Revival and Revivalism, chapter 3
Most would not go back to the 1760s to look for answers to our current problems in American Christianity. Sadly, we are so short-sighted, we have difficulty looking back a few years, let alone a few centuries! In chapter 3, Murray takes us to “the top of the slide” which began the long descent of American Evangelicalism to its present condition.
Though he doesn’t overtly state it, Murray points us to the introduction of Wesleyan theology to the American colonies as the beginning of a long slide away from the working of God in revival. Interestingly, this theology was introduced in the midst of revival.
Wesleyan Methodism came to America by invitation of Anglican minister, Devereux Jarratt. Jarratt became an Anglican clergyman in 1762 and began his ministry in Virginia the following year. Jarratt’s decision to become Anglican rather than Presbyterian may give insight to his discernment: he felt the two were doctrinally almost identical. Since Anglicans were more accepted by the people, he chose them over the Presbyterians (also called “dissenters”). Jarratt’s ministry began with great success, and he began seeing great revival among his congregations in Virginia. Murray notes that Jarratt felt alone among his fellow Anglican ministers. This is most likely due to the fact that he was doctrinally and philosophically closer to evangelical Presbyterians. From another source, I read that Jarratt was actually raised in dead Anglicanism and was regenerated while tutoring in the home of a Presbyterian. He thus began his discipleship in the wake of the Great Awakening and came to the Calvinistic doctrines that encompassed it.
God was also at work among the Baptists at this time. In fact, this was one of the greatest times of growth for Baptists in Virginia. Other than the issue of baptism, Baptists at that time were almost identical, doctrinally, to Presbyterians. For this reason, Jarratt could have found more in common with Baptists than with his fellow Anglicans. Instead, Jarratt viewed the Baptists as a threat to the Anglican Church and sought help from an evangelical group of Anglicans, the Methodists.
The Methodists were experiencing a revival in England under John and Charles Wesley. Though most recognized their success as the work of God, some still opposed their Arminian doctrine. Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley even wrote hymns against the other’s doctrine to teach people away from the other. When Methodism came to America it introduced Arminian theology which “scarcely existed in Protestant America for nearly 150 years after the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers” (p. 69).
Since Arminian versus Calvinist doctrine is such a big topic, I am not going to discuss their differences in this article. However, Murray does point out that Jarratt himself was opposed to the Wesleys’ teaching on imputed righteousness (God counting us as righteous based solely on Christ’s righteous). There is much disagreement today, as there was then, concerning the Wesleys’ view of imputed righteousness. In one of his early sermons, John Wesley stated that it would be against God’s attribute of truth to consider the believer as righteous as Christ (Christ’s righteousness imputed to him), if he is not truly righteous. It also appears that he spent much of his later ministry attempting to refute that very view. For an example of this, read Wesley’s sermon, “The Lord Our Righteousness” (http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-20-the-lord-our-righteousness/).
As often happens, the followers of great men in ministry often over-emphasize a particular point of doctrine and end up committing a heresy that their leader never intended. I believe this may be the case with Wesley. What started out as an emphasis on practical holiness, became a man-centered gospel based on one attaining his own righteousness through the “methods” of Methodism. External methods are going to play a central part of the discussion in coming chapters.
So, what are the lessons to be learned from this chapter?
1) Men whom God is truly using are still fallible.
2) Choosing the popular path may be a sign of lack of discernment and definitely a lack of leadership.
3) Following after fallen men will always end in error. The further you are from the source of truth, the further you are from truth.
4) Because followers tend to degrade the teachings of leaders, even small errors can open wide gates of destruction.
5) If you find yourself making alliances or refusing fellowship in order to protect man-made organizations rather than for allegiance to Christ, check your priorities.