We live in a transitional era. If we take a look back at the great political changes that have occurred in the world in the past few years, it should cause us to understand that we are living in the midst of a global revolution.
Just remember what the world was like at the beginning of 1990. Just a year earlier, Republican President George Bush had won an electoral “landslide victory” over Democrat Michael Dukakis. Margaret Thatcher was still in power. Chinese communist leaders had recently massacred over a thousand pro-democracy student demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. The Berlin Wall had just fallen. Massive tumults were taking place in the streets of every Eastern European country. Communist hard-liners in Moscow were resisting Mikhail Gorbachev’s campaign for perestroika. How the world has changed in only five years!
As a frequent visitor to the former USSR since 1991, I have had the opportunity to view some of the fast-paced changes first hand. In 1993, the “Second October Revolution” failed in Moscow. Today, Russia and the republics of the former Soviet Union are stronger and more confident than they have been in years. There is a new respect for Russia abroad as well. Few in the West still see the former Soviet Union as the “enemy.”
In June 1994, I sat in a restaurant in Moscow interviewing my friend Stasha Zeeghofer on the subject: “What is it like to be a young person in Moscow?” Stasha grew up in Moscow during the Soviet era of perestroika and glasnost. Today, she is optimistic about being a young adult in the new Russian Federation. Like many Russian young people, Stasha has benefited greatly from the economic changes. In only three years, she has gone from earning slave wages (only six dollars a month!) to earning hundreds of dollars a month as a secretary for a Christian relief ministry. At age 22, she is successful in a country where the average wage is still about 30 dollars a month.
According to Stasha, Russian president Boris Yeltsin has gained some popularity now that some of his economic reforms seem to be working. I asked Stasha if she thought that the former USSR could ever again revert to totalitarianism. She replied: “No, I don’t think so. Too many of the young people have had a taste of freedom. But … hey, it’s Russia! You never know what will happen here!”
I agree with Stasha. Although the history of this nation tells us that nothing is ever certain, it is unlikely that Russia will revert to hard-line totalitarian communism. Yet the American press often gives a different picture. It’s as though liberal journalists in our country mourn the death of communism!
Even some Christians are gloomy in their predictions about Russia’s future. When the Soviet Union opened to the gospel several years ago, many missionaries were predicting that our opportunity would be short lived. One missionary predicted in 1991 that we had only one year “before the door slams shut again.” Many American Christians saw Russia as “Gog and Magog” of Ezekiel 38 and 39 – a great bear with “hooks in its jaws” – a people predestined to be damned.
Although history will prove this view to be wrong, it may be that the zeal to move as quickly as possible “before the door slams shut again” actually helped the Russian people a great deal. Although many missionaries have lacked a long term strategy, God’s providential purposes in the former Soviet Union are being served by the Church moving quickly to evangelize the lost.
And hopefully, we will move with an even greater resolution when the inevitable begins to unfold in our own country. Yet more likely, because of our faulty worldview, we will be totally unprepared to go through the radical changes which are in store for the West.
The Downfall of Secularism in the West
In the next five to ten years, we will see the world system of secular liberalism in the West begin to undergo its own demise. We will be shaken as we see scenes reminiscent of the downfall of the communism played out in our own country. By the year 2010, when we glance over our shoulders, we will see the debris of 250 years of secularism strewn behind us. God’s judgment will have been measured out equally on the materialistic secularism of both East and West. The questions God’s people ought to be asking at this time: “Are we prepared to weather God’s nation-shaking changes?” and “We will be ready and equipped to rebuild a society based on the covenant of God once the sifting has taken place?”
Just as the “Second October Revolution” was the death scream of communism in Russia, the presidency of Bill Clinton may well be the death scream of Western liberalism in America. The election of Bill Clinton has done more to awaken Christians in America to their God-given mandate to be salt and light in society than any event in recent history.
In January 1995, at Camp David, Maryland, Marianne Williamson, known to the Hollywood media as the “Guru to the Glitterati,” and Anthony Robbins, a self-described “peak performance coach” famous for walking on hot coals, met with Bill and Hillary Clinton at camp David in what the Washington Post described as “something of a gathering of a New Age guru authors.”
Bill and Hillary Clinton’s famous “Renaissance Weekend” – which takes place each January on a coastal island in South Carolina – epitomizes the libertine philosophy of the French Enlightenment. The Clintons’ Renaissance Weekend serves as a gathering of liberal statesmen and politicians who discuss “new ideas” and influence the public policy of the president. Policies such as – homosexuals in the military, world population control, and the freeing of government funds for the scientific experimentation on living human embryos and fetuses – have been promoted here. It is a collection of covenant breakers among whom libertine social philosophers such as Voltaire and Rousseau would mingle with great pride.
Rather than resisting this gathering using natural means, God’s covenant keeping people ought to pray that God’s inevitable lawsuit on western secularism will be served on schedule. A covenant made by evildoers cannot be reformed; it must be slain by the Sword of the Spirit.
What is a Paradigm Shift?
When we look back in history at the Renaissance and Reformation of the 1500s, this period seems to be a brilliant, exciting time of innovation. But to its contemporaries, this revolution was a terrifying collapse of a comfortable and familiar world order, a time of war and strife. Christians often faired better, because they put their faith in the world yet to come. Their attitude was often hopeful in an atmosphere of social turmoil, especially if they were covenantal in their thinking. In Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” the reformer extolled God’s saving power above that of turmoil and strife:
A mighty fortress is our God,
A bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing …
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
How the Church responds in these times of crisis has always been a key factor in fulfilling God’s purposes in the earth. Like the Sons of Issachar, the Church is called to discern the times and act according to God’s preordained plan. Christians who have become more interested covenantal theology in recent years are becoming more aware of the need to reform all aspects of our society according to biblical principles. They have shifted from a dispensational model of thinking – which leads to retreat from the world – towards a covenantal model – which emphasizes the responsibility of the Christian to advance God’s kingdom into every area of culture.
A shift in thinking, when it occurs on a large scale, is called a “paradigm shift.” A paradigm is a set of beliefs which act as a model for one’s sense of reality. This model or belief system will ultimately shape one’s actions. This is also commonly referred to as a “worldview.” When we are talking about paradigms, we are looking at patterns of thinking which determine conduct and lifestyle. There has been much heated debate in recent years about paradigms. This discussion has focused on the shifts which occur when an old paradigm is seen to be obsolete or false; when one paradigm gives way to another.
For instance, the transfer of influence among computer manufacturers came with the invention of the personal computer or “PC” which created a paradigm shift in that industry. Prior to the invention of the PC, computer manufacturers produced expensive computers which had to be run by a large mainframe computer to a terminal. The invention of the PC provided a smaller, less expensive computer that could be run from a built-in hard drive. Small businesses and individuals found that the PC was much more affordable, reliable, and efficient. Computer manufacturers have now shifted towards this innovative paradigm. Well-established computer manufacturers tried to compete at first with the PC manufacturers, but soon had to scramble to keep up with a fast changing market. We see this pattern everywhere – the first automobiles looked a lot like “horseless carriages”; the first television sets looked like radios. It takes time for human nature to let go of the old and embrace the new in a paradigm shift.
Paradigm shifts are not confined to the worlds of science and business. We can see a common historical paradigm shift which has occurred in the Church just prior to every revival and spiritual awakening. The pattern has generally followed that an old paradigm becomes entrenched in the Church and Christians are unable to discern the need for revival and reformation together with a new paradigm or vision.
In describing the paradigm shift of the first century, Jesus said: “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better’” (Luke 5:37-39).
God requires a new wineskin to hold the new wine that He is pouring out in the nations. We live in a time in world history that promises to be significant for the ideal of global reformation. Never before has the Church had such a great opportunity to reach so many with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Since the Holy Spirit has redirected His people toward the mandate for discipling the nations, the Church in America must soon undergo a radical shift in doctrine, purpose and function. This shift will bring the Church toward her proper role as a body of reformers. The old pietistic paradigm of dispensational theology will be replaced by a “neo-Puritan” worldview of covenantal theology.
- Dispensational thinking leads to conspiracy theories and a fatalistic view of the “end times.” It promotes dispensationalism (the idea that much of the Bible is “not for today”), antinomianism (anti-biblical Law view), pietism and mysticism.
- Covenantal thinking leads to a providential worldview and an understanding of progress of the kingdom of God throughout human history. It promotes covenantalism (the Old and New Covenants apply to modern society), theonomy (pro-biblical Law view), neo-Puritanism, and a practical spirituality.
The demise of liberalism and secularism will mean very little for the advance of the kingdom of God in our own culture, if the Church is not reformed and prepared to weather the changes. It is imperative that the Church forms a comprehensive understanding of what must soon take place in America and other western nations. We must begin to examine the purpose of God’s covenants in both the Old and New Testaments. We must understand the effects of God’s Covenant on the Church and civil society from the New Testament to the Medieval era, through the Protestant Reformation to our present day. If we begin with an understanding of covenantal theology, we will gain an understanding of God’s judgments on pagan world systems throughout history and the exaltation of the kingdom of God.
Understanding Covenantal Theology
The premise of covenantal theology is simple: God rewards covenant keepers with blessings (and mercy in light of their past failures); and He judges covenant breakers with curses on individuals and entire nations. As the people of God prosper and increase in the blessings of God, judgment progressively falls on evil men and idolaters until their idolatry is suppressed. We always see an increase in God’s kingdom through the blessings and curses of the covenant.
From the time of the fall of Adam until the time of Noah, God saw that “every intent of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). So God wiped out the covenant breaking portion of mankind from the earth with the Great Flood. The ark is significant because it represents the only way of deliverance out of the pagan world system which was about to be destroyed. Here we see the essence of the covenant – covenant breakers were destroyed; and covenant keepers were spared judgment. Then God made a covenant with Noah to never again to wipe out the entire earth with a flood. Within God’s covenant was a plan eternal redemption for covenant keepers through His Son Jesus Christ. Redemption was revealed in type through blood sacrifices.
The revelation of the Messiah came strongly throughout the Old Testament. God gave Israel an oath and a promise (Hebrews 6:13-18). His oath is found in the Law with its covenantal blessings and curses. His promise is found in the prophetic writings of kings, priests and prophets who served as mediators only until the time of Jesus Christ. It was Christ who fulfilled the Law for all subsequent generations.
The theme of God’s covenant is repeated throughout Scripture. The Abrahamic Covenant; Deuteronomy 28; the Psalms of David; the writings of the prophets during the time of Israel’s kings; and the Sermon on the Mount are examples. The basic theme of God’s covenant is His eternal oath to reward covenant keepers and curse covenant breakers and His promise of redemption to all nations. The covenant includes the promise of Christ’s atoning blood and His ultimate reign over all of Israel and the Gentile nations.
People of all ages have had some inkling of the moral law of God, revealed either through patriarchal oral tradition, or through natural revelation. Romans chapter one tells us that all people from the beginning of time knew that there was one God. They also knew His commandments. There was a basic knowledge of the moral law of God. People know through natural revelation that it is wrong to steal; to murder; to commit adultery; to bear false witness; etc.
But according to Romans 1:21,22,28: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools…. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind.”
Here we see God’s severest judgment: He gives idolaters over to their own sin! This is what happened in Noah’s time. Men were allowed to revel in their sin for hundreds of years and were then were mercifully destroyed in a worldwide flood. The covenantal sanctions of the Mosaic Law are light compared to the final judgment of God, which is being given over to a reprobate mind and an ultimate hell.
The basic difference between the Old and New Covenants is the full revelation of redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ and the corresponding indwelling power of the Holy Spirit which was given at Pentecost. The covenant enforcing ecclesiastical government structure of Israel’s prophets and priests is now expressed by the Church, with its government structure of elders and overseers, which acts as the judicial body that enforces God’s legislative judgments in the earth. In response to the inevitable downfall of western secularism, the Church must recover her role as this legislative body and act as a great body of reformers and never rest until every evil is put under her feet.
Restoration of Covenantalism
The period just before a major paradigm shift brings the fruition of what was laid down in the destruction of the previous paradigm. Thus the seeds of revolution are sown in the beginning of each period, but the fruit doesn’t come to maturity until the end of the period. At the very end of each period we see entire civilizations reverting to the traditional values of the past in a desperate attempt to preserve to order of the past. Such a strategy is called a “nativist reaction.”
Each of the Great Awakenings in American history began in a time of trouble caused by moral conflict which caused disjuncture throughout the whole nation, from national leadership to the grassroots. Social change with its resultant tension is not enough to stimulate the process of spiritual awakening. In a Great Awakening, the cultural conflict must be moral and the social tension must be disruptive. Whenever society is threatened by revolutionary change, particularly in the field of morals, the first reaction is to return to the ways that worked in the past. The current conservative swing is a “nativist reaction” to the travesty of liberal social programs such as Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society,” Nixon’s activistic economic policies, Roe v. Wade, the rising national debt under Carter, Reagan and Bush, and Clinton’s pagan agenda ironically entitled the “New Covenant.”
The “nativist reaction” can actually stall a Great Awakening and biblical reformation rather than promote it. Nativism is defined as “the revival of traditional values of a culture.” In Puritan America, Cotton Mather spearheaded the call for a return to the “Old New England Way.” He was responding to the acculturizing trends of 18th century rationalism. Cotton Mather’s vision was for a return to Puritanism. But it wasn’t Mather who was responsible for bringing the neo-Puritan First Great Awakening to America, but Jonathan Edwards who appeared on the scene just a few years after Mather’s death. Nativists almost always fail to bring reform. Although they correctly lament the demise of “values,” they do not understand the culture well enough to correctly engage and reform society. Unlike the nativists, promoters of true revival, such as Jonathan Edwards, always appear as children of their age – not enemies of progress. Edwards was able to integrate elements of the prevailing rationalist philosophy into his systematic theology without compromise, while simultaneously bringing a revival of Puritanism to America.
In our day, the Reagan/Bush administrations and voices coming from what has been termed the “Christian right” have called for a nativist return to “traditional family values.” But the biggest problem for the religious right has been that they lack an articulate vision for what America should look like. Some have imagined a return to the 1950s – Ozzie and Harriet television reruns, tail fins on Chevys, drive-in theaters and crew cuts – as if that would bring us a much needed moral awakening! And we have forgotten that the conservatism of the 1950s led to our current position.
Conservative nativism will not serve as a lasting substitute to liberal secularism. Conservative nativism is, in fact, a “less-liberal liberalism” than secular liberalism. Both Republicans and Democrats desire to spend your money through an anti-covenantal tax plan. It’s just that the Democrats want to spend more of your money. This makes the conservative Republicans neither more covenantal nor less secularist. Men who embrace the covenant of God are the only qualified candidates for civil office.
Renaissance vs. Reformation
In any generation there are two types of people who have the means to reach an audience: the Renaissance man and the Reformation man. The Renaissance man is the master of a medium such as art, politics or music. He understands how to hold an audience’s rapt attention. But often, the Renaissance man has no message to communicate. The Reformation man is someone who holds the message. He has the keys to truly revolutionize the world. The problem with the Reformation man is that he often has no audience.
In the middle ages, the Renaissance man would be someone like Michelangelo who painted the Sistine chapel. The Reformation man would be someone like John Huss who was burned at the stake for challenging the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Every so often there appears a rare individual who is combination of each: the Renaissance/Reformation man who both understands his audience and has a message to communicate.
Such a man was Martin Luther. He not only had a message as a reformer, but was also a radical innovator of the media. He was a pioneer of a new type of multi-media which combined the skills of the orator, writer, linguist, printer, artist and musician. Luther was a true Renaissance man, but he was also the Reformation man. It is this explosive combination that produces a revolution that can change the world.
To effectively transform our society after the demise of liberalism, we need “renaissance/reformation men.” We are still waiting in our generation for some of these rare individuals to appear who have a revolutionary message who can solve many of the world’s problems and who can also relate to their generation in a relevant way. Instead of mimicking the slick methods of modern evangelicalism, this new breed of Christians will be the pioneers of an understanding of covenantalism. They will engage every area of our culture without fear with their prophetic message. The people who are chosen for this time will be revolutionaries. Those who are destined by God to be a part of this movement will be on the vanguard of a new era of renaissance and reformation.
Only a revival of historic proportions can give the Church and or society the paradigm for a new covenantalism. With every true biblical revival in American history there has been:
(1) Increased revelation of the Law of God and how it applies to the individual and society;
(2) Tremendous judgment;
(3) Great financial prosperity released into the Church for the purpose of evangelism and societal reformation.
As the Church becomes active in God’s purposes in the earth, great material blessings are released for the purpose of evangelization and reformation. As liberalism is dealt its inevitable death blow, Christians ought to be simultaneously working for the restoration of an understanding of covenantalism in all governmental spheres of society: individual, family, church and civil.
What’s Ahead for the East and West?
God blesses nations according to how their civil leaders enforce the covenant in society. God curses nations and brings to nothing those leaders who trample on the Law of God. We are not talking about salvation here – salvation and redemption can only occur with individuals – (contrary to the C.I. Scofield’s dispensational idea that there are “sheep nations” and “goat nations”). The Law of God acts as a moral restraint to those who will not be saved. It also serves as a model for the Law-based rule of civil government.
What’s in store for the Eastern European bloc, the former USSR, the remaining communist bloc, Islamic nations, animistic religions, etc., will depend on how they respond to the Law of God found in the Old and New Testaments. In western society, rationalism, secularism, humanism, environmentalism, materialism, communism, and a host of other anti-Christian philosophies are also doomed to destruction.
The Church’s role in the coming paradigm shift will depend on how we as individuals respond to the covenant of God. There are several broad guidelines to follow as we strive to become covenant keepers.
1. Obey the Great Commission. Missionary Hudson Taylor said: “The Great Commission is not an option to be considered, it is a command to be obeyed!” Christ’s command to go into all the nations and preach the Gospel is for every Christian, not just a select few. This means being a light in the area in which we are living. But there are many who can heed the call to go into foreign nations where the Gospel has never been preached. You don’t need a special revelation to take a short term missions trip on your vacation time. You already have the words of Jesus Christ.
2. Resist evil doers in our society. The Bible is clear: “They that forsake the law praise the wicked, but they that keep the law shall resist them” (Proverbs 28:4). Scripture is replete with examples of the fact that we are responsible for the sins of our leaders if we do not resist them. The Church is responsible to reprove and judge the sins of the civil magistrates if they do evil and to encourage and bless them if they obey God’s laws. Church elders are responsible to excommunicate civil leaders who break covenant with God and refuse to repent.
3. Work for societal reformation. Society’s structures will be changed as individual Christians begin to understand their role as covenant enforcers in their sphere of influence. The Great Commission speaks of more than evangelism. Jesus said: “Go into all the world and teach all nations …” The Greek word here is “matheteuo,” which means to disciple or train. This means to teach new Christians to be covenant keepers. The Apostle Paul commanded the disciples in Corinth to “punish all disobedience once your obedience is complete.” This means primarily a readiness to enforce discipline within the sphere of the local church, but it also carries with it the responsibility to enforce God’s law in the civil sphere.
If the pattern of revival and spiritual awakening holds, the next twenty to forty years promises to be the time of the greatest spiritual awakening American history and a time of global revolution. Will you be prepared for it?