Saint Athanasius Church
Scripture | Spirit | Sacrament
"Since we live in an age of setback, it is not always apparent to us that the Kingdom has, in fact, grown. But, if we take a look at the Kingdom in the year 300, we find it suffering in pre-Constantinian tribulation. A few centuries later, the Church was wrestling the tribes of Northern Europe into the Kingdom; while in the East, Christianity experienced a real golden age, and what we call "Nestorian" Christians had influence throughout India and China. A few centuries later, after the high "Middle" ages and the Protestant Reformation, Christianity greatly discipled the European countries, spread to the Americas, and gave birth to the printing press, university education, technology, and many other benefits. During the last century, Christianity extended all over the globe as a result of the missionary movement and almost eradicated slavery[...]
The history of the Church is not a history of smooth advances, however. From what we have seen of Biblical history, we should expect periods of setback. We should expect that an old establishment wears thin, and declines into stultification and error, only to be replaced by a new establishment that does fuller justice to the faith. Each new establishment takes up the strengths of the previous one, but transforms it into something new and more powerful, more glorious.
For instance, after a couple of centuries of tribulation, God gave Constantine to the Church. Constantine is much criticized by ignorant persons today; but there can be no doubt that his conversion was a welcome change for the thousands of maimed, crippled, and raped Christians of his day. The Constantinian Establishment may not measure up by today's standards, but it was glorious in its time. It gave peace to the Kingdom, and enabled Christianity to blossom in the East, bringing the Gospel to many peoples and bringing about tremendous blessings.
In the West, the Constantinian Establishment did not last. It was, after all, imperfect. After several centuries of strife and disorder, God brought to pass the Papal Establishment in the West. Protestants like me find it easy to find fault with the Papacy, but we should remember that the firm hand of strong godly Popes helped bring the unruly tribes of Europe into the Kingdom. Just because the Popes of Luther's day were bad does not mean they always had been. In their day, the tribes of Europe were in a state of continual warfare. By outlawing war during Lent, on Sunday, and at such times as the Peace of God and the Truce of God, the Papacy eventually brought about a condition of continual peace. Wars were declared, fought, and ended. Peace was normal. The Popes and godly emperors brought this about, using the rod of excommunication.
The Papal Establishment, however, was imperfect. It led to abuses, and the Christians of Northern Europe did not like being dominated by Italians. So, God gave the Reformation. The Reformation functioned differently in various countries, but it did bring a new and better "covenant." The Reformation brought freedom of the press, literacy, university education, and technology. But the Reformation Establishments were imperfect also. They were too closely tied to the various nations, and in the United States to separate denominations. The sense of true catholicity in Christendom was lost.
The Growth of the Kingdom in the Future
So, what is next? From our study of the Bible, we can say that when God is pleased to give us a New Establishment, it will take up the best of all the previous ones; but it will transform them into something new. The future cannot be envisioned. For me, the period of Samuel is a close analogy to our present situation. In Samuel's day, the Ark was located at Kiriath-jearim, the Tabernacle at Nob, and the High Priest out in the field with David. An evil, demonized king was on the throne. I imagine that the priests at Kiriath-jearim insisted that the Ark was the most important thing. I imagine that the priests at Nob emphasized the Tabernacle and its importance. I imagine David's troops felt that the dynamic presence of the High Priest and his ephod was the most important thing. Theologians of the day doubtless speculated on how to get all this back together, but they had no idea of what was really going to happen. The New Establishment was something they could never have imagined.
Compare our situation today. We have the discipleship wing of the charismatic movement, which is composed of devout, God-fearing people who pray and work for reform. Many of them think that the best thing would be if we all joined up with them. We also have the revival in Eastern Orthodoxy, signaled by the writings of Alexander Schmemann. Of course, Orthodox theologians believe that we all need to pack up and join Orthodoxy! Then there is the strong revival in Reformational churches, centered on the profound thought of Cornelius Van Til. Many of these people go by the name "Christian Reconstruction," and wish that everyone else would join the Reconstructionist movement in Presbyterian and Baptist churches. These earnest people call us back to the best of our forefathers, but all too often think that this is all we need.
Now, I don't want to leave anyone out, but I'm sure I will. Time will fail me if I tell of the revival of evangelical belief in Roman Catholicism, the renewal of Psalm-singing in mainline churches, the deepening theological endeavors of various para-church organizations, and the like. I have been involved with many of these, and in each case, those with the Ark think it is the most important; those with the Tabernacle think it is most important; and those with the ephod think it is most important. Christendom today is scattered.
The future, though, cannot be envisioned. It is no good if we all join the neo-Puritans, or the Reconstructionists, or the renewed Orthodox, or the discipleship Charismatics. God has taken hold of Christendom and He has torn it apart. He intends to put it back together again in a new Kingdom Establishment. We cannot advance His timetable, or presume upon His designs.
What then? Our present duties remain the same as ever. The Christian is not called to play God and manipulate history, but to serve God in his calling. And this pulls us back to basics: Bible study, prayer, the sacraments, godly home life, public worship, faithful work on the job.
For the pastor, it means that whatever camp we are in, our duties remain the same. Let worship be a true covenant renewal, with the rite of covenant renewal restored. let us return to God's hymnal, the Psalter, as the foundation of our hymns (not excluding the other great hymns of the Church). Let Bible study and Biblical exposition be foremost in our teaching and preaching. In this way, we lay a foundation, we build up the saints, we prepare the way for the New Establishment to come. Who know just how wonderful it will be?"
- James Jordan, Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World, pp. 286-289