Western civilization has, since the 17th century Enlightenment, shifted its philosophical base from Christianity to the rationalism of autonomous man. The evidence of this shift has become increasingly apparent in the last half century. Also apparent, however, has been the decline of cohesion in the West, of any sense of purpose or direction in society. The greatest unifying factor of post-Enlightenment mankind has been its repudiation of all things Christian.
Every such victory over Christianity brings Western culture closer to its own collapse, for the West has departed from its Christian past to the point of cultural poverty. The accomplishments of post-Enlightenment man's rebellion against Christ and Christendom are a succession of horrors. Once promoted by philosophers and poets, it has, since the days of Robespierre, increasingly progressed by means of revolution, war, and statist action.
Many times my father noted in these pages that the post-Enlightenment West is a dying order, and that ours is a time of decay and collapse that will bring out the worst in evil man. But it is also a time of opportunity and an exciting time in which to live.
Kingdom Advancement in the Early Church
Advancing the kingdom of God was a much more daunting task to the early church than it is today. The early church faced an entrenched political empire, a pagan culture, and the task of redirecting its Jewish core from the errors they brought into the faith. Rather than defining themselves in terms of the narrow confines proposed by the Roman government and culture or emerging Judaism, Christianity began building in terms of a paradigm seemingly too large for its small numbers. Christianity saw the world in terms of the reality of the incarnate God, ascended into heaven and now seated on His throne. As Christians address the 21st century, we need to again see our calling to build on Jesus Christ as the foundation (1 Pet. 2:5-8). Christ proclaimed that His gospel was of a kingdom to be proclaimed to all the world (Mt. 24:14). The church thus did not seek to conquer or reform Roman culture. It sought to build the kingdom of God and His Christ on a more sure foundation and call men to it. It is time for Christians to again think in terms of building the kingdom of God.
Paul told the church at Philippi (Phil. 2:9-11) that God had exalted Jesus Christ and given him a name above all names, to which every knee should bow and every tongue should confess. We do not have to approach the world of sin and death with hat in hand. We are ambassadors of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. When Paul told believers to pray for kings (1 Tim. 2:1-2), he spoke of the Roman emperors, men who claimed to be gods. For Christians to pray for such men was a recognition that ordinary saints were, in fact, equal to or higher than these kings and that their prayers were to a higher authority.
The early church put God's law first, not primarily to confront the state, but as its ultimate authority. The apostolic epistles are filled with exhortations that served as lawful commands in the name of the King to the church, both then and now. The authority ascribed to the apostles and the elevation of their writings to canonical status very early clearly shows that their readers saw the faith as more than a moral direction. It was a law of life and an entrance into a communion and community that had law and oversight.
The church avoided challenging Rome, though it did not hesitate to disobey when obedience would have violated duty or loyalty to the kingdom of God. Christians rather exercised governing powers in various areas, avoiding state control for self-government. They rescued infants abandoned to death (the accepted "abortion" practice in the empire) and adopted them as covenant children. They formed networks for works of charity (Paul mentions such collections on his behalf and for needy believers in Jerusalem several times in his letters). Christians settled grievances, so that even unbelievers came to prefer their justice to Roman courts. As Christians moved into Europe, they founded hospitals, schools, and centers of commerce. This model caught on and merchants and tradesmen established their own codes of law.
Christians broke the back of the ancient model of unified government, formally rejecting the religious premise of this idea at the Council of Chalcedon, where Christ alone was recognized as the only Mediator between God and man. There have been repeated attempts to recreate the pagan model of unity, but our Christian history allows us easily to recognize the evil goals of men like Napoleon, Hitler, Mussolini, Mao Tse Tung, Lenin, and Stalin. The ancient world's unity came by putting absolute religious and political power together in the state. No opposition was possible. Today, by eliminating Christianity from public life, the state is again trying to be the de facto definer of morality. Even the nominal acknowledgement of God in the Pledge of Allegiance or the memory of the Ten Commandments are abominations to this humanistic statist mentality.
Kingdom Advancement Today
Civilizations dedicated to a particular religion can have direction and definition, and thus often have a staying power. But they may not necessarily have progress, as witness Islamic and Hindu cultures. The West is in crisis precisely because it is based on a philosophy that cannot give it positive direction or growth. As the West abandoned Christianity, it shifted to humanistic rationalism. Though consistently hostile to Christianity and its divine supernaturalism, Western thought since the Enlightenment has splintered into many directions. Human autonomy makes every man his own god (Gen. 3:5) and is a road map to anarchy. The reaction to anarchy is always toward statism, and both revolutionaries and reactionaries have, since the Enlightenment, increasingly resorted to force to impose their rule of "reason." Violence or coercion is thus a recurring element of the modern world.
The kingdom of God (or heaven, or Jesus Christ) will move forward despite the mess men make of their cultures. The kingdom of God may be defined as wherever God reigns. The kingdom of God must begin in the hearts and minds of believers, but its dominion must be extended to families, workplaces, churches, and associations. The kingdom of God must begin with the regeneration of the individual, but its end must not be limited to the individual or our limited range of vision. It is the narrowing of our concept of the kingdom of God and its limitation to heaven and the millennium that has crippled the modern church's ability to address the needs of our culture. The modern church must address its failures over the past few generations, for "judgment must begin at the house of God" (1 Pet. 4:17).
The First Step Forward
To extend the kingdom of God, its citizens must first acknowledge that they are the beneficiaries of Christ's salvation and the children of the King of Kings, that they obey His law because it is His law and live and act in terms of a justice that is based on the righteousness of that law. While the wicked frame mischief by laws (Ps. 94:20), the citizens of God's kingdom must live in terms of and direct others to God's standard. As the gospel of grace is the power of God unto salvation, the law of God is His standard for our lives as new creatures in Christ.
The corruption of the Renaissance revealed the poverty of its moral offering and sowed the seeds of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. The fruits of the 17th century Enlightenment, first apparent in the executions of the French Revolution, now seem to have a chokehold on the West. Ultimately, rationalism leads to irrationalism and autonomy to anarchy. Autonomous man must defy all law and ethics, if for no other reason than to prove himself autonomous. Self-destructive lifestyles and a suicidal culture result.
Political or judicial recourse may be necessary, at times, to help stem the destructive influence of such a culture, and those who fight such battles are to be commended for fending off the consequences of a collapsing order. But the church must build on a better foundation, as did the early church. Thankfully, in the areas of creation science and education, the church has taken this major step toward advancing the kingdom in spite of an opposing culture.
The Creationist Warriors
When most churches had turned their backs on the Genesis account of creation, a few courageous scientists stepped forward not only to defend the Biblical account as literal history, but to rethink the naturalistic assumptions of modern science. A generation later, such men are still ridiculed, but by starting over on a sure foundation, they have built up, in a short time, an impressive body of data and research. They have also attracted a large following of believers, emboldened and encouraged by their stand. Creationist scientists and organizations abound, all outside the closed halls of naturalist academia. The kingdom of God has been advanced in the area of science because of the stand of faithful men against post-Enlightenment naturalism. The progress in real science and real understanding was only possible because Christians were willing to step outside the lines of respectability that their artificial culture had drawn around itself and to build on the law-word of God and His Christ.
The Educational Warriors
Similarly, it was the courageous efforts of a few educational pioneers who chose to exit the government school system in order to produce something better that has created the modern Christian education phenomenon. The Christian school movement then gave rise to the homeschool movement. Together these bold initiatives have bolstered countless families, a benefit that has been compounded now to multiple generations and has spread outward to support churches and Christian endeavors. The kingdom of God and His Christ has been extended in education not by those who sought accommodation in the government schools, but by those who rethought education in terms of their faith and built anew on the foundation that is Jesus Christ.
In both science and education the kingdom of God has advanced. The kingdom has advanced because these endeavors praise God and His law-word. And science and education have advanced. The irrationality of Darwinism has been exposed and literacy and character have been cultivated. In these two areas alone, Christians are advancing their culture. Now they do so as pioneers, but such bold action has developed into a critical mass.
Marching into Our Glorious Future
The advances made in creation science and Christian education must be emulated in other areas. Even our churches, in some cases, must be reclaimed. Salvation is the starting point of the Christian message, not its end. The church must call redeemed men, women, and children to an understanding that they have been restored to God so that they might serve Him with joy and gladness.
The decline of the West is a consequence of rebellion against Christianity. Its decline and death will bring dire consequences, to be sure. The Christian must not place his hope in the delicate balancing act of such a failing culture. Rather, he must seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Mt. 6:33) and call others to do the same. In this there is a glorious future. In this we must invest our energies. The future of man's rebellion against and independence of God is always bleak; the future of the kingdom of God is as bright as His promises. Choose sides.