From Chapter 1 of David Chilton’s Paradise Restored
The bold is mine.
This is a book about hope. For too long, Christians have been characterized by despair, defeat, and retreat. For too long, Christians have heeded the false doctrine which teaches that we are doomed to failure, that Christians cannot win – the notion that, until Jesus returns, Christians will steadily lose ground to the enemy. The future of the Church, we were told, is to be a steady slide into apostasy. Some of our leaders sadly informed us that we are living in a “Laodicean age” of the Church (a reference to the “lukewarm” church of Laodicea, spoken of in Rev. 3:14-22). Any new outbreak of war, any rise in crime statistics, any new evidence of the breakdown of the family, was often oddly viewed as progress, a step forward toward the expected goal of the total collapse of civilization, a sign that Jesus might come to rescue us at any moment. Social action projects were looked on with skepticism: it was often assumed that anyone who actually tried to improve the world must not really believe the Bible, because the Bible taught that such efforts were bound to be futile; as one famous preacher put it, “You don’t polish brass on a sinking ship.” That slogan was based on two assumptions: first, that the world is nothing more than a “sinking ship”; second, that any organized program of Christian reconstruction would be nothing more than “polishing brass.” Evangelism was an invitation to join the losing side.
This was rooted in two problems. One was a false view of Spirituality. The unbiblical idea of “spirituality” is that the truly “spiritual” man is the person who is sort of “non-physical,” who doesn’t get involved in “earthly” things, who doesn’t work very much or think very hard, and who spends most of his time meditating about how he’d rather be in heaven. As long as he’s on earth, though, he has one main duty in life: Get stepped on for Jesus. The “spiritual” man, in this view, is a wimp. A Loser. But at least he’s a Good Loser.
The teaching of the Bible is very different. When the Bible uses the term Spiritual, it is generally speaking of the Holy Spirit (which is why I use a capital S). To be Spiritual is to be guided and motivated by the Holy Spirit. It means obeying His commands as recorded in the Scriptures. The Spiritual man is not someone who floats in midair and hears eerie voices. The Spiritual man is the man who does what the Bible says (Rom. 8:4-8). This means, therefore, that we are supposed to get involved in life. God wants us to apply Christian standards everywhere, in every area. Spirituality does not mean retreat and withdrawal from life; it means dominion. The basic Christian confession of faith is that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9-10) – Lord of all things, in heaven and on earth. As Lord, He is to be glorified in every area (Rom. 11:36). In terms of Christian Spirituality, in terms of God’s requirements for Christian action in every area of life, there is no reason for retreat.
The second obstacle to Christian action has been an eschatology of defeat. Our eschatology is our “doctrine of last things,” our expectation of the future. And there is no question about the recent expectations of many Christians: we have looked forward to failure. The world, as we noted earlier, was regarded as a sinking ship.
Of course, no Christian believes in ultimate defeat. All Christians know that God will be victorious over the devil at the end of history. As a young Christian, I remember my Bible teachers informing me that they had “peeked at the last chapter (of the Bible), and the Christians win!” But that is just my point: according to certain popular brands of eschatology, victory takes place only in “the last chapter.” In time, in history, on earth, the Christians lose. The world is getting worse and worse. Antichrist is coming. The devil is running the world, and getting more and more powerful all the time. Your work for God in this world will have no lasting effect, except to save a few individuals from hell. But you’d better do it quickly, before the Tribulation hits, so that you can escape in time. Ironically, the unintentional message of this gospel is: Antichrist is coming! There is something terribly lopsided about that.
What I am saying is this. The eschatology of defeat is wrong. It is no more Biblical than its twin sister, the false view of Spirituality. Instead of a message of defeat, the Bible gives us Hope, both in this world and the next. The Bible gives us an eschatology of dominion, an eschatology of victory. This is not some blind, “everything-will-work-out-somehow” kind of optimism. It is a solid, confident, Bible-based assurance that, before the Second Coming of Christ, the gospel will be victorious throughout the entire world.
For many, that will seem incredible. It goes against the whole spirit of the modern age; for years, Christians have been taught to expect defeat. Certainly, it’s a good idea to be careful about “new” doctrines. Everything must be checked by the Scriptures. One thing to consider, however, is that the idea of dominion is not new. In fact, until fairly recently, most Christians held an eschatology of dominion. Most Christians throughout the history of the Church regarded the eschatology of defeat as a doctrine of crackpots.
The Hope of worldwide conquest for Christianity has been the traditional faith of the Church through the ages. This fact can easily be demonstrated again and again. We can see it in the words of St. Athanasius, the great Church Father of the fourth century whose classic book On the Incarnation of the Word of God reveals his strong eschatology of dominion. He summarized its thesis:
Since the Saviour came to dwell in our midst, not only does idolatry no longer increase, but it is getting less and gradually ceasing to be. Similarly, not only does the wisdom of the Greeks no longer make any progress, but that which used to be is disappearing. And daemons, so far from continuing to impose on people by their deceits and oracle-givings and sorceries, are routed by the sign of the cross if they so much as try. On the other hand, while idolatry and everything else that opposes the faith of Christ is daily dwindling and weakening and falling, the Saviour’s teaching is increasing everywhere! Worship, then, the Saviour “Who is above all” and mighty, even God the Word, and condemn those who are being defeated and made to disappear by Him. When the sun has come, darkness prevails no longer; any of it that may be left anywhere is driven away. So also, now that the Divine epiphany of the Word of God has taken place, the darkness of idols prevails no more, and all parts of the world in every direction are enlightened by His teaching.
You must not suppose that Athanasius was just a positive-thinking optimist, relaxing in quiet, peaceful surroundings. On the contrary: he lived through one of the most severe persecutions the world had ever seen, the Emperor Diocletian’s all-out attempt to stamp out the Christian faith. Later, Athanasius had to stand practically alone for 40 years in his defense of the doctrine of the Trinity against rampant heresy, being exiled by the government on five occasions and sometimes in peril for his life. In fact, his story gave birth to a proverb: Athanasius contra mundum (Athanasius against the world). Yet he never lost sight of the basic fact of world history, that the Word had become flesh, conquering the devil, redeeming mankind, flooding the world with Light which the darkness could not overcome.
The Church’s eschatology of dominion radically shaped the history of Western civilization. For example, think about the great cathedrals of Europe, and compare them to the church buildings of today. Those old cathedrals, magnificent works of art constructed over decades and sometimes generations, were built to last for centuries – and they have. But modern evangelical churches are usually built to last a generation at most. We don’t expect to be around long enough to get much use out of them, and we certainly don’t expect our great-grandchildren to worship in them. We don’t even expect to have great-grandchildren. It is safe to say that the thought of descendants living five hundred years from now has never even entered the minds of most evangelicals today. Yet, for many Christians of previous generations, the idea of future generations benefiting from their labors was not strange in the slightest degree. They built for the ages.
Let’s look at a very different field: exploration. Not one historian in a hundred knows what motivated Christopher Columbus to seek a western route to the Indies. Trade? Yes, that was part of the reason. More than this, however, it was unfulfilled prophecy. Before he began his expeditions, Columbus crammed his journals with quotations from Isaiah and other Biblical writers, in which he detailed the numerous prophecies that the Great Commission to disciple all nations of the world would be successful (see, for example, Isa. 2:2-5; 9:2-7; 11:1-10; 32:15-17; 40:4-11; 42:1-12; 49:1-26; 56:3-8; 60:1-22; 61:1-11; 62:1-12; 65:1-25; 66:1-24). He figured that if the Indies were to be converted, a sea route would be a much more efficient way to bring them the gospel; and he credited his discoveries not to the use of mathematics or maps, but rather to the Holy Spirit, who was bringing to pass what Isaiah had foretold. We must remember that America had been discovered numerous times, by other cultures; yet successful colonization and development took place only in the age of exploration begun by Columbus. Why? Because these explorers were bearers of the gospel, and their goal was to conquer the world for the kingdom of God. They came expecting that the New World would be Christianized. They were certain of victory, and assumed that any obstacles they met had been placed there for the express purpose of being overcome. They knew that Christians are destined for dominion.
Examples could be multiplied, in every field. The whole rise of Western Civilization – science and technology, medicine, the arts, constitutionalism, the jury system, free enterprise, literacy, increasing productivity, a rising standard of living, the high status of women-is attributable to one major fact: the West has been transformed by Christianity. True, the transformation is not yet complete. There are many battles ahead. But the point is that, even in what is still largely an early Christian civilization, God has showered us with blessings.
Many Christians do not realize it, but the Hope is the basis for many of the great old hymns of the faith, written before the modern era of evangelical despair and pessimism. Think about that the next time you sing Martin Luther’s “A mighty Fortress is our God,” Isaac Watts’s “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun doth his successive journeys run,” or George Duffield’s “Stand up, stand up for Jesus.” Do you really believe that Jesus is now leading us “from victory unto victory… till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed”? That is what the Church has historically believed. That is what they sang in their hymns. This can be seen most clearly in the traditional Christmas carols, which, like Athanasius’s reflections on the Incarnation, are unabashed expectations of Christ’s triumph over the world through the gospel. Carols such as “Come, thou long-expected Jesus,” “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” “Hark! the herald angels sing,” “God rest you merry, gentlemen,” and many others are written from the same basic perspective as the present book. The conviction that – as a result of His first advent – Christ is now reigning from heaven and conquering the earth underlies the message of “Joy to the world!”:
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness
And wonders of his love.
The Spiritual man is not someone who floats in midair and hears eerie voices. The Spiritual man is the man who does what the Bible says (Rom. 8:4-8). This means, therefore, that we are supposed to get involved in life. God wants us to apply Christian standards everywhere, in every area. Spirituality does not mean retreat and withdrawal from life; it means dominion. The basic Christian confession of faith is that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9-10) – Lord of all things, in heaven and on earth. As Lord, He is to be glorified in every area (Rom. 11:36).
I’ll let you guess when the overwhelming majority of today’s mainstream — or even evangelical! — churches will support and uphold the paragraph above.
We all know what the answer is: NEVER.
But the Kingdom of God is going to expand, regardless of the quiet and low-key — but bone-deep, intense, and total — opposition of the Institutional Churches.
By their actions — and by their lack of action, decade after decade — you shall know them.
(That’s how you know that the spiritual authority of the Institutional Churches is kaput.
If there is no interest in expanding/upholding/manifesting the Kingdom of God and His Law-Word, in time and on earth, as revealed in His Word, then you can be confident that the Holy Spirit is long gone.
He does not stick around, where He is not wanted.)
Never forget: it was the unprofitable servant that Jesus explicitly and repeatedly condemned to hell and the lake of fire.
Not so much the violent Pagan. Or even an envy-driven Collectivist.
The servant that knew — and hated! — his Master’s Command will be far more harshly punished than the ignorant unbeliever in the bush, or even in the university.
For many, that will seem incredible. It goes against the whole spirit of the modern age; for years, Christians have been taught to expect defeat.
If something goes against the whole spirit of the modern age, I’m going to pay attention to it… especially as that “spirit of the modern age” is frankly demonic, enslaving, and driven by lies, theft, and murder.
Since the Saviour came to dwell in our midst, not only does idolatry no longer increase, but it is getting less and gradually ceasing to be. Similarly, not only does the wisdom of the Greeks no longer make any progress, but that which used to be is disappearing. And daemons, so far from continuing to impose on people by their deceits and oracle-givings and sorceries, are routed by the sign of the cross if they so much as try. On the other hand, while idolatry and everything else that opposes the faith of Christ is daily dwindling and weakening and falling, the Saviour’s teaching is increasing everywhere!
It’s been quite a while since anyone seriously thought that the Enlightened Classes even knew what they were doing — besides protecting their own power base, of course! — never mind actually leading the world to a better, more rational, more prosperous, and more peaceful era.
Those old cathedrals, magnificent works of art constructed over decades and sometimes generations, were built to last for centuries – and they have. But modern evangelical churches are usually built to last a generation at most. We don’t expect to be around long enough to get much use out of them, and we certainly don’t expect our great-grandchildren to worship in them. We don’t even expect to have great-grandchildren. It is safe to say that the thought of descendants living five hundred years from now has never even entered the minds of most evangelicals today. Yet, for many Christians of previous generations, the idea of future generations benefiting from their labors was not strange in the slightest degree. They built for the ages.
We should focus on building spiritual structures, societies, knowledge-networks, legal schools, and civilizations that will last through the ages – with a special focus on the Kingdom of God, and His Law-Word.
Not so much on piles of stone and massive hierarchical Institutions, which have proven to be so much powerless dust in the long term.
We need to stop returning to our vomit.
In contrast: systems, cultures, attitudes, families, civil groups that have a vision of upholding God-defined truth, justice, and mercy: these people have a future far better than some burnt-out religious stone hulk in Europe, or anywhere else.
God is far more interested in using living stones to build His kingdom, than in the toughest granite, or the most beautiful marble. First things first.
The Church as defined in the Bible, the Body of Christ, must obey His instructions. We must care for the widows and the orphans, the fatherless, the weak, the poor, the stranger. We must teach what is true, to live and to govern according to the Law-Word of God, regardless of what Our Betters wish.
When we do this, then we are laying down a sure foundation, something that God will certainly bless!
Something that will last forever, long after those piles of stone in Europe are utterly forgotten.
(And those other European idols of superficial salvation and actual sterility, the Welfare State.)