Why American Evangelicals Convert To And Imitate Rome

Some 57,400 American Protestants converted to Roman Catholicism between 1831 and 1860… Protestants reacted strongly to such Catholic proselytizing. They attributed the Catholics’ success in part to the cultural appeal of their imagery and art. Accordingly, Protestants began to make use themselves of the symbol of the cross (though not the crucifix), of sacred music performed by organ and choir in church to supplement congregational singing, and of Gothic architecture.

Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848, Oxford History of the United States (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 320–21 (HT: Zach Whetsel)

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  1. When I read excerpts such as these, I become increasingly thankful for the RPW. Though I still don’t agree with the uses of pianos or organs in Reformed Churches, there is still a peace of mind of going to a church that isn’t completely reactionary to the culture.

  2. Frankly, a bending, willowy statue that may be either Jesus or Mary, depending on the head the factory puts on it, has very little appeal for me. A bigger question, though, might be why, in more recent years, we have had so many Evangelicals–including clergy–who become Romanist or Constantinopolitan. The smells and bells of the Oxford Movement, after all, happened well over a century and a half ago.

  3. So Protestantism doesn’t include Lutheranism? The quote sounds too selective of some elements in Protestantism, not to mention who did the influencing. I say this because large German migrations have occurred since the founding, and many brought Lutheranism along. According to the president of the LCMS, Matthew Harrison, many Lutherans STOPPED the use of iconography due to the influence of Americans thinking that Roman Catholic looking architecture and art was bad. A video of him saying this is available on YouTube titled “Historic Trinity Lutheran Church”.

    I think Anglicans played a part as well when it came to influencing others practice of worship.

  4. We can thank the Good Lord LORD Jesus that the traffic heading in the other
    direction is greater still, Catholic immigration accounts for most of their growth,
    when the Establishments were brought down in favour of “toleration” thanks
    mainly in part to our Baptist brethren, it opened the floodgates to Romish migration.

    • Establishments were brought down in favour of “toleration”? I don’t live in America either and am no expert in American history (My view of it is highly shaped by Franklin’s Autobiography), but my impression is that there was no such thing as Establishments TO be brought down.

    • John,
      Your impression is off the mark. The more tolerant colonies (who tended to be composed of groups that were more persecuted in England and other colonies) did not establish churches. Pennsylvania was one of these, so you might have picked that up from Franklin. But many colonies did; Massachusetts had an Established Church even into the 1830’s.

    • Then I stand corrected, Don. But did the presence of an established church in a colony mean that other groups were not tolerated. Didn’t the American Constitution enforce toleration, even when there was an established church?
      Actually, coming to think of it, was there such a thing as a colony after the Declaration of Independence?

    • John,
      Colonial religious history makes more sense when you realize that the Pilgrims et al. did not move to North America for religious freedom; they moved so they could worship as they pleased. Generally, other sects were not tolerated in colonies with strong Established churches. For example, Rhode Island was founded because the Baptists had been thrown out of Massachusetts.

      In principle, the First Amendment to the Constitution should have resolved this. But in some cases, as I mentioned, it took decades to disestablish the state church. Jefferson’s famous line about “wall of separation between Church & State,” written in 1801, was in response to a letter from some Baptists who lived in Connecticut, who were concerned that the local authorities tolerated their expression of worship as a privilege that was granted to them, not an inherent right.

      I guess after 1776, “colonies” would not be the preferred word, at least on this side of the pond!

  5. I wonder if people are leaving because the doctrine of justification we espouse (in many cases, certainly not all) is just a hop, skip, and a jump from that of Roman Catholicism…

    I.e., if we are fuzzy on justification and its centrality, then why not go whole hog into the religion of merit? The more trust in church and religious effort, the better…

    I am thankful that Christ did indeed pay it all. I am thankful for genuine assurance that comes from simply trusting Christ- and Christ alone.

  6. In England in 1784, one Samuel Wesley went over to Rome for a short time, simply because of the music. The one time I was at Brompton Oratory I didn’t think the music was that good (At that time my gods were science and, to a lesser extent, music), so as Dghart says, there’s no accountiing for taste.

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