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It Was Also A Theological War by Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery

It Was Also A Theological War
by
Dr. Richard Lee Montgomery

As the young country of the United States began to grow in population, even then the sections of the North and the South had different ideas of cultural living, industry, philosophy and, very soon theologically This term “theology” is a word that defines the study of God. Dr. James Petigru Boyce, who served as a chaplain 1 in the Sixteenth Regiment of South Carolina and twice elected in the South Carolina legislature 2 and also was a Southern Baptist college and seminary professor 3 and gives for us this definition of Theology: “The word Theology means literally a discourse concerning God; but in analogy with other words, as geology, chronology and biology, it means the science which treats of God.” [Side Note: Before we get hung up on the term ‘science’ – the Webster Dictionary of 1845 gives this simple definition: ➀ ‘In a general sense, knowledge, or certain knowledge; the comprehension or understanding of truth or facts by the mind. ➁ In philosophy, a collection of the general principles or leading truths relating to any subject.’ 4]

Dr. Boyce continues with the definition of Theology “It (Theology) naturally concerns itself with such questions as these: Is there a God; can He be known; what is His nature, and character; what are the relations He sustains to the universe; particularly to intelligent beings possessed of spiritual natures; and above all, as most important to us, to men; in what ways has He made Himself known; and especially in what aspect does He reveal Himself to them as sinners.

In connection with this last relation it treats, particularly, of man, as a creature of God, placed under the government of His moral law. It inquires into his original condition of innocence, and happiness; the manner in which he fell therefrom; and his present state of sinfulness, and condemnation; and inability for self rescue.

It is thus led, also, to discuss the nature of the salvation which God has provided as seen in the person, and character of Jesus Christ, through whom it has come, and in the works of active, and passive obedience, by which he has wrought out reconciliation to God.” 5

Dr. Robert Lewis Dabney, who served as Chief of Staff  6 for
Stonewall Jackson, was a Southern Presbyterian pastor and professor 7 and states that theology “describe(s) the whole science of God's being and nature, and relations to the creature. The name is appropriate: ‘Science of God.’ ...God, its author, its subject, its end.” 8 It is important to understand that these were conservative definitions as was the typical Southern church and it’s related denomination. From the Colonial days to the First War for Independence, up to the Second War for Southern Independence, theology was interpreted from a more conservative mind-set with conservative conclusions, by and large. 

As stated at the front of this document, in the beginning days of our country, there was slow to fast development in the changing of theological conclusions beginning in the North, from  the Colonial days to the Second War for Southern Independence. In 1776, there was indeed a more conservative position with conservative conclusions when it cam to Christian theology, by and large, throughout the colonies.

Men in the North like Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), a Congregational pastor in Northampton, Massachusetts; Isaac Backus (1724-1806), a Baptist pastor in Massachusetts; Charles Hodge (1797-1878), a Presbyterian theologian and Principal of Princeton Theological Seminary and; Gilbert Tennent (1703-1764), a Presbyterian pastor in New Jersey. Also, many of the Founding Fathers of America had parents or grandparents who came out of the Puritan or Reformation traditions. That means, there were healthy Theological Biblical principles and doctrines that were taught to many of our founding fathers. These men stood in the gap, preaching the Gospel faithfully, standing against any heresy that would mock or water down the Gospel. But, when these men and others died, a void was left and more often than not, was not filled by other faithful men who would oppose a water down gospel or a loose gospel, social gospel, a man made morality gospel, ear tickling philosophy emphasizing special enlightenment. To be sure, God’s Church remained in the North but now it had diminished in size, with a faithful preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is when we get to the early 1800s, that the Christian theological
landscape had become darker in the North. Liberal theology took hold of Northern churches.  For instance, Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) left behind the Calvinistic orthodoxy of his famous father Lyman Beecher, to instead preach the Social Gospel of liberal Christianity through the tool of abolitionism. Today it is called social justice in the political progressive movement. We must all agree
that abolitionism is a valid desire for all men to be free, but not through the lenses of Henry Ward Beecher’s teachings. His teachings in theology replaced the central tenants of Christian theology and contradicted the strict Calvinism that his father had preached. Henry instead emphasized God’s forgiveness of human sin and preached a “gospel of love,” which is good, but walked away from the most important position that God is a God of judgment. In fact, he stopped believing in hell and also would later take hold to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. In his later years of life Beecher was accused by Theodore Tilton of having an affair with his wife, Elizabeth, one of Beecher’s congregants.  

From an article in “The Christian Socialist: A Journal for Those
Who Work and Think,” published in March of 1884 tells us this: “Just before leaving England on his return to America, the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher created no little scandal by announcing at a large gathering of clergy and others in Dr. Parker’s [City] Temple, his entire disbelief in hell-fire. Many among them, particularly Mr. Spurgeon were greatly shocked. It was hardly fair on Mr. Beecher’s part to take the bread out of his brethren’s mouths in that way.” 9

You might say, that’s not a no big deal, but it is a huge deal theologically speaking. If there is no hell – does that mean everyone goes to heaven? If it does, then the Gospel message is a fraud – God is not the God that He says He is. He is not Sovereign; He is not Providential and; the Bible is not reliable. To believe
there is no hell, comes a domino effect, the changing of the rest of your theology. 

The attempt as been made to illustrated Henry Ward Beecher, as the pastor of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York, who was a man of celebrity status, a larger than life name in the North and  England and had all the influence on others, that came with it.

Another example of liberal theology was the influence of Friedrich
Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768-1834), who was born in Germany and died there as well. He is often called the “father of liberal theology.” 10 His emphasis was dependence on God and not on Scripture. Bottom line, Schleiermacher’s  attempt was to incorporate modern thinking and developments, especially in the sciences, into the Christian faith. Liberalism tends to emphasize ethics over doctrine and experience over Scriptural authority. Here again you might say that sounds like today and you would be right. But the point is, this liberal theology influenced and greatly affected many churches in the North of that day.

Another example of erroneous theology, influencing Northern churches was from Charles Augustus Briggs (1841-1913), who was an advocate of higher criticism of the Bible. Higher criticism is the analysis that investigates the origins of a Biblical text. Briggs main tenant of teaching was that “reason and the Church are each a fountain of divine authority which may and does savingly enlighten men.” 11 He also taught that redemption/salvation extends to the world to come, not to just to this present world. In 1892 he was tried for heresy by the presbytery of New York.

These are but only three theological attacks on the Christian Church in the North. Then came the attack from the Transcendentalism movement. Transcendentalism is a form of philosophical idealism. Basically, it is the means of living your life according to – you. It teaches that God or the Life Force in the universe can be found everywhere, thus no need for churches or holy places. God can be found in both nature and human nature. God is not a super human being but is a spirit in all of us. Every person possesses the “inner light” of  God which must be nourished to sustain us. Every person possesses “intuition,” an understanding of right and wrong. This is the same old lie when Lucifer/Devil/Satan tempted Adam and Eve with the subtle lie, “you can be like God.”

In fact, that’s what Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson
wrote about. He was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet – who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid 1800s. Listen to the religious language of Emerson: “Go forth with thy message among thy fellow-creatures; teach them they must trust themselves as guided by that inner light which dwells with the pure in heart, to whom it was promised of old that they shall see God.” 12

Transcendentalist Walter Leatherbee Leighton explains for us Emerson’s religious language by saying this, “Faith in an inner light goes hand in hand, in the make-up of this true Transcendentalist, with breadth of outlook. By faith in an inner light we are to understand simply faith in our own spontaneous impulses, or revelations, as evidences of the Infinite and Eternal Life welling up in us and circulating through us.” 13

In his book “American Poets and Their Theology” published in 1916,  Augustus Hopkins Strong concludes rightly about Emerson saying, “Thus transcendentalism contradicts itself and becomes self-deification. It is the precise opposite of the Scripture representation, which speaks of God as not only ‘in all,’ and ‘through all,’ but also ‘above all.’ The God whom the Bible recognizes as immanent is a God of will, as well as of power; a God of wisdom and love and holiness; a God who can come down in special ways to his creatures; and who can reveal himself in Christ, as their Saviour from the penalty and the power of sin. The God of Emerson, on the other hand, is a mere abstraction, a mere idealization of nature.” 14

There were others who shared the same belief system as Emerson: Henry David Thoreau (Author and Poet) – Walt Whitman (Poet) – Nathaniel Hawthorne (Novelist) – Margaret Fuller (women’s activist), to name just a few. 

These damaging theological heresies of yesterday and today: ➀ A Social Gospel: making social issues primary and Christ secondary or deleting Him out altogether; ➁ A Liberal Theology: skewing the Biblical high view of Christ and replacing it with a high view of man; ➂ A Higher Criticism of God’s Word: as though man can thwart it  or come up with new contemporary definitions and; ➃ Transcendentalism: that cast Christ aside as deity and deifies man. 

We must be reminded what God’s Word says in Colossians 1:15-20: “15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” 15

These are but a few of the battle fronts on the orthodoxy of the Christian Church and it’s Biblical Doctrinal precepts in the North. Also, we do need to know that these theological attacks did come to the South. But the difference was, there was a concerted effort to resist, Godly men who stood in the gap, seeking to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3), 16 seeking to “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12) 17 with the Gospel message.

Men like Alexander Davis Betts who served in the Thirtieth North Carolina Infantry as chaplain and after the war served as a Methodist pastor, gives this testimony of the life of Julian Shakespeare Carr, who also served in the Confederate Army. Betts says, “His studies have never resulted in disturbance of his creed by the speculations of the, so called, Higher Critics, he has been a loyal, well disciplined, undaunted soldier of Christ and has never lost any part of his panoply. Duty has always been his guiding star. He has not swerved from the path to it to the right or the left. His heart is tender as a woman's for the relief of distress and bold as a lion's in conflict with error. Take him all in all he possesses in full measure all the Christian graces.” 18

Another example of theological defense is the theological
education that was provided in the South. One of those is the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. From the Memoirs of James Petigru Boyce – we read this, “Dr. [John William] Jones adds that in later years he once delivered a message to Dr. [James Petigru] Boyce from one of his more recent graduates, who was laboring in a region where the so-called ‘New Theology,’ ‘advanced thought,’ ‘liberalism,’ and loose views generally were painfully common. The message was: ‘Tell Dr. Boyce, with my love, that since I have been here I have thanked him a thousand times for his faithful teaching and thorough drill in Systematic Theology. What I learned of him has proven a healthy tonic in a malarious atmosphere.’” 19

William Eldridge Hatcher (1834-1912), a Confederate citizen and Baptist pastor  made this comment, “I wish to say that while I never spoke of Universalism, or any of its kindred heresies, I put up against it the plain, uncompromised Gospel as found in the New Testament. I presented Jesus Christ as the Son of God, as the sacrifice for sin, as the King in Zion and the Bible as the word of God, and on that rested the issue.” 20

These are but a few who took a stand. It is true that there were other differences between the North and the South: politics, industry, culture and others, but one of those “others” was theology. In the Christian Theological School of Apologetics, we are taught that “Apologetics is a science or discipline which investigates the way or manner of defense.” 21 Another source states, “The science which sets forth the principles according to which Christianity is to be defended.” 22 All in all,  it means “to make a defense.” 

In the Christian life, Christians are to live out 1 Peter 3:15, “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense (apologia) to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence...” 23 This makes for a good model when heritage groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans or the United Daughters of the Confederacy seek to defend the good name of the Confederate soldier with honesty, truthfulness and integrity.

Mildred Lewis Rutherford, aka Miss Millie makes a powerful
statement, “I would say the first qualification for any historian is truthfulness. History is truth, and you must truthfully give the facts. Be as careful to give the true history of the side against us as to give our own side, then we can demand from the northern historian that he shall do the same. The historian must never be partial—no one-sided view of any question is never history.” 24

End Notes

1 John A. Broadus, Memoirs of James Pedigru Boyce (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1893), 187.

2 John A. Broadus, Memoirs of James Pedigru Boyce (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1893), 189.

3 John A. Broadus, Memoirs of James Pedigru Boyce (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1893), 101.

4 Noah Webster, An America Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1845), 745.

5 James P. Boyce, Abstracts In Systematic Theology (Louisville: Charles T. Dearing, 1882), 4.

6  In Memoriam. Robert Lewis Dabney (Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 1899), 6.

7  In Memoriam. Robert Lewis Dabney (Knoxville: University of Tennessee, 1899), 6.

8 R. L. Dabney, Systematic and Polemic Theology (St. Louis: Presbyterian Publishing Company of St. Louis, 1878), 5.

9   The Christian Socialist: A Journal for Those who Work and Think, No. 10 (March, 1884), 42. 

10  Charles Partee, The Theology of John Calvin (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 317.
11  Charles Augustus Briggs, The Bible: The Church, and the Reason, The Three Great Fountains of Divine Authority (New York: C. Scribner's sons, 1893), 211.

12  Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Lothrop Motley: Two Memoirs (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Company, 1892), 286. 

13 Walter Leatherbee Leighton, French Philosophers and New-England Transcendentalism (Charlottesville: University of Virginia, 1906), 83.

14  Augustus Hopkins Strong, American Poets and Their Theology (Philadelphia: The Griffith & Rowland Press, 1916), 64.

15   The Holy Bible: Updated New American Standard Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 1005.

16   The Holy Bible: Updated New American Standard Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 1043.

17   The Holy Bible: Updated New American Standard Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999), 1005.

18   Alexander Davis Betts, Experience of a Confederate Chaplain, 1861-1864 (Greenville, S.C., 1865), 1014.

19   John A. Broadus, Memoir of James Petigru Boyce (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1893), 266.

20   William E. Hatcher, Along The Trail of the Friendly Years (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1910), 270.

21   Conrad Emil Lindberg, Apologetics or A System of Christian Evidence (Rock Island, Ill.: Augustana Book Concern, 1917), 17.

22  Charles A. Aiken, Christian Apologetics: The Lectures Constituting The Course In Ethics and Apologetics (Princeton: Presbyterian Printing Establishment, 1879), 6.

23   New American Standard (La Habra, Ca.: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

24   Mildred Lewis Rutherford, The South In The Building Of The Nation, Speech Delivered at Washington, D. C, and New Orleans, La. (Athens, Georgia,1913), 5.

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