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Church History

Modernism, Missions & Miscellaneous

▪- A.D. 1780 to 1914

Philosophy: The Modern Age, depending upon who you talk to, lasted from the end of the Enlightenment in the late 1700s until the 1900s. Instead of reason, the modern age emphasized human potential, progress, and the material world. Reason did, however, still play a role during this period. In our post-Modern world, reason has been lost and it all rests on the shoulders of personal emotions and experiences.

Calvinist Baptists placed a great emphasis upon the limited or "particular" extent of Christ's redemption (the "L" of Tulip).  They became known as Particular Baptists. In the 1700s many of this group decided that if God had predestined those to be saved, there was no point to missionary work and evangelism. This brought about a decline in the size and number of Particular Baptist churches!

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NKJV)
11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.

Eternity in their hearts . . .

For much of the 1800s optimism was the call of the day. Man is made to seek God. As the Westminster Confession opens:

What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

That is why God has placed eternity in our hearts. The trouble is, we tend to replace eternity with other things.

Progress brought optimism to world society. Europe would go almost 100 years without a major war.  Mass production allowed prices to drop and people to enjoy material items. Trains and steamships shortened distances. Farming improvements cut into hunger. Medical discoveries cured diseases. The American West was won. 

Yet, there were storm clouds. People became commodities. Factory workers were, perhaps, no different than slaves. Slaves still existed. Americans and Europeans drove the white man into every corner of the world. Many may have despaired, but the optimism of the day had people believing their efforts would change the world and calm man's restlessness. They ignored the eternity in their hearts and replaced it with things of their own making and reason.

God used this optimism to start an era of missionary work and evangelism. It may not really have started around William Carey (1761-1834), but if it didn't he is still the best example of God at his finest. 

Carey was an English Particular Baptist. A skin disease as young child forced Carey inside where he eventually took up shoemaking.  His skills were not great, but during this period he learned five languages. He attempted to spin this skill into teaching but that was a failure as well. God then called Carey to the pastorate. Yet, his sermon skills were no better than his language teaching skills and it would take him two years before his sermons were considered sufficient for ordination. 

Carey then took on the task of challenging the Particular Baptist concept that evangelism was God's work.  You have probably all heard, whether you remember it or not, the now famous quip made in response to Carey's dream of missionary work. "When God pleases to convert the heathen, he'll do it without consulting you or me!"  Carey maintained his position that evangelism and Calvinism go hand-in-hand. Eventually Carey received sufficient pledges from a group of Particular Baptist pastors to undertake his missions trip. 

Carey's circumstances did not change. Carey and a doctor headed for India. Carey took his wife and children. The doctor took off with all of their funds. Two of Carey's children died and his wife suffered from severe depression.  Carey managed to convert one person in India in seven years.

Carey's comment? "I plod." He translated and published the New Testament in 24 of India's native languages. His work laid the foundations for those who followed. Carey died in 1834. Ann and Adoniram Judson and Robert Morrison continued his work. Morrison created a Chinese translation of the Bible. John Veniaminou, an Orthodox priest, went to Alaska.  Damien, a Roman Catholic priest, cared for lepers in Hawaii, dying there from the disease. Allemand Lavigere campaigned against slavery in India.  Henry Martyn and Alexander Duff also worked in India. Samuel Marsden worked in the South Pacific, Robert and Mary Moffat and David Livingstone were missionaries to Africa. Moffat translated a South Africa Bible.

In 1860, Hudson and Maria Taylor founded the China Inland Mission. Taylor allowed single women to be missionaries, opening the door for women such as Lottie Moon and Amy Carmichael. The Gospel was spread in China and India. A council of missionaries would meet in Edinburgh, England 76 years after Carey's death. His efforts where now proven as 1, 200 missionaries from 160 missions boards participated in the conference. The number of Christians living outside of Europe and America had increased 1,000 percent.

In America, the West was the frontier. The optimism of the modern age produced a belief in universalism, the concept that God condemns no one. This optimism only produced spiritual darkness. People were forced to reconsider their faith. Presbyterians set aside days for prayer. The American answers came in 1801 in the form of camp meetings. 

The picture of a camp meeting is one of tents on the church ground, two or three days of singing and speakers, with communion on Sunday. Only Christians were allowed to participate in the Lord's Supper.  This was enforced by individual churches issuing tokens to their members. No token, no participation. 

In Cane Ridge, Kentucky, the Rev. Barton W. Stone held a camp meeting that was struck by a force.  20,000-to-25,000 Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists showed up. It is reported that upwards of five preachers would be delivering messages at the same time, each preaching on a different part of the grounds. On Saturday, people began falling to the ground begging forgiveness. Reports indicate that others laughed and cried hysterically. The Holy Spirit moved on the crowd and the Second Great Awakening of America began. God was at work once more. 

Stone himself may have gotten too much into the optimism of the modern world. He became convinced that believers could restore New Testament Christianity if they forsook everything but the Bible. He joined a band of former Baptists led by Alexander Campbell. This group became known as the Stone-Campbell Restorationists. The group called themselves only "Christians" or "Disciples," a slap at denominations. They followed what seems like a simple rule – Where the Scriptures speak, we speak.  Where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.

If you consider this for a moment, it becomes unclear what was their real guidance. Every day we encounter situations where the Scriptures are silent. We must learn discernment and the application of "general" Scriptural guidelines by analogy. This is, apparently, not exactly what the Restorationists meant.  Still, their goal was admirable. 

They attempted to get all Christians from all walks of life to leave behind denomination loyalties and replace it with unity in the church. Their efforts had a dual effect. First, it weakened some of the denominations and traditions of American Christians. Second, it created a new group of denominations. From the Restorationists come the Churches of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, and the Christian Churches. Some of these groups have, in turn, split, and some of their doctrine is, at best, questionable.

But, Stone did help participate in the start of a revival. At its heart were traveling evangelists like Charles G. Finney.  Finney was an upcoming lawyer when he met teenage girl, Lydia Andrews. Lydia perceived Finney was not saved and commenced to pray for his salvation.  Finney was saved a year later.  Three years after that he and Lydia were married.

Finney began to preach a day after being saved. He mixed reason, theology and high-pressure salesmanship to create a unique presentation.  For him revival was not a miracle, rather revival consisted "entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature."  His "new measures" included pressuring people not to leave his gatherings until they were sure of salvation.  Finney set up "anxious benches."  People walked the isle and sat on these benches for prayer and counseling. 

Further, Finney kept his evangelism tied to social reform. If people were not changed and made better, there was not reason for Finney to evangelize. Finney would become president of Oberlin College. While there African-Americans and women attended the same classes with their white male counterparts.  The college would become one of the stops on the Underground Railroad.

Where Finney's methods valid? They were at least on the fringe of orthodox theology. Yet, God honored his efforts and many were saved during this great revival.

During this same period some Americans tired of the "older religious traditions." Around 1819, a teenager, Joseph Smith claims to have been visited by God. A few years later, an angel visited Smith and gave the young man gold plates on which was written the Book of Mormon. Smith and his followers would move from New York to Ohio to Illinois where Smith would be killed after declaring himself "King of God's Kingdom." The Book of Mormon claimed that America was the center of God's plans and the Native Americans were displaced Israelites (sort of). After Smith's murder, Brigham Young would led these "Latter-Day Saints" to Utah. The Church of the Latter Day Saints of Jesus Christ, better known as the Mormons, has a long history.

During 1858-1859, another revival struck Virginia and the Carolinas where over 100,000 slaves were saved.  Joseph Lampheir started weekly businessmen prayer meetings in New York City. This led to prayer meetings in major metropolitan areas across the country, with over one million people coming to salvation.

While revival was in the air, so were the threads of problems. Immanuel Kant published the Critique of Pure Reason. This document essentially states that reason can grasp anything within time and space. If something is outside of time and space, reason is useless. Since God is outside of time and space, reason was unrelated to Christian faith. Kant's thesis would conclude that Christianity affects only what one feels and does, not what one thinks. (How does this compare to Romans 12:1-2?)

Friedrich Schleiermacher picked up Kant's premises. Schleiermacher argued that faith is not based upon the historic life of Christ but upon one's awareness of one's dependence upon God. This awareness leads one to imitate the good deeds of Jesus. This is Christianity. This concept of an "awareness" is a mixture of emotions and feelings. There is no factual basis or logical awareness of Jesus. God becomes a force similar to the Force of Star Wars.  Schleiermacher is considered the father of "modern theology." 

It is clear to see this idea of religion equaling feelings is still present in today's Christianity. In fact, it is present even more than you might think. 

Remember the barbarians?  The Goths moved into the Roman Empire in the early Middle Ages. The magnificent cathedrals of the late Middle Ages were called "Gothic" architecture because they blended barbarian ideals with classical Roman designs. A revival in the nineteenth century popularized Gothic designs again. This design structure poured into many American churches of the nineteenth century.  In addition, the thoughts of the people turned "Gothic." 

What made Christianity Gothic again was a desire of the body of believers to want feelings to drive their faith. Viewing the Middle Ages as romantic helped people pull out the designs and motifs of the Middle Ages. If you walk into such a church you feel the emotions of Schleiermacher. Further, the churches reflected the emotional backing.  Women were expected to be more religious than men because they were more emotional. This resulted in a double standard in religious views and in social morals.

The use of the theater, movies, and the arts as a tool to move people away from God is built around such theological views. One can trace this modern trend against God by studying the history of art over the past 1,000 years. There are certain godly pieces, but there are many more pagan pieces designed to create a sense of reason and enlightenment aimed at man and not God.

There was another outcome of Schleiermacher's theology. Higher Criticism is that field of theology that seeks the "sources" of the biblical authors. This process led to the critics questioning the Bible's accuracy. If faith was a matter feelings, then the Bible was simply a record of the ancient writers' feelings. The stories about Christ were myths and fables designed to explain how Jesus transformed the lives of the early Christians. 

During the second half of the nineteenth century, the Tubingen and Wellhausen schools of Germany would use Schleiermacher's theology mixed with Darwinism to truly attack the Bible.  This was accomplished by mixing faith and the new science. While many Christians ignored evolution, it is this mixture that has drawn many away from Christianity. Where the strict fundamentalist hurt people by completely separating from society, the Tubingen group created a field where future liberals would be free to question any and all parts of Scripture. 

These critics focused on the divine love and social reform of God. This leads to the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. The human soul becomes of infinite worth and God love's all of His creation. The Bible becomes a secondary document. This position leads to the liberal theology present at the turn of the twentieth century.  Later in the twentieth century, it would lead a scholarly quest for the "historical Jesus." In the 1990s a group called the Jesus Seminar was formed.  Their quest for the historical Jesus brought them to questioning all of the stories of the Gospels. They voted with colored marbles over which of the sayings of the Bible were actually made by Jesus!

In the late 1700s and 1800s most Christians were postmillennialists. This group believed that God's people would "initiate" God's ideal kingdom on earth and then Jesus would return. Apparently the very early church was pre-millennial, that is, Jesus would return prior to establishing the ideal earthly ("millennial") kingdom.  Premillennialists faded with time and would not come back into prominence until the early 1900s. 

To complete the group of beliefs about the Millennial Kingdom, amillennialists believe that the kingdom of God exists now, in the church age, and the return of Jesus is a spiritual, not a physical, event. Parts of amillennialism belief can be traced back to Augustine.

However, during the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, many Christians began to ask how it would be possible to establish God's Kingdom in the midst of the exploitation of workers and slaves. This would lead to a quest on the part of some in the church to change society. 

Robert Raikes started Sunday schools in England as a means to education urban children. The concept spread to the United States in the 1800s.  American Christians began to be concerned about society. In the late 1800s, Charles Sheldon's book, In His Steps, was aimed at urging Christians to use their faith to make changes in society. Wealthy British evangelicals led by George Williams started the YMCA and Catherine and William Booth created the Salvation Army.  William Wilberforce, an evangelical Anglican and Member of Parliament worked toward outlawing slavery. Social change was in the air.

From the church's perspective, the problem with many of these fine efforts is that the "Social Gospel" over came the evangelical outreach. Many churches and groups became more focused on "positive changes" than on spreading the Gospel message. These traits would remain in some churches and some groups until the present day. The influence of the world upon the church was evident.

Not all of the pastors of the 1800s allowed social needs to overcome the Gospel. The leader of this group is Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892).  Spurgeon became a pastor at age 17 and in 1854 he was called to the pastorate of the New Park Baptist Church in London. This church grew into the Metropolitan Tabernacle where Spurgeon preached to 6,000 people every Sunday. Spurgeon believed that social change was useless without the Gospel. In the process of saving souls, Spurgeon founded schools, orphanages, and nursing home, while denouncing slavery. Spurgeon was a great model of a Christian minister.

Four miscellaneous stories:

Isabella was an African-American Christian who was a slave. She gained her freedom around 1843. She was convinced that Christ called her to travel the country preaching for social reform by ending slavery. She changed her name to match her mission. She became Sojourner Truth.

About the same time, another pastor, William Miller of Vermont, made himself a self-proclaimed biblical scholar. He "determined" that Christ would return by March 21, 1844. When Christ did not return, Miller determined he had made a "mathematical" error and announced the new date as October 22, 1844.  Of course, nothing happened.  Eventually Miller withdrew from leadership of the Group and died shortly thereafter. The Millerites actually split into three distinct groups, each developing an emphasis in a different area, eventually, reuniting. Hiram Edson received revelation that Miller was right about events but was wrong about the place. Edson developed the theory of a return to a heavenly sanctuary. Joseph Bates taught the Saturday Sabbath as a perpetual ordinance of the church. The key group may have been that of Ellen G. White and her husband, the Reverend James White. E.G. White taught that the 1844 prediction was correct, but that it referred to the start of an Investigative Judgment. This is a time when Christ will judge the dead and the living on earth for righteousness.  She predicted that the second coming of Jesus would soon follow this. Late in her career, the church voted her the credentials of an ordained minister. She is responsible for uniting the three groups into the Seventh Day Adventists in 1863.

One other follower of the Millerites was Charles Taze Russell.  Russell undertook his own study and determined that Jesus returned in 1872. But Russell determined Christ's return was spiritual and not physical.  Russell's followers grow into the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Lyman Beecher was a Congregational pastor. His method of fighting slavery was to send rifles to anti-slavery forces in the Midwest. The weapons were shipped in crates marked "Bibles." The rifles became known as "Beecher's Bibles." Beecher's daughter, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin.

1929 was not the only stock market crash in the US. One occurred in 1857, at least partially spurred by the issue of slavery. "Oddly" enough, along with the crash came the Third Great Awakening, a revival that began in Canada and spread to both the US and Britain. In the American northeast, prayer meetings were begun, especially at the urging of a Methodist laywoman, Phoebe Palmer. The prayer meetings spread across the country. The revival could not cure slavery. War was in the wind, and the tensions of the slavery issue and the split between the states would cause internal strife in several denominational groups. The Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians would all have fractures because of slavery.  The Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845 in Georgia.

As far as the Civil War is concerned, both sides believed God was on their side. When the War ended, the Social Gospel continued on its way. 

Liberalism:  A theological attitude that enthrones human reason as the ultimate authority instead of the Bible. This view ignores the effect of the Fall on the mind. Liberal theologians vary in their conclusions and generally deny or redefine some or all of the essential doctrines of Christianity. As a movement liberalism can be said to be the theology of the period from 1850-to-1920.

Conservative Christians did not approve of the liberal social gospel, but could find few alternatives.  One alternative was that of evangelists such as Dwight L. Moody. Moody's approach was, essentially, to resist and reject the modern world. Strangely enough, a similar approach came from none other than Pope Pius IX. A third approach was that of the scholars such as B.B. Warfield who attempted to express Christian views in a way the modern world could understand. 

Moody was a shoe salesman turned evangelist. During the Civil War he worked as a chaplain. After the battles he would wander the battlefields tending to the wounded, whether Blue or Grey. Then, in 1871 fire destroyed Chicago, including Moody's home. Moody responded by going to Britain to preach. While there, Moody overhead another preacher exclaim, "The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him." These words would grab Moody's soul.

Moody would ignore modern scholarship and theological studies by preaching simple evangelist sermons aimed at the middle class. He pitched tents in the cities, aiming at the urban centers of the Industrial Revolution.  He added a singer, Ira Sankey, for his revival tours. In Britain alone 4 million people would travel to the revivals. Moody threw away the post-millennial optimism of the past for a pessimistic view of the world in an effort to win souls. That was his sole focus.

Ira Sankey popularized the songs of blind poet-song writer Fanny Crosby.

Moody would found the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago in 1886. R.A. Torrey was the Institute's first president.  This started a trend among the church leaders toward establishing more Bible institutes. Many of these would become full-fledged colleges and seminaries.

We may have left the Catholic Church sitting in the background for a while, but we should bring it up to modern times. Remember all of those councils the church liked to call? Well, before the Reformation, the Council at Florentine (1439) adopted the seven sacraments:

The Church had practiced most of these, in one form or another, since the 800s, but this council was the first to make them all "official." We have seen that in response to the events of the Reformation, the Council of Trent (1546) added the Apocrypha as official books of the Bible.  Then, in 1863 the Roman Catholic Church declared that salvation was only available through the Roman Church.

Following the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church became a worldwide symbol of ancient powers.  Time and energy sapped the power of the pope. Then came the liberalism of the 1800s. In 1854 Pius IX denounced the idea of harmonizing the church with civilization.  The pope also denounced attempts to limit his authority in doctrinal matters. He declared the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, the tradition of the church that Mary was free from original sin. 

Many Catholics questioned the new doctrine. More precisely, the people questioned the power of Pius to define this doctrine without a church council. In 1869 more than 500 bishops would gather for the First Vatican Council. The Council would meet for nearly a year.  When it was all over the Council confirmed the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and declared the Bishop of Rome was infallible, but only when he "defines a doctrine . . . by Divine assistance promised to him in the blessed Peter." Many believe the proper interpretation of this to be that a pope can only redefine the outward expressions of the Catholic Church's faith.  No pope or council could change any essential doctrine of the church.

Pope Pius XII is the only pope to use the infallibility bestowed by the First Vatican Council. In 1950, this Pius declared, "When the course of [Mary's] life was finished, she was taken up body and soul into glory."

The history of the Vatican is a long discussion beyond the scope of this course. However, at various periods of time the bishop of Rome lived in or controlled the land known as the Vatican. At some points in time, the pope owned a considerable amount of real estate surrounding the Vatican, gained mostly by conquest and political maneuvering. Napoleon had provided protection to the Vatican by means of a French garrison.  In 1870, Napoleon had to withdraw these troops because of the threat of the Franco-Prussian war. The new Italian monarchy almost immediate confiscated all of the temporal holdings of the church. The pope was left with only the Vatican enclave. The government offered the pope a generous settlement that called for a substantial annual payment for the lost lands as well as self-rule for the Vatican. The pope essentially refused the offer and went into self-exile within the walls of the Vatican. There the popes would remain until an agreement was made with Mussolini's government in 1929.

The last person to consider is B.B. Warfield. He would be one of a group to participate in a Bible conference in Niagara, New York.  This group approached the threat of modernism by adopting five fundamental truths that would define true Christianity. These truths would be published for the world to read, a modern version of the second century apologists. We will look at this group more closely in the next lesson.

Liberalism eroded the fringes of Christianity. This degrading of the place of Scripture resulted in much bad doctrine, initially about the truth and faithfulness of God and Christ, but ultimately about side issues so prevalent in today's society. Consider:

The concepts of liberalism become the vehicles of "dialogue." As many of the seminaries turned liberal, conservatives would withdraw and establish their own schools. The inter-faith movement relies upon such an approach. By inter-faith I do not mean Presbyterians and Baptists, but Christians and Hindus. This movement will ultimately pave the path for the one-world religion of the Antichrist.  By converting views of God from doctrine to philosophy, the Hindu can meet with the "Christian" and find a common ground.

Liberalism as theology is dead, but liberalism as a philosophical position lives on. Such are the tools of Satan!

During this period, we also add two more cults. 

Spiritualism was formed in 1848. As a movement it, too, has died away, but its seeds are found in many other groups, including the New Age movement of today.

Mary Baker Eddy formed the Christian Scientists in 1876. It is still a powerful Gnostic cult force today.

Nineteenth Century Events

• The nineteenth century is sometimes called the Protestant Century. Protestants established missions throughout the world. Organizations such as the British and Foreign Bible Society, the American Bible Society, the Sunday School Union, and the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions lead in the spread of the Gospel message. Reform societies form to deal with abolition, temperance, prisons, and education.

• In America, many sects including Mormons, Jehovah&s Witnesses, and Christian Science are established.

• New philosophies such as Darwin&s evolution, Marx&s communism, and Freud&s psychology, attack the traditional Christian view of life and history. German "higher critics" attack the historical validity of the Scriptures.

• Revival leader Charles Finney establishes "new measures" in his revival meetings, believing conversions can be achieved if the right approaches and techniques are used.

• Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey hold large revival meetings on both sides of the Atlantic, while thousands hear Charles Spurgeon preach in London&s Tabernacle.

• Fanny Crosby, Ira Sankey, Francis Havergal, and others poured out hymns of faith and devotion.

• David Livingstone and others open the African continent to missions, while workers with Hudson Taylor&s China Inland Mission spread throughout China.

• Pope Pius IX condemns liberalism, socialism, and rationalism; also proclaims the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. The First Vatican Council declares the Pope infallible in the year 1870.


Source: David Barrett.

One Hundred Key Events in Church History

Part 4: From Founding of the AME Church to Growth of Chinese Church

Year and event


Richard Allen, a former slave, founds the African Methodist Episcopal Church.


Elizabeth Fry begins ministry to women in prison and becomes model for social compassion and involvement.


Charles G. Finney&s urban revivals begin and introduce techniques that decisively affect later mass evangelism in America.

about 1830

John Nelson Darby helps found the Plymouth Brethren, a group which spreads the dispensational view of Scriptural interpretation.


John Keble&s sermon "National Apostasy" initiates the Oxford movement in England.


Hudson Taylor arrives as a missionary in China. His faith work has immense impact.


Philosopher Soron Kierkegaard publishes Attacks on Christendom.


Charles Haddon Spurgeon becomes pastor in London and will go on the be one of the most influential pastors ever.


Dwight L. Moody is converted. He goes on to become one of the most effective American evangelists.


David Livingstone publishes Missionary Travels and his exploits in Africa attract world wide attention.


William Booth founds the Salvation Army, vowing to bring the gospel into the streets to the most desperate and needy.


Pope Pius IX proclaims the doctrine of Papal Infallibility.


The Student Volunteer Movement begins as a major thrust of young people to bring the gospel to the world as missionaries.


Asuza Street revival launches Pentecostalism, and paves the way for the development of the modern charismatic movement.


The fundamentals are published and demonstrate the great divide in American Christianity known as the "Modernist-Fundamentalist" controversy.


Karl Barth&s Commentary on Romans is published, effectively critiquing modernistic theology.


First Christian radio broadcast over KDKA in Pittsburgh.


Cameron Townsend begins the Summer Institute of Linguistics that aspires with sister organization Wycliffe Bible translators to bring the Bible to every language group of the world.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer is executed by the Nazis. The German pastor is killed just days before the Allies arrive to liberate that region. His theological writings remain influential.


The World Council of Churches is formed as an interdenominational body promoting Christian unity and presence in society.


Billy Graham&s Los Angeles crusade thrusts the young evangelist into several decades of worldwide ministry and an impressive reputation.


Charismatic renewal surges forward, crossing denominational lines and becoming more mainstream.


Second Vatican Council begins, the most significant council since Trent. It will promote new attitudes and practices in Catholicism.


Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, leads a march on Washington espousing the teachings of Jesus in a civil rights movement that affects all American.


The Chinese church grows despite the Cultural Revolution. Christianity did not die out under Communism, but experienced one of the most dramatic church growths ever.




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