Unification News for February 2002
Volume 6 * Part 6 - Period of Preparation
The last historical parallel between the Old and New Testament ages involves the final years of preparation for the Messiah, first for Israel and later for Christianity. Both periods lasted 400 years.
After the Hebrews' return from Babylonia, they rebuilt the Temple and repented. Centering their worship on the Temple and the Law, they progressively celebrated their spiritual lives. The prophet Ezra helped to generate much of the revitalization of Judaism during this time and is generally regarded as having helped build the foundation for the whole of post-exilic Jewish devotion. Ezra planted the seeds for the type of Judaism which was normative in the time of Jesus and which continues today. He also helped to prepare his people's descendants for the Messiah.
Corresponding to the 400-year Old Testament preparation for the Messiah described above, a similar period of 400 years existed during the Christian era -- from the time of the Reformation to World War I. As with the Old Testament epoch, this parallel age was a time of specific preparation for the Promised One; therefore, we will describe its major developments in some detail. The period begins with one particular German monk.
Martin Luther was the culmination of various trends emerging during the late medieval period, some of the more significant being those deriving from the influence of the Renaissance. Such Renaissance poets and literary masters as Petrarch and Boccaccio had celebrated humanist values with their emphasis on the glory of man and nature. Moreover, freedoms of thought and action all were stressed. Scholasticism, for example, emerged as a major factor in the dynamically changing new world. Intellectual life in general was enriched, especially by the rise of universities and the desire of the common man to read and to make his own decisions. These and other influences acted as a catalyst for the religious upheavals which followed.
The Renaissance witnessed the primacy of humanism, individualism and realism. Religiously, stress was laid on rational judgment rather than blind faith in the authority and competence of the Pope. The Renaissance was in many ways a response to an antiquated and authoritarian worldview which had been championed largely by medieval Roman Catholicism and which tended to advocate the merits of asceticism, otherworldliness, obedience and collectivism. While itself the Renaissance was hedonistic and excessively worldly, its effect in the religious domain was to open the eyes of many to the failings of an increasingly corrupt and outdated Church.
The temper of the time did not fail to influence Martin Luther. On October 31, 1517, this Augustinian monk posted on a church door in Wittenberg the famous Ninety-Five Theses, a detailed attack on the selling of papal indulgences. Articulating preexistent popular discontent, Luther's challenge to the Church's authority quickly swept through Germany; entire sections converted to Luther's position. By the time of his death, his reforms had spread beyond Germany into other northern European countries.
It is important to realize that Luther's revolt reflected an effort to recapture the living tradition of early -- and especially Pauline -- Christianity. For Luther, this was the hope of the Church. Advocating a return to the scriptural sources of the Church and an application of them to the Church in his own time, Luther sought to lead the Church back to its original pristine state.
In terms of God's dispensation, Luther's reform was a revolutionary step forward -- even though it was based on a "return" to an earlier religious vitality. Because Roman Christianity had lost much of its early fervor and strong messianic consciousness, it had lapsed into decline. It was thus necessary that reforms, culminating in the Protestant Reformation, took place. Such men as Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli, William Farel and others were called to reshape Western Christianity in preparation for the Second Advent.
Great reforms took place not only in Protestant Christianity, however, but also in Roman Catholicism as well. For example, the Catholic Counterreformation enlisted the support of significant saintly figures, among them Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuits. France, Spain, Italy and Poland remained loyal to the Pope only because of the efforts of reform-minded bishops and the zeal of the new Catholic orders such as the Jesuits.
Also contributing to the Catholic revival, the missionary movement pushed the frontiers of Catholicism into the Americas, Asia and other parts of the non-Western world. This helped to prepare all of humanity for the Second Advent. Brilliant missionaries in the sixteenth century made possible the spread of Christianity not only among common folk but also among scholars and societal leaders. Many of the Jesuits, Dominicans and Franciscans were remarkably skillful and devoted men. The Catholic scholar H. Daniel-Rops tells us that a missionary to China named Mattes Ricci, for example, adopted the exotic dress of a Chinese scholar and even a Chinese name in order not to thrust cultural barriers in the way of the Asian reception of Christ.
Further revitalizing movements developed among Protestants in the eighteenth century. To help offset the Enlightenment, the Pietist movement arose led by Philip Spener and Herman Francke. Such a movement, emphasizing a personal mystical encounter with God, may be seen as a revival addressed to those forms of Protestantism which two centuries after their birth had become arid and devoid of charity, warmth and human feeling.
Also in the eighteenth century, additional movements rekindled the declining fervor of an increasingly austere Protestantism. One of these derived from the work of John Wesley. Daniel-Rops, writing of this exemplar of Protestant piety, pays him the ultimate Catholic tribute:
"In England the revivalist who attempted to drag high churchmen from their routine and the Puritans from their hypocrisy bore a famous name -- John Wesley.... The man was indubitably made of the stuff from which the Catholic Church fashions her saints." (The Church in the Eighteenth Century)
Along with the influence of Wesley, the work of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, George Fox and Count Zinzendorf further advance the spirituality of countless individuals, converting many through electrifying revivals and preaching.
Since the Protestant Reformation, therefore, we see a continuing renewal of personal piety and the Judeo-Christian social ethic in preparation for the Second Advent and the messianic New Age. The Lord was not inactive when segments of Protestantism lost some of their original zeal. Rather, He continually reignited Protestantism's early regenerative spirit through an unending stream of spiritual giants and charismatic reformers.
Divine Principle teaches that the providential purpose of the Industrial Revolution was to improve conditions and provide an ideal physical environment in preparation for the New Age. Beginning in Great Britain, this development also aided European colonialism and imperialism, the effect of which was to propel Christian missionaries throughout the world to educate all peoples about God's nature, work and plan as revealed in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Europe and America were transformed by the Industrial Revolution from stable agricultural societies to modern industrialized cultures. The social abuses which accompanied these changes should have provided churches with opportunities for social activism on behalf of the urban poor. Unfortunately, relatively few churchmen responded.
Nevertheless, as in the case of imperialism and the missionary activity which accompanied it, God was able to use morally flawed instruments to attain His purposes; thus, even the social ills generated by unmitigated and unrestrained capitalism were, from the point of view of the dispensation of restoration, offset by compensating benefits. Primary among these was the material preparation of the world for the Second Advent; vast improvements in transportation, communications and general technology have helped to bind together different cultures, develop new understanding and to transmit new truth.
In contrast to the eighteenth century, which saw the emergence in Christian lands of Protestant luminaries who were able to reinspire large numbers of lukewarm Christians, in the nineteenth century the advances were made by missionaries sent out to non-Western lands to introduce the Gospel and make new converts. These evangelists were particularly active in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Christianity was being extended and the nineteenth century, as we shall see, was its crowning moment.
Through this century, the time matured at last. President Henry P. Van Dusen of Union Theological Seminary has written of this period, affirming the nineteenth century as Christianity's greatest epoch:
"By any appropriate calculus -- number of conversions, increase in membership, adventure into new areas, launching of new enterprises, founding of new churches and societies -- this (the 19th century) was the epoch of Christianity's greatest vitality and most valuable advance. Christianity had become, at last, a world religion...." (World Christianity)
Christianity now has a wider geographic spread and is more deeply rooted among more peoples than any other religion in the history of mankind. For Divine Principle, of course, such a development is in keeping with a recognition of the centrality of Christianity in God's providence.
Christianity's growth in the global arena is not accident. The Church of Jesus has been God's primary instrument to educate the people of the world as to His ways and purposes. Through it, He has sought to establish a foundation for His coming Kingdom -- a Kingdom which is to be precipitated by the universally significant event of the Second Advent.
The advances made by the Church in the late nineteenth century were critical preparations for the messianic age dawning in the twentieth. Consequently, we live today in the most important moment in human history: the coming of the Second Advent. In the vast span of human history, including this multilayered process of preparation, we are now at the point at which God's ideal is to dawn.
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