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Our understanding of Bible prophecy is critical to our understanding of history.  Where we locate the Great Tribulation and “The Beast” in history will dictate how we view the future — with optimism or pessimism.

Do we see things getting worse and worse until the Kingdom of Anti-Christ is fully manifested at the close of history?  Or do we see things gradually improving under the influence of the gospel until the Kingdom of Christ is fully manifested at the close of history?

The Preterist school of interpretation sees most of Bible prophecy as being fulfilled in the past at the time of the Lord’s first advent and the destruction of Jerusalem.  All other schools of interpretation push these events out into the future.  One of the arguments against the Preterist school has become a popular myth.

Myth:  The Preterist view that most New Testament prophecy was fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 was made up by a Jesuit priest to divert attention from accusations by the Reformers that the Pope is the Anti-Christ.

The Jesuit Order was commissioned by the Pope to derail the Protestant Reformation by any possible means in what is known as the Counter Reformation.  The Extreme Oath of Induction of the Jesuits binds them to commit any crime in service of the Pope if ordered by a superior.  Their preferred modus operandi is to infiltrate Protestant churches and subvert them from within.

As noted, some assert that the Preterist school of interpretation was invented by a Jesuit priest to divert the focus from the Pope as Anti-Christ.  “One of the arguments against preterism is that it was started by Spanish Jesuit Luis De Alcazar (1554–1613) who wrote a commentary titled ‘Vestigio Arcani Sensus in Apocaplysi or Investigation of the Hidden Sense of the Apocalypse’ in which ‘he proposed that it all of Revelation applied to the era of pagan Rome and the first six centuries of Christianity.’”

Most are familiar with the Futurist perspective, by virtue of the fictional works of Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye and others.  But the Preterist view is often dismissed out-of-hand because the descriptions in the Olivette Discourse (Matthew 24) seem to be too cataclysmic to fit any first century circumstances.

However, the Preterist interpretation is based on a literal interpretation of the time frame given by Jesus Himself in Matthew 24:34.  In that passage, Jesus said that everything he just described (verses 5 to 33, including the Great Tribulation) would occur during His generation (“this generation”), the same generation He was addressing in Mt 23:36.

All of chapter 23 is devoted to Jesus’ extensive condemnation of the Jewish leaders, concluding with His fearsome pronouncement that “your house is being left to you desolate.”  As He turned His back and walked out, He told the disciples, “…not one stone here shall be left upon another….”

In response to which the disciples asked, “…when will these things be, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age.?”  In context of chapter 23 and chapter 24, especially the time marker of verse 34 (“this generation”), the disciples were asking, when will you come in judgment against the Jewish nation to destroy the temple and put an end to the Old Testament era of sacrificial observances?   In Mt. 24:34 Jesus said it would all come to pass within the current generation.

Could it really be true, we wondered?  Was Jesus serious?  Could everything that He described, including the stars falling from the sky, really have happened in the first century?  MythBusters decided to check it out.  We set a high standard:  every event had to be validated either by the Bible itself or by a 1st Century historian, such as Josephus.

We were amazed to find that almost every prediction was found to be fulfilled in the Bible itself.  In fact, almost all of the fulfillments can be found in the Book of Acts.  We developed the following table to summarize the findings.

Precursors of Tribulation

(Matthew 24:4-14)

Matthew 24 Prophecy:                                        Fulfillment in Acts (usually):

24:5        false Christs                                        Acts 8:9,10            Simon Magnus

24:6        wars and rumors of wars              Josephus’               Wars of the Jews

24:7        famines                                                Acts 11:28             “a great famine all

over the world”

24:7       earthquakes                                        Acts 16:26             “a great

earthquake”

24:9        disciples persecuted                      Acts 8:1 “a great persecution arose”

24:9        disciples killed                                  Acts 7:58               “they went on

stoning Stephen”

24:10      many will fall away                         Acts 20:29,30       “to draw away

the disciples”

24:11      false prophets                                    Acts 5:36,37          Theudas & Judas

24:12      lawlessness                                         Acts 18:1; I  Cor 5:1 – Christian incest

24:14      gospel to whole world                    Acts 1:8; Rmn 1:8 – “proclaimed

“whole …world”

 

After these events, Jesus said, the end would come (Mt. 24:14).  The end of what?  The end of the Old Testament era and the Jewish nation.  At the first sign of the Roman legions approaching Jerusalem, the Christians were instructed to flee to the mountains immediately (24:15-20).

The flattop houses described were typical of 1st century Judea.  In addition, mention of the Sabbath indicates that this tribulation is being visited on the Jews.  Luke 21:20 defines the Abomination of Desolation as occurring when you see “Jerusalem surrounded by armies.”  Thus, it cannot be a future event.  The following table summarizes the major events of the Great Tribulation in the Destruction of Jerusalem.

The Great Tribulation

(Matthew 24:14-31)

24:2        “not 1 stone here shall be left”          Josephus              Soldiers looking for gold

24:15      abomination of desolation                                Lk 21:20                Defined as “Jerusalem surrounded by                                                                                                                                           armies”: Titus’ Legions

24:16      Christians flee to mountains             The only thing like this that occurred in Judea

within the time frame of “this generation”

24:21      Great Tribulation                                  was the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD

24:24      false Christs                                         Acts 13:6               Example of Bar-Jesus

24:29      sun, moon & stars dark                      Gen. 37:9 Symbolic political extinction of Israel.

Joseph’s dream of sun, moon, stars bowing.

24:30      coming of Son of Man                        Dan. 7:13 Christ coronated, came to Ancient of Days &                                                                                                             came in judgment on national Israel

24:31      gathering of the elect                          Acts 1:8 “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me…”

The Great Tribulation is described by Jesus as occurring in the middle of history, not the end:  “for then there will be a great tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall” (24:21).  Much of the Book of Revelation describes this great event in more detail and is now fulfilled prophecy.

Arguing against Preterism (or Post-Millennialism) because a Jesuit priest endorsed it to deflect accusations that the Pope is Anti-Christ is the logical fallacy called “poisoning the well.”  The Catholic Church also endorses the Apostle’s Creed.  Shall we therefore reject the Apostle’s Creed as heretical?

Preterism may not have been the dominant view of the early church, but it was clearly the view of some of the church fathers.  For example, dispensational premillennialist Tommy Ice stated “I would never say that there is no one in the early church who taught preterism. . . . Don’t be foolish enough to say that nothing is out there in church history, because you never know. . . . There is early preterism in people like Eusebius. In fact, his work The Proof of the Gospel is full of preterism in relationship to the Olivet Discourse.” (“Update on Pre-Darby Rapture Statements and Other Issues”: audio tape December 1995).

Moreover, there are many great Reformed theologians who have held the preterist or post-millennial view.  These include John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, Charles Spurgeon, Warfield, Marcellus Kik, Lorraine Boettner, Matthew Henry, and others

Case Closed:   The Preterist interpretation of prophecy was held by many of the church fathers long before the Jesuit priest Alcazar (1554-1630) employed it in defense of the Pope.  But more important than the historical argument is the force of the Biblical argument itself.  The Preterist interpretation rests first on a literal interpretation of Jesus’ statement that His generation would experience the Great Tribulation (Mt. 24:34).  It rests second on a figurative interpretation of His poetic reference to the political extinction of Israel in Matthew 24:29.

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Much folklore has been fed to the American people about the person and presidency of Abraham Lincoln — notably his kindness, compassion, and concern for the southern slaves.

Challenging this notion an article by Robert Morgan recently crossed my desk.  Entitled “The ‘Great Emancipator’ and the Issue of race:  Abraham Lincoln’s Program of Black Resettlement”, the article appeared in the Institute For Historical Review.”

“Many Americans think of Abraham Lincoln, above all, as the president who freed the slaves. Immortalized as the “Great Emancipator,” he is widely regarded as a champion of black freedom who supported social equality of the races, and who fought the American Civil War (1861-1865) to free the slaves.”

Myth: Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the American slaves.

A MythBusters’ investigation was opened to explore the literature from the period in an effort to get at the truth.   It turns out that The Emancipation Proclamation declared freedom to the slaves only in territory where the Confederates were in control.

Not A Single Slave Was Freed

In the same publication, historian Allan Nevins noted, “The Proclamation, Secretary Seward wryly commented, emancipated slaves where it could not reach them, and left them in bondage where it could have set them free. Moreover, because it was issued as a war measure, the Proclamation’s long-term validity was uncertain. Apparently any future President could simply revoke it. “The popular picture of Lincoln using a stroke of the pen to lift the shackles from the limbs of four million slaves is ludicrously false.”[emphasis added]

Morgan continues With Lincoln’s explanation of the limited Emancipation Proclamation: “’Understand, I raise no objections against it [slavery] on legal or constitutional grounds … I view the matter [emancipation] as a practical war measure, to be decided upon according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion.’”

The Emancipation Proclamation was hailed by growing pressure of the northern abolitionists, but resettlement among white people in the United States was opposed by many.  So the document contained a measure for resettlement in some foreign land suitable to sustain them.  Political pressure came from all sides for some kind of Emancipation Proclamation.

Lincoln‘s Real Objective

The weight of evidence uncovered in the MythBusters investigation, indicates that Lincoln had other motives in mind.   In a widely quoted letter to Horace Greely, Lincoln proclaimed, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union …”

Tangential to the issue at hand is that the Union Lincoln sought to “save” was not the original one, but the ever-evolving empire accumulating more and more central power.  Lincoln’s repeated references to “saving the union” were euphemistic references to centralized control.  In a word, Abraham Lincoln wanted to subjugate a South that desired to be free of the tyrannical burden of the “Tariff of Abominations.”

Lincoln’s career-long devotion to Henry Clay’s “American System” was an early form of crony capitalism or corporate welfare that culminated in the Credit Mobilier scandal.   It included subsidies for railroads, canals, and other internal improvements.  This necessitated high import taxes, which the South resisted, thereby provoking Lincoln’s invasion.  The federally subsidized intercontinental railroad was being laid in the middle of the Civil War.

A similar situation arose in ancient Israel.  When Rehoboam foolishly took the advice of his young advisors to raise taxes, Jeroboam split off with the 10 tribes of Israel.  Rehoboam took up arms to quell the “insurrection,” and God via the prophet told him to let them go.  Rehoboam complied.  Abraham Lincoln lacked even the good sense of Rehoboam, who at the time was an immature youth.   Rather than The Great Emancipator, Lincoln is better described as The Great Centralizer.

Lincoln’s view of race relations is exposed quite vividly in many of his personal statements.  In his inaugural address on March 4, 1861, he promised to support legislation for the capture and return of runaway slaves; thus, increasing the power of the expanding union over northern as well as southern states.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates (1858) had earlier set the pace, exposing Lincoln’s views on race: “I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. [ibid] [emphasis added]

Case Closed:  Looking back from the vantage point of history, it was not hard for MythBusters to spot the political grandstanding in a rather toothless “Emancipation Proclamation.”  It curried favor with the European nations, especially England and France, short-circuiting their recognition of the South as an independent nation.  That was Lincoln’s real objective.

The Emancipation Proclamation also upset the stability of southern labor, but it did not free a single  slave.  On April 8, 1864, the Senate passed the Thirteenth Amendment, and on January 31, 1865, The House of representative concurred; thus, abolishing slavery, including Biblical indentured servitude, anywhere in the United States.  MythBusters Rating:   Blue Flag to Robert Morgan and the Institute for Historical Review for courage to challenge popular opinion.

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In our initial Mythbusters’  investigation of religion and politics we established the important responsibility of the Christian pastor for relating to, befriending, instructing, admonishing and praying for his counterpart in the civil realm.

John the Baptist in the court of Herod was found to be our prototypical example.  John made a conscious effort to appear in the court of Herod in order to secure his repentance and submission to the law of God:  “it is not lawful for you to have this man’s wife.”  This posed no contradiction between religion and politics.

We determined that leaders of church and state are jointly responsible for leading the culture into greater conformity to the Word of God. It’s not all one way either.  There are examples in the Bible where the civil authority admonished the ecclesiastical authority to get off the dime. (e.g. Josiah).  But in the give and take between religion and politics it was usually the other way around .

MYTH:  As a busy pastor I don’t have time to take on one more responsibility, especially related to the civil government.

This kind of instruction and admonishment should flow out of a relationship that has developed over time.  In the court of David it appears to have been an unofficial position occupied by one Zabud:  “…and Zabud the son of Nathan, a priest, was the king’s friend” (I Kings 4:5).

But after so many years of neglect, the trick will be breaking the ice and establishing the relationship.   You’ve heard of the Adopt A Highway program?  You might think of this as your Adopt A Politician program.

The goal of the Adopt A Highway program is a litter-free highway, cleaned up by citizen volunteers.  The commitment is to “preserving the beauty of our landscapes and sense of  pride in our community through a four-pronged approach to litter eradication.  This approach involves Education, Awareness, Pickup, and Enforcement” (York County, SC)

In like manner, the goal of your Adopt A Politician program is a corruption-free local government, cleaned up by Christian volunteers assisting their local elected officials.  The commitment is to “preserving the purity of our judicial landscapes and sense of  pride in our community through a four-pronged approach to eradication of injustice.  Rebuilding the relationship between religion and politics involves Awareness, Education, Pickup, and Enforcement.”

To put it in Biblical terms, the goal of your Adopt A Politician program  is to “hate evil, love good, and establish justice in the gate!” (Amos 5:15).  The city gate was the public place where justice was administered in Israel.  In more poetic terms, the end result is to “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

1)      You’ll want to start out with a low-key approach of gradual awareness  by inviting your local commissioner, legislator, or mayor to lunch or coffee.  Your request will be to learn more about issues the official is facing in order to pray for them.

2)      At the meeting express an earnest desire to understand the particular burdens the official is dealing with so as to pray and possibly help.  Ask a lot of questions and listen.  This will start out as an education process for you, and then for the official as the relationship develops.

Do what you can to encourage the official and as appropriate let them know that  God takes a particular interest in their work .   Share some Biblical examples that include your role in the in the relation between religion and politics.  Request another meeting in a  month for an update.  Like Daniel and his friends we desire to win the confidence of our leaders as they observe the wisdom of God at work in our lives.

3)      At a subsequent meeting it may be appropriate to offer help to pick up the load of responsibility that rests on this official’s shoulders.   Share another example from the Bible.  You might ask if there anything else we can do to help in terms of research, clerical, physical assistance, or anything at all?  Like Joseph you want to earn the respect of Pharoah by faithful service.

4)      As the relationship develops you want the educational process to focus on the Word of God for the purpose of evangelism, conversion, and gradual implementation and obedient enforcement of the law of God.  It is the responsibility of the lower magistrate to do this even when the higher magistrate does not.  This may occur during the process of casual conversation and eventually formal Bible study.

Initially, the proposed goal of the study might be to discover the practical solutions to political problems that God spells out in the Bible.  You can point out that surprisingly, the majority of the Old Testament is political in nature.

The best way for a Pastor to approach this is to think of it as a mission field.  It is your most important mission field and one that you alone are ordained to cultivate.  There is no doubt already an evangelism element in your ministry and weekly routine anyway.  This new religion and politics initiative will only require some slight adjustment in your schedule with very little time added.

That’s especially true if you recruit the involvement of some like-minded laymen in your congregation.  As the ordained representative of the church and custodian of the “oracles of God” it is your primary responsibility, but there is no reason why you can’t enlist the aid of laymen and women who have a heart desire to restore religion and politics interface.

They can actually do all of the leg work for you if you provide the direction, inspiration and leadership.  There are plenty of tasks to go around:

  •  Companionship.  There are probably people in your congregation with more experience interacting with government officials than you have.  Or they may be better equipped by personality to relate easily to these people.  By all means take them along.  Two are better than one for they have a good reward for their labor.
  • Scheduling.  An important and time-consuming task for someone with organizational ability.
  • Issues Research.   Here’s where some of the old-timers in the congregation can really shine.  They’ve been around long enough to know what the problems are and may know where to look for solutions.
  • Biblical Research.  Religion and politics will be a fascinating study for your Bible students.  What does the Bible have to say about zoning issues?  What are God’s requirements for Jails and criminal justice?  It’s all in there for the diligent Bible student?  How has the church addressed the issues of religion and politics in history?
  • Volunteer Staff Assignment.  When you ask a government official if there is anything you can assist him with, he just might take you up on the offer.  This could require someone willing to volunteer a few hours a week as an aide to assist the official in some capacity.
  • Prayer Warriors.  When you ask if they have any prayer requests they are also likely to take you up on the offer.  This can be a matter for individual as well as congregational prayer.
  •  Study group leader/assistant.  At some point you are going to want to involve the official in Bible study regarding their responsibility to govern according to the law of God.  Pray that God would cause this to emerge naturally out of the service relationship that you have been building with the official.

Case Closed:  There’s no reason that laymen and women can’t be involved in helping the formerly apolitical pastor make the new religion and politics connection.  Each has a unique gift that can multiply the impact of the official ambassador and make the burden easier for him.

Think of the impact that just a handful of pastors could have on a city if they were to implement the Adopt A Politician program modeled by John the Baptist.  What if all the evangelical churches in a city got together and divided up responsibility for the religion and politics initiative.  To paraphrase a famous soldier, “they’ve got us surrounded – the poor devils don’t stand a chance.”  Adopt a Highway is good, but Adopt a Politician is where the real action is.

If John the Baptist is any kind of model for New Testament church leadership then a lot of Christian leaders have a glaring omission on their resume.

Many, if not most evangelical pastors have a stock answer for sidestepping involvement with the civil magistrate.  They will tell you that they avoid mixing church and state in the pulpit and in their ministry, but encourage members of their flock to get involved in civil government if they are so led.  As for them, they are not so led – but thanks for asking.

MYTH:  The doctrine of separation of church and state means Christian pastors must distance themselves from any involvement with civil leadership.

Most have bought into the Enlightenment doctrine of separation of church and state.  Any slight hint of church influence on matters of state is to be avoided at all costs, as the ACLU is quick to remind everybody.  As we all know, they are not shy about slapping lawsuits on any hapless person who wanders off the reservation.  Although they may chafe on occasion, many churches have been willing to go along to get along with this, the prevailing spirit of the age.

And that works out well for Caesar too – he prefers to pretend he is god rather than acknowledge that he is in any way accountable to God.  Christian pastors are a visual reminder that he might be accountable, so he prefers to avoid them.  In practice, it’s mutual avoidance, not mutual admiration.

Which brings us to a very fundamental question.  What exactly does the Bible say about the subject of political action?  The Bible speaks to every area of life, does it not? — “that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly furnished for every good work.”   What — even political action?  How can that be a good work?

Well, when you stop and think about it the only political action recorded in the Bible is that which transpires between leaders of church and state.  Search the Bible from cover to cover and there is no door-to-door distribution of brochures, no electioneering, no formal debates, no fundraisers, no elections.  Nor is there anything else that we normally associate with political action in modern America.  What kind of democracy is that anyway?

Instead, when things go awry in the body politic we see Moses in the court of Pharoah, Samuel in the court of Saul, Nathan in the court of David, Elijah in the court of Ahab.  Many other similar examples could be cited in the Old Testament.

Their message was always approximately the same:   “Excuse me Mr. King, but I’ve noticed that we seem to be getting a little bit off the track here in terms of the law of God.  What were you planning on doing to fix that?”

The clerics of the Bible seemed to ignore the doctrine of separation of church and state somewhat with impunity.  Thankfully, the ACLU wasn’t invented until the 20th Century or there could have been problems.

But that was then, this is now.  That was God dealing with His Old Testament earthly people.  Things are different now under the New Covenant with God’s heavenly people.  Aren’t they?  History MythBusters decided to check it out and upon closer investigation found contrary evidence.

John the Baptist was the first major Christian leader we met up with in the pages of the New Testament.  Perhaps he could be considered a prototype.  The Bible records that John the Baptist was sent “to prepare the way of the Lord.”   In some less dramatic sense we reasoned, are not Christian pastors likewise sent “to prepare the way of the Lord” in their own sphere of influence?

Would it not follow that church leaders should look to John the Baptist as an example for what it means “to prepare the way of the Lord?”  What exactly does it mean to “prepare the way of the Lord?”  That was a key question for the investigation.

What’s the first thing that pops to mind when you hear the words, “John the Baptist.”  Well, probably “baptism” right?  We know that John was a baptist (small b, although some of my friends would claim otherwise).

What else do we know about John besides the fact that he was into organic gardening? This brings us to the other hidden dimension of the life of John the Baptist, which History MythBusters uncovered.  This is the secret side of John’s life that is rarely discussed.  After some careful detective work, we found it hidden in plain sight in the gospel of Mark, Chapter Six.

It appears from the record that John the Baptist had somehow gone out of his way to get himself into the court of Herod.  What in the world was John doing in the court of Herod, the local representative of Rome?

It turns out he was proclaiming the crown rights of King Jesus over Rome in very practical terms.  John insisted that Rome was subject to the law of God.  “It is not lawful for you to have this man’s wife,” is the sum and substance of what we were able to glean of John’s message to Herod.

Most Christians know that John the Baptist was in prison at the time of his death when Herodias tricked Herod into killing him.  But why was John the Baptist in prison in the first place, we wondered.

Most Christians assume that he was in prison because Herod was persecuting him for his faith.  If that was your assumption you would be wrong – it was just the opposite.  Herod was trying to protect John and prison was the safest place for him.  Herod’s prison was the 1st Century version of the Hanoi Hilton.

And who was Herod trying to protect John from and why was he trying to protect him?  If you guessed Herodias, you would be correct.  She was not a woman to forget a snub.  But beneath his gruff exterior, Herod had a soft spot for John the Baptist.  How do we know this?  Strange as it seems, John was building a relationship with the tyrant.  They were actually friends.

He certainly had mixed emotions about John.  In the beginning Herod feared John because his exposition of God’s righteous law pricked his conscience.  He was very perplexed by John, but Mark the evangelist reported that he enjoyed listening to him (Mark 6:20).  That was why it grieved Herod when Herodias manipulated him into having John executed.

Case Closed:  In preparing “the way for the Lord” John the Baptist declared His priestly and prophetic ministry in the Jordan  River.  “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” he declared.  When Jesus came up from His baptism, God Himself affirmed His priestly and prophetic ministry:  “This is my beloved Son…. With whom I am well-pleased.”

Only one thing remained for John to do: He had to prepare the way for the Kingly ministry of Christ and that task could only be accomplished in the palace of Herod.  It is clear that he felt a particular burden in this regard.  Pastor, if you have rejected political action and delegated it completely to your congregation, you are neglecting a major line item on your Biblical job description.

Rather than having no responsibility for “political action,” it turns out that Christian pastors are the key players in Biblical political action.   But you are probably thinking, what do I do?   How do I start?  Like anything else it takes practice.  History MythBusters will be exploring the practical aspects of this responsibility in our next case report:

MYTHBUSTERS CASE#3b: The Apolitical Pastor Equipped

 The Cultural Tactics of Abraham Kuyper

Biblical analysis:    Abraham Kuyper’s doctrine of sphere sovereignty was not tempered or conditioned by the Biblical doctrine of civil covenant and Biblical law.   Consequently, he has been rightly accused of being a pluralist.  Kuyper himself admitted to being an advocate of “principled pluralism”; it was in fact his answer to the humanist drive for cultural hegemony.

MYTH:  Principled pluralism is a viable strategy for Christian cultural renewal.

The doctrine of sphere sovereignty, together with his teaching on common grace and anti-thesis, provided the rationale for his coalition with the Catholics against the humanists.  In the anti-thesis Kuyper recognized the stark contrast of the struggle between the state-sovereignty of the humanists and the sovereignty of God championed by the Christians.

On the other hand, the doctrine of common grace permitted him to unite with Catholics as co-belligerents against the humanist juggernaut.  This was remarkable, given the bloody struggle between Catholic Spain and Protestant Holland during the days of William the Silent, some 300 years before.  However, the doctrine of common grace taught that God held the total depravity of man in check so that even the unregenerate might exercise their natural gifts in pursuit of social stability.

Kuyper’s commitment to pluralism betrayed his poetic dedication to “affirm God’s holy statutes in church and state, in home and school….” cited above.   The third article of the Antirevolutionary Party platform, Ons Program, exposes the frailty of the tactics Kuyper employed for achieving this end.   “…the authority of the state is bound by God’s ordinances, not directly…but only via the consciences of persons in positions of authority.”   It should be self-evident that such a tactic explicitly removes civil authority from the Word of God and posits it in the vacillating conscience of the civil magistrate.

Kuyper’s coalition government was able to assume control from 1888 to 1938 because he had earlier pressed for expansion of the electorate (12% in 1870 to 49% in 1896).  This extension of the franchise based merely on the qualification of paying taxes, produced short-term dividends, but paved the way in the long-term for an even more secularized state.

Following in the footsteps of William & Mary, Kuyper made the mistake of equating political participation (e.g., the right to vote) with freedom.  Perfect liberty under the law of God may exist apart from the right to vote.  It is not the right to vote, per se, that guarantees freedom, but rather the commitment of a nation to rule in terms of submission to the Law of God.  A pirate crew might exercise the right to vote within their society of evil, as when Long John Silver’s band of cutthroats presented him with the “black dot” in Treasure Island 

This does not at all preclude the doctrine of sphere-sovereignty rightly understood.  Kuyper’s conclusions relative to sphere-sovereignty were not consistent with the doctrine itself, which he ably expounded.   Apart from the civil covenant, Kuyper’s doctrine of sphere-sovereignty gave birth to his vision of a pluralistic society.  No covenantal limitations were to be placed on any faction within Dutch society.

In ancient Israel “strangers in the land” were excluded from participation in the civil government.  They were, however, treated as equals under the law of God and thus enjoyed true liberty.  Under Biblical law, Israeli citizens were commanded to give them special consideration.  They were grouped with “widows and orphans” as part of the vulnerable class in society that was worthy of special treatment, such as a portion of the tithe.  Divine sanctions of the severest nature were placed on the Israelite who would dare to mistreat the stranger.

Corrective or prescriptive actions:  The key lesson that emerges from the life of Abraham Kuyper is the futility of even the most effective political reforms apart from covenantal commitment.  As we have noted above, the battle had been conceded over two centuries earlier in the Dutch rejection of the Solemn League and Covenant. At the heart of this issue lie some penetrating questions.   “Should the covenant-breaking humanist be granted the right to political participation in a Biblically covenanted society?”  Should the captain of a ship grant the right to vote to a mutinous crew?  The covenant-breaking humanist is usually not so overtly mutinous; typically he pleads for tolerance – until he is in control.  After that the suppression of Biblical liberty proceeds relentlessly, as 20th century Holland and America bear witness.

Nor did Kuyper’s immediate use of his newly won political liberty contribute to freedom long-term.  Rather than pressing for the abolition of government support of education, Kuyper fought for and won public funding for private schools.  Although the goal was to secure equality for private education, this law ensured the inevitable subordination of private education to the government.  According to professor of history, James McGoldrick, “When the party obtained public funds for private schools it agreed to accept universal suffrage, a democratic goal of the socialists.”  He went on to assert that “Whatever immediate gain public funding of private schools had produced, one eventual effect was to strengthen the socialists.”  (God’s Renaissance Man, p. 225)

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Is the civil covenant merely an anachronism of the Old Testament era?  Does God take the Biblical covenant seriously?  The answer would have to be an unqualified “yes”, judging from the incident in Genesis, in which Moses’ son was very nearly executed for his father’s failure to apply the sign of the covenant.

The individual or the nation that treats God’s civil covenant as irrelevant or inconsequential can expect to suffer the consequences – and the consequences are deadly.  Thus, as we attempt to apply the Biblical principles of war to our culture, we must simultaneously press for renewal of the Biblical, civil covenant, recognizing that its acceptance is impossible apart from widespread personal regeneration in conjunction with and preparatory to, cultural reformation.

Case Closed:  Abraham Kuyper has been called by some “God’s Renaissance Man”.  Tragically, this appellation is distressingly accurate.  While he spoke and wrote the language of “God’s Reformation Man”, in too many cases – government education, natural law, pluralism, national autonomy – Kuyper reverted to the Renaissance.

Abraham Kuyper inherited an admittedly difficult situation from his forbearers and persevered remarkably over a lifetime of service to his Lord.  His life posed a considerable roadblock to the humanist onslaught that had arisen in his day.  However, the life of Abraham Kuyper is a stark reminder that the Christian activist must carefully examine his practice to ensure that it lines up with his belief.  It is all too easy to deviate, not recognizing that consequences for the next generation may be devastating.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Peter S. Heslam, Creating a Christian Worldview (Eerdman’s:  Grand Rapids, MI, 1998)

James I. McGoldrick, God’s Renaissance Man ( Evangelical Press:  Auburn, MA, 2000)

John Bolt, A Free Church, A Holy Nation (Eerdman’s:  Grand Rapids, MI, 2001)

Cornelis van der Kooi & Jan de Bruijn, Kuyper Reconsidered (VU Uitgeverij:  Amsterdam, 1999)

Luis E. Lugo, Religion, Pluralism, & Public Life (Eerdman’s:  Grand Rapids, MI, 2000)

As American culture has deteriorated over the years, the hue and cry among conservatives and Christians has been “original intent!”

We’ve got to get back to “original intent.”  The original intent of the founders was to establish a limited government with only a few enumerated, delegated powers, or so the story goes.

MYTH:  If we can only get back to the original intent of the founders who wrote the U.S. Constitution, then God will be appeased and America will prosper once again.

The founders would be spinning in their graves if they saw the bloated monstrosity that their cherished Federal government has morphed into over the years.   The bailouts, the earmarks, the “vote first, read later” mentality are only the tip of the iceberg.

The freight train to oblivion has accelerated under Bush-Obama to the point that the slightest disturbance is likely to throw her off the tracks.   In fact, the bridge just ahead is washed out and we need to be applying the brakes immediately.  Instead the engineer is pouring on more coal.  What’s going on here?

Now more than ever the call for “original intent” goes out over the conservative, Christian blogosphere.  Entire books are devoted to the subject.  For example, David Barton has written “Original Intent”, which purports to document “not only the plan for limited government originally set forth in the Constitution and Bill of Rights but how that vision can once again become reality.”

But before jumping on the original intent bandwagon, conservatives, and especially Christians, might want to consider what exactly it is they are signing up for.  With a return to original intent you may think you are returning to limited government, but consider what else you are getting:

  • A governing document based on the authority of man (“we the people”) rather than the governing authority of God (Rom 13:1).   This is John Locke’s social contract, grounded in the will of the majority — the essence of democracy.  It is the polar opposite of the Biblical covenant model of civil government contained in most of the colonial charters.  That’s part of the “original intent” package, like it or not.
  •  A governing document that makes itself (“this Constitution”) and all of “the laws of the United States made in pursuance thereof … the SUPREME law of the land.”   The Bible doesn’t even get honorable mention in the entire document.   In other words, ObamaCare and all of its bureaucratic baggage holds supreme authority over the Bible in accordance with Article VI of the Constitution.  That’s part of the “original intent” package, like it or not.
  • A governing document that outlaws the Biblical requirements for holding public office.  In many of the colonial charters, office holders were required to believe in the Bible, or be a church member in good standing, or even to believe in the Trinity.  That’s all illegal now under Article VI of the Constitution ratified in 1788:  “no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

James Madison explained in Federalist #57 that “no qualification of wealth, of birth, of religious faith, or   of civil profession is permitted to fetter the judgment or disappoint the inclination of the people”  (emphasis added).  Thus, as far as Madison was concerned, Christianity was a hindrance to good government.

It’s nice window dressing for public ceremonies, national days of prayer and the like, but when it comes to impacting the laws of the state, forget it.  It’s too divisive.  But “he who turns away his ear from hearing the law even his prayer shall be an abomination” (Pr 28:9).  That too is all part of the “original intent” package, like it or not.

The list goes on and on.  Pastor Ted Weiland has documented at least 75 points at which the United States Constitution directly contradicts the Bible.  To our knowledge his new book, “Bible Law vs. the United States Constitution” is the first paragraph-by-paragraph analysis of the United States Constitution ever written.  He makes the oft-repeated claim that “the founders were using the Bible as their great political textbook” look rather naive.

Yes, we’ve got to get back to original intent, but the question is “original intent of what?”  God demands that we return to the original intent of His law, not the original intent of the United States Constitution.   “And thou shalt return and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all his commandments which I command thee this day.  And the Lord will make thee plenteous in every work of thine hand….” (Dt 30:8,9).

Case Closed:  If you have been wondering why America is not “plenteous in every work of thine hand”, then look no further.  If you have been wondering why almost 40 years of conservative, Christian activism has gotten us virtually nowhere, look no further.   It’s tough to admit, but the U.S. Constitution is like the idol buried beneath Achan’s tent.  Until American Christians admit that we “have sinned against the Lord, the God Israel” in this matter we will continue to get nowhere fast.

In other words, we have to choose between two original intents.  Will we choose between the original intent of the U.S. Constitution or the original intent of the Holy Bible?

The original intent of one is incompatible with the original intent of the other.  One sets forth the law of man and the other sets forth the law of God.  One leads to national cursing and the other leads to national blessing.  One leads to the judgment we are now laboring under and the other leads to peace and prosperity.

We face the same choice as Joshua on the eve of entry into the promised land, “choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served … or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell:  but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Josh 24:15)