Acts 9:31 “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.”
Throughout the 19th century, England was a Christian country. The only substantial non-Christian faith was Judaism: the number of Jews in Britain rose from 60,000 in 1880 to 300,000 by 1914, as a result of migrants escaping persecution in Russia and eastern Europe.
Within the overwhelming Christian majority there were, however, many varieties of belief – and many disagreements, which resulted in many changes within the church. Victorianism balanced the ancient regime Anglicanism of the Church of England with a growing pluralism through alternative Christianities, new faiths, and the toleration of unbelief.
Their beliefs and practices were by no means uniform. At one extreme were the Evangelicals, who focused on the Gospel teachings rather than ritual, and emphasised preaching and Bible study. At the other, High Churchmen revived rituals, images, incense and vestments not seen in England since the Reformation.
The 19th century was also the first time in England that a substantial number of public figures openly declared that they had no religious beliefs.
Study of the scriptures as historical texts, and scientific advances such as Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution (developed at Down House in Kent), made it more difficult for many educated people to accept the literal truth of the Bible. Some intellectuals and writers rejected the teachings of Christianity altogether. Others, such as the poet Alfred Tennyson, clung to their faith, ‘believing where we cannot prove’.
But the 19th century was far from irreligious. As the old certainties crumbled, new faiths emerged, such as Spiritualism, established in England by the 1850s, and Theosophy, which drew on Buddhism and Hinduism. Theosophical ideas have also exerted an influence on a wide range of other esoteric movements and philosophies, among them Anthroposophy, the Church Universal and Triumphant, and the New Age.
Although the writings of prominent Theosophists lay out a set of teachings, the Theosophical Society itself states that it has no official beliefs with which all members must agree. It therefore has doctrine but does not present this as dogma. The Society stated that the only tenet to which all members should subscribe was a commitment “to form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or color”.
Flash forward 150+ years and we see the byproducts of what deviations in practice results in:
Christian universalism, or in context simply universalism) is the doctrine that all sinful and alienated human souls—because of divine love and mercy—will ultimately be reconciled to God. This universalist approach has not only infiltrated much of societies ideas on the afterlife but has permeated several mainline organizations such as the LDS, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhism, and to an extent Catholicism which invented a systems that either remove any punishment of Hell or have a system of purgatory that gives people an opportunity to earn the grace received.
Revelation 21:8 “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Danger of Compromise
The victorian era of progressive compromise ushered in a manifest of false teachings and heretical ideologies while the Holiness movement became a counter movement that expressed the need to separate from the world in lifestyle and function. The expectation for an abrupt change in lifestyle toward perfection was a point of focus and for those who subscribed to this standard of holiness and for those who sinned willfully, they were left under judgment without grace.
Holiness doctrine included:
1. The person who sins is not a Christian but a sinner.
2. When a person is saved, he is out of the sin business (may but must not sin)
3. The sinner must repent and be restored to his lost relationship with God.
4. To sin results in spiritual death.
The regimented expectation for holiness left the grace of God to being applied only in cases of christian perfection. As a result of desiring to be more like Christ, people became judgemental of others actions and good works dominated the self-righteous.
Titus 1:16 “They profess to know God, but by their actions they deny Him. They are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good deed.”
People like Dwight L. Moody rejected the idea that people could move from a worldly lifestyle into a perfectionist lifestyle at the moment of salvation. He, like many others embraced the idea that God’s Word embraces 3 tenses of sanctification in a believers life:
- Past. Definitive or positional sanctification occurs when God sets people apart for himself at the moment they become Christians (e.g., Acts 20:32; 26:18; Rom 1:7; 6; 1Cor 1:2; 6:11; Eph 1:1; 5:3; Col 1:2, 12; 3:12; 2Thess 1:10; Heb 10:10, 14; Jude 3; Rev 13:7).
- Present. Progressive sanctification is the ongoing, incomplete, lifelong maturing process in which a Christian gradually becomes more holy (e.g., John 17:17; 2Cor 3:18; 7:1; Phil 1:6; 1Thess 4:3–4, 7; Heb 12:14; 2Pet 3:11).
- Future. Ultimate sanctification corresponds to glorification (e.g., Phil 3:21; 1Thess 3:13; 5:23; Jude 24). This happens after death when God sets his people apart from sin’s presence and possibility.
The brief history lesson is a reminder that any deviation from God’s truth, whether it looks good on the surface like a holiness movement or some scientific theory that undermined people’s faith like evolution can both leave a trail of destruction.
Holiness on the surface is good. When holiness becomes a work of people striving to become like God rather than a work of obedience to the leading of the Spirit, the concept can get twisted and deviate quite quickly. When a scientific theory is placed at the forefront of the meaning of life, rather than correlating the theory to God’s established truth, those who are already weak in their belief are easily swayed.
If your experience with Christ isn’t real, then any wind of change can blow you off course. When the walk of faith is personal and active in Christ, no doctrine, no matter how convincing could ever dissuade you from what you know and have experienced.
This is where spiritual maturity meets the world.