Unification Theology

by Young Oon Kim

A Biblical View Of Christian History

According to the Old Testament prophetic world view, God shapes historical events in conformity with His predetermined plan. Because the chosen people of Israel believed that Yahweh asserts His lordship in history, they were propelled ahead by a sense of destiny. Hebrews viewed their actions as a response to God's covenant, so they were confident that some day God's kingdom would become a living reality. 8

What Unification theology does is use this Biblical framework of salvation-history to explain the pattern of Christianity's advance. While such a method seems natural enough in the light of the Biblical faith, Divine Principle actually represents quite an innovative approach. Where before has such a consistent effort been made to compare the Old Testament pattern of salvation-history with the events of the later Christian era?

Liberation theologians emphasize the importance of the fact that Moses freed the Hebrew tribes from four centuries of Egyptian bondage. Old Testament faith is grounded in two experiences: slavery and freedom. In New Testament times, Matthew's Gospel compares Jesus to Moses: Jesus' mission was to liberate man from satanic captivity and his teachings provided a new Torah for the second Israel. We should therefore look for some kind of parallel between Israel's four centuries in Egypt and the first period of Christian history.

What evidence exists to show that early Christianity resembles the period of Egyptian bondage? In both cases, the faithful faced opposition from the ruling secular power. As the Hebrews were subjected to a cruel Pharoah, Christians were savagely persecuted by some of the Roman Caesars. Not until Constantine became emperor in the 4th century was faith in Jesus Christ tolerated as one of the legitimate religions of the Roman world. Thus, the two periods illustrate the Biblical law of restoration through the payment of indemnity.

The first four centuries of Christianity made a permanent imprint upon its future. Within that period the rather fluid Christian movement took on a solid structural form. How did the Church triumph over its foes? By stressing the importance of unity. Only a united Christianity could survive in a hostile world. Hence, the Church gradually created a New Testament canon, a basic creed and an authoritative clergy.

Perhaps equally important in the long run was the first Christian philosophy of history worked out by the North African bishop Augustine. Why was his City of God so influential? First, because it was based on the fallen condition of man and God's determination to restore His creation. Second, because it viewed history as a struggle between the evil-dominated city of this world and the ideal City of God. Thirdly, because Augustine revived men's hopes in a time of political disaster and spiritual despair caused by the barbarian conquest of the city of Rome. Fourthly, because the City of God reminded Christians of their practical responsibilities in realizing God's original blueprint for creation.

Once the Hebrew tribes entered the Promised Land, there began a long age of the Judges ending with Samuel. The Old Testament describes this second period as a time of troubles. A similar time of troubles befell the Christians from roughly 400 to 800 A. D.

The new Christian Rome established at Constantinople was beset by numerous foes. Externally it was weakened by wave after wave of barbarian invaders. Worse, the Muslims swept over the Near East and North Africa, occupied Spain and penetrated France. For a time, it must have seemed unlikely that Christianity could survive. 9 As the people of Israel had been hard pressed by the Philistines in the period of the Judges, the new Israel suffered terribly from the dismemberment of the Roman empire.

Internally as well as externally the Church faced serious problems. Soon after Constantine favored Christianity, it was natural for a few key imperial cities to become the chief centers of ecclesiastical power.

The bishops of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Rome, called patriarchs, became jealous of each other and often engaged in disruptive struggles for primacy. "Each man did that which was right in his own eyes" to quote the book of Judges (21:25). This tragic lack of unity took three destructive forms: squabbles among the five patriarchs, antagonism between the Christian emperors and prominent churchmen, and schisms caused by attempts to enforce theological uniformity. Repeatedly the Christian community was divided, as Arians argued with defenders of the Nicean creed, semi-Nestorians fought semi-Monophysites, and bishops of Rome took advantage of every opportunity to weaken the rival patriarchates of Constantinople and Alexandria.

Out of the chaotic conditions in Israel's age of Judges, the united Hebrew monarchy was born. In somewhat similar fashion, when most of the Christian world was controlled by Muslims or barbarians, Charlemagne appeared in Western Europe as the champion of orthodoxy and political unity.

Divine Principle asserts that Charlemagne played a pivotal role in God's course of restoration. Why was his work so important? His grandfather, Charles Martel, had stopped the Muslim invaders of France and forced them to retreat into Spain. In 771 A. D. Charlemagne became the sole ruler of the Frankish kingdom. On Christmas day in 800 he was crowned at St. Peter's basilica by Pope Leo III as Holy Roman Emperor. During a long reign Charlemagne ruled over a vast area covering France, Belgium, the Netherlands, most of West Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, northern and central Italy, as well as parts of Hungary and Yugoslavia. Charlemagne therefore created the ideal of a united Europe. 10

His reign also marks a momentous change in Christian history. Prior to his rule, the center of church life and thought was located in the Eastern Roman Empire. Henceforth until 1914 most of the important events in Christian history would take place in Western Europe.

Charlemagne quite conscientiously took upon himself the responsibilities of a Christian monarch and defender of the faith. He thought of himself as a second King David, and it is in this way he is seen by Divine Principle. To this end he protected the pope, took an active interest in theological matters, supported the best churchmen of his time and stimulated a cultural renaissance in Christian Europe.

Unfortunately, just as the united Hebrew monarchy started to break up almost as soon as David died, the accomplishments of Charlemagne were not preserved by his successors. In spite of Charlemagne's valiant efforts, the Holy Roman Empire could not provide a secure foundation for Augustine's ideal City of God.

After Solomon's reign, the ten northern tribes rebelled against Jerusalem and set up a rival kingdom. This division gravely weakened the Hebrews both religiously and politically. Comparable to the four hundred year conflict between the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, Christian Europe suffered about four centuries of political turmoil and religious bickering.

What were the major features of the period from the year 1000 to 1500? First, in 1054 the Roman pope excommunicated the ecumenical patriarch at Constantinople, causing a separation between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism which has persisted to the present day. Secondly, there were repeated struggles between powerful popes and ambitious European monarchs. Thirdly, the western church became infected with avarice, pride and worldliness in spite of the monks and mystics of the Middle Ages whose piety and devotion were so exemplary. Finally, a nationalistic spirit spread all over Europe which threatened to destroy the unity which Christendom had once provided.

The Old Testament prophets warned that if the people of Israel did not reform, the nation was doomed. Their prophecies were fulfilled when the northern kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians and the Southerners were later carried off into Babylonian exile. Comparable disasters overtook the corrupt Catholic Church and the Christian people of Europe. For one thing, the papacy failed miserably in its great crusades to recover the Holy Land. In spite of some early defeats, the Muslims were able to solidify their hold on the Near East and pushed their way into Eastern Europe until they besieged the city of Vienna. When Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, all four of the ancient Eastern Orthodox patriarchates became subject to non-Christian governments.

Secondly, the ecclesiastical machinery of the medieval period had become outmoded. The powerful papacy created by Gregory VII (1073 to 1085) and Innocent III (1198 to 1216) needed major repairs. Since the church had so often and foolishly meddled in politics, at the beginning of the 14th century the papal court moved from Rome to Avignon to be protected by the French king. A century later Catholics found themselves with three popes at one time: a pope in Rome, another in Avignon and a third elected by reform-minded cardinals meeting in Pisa. What a comedy of errors!

Probably even more dangerous than the advancing Islamic armies and the scandalous disunity among the church leaders, the new age was permeated with the spirit of secularism. We live in this world and our chief aim is to enjoy its satisfactions, men said. Even though the Renaissance was not openly anti-Christian, it signaled the passing of the medieval ideal. Life was no longer thought of as a pilgrimage to heaven. Renaissance men believed that a good God created the earth to be enjoyed to the fullest. From the standpoint of the Church, the waning of the Middle Ages must have been as traumatic as the Babylonian exile had been for the ancient Hebrews.

8 Cf. J. L. Crenshaw's study of the Old Testament scholar Gerhard von Rad (1978), p. 158.

9 Cf. K. S. Latourette, Thousand Years of Uncertainty (1970), pp. 286-288.

10 Cf. H. Fichtenau, The Carolingian Empire (1964); Einhard, Life of Charlemagne (1960); A. Cabaniss, Charlemagne (1972). 

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