The Old Evangelicalism
The following is excerpted from the book New Evangelicalism: Its History, Characteristics, and Fruit, which is available in print and eBook formats from Way of Life Literature.
Prior to the 1950s, the terms “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” referred to A STRICT “PROTESTANT” CHRISTIANITY. Generally speaking (and certainly in contrast to the mushy evangelicalism of our day), evangelicals of past generations were militant soldiers for Christ.
The term “evangelical” can be traced to the English revivals of the Wesleys and Whitefield and even to the earliest days of the Protestant Reformation. In either case, Evangelicalism of old was dogmatic and militant. It was old-fashioned Protestantism. Luther was excommunicated by the pope; John Wesley and George Whitefield were barred from Anglican churches for their bold preaching. All of the Protestant denominations once identified Rome as the Revelation 17 whore of Babylon. Those men, though we Baptists don’t see eye to eye with them on many important points, stood militantly for what they believed. This is exactly what the New Evangelical does not do (except, as we will see, on a few issues that are popular within his circles).
John Calvin was no New Evangelical when he said: “Popery is nothing else than a monster formed out of the innumerable deceptions of Satan, and that which they call the Church is more confused than Babylon.” This was typical of the position held by all of the old Protestant leaders.
Martin Luther was no New Evangelical when in December 1520 he published two tracts in answer to the Bull of Leo X, one of which was entitled, “Martin Luther against the Execreable Bull of Anti-Christ.” He charged the Pope and his cardinals of acting “the undoubted part of the Anti-Christ of the Scriptures.”
William Tyndale, the father of our English Bible, was no New Evangelical when he identified the pope as the Antichrist in his treatise The Practice of Prelates as well as in the preface to the 1534 edition of his New Testament.
William Latimer, an Anglican Greek scholar who loved the Word of God during the time of Tyndale, was no New Evangelical when he said, “Do you not know that the Pope is very Antichrist, whom the Scripture speaketh of? But beware what you say; for if you shall be perceived to be of that opinion, it will cost you your life. I have been an officer of his but I have given it up, and defy him and all his works” (Christopher Anderson, Annals of the English Bible, I, pp. 35, 36). Latimer was burned at the stake by Queen Mary.
In his 1893 work titled Union with Rome, Christopher Wordsworth, bishop of Lincoln in the Church of England, stated the view that prevailed among evangelical Protestants at that time, and it was not a New Evangelical position: “… we tremble at the sight, while we read the inscription, emblazoned in large letters, ‘Mystery, Babylon the Great,’ written by the hand of St. John, guided by the Holy Spirit of God, on the forehead of the Church of Rome” (Wordsworth, Union with Rome, p. 62).
David Otis Fuller, speaking of evangelicals of bygone days, said: “Each man possessed the same fierce conviction--that all truth is absolute, never relative. For these men, truth was never a nose of wax to be twisted to suit their system of dialectics or deceptive casuistry. Two times two made four. In mathematics, their supreme authority was the multiplication table; in theology, their absolute authority was the Bible” (D.O. Fuller, Preface, Valiant for the Truth, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1961, pp. ix, x).
It is impossible to be a New Evangelical and hold “fierce” convictions!
Baptist pastor CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON (1834-1892) is an example of what “evangelical” meant in generations past. Spurgeon’s ministry was characterized by unhesitating exposure of error. He stood unhesitatingly against Roman Catholicism. Consider this excerpt from one of Spurgeon’s sermons, which demonstrates just how much he was NOT a New Evangelical:
“It is impossible but that the Church of Rome must spread, WHEN WE WHO ARE THE WATCHDOGS OF THE FOLD ARE SILENT, AND OTHERS ARE GENTLY AND SMOOTHLY TURFING THE ROAD, and making it as soft and smooth as possible, that converts may travel down to the nethermost hell of Popery. We want John Knox back again. DO NOT TALK TO ME OF MILD AND GENTLE MEN, OF SOFT MANNERS AND SQUEAMISH WORDS, we want the fiery Knox, and even though his vehemence should ‘ding our pulpits into blads,’ it were well if he did but rouse our hearts to action” (C.H. Spurgeon, Sermons, Vol. 10, pgs. 322-3).
It is obvious that Charles Spurgeon was no New Evangelical, but his description of the soft-mannered men and silent watchdogs of his day fits today’s New Evangelicalism exactly.
Spurgeon was not content to preach boldly against error; he also separated from it. Though misunderstood and misrepresented even by his own brother and some of his former students, Spurgeon did not draw back from separating from the Baptist Union of Britain because of the false doctrine that was being countenanced:
“Complicity with error will take from the best of men the power to enter any successful protest against it. It is our solemn conviction that where there can be no real spiritual communion there should be no pretense of fellowship. FELLOWSHIP WITH KNOWN AND VITAL ERROR IS PARTICIPATION IN SIN. As soon as I saw, or thought I saw, that error had become firmly established, I did not deliberate, but quitted the body at once. Since then my counsel has been ‘Come out from among them.’ I have felt that no protest could be equal to that of distinct separation from known evil. That I might not stultify my testimony I HAVE CUT MYSELF CLEAR OF THOSE WHO ERR FROM THE FAITH, AND EVEN FROM THOSE WHO ASSOCIATE WITH THEM.”
This position is ridiculed today as “secondary separation,” but it is actually obedience to God’s Word (2 Thess. 3:6) and it is the path of wisdom, because “evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Cor. 15:33).
Another example of what old Evangelicalism was is the late evangelist JAMES A. STEWART. He was used mightily in revivals in Eastern Europe between the end of World War II and the descent of the Communist Iron Curtain, and his sermons were characterized by uncompromising declaration of Bible truth. Not only did he preach the gospel and the “positive truths” of the Word of God, he also reproved error and compromise in a very bold fashion. In sermons such as “Potpourri Evangelism,” Stewart witnessed unhesitatingly against ecumenical evangelism, which was beginning to raise its head in his day. Consider a quotation from that sermon, first preached in the 1940s (excerpted from James Stewart, Evangelism, Asheville, NC: Gospel Projects), and ask yourself how popular would James Stewart be in Evangelical circles today?
We must be more afraid of flattery from the camp of the enemy than persecution. Read the pages of Church history. Persecution never did the Church of God any harm, but compromise with the world has always robbed it of the power of its purity. ...
‘Potpourri Evangelism’ consists of two features: mixed evangelistic campaigns and mixed Christianity. By mixed evangelistic campaigns I mean the alliance of Modernistic and Evangelical churches together in an evangelistic effort. ...
When religion gets up a revival, it must have from five to twenty churches of heterogeneous creeds and sectarian bodies to go into a great union effort; it must have a mammoth choir with great musical instruments, and many preachers and multiplied committees, and each committee headed by some banker, judge, mayor, or millionaire’s wife. It signs cards as a substitute for the broken-hearted cry of scriptural repentance. It must count its converts by the hundreds in a few days’ meeting. It must apologize for natural depravity. ...
Human religion’s enterprises have an atmosphere of earthliness about them. It despises the day of small things and scorns little humble people and lonely ways. It is eager to jump to the height of prosperity. Its music has no pathos in it, its laughter lacks divine cheerfulness, its worship lacks supernatural love, its prayers bring down no huge answers, it works no miracles, calls forth no criticism from the world, and has no light of eternity in its eyes. It is a poor, sickly thing, born of the union of the heart of the world with the head of Christian theology--a mongrel, bastard thing with a backslidden church for its mother and the world for its father. Oh, my dear brother and sister, never forget that this unnatural monster will be destroyed at the coming-again of our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ (James A. Stewart, Pot-Pourri Evangelism, pp. 25-28).
Countless other examples could be given to show that Evangelicalism of past generations involved contending plainly for the faith and separating from error. When was the last time you read things like the above, that we have quoted from the pens of old-line Protestants and Evangelicals, in Christianity Today magazine or preached by Billy Graham or Charles Colson or Charles Swindoll or Max Lucado or John Maxwell or James Dobson or other popular Evangelicals today? Sadly, today’s Evangelicalism is almost 100% in the business of upholding “potpourri evangelism” and “turfing the road of Roman Catholicism.” Even the most conservative of Southern Baptist Evangelicals do not speak out boldly against the Pope after the former fashion or against the ecumenical evangelism practiced by their fellow Evangelicals such as Billy and Franklin Graham and Luis Palau.
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