Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
“The Man of the Millennium”
At the end of every year, Time magazine nominates its “Man of the Year.” With bated breath, the press awaits its great announcement. This year, of course, was different. This year it was not only a question of “Man of the Year,” but also “Man of the Decade,” as well as of the century and of the millennium.
The reason for its choices might be of interest to the Christian as well. However, the world examines and announces according to standards that are neither biblical nor concerned overly much with the spiritual. Whom would the church nominate? Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, professor of church history and president of Westminster Seminary in California, presents his nomination in the Outlook, January 2000, with some sound reasoning:
Certainly the Christian churches have experienced great continuities and discontinuities in the past one thousand years. In light of this long and complex history, does it make sense to try to name one man as the man of the millennium? Who might it be? No doubt a number of candidates could be suggested. Roman Catholics might name Thomas Aquinas, a theologian of towering intellect whose system continues to inspire important thinkers even in the twentieth century. Many may point to Martin Luther who in his theological insights and spiritual power was the great pioneer of the Reformation. Others have pointed to Johann Gutenberg for his impact on technology and communication or to Isaac Newton for his reorientation of science from Aristotle to modern paths of progress.
For man of the millennium, I would propose John Calvin. Since I am a Reformed minister writing for a Reformed periodical, such a suggestion may seem parochial, but I think it is easily and properly defended. Many scholars beyond Reformed circles recognize the importance and influence of John Calvin.
Calvin’s theological and pastoral importance must surely be listed first. Calvin was the most systematic, Biblical, and balanced theologian in the history of the church. His Institutes of the Christian Religion is the best text in theology ever written. Calvin was also in many ways the model commentator on Scripture and an extraordinary preacher. His insights into worship reformed the life of churches in many lands. Calvin was a great teacher to Reformed churches in Switzerland, Germany, France, Hungary, the Netherlands and Great Britain. His influence carried beyond Europe. At the time of the American Revolution, 90% of American Christians followed, to one extent or another, the Genevan Reformer. In our century his influence can still be seen in the great missionary work in Korea and Nigeria.
Calvin’s impact on our millennium extends far beyond the strictly theological and churchly. Calvin was the first theologian to argue that the Bible’s prohibition against usury did not mean that Christians could not charge interest on loans. That conclusion was a key moment in the development of western capitalism; and so Calvin’s significance for economics is very great. Similarly in the realm of politics, Calvin’s contention that lesser magistrates could lead resistance to tyranny laid the foundation for the Dutch revolt against Spain, the Wars of Religion in France, as well as the English and American revolutions. Those struggles against tyranny were essential to the rise of democracies in the west.
Calvin also affected the spread of education in the modern world by stressing the importance of every Christian being able to read the Bible. This emphasis was certainly not unique to Calvin, but was promoted with zeal by the Reformed churches. Calvin’s understanding of the physical world as an expression of the will of God (rather than the being of God) created an environment in which modern science could grow, often from universities with a Reformed background.
The last millennium has been a complex time of remarkable and sometimes surprising developments. Since we do not know the time of Christ’s second-coming, we cannot know whether the second millennium is the last millennium before Christ’s return. But we should be encouraged that the Christianity of the second millennium—especially as taught by John Calvin—will continue to be a stimulating and reliable guide to Biblical religion and Christian living as we begin that new millennium.
That is Godfrey’s judgment. Most of his reasoning sounds excellent to me—except his conclusion that there just might be another millennium before Christ’s return. Would you agree with his choice of the “Man of the Millennium”? Perhaps you have a better nomination for “Man of the Millennium.” If so, who would it be—and why?
Pentecostals and Roman Catholics
From the editors of Religion Today, February 7, 2000, comes the report of Pentecostals who seek closer union with the Roman Catholics.
Black Pentecostals say they can learn from the Roman Catholic Church. Leaders of 27 denominations, members of the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops, will travel to Rome this week to visit the Vatican and perhaps meet with the pope, the Chicago Tribune said. The bishops said it is time to recover some of the ancient traditions practiced by the Catholic Church…. “I think we can learn from each other,” Larry Trotter of the Sweet Holy Spirit Full Gospel Baptist Church in Chicago said. “We come with a fervor and fire they may be missing, but they come with order and structure we may be missing.” The bishops will attend a three-day seminar at the Pontifical North American College, a seminary for U.S. Catholics, and will attend a general audience and a healing Mass with the pope, the Tribune said. They also might have a short personal visit with the pontiff. …Pentecostalism is one of the fastest-growing segments of Christianity. Pentecostals believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, empowers Christians with spiritual gifts, including prophecy, healing, and speaking in tongues…. “The shock to me was that these Pentecostals—these charismatic, tongue-speaking people—all wanted to go to the Vatican,” J. Delano Ellis of Cleveland said. He is a friend of Cleveland Catholic Bishop Anthony Pilla, who helped arrange the trip. “We are part of the body of Christ, and we want to grow closer to other parts of the body of Christ. It’s time to build some bridges and tear down some walls,” Ellis said.
And so, the drive to union with Rome continues. It has been the present pope’s stated aim to bring all religions together. It appears that his efforts are meeting with a degree of success. Is all of this not preparation for the one anti-christian church at the end of the age?
Religious Tensions Grow
On many fronts the division between religions, and increasingly between Muslim and Christian, grows. Christianity Today, January 10, 2000, reports concerning growing tensions in Nigeria:
Following the implementation of shari’a (Islamic law) in Zamfara state on October 27, four other states in northern Nigeria—Bauchi, Katsina, Borno, and Yobe—are preparing to adopt shari’a as their legal system. Thousands of
Christians in Kaduna, led by the Christian Association of Nigeria, protested in the streets.
Observers say the states’ decision is pushing Nigeria to the brink of a religious war. The crisis began over two decades ago, when Nigeria’s Muslim political leaders moved to align the country with other Islamic nations, although half the population is Christian.
Muslims predominate in the North, with some estimates running as high as 90 percent of the region’s population. But with a secular constitution, the states’ move toward shari’a—which regulates Muslim life and prescribes punishments such as stoning and beheading—has divided the country even further.
Many Muslim religious leaders are unbending. “It is on the basis of freedom of worship that people in these states, who are predominantly Muslims, want to be governed by the laws of their religion,” says Sheikh Abubakar Jibrin, the imam (Islamic cleric) of Fasfam Mosque in the northeastern city of Sokoto.
…church leaders are not surprised by recent attempts to Islamize the country. “I think that what the states want to do is to formalize what they have been doing secretly before,” says Anglican bishop Benjamin Kwashi. “Having worked in some parts of these states and with some experience around those places, one would know how difficult it is to be there as a Christian and as a Nigerian.”
So the situation worsens in Nigeria, as it does also in other countries which are predominantly Muslim. Increasingly there is a rise of the nations of Gog and Magog against all that which is Christian—or at least nominally so. It is a further sign of the times.
“Presbyterian Synod Supports ‘Holy Unions’ “
The same issue of Christianity Today reports growing support for homosexuals, also in the ministry, within the Presbyterian Church USA. The article states:
A regional body of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) has ruled in support of same-sex unions, as well as the candidacy of noncelibate homosexuals for ordination.
At two separate hearings in New Jersey, the Permanent Judicial Commission of PCUSA’s Northeast Synod upheld homosexual participation in religious ceremonies and offices. The commission ruled 8-2 in favor of the South Presbyterian Church of Dobbs Ferry, New York, continuing to offer “holy union” ceremonies to homosexuals. Proponents of holy unions argued that a union is not the same as a marriage between a man and a woman, and therefore not forbidden by the Presbyterian Book of Order.
Committee members … said in their dissenting opinion that “the blessing of such an activity by a Minister of Word and Sacrament would be unconstitutional and against the policies of the [PCUSA]” because “homosexual practice is a sin.”
The commission also ruled 8-1 in favor of allowing Graham Van Keuren, a non-celibate homosexual seeking to become a minister, to be received as a candidate, the church office that precedes ordination. Clifton Kirkpatrick, who oversees the judicial commission, said it was important to view these rulings as “decisions of a regional body, not PCUSA as a whole.”
The decisions are likely to be appealed to the denomination’s General Assembly.
So the march goes on. Step by step, little by little, section by section, changes take place. So it was with the battle for theistic evolution; so it was with the battle for women in office; so it is now in the battle for full acceptance of the homosexual in the churches. Good is evil; evil has become “good.”
And it does not really matter to so many what the Bible actually teaches on this.