Charles Finney, Evangelicals, and Mormons

    By Tim, at ‘LDS and Evangelical Conversations’

A podcast I listen to about Christians solutions to poverty makes a big point on the tragedy of taking shortcutsThe implications of shortcuts were ringing in my ears as I listened to this Stand to Reason podcast about Charles Finney.

                       Direct link here.               Full episode here .

Charles Finney was a Presbyterian minister who was largely responsible for the Second Great Awakening, an American revival in the early 19th Century. He’s credited with inventing the modern day “altar call” and born-again experience.  What most people don’t know is that Finney was largely influenced by Pelagius, a 4th Century monk and heretic, who didn’t believe in vicarious atonement or original sin. Finney sought to gather people around Jesus as merely a moral figure and make the church a moral reform society.  Finney preached that “deeds not creeds” should be our focus to that end.

Probably the worst thing that came out of Finney’s revivals was the “get saved” mentality which sought out converts rather than disciples.  It was Finney’s philosophy to do and say whatever necessary to get people to make a decision at that moment.  Unfortunately that led to a rather shallow depth of faith for his converts.  As other revivals came through the area people were switching back and forth between denominations based on the powerful calls to action the revival preachers offered rather than a rich understanding of the tenets of their faith.

Because of the intense revivalist battles the area eventually earned the name the burned-over district“.  It also became known as the psychic highway.  It became a sort of  past time in the area to have intense spiritual experiences and to create new religions around those experiences.  Among those religions, Mormonism.

This podcast also has a great number of implications and insights into our recent discussion on liberal Christianity and “faithless” religion.

_______________________________________________________________

This was originally posted by Tim on the ‘LDS and Evangelical Conversations’ blog site.  http://ldstalk.wordpress.com/

Thank you, Tim!

 

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28 Responses

  1. Tim wrote:
    “Finney sought to gather people around Jesus as merely a moral figure and make the church a moral reform society. Finney preached that “deeds not creeds” should be our focus to that end”.

    Fascinating.
    Especially when we consider:

    “Luther’s theological development took place in reaction AGAINST scholastic theology…In marked contrast, the Swiss Reformers were humanists, bent upon reforming the life and MORALS of the church of their day…
    This serves to emphasize the (key) differences between the Swiss and German Reformations. Zwingli began by reforming a city, Luther, a faculty of theology. Zwingli began by working against the prior morals of the Medieval church. Luther began by opposing an entire framework of theology”.

    Alister Mc Grath – Reformation Thought.

    Humanism can (apparently) reform the externals – our outward behavior, but only God’s grace, justifying us purely through His mercy HIS righteousness, given through Christ alone, saves the whole man. It’s always the same battle – the incorruptible seed of God’s life-giving word, contending against the counterfeit works doctrine which leavens against the truth.

  2. Very interesting. I haven’t had time to listen to the podcast yet, but will have to bookmark it for later. I’ve not heard much against Finney- he and Edwards seem to be 2 of evangelicalism’s premier saints, though I’ve never been impressed with either.

    You may have inspired me to start studying the history of American spirituality. It would be interesting to do an analysis through the lens of the real Gospel, wouldn’t it?

  3. I know this shocks some people because we hear all the time that getting saved is easy. “Just raise your hand!” “Just recite this prayer.” “Just ask Jesus into your heart.” It all sounds simple. The only problem is that none of those actions has anything to do with real salvation and getting through the narrow gate. That sort of invitationalism implies that Jesus is some poor pitiful Savior waiting for us to make the first move to allow Him His way. It implies that salvation hinges on a human decision, as if the power that saves us were the power of human “free will.”

    That emphasis is a peculiarly American phenomenon that started in the 19th century with a New York lawyer-turned-evangelist named Charles Finney. He was the most formidable American anti-Calvinist, and he insisted that people get saved by an act of sheer willpower. Therefore, whatever is necessary in order to manipulate their wills is an essential method because whatever it takes to convince them to decide to be saved is legitimate. The end justifies the means. And so the manipulative “alter call” became a major focus of his evangelism.

  4. So much false religion equates to a manipulation of the will – our doing something when the reality is that HE alone is able to save us to the uttermost by His care and mercy -nothing more is required beyond the gift He gives – the life is in Him, from Him, through Him.
    To HIM who is well able to keep us poor wretches, and by His work alone, present us spotless before the throne,
    to HIM be the glory, the majesty, the power and the dominion!

  5. Charles Finney denied nearly every essential Christian doctrine. Those who accept the “theology” of Finney have no right whatsoever to have a single thing against Trent, because he cursed the EXACT same justification by faith alone.

    “The doctrine of an imputed righteousness, or that Christ’s obedience to the law, was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption; to wit, that Christ owed no obedience to the law in his own person, and that therefore his obedience was altogether a work of supererogation, and might be made a substitute for our own obedience; that it might be set down to our credit, because he did not need to obey for himself.” –C. Finney

    “CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

    CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.”

    –Council of Trent on Justification

    What is most frightening is that if one did not mention this was Rome or Trent and just reword it slightly so that it doesn’t sound like Rome language, MANY protestants and MANY protestant denominations actual believe, preach and teach this.

    Push pure Gospel and eventually one will distill this from many’s teachings and preaching.

    That’s the frightening part.

    L

  6. I was not aware of any links between Finney and the LDS Church. If you have more information on that let me know.

    Guys, lets not go overboard on Mormons here because I think we could learn some things from them. For example, secret underwear to protect us from evil! Lets embrace that one!!!!

    :-).

  7. Supposedly, due to equal rights more than likely, the mormons dropped the belief that Jesus and Lucifer each presented a plan to God. God chose Jesus’ plan and rejected Lucifers plan and then sent Lucifer to be exiled to Earth.

    What the mormons, at one timed believed differently from Christians, was that Lucifer and his followers became the black african people of the earth.

    They have dropped this belief now but relatively late in the 1970’s or 1980’s, I believe.

    Very bogus!

  8. I find it odd that Finney was Presbyterian. I would have though him methodist … or maybe he gave rise to the Methodist movement that is free will oriented. The Presbyterian Church is clearly not normally an alter call Church and very reformed in how their theo-centricness.

    • Well actually this is one of the logical outcomes of buying into Limited Atonement. Given that teaching there is no way to know if Jesus died for you or not. The staunch presby will say to look at your changed life is how to know and misquote from 1 John.

      Finney, in response, went into full blown experential salvation. So that when the works were failing one could always refer to the salvation experience. Woe to the person 30-40 years into it whose memory cannot recall it clearly.

      • God alone opens and closes both eyes and ears…

        Deuteronomy 29:4 (New International Version)
        4 But to this day the LORD has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear.

        He alone enables us to hear…

        Ephesians 1:13 (New International Version)
        13And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,

        Titus 3:5 (New International Version)
        5he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit,

  9. Spot on, Nancy – He speaks, and then there is light,
    His word comes to us and then there is life.

    Let us continue to break, to share, to eat this precious bread of heaven, that we may never hunger again.

  10. http://centralityofthegospel.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/learning-to-love-legalists-but-not-legalism/

    I thought people over here would enjoy this one!

  11. Centralityofthegospel,
    “I find it odd that Finney was Presbyterian. I would have though him methodist … or maybe he gave rise to the Methodist movement that is free will oriented. The Presbyterian Church is clearly not normally an alter call Church and very reformed in how their theo-centricness.”
    Well you are correct to a point. However history gives rise to many anomalies. The frontier revival actually started with the Presbyterians, though they didn’t intend it. The idea was to have quarterly meetings where the sacrament could be administered to those who lived on the frontier and were to spread out to have a pastor of their own. Thousands of people would come from all over to hear the sermon and partake of the sacrament, have children baptized and so on. The pastors would be concerned to have true repentance and would preach the law doubly hard as they were going to be administering the sacrament to people they didn’t really know. It was among the Presbyterians that the barks, and jerks were first manifested.
    Wesley, not Finny, is the father of Methodism.
    Finny probably grew up loosely affiliated with the Presbyterian church, and these camp revivals. However to say that he was a Presbyterian in the sense that he adhered to Calvin and Knox, would be a misnomer. It is like calling Hanson a Lutheran, though he is bishop of a church that goes by that name.

  12. “The pastors would be concerned to have true repentance and would preach the law doubly hard as they were going to be administering the sacrament to people they didn’t really know”.

    Putting people constantly under the yoke of bondage. I recall the many years of ‘instruction’ in a Reformed church, and the glorious day we had a visiting speaker who preached the mercy of God and the Cross of Christ – what a message from heaven!
    Too much ‘pastoring’ amounts to murdering the truth (the same conditions were also ‘meat and drink’ in the charismatic camp for several years).

  13. Howard,

    I hail a hardy amen to that, mine was more in the SB church in its “Calvinistic” AND “Arminian” varieties, both of which I was under. When it gets right down to rightly dividing the L/G and the sacraments there is ABSOLUTELY no difference between Calvinistic churches and Arminian churches.

    It works like this:

    Although I knew Finney was Presby., I’m not entirely shocked per se. There’s a certain continuity from a 50,000 foot level between the Calvin’s theology through the Puritans and the “first great awakening”, then through Finney and up until today even unto the most Charismatic elements that would normally appear to be antithetical to Calvin. And indeed Calvin would be shocked to see where his theology lead, I think. It’s like an arrow shot only a fraction of a degree off at the beginning, and some may not notice the error, but a 100 yards out its way off and manifests its error. Or “a little yeast leavens the whole loaf”.

    Since fundamentally the sacraments in Calvin (and Zwingli’s) theology don’t actually when all is said and done deliver salvation, it’s only natural that men then turn their eyes elsewhere to see where God has operated in their lives such that He is for them. This exacerbated itself under the puritans and the first great awakening, and logically extended to Finny, and I think ultimately to the most extreme forms of charisma. After all do we not all, Christians, desire to know if God is for us and forgiven us and operated very personally “to the man” for/to us. Unhinge the sacraments (Rome, Calvin, Zwingli), and it’s only natural for the terrified consciences to look elsewhere. Some do so more extreme than others. At the end of the day the Calvinist terrified and depressed looking for his/her election elsewhere is functionally and not significantly different than the Charismatic seeking the same in tongue, “Where is the assurance God is for me and forgiven me”, is the soul’s thirsty cry.

    So while Finney would be indeed appallingly different than Calvin, Knox or others as to the overt theology – the REAL shock is that Finney embroidered their theology so that it stood out. People think sacraments, one’s teaching on them are a neutral endeavor, nothing is farther from the truth. It is really similar to why Luther saw Rome and the Anabaptist on the sacraments as the same antichrist. In fact Luther saw antichristic doctrine in the Pope’s church, enthusiasts (which includes the Reformed) and Islam – and explicitly said so.

    L

  14. “It is really similar to why Luther saw Rome and the Anabaptist on the sacraments as the same antichrist. In fact Luther saw antichristic doctrine in the Pope’s church, enthusiasts (which includes the Reformed) and Islam – and explicitly said so”.

    A really bullseye reply in so many pertinent ways, Larry.
    Any religion which is ‘law facing’ in regards to a scheme of soteriology will leave us bereft of any peace, joy, or true faith, thus, as Luther so rightly concluded ALL pious enthusiasts are such, whatever their stripe or cult these leave us stranded behind the fig-leaves of falsehood and thereby make a mockery of our true estate and God’s great work in Jesus Christ. There is only one foundation, one pillar and ground of truth, and we are all broken upon it or crushed beneath it.

  15. Another serious issue that Finney started was the mentality that evangelism takes place soley in the big tent or the church. So, instead of simply following Christ and being a witness for Him in your everyday life (even as you stumble and get back up by the grace of God), we have droves of evangelicals who assume that the way to “get someone saved” is to bring them to church or a revival meeting. It always bothers me when a church has the nerve to schedule a revival. I wonder if the same would work if we scheduled the rapture? Just put it on the church sign out front and make a note in the bulletin. 🙂

    Furthermore, the focus of the church strayed from a genuine gathering of believers to worship, take communion, hear and study the Word, have fellowship, etc. to this “seeker sensitive” crap we see all over the churches in North America.

    I’m an evangelical and I cringe whenever I hear of Finney and his legacy.

    Let the church be the church.

    You guys are great, by the way.

  16. “Another serious issue that Finney started was the mentality that evangelism takes place solely in the big tent or the church”.

    Absolutely. Evangelism comes through a life which conveys the ‘sweet savor’ of Christ in our world, in all that we do – our ‘preaching’ comes through this – those we live and work with will see our faith expressed here, in our joys and pains, our strengths and weaknesses, and this will allow us to point them to Christ and to His life-giving life and word. Programs do no more than program! The fellowship of God’s children should express the ‘great grace’ upon us.

  17. Mormons are heretic cult. More information behind the good article:

    http://koti.phnet.fi/elohim/Mormons

  18. Telson,

    Thanks for the link!

    I’ll check it out.

    And thank you for your comments(with which I agree).

    – Steve M.

  19. Charles Finney. Thanks for the topic. Please read “I Got Saved Today”
    http://7drizzles7.wordpress.com/2009/12/27/i-got-saved-today/

  20. On sthe other hand, Rommey a mormon is probably not as bad as Obama a liberal protestant that probably believes that it really doesn’t matter if christinaity is true. I will vote for the mormon over a liberal protestant.

  21. Finney had his problems but I think that a lot of evangelicals and mainline Christians spend alot more time talking about Mormons or Jehovah Witness than they do liberal Protestantism. Liberal Protestantism a bigger movement in the US and also Western Europe has led to people not beliving in God than the other heresys.

  22. cynthia,

    Protestantism in general (not just liberal Protestants – conervative Protestants, as well) has many problems.

    Free-will, humanistic based theologiy, has them trusing in something that they do (are doing) in respect to their faith.

    Luther said that they basically are a “different religion”.

    We, also, hold that belief. Not that God could not grab a hold of them in spite of their errant theology. As He can also grab a hold of Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    Good point, cynthia.

    – Steve

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