Why are all the former Calvinist countries so secular?

Discussion in 'Calvinism & The Doctrines of Grace' started by Haeralis, Jun 27, 2016.

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  1. Haeralis

    Haeralis Puritan Board Freshman

    Something that I've never understood is why almost all of the historic bastions of the Biblical Reformed faith, whether it is New England, the Netherlands, Geneva or Scotland, are now some of the least religious places on the face of the Earth. Geneva, a place that was once called "the Protestant Rome" now has more Catholics in it than Protestants. The same holds true for all of these other places, last I checked. Granted, the Catholic Church isn't very strong either, with atheism or agnosticism having the plurality of support.

    Did the Puritan work ethic lead to material prosperity that made people forget God? That's honestly the only thing I can really connect it to. Materialism innately rejects God, so if you produce so much wealth for your family to glorify God I guess somewhere along the line your posterity may just try to have the material rewards without embracing the cause of them (the spiritual and Christian fervor of their forefathers).

    Please don't misunderstand; I am not saying that Calvinism encourages secularism. Sin does. It just seems like there has to be some reason that the great flagship countries of the Reformed faith are now wallowing in secularism and heinous sin.
  2. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Graduate

    David Wells book "No Place for Truth" deals at length with the evolution of New England from a Puritan city on a hill to modern day haven of atheism and secularism. I'm not sure that this had anything to do with Calvinism at all, but rather just the steady slide away from cultural Christianity that has effected all branches of the church to one degree or another.
  3. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Calvinism encouraged the right kind of secularism, that is, distinction between church and state, the right of private judgment, validity of secular vocations in service to God, etc. That these were subsequently abused by different systems of thought and developed in different ways over generations is not owing in any way to the tenets of Calvinism. Good history looks at a multiplicity of factors which influence people, societies, institutions, and events; and an idea, or the idea of a central idea, in and of itself is not a sufficient explanation.
  4. arapahoepark

    arapahoepark Puritan Board Graduate

    One cpuld easily talk about the Lutherans and even Catholics. Look at Norway and Sweden, once bastions of Lutheranism are the most secular countries in the world.

    Nevertheless, I am curious as to an answer. From what I have read from Peter Hitchens and Philip (?) Jenkins, WWI was a major cause and could be called Christendom's civil war.
  5. Cymro

    Cymro Puritan Board Junior

    Two writers have been mentioned, who have to a degree analysed the prevailing secularism of society and of the church in perceptive ways. They high light the crossing over into the church of the idea and practice of modernity. But there are many contributing factors, and not the least is the relegating of the word of God from its primacy in the scheme of redemption. Man has increased, God has been decreased. Preaching that declared the fear of God, has been replaced by lectures or sermonettes, which Spurgeon said, produces christianettes! My personal opinion apart from satanic forces attacking these former bastions of Protestantism, is that covenant theology has not been generally taught over the last century. So that children Of believers are not seen as God's normal means of perpetuating the church, and their covenant promises not taught and so not prayed on. Sadly, in my experience, many churches consist of handfuls of oldies, just like myself. Arise, O Lord and scatter thine enemies, and, Help Lord for the godly man ceaseth.
  6. JOS3

    JOS3 Puritan Board Freshman

    I'm not convinced there is a correlation here. I'm not discrediting the OP's observations, but I don't think it is more of an issue or even more pronounced than other regions in the West. I would hardly say Geneva or cities in New England are "worse off" in this regard than, say, Paris, Rome, or Barcelona.
  7. DMcFadden

    DMcFadden Puritan Board Doctor

    I also dissent from the implications of the original post. 500 years ago, the centers of Christian vitality were in Rome, Geneva, and Wittenberg. Europe (and England) are pretty much secularized regardless of whether the Christian "flavor" was Roman, Lutheran, or Calvinist 500 years ago.

    Jesus said that the "gates of hell would not prevail" against his church. He did not promise that those who turn their backs on God would be immunized against the pernicious effects of secularism. Today the church flourishes in other parts of the world than Europe. Unless we repent, the US of tomorrow will be like the Europe of today.
  8. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    As similar thought that corresponds with "Calvinism encouraged the right kind of secularism" I see rampant belief in both ordained elders and the non ordained laity thinking that the non ordained laity are tasked with the sacred.
  9. Jake

    Jake Puritan Board Junior

    It seems Northern Ireland is doing better than many of us.
  10. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritan Board Doctor

    Part of the reason lies in these nation's covenantal sin against Christ and His Church. Much like Judah, God has given them over to their base desires as judgment for their unbelief.
  11. Haeralis

    Haeralis Puritan Board Freshman

    I think that the one that bothers me the most is New England. You guys are right-- Europe is disgustingly secular regardless of what their brand of Christianity was. However, here in America, the place with the clearest Puritan heritage is unusually secular compared to the rest of the country. That's always made me sick, the place where great and godly men like William Bradford, John Winthrop, and Jonathan Edwards walked and shared the gospel hates Christianity now.

    What's even worse about it is how relatively quickly this happened. Unitarianism arose in the 1700s!
  12. ZackF

    ZackF Puritan Board Graduate

    Many English pulpits fell to Unitarianism (and it's kissing cousin Socianism) way before that.

    The history of God's people is one of belief to disbelief to belief, and of rises to subsequent declines and then repentance and belief again.

    If the churches at Galatia and Corinth are anything, they remind us of how and quickly things can go to the dogs. Such is not always the case. It's a blessing when God's sustains a strong presence through his people in any locale for multiple generations as He did in Scotland and the Netherlands.
  13. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    Indeed. A few of my own thoughts:

    1. I've wondered what part congregationalism had to play in this. I know Presbyterianism is certainly not immune but the lack of any kind of higher court to check this slide may have contributed. Yale was founded, after all, because Harvard was already sliding.

    2. It's always an interesting study to see how things don't really change. Luminaries are beloved and there's a lot of trouble when their ideas are challenged. Edwards was forced out when he challenged some things his grandfather had introduced.

    3. These repeated "City on a Hill" failures within a couple of generations ought to convince us all that the primary aim of the Church (or parents) isn't to tell our kids: "Your primary aim in life is to establish a government after Christian principles." I sometimes wonder if the hard core Reconstructionists, and their singular focus on societal transformation, ought to have enough examples in Church history to let them know their focus is on the wrong primary goal. I know Kuyper is much more complex than some give him credit for but look at the Netherlands today.

    Now that I've offended a lot of people I'll step away...
  14. Bill The Baptist

    Bill The Baptist Puritan Board Graduate

    I think your thoughts are mostly on point, Rich. I would add, however, that there is no more evidence of a corelation between Congregationalism and apostasy than there is for Calvinism and apostasy. History reveals that apostasy has impacted all areas and expressions of Christianity.
  15. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Maybe if Kyper focused more on the proper realm of his responsibility and allowed the church to do her work in her realm?
  16. brendanchatt

    brendanchatt Puritan Board Freshman

    That is the nature of apostasy. It is brazen and ruthless.
  17. kodos

    kodos Puritan Board Junior

    The common denominator in this discussion is sin, which crouches at the door. One could also create a hypothesis that churches which hold to the Westminster Standards eventually end up like the Church of Scotland (oh, how far the mighty have fallen!) or the PCUSA. One could even look at the PCA's current challenges, and strengthen that hypothesis. But that would be silly.

    I think we must be diligent to know that the devil, sin, the world, and the flesh will all assault whatever seeks to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

    Seek to glorify God in your church? Sin will be there. Seek to glorify God in your government? Sin will be there. Seek to glorify God in your family? Sin will be there.

    If you want to see how nations fall into apostasy, read your Old Testament. Then pray that God would preserve your elders, your church, your marriage, and your family - lest they too succumb to the power of sin. Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2016
  18. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member


    I recognize that no form of Church government can prevent apostasy. I'm just reflecting on the rapidity of the slide in New England. I read the Cambridge Platform and was underwhelmed by the process that the Churches might use to control heresy. I suppose I'm pre-disposed to think that a Presbyterian form of government might have delayed a slide into utter heresy within a couple of generations given the checks it has to put ministers or Churches out of its communion.
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