American religion evolved primarily out of various Anglified variants of Calvinism. Calvin had almost nothing in common with Joseph Smith theologically, though Smith had been brought up on huge doses of Calvinism. Not much of it seemed to have rubbed off however. Calvin’s offshoot sects like the Presbyterians, came to be be Smith’s political and theological arch-enemies.
Calvin was no stranger to persecution of course, but unlike Joseph Smith he quickly learned how to politic himself into a position of power through stirring up the masses and local clergy to support him. He could also argue his way out of the noose when called upon and barely escaped being branded a heretic himself early on. Like Joseph Smith, he was a self-made “Prophet,” only he didn’t believe in those, or a self-declared “Pope” except he didn’t believe in those either. He had no easy credentials, no “Old School Tie” connections to speak of, no inherent money, lands, titles, legal, political or social power base. Everything he built in his Geneva Empire he pulled out of his own arse and had to create on the spot. Calvin literally created his own theocracy and assumed the role of its Protector for Life. To do this he took an urban wilderness apart at the seams and rebuilt it in his own image. With little more than his own big mouth and clever pen, he ousted political, social, and religious authorities who had ruled the “civilized” world for centuries. You can’t knock success.
But John Calvin beat Joe Smith to the New World, and because Calvin’s theocratic descendants knew exactly what Calvin would be doing if he had been the one founding America, American Christians for the most part just presumed from the start that Old Joe Smith would be attempting to pull off the same sort of theocratic dictatorship. Quite apart from doctrinal differences, this political reality in an American system meant that Christians could not let Mormons participate on an even playing field or they could simply recruit and reproduce themselves into political orthodoxy anywhere they established a social power base. That’s far easier to do in America than it is with an official State religion where Christians could easily define Mormonism out of the entire political and social process. That’s what Constantine did. That’s what Calvin did. That’s what virtually every one of the Protestant Reformers did. How even a hugely Christian majority could do the same thing in a Constitutional Republic with specific Constitutional protections for freedom of worship, became a serious frustration for anti-Mormon Christian crusaders.
Christian America’s reaction to Revolutionary Joe Smith has been from the start, primarily a territorial dispute rather than strictly a doctrinal or authoritarian one. Smith was threatening Protestant America’s ownership of the hearts, minds, and bodies of the New World simply by being allowed to exist. The specifics of his doctrines were only relevant insofar as they could be firmly defined as heretical, and that could have come down to anything from denouncing infant baptism, the Triune God, the Inerrancy of the King James Bible, or any number of pet, historically hot Christian controversies, depending upon which Christian clergy was looking to put down Mormonism.
Joseph Smith’s most offensive heresy however, in the minds of the professional Christians offended by it, was the very notion that some rural hick in his pre-teen years could turn whole populations against thousands of years of conventional Christianity based entirely upon a claim to personal revelation. If the general population was somehow willing to accept that premise, then anyone could worship God however they wanted and could establish by public acclaim any new creed or clergy they felt most comfortable with. The professional American Christian clergy would no longer have a captive audience. America’s up-and-coming Christian ministries certainly couldn’t have that sort of competition going on in their expansive, newly planted American fields of self-imagined glory.
America in Joseph Smith’s day represented the largest wide-open potential Christian harvest in the history of the planet. Those who owned the Christian brand at the time saw that if they did not vigorously–even violently–guard its use, it meant that America would become a place where anyone could come up with a more popular twist on the Bible or religion in general, and freely steal their sheep away. They saw that if they were forced by their own Church traditions to insist upon preaching doctrines to, and haranguing their congregations with dogma that generations of thinking Christians have known to be irrational, illogical, and often just plain asinine, they would never be able to compete against somebody free to deliver a gospel that made sense for a change. (Or at least, made more sense.) If Joe Smith were allowed by “inspiration” to say, no, there’s no such thing as immaterial matter, or that God just exists as a finer form of matter, but neither matter nor intelligence can be created nor destroyed, the fact is, unlike the Platonic, Athanasian, non-God that Christians are compelled to defend, an intangible being who is made of nothing and yet fills an infinitely huge universe, which He incidentally created out of nothing, Smith’s version is going to leave the professional Christian with merely a few obtuse apologies centered around murky mysticism, to try to cover up the clear impression most intelligent listeners would get, that Joe Smith makes absolute sense and his notion of God and physics are apparently scientifically valid.
In frontier America, if anyone was going to be fleecing America’s thriving flocks, it was going to be Christians. Professional, properly trained Christians. Even though the professional Christians in America’s revivalist-driven frenzies at the start of the 19th century fought fervently amongst themselves to define what exactly a Christian actually was, or what the word even meant, they were all pretty certain it didn’t include Joe Smith and his Mormons. Ultimately however, Christianity could not find a Constitutional relief from Mormonism. So Christianity went outside the Constitution and invented a form of Holy Retribution that became known as “mobocracy.” Where Calvin would have simply had the lawmen he owned haul Joseph Smith into the courts he owned, and torture a confession out of him after the Church thugs he owned had beaten him senseless enough, and then Calvin could have executed Joe Smith in a public square that he also owned, Calvin’s American children could only effect the same arrangement by assembling masses of Christian clergy and congregational supporters, declaring Joe Smith a heretic in absentia, and then execute their verdict through an embrace of violence and encouragement to the reprobates, low-lifes and back-sliders within their own congregations, or even unfocussed n’er-do-wells loafing around within earshot, to go enjoy whatever wicked pleasure they might gain from tormenting, sacking, pillaging, raping and murdering the Mormons with the blessing of God, and with full assurance that as non-Christian blasphemers and heretics, Mormons are beyond the protection of American justice. (Like Negros and Indians.)
Where Calvin would have had his own lawmen and politicians openly enact and enforce anti-Mormon statutes by force of arms, America’s career Christian religionists generally had to settle for an agreement from their civil officials and officers of the law to look the other way, or just be out of town that day, as the mobs did the dirty work of insuring Christian control over all civic affairs.
Like Joseph Smith, Calvin made beginner’s mistakes that could have ruined him. For instance, because John Calvin was throughout his religious career essentially making it up as he went, claiming the Bible as his and God’s only authority on this earth, one of his first major religious scuffles before coming to undisputable power in Geneva was with a French refugee, Pierre Caroli, a pastor who was a stickler for “orthodoxy.” In his many lectures and tours, Calvin was always imprecise in his Trinitarian and other “orthodox” terminology. The peculiar Calvinist vernacular he invented became a target for detractors who saw that he didn’t have the Latin Church creeds and related jargon down well enough in their minds to be considered reliably schooled in Christianity. In fairness to Calvin, this is because none of it is actually in the Bible.
Caroli accused Calvin of Arianism and Sabellianism, a couple of old anti-Trinitarian “heresies” supposedly long settled in both Roman, Eastern, Lutheran and most other Protestant circles. Caroli’s charges centered around the notion that Calvin never used the word “Trinity,” he used “Godhead,” and his Geneva Church did not formally subscribe to the Athanasian Creed. The Confession of Faith he forced his entire city to swear to didn’t specifically contain any Trinitarian language either. In 1537 Calvin and his cloister of religious consultants were therefore called before the synod in Bern and back-pedaled their way out of the charge of heresy with some effort and then kicked Caroli out of town and permanently banished him.
I’ve always found this brush with heresy on Calvin’s part amusingly hypocritical in light of the fact that some few years later, after ascending to his throne in Geneva, he would be condemning Michael Servetus to the fire for being anti-Trinitarian, the same charge Caroli used to almost get Calvin burned to a crisp. And if I can compare Joseph Smith just once more with John Calvin, we see that Smith’s biggest sin from the professional Christian’s perspective seemed to be that he just didn’t ever seem to play the Christian game by the established rules. Some rules were just not to be questioned, and Trinitarianism was probably the most sacrosanct of them all in either the Roman or mainstream Protestant traditions. If you could prove your critics and opponents were anti-Trinitarian, it was sure-fire trip to the gallows or the stake—or if you were under Calvin’s rule, he seemed to prefer decapitation with a pretty, ceremonial sword he kept around for the purpose. So, just in example, when Calvin recognized his Trinitarian error, he did not say, no Bishop, it’s just not in the Bible so it isn’t true. He said, yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir, and moved on. (He did not however, go back and amend any of his confessions of faith to include Trinitarian language, nor did he append to any of his theological dogma either the Nicene or Athanasian Creeds.)
Unlike Luther and most other Reformers, Calvin skipped out on his Catholic education and was not at all well versed in the traditions of the Church Fathers and their various creeds. In fact when confronted with the writings of the Church Fathers or Apostolic Fathers by opponents or debaters, Calvin would just say he had the “original” Greek manuscripts, he had the Latin and the Hebrew and could read from the original Biblical authors themselves. Sola Scriptura or the Bible Only was his motto. He didn’t care what some minor African bishop like Augustine of Hippo or some Roman Catholic council had to say about the metaphysical character of Deity back in 326 AD. (I won’t go again into the fundamental stupidity of his assumption that he had the “original” Biblical texts at his disposal.) He did however have the oldest Greek and Latin texts then in existence, and it could be argued that he would therefore be more reliable in his resources than say, the King James “Authorized Version” is then or now. In fact there is an ongoing battle between modern sects who are essentially Calvinist most of them, who view the King James Version to be absolutely inerrant, and a modern class of scholars who in fact take Calvin’s argument and make it a point to catalogue every single error in this inerrant work, based strictly upon how it differs from the Latin and Greek texts it was allegedly taken from.
The King James inerrancy battle should keep you occupied for a day or so browsing the net for links, if you really want to understand the base stupidity of Calvin’s claim that God’s Church and the laws of God can be reliably extracted from what we have left of Canonical scripture whatever the manuscript. And when Joseph Smith came up all non-Trinitarian-ish after his First Vision, it wasn’t anything Calvin hadn’t been accused of long before. When Joseph Smith said the American standard, the King James Bible, wasn’t a perfect representation of the original texts, well, Calvin had already been there and done that. The same group of people bashing Joseph Smith on the head with the King James Version back in the frontier era, today now find that Joseph has rather a lot of support coming from scholars and doctors of divinity, and the intellectual giants of Christianity—just the sort of people his detractors claimed Joseph Smith was not and therefore everyone of letters surely knew with absolute certainty that Smith’ opinions about the King James Version were obviously idiotic.
As it happens, the translator of the first Bible in English, John Wycliffe, never fully documented his texts or processes. Because of this lack of scholarly surety, and the fact that Wycliffe was considered a heretic back when the Roman Church ruled England, and thus the Roman Church had put down his pre-Reformation Reformation, his manuscript and most of his copies were destroyed. After that they were too poisoned to be used by any English scholar as a basis for a new Bible anyway. Wycliffe’s English style was obsolete as well. So, the King James Version draws very heavily upon the work of William Tyndale, who’s Reformational zeal to have the scriptures in the common language drew only inspirationally from Wycliffe. Tyndale is claimed to have used only the Latin Vulgate for reverence, and is claimed to have not had access to older Greek text. The “inerrant” King James Version is therefore actually about three translations into it, Hebrew or Aramaic to Greek, Greek to Latin, and then Latin to English, before the King James scribes start their job.
It might be noted that although excommunicated by and politically severed from Rome at the time, Henry VIII wasn’t very keen on Tyndale for his efforts at making an English Bible for the masses. Henry also felt Tyndale was cheating the texts into a far more radically Protestant context than Henry felt comfortable with. Like most people who argued with Henry VIII, Tyndale was executed shortly after finishing his work. But then, Kings change and so does the Church. By James Ist’s go at the Bible, Tyndale had already done most of the hard work, thus his being inconveniently dead didn’t slow James I down at all. James I and Parliament were all all by then very happily Protestant as hell, so James didn’t mind any of Tyndale’s anti-Roman colorations. He had his team lose any Calvinistic calls to rebel from the king or Church that Tyndale may have put in the margins or allowed to be translated correctly rather than spun to favor the English Crown. Then James had his team more eloquently paraphrase Tyndale’s translation, while cross-referencing it with the ancient texts. They had a go at some Greek or Latin or even Hebrew in emergencies, compared texts back and forth, polished it all up for king and clergy, and James I quickly had himself an excellent version of the Bible in the modern, educated, “King’s English.”
When John Calvin went at the Bible, he of course had older–and so he maintained a bit erroneously–more reliable texts. He wasn’t even dependent upon a translation. He had access to the oldest texts known in his day. If we concede this is true, then, one must ask, why did he miss the alleged importance of Trinitarian dogma? Calvin’s Humanist education made him quite familiar with the classical Greek logic of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates upon which the Nicene and Athanasian creeds were based. And in fairness to Calvin, when ultimately schooled by Caroli’s little Inquisition he found no intellectual reservations about Trinitarian theology. It’s just that nothing in the Biblical texts ever screamed “Trinity” at Calvin.
To Calvin, Trinitarianism was an extra-Biblical concept upon which he apparently had little or no opinion. Calvin deemed God’s nature of existence or the exact substance of His various manifestations to be fundamentally incomprehensible to the human mind, and irrelevant to the will of God in any case.
Calvin wasn’t preoccupied with knowing the nature of God, just in organizing what His rules were and making people obey them. (Mormons will tell you this is Satan’s plan, but that’s another matter.) Calvin looked at the Bible and Church tradition as a lawyer would, and systematically drew conclusions based entirely upon what he considered to be the most reliable evidence available to him in the Holy Canon.
There is only one other historical document that Calvin claims to have drawn upon in his deliberations of God’s True Will. This is known traditionally as the “Apostle’s Creed.” According to legend, the original of this document was drafted sometime in the vicinity of Christ’s passing from this earth by the Original Apostles. The story goes that they gathered together and each one contributed a portion of their personal gospel knowledge to compile its several statements, or “confessions” of Christian faith.
Reliable references to the Apostle’s Creed however, only date back to the time of the Apostolic Fathers, many many years after the death of the Original Apostles. The Apostolic Fathers knew the Original Apostles or close associates of them, and it is possible that it was the Apostolic Fathers who drafted this creed based upon what is now Holy Canon and even from personal memory. Even assuming that it was the Apostolic Fathers and not the Original Apostles who kicked this document off, the Apostle’s Creed, like the Bible, was still clearly never written and published in one complete and “inerrant” edition, because the many well-documented examples of it through the centuries show that it originated as a much simpler document and gradually generated into the form we find it today:
1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
5. The third day he rose again from the dead:
6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:
9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
10. The forgiveness of sins:
1l. The resurrection of the body:
12. And the life everlasting. Amen.
If we concede that this is the oldest and most reliable confession of Christian faith, then Mormons are obviously Christian. No Mormon would have any problem with making any one of these confessions except for a little leeway in what “conceived by the Holy Ghost,” means in actual practice. This Holy Ghost issue mind you, is something the Eastern and Western Church are still arguing about so the murky relationship between the “immaculate” conception of Mary and this Biblical allusion to the Holy Ghost and Mary “hooking up” in some fashion with one manifestation of God or another to effect her virgin impregnation is hardly a settled matter even in the historically “orthodox” Churches. Indeed, there are whole new schools of Protestant Christian scholars who are even comfortable dropping the entire “virgin birth” scenario based upon obvious errors or manipulations of Biblical texts over the ages designed to bolster this theory rather than just translate the actual record.
The truth of the matter is, the important “virgin shall conceive” Biblical prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 actually read, “a young woman shall conceive,” in literal translation from the much older Hebrew texts. The Greek Septuagint version Calvin claimed to be his “original” texts (not!) substituted “virgin” for “young woman.” It’s no great leap to assume then that the Greek scribes who “translated” what we now use as a New Testament likewise beefed up this “virgin birth” claim whenever they came across the New Testament authors’ allusions to Mary’s conception or Christ’s birth–whether it existed in the original Hebrew or Aramaic texts they copied from or not. If for no other reason they would have tended to try to keep this theme consistent by revising the thousands of years of records to plug it in where needed—whether they were just promoting this theory on a personal whim or whether it actually was true. (And I remind the reader that the original “original” texts, the so-called “Original Autographs” do not exist today. We have only the alleged copies of these allegedly original documents, made generations later by Christian scholars and historians in Greek etc.)
This is not my main point here, but I can’t resist the urge to point out that the Biblical “virgin birth” scenario also calls into question other Biblical assertions that Christ came through the line of David, which would have to mean his biological father was Joseph, not the “Holy Ghost,” or any possible “orthodox” variant of some cosmic, transcendent, Triune God-Being. The New Testament authors, as good Jews, obviously felt compelled to give us the paternal family tree of Jesus of Nazareth to fulfill the several ancient Messianic prophecies about the House of David. But in the process they blew a rather large hole in the whole “virgin birth” theory.
Some very clever Mormons out there are now chasing their tails around very self-importantly in a testimony-shaking panic, reassuring themselves from their position of higher knowledge, about “clones” and “supernatural genetic transfers” through the priesthood power of the Holy Ghost as God’s Eternal Agent, which they assume would easily explain the whole virgin birth process. A clone however, would be Mary-plus-Mary, clearly excluding Joseph’s patriarchal and priesthood lineage. Supernaturally transferred genetic material through whatever means, Whomever its Agent, would likewise bypass genetic input from Joseph’s patriarchal line. So you High Priest Groups out there in Orem, Springville and Provo just keep working on it. Personally, I’m not sure it matters much to God but if it makes you happy to speculate upon the practical application of Godly reproduction, knock yourselves out. This is the sort of rabidly marginal inbred Utah doctrinal fixations Mormon detractors embrace as a gift.
Clearly I have gone into a serious digression so I’ll just move on…
Once again I’m only trying to point out the folly of claiming you can use the Bible and the Bible alone to “prove” what is or isn’t the “truth” with any sort of certainty. If it were that clear, we wouldn’t have hundreds of Christian sects killing themselves off back and forth over basic questions of Christian doctrine for two thousand years, beginning with the question of what is or isn’t “Canon,” what belongs, and what doesn’t belong in the “Bible,” and even the basic matter of exactly how literally this “Bible” is going to be used as a doctrinal guide.
Calvin wasn’t the first to pretend to base his entire theology upon so-called “Biblical Truth.” But Calvin was the first to successfully rid himself of a traditional clergy that would have otherwise bickered and politicked with him over its history and interpretation into some sort of moderation. Calvin was the first to actually sell an entire civilization upon the notion that one guy could deliver God-like Truth and Wisdom just by being clever with the way he gleaned through the Biblical texts.
If you look at the Apostle’s Creed however, and then read the volumes and volumes of Calvin’s own creeds, confessions of faith, and doctrinal theses, you have to conclude that John Calvin gleaned a lot more from the writings of the Biblical authors than those who actually wrote the Bible did. If we assume the Apostle’s Creed was written by the close associates of Jesus Christ within a heartbeat of His being with them personally, and this simple creed, this short statement of faith and brief historical sketch of Christ’s mission is all they thought to pass on to us as a summary of Christian belief, then the results of John Calvin’s deliberations over the Canonical texts show that Calvin had theological ideas that went well beyond the Apostle’s Creed or anything expressly in the Holy Bible itself, whatever its translation.
When Joseph Smith “straightened out” the Bible, he at least had the audacity to claim an angel had told him how to fix it, or that God or Christ or the Holy Spirit or all three at once showed him what the Biblical authors really meant to write instead of what we ended up with. Calvin, on the other hand, like most other Christian dogmatists, rather than revealing great “truths” via direct messages from Deity or other supernatural Powers-that-Be, very clearly drew his “Biblical Truth” from Classical Greek Theism and Western philosophy in general. The rest he admittedly pulled out of his backside with no apologies.
Calvin’s theology comes down to five main points-which incidentally were never written down by himself and presented coherently as five connected points. They were eventually gleaned from his writings and sermons by those wishing to debate him:
Sin has affected all parts of man. The heart, emotions, will, mind, and body are all affected by sin. We are completely sinful. We are not as sinful as we could be, but we are completely affected by sin.
The doctrine of Total Depravity is derived from scriptures that reveal human character: Man’s heart is evil (Mark 7:21-23) and sick (Jer. 17:9). Man is a slave of sin (Rom. 6:20). He does not seek for God (Rom. 3:10-12). He cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14). He is at enmity with God (Eph. 2:15). And, is by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3). The Calvinist asks the question, “In light of the scriptures that declare man’s true nature as being utterly lost and incapable, how is it possible for anyone to choose or desire God?” The answer is, “He cannot. Therefore God must predestine.”
Calvinism also maintains that because of our fallen nature we are born again not by our own will but God’s will (John 1:12-13); God grants that we believe (Phil. 1:29); faith is the work of God (John 6:28-29); God appoints people to believe (Acts 13:48); and God predestines (Eph. 1:1-11; Rom. 8:29; 9:9-23).
God does not base His election on anything He sees in the individual. He chooses the elect according to the kind intention of His will (Eph. 1:4-8; Rom. 9:11) without any consideration of merit within the individual. Nor does God look into the future to see who would pick Him. Also, as some are elected into salvation, others are not (Rom. 9:15, 21).
Jesus died only for the elect. Though Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all, it was not efficacious for all. Jesus only bore the sins of the elect. Support for this position is drawn from such scriptures as Matt. 26:28 where Jesus died for ‘many’; John 10:11, 15 which say that Jesus died for the sheep (not the goats, per Matt. 25:32-33); John 17:9 where Jesus in prayer interceded for the ones given Him, not those of the entire world; Acts 20:28 and Eph. 5:25-27 which state that the Church was purchased by Christ, not all people; and Isaiah 53:12 which is a prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion where he would bore the sins of many (not all).
When God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist. God offers to all people the gospel message. This is called the external call. But to the elect, God extends an internal call and it cannot be resisted. This call is by the Holy Spirit who works in the hearts and minds of the elect to bring them to repentance and regeneration whereby they willingly and freely come to God. Some of the verses used in support of this teaching are Romans 9:16 where it says that “it is not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy“; Philippians 2:12-13 where God is said to be the one working salvation in the individual; John 6:28-29 where faith is declared to be the work of God; Acts 13:48 where God appoints people to believe; and John 1:12-13 where being born again is not by man’s will, but by God’s.
Perseverance of the Saints:
You cannot lose your salvation. Because the Father has elected, the Son has redeemed, and the Holy Spirit has applied salvation, those thus saved are eternally secure. They are eternally secure in Christ. Some of the verses for this position are John 10:27-28 where Jesus said His sheep will never perish; John 6:47 where salvation is described as everlasting life; Romans 8:1 where it is said we have passed out of judgment; 1 Corinthians 10:13 where God promises to never let us be tempted beyond what we can handle; and Phil. 1:6 where God is the one being faithful to perfect us until the day of Jesus’ return.
Chronologically tag-teaming Calvin was the second major influence upon American frontier religion, the Dutch Reformer Jacobus Arminius. http://www.victorshepherd.on.ca/Heritage/Arminius.htm Arminius was born a few years before Calvin died and studied under Calvin’s brother-in-law in Geneva. He started his career as a staunch Calvinist Reformer but after a while noticed a few problems with Calvin’s Biblical and logical conclusions. It was mostly Arminius and his followers who started breaking Calvin’s teachings down into the five points he most emphasized because it was those five main points they disagreed with so much.
In a nutshell, Arminius came to argue:
- Humans are naturally unable to make any effort towards salvation (see also prevenient grace). They possess free will to accept or reject salvation.
- Salvation is possible only by God’s grace, which cannot be merited.
- No works of human effort can cause or contribute to salvation
- God’s election is conditional on faith in the sacrifice and Lordship of Jesus Christ.
- Christ’s atonement was made on behalf of all people.
- God allows his grace to be resisted by those who freely reject Christ.
- Believers are able to resist sin but are not beyond the possibility of falling from grace through persistent, unrepented-of sin. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arminianism
Generations later, Arminius’ theology came to be incorporated into the tenets of Baptists, Methodists, the Congregationalists in early New England colonies, the Universalists and Unitarians. Even a few “liberal” Southern Presbyterian congregations allowed some Arminian teachings—much to the chagrin of the Anglican Communion. The Smith family was associated with most of the above, particularly the Congregationalists, Universalists, and Methodists. Emma Smith, Joseph’s wife’s family were staunchly Methodist.
it was Arminian theology in particular that fueled the revivalist flames that created Joseph Smith’s so-called “Burned-Over District” in upstate New York. Christ’s “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:16) to take the gospel to the world was pretty pointless to the Calvinist, because God, in Calvinism, had already chosen those He was going to save and this election was assured and irresistible, and not based on merit at all anyway. Believe or not believe, confess or be baptized, it didn’t matter in the end. It was really all down to God, not you. The Methodists however, were driven to sell the sinner on the idea of repenting, since they believed it was the sinner’s choice to make. Salvation to the Methodist was dependent first upon you exercising your free will to accept Jesus. And after that, Methodists were also fervently engaged in making sure they didn’t “backslide” and lose their election as they, unlike the Calvinists, believed to be possible.
“Methodist” was originally an epithet used by Oxford students to describe the methodical way founders John Wesley, a professor there, and his younger brother Charles, had formed a “Holy Club” on campus to organize their lives. George Whitefield soon teamed with Wesley and introduced an animated form of open-air “revival” preaching to their club. Their original intent was a reorganization of the Church of England, but the whole “revivalist” approach infected branches of it to the point that they began to be called “Methodist.”
Wesley was very Arminian but Whitefield gravitated to some seriously Calvinist ideas as their church spread around Scotland and the British Isles, which strained their relationship. It was Whitefield however, who convinced Wesley it was not immoral to preach outside a consecrated church structure and brought the gospel message to all classes high and low, including labor castes who were until then outside the central focus of the Church. That’s not a particularly Calvinist approach mind you, and I can’t really account for Whitefield’s motivation for the populist, egalitarian overview of his Christian mission. Whitefield was instrumental in founding an independent sect called the Free Church of England which ultimately led to an entirely separate Methodist church.
Whitefield first brought the notion of revivalism to the American colonies and fired up the First Great Awakening. When Whitefield died, Wesley, who outlived him, was free to take Methodism in an entirely Arminian direction with no further in-fighting from Whitefield. It’s this Arminian message in the Second Great Awakening, Joseph Smith’s time, that set the Methodists apart from the Calvinist pack as something new and exciting. The Methodists opened up the American religious playing field and the rest had to scramble to keep up with them.
While the Puritans of early America were certainly exposed to the thoughts of all the central Reformationists, including Jacobus Arminius in the Netherlands, Zwingli in Switzerland or even the German primo-heretic Martin Luther, they were addictively attracted to the brutishly simplified teachings and extreme disciplines of Calvin. Calvinists believed prosperity was always an indication of God’s favor, and hardship was always the result of sin and faithlessness. They believed that personal sin could bring God’s punishment upon the whole community and people required constant supervision and chastisement. Conversely, they also believed that hard work and faith was always rewarded by God. These concepts are inherently schizophrenic when objectively reviewed.
Calvin himself professed to believe in the “Priesthood of all Believers,” yet the purest descendants of Calvin’s religious machine, the Presbyterians, count Joseph Smith as an archetypal heretic because he claimed his authority without religious degrees or titles. “Who is this Joe Smith upstart?” they asked when he appeared in the thick of the religious scene of his day, telling them they had it all wrong. My Lutheran ancestors of course asked the same question about Calvin, when he did the same thing to Martin Luther’s followers back in the Old Country. My Lutheran relatives have described Calvin as an impertinent, egocentric despot who never finished a seminary class, never took a vow, and was never ordained by anyone of any authority to teach anything other than Legal Humanism. And that only in French.
Who the hell is Joe Smith? Who the hell is John Calvin? I could fairly reply. Thomas Jefferson asked himself the same question and came to conclusion that Calvin was Satanically inspired fool.
I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823
Jefferson, almost as Joseph Smith was kneeling down in the woods to confirm his own dubious assessment, of period Christianity, was also writing this:
To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But heresy it certainly is.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, Aug. 15, 1820
For a sample of the philosophical nonsense Jefferson was describing as the Platonistic, the “Classical” or rather, “Pagan” foundation of Calvin’s God, here’s a segment from the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online:
Regardless of the Biblical translation then, the Reformers and the Protestants, just like their Roman predecessors, were all decoding Biblical texts from their slightly varied but still narrow perspectives as products of a Hellenized, Greco-Roman, Western civilization. From the early Church Fathers and before, Christian scholars, Roman, Eastern, Protestant and Reformers alike have been trying to make Biblical texts support conclusions about the nature of God that Classical philosophers had long taken for granted as logical and thus true. The “Jesus of the Bible” or the “God of the Bible” was invented by Plato and Aristotle and Socrates and their Pagan Greek philosophical fellows. The writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were simply jiggered and interpreted hundreds of years later to make them seem to support the established “science” of these Pagan philosophers.
The Church of England’s Westminster Confession of Faith, negotiated in 1646 for example, describes God as “without body parts or passions.” This is a concept of the Supreme Being the Pagan Greeks and other Western philosophers had formulated generations before Constantine and his Nicene Council first codified it into Christian dogma in 326. When you start from this Pagan assumption, and you then examine God’s Biblical dealings with man through the relatively narrow and scarce Biblical texts that have survived, it is very easy to produce the sort of absurd, even cruel and arbitrary God that Calvin invented for himself. And again, in fairness, though Calvin and his fellow Reformationists were all claiming to be using the “Bible Alone!” as their sole source of wisdom, they were in fact also simply plugging generations of written and unwritten base assumptions from the corrupted “Church” they were rebelling from, automatically into Biblical verse. They used base assumptions from their admittedly corrupt “Church Tradition” to fill in the holes and answer questions the Bible itself didn’t even come close to answering.
Contrary to the Pilgrim’s Puritan claim on America as their ultimate Calvinist free-fire zone, the actual Fathers of the Constitution were some of the first Western philosophers and religionists to actually look at the Bible without preconceptions and allow themselves to evaluate its provenance, historical and literary value dispassionately and realistically—apart from the thousands of years of Christian mythology and the fabled Church histories surrounding it.
Thomas Paine was one of the chief authors and instigators of the American Revolution. Like Jefferson and others in their circle of American visionaries, he had religious notions that drew serious rebuke from most of his Christian countrymen, authoring amongst other works, The Age of Reason, which was called by his detractors, “The Atheist’s Bible.” His main approach illustrated a modern, critical Biblical scholarship that was generations ahead of its time, though common today.
Both Paine and Jefferson expressed sentiments that could very easily be put into Joseph Smith’s terms: The Church had fallen apart and the Bible was never intended to be the last word on the subject. In other words, all three of these American patriots were saying that the Church had not been either Providentially preserved from, or inspirationally Reformed from heresy and fatal collapse. The the Bible was never a complete “How To” manual left directly from the pen of Jesus. Christ had never intended to leave a Biblical record in total perfection specifically to save the Church from error, so the boast that mankind didn’t need anything other than the Bible to run society in Christian harmony is ludicrous. Thomas Jefferson even edited his own version of the Bible, removing the parts he said were idiotic or anti-social, illogical, demonic and dangerous to the nation.
Yes, Jefferson was branded by many a heretic. It was a serious detriment to his political aspirations. However, Thomas Jefferson went on to found the nation and became its president in due time. Joseph Smith on the other hand, got shot down like a dog by an angry mob of Christians.
Timing is everything I guess.
And then again, Jefferson never claimed to talk to God and Angels. Jefferson never tried to found his own church and muscle in on Christianity’s piece of the American pie.