When we view a general outline of world history in the context of God’s covenant with His people, the Church, we see great revolutions occurring every 500 years with world kingdoms being overthrown. Yet God’s people always thrive in times of societal upheaval. The covenant-keeping Church has gained authority in the world as it has withstood and upheld great judgments against covenant-breaking nations. The Church has been empowered through understanding the covenant of God. Increased revelation of God’s Law as a model for society has also brought changes in civil government as the people of God have worked for societal reformation. The Church’s role is to occupy the secular power bases shortly before devastating judgments on pagan world systems. When the dust clears, it is the Church that begins the process of restoration. God’s people as a whole then occupy even higher power bases. Thus the kingdom of God has been advanced through history.
- Roman Period: 70 – 500 A.D. – After the downfall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., the government of God among the Gentile nations can be viewed as having legitimate national expressions in two spheres. The Apostolic Church councils and the civil government of the Roman Empire. As the years went by, the Church, which had been born in persecution, thrived in persecution. As with ancient Israel, the more the Church was persecuted the more she flourished and multiplied. The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church. Christians submitted to Roman rule inasmuch as they were ruled by what John Calvin termed the “Common Law of Nations,” but when the civil authorities broke covenant with God, the Church was obliged to resist.
The Roman model was that of a centralized forced union with some representation, which contrasted greatly with the Christian model of self-government. The Church suffered persecutions under ten different Roman emperors. Church government was a decentralized, bottom-up system with bishops in certain regions taking an increasing role of authority over entire cities. The model for worship services quickly became liturgical and sacramental, but the meetings themselves resembled informal family gatherings. The local church was a grassroots movement for over three hundred years, meeting from house to house. Local church government was based on the model of extended families with male heads of households functioning as elders or presbyters.
In the 4th century A.D., Constantine became the Roman Emperor. He officially embraced Christianity. Whether he was genuinely converted to Christ is unknown, but nevertheless, Christianity became a legalized and accepted religion of the Roman Empire. Instead of suffering the persecution of the state, the Church now enjoyed the patronage of the state. Constantine called the Council of Nicea which unified the Church, instituting a catholicism which began through the rule of a synod of bishops. But the era ended with the Roman bishop taking an increasingly imperialistic role. The Church was taken off her guard. The people of God, who had been watchful, prayerful, and faithful in the time of opposition, were now lulled into a false sense of security. Without doubt, imperial favor brought the Roman system of centralized government with forced union into the Church. Thus the conversion of Constantine, with the changes that this brought about – the introduction of practices of pagan origin, the rise of an ecclesiastical hierarchy based on the world system rather than Scripture – led to a swift decline. The Church descended into the “Dark Ages,” and the light of true Christianity was almost extinguished.
- Medieval Period: 500 – 1000 A.D. – Through the dark centuries, as E.H. Broadbent shows in The Pilgrim Church, the light of testimony was kept burning. However, there was no widespread reformation movement, no general turning of the tide; and century after century, for a whole millennium, the tide of spiritual life continued to recede. The first great dividing line in history is the end of the Ancient era and the beginning of the Medieval era. This dividing line is commonly associated with the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 A.D., although some historians consider the Medieval era to have commenced with King Charlemagne who introduced feudalism in the 8th century. This system was an alliance between the bishop of Rome and the Emperor, which gave Charlemagne the aid of local bishops throughout northern Europe in extending his rule over barbarian people. Pagan tribes became “Christianized” through the sacraments of the Catholic Church. There were essentially three classes of people during this time: nobles, peasants and clergy. This system of feudalism was known as the Holy Roman Empire.
The weakness of this system was that it was a top-down, hierarchical ecclesiocracy, that is, a civil government run by the Church. Genuine conversions were rare, because the liturgy of the Church was said in Latin, a dead language by this time, and few clergy emphasized personal regeneration as a requirement for Church membership. Government was enforced through external motivation. The sacraments and church membership became the basis for individual rights. Thus arose the mistaken notion that human rights originate from a civil or ecclesiastical power. The “Divine Right of Kings” arose from the idea that the pope gave the emperor his authority.
Although much of this system of government was pagan in origin, the “Common Law of Nations” continued to be a valid a basis for governing a society during this period. The Common Law was the moral law of God (understood through natural revelation) plus the civil codes of Roman law. It should be understood that Roman law, where specifically sanctioned by Scripture, is a valid a basis for governing society. Some Roman law can be seen to be founded upon God’s moral law, because the Gentiles of the Roman period had some knowledge of Judaism and then Christianity.
- Rise of Scholasticism: 1000 – The arrival of William the Conqueror on the shores of Britain in 1066 signified the complete domination of Latin nobles over the peasants of northern Europe. The Saxon people, however, had an inbred distaste for Romanism. The signing of the Magna Charta in 1215 gave the English people a right to trial and disallowed search and seizure without a written warrant. These ideas came from the Scriptures which could be read in Latin by the educated class of nobles and clergy. In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas promoted a new system of learning in society called scholasticism. The rise of scholasticism promoted literacy among the clergy, although as a system of thought it extolled Greek philosophy to the level of Scripture and promoted mysticism. Knowledge of the Scriptures, however, became more widespread. Biblical Law slowly began to work its way into civil government once again.
In the 1300s, John Wycliffe’s writings and his English New Testament led to the reformation of the laws of English society. Wycliffe wrote in the preface of his English Bible that: “This Bible is for the government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Originally, Wycliffe meant this to apply only to church government. But it was soon applied to civil society as well. A society’s law should be God’s law; this was the point; but Wycliffe also included the phrase “by the people.” In other words, the people themselves should read and know the Bible so that they shall be able to govern and be governed by biblical laws. The Church and the kingdom of God is subject to God’s Law, and in turn, God gave the Church her mandate to advance His kingdom on earth independently from any earthly authority. This was a radical departure from the government of popes and kings.
Soon thinking people began to challenge the existing paradigm of feudalism, which was now a thousand years old. Scholasticism introduced of the study of Scripture, and it was the translation of Scripture into the common languages of the people by later reformers which led to the downfall of Romanism. Scholasticism led to the dismantling of the very system which Charlemagne had used the clergy to employ. The idea of individual liberty under the moral law of God began to be recovered. Further restoration of these ideas were promoted through the writings of John Hus, Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Locke.
- Reformation Period: 1500 A.D. – The Protestant movement in the Church cannot be understood without its accompanying revolution in the civil sphere: the Renaissance. Originally a 15th century Italian movement, the Renaissance occurred in cities such as Florence, Naples and Venice. The emergence of free trade and the rise of the merchant class brought an exposure to many new cultures. Scientific advancement and increased learning was the result. Perhaps the greatest invention of this time was the printing press which enabled literature and especially the Bible to be printed in mass quantities. More than any other innovation the print media brought liberty to the common people as they were reformed internally through personal regeneration and Christian teaching.
Ironically, the same revolution that brought the Law of God within the grasp of the common man, also gave birth to secularism. When the monopoly of the Church over the affairs of the state was broken, a reactionary tendency set in. This trend can be seen in the French Enlightenment, which was more a reaction against the kings and bishops of France than apostolic Christianity. In throwing off the shackles of tyranny, atheism and deism became the order of the day. The blood bath of French Revolution and the resulting anarchy can be viewed as the antithesis of American independence. The Americans understood that liberty could only be secured by a people who were self-governing under the moral laws of God.
Civil liberty implies that a large portion of the population has been sanctified through redemption and knowledge of the Word of God. Whenever the Bible has appeared in the common language of the people, the people have gained greater liberty. This liberty, however, comes from the Spirit of the living God. The written Law is merely death unless it is illumined by the Holy Spirit. This is why it is dangerous to assume that Law can ever sanctify a society. The Law may take on its proper role in society, only when born-again believers assume roles of civil authority. Unless there is accompanying revival and spiritual awakening, the moral Law can only serve to condemn unregenerate people. The result will be a libertine society under the dictatorship of mob rule. Secularism has become the order of the day in many western states in the latter half of the 20th century .
- Paradigm Shift: 2000 – Today we are seeing the downfall of secularism in post-modern history. The sweeping changes we see in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and China, are a natural fruition the principles laid down at the time of the Reformation. In the West, we will see a complete breakdown of secularism within the next five to ten years. The preaching of the Gospel coupled with the collapse of the secularist state under the weight of its own lawlessness is preparing the way for the most significant paradigm shift since the first coming of Jesus Christ.
This culmination of events leaves us today with what some have termed the “New World Order.” 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?
The Puritan Hope
Today, true believers in historical orthodoxy have an opportunity to assist emerging free nations in shaking off the shackles of tyranny. 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. 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 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 Paradigm Shift 2000 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).