Welcome to Becomning Closer! 

History of the Church

Bloody Century

1900-PresentLesson audio



Nothing in the history of the 20th Century is so striking as the huge numbers of people killed as a result of ideology.  We need but to review the ideological movements to see this clearly.

  • Fascism, and its variant Nazism, stressed the nationalist ideal.  Born of the turmoil of World War I, this ideology used the concept that the leader of such a movement is a great man; history being but the biography of great men the people should recognize him and follow him to greatness.  It sounds almost silly today – when expressed in terms of Adolf Hitler.  But let me put it in contemporary terms:  Hillary Clinton.  Der Fuehrer is always right – or at least it’s politically incorrect to criticize her.
  • Communism – the great attraction of communism is that it promises utopia on earth.  Some think its threat has gone away;  only the Soviet variant has.  It is no accident that the most persecuted church in the world – at least in terms of numbers – is the Chinese house church movement.  Militantly atheist, Communism carries Karl Marx’s ideas forward to this day – even if the Chinese Communists have shown themselves to be pretty good capitalists as well.
  • Liberalism – the Western world’s equivalent – enthrones man as god.  Man is alone the determiner of right and wrong!  Religion should be kept in its place (approximately equal in importance to stamp collecting.)  Indeed, in America it is difficult to be heard as someone who places Christ first.

These movements share some disturbing characteristics:Sample of Nazi propoganda 
favoring eugenics - people with genetic diseases should be killed.

  • Propaganda – and control of the media – is essential to their success.  Hitler’s propaganda machine did this so well that the images are still studied today – as a form of art. In America, liberalism owns the press and television, and is working hard to kill such opposition coming in the form of alternate communications – web logs, Internet broadcasting, radio, for example.  Is this new?  James Dobson relates that when his best seller, Dare to Discipline, came out, it outsold the listed bestseller (Jane Fonda’s Workout Book) better than two to one.  Was it ever listed in the bestseller lists?  Certainly not.  Even today Christian books are never listed by the press nor reviewed by them.Cover of a manual for deacons in the Lutheran church
  • Perhaps more important is this:  the ground level followers of these movements were far more dedicated to their ideology than Christians are to the faith.  The German Christians folded quietly into Hitler’s mold; the Russian Orthodox refused martyrdom – and the American Christians worry more about the music in the church than the slaughter of the innocents (abortion) in their land.



The rapid change in technology has had a tremendous impact on the church.  There are three particular ways which should be noted:

  • The first is in the art of war.  War, for several hundred years before this, carried political consequences.  But soldiers held that there was no real sense in inflicting the pain of war on civilians, except as might be incidental to the conflict.  (Sherman’s March to the Sea was an exception to this.)  The technology grew to the point that it was possible to slaughter millions of people – mostly civilians – in a few hours, even without the atomic bomb.  The doctrine of “frightfulness” drove air power advocates.  War went from being noble to being a way of breaking the will of your enemy’s population.  Total war had arrived – and the church did not know what to do with it.
  • Technology also advanced our ability to communicate and travel.  Christian groups that used new technologies often saw that their ideas would come to dominate the thinking of the church.  A very good example of this is Premillennialism.  Its advocates used the then-new medium of radio to broadcast their ideas.  This soon became the dominant theory.  Missionary endeavors benefited from this too. 
  • Communications technology cuts two ways.  The art of propaganda was refined to a fine point in the 20th century.  The technique seems unstoppable.  For example, those who want pedophilia to be accepted are following the same propaganda trail as homosexuals:  first the “scientific” study that says there’s really no harm, then the portrayal of pedophiles as down-trodden and oppressed by the right wing Puritans, to be followed by the courageous pedophile who will be lauded by the press for standing up for freedom and tolerance (Michael Jackson?) – you’ve see it before. 


Rise of Islam

If the Western world has seen nationalism cause great grief, then surely Islam must be seen as tribalism in the same light.  In either case, we see the blossoming of the idea that we (the good guys, the Moslems, the Nazis, etc) are not only in the right but morally superior to the bad guys – and therefore we are entitled to lie, cheat, steal, kill until we triumph. 

What gives such people such an effect is simply this:  like the kamikazes of World War II, the common Moslem understands that he must be willing to die – to commit suicide – for his religion.  Suicide is seen as the road to glory (and, in the Moslem case, eternity with seventy gorgeous, adoring women).  The average Christian cannot picture himself dying for the faith.

It is now politically correct to portray Islam as a peace-loving, warm-hearted religion.  It is useful, then, to remember that the primary method by which Islam has spread is the sword.  It is also useful to remember that Moslems are permitted by their faith to lie, cheat, steal and murder – as long as it’s not another Moslem (at least, of their own sect).  It is politically incorrect to say so.  One reason for this is the unfortunate distribution of functioning oil wells in this world.  There are none in my back yard;  Saudi Arabia, however, seems to have an abundance.  It is therefore fashionable to love the Saudis.



The Church

No problem has vexed the church more in the 20th century than its reaction to war.  It is the sad fact that the church, as a whole, has adopted a “get along, go along” attitude towards the warring powers.Political cartoon of the 
times - Cardinal Pacelli (later Pope) cozies up to French communists as 
the lesser of two evils.  The caption reads:  "At least she can 

·   During the World War II, the Catholic church (especially the Pope) said virtually nothing about the evil of the Holocaust.  It has been represented that to do so would have fractured the Catholic church, and this would be more important.  Most Catholics in Germany saw Hitler as a political savior, and supported him heartily.  It was not just the Catholics; the Lutheran church (with notable exceptions) likewise was much more worried about church lands and stipends than about the soul of the nation.

·   Another reaction came when the Communists took over in Russia – or rather, it didn’t come.  The Russian Orthodox church meekly folded up its operations and conformed to the requirements of Lenin.  It is no wonder that the Orthodox church lost its grip on the Russian people – and that Russia is now fertile ground for the Gospel, as preached by Protestants. 

·  If you think this a problem elsewhere but not here, consider how the phrase “separation of church and state” has changed things.  We now have congressmen telling people that they want to return to the way things were under our founding fathers – meaning, no mention of religion whatever.  A generation has grown up thinking that Christians are trying to impose their morality on the country – and that good liberals are defending tradition and the Constitution in opposing this.

In all this, there is nothing so striking as the lukewarm nature of the church – wherever it is.  If you teach or preach against these things, you will be the voice in the wilderness – or worse.


Great Men

To match our three ideological movements, there are three voices in the wilderness I would bring to you:Bonhoeffer with Hitler - 
note how the church greeted Hitler.

The first is Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  who was martyred by the Nazis in 1945.  His classic work, The Cost of Discipleship, is a thorough exposition of the Sermon on the Mount as it pertains to the conduct of the Christian in the world.  He is a noble exception to the rule that the German church went along with Hitler enthusiastically.  It cost him his life – and those who knew him say it was gladly given.



Alexander Solzhenitsyn is the classic opponent of Soviet Communism.  The matter was put well in this cartoon:

His great work, The Gulag Archipelago, describes in brutal detail the Soviet prison camp systems.  He would know; he was in one.  Interestingly, his work was largely criticized by Western commentators – a reflection of the fact that liberals basically agree with the Communists.  This business of right and wrong is clearly out of proportion, right?




The last of the three is a favorite author, C. S. Lewis.  He was the great defender of orthodox Christianity against the wooly thinking of the Western world.  His work, Mere Christianity, is a classic defense of the orthodox belief.  His persuasive powers were displayed in a series of books still in print over 40 years after his death.  He wrote science fiction (the Perelandra series) and children’s fantasies as well (The Chronicles of Narnia) – evidence of his ability to put things simply – but accurately.



Church as “Movement”

Methodism had a peculiar side effect:  it showed the way for people to establish a new denomination or sect.  You don’t start out proclaiming the new denomination; rather, you start by forming a movement within the existing church.  Gradually, as you and the parent organization differ over various things, you make a good show of being humble until, at last, the stupidity of the fossils in charge compels you to leave. 

It is simply twisting a method which has produced very good results for the faith:  the parachurch organization.  Promise Keepers is a good example of this.  Sometimes the splinters have egos, and the church is fractured again. 




Nothing so shows the weakness of the church as a whole as the defection of theology.  To become a theologian these days, the bulk of your study is of people who do not believe nor teach orthodoxy.  Rather, they have the characteristics of those who reject the road map and then wander around lost.  If the travelogue you write as a result is good reading, then you’re a travel expert (or theologian).

For example:

  • Harnack – who stressed the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man and the idea of the infinite value of the soul.  God didn’t sacrifice his son for those who were sinners, but those whose souls were of infinite worth.  Grace is meaningless.
  • Barth – who proclaimed that we really never could answer these questions, and that the thing to do was to point up the opposites – thesis and antithesis, for you Marxists.
  • Boltzmann – the father of the “Jesus Seminar” sort of thinking.  Start with the answer and ask, “How did this legend about Jesus come about?”  Deceptively, the question asked is “Who is the historical Jesus?”

J. A. Robinson popularized this in his best seller Honest to God.  When asked about it, C. S. Lewis replied, “I would rather be honest than Honest to God.”

I remember a personal point about this.  In the late 1960’s there was a popular book titled Jonathan Livingstone Seagull.  It is a parable (around seagulls) of how we must reject “the law of the flock” and strike out on our own.  I was in a small group at the time, and our leader thought this would make great study material.  After a few weeks (being an angry young man then) I confronted him with the obvious.  His reply was simple:  well, yes, it was pretty much entirely opposed to Christianity – but it made people feel good.


Pentecostals and Charismatics

At various times throughout the history of the church, the phenomenon of speaking in tongues reappears.  You will recall how the church was started with this.  The roots of the modern movements for this are in Methodism (remember the “spiritual method?) and the personal holiness movements of the 19th century.  But the real start for Pentecostals was in Los Angeles – in what is now known as the “Azusa Street Revival.”  Since that time the gifts of the Spirit (charisma, in the Greek) such as were given at Pentecost have been seen as the only evidence that you are a real Christian.  Jesus is seen as Savior, Coming King – and also healer and “Baptizer of the Spirit.” 

The movement is one which appeals to highly emotional people.  Unfortunately, it also appeals to hucksters:

Various televangelists send you 
"holy anointing oil" for your contribution.  Rex is Rex 
Humbard, Popoff is Peter Popoff and Oral is, of course, Oral Roberts.These small containers of “holy anointing oil” have been sent out by various high profile televangelists.  Accompanied by a personal sounding, computer generated letter, the evangelist encourages you to anoint (whatever) and of course send money.  The money is usually considered trivial, because if you send it, God will bless you many times over that – since you sent your money to a ministry which clearly can’t be fraudulent, as you have seen the minister speaking in tongues and healing people on TV.  One of the preachers – Peter Popoff – has done substantial prison time for fraud.  Upon his release, he went right back to it.





Nothing is so consistent in the 20th century as this:  by and large, the church no longer is willing to die for the faith.  The zeal of the church is at an ebb.  It is a telling point that the most enthusiastic, devoted Christians in the United States are also those who are the most likely to support fraud by televangelists. 

There are exceptions in the world.  The Chinese house church movement stands poised to begin its venture throughout the pagan world; the African churches show the tribulation the church can endure.  But in the western world the fire of Christianity is burning low.  There are more Moslems in Great Britain than there are practicing Christians.

Many hold that Revelation 2-3 are an overview of church history – and that we are in the Laodicean age.  It is well to remember our Lord’s words to the Laodicean church:

"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 'I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 'So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 'Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 'Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. 'He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'"

(Rev 3:14-22 NASB)


May I leave you with one warning?  Throughout the history of the church there has been a constant thread.  When the church wanders from her true path, the Spirit allows the wandering – for a while.  But there comes a time when the corrective must be applied.  Sometimes that corrective almost eradicates the church in a given area.  Christianity in Western Europe is almost non-existent.  Much of America is the same. 

The church is not a polite Protestant tea-sipping society.  It is not the custodian of some historical ritual and a good place to hold a wedding.  It is the very body of Christ – and that Great Physician will soon deal with the lukewarm church.


Revolutions     Home