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1830: the birth of modern spiritual gifts

Even if we forget Joseph Smith, the year 1830 was still the most important year for Christianity since New Testament times.

(Sources: unless stated, all facts and quotations are from the New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia 1995 and from the on-line Encyclopedia Britannica. Longer quotations are from the Britannica.)

the general condition from the sixth century to the nineteenth

Many (if not most) informed Christians accept that the church went through something of a wilderness period starting from the sixth century. See the history of Christianity and the page on Gregory the Great for details. Many see the nineteenth century as the end of this wilderness period. This is from "Christian Belief in the Making", in The Lion Handbook of Christian Belief (organizing editor Robin Keeley), Lion Publishing PLC 1982:

The history of Christian missions

"The American historian K. S. Latourette divides the history of the missionary movement into four periods: The first five centuries saw the good news of the gospel taken as far as Britain in the West and out to China in the East, to Ethiopia in Africa and northwards beyond the Danube. Then the "thousand years of uncertainty" (AD 500 to 1500) were years in which the church lost its Bible and forgot its mission. . . . The third period is that of the "three centuries of advance" (AD 1500 to 1800). . . .  The fourth period, the "great century", spans the vast enterprise of the missionary societies since that time."

Obviously this is a simplification - there were people throughout this time who did their best. But as a generalization, the conclusion is sound.

Concluding in 1830: "The Great Awakenings"
(Sources: Britannica OnLine, and the Elwell Evangelical Dictionary.)

The two Great Awakenings (ending in 1830) are generally acknowledged to be far more important than any religious revival in America before or since. If we accept that God has a hand in such things, we must ask "Why?". "What was God preparing people for and why did the preparation end in 1830?"

The First Great Awakening

The First Great Awakening (circa 1735-43) was notable for breaking down the old Puritan links between church and state. It also broke down the old Puritan synthesis, making more divergent opinions possible.

After that, the American Revolution encouraged greater confidence in human abilities, and in each person's capacity to choose his way for himself.

The Second Great Awakening

The Second Great Awakening (circa 1815-30) "stimulated religious life on an unprecedented scale". The first great issue was free will. The traditional view was that you were predestined to damnation or salvation, and your personal efforts made no difference. But the Second Great Awakening, particularly through the preaching of Nathaniel Taylor, stressed that each person was free to choose.

The second great issue was a reliance on the Bible and not on the existing church structures. People were no longer afraid to leave one church and join (or seven start) another.

The third great issue was the approaching millennium, and the importance of America.

In hindsight it is easy to see the Hand of God guiding this. Why was God doing this? Why the climax in 1830? Simply because, in 1830, people had to prepared for the greatest shock to established religion since the previous apostles were killed. People had to be prepared for new revelation, for a restoration of lost truths.

1830: The year of visions

(Note that I am not judging these miracles as "true" or "false". I am simply looking at what an impartial observer of church history can see.)

Visions around 1830

In my own country, Scotland in 1830, Margaret MacDonald had a vision of the second coming of Christ, which led to a charismatic renewal. More about this on the page on the millennium.

Various people had visions of something important about to happen, and many of them later joined the LDS church. (Records survive from people in the area of the restoration - Robert Mason, Benjamin Brown, Solomon Chamberlain, Lorenzo Dow Young, Sanford Porter, etc. See New Era Jan '72 p.6; Ensign Dec '84)

Catholic visions: 1830 is the turning point.

In 1830 there was a reported apparition of Mary in Paris, France, considered "worthy of belief" by the Catholic Church. It is referred to as ‘the revelation of the "miraculous medal" and was the beginning of an unprecedented number of major visions over the coming years.

This is illustrated by the table at http://www.apparitions.org/ which lists all the "Major Apparitions of Jesus and Mary" - apparently from the earliest times. The first event recorded is in the year 1347.

The total number of "Major Apparitions of Jesus and Mary" from before 1830 is three (3).

The total number of "Major Apparitions of Jesus and Mary" from 1830 and after, is one hundred and four (104) - and rising.

1830: the gift of tongues is restored
(Based on material from the Elwell Evangelical dictionary)

The loss of the gift of tongues:

The gift of tongues had died out in the western church by the fourth century (it is hard to be precise about the eastern church). The reformers such as Luther sometimes talked about it, but there is little evidence that it was practiced. From ancient times until the 1830s there were only two limited periods when groups claimed to possess the gift: some persecuted Huguenots in southern France for about ten years at the end of the seventeenth century, and a similar occurrence in the 1730s among the Jansenists, a group of Catholic pietists. "Two eighteenth century movements, the early Quakers and the Methodists, are often placed among those who have exhibited glossolalic traits. Both claims, however, are disputed, and the evidence is not conclusive."

Everything changed in 1830

Edward Irving (1792-1834) had felt inspired that the gift of tongues would soon be restored. He did not claim the gift, but preached that people should watch for it. "Then in the spring of 1830 word came that speaking in tongues had occurred in the west of Scotland."

It was Margaret MacDonald, who is discussed in more detail elsewhere.

Soon Irving's followers - the Irvingites" - were claiming the gift. So were the Shakers. Other groups joined in, and eventually it became a major part of the movement called Pentecostalism. And it all traces to the spring of 1830.

Nobody claims that Margaret MacDonald was important in her own right - she was simply responding to the spirit that she felt. Why was there such an overwhelming spirit of revelation around the Christian world, beginning in 1830?

This was no ordinary period of history!

1830: the feeling that the original gospel must be restored
(Principle source: Britannica)

A group of churches that attempted a restoration

1830 was a year when Christians around the world got the strong feeling that the original gospel had to be restored. Perhaps best known were a group of Protestant churches that originated in "The Second Great Awakening". They all tried to restore what they felt was "the ancient order" of the Church. They repudiated "human creeds."Two of these movements, associated with the names of Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone, merged in 1832 to become the Disciples of Christ. The new denomination grew rapidly on the American frontier.

But without new revelation it was doomed. "The essential program of the Disciples--the unity of all Christians on the basis of New Testament faith and practice--failed to unite a divided Protestantism, and, in fact, proved to be divisive even within the movement as it struggled to define more precisely that common platform."

Attempts at a truly scriptural church

Alexander Campbell's "colleague Walter Scott developed a reasonable, scriptural "plan of salvation." Its "positive," or objective, steps into the church (faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, gift of the Holy Spirit) attracted thousands who longed for religious security but had not experienced the emotional crisis and subjective assurance that characterized the prevailing revivalism."

Once again, 1830 was the turning point

Unable to unite Christianity, they settled down to do what they could.

"By 1830 the regular Baptists and the reformers parted company, the latter terming themselves Disciples. Two years later Stone and many of his followers joined with them, though continuing to use the name Christians. … Alexander Campbell from 1830 on turned to constructive church craft. He founded The Millennial Harbinger, established Bethany College, then in Virginia (1840), and agitated unsuccessfully for a general church organization based on congregational representation. The first general convention met at Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1849 and launched the American Christian Missionary Society as a "society of individuals" and not an ecclesiastical body."

And not just among Protestants

It was not only Protestant churches that felt the need to reform, in or around 1830. In Britain, the influential "Oxford Movement" (or Tractarianism) grew up in the 1830s, attempting to renew the old Catholic faith. Although started among nominal Protestants, its focus was on refreshing Catholicism. It was a conscious reaction against the new liberal theology.

1830: Christianity's greatest hour of need

The early nineteenth century - and particularly the year around 1830 - saw Christianity under its greatest ever attack, both from inside and outside. If ever the churches needed new revelation from heaven, it was then. This section is based largely on "Christian Belief in the Making", from The Lion Handbook of Christian Belief, edited by Robin Keeley (Lion Publishing 1982).

The "enlightenment" - the "who needs God?" approach

First there was the results of the enlightenment - an increasingly popular delusion that mankind can explain everything without reference to God. This was the height of the "clockwork universe" theory, that the natural world was just a predictable machine. (This idea is now less fashionable, due to quantum physics and an increased understanding of science, but it was very popular in the nineteenth century)

Liberal theology - making faith a slave to academic fashions

Next, there was the rise of liberal theology, which placed limited intellect above divine revelation. For example, the path-breaking "Das Leben Jesu" (the life of Jesus) by D. F. Strauss, was published in 1835. This massive best seller had a great influence in portraying Jesus as a falible human figure. Other key figures of this period included:

The father of modern theology - destroying faith by suffocation

Third, the Christian response was to separate science and religion. This was (and is) a popular but suicidal idea. It effectively gives up any absolute or practical claims to truth. The key figure was Friedrich Schleiermacher, who by 1830 (he died in 1834) was

"one of the most influential theologians in Europe ... Schleiermacher felt that religious belief would remain credible only if it was removed from the realm of rational investigation altogether. ... God, for Friedrich Schleiermacher, was "whatever people felt him to be". . . .  Schleiermacher's distinction between the world of reason and the world of religion has been so widely accepted by more recent theologians that he has rightly been dubbed "the father of modern theology".

The faithful were searching for God's word

People were looking for a new witness. In the 1830s, Tischendorf was searching for the earliest possible copy of the scriptures in order to prove that the Bible was genuine. He eventually found the Codex Sinaiticus, which along with the Codex Vaticanus is the oldest known complete Bible. Yet ancient discoveries brought their own problems - these old Bibles did not include the important last twelve verses of Mark. What the world really needed was new prophecy!

1830: a window of opportunity

1830: a window of physical opportunity

Light always stirs up darkness. The kingdom of God always arouses intense opposition, whether in the days of Noah, Abraham, Moses or Christ. While it is small and weak, the church needs a physical refuge, somewhere to gather the people of Zion. The "opening up" of the United States in the mid nineteenth century offered just such an opportunity.

In a similarly practical way, if God's kingdom is going to draw people from every corner of the globe, it needs an era of mass transport and communication. It is no accident that the gospel was restored in 1830, the year of the world's first passenger railway.

1830: a window of spiritual opportunity

The kingdom of God needs, above all, faithful members. Faith is in short supply in the modern world. For millennia it had been normal for nearly everyone to have some kind of faith, but with mass communication these certainties have ended for most people.

(Why is this? One obvious answer is that when everyone lived in small towns or villages, they were closer to the results of their actions. The benefits of righteousness were easier to see. But when everyone lives in cities, specialising in our work, we are further from the results of our actions. Sin no longer seems so bad, and religion therefore seems less relevant. Financial wealth becomes attainable and thus all consuming. When most people no longer work with their hands, the realities of life become more abstract, less easy to truly understand. In this insulated world, rhetorical sophistries can be make black seem white and make God seem irrelevant.)

Had the gospel been restored just fifty years later, it perhaps would not have survived the fashionable scientific and social views (not to mention wars and financial upheavals) that would have dogged its formative years.

But on the other hand, when religion was so ingrained as to become institutional, some people forgot why they believed, and did terrible things in the name of God. Had prophets been restored to the earth in the eighteenth instead of the nineteenth century, they would probably have been burned as witches!

1830: a window of political opportunity

The kingdom of God is not just a spiritual concept, but it speaks of a political reality (as Hobbes observed). Many people find a vigorous church very threatening. 1830s America was the first time it was possible to be both politically and religiously independent in a serious way:

"Alexis de Tocqueville was astonished to find in the United States, in the 1830s, that it was possible for ordinary men who stood for political freedom to be, and to remain, religiously devout. This was not the typical combination in the Europe of his day." (Britannica)

1830: the key date for understanding Bible prophecy

The evidence on this page has not covered the most amazing facts of all:

These issues are covered on the page on the millennium.

the bottom line

Any non-Mormon studying church history must realise that 1830 was the most significant year since New Testament times - but do they know why?


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