were intent upon secularizing the political order. Election sermons and the old Puritan concern with civil government now became obsolete, and even seen as evidence of worldliness.
The very term worldliness took on a monastic meaning. It did not mean an ungodly concern with the world, but any genuine concern with the world.
A similar and far-reaching change took place in education. Earlier, all education had been Christian; only Christian schools and colleges existed. Within a few years after revivalism began, the move for state control of education was underway. Some revivalists denounced Christian schools as ungodly. It was held that Christian schools substituted knowledge for the revival experience, and nurture for regeneration. A more clean-cut conversion experience could take place, it was held, if a person’s mind were not cluttered with knowledge of the Scriptures. We should remember that, in the revival movement inaugurated by Charles G. Finney, even Bible reading in revival meetings was held to have a bad and cooling or cold-water effect on those present.
The key term and emphasis was soul-saving. But this is not all. The revivalists acted as though there had been virtually no souls saved until they came along, as though all who had preceded them were not pastors or shepherds, but rather wolves. Moreover, the very term soul-saving took on a new meaning. Soul in Scripture means very commonly the life of a man, so that Biblical soul-saving is concerned with the total life and being of a man, and soul-saving means the regeneration of the whole man. Salvation now was by implication limited to one side of a man, his soul or spirit, and salvation had an inner meaning rather than a total and cosmic meaning.
The result was a retreat from the world, and from the whole life of man, into this redefined soul. Jesus Christ as Savior was now limited in His function to being simply a soul-savior. Not surprisingly, by the twentieth century, Rev. Carl McIntire logically insisted on denying the creation mandate, and Bob Jones University denied the Lordship of Jesus prior to the premillennial kingdom. The logic of Arminianism required a surrender of Christ’s kingship and a reduction of His role to that of a Savior. Even this role was a diminished one because of the denial of sovereign grace. Man was in effect the savior; man chose or denied Christ; man made the decision and the decree. Predestination was transferred from God to man.
The Scourge of Arminianism
Arminianism thus transferred the government from Christ’s shoulders to man’s. This means that there is no Biblical gospel for society, but only a humanistic or social gospel. Modernism was a product of revivalism, and some Arminian scholars are happy to point out that revivalism gave birth to the social gospel. Arminian fundamentalism and the modernistic social gospel are twins born of a common parentage, the denial of sovereign grace. Not surprisingly, there is an increasing receptivity of Arminian fundamentalism to the social gospel.
When Pilate told Jesus that His “own nation and chief priests” had delivered Him, their King (Jn. 19: 33-35), Jesus made clear that He was not a King whose kingship came from men: “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 19:36), i.e., it is not derived from this world, but is over this world, and it is “My kingdom.”
Arminianism places Christ’s kingdom either in the future (the millennium) or outside this world. The Barthians, for example, insist on working for a socialist order, but they are emphatic on declaring God to be “the wholly Other,” totally beyond and outside this world, so that it has no real relevancy to our world today. The revivalist sees the kingdom as only in the millennium, or in the world beyond the Second Coming.
The results of such a theology are very much with us. In a country where more than half of the people are church members, this convent or monastic attitude with respect to Christ’s rule has led to a surrender of the world to man. The real problem in the United States is Arminianism, which is a form of modified unbelief. Arminianism proposes belief in Jesus Christ, but acts on belief in man. The result of such a profession is exactly what we have in the United States today.
Our central problem is thus not open atheism nor open humanism, serious problems though both clearly are. It is false theology, Arminianism. In most Western countries, open humanism is operative, or nominal religion with tacit humanism. In the United States, it is Arminianism; while Arminianism is akin to and of the family of humanism, it is still different, and it presents a Christian façade. It is significant that from the 1950s into the 1970s, the one man in the United States who has continued to be the most significant and highly regarded public figure is the revivalist, the Rev. Billy Graham. During those same years, when a minister received the highest national status in Washington, D.C. ever accorded to any minister, the United States also suffered the most serious moral disintegration. Abortion became legal, the death penalty virtually abolished, the sexual revolution under way, socialism in rapid control, welfarism rampant, and hedonism commonplace.
The coincidence of these two factors is not accidental. Where men adopt so organized a surrender of the crown rights of King Jesus over the world, of necessity it must have practical consequences. The surrender of the world coincides with the growth of a false spirituality.
The U. S. Constitution, in its monetary clauses, shows clearly the influence of the Rev. John Witherspoon, whose hard money, gold standard principles have left their mark on America. Today, some pastors denounce interest in gold or silver, in economics, as unspiritual. The gap between Witherspoon and the present is very great, and the reason for that gap is Arminianism.
The only remedy, therefore, is the Reformed Faith, the proclamation of the sovereign God, His sovereign grace, and His sovereign law.