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Today’s preoccupation with eschatology has led some to advocate a wholesale abandonment of this age, stating that there is no relationship between the temporal kingdom and the eternal kingdom. There is no prescription for the transformation of this world based on the certainty of the next, so some want us to believe. The transformation of the present social structure is built “upon the concept of commitment to the heavenly society as being primary and determinative for this worldly order.” There is continuity between the present age and the age to come. The preaching of Jesus regarding affairs in everyday society was based on an
intimate continuity between the world to be and the world that was, even now, being summoned into likeness with it. What the Lord wills for this life cannot be severed from his ultimate plans to be realized fully in the eternal kingdom. Jesus’ own parables makes clear that this kingdom which is future in its complete fulfillment is already present in its operation and influences. Far from proposing a rigid separation of the future and the present, Jesus is proposing, not another world in which to find refuge, but one whose character and being is even now modifying and reshaping the present organization of life.
A concern for this world is evidence of concern for the next. Love for our neighbor is evidence of our love for God who presently occupies the throne of heaven. The exhibit of our Christian life in this world is a reflection of our regard for the world to come. The world to come is the Christian’s focal point. The Christian takes his stand with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:5–7) and brings from heaven, through the “God-breathed” Scriptures, instructions for this present world (2 Tim. 3:16–17). “This constitutes setting one’s affections on things above. It does not spell the turning of one’s back on things beneath. . . . The kingdom of God is not brought in by man. It will come in God’s own way and with his unconquerable consummation. It is coming even now, in its present impact upon the belligerent, but already defeated, world that knows it not.”
The medieval church saw a vital connection between heaven and earth, with heaven being the pattern for earthly activity. The eternal serves as a standard for the temporal. The Creator outlines parameters for living for the creature.
Central was the assumption of a coherence between heaven and earth, two parts of one homogeneous world, built to a single plan and hence reciprocally related, yet based on a principle of inequality inherent in hierarchy, in which the superior serves as a model for the inferior.
Without the heaven/earth connection, the world is assigned to the realm of indifference and the inevitabilities of evil. The Lutheran and Calvinistic arms of the Reformation viewed the possibility of social change differently:
Luther had regarded this world and its institutions as incorrigible, and was prepared to leave them to the devil. But for Calvin this world, created by God, still belonged to Him; it remained potentially His kingdom; and every Christian was obliged to devote his life to make it so in reality by reforming and bringing it under God’s law.
The relationship between gospel and society can best be seen in how our nation’s founders appreciated education, and how education was conceived as a way to preserve the Christian past and the establishment of a Christian future. Harvard College (founded in 1636, six years after the arrival of the British Puritans and named after John Harvard), set the agenda for the nation’s future: “Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning.”
There were similar expressions of evangelical reform in England. We should expect this, since America’s penchant for reform was inherited from its theological English forbears. For example, England’s abolition movement was almost entirely led by the evangelical wing of the church. At the pleading of Lady Middleton and Bishop Porteus, James Ramsay wrote a long Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies (1784). Ramsay was “convinced that men will not respond to lessons of eternal redemption from those who enslave them on earth, or about heaven when kept in hell. . . . He proposed steps to total Emancipation, and suggested that free labour would yield more profit to plantation owners.” William Wilberforce, upon being struck with the oppression of the slave trade, wrote in his diary, “Almighty God has set before me two great objectives: The abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” Had the British government “not been in the hands of Christians there seems little reason to have expected it to mount its massive, expensive, and voluntary campaign against slavery.” If modern anti-reformists had their way, the institution of slavery would still be with us. They would be preaching to the Church to remain silent on the issue and not to mix Church and State.
I don’t know how true it is, but I’ve heard that John MacArthur is stating that he is unconcerned about the November election (go here). If Brannon Howse is faithfully representing MacArthur views, then his views are outside the great reforming efforts of the church that had political implications. It wouldn’t surprise me that MacArthur holds these views. He has an eschatology that discounts the future. Read some of the comments to Howse’s post, and you’ll understand why the church and our nation are in such a mess. I’ve made my views on this topic clear in “Is the World a Sinking Titanic?” in the May 2007 issue of Biblical Worldview which is a response to an article by Jan Markell who posts frequent articles on Howse’s site. Most of the people who speak at the Worldview Weekend conferences are dispensationalists. Howse is offering “Looking for the Blessed Hope” by David Jeremiah. Schizophrenia reigns.