The Puritan Hope in a Post-Cold War Era

The death of President Richard Nixon last year gave Americans another chance to reflect on the monumental changes we have seen in the Eastern bloc. Nixon’s latest book, Beyond Peace, completed just a few weeks before he died, is a fitting coda to the orchestrated demise of communism conducted through the last few years. The political and economic changes in China, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are the outworkings of policies set down by the Nixon administration in the 1970s.

History will remember Nixon as the scandalized president who resigned in disgrace over Watergate, yet also ironically, as the patriot who halted the spread of communism into Western Europe and the Third World and the statesman who opened China to the West. Nixon’s policies set the tenor for presidents Reagan and Bush who took a hard line against communism, but worked for reform within the communist bloc through meaningful dialogue with their leaders. The sweeping changes we see in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and China today, are a natural fruition of Nixon’s policy of detente: the relaxation of strained tensions between the East and West which was a fact of life during the Cold War.

This culmination of events leaves us today with what some have termed the “New World Order.” This term has fueled the apocalyptic visions of dispensational pessimillennialists. Even many postmillennial optimists have been driven to a conspiratorial analysis of the New World Order. While we should not be swayed by newspaper exegesis in the latest attempt to revise our end-time prophecy charts, the term “New World Order” is a loaded one. In analyzing the great changes in world politics and the resulting stance that should be taken by Reformed Christians, we should first define several worldviews currently held by evangelicals:

1. Historical pessimism — This is the classical dispensational premillennial view (or any of its variations) which presupposes that the church and the world is in a downward historical trend; that we are in a Laodicean Age; that only a remnant will be saved in the end; that we are to anticipate a great falling away from the faith and growing persecution from the civil authorities.

2. Conspiratorial thinking — This view pervades many different eschatological stances. It has less to do with end-time chronological happenings than with a total world-life-view of history and government. Conspiracy theories hold that ultimately world politics are being determined by a secret plot, human and/or demonic, to bring about an evil end.

3. Postmillennial optimism — This is embodied by classical Calvinist/Puritan thought; a long term view of history with a corresponding optimism; a view of an upward historical trend culminating in a time when the church is to be elevated to great power and authority leavening society with peace, prosperity and righteousness.

Postmillennial optimism was the predominant view held by most of the Protestant reformers and revivalists of the past 500 years. Most of the great theologians of the 19th century, such as Charles Hodge and Charles Spurgeon, were ardent postmillennialists. America’s revivalists during the Great Awakenings, such as Jonathan Edwards (a neo-Calvinist) and Charles G. Finney (an Arminian), were also postmillennial optimists. Postmillenial optimism spanned all schools of Protestant thought in the post-Reformation era.

Historical pessimism and conspiratorial thinking have only become popular during the last 150 years among pietistic evangelical and fundamentalist churches. It is significant that it was around the year 1830 that historical pessimism, in the form of dispensational premillennialism, began to gain popularity. Ironically, it was also during this time that the world missions movement began in England and America with the goal of fulfilling the Great Commission.

In my opinion, dispensational premillennialism is an error introduced by Satan into the Church in order to distract her from Christ’s mandate to fulfill the Great Commission. In teaching that she is destined to fail in this task, the devil has made sure that much of the Church would stay distracted and backslidden for over 150 years. This error has also convinced most Christians that societal reformation is a futile task, since things are destined to get worse and worse until the Second Coming of Christ.

Furthermore, dispensational premillennialism fueled the theology of cults such as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. It pervades spurious Christian doctrines such as those held by Seventh Day Adventists. Dispensational premillennialism, with its conspiratorial worldview, was the basis for the apocalyptic teachings that led David Koresh and his followers to their fiery demise. Most recently a Swiss-based cult with premillennial apocalyptic delusions conducted their own mass suicide in Quebec.

The Puritan Hope

Today, true believers in historical orthodoxy have an opportunity to assist the modern Church in shaking off the shackles of pessimillennialism. We live in a time in world history that promises to be significant for the goal of world evangelization. Never before has the Church been given so many open doors to reach the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit has redirected the Church toward the great task of evangelizing the nations. We can hope to see a dramatic multiplication of the Kingdom of God in our day.

The political role of America during this time in world history can move in only one of two corresponding directions. Our nation can move forward in its current position of agnostic secularism and attempt to secure our status militarily and economically as the most powerful nation in the world; or we can reclaim the Christian heritage of our Puritan beginnings and strive to rebuild America as an example of strength and prosperity built on the ideals of the biblical law and government.

The entire Puritan experiment in America was aimed at creating “a city set on a hill for all the world to see” – a model republic based on biblical law and Christian charity for the whole world to emulate. The Puritans also believed in the concept of “patient gradualism” – that they might not live to see the fruit of the field they had planted. They understood the Kingdom of Heaven as being progressive and having a gradual growth, as a stone cut without hands, which becomes a great mountain and fills the earth. The kingdom of Heaven was to attain universal dominion but through slow degrees with gradual progress. The Puritans understood that the Messiah would thus be gradually magnified until He became the omnipotent ruler in the world. Thus the battle cry of the reformation – “No king but Christ” – would become a temporal reality.

Three and a half centuries later, we seem to be on the threshold of realizing the Puritan hope. Tyrannical dictatorships have been overthrown; former communist bloc countries are looking to the West – and especially to America – for a model upon which to base their political and economic systems. What have we to offer them?

Messianic Statism vs. Global Reformation

There are two viable options for future American statesmen proceeding with foreign policy in the world. America can either push towards a New World Order of messianic statism – one in which the state robs the individual of his natural sovereignty and independence and assumes the role of family, church and, yes, even God. The other role for our nation is a campaign for global reformation – one in which the state assumes a minimal role and assumes that the individual, family and church are sovereignly governed under the moral law of God.

By the 21st century, we will have entered, like it or not, a kind of a New World Order. The question Christians need to ask during this time: Will it be a top-down totalitarian statist order akin to Hitler’s dream of a Third Reich? – Or will it be the realization of the Puritan dream of decentralized Christian theocratic republics emerging throughout the world?

In looking to the West, many of the future world leaders of the former communist bloc face a strange variety of philosophies. What they discover may seem highly ironic. America’s leading brain trusts can only offer the same philosophies that led to the demise of the Eastern bloc in the first place. Our nation’s scientific institutions can offer them Darwinism in their pursuit of scientific thinking. Economists at Harvard University can offer them Marxism as the panacea to the ills that plague their nation. Theologians from America’s seminaries can offer them liberalism and a “historical Jesus” who never performed miracles. All the while the people of the world clamor for a Lord and a Messiah to raise their nations from the dead.

When Russian youth flock to evangelistic campaigns held by Western missionaries, they are introduced to a “personal savior” and a promise of reaching heaven. What they came for instead was an answer to their personal economic woes. They gladly embrace the promise of personal regeneration – but they are offered little hope beyond that besides “a smile and Jesus loves you.” They are rarely told that Jesus Christ is a King who demands complete obedience; and that as His disciples they are obligated to “take every thought captive” and bring every area of society under His Lordship.

The question we need to ask at the present is: What is the proper role of the Church during this time? It is only the Reformed strain of historical orthodox Christianity embodied in Puritan thought emphasizing the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the totality of life that is the hope of Russia, Ukraine, China, Cuba, South Africa, India, etc. The future course of many nations could be determined by the voice of the Church prophetically warning against personal ambition and entangling alliances; but encouraging instead a historical optimism with the possibility of covenants among Christian nations to ensure lasting peace.

The Joseph Company

Drastically needed in former communist and third world countries are Christians with an expertise in certain areas of society. Law, medicine, science, art, economics and government are all facets of the whole. Whatever your area of expertise – it is vastly needed at this time.

I call this strategy: “The Joseph Company.” Joseph was, in fact, a businessman whose shrewd investments coupled with divine guidance saved the world from a time of famine (Gen. 41-45). The Joseph Company is a group of Christians who are being used in evangelism in unique ways. These people are not primarily evangelists; they are Christian businessmen, bankers, scientists, agriculturists, technicians, etc. Today, there are a company of men and women who are able to deliver the world from a time of great crisis. These people are able to discover new ways to apply biblical law to reform society. Some of the Joseph Company hold high political office; others provide the means to finance great evangelistic thrusts to the unreached peoples of the world. These servants are characterized both by their great zeal for the task and for their transparent humility.

Through the Joseph Company, we will see a renaissance of Puritan thinking in many areas of the world. But this reformation first needs to take place in the church. As we hope for long term progress in reforming our own nation, we can begin to lay the foundation for reformation in many other nations around the world. This task may take the form of teaching Creationism in the public schools of Ukraine; training Chinese internationals studying in the United States in the principles of Christian economics; helping to start a crisis pregnancy center in Romania; or travelling to Cuba several times a year to teach seminars in underground churches on the principles of biblical law and government.

We have an added task in world evangelism. We are commanded to preach salvation to individuals, but also to liberate the nations. The Great Commission has greater meaning to those with a Reformation worldview. The dominion mandate includes biblical reform of culture. With added knowledge comes great responsibility. As Esther was “called into the kingdom for such a time as this,” it is certain that we have been given great revelation from the Word of God for a specific purpose and for a chosen time.

The Church can work for the emergence of decentralized Christian societies throughout the world. If the Puritan Hope prevails, we could see Christian nations working in covenant together for the evangelization and reformation of the remaining non-Christian nations. A positive outcome of the “New World Order” for our day could be the division of the world into two spheres: the Christian bloc and non-Christian bloc – with the Word of God growing mightily and prevailing (Acts 19:20).

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