“We can never know which war will be the last war. But we take as our hope the prophecy of Isaiah – ‘that nation shall not lift up sword against nation.’ And yes, we hope, we pray that as the years progress that the face of war will recede into our distant memory.”
- President George H.W. Bush
Veteran’s Day Address
November 11, 1991
With these words, President George Bush reiterated his belief in a Providential view of history. There is an undeniable promise in the Bible that nations will one day cease from war. This view was popular during the formative years of America; it took hold firmly in the years before the American Civil War; but it has finally lost its popularity in the twentieth century. Few of America’s recent leaders have spoken as boldly of the biblical promise of world peace as has our current President.
George Bush was, in fact, echoing President Woodrow Wilson by proclaiming his belief that “the last war” may be on the horizon. The Veteran’s Day Address should go down in history as a landmark speech. November 11th, 1918 was the day on which the Armistice ending World War One was signed. President Bush referred to the hope that the First World War should have been, in the words of President Wilson, “the war to end all wars,” and reminded the American public of the great progress toward world peace which has occurred in the downfall of the communist bloc – the defeat of Saddam Hussein – and the Madrid Arab-Israeli peace accord.
This millennial hope – that progress toward a lasting peace is being made – is not as popular today as it was just 100 years ago. Most Americans and, even more sadly, most Christians of today no longer hold to a Providential view of history – a view in which the hand of God is seen to be directing the entire earth toward a glorious destiny. Instead, most have opted for a Conspiratorial view of history – a view in which human or demonic conspirators are in control of historical events and are steering the entire earth toward a one-world government, controlled by an evil, totalitarian, antichrist dictatorship.
A world without wars and diabolically evil empires doesn’t seem to fit our worldview anymore, yet most of the historians of the 19th century believed in the idea of human progress. A betterment of mankind was seen as the result of divine grace flowing from the hand of God or “Providence.”
If this was the prominent view only a century ago, one might ask, then why has there been such a dramatic turnaround in our worldview? To fully understand this change, we first need to compare America’s Puritan beginnings in a nation totally separate from Europe, with the sudden intrusion of America as a world power into the politics of Europe and Asia in the twentieth century. We will find that the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson is the hinge upon which this turnabout occurred.
From its very beginning, the American system stood out as different from that of Europe in one major aspect: America was first colonized by Puritans. The first settlers in Jamestown were cavaliers loyal to the King. But they were interested mainly in imperialism rather than religious pursuits. Their colony under Captain John Smith perished entirely before being reestablished. Jamestown was the first successful and permanent colony in America. But there was no ongoing permanence in its early years and its success was dubious.
The next group of colonists were separatists and dissenters from the Episcopalian form of government in the Church of England – the Pilgrims – and they settled in Plymouth. The Plymouth colony first experimented with collectivism and almost failed until a model of congregational church government was adapted to a plan of civil authority by Governor Bradford in order to save the colony from starvation.
Later, the city of Boston and some surrounding communities experimented with the idea of a theocracy ruled by Presbyters as a model of civil government. This brought only intolerance and repression against until a remarkable success occurred when the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colonies joined to form the first truly democratic society. The wealth of the Puritans, who had flown from the oppression of King Charles of England, and the greater civil liberty afforded by the more sensible government structure of the Pilgrims, who had come to America a decade earlier, combined in a system which has continued to see success even until this day.
Other colonies, such as Connecticut, followed the example of this reformed system. This was not a denominational system, but a reformed civil government under which a society of truly Christian and morally self-controlled people could live in freedom from religious oppression and intolerance. This civil form of government was based upon a “constitution” under which the colonists lived and viewed with awe as a “compact” or a covenant with God.
Conflict with Europe
King Charles, the tyrant who had long persecuted the English Puritans, finally lost his head after a long ordeal with these new and revolutionary ideas. The flowers of liberty were even then blossoming amidst the Old World order. Oliver Cromwell, a leading Puritan statesman bent on reform and the establishment of a democratic parliamentary system of civil government, finally led a civil war against the King and his cavaliers. The Puritans, or “roundheads” as they were called, ultimately won the war and Charles was beheaded for plotting treason against the people of England. Charles’ crime was that he had conspired to hire an army of Catholic mercenaries from Ireland to fight against his own people.
The success of the Puritans in England was short-lived, however, when Cromwell found that a democratic parliamentary system run by squires and lords oppressed the common people and was almost as corrupt as the rulership of the deposed evil king. Not understanding the concept of the balance of powers of republican government – a necessity due to the innate depravity of man – Cromwell ordered parliament dissolved. As Commander-in-Chief of the army he was able to seize rulership and served a short term as “Lord Protector.”
Some today might see Cromwell’s leadership as fascist, however, his decision was based on the encroaching threat of a Scottish army, who would have imposed a Presbyterian form of church government on England, a form only slightly more tolerable than the Episcopacy of pre-Reformation Europe. Unfortunately, Cromwell died before the democratic ideals of civil government to which he aspired had had a chance to bear fruit.
After Cromwell’s death, Charles II came to power and resumed his father’s persecution of the Puritans. The Puritan movement finally lost its political power base in England and the last of its statesmen, who were not beheaded, fled to the Massachusetts Bay colony (and later to Connecticut).
The tensions between the colonists and England only served to ignite passionate love of freedom in America’s heart. Colonial government continued on through the Great Awakening in the early 1700’s. It was in the colonial setting of Enfield, Connecticut that the great revivalist, Jonathan Edwards, first preached his famous sermon “Sinner’s in the Hands of an Angry God.” What followed was a revival movement in America which lasted fifteen years. The Great Awakening transformed complacent believers all across the eastern seaboard.
Jonathan Edwards took much of his philosophy from John Locke, a political philosopher whose ideas had come of age in America. The American colonies separated from England less than a generation after the Great Awakening. This was due to the influence of John Locke on the political and religious leaders of colonial America. Also popular were the Scottish Presbyterian philosophers who argued that all men in all places possess a universal moral sense of right and wrong.
This assurance made possible the overthrow of tyrants and the restoration of social order. Moral wrongs such as taxation, the imposition of Provincial governments in the colonies, and other intolerable acts by the Kings of England led to the American War for Independence (or the Revolutionary War). The Christian philosophy of government allowed men to make new earthly covenants both for the glory of God and for man’s happiness on earth. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are extensions of the ideas contained in the compacts and constitutions drafted by the individual colonies declaring their right to existence.
This final break with England seemed to cement in the American mind the idea that the Old World order was somehow evil in form and intent. The Bible and Christian theology had more to do with the formation of America’s worldview than the mindset of Protestant Europe. Puritanism had to literally fight to carve out a place for itself in the rock of Europe’s fossilized social and political structure. Yet in America, Puritan beliefs had existed prior to the establishment of the American nation. Christian principles had been built into the bedrock of American society.
The Constitution of the United States of America was a Christian document by reason of the fact that it was based on the biblical principles set down throughout the centuries by Christian philosophers. These principles, hard fought for and fiercely guarded, ensured the success of an infant nation. America would now have to stand on its own and its citizens relied on the principles contained in the Bible and faith in God to solve the crises that faced the newborn republic.
By the 1820’s, improving relations with British Canada and the acquisition of Florida from Spain led to the Monroe Doctrine, which announced that North and South American countries would unite against European interference. Just as the colonies had united to fight against England, now all New World countries would unite against any foreign aggressor. Heeding George Washington’s warning against “entangling alliances” which could lead to unnecessary wars, America’s foreign policy toward Europe remained solidly isolationist throughout the 19th century.
The Millennial Hope for Peace
In the early 1800s, the Spirit of God moved strongly in America as it had a century earlier during the Great Awakening. It was during this Second Great Awakening that the ideas of world peace and social reform began to take root strongly among America’s Christian leaders.
The greatest among these leaders was Charles Grandison Finney, the son of a Revolutionary veteran and an heir to the Pilgrim tradition of 17th century Massachusetts. Born in Warren, Connecticut in 1792, Finney moved to New York State as a child and grew up in the “Burnt Over District” of western New York, an area frequented by many revivals. In 1821, as the result of an intense religious experience, he gave up a promising career as a lawyer to become an itinerant evangelist. He was a tall, slim, handsome man with piercing blue eyes, sandy hair, and had a burning conviction that he was led by God in his effort to convert and reform the nation.
Finney was a child of his age, not an enemy of it. He wanted to help men free themselves from sin and learn to grow in wisdom and love as free Christian men and women. He was an individual who believed that the millennial age was about to dawn in America. The essence of Finney’s theology lay in his attitude toward human progress, the benevolence of God, and personal holiness. Finney defined progress as the working out of God’s will, and since God was by nature benevolent, His ultimate aim was to produce the greatest possible human progress in the universe.
As a result of his revival preaching, which emphasized the doctrine of holiness, Finney believed that the world would become increasingly Christian. As more and more individuals were converted, the world would become increasingly prosperous and righteous. Christians would would grow in wisdom, learn all the laws of science, and someday create a world which would herald the start of God’s millennial kingdom on earth. He hoped to raise up “a new race of revival ministers” who would constitute the advance guard of the world-wide evangelistic movement.
Finney was sufficiently patriotic to believe, with his Pilgrim Forefathers, that America was to become the first nation in which the whole population would be completely converted. He also maintained that “a democracy is in many respects the most desirable form of government” and that a republic is a “less pure form of self-government.” According to Finney, God, who controls the outcome of all revolutions, allowed Americans to establish a republican form of government because “God always allows His children as much liberty as they are prepared to enjoy.“1
Consequently, he argued, if America continued to grow in grace and become more and more virtuous, it was probable that God, in His benevolence, would grant a democratic form of complete self-government. In the meantime, where revivals were flourishing, education would expand and social reform would continue to overcome one evil after another.
Finney believed that revivals could produce such broad and sweeping results, could reform so many individuals so completely and rapidly, that legislative attempts at reform paled in comparison. The first step toward the millennium was to convert men to Christ; the rest would follow automatically from this. Among the other reforms of the day which Finney promoted, were abolition, temperance, use of tobacco, dietary regulations, education, gambling, dueling and hygiene.2
Pessimistic, premillennial revivalists since the Civil War have usually opposed social reform on a broad scale, because they maintain that nothing but the return of Christ can possibly solve the major problems of this world. Finney did not share the view of Dwight L. Moody and other post-Civil War period revivalists that only the cataclysm of Christ’s Second Coming could bring about the millennium. Not only did Finney believe that one day wars would cease and peace would reign on earth, he was optimistic enough to state: “If the Church will do her duty the millennium may come in this country in three years.“3
America secures peace on its own soil
But will wars really ever cease? America has fought its share of wars on its own soil. This ended, of course, with the Civil War in the 1860s. There is not an American alive today who can remember a full fledged war being fought within the boundaries of his own nation. In this, America holds a unique position among the nations of the world.
Because of the Monroe Doctrine, America has been at peace with the nations of the western hemisphere in this century. Only communist infiltration in Latin America has periodically threatened this peace. There has not been a full scale war between America and a western hemisphere nation since the Spanish-American War, which was fought over the principles of the Monroe Doctrine.
Today no one in their right mind worries about a Canadian or Mexican invasion of the United States. Latin American countries, except for occasional terrorist insurgencies and coups, are at peace with one another. And with the toppling of the communist super bloc, even Cuba places no threat against America (as it did just thirty years ago during the Cuban Missile crisis). So why is it unlikely that such a sustained peace between nations could solidify in other areas of the world as well?
Anyone who questions the possibility of long term world peace should be reminded of the existence of slavery on our soil only 127 years ago. Before the Civil War, there were many people who believed that slavery was an immoral institution and ought to be abolished. However, few believed that slavery would ever be completely abolished in the entire world. Yet today another evil institution as old as the human race rages on everywhere. Is it any less likely that war will one day be outlawed, just as slavery has been virtually eradicated almost everywhere in the world?
The political setting of America from 1865 to 1900, mindful of the specter of the political disintegration which had gripped the nation less than a generation before, was marked a level of social turmoil greater than at any other time in history. The millennial hopes espoused Charles G. Finney began to fall into doubt. Southern Democrats, who had only recently gained control of the electorate, were bitterly opposed to the Reconstruction policies of the Republican majority. Bitter political enemies fought hard against each other in elections. America was still licking its wounds from the war and the nation remained politically divided.
If there was one policy that all Americans could agree upon, however, it was the Monroe Doctrine. Involvement in the affairs of Europe was almost universally frowned upon. The cost of fighting a European war politically and economically; and the idea of sacrificing American lives overseas seemed too great. To most Americans, the oceans still seemed wide enough to protect us from foreign invasion. Americans hoped that war could be avoided.
But then, during the administration of Woodrow Wilson, Europe began to tear itself apart.
Woodrow Wilson: An American Prophet
This entry of the United States of America into the affairs of Europe during the First World War changed the course of world history. Woodrow Wilson was the navigator of America’s course during this time period. It was as if God himself had raised up a prophet to speak of things to come. At a time when America prefered isolationism to intervention, Wilson drastically changed America’s role and the world has never been the same.
Woodrow Wilson was one the last of the Puritan thinkers to attain a high political office in America. As the former president of Princeton University, Wilson was deeply ingrained with a Reformation worldview of both Christianity and statesmanship. As a young boy, Wilson found faith in God and he believed from an early age that the mantle of great responsibility rested on his shoulders. He believed that there was a great task he was to accomplish with his life. In his writings there is the underlying notion that there was a God-given destiny for him to fulfill.
The Christian background of Wilson is best understood by looking at the years he spent at Princeton as a student. The curriculum of Princeton was steeped in Calvinist theology, the belief system of the Presbyterians, and today’s conservative Protestants who hold to a reform theology. Calvinists believe that the Kingdom of God is being established through God’s hand. Christian men and women may pursue progress and order in a chaotic world. Man’s institutions are given by God to advance the Kingdom of God on earth.
This view was much different from the Lutheran and Anabaptist theology which is promoted by most modern day evangelical, Pentecostal and charismatic Christians. These people believe that the spiritual and secular worlds are incompatible. Human progress is viewed as a form of secular rebellion against God. Man’s institutions are viewed as a part of the evil world system. Christians are to avoid participation in the world’s institutions as much as possible.
Wilson’s earliest writings are reliant on a worldview heavily saturated with the Calvinist principles which were taught at Princeton. One of his first public writings, published in the North Carolina Presbyterian, was entitled, “Christ’s Army.” This essay, written at age 19 together with a discourse entitled “A Christian Statesman,” represents the cornerstone of Wilson’s Christian philosophy:
“One of the favorite figures with sacred writers in their references to the inhabitants of this world is that of representing mankind as divided into two great armies. The field of battle is the world. From the abodes of righteousness advances the host of God’s people under the leadership of Christ. Immediately behind the great Captain of Salvation come the veteran regiments of the soldiers of the cross with steady tread, their feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace, girt about with truth, their breastplates of righteousness glittering beneath the bright rays of their Master’s love, each one grasping the sword of the Spirit….
“From the opposite side of the field, advancing from the tents of wickedness, come the hosts of sin led by the Prince of Lies himself, riding upon death’s horse…. The foes meet upon the great battle field of every-day life. With one sweeping charge the Christian band falls upon the overwhelming numbers of the Prince of Darkness and are met with a cloud of fiery darts from the hands of the evil one. The battle waxes fierce…. Satan leads his followers to victory over the dead bodies of many a soldier of the Cross. Thus the battle of life progresses and the army of Saints ever gains ground under divine generalship; now slowly, now rapidly, driving before them with irresistible force the broken ranks of the enemy….
“Surely in this great contest there is a part for everyone, and each one will be made to render a strict account of his conduct on the day of battle…. All professing Christians are, no doubt, more of less enthused by such thoughts as these, and hope that they can feel themselves soldiers in Christ’s great army; but they do not know that they are such. Why should they not know? If they would be assured of the fact that their names are in the great Roll Book, let them fight for Christ.“4
“Christ’s Army” had profound implications for Wilson’s developing political theory. The Calvinist doctrine that the secular world order was established by God gave Wilson a guide in his pursuit of progress. This world order was extended into all vocations, fields of learning, civil laws and political institutions. The ideals of Christianity were extended into Wilson’s view of history as well.
In an essay entitled “Christian Progress” Wilson described the Christian life as a journey toward perfection – “one attended with and obstructed by many difficulties. In order to advance, the Christian must needs strain every muscle. This strain, though necessary at all times, is not, of necessity irksome, as God’s all-powerful arm is ever around us.“5
This journey was also reflected in history as the nations progressed into an order that was more godly. Thus the millennial hope was reborn. In Wilson’s view, the hand of God was not only guiding the individual Christian, but the nations as well. The result of this progress would be a world without war. As the nations advanced into greater perfection, peace and prosperity would become prevalent; war and economic turmoil would become the exception rather than the rule.
World War I and the League of Nations
Wilson later served as president of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910. He became governor of New Jersey in 1912 as a reform candidate sponsored by William Jennings Bryan. One year later he was supported by Bryan in his bid for President. Wilson’s first term was marked by progressive politics which he supported out of loyalty to his Party. When World War One broke out during his first term, he promised to keep America out of the war. However, atrocities committed by the Germans on the battlefield and toward civilians led to a popular outcry against further expansion of the central European powers.
Woodrow Wilson’s firm belief in the Providence of God led him to believe that war, although a horrible and un-Christian institution, may be fought according to the will of God to achieve a higher good. This was to be a war fought to keep America and the world “safe for democracy.” This was to be the “war to end all wars.”
America entered World War One in 1917. Wilson’s childhood belief that he was destined by God to accomplish a great act for the good of mankind began to come into fruition in his mind. Perhaps the Great War would settle once and for all the need for wars. America entered the war at a crucial juncture and was responsible for turning the tide and bringing a long conflict to a swift end. In a Proclamation of Thanksgiving, November 18, 1918, Wilson spoke of the Sovereignty of God Who is “the Ruler of Nations”:
“God has in His good pleasure given us peace. It has not come as a mere cessation of arms, a mere relief from the strain and tragedy of war. It has come as a great triumph of right. Complete victory has brought us, not peace alone, but the confident promise of a new day as well, in which justice shall replace force and jealous intrigue among the nations.“6
The changing role of America in the world was based on Wilson’s hope that a League of Nations with a world court to settle national differences peaceably would result from the war. Wilson’s Fourteen Points for World Peace, presented to Congress in 1918, were later were adopted by the allied European nations at the Treaty of Versailles conference. The American congress never ratified Wilson’s desire to enter the League of Nations, however, even though he campaigned for it until he ruined his health. Wilson left the presidency greatly discouraged. Wilson believed that the formation of the League of Nations was to be the fulfillment of his God-given purpose on earth.
Wilson regarded his proposed peace terms with Germany to be a gesture of Christian forgiveness by the western alliance nations toward Germany. Forgiveness alone, in the form of requiring no reparations from Germany, could heal the wounds of war and make the world a freer place. Unfortunately for the world, the European nations rejected this part of Wilson’s plan and later imposed the harsh terms of the Versailles Treaty on Germany.
World War Two was fought, sadly, due of the decision of the Allied Nations of Europe to require the terms of the Versailles treaty from Germany. The continuing isolationism of America and the hostile feelings of the economically depressed Germans toward the Western Alliance fomented hostility and allowed the Nazis led by Hitler to gain a stranglehold on Europe. Once again the world began to tear itself apart.
The hope for a lasting peace dawned again when Germany was finally crushed by the allied forces and Japan was forced to surrender by a show of newfound atomic power by America. Some thought that the grim and awful specter of a nuclear holocaust could become the sufficient deterrent to war that the superpowers needed to remain at peace with each other. But it was not to be. Instead, the Cold War blocked the hope of world peace. Forty years of mistrust and suspicion festered between the United States and the communist super bloc. Conspiratorial theories about communism abounded.
This chain of events led to the pessimistic Conspiratorial view of history which is prevalent among modern day evangelical Christians. America’s millennial hope once proposed by the Puritans, Charles G. Finney and Woodrow Wilson has sunk into oblivion. Few Christians of the present generation seriously believe in the possibility of a lasting peace. This way of thinking has become so ingrained in evangelical circles that numerous Conspiracy theories have been advanced to explain current events.
How do we view the events of recent history? Three of the most positive signs of 1991: the defeat of Saddam Hussein, the break-up of the USSR, and the Arab-Israeli Peace Accord, have been interpreted by some Christians as pessimistic proofs that a Conspiracy to bring about a one-world government is at hand. This interpretation of current events would never have been the view of the Reformers, the Puritans, or the Revivalists.
If America’s Christians would remember their heritage and cultivate a working knowledge of the Providential view of history, many would see the hand of God moving among the nations bringing us into a new day. Truly we stand at the dawn of a new era. The changes that have occurred in the last few years among the nations are bringing us to a time when at last Wilson’s prophetic words may become a reality: Right will triumph; justice shall replace force; God will grant the nations peace; and we may walk in the confidence of a new day.
Two Views of History
Briefly, we must now look at a subject which often bitterly divides Christians. Any Christian view of history must be completed by a view of the End Times and a scripturally based view about the events which will surround the Second Coming of Christ. Rather than name two dozen or more of the prominent eschatological viewpoints held by modern Christians, it should be sufficient to divide all of these views into two broad categories: Pre-Millennialism and Post-Millennialism.
The main points of the two views are as follows.
- The Millennium is thought to be a long period of time (it may or may not necessarily be a literal thousand years) in which the fulness of Christ’s reign will come to the earth.
- A Pre-Millennialist believes that the actual, physical Second Coming of Christ must occur prior to the beginning of the Millennium. Before the Millennium commences the Antichrist will reign in the earth.
- A Post-Millennialist believes that Christ will physically return to the earth only after the Millennium is completed. Christ’s reign over the earth from heaven increases during the Millennium as the Kingdom of God is continually advanced in the earth.
Much of the arguing between the two groups (and among factions within the groups) centers over the role of the Church during the End Times; the appearance of the Antichrist’s one world government; and when the rapture is to occur. Without going into great detail, the following are the two views briefly stated:
Pre-Millennialism places the Church in a position of an “evangelism-only” role in the End Times (since Christ’s Second Coming could be very near, it is necessary to save as many as possible while there is still time left); it places the appearance of the Antichrist’s one-world-govern-ment somewhere during the last seven years of time; and it usually involves a Great Tribulation in the last seven years of time, during which the Church is to be raptured, or physically caught up to be in heaven with Jesus (there are several different views on when this event takes place). At the end of this Tribulation Period, the Second Coming occurs and the saints who were caught up to be in heaven for a period of time return to rule and reign with Jesus on the earth.
Post-Millennialism places the Church in a role, not only of evangelism, but of discipling the nations as well (not only will many be saved, but whole social structures will be transformed); the rule of the Antichrist is more loosely interpreted as the current world system of Satan which is being overthrown by the progressive, sovereign judgments of God; thus the Great Tribulation is viewed, not as a seven year time period, but as the sum total of all the judgments of God in history, and although the rapture is not usually focused on, it does occur at the very end of the Millennium when Jesus returns physically to the earth and the saints are simultaneously caught away to be with Jesus. Before the Second Coming, the Church’s role is to rule with Christ, not in heaven, but on earth.7
It is easy to see which view of the End Times fits better to a Conspiratorial view of history; and which view fits better to a Providential view of history. To be fair, however, we must admit that there have been many Pre-Millennialists who have acted as though they believed in the Providence of God and have done great works to reform the nations (D.L. Moody and David Wilkerson come to mind). Likewise, there have been some Post-Millennialists who have held to wild conspiracy theories.
To promote a greater unity in the Church, eschatological differences should be put aside. The point to be made here is this: Your view of the End Times will affect how you view current events and it will even greater affect how you respond to the call of missions. If your worldview is dominated by conspiracy, then you need to change your thinking to allow the Providence of God to have full reign in the course of history and in your life.
How our thinking colors our actions
As an example of how our thinking colors our actions, I would like to relate my own experience with missionary work in Russia during the past two years:
When the Iron Curtain began to fall in 1989, there was a new opportunity to fulfill the Great Commission; Eastern European governments were literally begging to be taught by Americans how to restructure their society. Then in August of 1990, I read a news article stating that the Soviet government had now completely lifted all bans on missionary activity within the Soviet Union.
When I heard this I expected that Bible schools would be established, that Christian media resources would be developed within the Soviet Union and thousands of missionary works would begin to help establish churches. But the response has been limited. Even some of the fastest growing churches in America have yet to establish permanent works within the Soviet Union. Why? Because of an established Conspiratorial worldview in most evangelical, Pentecostal and charismatic churches.
We were told by many reputable evangelists that the door was only going to be open for a short time. This belief was consistent with the idea that the Soviet Union is somehow a part of an evil empire that will one day emerge as a part of an Antichrist government. The idea that openness could be permanent was foreign to the Conspiratorial worldview. As a consequence, an evangelism-only strategy was adopted by many churches. The lasting fruit from this type of strategy, I was told by many Russian Christians, has been more limited than from the established works built on solid foundations.
When a door opened for me to go to Russia in 1991, I was so excited that I began to plan on beginning a Russian language newspaper. I did this because I believed that the hand of God was moving the nations of that region toward reform and lasting revival. Today there is a Christian newspaper based out of the Ukraine that will help to further the current revival. If I had believed that the door was about to close, then I never would have invested so much of God’s time and money in a losing cause.
Of course, it was a great risk; I could have been wrong. When the three day coup occurred last August, I even heard a famous Christian leader say on his broadcast that this was the closing of the Iron Curtain that he had prophesied. But I couldn’t fathom that the God of history, Who is all-powerful, would play such a cruel trick on millions of believers, giving them such a great expectation only to allow an evil empire to close its steel trap on their hope. Rather, I interpreted the coup as the “death scream of communism.” Because of a firm belief in the Providence of God, my faith was not shaken.
A Crossroads In Our History
Almost all of the great theologians of the past century believed firmly in the Providence of God, as did almost all the revivalists and all the Protestant Reformers. America was colonized and founded by Christians who held to this view. This is what gave them their vision and from their ideas came the greatness of America. From these saints we have learned a proper view of history, one which gives us great hope and confidence.
Yes, we can make progress as a nation once again. Even though many problems seem to have grown worse over the years and America currently faces serious predicaments which threaten its existence, we still may act to change our course in history.
At the deciding juncture stands the American Church. Much of our demise has to do with the rejection of the Providential worldview by the Church in favor of Conspiracy theories. In the same way that Christian truth has contributed to our country’s greatness, now Christian error could lead to its demise. It is vital that Christians now throw off the yoke of crippling pessimism about America, about our leaders, and about our destiny as a people. Victory is still a possibility if we are willing as a nation, and more importantly, as the corporate Church of America, to repent of fatalism and apathy.
“Never before has there been such a great opportunity to see the Church make historic advances in world evangelization. Especially in the remaining 12,000 distinct ethnic groups worldwide representing some two billion people who have no indigenous witness of the Church among them. This opportunity is corresponding with an increase of revival understanding in America. All across the nation irrespective of denomination there is a greater acknowledgement of the need for revival, and enlarged vision of spiritual awakening, along with a rising momentum in prayer for revival.
“While all of this is very encouraging, we are still at a crossroad. Spiritually bewildered and doctrinally confused, unable to discern between revival and disaster. Many Christian authors have poured enormous energies into paper back pulp trying to sway individual saints as to their futuristic view of the Church especially the short term future of this present generation.
“The vast majority of these ‘prophetic’ books violate every proper method of Biblical scholarship and interpretation, and instead rely on sensational conspiracy theories, escapist delusions, fanciful speculation, and a defeatist worldview regarding the Church’s role in society. The result? Baffled, schizophrenic saints who on one hand are challenged by the prospect of revival leading to increased world evangelism, yet because of a disastrous worldview believe such glory to be impossible. These are beloved saints who wish to live godly, holy lives, yet make no provision to finish the race mainly because they really do not believe they will have to finish it!“8
Evangelist and teacher Jeff Ziegler has recommended several steps for Christians who wish to abandon a Conspiratorial view of history:
“First, stay away from sensationalistic, conspiratorial trash! Just because a particular book may be carried by a Christian bookstore does not mean that it is doctrinally balanced or theologically correct no matter how popular the author may be.
“Second, build a library of Christian classics and sound devotional material. Gain a biblical vision from the witness of those saints who have proven the victorious Christian life to be valid. Cease from Bible mutilating proof texting and start to learn to read the scriptures contextually.
“Third, study the creeds of historic Christianity for sound declarations of Christian belief. Start with the Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed, then graduate to the most exhaustive, complete and doctrinally correct statement of the historic Christian faith entitled the Westminster Confession. Copies of these documents may be obtained from your local library.
“However, no creed, no study aid, no matter how pure, can take the place of disciplined private prayer, devotion, and concentrated Bible study … If you repent and ask for grace to restore your spiritual fortitude and vigor, soon you will “mount up with wings as an eagle” and soar into the glorious sunrise of revival!“9
What does the future hold?
Rather than be suspicious of the “true intentions” of world statesmen in their quest for peace, we should have faith in the Providence of God. As Christians, we need to remember that, as Woodrow Wilson said, “God’s arm is ever around us.” Temporary setbacks are not evidence that Truth will not ultimately prevail in history. We need to view history as the gradual unfolding of God’s purposes for the earth. We should not be swayed by crises when they occur.
When we begin to study the millennial theology of the Puritans and the Revivalists, we will find a few happy surprises for our generation:
First, the Puritans believed that the millennium would begin to come in its fulness when the nations of the earth began to be liberated from tyranny and the Gospel was being preached in every nation. This would be accompanied by great advances in science and medicine. The Puritans who settled America believed that their model of government based on Christian charity was destined to be copied by every settlement in the New World. Ultimately, this social order would be copied by the nations of the Old World as well.
Second, the Puritan thinkers did not place an imminency on the beginning of the millennium. One hundred years after the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards placed a general date on the time period when all these things would come to pass. He predicted that the latter half of the twentieth century would bring the greatest revival in history. It would be a time when the nations would begin to stream into the Kingdom of God. During the Second Great Awakening in 1825 some revivalists thought “that the millennium was approaching. Four years later, the most conservative reckoning placed its advent at between fifty and two hundred years’ distance.“10
Third, a belief in post-millennialism does not imply a secular theory of progress. This way of thinking should not constrain you to place all your hopes on the United Nations or George Bush’s New World Order to bring about world peace. However, a belief in the Providence of God does not constrain you to fear these institutions either. If they are institutions given by God, then they will succeed. If they are not, then they will ultimately fail. In any event, God’s Providential plan for peace will prevail.
Fourth, a belief in post-millennialism does not downplay the importance of the Second Coming of Christ. It is merely a belief system about the unfolding of events before the Second Coming. Any Christian who holds to the historic, orthodox creeds of the faith should delight in the Second Coming. Complete victory should never be assumed until death itself has been vanquished. This can only happen when Christ returns. The ultimate hope of the millennium is the actual, physical return of Christ to the earth with the saints of all ages.
In the meantime, we should concern ourselves with the work that needs to be done on earth before He returns. Promoting revival and spiritual awakening among the nations, working for the reformation of social structures and governments, and the complete restoration of the experience of New Testament Christianity to the Church should be our threefold goal.
I recently watched the film Cromwell about the life of the great English statesman. And it occurred to me that God is calling Christians to do for America in the 1990s, what Cromwell tried to do for England in the 1600s. At the very end of the film, Cromwell assumes power and he says:
“I will give England back its self-respect. We will walk in this world with our heads held high. I will liberate men’s souls from the darkness of ignorance. I will build schools and universities for all. This will become the Golden Age of learning. I will bring the law within the reach of every common man. There will be work and bread for all. This nation will prosper because it is a godly nation and because we walk hand in hand with the Lord!
“I will see this nation properly governed – I swear by the name of the Living God – If I have to do it myself. Dear God give me the strength to do it alone.”
There are many who are called to come and work side by side, to stand at the wall and build with one hand, while we fight the enemy with the other, until this vision is accomplished. We should be excited about this great opportunity and we should, like Joshua and Caleb, not be afraid to go up and possess the land. Great victories lie on the horizon. Today is just the beginning of the Kingdom of God coming on the earth in fullness and power.
We should be thankful to God that He is letting us live to be a part of His coming glory that is going to fill all the nations of the earth. We should be grateful that He has let us live to see the day when His Kingdom will reign.
1 Charles G. Finney, Systematic Theology, “Human Government.”
2 Finney, Lectures on Revivals, pp. ix, xl-xlii. 3 Ibid., p.306.
4 Arthur S. Link, editor, The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, “Christ’s Army,” (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1966), vol. I, pp.180,181. 5 “Christian Progress,” Ibid., I, 234.
6 Wilson, Guarantees of Peace, (Harper & Brothers, New York and London, 1918) p.111.
7 A recommended book in the study of the post-millennial worldview is John Jefferson Davis’ Christ’s Victorious Kingdom: Post-Millennialism Reconsidered available through Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan. We also recommend a book which depicts a victorious scenario for the Church in the End Times: The Harvest, by Rick Joyner, available through Morning Star Publications, P.O. Box 369, Pineville, NC 28134.
8 Jeff Ziegler, Revival Essays, “Bewildered Saints At The Revival Crossroad,” p.1. 9 Ibid.
10 Whitney R. Cross, The Burned Over District, (Harper & Row, New York, 1950), p.200.