Comparing the Movements of the Second Great Awakening
The Second Great Awakening was a religious movement in the early to mid nineteenth century, known for its emphasis on revivalism and spiritual experience. It produced a handful of new religious systems with certain traits in common, which distinguish them from the Evangelical churches. Belief systems of today which which trace their genesis to the Second Great Awakening are:
- Mormons (LDS)
- Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW)
- Seventh-day Adventists (SDA)
- Christian Scientists
The intent of this article is to demonstrate:
- That these belief systems grew from a common root
- Their structure, theology and claims are very similar
- That they are not strictly “biblical” churches, but depend on extra-biblical sources of authority to maintain their doctrinal identity and unity (whether they own up to it or not)
- They all add requirements to the gospel that are outside the New Covenant.
How These Movements Differ from Biblical Christianity
The following items are common features or beliefs that distinguish these from Biblical Christianity. I won’t be able to cover all of these points in this article:
- Remnant theology
- Extra-biblical prophets
- An organization that is the “voice of God”
- An identity rooted in speculative eschatology rather than the gospel
- Failed prophecies
- Historical revisionism
- Denial of Christ’s completed work of atonement at the cross
Remnant Theology. These groups are sectarian by their own declarations of exclusivity. They view all other Christian faith communions as part of the “great apostasy” and only their “church” is the depository of God’s truth.
This doctrine stems from the Restoration Movement, which was a popular religious philosophy during the Second Great Awakening. Each of the churches that formed as a result of Restorationism felt called to denounce established Christianity, and restore the “original Apostolic Church”.
“Restorationists – Strictly speaking, the Restoration Movement is a Christian reform movement that arose in the United States during the Second Great Awakening in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. It rejected the idea of reform of any previous tradition and emphasized the idea of a direct renewal of the Christian church by God. The doctrinal differences among these groups can sometimes be very large; they include, among others, the Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Christadelphians, Latter Day Saints, Seventh Day Adventists, and Jehovah’s Witnesses”. – Article, “Protestantism”, New World Encyclopedia
LDS: According to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the Great Apostasy in Christianity began not long after the ascension of Jesus Christ. (See Missionary Department of the LDS Church (2004). Preach My Gospel.)
“They claim that the LDS Church is the restoration of Jesus’ original church, has the authentic Priesthood authority, and all doctrines and ordinances of the Gospel, fulfilling many of the prophecies of Daniel, Isaiah and Malachi in the Old Testament and also the prophesies of Peter and Jesus in the New Testament.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restoration_(Latter_Day_Saints)
JW: “Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that after the death of the apostles, the early congregations embarked on a “Great Apostasy”, diverging from the original teachings of Jesus on several major points. Influenced by Restorationism in the 19th century, Charles Taze Russell and his associates formed a Bible study group in the 1870s in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, developing teachings that they considered to be a revival of “the great truths taught by Jesus and the Apostles”, in what the Watch Tower Society today says was a return to original Christianity. Although many of their fundamental teachings have changed over the years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have consistently claimed to be the only true religion.” – http://www.watchtowerinformationservice.org/doctrine-changes/jehovah-witness-beliefs/
SDA: “The entire world is deceived today. Truth has been covered up with error. The Protestant churches have accepted the teaching of the antichrist… And so most [non-SDA] church members are in mortal danger, but don’t know it. …the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the world’s last hope for rescue…” – Daniel W. O’Ffill with Carol Johnson Shewmake, What to Say in a Whole New Way, (1994, Review and Herald Publishing Assn.), pp. 16, 18.
“…Satan has taken full possession of the [non-Adventist] Churches” and even their prayers are an “abomination” to God. (Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, page 190). James White (Ellen’s husband) was ordained a minister of the Christian Connexion in 1843, which was part of the Restorationist movement.
Authoritative writings other than the Bible. They each have a “prophet” that used their extra-biblical revelations (the “voice of God”) to establish doctrine and maintain their authority within the movement. These prophets are the test of true orthodoxy, and if anyone rejects their writings and follows the Bible only, they will follow a path to perdition.
LDS: “If Joseph Smith was verily a prophet, and if he told the truth…no man can reject that testimony without incurring the most dreadful consequences, for he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” – Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 1, page 190
JW: “From time to time, there have arisen from among the ranks of Jehovah’s people those, who, like the original Satan, have adopted an independent, faultfinding attitude…They say that it is sufficient to read the Bible exclusively, either alone or in small groups at home. But, strangely, through such ‘Bible reading,’ they have reverted right back to the apostate doctrines that commentaries by Christendom’s clergy were teaching 100 years ago…” – Watchtower, Aug. 15, 1981
SDA: “The Holy Ghost is the Author of the Scriptures and of the Spirit of Prophecy.” – Ellen White, Selected Messages, Vol. 3, page 30
“It is Satan’s plan to weaken the faith of God’s people in the Testimonies. Next follows skepticism in regard to the vital points of our faith, the pillars of our position, then doubt as to the Holy Scriptures, and then the downward march to perdition. When the Testimonies, which were once believed, are doubted and given up, Satan knows the deceived ones will not stop at this; and he redoubles his efforts till he launches them into open rebellion, which becomes incurable and ends in destruction.” – Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 4, page 211
“In ancient times God spoke to men by the mouth of prophets and apostles. In these days He speaks to them by the testimonies of His Spirit. There was never a time when God instructed His people more earnestly than He instructs them now concerning His will and the course that He would have them pursue.” – Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 5, page 661. Here she places the importance of her message above the prophets and Christ himself (compare Hebrews 1:1).
“It is from the standpoint of the light that has come through the Spirit of Prophecy that the question will be considered, believing as we do that the Spirit of Prophecy is the only infallible interpreter of Bible principles, since it is the Christ, through this agency, giving real meaning of his own words.” – G.A. Irwin, General Conference President, from the tract The Mark of the Beast, p. 1.
“Our position on the Testimonies is like the key-stone to the arch. Take that out and there is no logical stopping-place till all the special truths of the Message are gone…Nothing is surer than this, that the Message and visions belong together, and stand or fall together.” – Review and Herald Supplement, August 14, 1883.
“There is one straight chain of truth without one heretical sentence in that which I have written.” – Ellen G. White, Letter 329A, 1905
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. Rev. 22:18, 19
Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. John 17:17
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two- edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Heb. 4:12
Note the similarities of the threats uttered by Mormons, Witnesses and Adventists, against those who reject of the teaching of their “prophets”. These movements set up novel systems of theology which rely on the interpretations of their “inspired” writers. Their belief systems could not survive if the Scriptures alone are followed; Adventists acknowledge this.
Evangelical, Bible-believing Christianity has existed for centuries with the Scriptures as its basis. There has been no need of exterior regulation or threats from inspired individuals who take it upon themselves to establish a unique orthodoxy.
“The Organization” as the voice of God. These movements teach that their leaders are the voice of God to the people.
LDS: “What is the Priesthood? It is nothing more or less than the power of God delegated to man by which man can act in the earth for the salvation of the human family… by which they may baptize for the remission of sins and lay on hands for the reception of the Holy Ghost, and by which they can remit sin with the sanction and blessing of Almighty God. It is the same power and priesthood that was committed to the disciples of Christ while He was upon the earth…” – Joseph F. Smith, 6th Prophet of the LDS Church, Gospel Doctrine, 1919, p. 173
JW: “We should eat and digest and assimilate what is set before us, without shying away from parts of the food because it may not suit the fancy of our mental taste…We should meekly go along with the Lord’s theocratic organization and wait for further clarification, rather than balk at the first mention of a thought unpalatable to us and proceed to quibble and mouth our criticisms and opinions as though they were worth more than the slave’s provision of spiritual food. Theocratic ones will appreciate the Lord’s visible organization and not be so foolish as to put against Jehovah’s channel their own human reasoning and sentiment and personal feelings.” – Watchtower, Feb. 1, 1952, p. 79-80
SDA: “When the judgment of the General Conference, which is the highest authority that God has on earth, is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be maintained, but must be surrendered.” – Ellen White, Testimonies, vol. 3 page 492
“We acknowledge the General Conference to be the highest authority recognized by God on earth. Here the whole of our people are represented, and speak through their delegates. Here is not north nor south, nor east nor west, it is one the world over.” – President Olsen, General Conference Bulletin, October 23, 1889.
Biblical Christianity: the churches were independent congregations in each city.
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” 2 Thes. 2:15
“So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.” Acts 16:5
The apostolic church consisted of local companies of believers that were congregational, self-governed (under the Holy Spirit), without an ecclesiastical hierarchy controlling them. They were responsible to spread the good news about Jesus, and pass on apostolic teaching, practice, and tradition to the next generation. Congregations should be organized, but not subjects of a spiritual authority that speaks to them for God.
LDS: Many failed prophecies regarding the Mormon church and the Lord’s coming. (See http://www.irr.org/mit/wdist/false-prophecies.html).
JW: Predicted Jesus’ coming in 1914. When it didn’t happen, they revised the nature of the event to something that could not be seen. They have set many other dates, such as the end of the world in 1975. All of their date setting have been failures. (See more at http://www.jwfacts.com/watchtower/1800s.php).
Adventist: predicted Jesus’ coming in 1843 and 1844. When it didn’t happen, they revised the nature of the event to an invisible happening, rather than admit their error. Ellen White made further predictions of the Second Coming to happen in the 1850s.
Identity rooted in Speculative eschatology rather than the gospel. Each of these movements believes that it has been raised for a special purpose in the end time, and that anyone who rejects their particular message will be destroyed. These prophetic interpretations were cleverly crafted to instill fear and create religious bondage and control.
This is opposed to the biblical church which finds its identity in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
LDS: “White Horse” prophecy: Many Mormons believe that the United States will eventually become a theocracy led by them. (One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church, Richard Abanes, page 17).
JW: The Millennium will be a time of world peace led by the servants of the Watch Tower. There will be destruction for those who reject their message.
SDA: The mark of the beast will be an enforced Sunday law. Whoever does not join Seventh-day Adventists and keep the Sabbath will be thrown into the lake of fire.
Biblical Christianity: “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Atonement, the work of Christ for our salvation. These movements do not believe that the atonement was a completed act at the cross, but shift the emphasis elsewhere; Gethsemane, 1844, or the future. All of them include man in that work, it enables these religions to entrap their membership in the serving of their systems to accomplish acceptance and reconciliation with God.
LDS: “Forgiveness is available because Christ the Lord sweat great drops of blood in Gethsemane as he bore the incalculable weight of the sins of all who ever had or ever would repent” – The Promised Messiah, by Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, page 337
“In a garden called Gethsemane, outside Jerusalem’s walls, in agony beyond compare, he took upon himself the sins of all men on condition of repentance.” – ibid. 552
JW: “Jesus, according to their argument, removed the effects of Adam’s sin by His sacrifice on Calvary, but the work will not be fully completed until the survivors of Armageddon return to God through free will and become subject to the theocratic rule of Jehovah.” – Martin, Jehovah of the Watchtower, pp. 71-72.
SDA: In 1844 “Attended by heavenly angels, our great High Priest entered the Holy of Holies… to there make atonement for all who are shown to be entitled to his benefits.” – E.G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 308
Christian Science: Mary Baker Eddy writes, “Atonement is the exemplification of man’s unity with God, whereby man reflects divine Truth, Life and Love.”
Biblical Christianity: It is a completed act, past tense, occurring at the cross; Christ entered the Most Holy place at his Father’s side at his ascension.
And by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, … having made peace through the blood of His cross.” Col. 1:20
When He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Heb. 1:3
… behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Heb. 6:19-20
But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God … For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. Heb. 10:12, 14
The examples above strongly indicate that the movements that sprang from the Second Great Awakening spring from the same root, and are built on certain similar, non-biblical ideas. That these ideas are powerful is shown by the fact that these movements are among of the fastest growing religions.
- do not view themselves as superior to other New Covenant congregations
- do not use modern inspired prophets or writings
- do not view their leadership as the voice of God
- do not deny or diminish the Christ’s completed atonement on the cross
- are not founded on failed prophecies
- do not distort history to buttress their presuppositions