The Christian & the Business World #4: The Industrial Church Revolution, Part 1

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{Two interlopers are chilling out at Cerulean Sanctum…}

I’m bored. Let’s play a game.

How about “Guess the Era!”

Dunno. How’s it played?

I’m thinking of an era in American History. I’ll throw out a fact and you try to tell me when that fact would’ve been true.

Sounds dull, but I’ll go along because I am like soooooo bored.

Dad works.

Yawn.

Mom homeschools the kids.

Official Focus on the Family Nuclear Family of the 2000s, right?

Wrong.

Mom also works.

Ooh, James Dobson’s ticker starts palpitating

Mom works from home.

Collective sigh of partial relief at Focus. Hmm, this is a toughie, though.

Dad homeschools the kids, too.

Really?

Dad also works from home.

Is this the family of the future, circa 2020, all gussied up with Terabit Internet access via which their home import/export biz of rare Chinese herbs for medicinal purposes competes in the global marketplace?

Aah, that would be “no.”

Even close?

Not on your life. Actually it’s the United States circa 1776. Revolutionary War days.

Wow, I would have never guessed. You’d think with all those smarmy Deists running around the country then that dogs and cats would’ve been living together in sin and the whole economy would’ve collapsed faster than the wooden tea stirrer market after the Boston Tea Party.

Well, I wouldn’t go that far.

Say, that kind of lifestyle sounds kind of appealing. Work from home. Do the log cabin thing. Grow your own…. You know, I’ve been to Colonial Williamsburg. Lots of real colonial cuties if you know what I—

Okay, you two, take a hike. This is my blog and I want control back.

You always want control, Dan. You’ve got issues. I know a great Christian therapist I can recommend. He’s a bit Jungian, but all the same, he’s—

HIT THE ROAD!

Okay, we get the picture.

Man, he’s goin’ all Cotton Mather on us!

OUT!

{Sounds of stumbling and mumbling, then a door slam.}

Sorry about that folks. Serious topics sometimes need levity. And this one is serious. It’s about the Industrial Church Revolution. You may never have heard of it, but like many things that go awry, it begins with a lot of hot air. Steam actually.

A couple decades before the idyllic days of mom and dad working together in a home-based economy in America at the dawn of independence, two English Thomases, Savery and Newcomen, invented a mechanical engine that ran on steam. Steam engineAnd though it worked, it wasn’t until James Watt radically improved the design in 1769 that the first rumblings of pressure surfaced that would seal the fate of that storybook lifestyle of Mom and Pop Free America.

The English were the first to fall to what would later be called the Industrial Revolution. Steam power made possible a new strength in work. Some discovered that stationary steam engines could have wheels attached and be made to run on tracks. They weren’t fast, but they could haul heavy loads. Those tracks were made with massive presses, molds, and machines that cut and bent—all powered by steam.

But steam engines were expensive regardless of whether they became trains or not. And even though they allowed for the very power to build and create even more powerful machines, the labor to do the work simply could not be done from home any longer since few had the cash to have their own home steam engine built for private use. So Britain built centralized factories where people could come to work via the new modes of transportation that were developing, mechanizing much of the labor that had been done in homes by hand (particularly textiles— one of Britain’s major exports.)

Americans, still wanting to show the former homeland a thing or two, decided they could do it, too. Mass production of guns in factories started in the United States around the same time as the British burned down the White House. Mass production meant good money, but also mass workers. And masses of workers responded by venturing out of the home and into distant factories.

Meanwhile, factories chugged away in Britain even as “malcontents” like the Luddites protested, busting up mechanized knitting machines and other signs of the young Industrial Revolution until they themselves were busted up by the British army. Some were exiled to America. But the real problem of factory life did not emerge until a young scientist named Charles Darwin came along in 1843 with a challenging new biological theory he called “transmutation.”

By this time, economies in both Britain and America were beginning to undergo a steady change as more people left the hard life of farming the cursed ground for the hard life of factory work. Over in England, intellectuals started listening to Darwin’s ideas and saw natural correlations between it and the growing class distinctions in that country. Of course, it made sense to them that an underclass of workers existed in the factories to make products that the intelligentsia could use. Those miners mining coal to power the engines of the Industrial Revolution were a form of unevolved man. This was natural selection at work. Some were meant to prosper due to their superior breeding and intellect, while some were relegated to mines and factories filled with sweat. Only later was a name attached to this idea: Social Darwinism.

So far, this story hasn’t had much Church in it. The fact was that the Church was ignorant of the gathering storm or, in the case of many churches in England, were actually championing Darwin’s ideas and the work ethic of the factories. Certainly some clerics protested the grim realities of how men, women, and children were treated in the mills and mines, (favorite author Charles Dickens chronicled this in Hard Times, exposing the harsh realities of poor factory workers to the middle and upper classes of Britain), but despite some reforms in 1833, the factories chugged on, grinding up the poor with them.

It is here that we see the first effects not of the Church on the Industrial Revolution, but the Industrial Revolution on the Church. Postmillennialism came to full bloom in both Britain and America after the Civil War, and this was largely due to the idea that science and technology were advancing so quickly that a new day was upon the Church that enabled Her to reach the world using the latest tech advances of the day. It was “Onward Christian Soldiers”—a hymn that reflects that thinking better than any other—and The Salvation Army ushering in the Age of Christ and His Church Triumphant.

Cities boomed as agricultural workers bought into the propaganda that life was better in the cities. Immigration in America further added workers to the expanding factories. The traditionally respected home economy languished in the face of the new: steel, oil, and the railroads. Secretary, Typewriter, & RogueAnd a little book called “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection” hit the shores of America.

Now as fin de siecle America flowed into the glories of the dawning 20th century, the Church finally realized that something had changed in the country—and not for the better. As youth left the farm for the city and immigrant children were left with little to do (once factories were deemed off limits to children due to various reforms), juvenile delinquency erupted in the crowded cities. Not only this, but wholesome young farm women learned of greater opportunities in the city serving as a secretary. So en masse they signed up to learn how to use the newly invented typewriter and headed to Metropolis.

But the evils of the city preyed hard on the virtue of these naifs and churches finally understood that something had to be done about them and the growing ranks of juvenile delinquents.

In the next installment of this series, The Christian & the Business World: The Industrial Church Revolution, Part 2, we’ll take a look at the radical new ideas the Church developed to finally address the massive social upheavals it had ignored for far too long, and how those ideas have drastically altered the look and mission of the Church in America.

Previous post in the series: The Christian & the Business World #3: Subduing the Earth

Next post in the series: The Christian & the Business World #5: The Industrial Church Revolution, Part 2

12 thoughts on “The Christian & the Business World #4: The Industrial Church Revolution, Part 1

  1. Dan: �we’ll take a look at the radical new ideas the Church developed to finally address the massive social upheavals it had ignored for far too long��

    Let me guess. This is where you show how the Church started to borrow ideas from the German Romanticists, European utopian socialists, American Transcendentalists, and from good old Karl Marx, and that these borrowed ideas, dressed up in xtian terminology and buzz words, were the beginnings of what is called the �social gospel�.

    (By the way, thanks, Dan, for adding Lunar Skeletons to your blogroll.)

  2. Brian Colmery

    Dan, thanks for this series – I’m not nearly as educated in this area as I should be, and this is a great succinct introduction!

  3. Dan: ��churches finally understood that something had to be done about�the growing ranks of juvenile delinquents��

    Oh, well, let me guess again. They came up with the YMCA! (where the �C� actually meant something.

  4. Hmmh. I’m close. I guess great minds must think alike [grin].

    Besides the YMCA, I suspect that the Salvation Army and General Booth (with his big bass drum) also had a part in the story. Then there are the Wesleys, although I suspect they came too early for the era you’re talking about, which I take it as the 19th Century Industrial Revolution.

  5. Anonymous

    Dan,

    Your history lesson is interesting and plausible. My question regards how you use sociological change brought on by the Industrial Revolution to criticize (I am using that word in its meaning as a critique not as negative commentary) the Church and how it�s changed by the culture. Do you believe that the message of the Church has changed as a result of sociological upheaval? Does the gospel message evolve in response to changes in culture and political reality? How did the Industrial Revolution change a thoughtful person�s understanding of the mission and responsibility of the Church? I know that these are three questions that do not respond well to short answers but give them a shot.

    Pilgrim

  6. Pilgrim,

    Good questions, but I assure you that I’m one of those folks that firmly believes that the Gospel message stands distinctly apart from culture and should not be influenced by it.

    That said, Gospel practice may very well change in that it must interpret the times and respond. Sadly, we often let the times interpret our praxis.

    The biggest problem I see is that we talk a good faith, but we aren’t thinking about practically living it out. We so easily ignore the ones Jesus said we should be helping. To me, there is no salvific gospel and social gospel, there’s only one Gospel and it encompasses both of those parts in one unified whole.

    One of our biggest problems in the Church, though, is that our apologists are not serving and our servants are out there being apologists. We have to do both—but we largely are not.

    A case in point I like to use. I heard a sermon that said that our appearances are not important to God. But I also know that the business world is highly influenced by appearance. This leaves a big gap. But what is the Church doing about that gap? If someone follows that sermon and winds up losing their job because they didn’t dye their hair and get plastic surgery to look younger, what is the Church going to do for that person because of the stand he/she took? More often than not, the answer is “Nothing.” But that is not what God calls us to do. His view is that we should help that person find gainful employment and not rest until he/she has it. Yet that occurs rarely, if at all. More often than not, the person is congratulated for taking a stand and then it goes no further than, “Good luck getting a new job!”

    Uncompromised message, uncompromised praxis—that’s the only way to walk the talk and talk the walk.

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