The Birth of Modern Christianity

If you look at the modern Christian church in American today, one would hardly see a body of believers following the advice of Paul when he urged “that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”[1]  Instead, upon closer inspection, one would find a broken vessel that has been glued backed together so many times that its original shape is almost indiscernible.  One such break, or schism, occurred over a century ago, and it continues to plague the church today.

The schism that occurred within Christianity in the early 20th century split many prominent denominations between fundamentalists and modernists.  In 1910, the Presbyterian General Assembly defined these fundamentals as “the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, His vicarious atonement, His bodily resurrection, and the reality of his biblically recorded miracles.”[2]  This definition drew a proverbial line in the sand against the invasion of modernist ideas within the church.

While the majority of fundamentalists adhered to these fundamental tenets of Christianity, modernists questioned these fundamentals and called into question their relativity to modern society.  While there were many points of contention between the two, the largest schisms occurred over the inerrancy of Scripture and Christianity’s role in the modern world.

First, modernists questioned the inerrancy of Scripture by asserting that the original texts contained errors.  According to the Presbyterian Church in 1893, modernists planted seeds of doubt concerning the inerrancy of Scripture by “teaching that errors may have existed in the original text of the Holy Scripture.”[3]  These seeds of doubt struck at the very core of Christianity since Scripture served as the basis for Christian truth.  In turn, they caused many Christians to question their faith and produced a ripple-effect throughout the major denominations.

Second, with these questions of faith came uncertainty of Christianity’s role in the modern world.  According to Gaustad and Schmidt, “the issue often turned narrowly on attitudes toward the Bible, but the questions more broadly related to attitudes toward the modern world at large.”[4]  Initially, this affected the foreign missions of many churches since modernist views forced into consideration Christianity’s impact on indigenous cultures and religions.   In the 1930s, an inquiry into the whether foreign Christian missions should continue “pointed to the pervasive doubts about Christianity’s proper relationship to other religions in the world.”[5]

While not all-encompassing, since other schisms associated with modernism can account for numerous pages of material, these two schisms discussed above touch on bits and pieces of the others.  With these in mind, the question then becomes how do they continue to affect the post-modern world.  One such effect is the rampant moral relativity within our current society.  Through seeds of doubt planted concerning the inerrancy of Scripture, for example, our society is reaping the benefits of an erosion or abandonment of moral truth as established by God through Scripture.  This erosion and abandonment feed the lusts of the flesh of our society, such as the murder of children due to personal inconvenience or the redefinition of marriage based on emotion instead of conviction.

In conclusion, the overall impact of modernism may never be fully known until a point-of-no-return is reached.  At that point, our society may never fully recover its morality and righteousness in the eyes of God.  Many times in our national history, certain crises of faith required an “Awakening” in order to steer the nation’s soul back on course, and Christians must pray for such now.


[1] 1 Corinthians 1:10b, NKJV.

[2] Edwin Gaustad and Leigh Schmidt, The Religious History of America: The Heart of the American Story from Colonial Times to Today (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2002), 292-293.

[3] Ibid., 291.

[4] Ibid., 292.

[5] Ibid.

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