The Great Christian Degeneration of the 1800s: Apostasy, Cults, and More
Yesterday, I penned an article titled: The Fall Of Christendom And The Great Lie Of The Enlightenment.
The main purpose of that article was to give some historical context to lead into this article. So, if you have not yet read it, I highly encourage reading that one first. Knowing how we got to the 1800s is essential to understanding what exactly happened to the church in this century.
For just a brief primer, the context and culture of the 1800s was one of pure Enlightenment beliefs and mindsets. Christendom had fallen, the trauma from the French Revolution was wrapping up, and certain regions like the North Americas were testing out deistic/Enlightenment theories on a federal level.
The United States, for instance, decided on a “freedom of religion” clause given their many deistic and agnostic founders, which was secularism as defined by the Philosophes of the Enlightenment. Many of the heretical cults we’ll discuss started in this land for that very reason.
In the past, Christians realized they needed to safeguard the true historic faith against significant errors. If they did not do so, damnable heresies crept in which would lead to people being taken away by false teachers and false prophets; potentially leading to their damnation. This is a duty for Christians to voraciously resist, and it is the duty of the state to safeguard against.
The United States and many other states completely gave up this duty in the early 1800s, instead favoring “tolerance”. The kind of loving “tolerance” that will now lead millions of their own citizens to hell through false religions. How tolerant and loving!
This created a climate of a complete free-for-all for religious cults, alongside Enlightenment lies. Individualism and materialism merged in this century to create some weird monstrosity where the social gospel could fester, alongside plenty of incubators for the invent-any-god-you-like-in-your-head belief systems. Subjective gods used to justify their own bad behaviors and immoral beliefs, of course.
Many churches, for reasons we will get into, became handicapped from combatting these exploding problems through their usual methods of communitarian edification. The ones that did have limited ability to resist often failed to do so. So, the perversion spread. Rapidly.
The 1800s were a festering pot of apostasy. I can recall no other time period that caused so much damage in such a short period for the true Christian faith.
We will discuss some of these degenerations, broken down by the big three: Protestant/Other, Roman Catholic, and Orthodoxy.
Starting with Protestantism and all other groups (cults, restorationists, et cetera).
Protestantism & All Others
Protestantism took off in 1517 when Martin Luther proliferated his Ninety-five Theses about Roman Catholic indulgences. There were proto-Protestants for most of Christian history, but the real split came with Luther and the “involuntary schism” from the Roman Catholics with Lutheranism. Others followed suit, mostly the Anglicans, Reformed, and Anabaptists.
Roman Catholics often argue against protestants with the “million denominations” meme. Implying that protestantism will lead to a million different denominations, all constantly fighting one another.
But, historically speaking, there were not that many denominations. And this trend held for centuries under Christendom. The national churches were organized under true hierarchical leadership, and stuck with the main denominations of the leaders. All people had a national church; a connection to their identity. Similarly to the Greek Orthodox or other Eastern churches.
Before the fall of Christendom, for the first time in Western history, the nation-states were adopting an ethnic Christian faith particular for their people, similar to those in the East. Not everyone remained under Rome, but we all had Christ.
This trend, sadly, could not continue for long, because of the fall of Christendom. Modernity is what truly caused the plague of a million denominations, not Protestantism.
One thing you will find if you study most of the splits, and especially the inter-denominational splits, is that the vast majority came about in the 1800s. These splits and further breakdowns of the denominations happened because of modernism and liberalism invading the churches. The few denominations did fine for literally hundreds of years until the house of cards fell with Enlightenment theology.
So in the 1800s, the faithful split from the Enlightenment perversions. This only happened because Christendom fell and “freedom of religion” arose in the place of a national religion that was occurring under Christendom. You can easily recognize this by studying the explosion in splits and denominations in the 1800s, some of which are linked to below.
The 1800s impact on Protestantism cannot be overstated; it was a radical upheaval and disintegration.
There are a few big names in the liberalization of Protestantism. Some of them pre-1800s, but they all laid the seeds that would be harvested in that century. I’d like to mention four in particular:
- David Strauss (A “theologian” who created the famous “historical Jesus” portrayal which completes denies His divine nature. Strauss is a precursor to many of the nontrinitarian cults).
- Gotthold Lessing (A philosopher, dramatist, publicist and art critic, and a representative of the Enlightenment era who largely lead the Christian “tolerance” movement regarding other religions and argued against a literal interpretation of the bible).
- Hermann Reimarus (A philosopher and writer of the Enlightenment who is remembered for his Deism, the doctrine that human reason can arrive at a knowledge of God and ethics from a study of nature and our own internal reality, thus eliminating the need for religions based on revelation).
- Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (A Protestant “theologian” of the Enlightenment and an early orientalist who conducted criticism of the Old Testament with the goal of proving that the books were not valid. He created much of the “don’t trust the Bible” narrative and the “pick-your-own-morality” philosophy).
Even universities as a whole switched during the 1800s. The University of Tübingen is one notable example that outright denied the New Testament books (considering them “late” documents that were thus invalid). Even the theology universities fell to liberalism in the 1800s!
Each of these heresies we are still dealing with today. People that don’t read the Bible, don’t trust it, doubt the authorship, don’t see a need for the one true faith because we have “muh human reason”, feel that their emotions = Holy Spirit, and so on. It started here.
But it gets even worse.
Many cults popped up at this time that significantly abandoned and apostatized traditional Christianity:
- Mormonism / Joseph Smith’s polygamous cult – 1827
- Joanna Southcott’s cult – 1814
- Darby’s dispensationalist cult and rapture cult (which have since overtaken many baptists) – 1831
- Seventh-Day Adventists cult who predicted the world would end on Oct 22 (note: world is still here) – 1844
- Christian Science cult by Mary Baker Eddy – 1875
- Jehovah’s Witnesses, at the direction of Charles Russell, claimed Jesus already showed up six years ago – 1881
But even that is not all.
Here are other random major degenerations/apostasies of the century (I would love to discuss each of these in detail, but I simply don’t have the word count to do so. Thus, a list will have to suffice):
- The Protestant denomination splits/rapid proliferations due to liberalism in the entirety of the 1800s. A few examples:
- Presbyterians split on political lines in 1837.
- Baptists split on political lines around mid-1840s.
- Methodists split on political lines in 1845.
- African Americans split on political lines from Methodists in 1815.
- Second Great Awakening creates Utopian and Holiness movements (1790-1840s).
- The idea of a “non-denom” arose in the 1850s.
- Third Great Awakening creates the Nazarene movement and more Holiness movements (1850-1930s).
- Pentecostals and Charismatics come around at the end of the century (1890s).
- Third Great Awakening (1850-1930s) proliferates modernist postmillennial theology.
- “Perfectionism is attainable” theory (to be perfect like Jesus) arose in the Americas in the 1850s.
- The first worshiping of modern Israelites / Jews started during the 1800s, along with the belief that Jews were auto-saved even if they are not Christian (a lie). The term Judeo-Christian first appeared in 1821, for instance.
- Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859. This work was picked up by many of those listed above who were critical regarding the bible’s foundations and used against Christianity by “Christians” themselves to argue for a non-literal reading of scripture.
- The first woman ordained as a church minister happened in 1853 (Antoinette Louisa Brown).
- Almost all Protestant/Roman Catholic groups shifted focus to Christianizing Africa (the Evangelical “scramble for Africa” around 1830-1900 came at the expense of the homefront. Instead of stomping out these degenerations I listed above, our best people went overseas to convert Africans while our people’s heresies grew exponentially).
The 1800s were so bad that they even managed to screw up the Lord’s name during this era. The Lord’s name is not Yahweh. That’s another 19th century degeneration (1856) that came about because of a liar named Alexander MacWhorter III.
All of this in the 1800s. Can you believe it?
Are you starting to notice a trend regarding this problem century?
Satan was working triple-time. While Christians were apparently not paying any attention at all; too focused on the shiny Enlightenment lies, apparently.
Of course, Protestantism had major anti-liberal movements as well. The Oxford movement, evangelicalism, Willem Bilderdijk’s Christian Reformed Church, Danish People’s Church, and others certainly did their best.
They were simply outnumbered and being overrun by the Enlightenment lies.
The Roman Catholics did not fare much better.
The Roman Catholics were not in a great position circa 1800. The Reformation had decimated their stronghold over the West, the East further resisted them, and even nationalist movements threatened Catholicism.
So what’d they do? They leaned conservative. It is true: When the Protestants largely went left, the Roman Catholics went right. It is a shame they couldn’t hold it to the modern day.
One such example of this reaction-to-the-reaction was Ultramontanism, a belief in a strong pope and the absolute centralization of power in Rome.
I’m a nation-state religion kind-of-guy, so that is not my cup of tea. I prefer looking for a unified Christendom but with separate national churches akin to the Orthodox approach. So while I don’t agree with things like Ultramontanism, it is worth noting that the Roman Catholics resisted the liberalization of the West, at least at first. Sadly, they are far more liberal than evangelicals now.
Still, Roman Catholics had their problems. It wasn’t all sunshine under Rome’s umbrella.
The 1800s were when the papal infallibility dogma happened. This is the theory that when the pope speaks ex cathedra, he is preserved from the possibility of error on doctrine. He is considered literally infallible. This is not a historic Roman Catholic doctrine as many of them like to assume—This doctrine was defined at the First Vatican Council of 1869–1870. A Roman Catholic degeneration if I had ever heard of one, given that in the medieval ages faithful Roman Catholic Italians like Dante claimed popes would go to hell sometimes. That’s quite different from infallibility, if you ask me.
This dogma shift was such a big one that it actually created secessionist Roman Catholics in the 1800s. They called themselves the “Old Catholics”. So even the Roman Catholics had new denominations in the 1800s, which is ironic considering how much fun they have poking the Protestants for the same thing.
Even worse, Roman Catholic theologians like Georg Hermes (creator of “Hermesianism”—Later condemned) and H.D. Lacordaire took nearly all of their beliefs from secular rationalists such as Rousseau and other Enlightenment Philosophes. These writers were all about “progress” and liberalism. They, and others like them, planted the seeds for eventual liberalization of Roman Catholicism.
Roman Catholicism is also where “Modernism” first got its name.
Modernism was a movement within 19th century liberal Catholicism. These were the Roman Catholics that wanted to bring their religious teachings inline with Enlightenment ideals. So, peak subversionists.
Modernism spread like wildfire in the 1800s, and wasn’t even condemned until the 20th century. Many big names are found in modernist heresy, such as Alfred Loisy (a critic of traditional views of the interpretation of the Bible), Maurice Blondel (a philosopher aimed at establishing the correct relationship between autonomous Enlightenment reasoning and Christian belief), and plenty of others.
Sadly for all Christians, Roman Catholicism was too busy in the 19th century fighting off threats from inside their own church to deal with the spreading heresies and errors with the greater divergent church. This was true of Protestants and Orthodox, as well.
Every true Christian had their hands full, it seems.
As a result of the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the majority of the Orthodox community at the start of the 1800s was under the boot of the Ottomans and separated from the West. It had been this way for a long time. The only major branch that had limited contact was “The Third Rome”—The Russian Orthodox out of Moscow.
This situation was bad… but not all that bad necessarily.
This is one of those instances where the theory of “hard times create strong men; easy times create weak men” becomes readily apparent.
The Orthodox were under hard times. The West was not. Our Orthodox friends did not have time to theorize about social movements and the precise definition of the word ‘liberty’. The West did.
Being under the Ottomans did one major thing:
- It insulated the Orthodox faith from the degenerations occurring in the West. They were largely immune from much of the liberalization as it was happening, because they had bigger things to worry about. For example, being subjugated by or actively warring with Muslims.
Thus, the Orthodox largely avoided both the major degenerations happening in Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. While at the same time fostering mindsets such as Slavophilism—An anti-Western, pro-Slavic movement that was Christian nationalist and based out of Russia. The Slavo position was specifically devised to resist the Enlightenment lies spreading so rapidly in the West, such as materialism, secularism, and the like (Sadly, this ideology would die under the weight of the Bolsheviks in the following century).
But, like the others, the Orthodox too had their own problems in this century.
However, they were unique problems, separate from the West.
The main one being the Turks and the Ottomans themselves, who kept deposing the patriarchs and forcing the Orthodox into compliance. This was especially rough with the Greeks. One famous example was Gregory V in 1821, who ended up being executed.
One of the few ways the Greeks managed to preserve their culture through centuries of domination was through the Greek Orthodox Church. The Ypsilanti revolution is well worth a dive into for further information on this topic.
The Orthodox also still had to contend with the Roman Catholics off-and-on during this time. The Catholics brought their degeneration with them against the Orthodox as they were under Ottoman control. One large example was in 1848 when the Roman Catholics sent the Epistle to the Easterns. The Orthodox Encyclical condemned it in response. This split aid and dialogue among the two.
The Orthodox also severed their nationalistic ties in this century; a strong degeneration for an ethnic-tied church from its origins. Because of the long-term Ottoman dominion, many nationalistic sentiments arose seeking freedom from the Muslims (I already mentioned the Greeks, but others, like the April Uprising, were common all throughout the East).
This national sentiment scared the patriarchate of Constantinople, who resisted it in 1872 by denouncing nationalists entirely for something called “phyletism”. This was categorized as a heresy of confusing the church with a nation and intermixing nationalism into faith; something the Orthodox did since their inception, but now was apparently an error of their faith.
In large part, it was a degeneration to keep the power centralized in the Orthodox church, so the Ottoman-controlled regions retained dominion over them. There is much speculation that this was at the behest of the Ottomans. The Orthodox church infighting grew exponentially during this time, as different regions fought the head for autonomy.
One of the other major degenerations of the 1800s came about in 1853 because of the Crimean War. This war brought in all Christian branches as the Russians fought the Ottomans. Regretfully, Protestant West and Roman Catholic West both sided with the Ottomans (Austria, France, England, and others)—Which was perhaps the greatest betrayal of the unified Christian Church in history. Our Western Churches openly sided with Muslim invaders and oppressors against the Orthodox in this war; forever splintering the East from the West. This betrayal was far worse than even the West sacking Constantinople during the crusades or similar schism-provoking events, as the degenerated West now supported Islamic oppressors over fellow persecuted Christians.
You want to know why modern Russia and Orthodoxy have trust issues with us? Read up about this war. The lost unity found here was something that drove much of what happened in the 1900s.
This approach by the Protestant and Catholic West would later come to haunt them. Third Rome later severed ties with the West in retaliation, by trying to expel Catholic Poles, forbidding intermarriages among certain faiths (like Protestants and Orthodox marriage) and other actions. This breakdown in Christendom was contributed by both sides, but equally harmful to both.
You see, the degeneration of the 1800s was not just in cults and apostates, but in the total and unequivocal breakdown of the final fleeting hopes for Christendom. The 1800s permanently severed those loosening ties and equally broke down the last nationalist stronghold (in the East).
The Enlightenment fully took over in the 1800s, with the unity of any ethnic, Christian, historic, or other ties being ripped apart. We still suffer from these events to this day.
Still, some good names came out of Orthodoxy during this time. Aleksei Khomyakov was a hero of the Russian people who denied materialism and individualism of the West. Dostoevsky, too, wrote many interesting works from a theological angle.
If there is one group that got through the Great Apostasy of the 1800s the least marred, it was probably the Orthodox. All it took was major revolutionary wars, hundreds of thousands dead, and literal slavery to Muslims.
So they scrapped by. But even that’s not saying much, because we all still fell significantly.
Most Christians just didn’t realize the full extent of that fall yet.
In the writing above, I postulated the following question. Let’s briefly return to it:
All of this in the 1800s. Can you believe it?
Are you starting to notice a trend regarding this problem century?
The trend should be apparent as day, at this point. No other century has so many degenerations that were so clear and damaging.
I would like to share four essential closing thoughts that we should takeaway from this knowledge:
- Be skeptical of anything that spread during the 1800s. Or anything since the Enlightenment, for that matter.
- Pay attention to dates and timeframes. Lies can only enter in when weakness is high. So you will often see major degenerations, apostasy, lies, and failures lumped together, when an institution (in this case, the church) is at its most weak position. The 1800s is a great example.
- Be cautious hastily adopting new ideas and philosophies; tradition has guided us for a reason. This especially applies for things like individualism—There is far more power in community.
- If some dogma just randomly reveals itself two millennia after Christ’s death, on the other side of the world, in an era of constant lies, and contradicts scripture… It’s probably not true. If you actually want the truth, stick to traditional, historic Christian beliefs. The Bible says that the faith was delivered once and for all. It won’t—It cannot—change.
It is my belief that no other time in history, aside from maybe the initial founding heretical cults like Arianism, has caused such damage to the theological underpinnings of the church like the 1800s. It really was the century of Christian degeneration.
We are still struggling from this perversive Christian Apostasy of the 1800s even today.
Maybe someday we will finally put its lies to rest. But that can only come if we first yearn for the truth.
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