WHY IT HAPPENED
Having now examined at great length the means by which the second greatest falling away in history occurred, it has surely entered the minds of every interested reader not only to ask how this happened but to wonder why? A happening so incredible and yet so awfully real must have had a powerful reason for occurring. Our opinion of God will not allow us to believe that it was his predestined will to have what now appears to have been more than ninety percent of his sound churches depart from the faith in so serious a matter as the genuine experience of regeneration. That these changes in practice occurred seemingly without opposition or even awareness of the part of most congregations which allowed them, during a period of about thirty years, adds to the astonishment. Some kind of delusion must be suspected as a factor in such a phenomenal happening. If God did allow a spiritual stupor, a slumber of death, to overtake so many true churches, why did He allow it?
A case in point is in order to help explain. This writer once met a zealous Christian man to whom he was introduced in a quite extraordinary manner by the Holy Spirit. It soon became apparent that his church was zealously practicing the new form of evangelism introduced by Moody and Sunday. When on a certain occasion he was asked to relate his own conversion experience he told of being drawn by God’s Spirit to an altar of prayer where Christians prayed with him until he was satisfied that God had saved his soul. While he was immersed in the vivid memory of that blessed event, an unsettling question jolted him out of his peaceful thoughts: “is that the manner of evangelism your church now practices?” After some hesitation, a startled “no” was his answer. Another hard question followed: “WHEN did it change?” As his startled countenance became stunned with bewilderment, and his eyes seemed to stare into some dark abyss, he answered, “I don’t know.” Moments later a third question was asked to make a point: “do you remember going to sleep last night?” Tens of thousands of churches simply fell into a deadly slumber one by one over a fateful period of about thirty or so years. Most of the members never knew of their loss unless they learned it after death. The few who were awakened in this life to perceive the awfulness of what their carelessness allowed to happen faced it as a painful nightmare they wished they could deny.
Few people are far-sighted enough to foresee the future, and not many more prove capable of assessing the past. Cause and effect relationships are often missed because of length of time and other factors intervening between the sowing of seed and the reaping of its harvest. An almost universal spiritual slumber could not possibly have overtaken the churches of God as rapidly as it appears, nor would God have allowed such a takeover by Satan of what was once His territory unless there was a reason for that allowance.
Two contributing factors beg to be noticed. The first is a threat made to his disciples in Jesus’ sermon on the mount: “if the salt (of the earth) have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.” (Matthew 5:13) What people so easily failed to recognize was the loss of “savor” (or “saltness” – Mark 9:50) as it was occurring in many churches. We tend instead to look only at their casting out by God to be trodden under foot by men. Another factor needful to be noticed is what J. M. Pendleton described as a “ruinous fallacy,” which was apparently becoming popular at the time he identified it in a sermon he preached in 1887. (“Jubilee sermon” before the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky) He said that Baptists of 1837 “had not heard of the ruinous fallacy which teaches that Christians should live pretty much as do men of the world, that the latter may thereby be led to think more favorably of Christianity. They dreaded any thing that looked like an obliteration of the line between them and the world.” He said “the line of demarkation between the (Baptist) churches and the world was much more distinct in 1837 than in 1887.” In that same context he also declared that “NO (BAPTIST) CHURCH would then have held in fellowship a dancing, theatre-going, card-playing member, nor would the presence of a member at a horse race have been tolerated.” Brother Pendleton seemed to be warning the Baptists of 1887 regarding what he perceived to be their dangerous drift into worldliness while justifying that tolerance by a “ruinous fallacy.” Is not that same ruinous fallacy still troubling what is left of the Lord’s churches, which have managed thus far to hold on to a regenerated membership and a sound evangelism conducive to maintaining it? Is not worldliness among our members making us scarcely discernible from the people of the world? Is not our discipline in a horrible state of neglect while we tolerate many abominable deeds far worse than any Pendleton named? Would not most of our people laugh at their pastor’s suggestion that any of these four activities were not suitable for church members to indulge in, although only 150 years ago ALL Baptist churches forbade them? They disciplined their members for indulging in activities which could be considered mere vanities which entice people to sin. Perhaps our forefathers were too strict, but what would they call us, but perhaps unfit for Christian fellowship?
How worth while and honorable do we suppose is a vain and frivolous activity of pursuing amusement on the part of those who are called to carry Jesus’ message by word and demonstration to a world bound for eternal torment? Should a preacher preach the doctrine of “the preacher” of Ecclesiastes, who repeatedly warned against a life of “vanity and vexation of spirit” and of the foolishness inherent in the pursuit of amusement and mirth? Most modern Christians, even in our own churches, regard such doctrine as radical and extreme. Not so long ago such teaching was ordinary fare in any Baptist church. Is it not true that by the (genuine) “sadness of the countenance the heart is made better?” (Ecclesiastes 7:3) Solomon thought so, and set it forth in God’s inspired word of wisdom. While we boast that we alone still preach THAT truth to all lost sinners, do we believe it enough to live by it ourselves? Jesus echoed and amplified what Solomon’s distant sermon set forth as wisdom and truth in the introductory remarks of His great “sermon on the mount.” People who are poor in spirit, meek, mournful, reviled, persecuted, and falsely accused really are “blessed,” and can be recognized by the world to be Christ-like because they live much as He did and are treated by others as He was treated. (Matthew 5:3-12) While we must admit that our burden-bearing abilities are far less than those in our Divine Savior, and our capacity for godly sorrow is usually less than it ought to be, we must not make excuses for our worldly and fleshly weaknesses. Many unsubstantiated statements have been made from our pulpits about how that Jesus, IF he should live bodily in our modern world, would handle matters of mirth, amusement, vanity, and other worldly activities, apparently aimed at appeasing the indulgent flesh of worldly disciples. Could not this ever-increasing indulgence and its pulpit appeasement have been in progress between 1887 and 1930, before that period in which the great falling away became noticeable? I believe the answer is obvious.
It is no mystery to the few remaining sound churches WHY the “Baptist” denomination of this century has proven far less potent for changing the world toward godliness than their proportionately MUCH smaller counterparts in the previous two centuries. Neither should there be any wonder remaining for anyone who has read and understood the historical message of this book. Scholars have estimated that percentages of Americans holding membership in “churches” have continually increased, from less than ten percent in 1800 to approximately fifteen percent in 1850 to about one-third in 1900 to a whopping two-thirds by 1960. These estimates do not even consider the doubling and redoubling of the numbers of our national population. It is evident that numbers of nominal Christians were sky-rocketing because standards of membership were plummeting. Popularity was the goal in this allowance. Until the 1970’s Southern Baptists were often heard boasting that theirs was the fastest growing religious denomination in America. It may indeed have been the largest denomination, IF we discount the Roman Catholics whose numbers included whole families until death rather than adult active members.
Jonathan Edwards once estimated that only three-hundred were genuinely converted in his Northampton revival. This was the one that helped set off a chain reaction of revival activity commonly referred to as the first great awakening, which continued in various places until 1790, transforming the whole nation in its process. What does this suggest about the more recent claims of multiple millions “converted” by the efforts “evangelists” made in the images of Moody and Sunday, many of whom identify themselves as “Baptists”? What does it further say of the added millions claimed by the two greatest “evangelical” phenomenons of this century, the “fundamentalist” and “pentecostal” movements? While their numbers grew exponentially, our nation’s spiritual character is now manifested to have fallen in nearly inverse proportion to their boasted successes. Their astonishing inability to salt the earth is indeed phenomenal! We who understand true salvation and that religious practice which is conducive to its occurrence understand that phenomenon. God had rejected these movements AND the worldly elements among Baptists even before their claims of these great numbers began. This is not to imply that none were saved in the midst of all of this degradation of spiritual religion. God is amazingly merciful toward every seeker with “an honest and good heart.” In spite of hypocrisy He detests, He still sometimes honors his word by merciful direct intervention in what would otherwise be only wholesale deception.
But what of ourselves? Are we who have escaped this delusion and apostasy gaining in our battle with the world, or are our churches also gradually losing a battle we could no doubt win if we were as Christ like as God would have us to be? Should we not examine ourselves to see if perhaps even while we have barely retained “the faith,” only by God’s mercy and grace, we still lack the savor to salt the earth? We are left here to induce its inhabitants to be made palatable to God’s taste by our influence coupled with His grace. If indeed our remnants are all being gradually conformed to the world, instead of being used to God’s intended effect of at least a small part of the world becoming more Christ-like by our influence, is that not proof of our lack of saltiness? God has ALWAYS preserved a remnant FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE (NOT because the people were good), and He always will, if only to fulfill His promises. It is high time we quit using God’s mercy, as evidenced by our own preservation, as proof of our rightness, so that our people may see the need to preserve MORE than the minimum essentials of the faith. We must learn to preserve that also which, had it been retained by all true churches, would have PREVENTED the great falling away we have long suffered and also lamented. That same lamented apostasy has been the theme of this book.
I must beg the forgiveness of my readers, and all others who might have profited from the information here presented, for my tardiness in presenting this work to the public in print. Most of this information could have been published more than two decades ago. By no measure is it as complete as abundant available information could make it. For that reason this volume is being published as “Volume 1” of Fundamental Error in the sincere hope that capable brothers will publish later volumes. At this time, much of Volume 2 has already been put in manuscript by a very capable hand other than mine, and a third capable brother has spoken of pursuing a follow up on the other “horn of this same dragon” which was only lightly mentioned in this text. These have my commendation, and I solicit your prayers in their behalf that they will not be as hindered as I have been these many years from showing the public what they have discovered. Our sole motive in these efforts, regardless of what some critics may think, was summed up in the words of one of the most holy elderly saints it was ever my privilege to serve as pastor. Once when a few church members were not very happy with my exposure of some historical facts, Sister Margaret Board consoled me much with her advice, “Brother Reynolds, if it is the truth, then it needs to be told!” May God bless her memory!
With malice toward none and despite acknowledged imperfection, I commend these truths to all who read or hear them. May God use them to your profit, and His.
Elder J. A. Reynolds,
September 21, 2005