The redemption of the world is a long, slow process, extending through the centuries, yet surely approaching an appointed goal. We live in the day of advancing victory, although there are many apparent set-backs. As seen from the human viewpoint it often looks as though the forces of evil are about to gain the upper hand. Periods of spiritual advance and prosperity alternate with periods of spiritual decline and depression. But as one age succeeds another there is progress. Looking back across the nearly two thousand years that have passed since the coming of Christ we can see that there has indeed been marvelous progress. This Process ultimately shall be competed, and before Christ comes again we shall see a Christianized world. This does not mean that all sin ever will be eradicated. There always will be some tares among the wheat until the time of harvest-and the harvest, the Lord tells us, is the end of the world. Even the righteous fall, sometimes grievously, into temptation and sin. But it does mean that Christian principles of life and conduct are to become the accepted standards in public and private life.
That a great spiritual advance has been made should be clear to all. Consider, for instance, the awful moral and spiritual conditions that existed on earth before the coming of Christ,– the world at large groping helplessly in pagan darkness, with slavery, polygamy, the oppressed conditions of women and children, the almost complete lack of political freedom, and the ignorance, poverty, and extremely primitive medical care that was the lot of nearly all except those who belonged to the ruling classes. Today the world at large is on a far higher plane. Christian principles are the accepted standards in many nations even though they are not consistently practiced. Slavery and polygamy have practically disappeared. The status of women and children has been improved immeasurably. Social and economic conditions in almost all nations have reached a new high plateau. A spirit of cooperation is much more manifest among the nations than it has ever been before. International incidents which only a few years ago would have resulted in wars are now usually settled by arbitration. As an evidence of international good will witness the fact that the United States this fiscal year (July, 1957 to July, 1958) appropriated more than three billion dollars for the foreign aid and mutual security program, and since the end of World War II has given to other nations more than sixty billion dollars for these purposes. Since our population is approximately 170,000,000, this means an average contribution of $350 for every man, woman and child in the United States. And this does not include the other very considerable sums that have been given by individuals, churches and other organizations. This huge amount of goods and services has been given freely by this enlightened and predominantly Protestant nation to nations of other races and religions, with no expectation that it ever will be paid back, an effective expression of unselfishness and international good will. That record has never been even remotely approached before by this or any other nation in all the history of the world.
Recently the London Times, the leading newspaper in England, after commending the wisdom and generosity with which the United States acted, said:’There are other things so obvious to us that we take them for granted. But because silence can be misunderstood it is worth saying once again that no nation has ever come into possession of such power for good or ill, for freedom or tyranny, for friendship or enmity among the peoples of the world, and that no nation in history has used those powers, by and large, with greater vision, restraint, responsibility and courage’ (Issue of March 23, 1954).
Today there is much more wealth consecrated to the service of the Church than ever before; and, in spite of the defection toward Modernism in some places, we believe there is far more really earnest evangelistic and missionary activity than at any time in the past. This is indicated by a number of developments. We cite particularly the following.
Up until the time of the Reformation the Bible had been a book for priests only. It was written in Latin, and the Roman Church refused to allow it to be translated into the languages of the common people. But when the Reformers came on the scene all that was changed. The Bible was soon translated into all of the vernacular tongues of Europe, and wherever the light of the Reformation went it became the book of the common people. Decrees of popes and church councils gave way to the Word of life. Luther translated the entire Bible into German for the people of his native land, and within 25 years of its appearance one hundred editions of the German Bible came off the press. The same was true in France, Holland, England, and Scotland. Protestant Bible societies now circulate more Bibles each year than were circulated in the fifteen centuries that preceded the Reformation.
Publishers report that more than 8,000,000 copies of the complete Bible were sold in the United States in 1956. Sales were up about 10 per cent from 1955, which was the previous record year. Incidentally, it is interesting to notice that of the above number the King James Version easily held its place as the popular favorite, its total sales being more than 6,000,000 copies. The Revised Standard Version sold nearly 1,000,000 copies; the Douay Version, the standard Bible for American Roman Catholics, about 750,000; Jewish Bibles about 70,000; modern speech translations such as Moffatt, Goodspeed, etc., about 25,000; the American Standard Version of 1901 and others about 150,000. In addition to the above total many millions of copies of the New Testament and of portions of the Bible were sold.
During the last 150 years the Bible has been translated into all of the major languages of the world. According to the report given at the 1957 annual meeting of the American Bible Society the complete Bible, Old and New Testament, is now available in 210 languages and dialects, the complete New Testament is available in 270 more, and at least one book of the Bible, usually one of the gospels, has been translated into 629 more, for a total of 1109 languages and dialects into which the Bible has been translated in whole or in part. (United Press report, Jan. 12, 1957).
Today the Bible is available in whole or in part in the native tongue of 98 per cent of the people of the world. Surely that must be acknowledged as great progress and as a very broad and substantial basis on which to rear the future structure of Christianity. None of the so-called ‘best seller’ books attain more than a small fraction of the number of Bibles sold.
Furthermore, the Christian message is being broadcast by radio and television in all the principal languages of the world. Several evangelical programs, with nation-wide or world-wide coverage have been launched within recent years-e.g, The Lutheran Hour, Missouri Synod (broadcasting in more than 50 languages); Coral Ridge Ministries (Presbyterian); The Back To God Hour (Christian Reformed, broadcasting in 8 languages); and Family Radio (independent), to name only a few. There are literally hundreds of other radio and television programs, many of which are heard daily. The gospel is thus brought into many a home and into many a sick room where it would not otherwise be heard, and to many a distant farm or lonely mining or lumber camp, to people on the highways and to ships at sea. How marvelous that is, compared with the very limited proclamation that prevailed for so many centuries! The over-all result is that for the first time in history the people of the entire world have the evangelical Christian message made available to them.
The number of theological seminaries, Bible institutes and Christian colleges in which the Bible is studied systematically is growing faster than the population, and the enrollment is increasing steadily. Numerous Christian magazines with very wide circulations have been established within recent years. A considerable proportion of the new books that come from the press either deal directly with Christianity or with some phase of religion .
During the past two centuries the Christian Church has made great progress and has established thousands upon thousands of local churches. It has become customary in the United States to think of the Colonial period as an age of deep faith. Yet the fact is that a large number of the people who came to these shores during that time did so to escape religious oppression in European countries, and they were slow in establishing new churches, Many had no church connection to begin with, or dropped the connection they did have, as has so often been the case in frontier or pioneer settlements. The Pilgrims and Puritans were the exception to the rule, but while they were strong in some sections other sections were quite different. Professor Leonard Verduin, of the Department of History in the University of Michigan has this to say regarding church membership in the colonial period:
‘The first century and a half of American history was a mere elongation of European establishmentism. Throughout the colonies by and large there was a favored church. And, contrary to a legend which one often hears that those were golden days, America was never so near to being post-Christian as it was at the end of those 150 years. Competent historians find not more than 8 per cent of the adult population church-related. Then came the Revolution, and out of it was born the federal constitution. As by a divine economy it was laid down once and for all in the First Amendment that establishment was to be ‘out’ in this new commonwealth. And, even as a patient sometimes rallies in an amazing fashion at the injection of sulfa, so did this new commonwealth from that moment on witness the return of religion. Steadily, without fluctuation, the figure of the percentage of church membership rises, until today we stand at an all time high-not far below 60 per cent of the population today holding church membership’ (The Reformed Journal, Jan. 1953).
We may add that in 1870 church membership in the United States stood at 18 per cent, a percentage increase three times that of the Revolutionary War period. Today it stands at an all time high of 61 per cent, an increase of 4 per cent within the last five years. Of these, 35 per cent are members of Protestant churches, 20 per cent are Roman Catholics (Year Book of American Churches, 1956). So-called Modernism or Liberalism has indeed risen in some quarters to deny a greater or lesser portion of the faith. But Modernism has nothing positive to offer. Its leading advocates set forth conflicting systems, and in effect acknowledge that the system is bankrupt. We are confident that after the present season of criticism and testing of the foundations is over we shall have a grander and stronger edifice of theology than the ages have yet seen.
Statistics indicate that the world over Christianity has grown more in the last one hundred years than in the preceding eighteen hundred, and that it now has a considerably larger number of nominal adherents than the combined total of any other two world religions. These figures show that of a total world population of about two and one-half billion there are approximately 800,000,000 Christians, 350,000,000 Confucianists (including Taoists), 320,000,000 Moslems, 310,000,000 Hindus, 150,000,000 Buddhists, 20,000,000 Shintoists, and 12,000,000 Jews. And while many of those who are counted as Christians are only ‘nominally’ such, the proportion of true Christians probably is as great or greater than is the proportion of true adherents in any of the pagan religions. All of the other religions, with the exception of Muhammadanism, are much older than Christianity. All of the false religions are dying. Christianity alone is able to grow and flourish under modern civilization, while all of the others soon disintegrate when brought under its glaring light.
We feet perfectly confident in asserting that all of the anti-Christian religions and anti-Christian philosophies of our day are demonstrably false. Their histories show what complete failures they have been so far as raising the moral, spiritual and intellectual standards of their adherents is concerned. They await only the coup de grace of an aroused and energetic Christianity to send them into oblivion. In this connection Dr. Albertus Pieters has well said: ‘In the early church Ebionitism, Gnosticism, Montanism, Arianism and Pelagianism endangered the life of the church. They are remembered now only by church historians. Later it was Romanism and Socinianism. In modern life it is Unitarianism, Modernism, Mormonism, Russelism, Christian Science, Spiritualism, etc.,-a long list of movements of Satanic origin that comes on like a flood, and for a time make timid believers afraid that the church will be overwhelmed and the gospel permanently lost to the world– but it never comes to pass. The present heresies will disappear as did those of the past’ (Studies in the Revelation of St. John, p. 165).
Only within the last one hundred years have foreign missions really come into their own. As they have recently been developed, with great church organizations behind them and with extensive facilities for translating and publishing Christian literature in many languages, they are in a position to carry on a work of evangelism in foreign lands such as the world has never seen before. It is safe to say that the present generation living in India, China, Japan, Korea, Indo-China and the Near East have seen greater changes in religion, society and government than occurred in the preceding two thousand years. Not only has the foundation been laid in most of these countries for a further evangelical advance, but under the benign influence of the Church innumerable local churches, schools and hospitals have been founded, ethical culture and social services have advanced greatly, and moral standards are much higher today than when the Church was first established. That we may get a truer view of the progress that has been made we cite the following picture of the early world into which Christianity came, as given by Dr. William Hendriksen:
‘Let us transplant ourselves to the world of John the apostle, and imagine that the slow finger of history’s clock is pointing to the first century A. D. Now, look around you in every direction. What a picture of spiritual darkness and desolation! Try to count the many idols that disgrace the streets and sanctuaries of imperial Rome. The abominations, the filth and corruption attendant upon the celebration of pagan festivals, the superstitions, vices, etc., are very staggering. Temples and shrines throughout the world are crowded with ignorant, half-despairing worshippers. We see a few scattered churches established by the efforts of Paul and others. For the rest, heathendom is everywhere triumphant. All the nations — with the exception of the Jews– are under the thraldom of Satan!’ (More Than Conquerors, p. 224).
When we contrast the rapid spread of Christianity in recent years with the rapid disintegration that is taking place in all of the other world religions, it becomes very clear that Christianity is the future world religion. There are, however, some who tell us in all seriousness that the world is getting worse. Surely they are prompted to do so only in defense of a theory that clearly is contradicted by the facts. In response to such reasoning Dr. Snowden says:
‘The true way of judging the world is to compare its present with its past condition and note in which direction it is moving. Is it going backward, or forward, is it getting worse or better? It may be wrapped in gloomy twilight, but is it the twilight of the evening, or of the morning? Are the shadows deepening into starless night, or are they fleeing before the rising sun? One glance at the world as it is today compared with what it was ten or twenty centuries ago shows us that it has swept through a wide arc and is moving toward the morning’ ( The Coming of the Lord, p. 250).
But while great progress has been made as the Church has extended her witness to the far corners of the earth, much the greater part of the work yet remains to be accomplished. Adherents of the pagan religions still outnumber those of the Christian faith, and even within the Church there is a crying need for a fuller knowledge of the contents of the Christian faith and for a much more consistent living in accordance with those principles on the part of professing Christian people. The binding of Satan, described in Revelation 20:1-3, we now perceive to be not a sudden event, but a very long, slow process. It has been in process of accomplishment for more than nineteen centuries, and much progress has been made. But no time limit can be set as to how much longer the process may have to be continued before it is crowned with success, nor how long the era of righteousness will prevail over the earth before the Lord returns. The nineteen centuries that have elapsed since the Christian era began may well indicate that several more centuries, perhaps even millenniums, may be required, particularly if devastating wars yet remain to be fought, as is of course perfectly possible.
Skeptics sometimes point to present day evils and tell us that we are living in a post-Christian age. But, no, there has never yet been a truly Christian age, nor has so much as one nation ever been consistently Christian. The age in which we are living is still pre-Christian.
That the progress of the Church through these years has been slow is due to the fact that Christians in general have not taken seriously Christ’s command to evangelize the world. The Great Commission is addressed not merely to ministers and missionaries, but to all Christians everywhere. No distinction is made in this command between ministers and laymen. The command applies to parents rearing their children, to children in regard to their parents, to individuals in whatever relationship they stand to their neighbors or business or social companions, to those who teach in the schools, to employers and employees in their mutual relationships, to writers, newsmen, statesmen, to Christians in general regardless of occupation or station in life. The Gospel is the ‘good news’ of the salvation that God has provided for sinful men, and it should be given out by all who have it,– given out by word of mouth, through the example of a Christian life, and by the effective and generous use of money or property or time as opportunity affords. Oftentimes a word sincerely spoken by a friend or neighbor to one who is outside the Church is more persuasive than what is said by the minister. It has been said: ‘No one can perform a higher service than this — to make more accessible the riches that are in Christ Jesus.’ Let Christians everywhere take seriously the command to evangelize the world and the work will be accomplished in a comparatively short time.
Roderick Campbell has well said:
‘Some day the Christian church will learn to profit by the bitter experience of the church and nation of the Old Covenant. Two very pointed and useful lessons may be learned from the records of the past. Israel had been commanded by God to march in and take possession of the Promised Land. About one year after they left Egypt they reached the borders of the land. Then their faith and their courage failed. ‘Let us make a captain,’ they say, ‘and let us return into Egypt.’ What is the result? — forty weary years of wandering among the rocks and the sand of the desert, and the death of that entire adult generation with the exception of two men of faith ( cf. Nu. 14; 32:10-13).
‘The other lesson is equally profitable and clear. A new army under Joshua entered the land. It won its first signal victory at Jericho. It then met bitter and humiliating defeat. Why? Israel had sinned. The guilty party must be punished and every forbidden thing destroyed before victory could be achieved. When this was done Israel found itself on the side of the Almighty ( Joshua 7). God fought for Israel with a mighty hand. The fulfillment of prophecy awaits the day when the church will really believe that God will do all that He has promised to do, and when the church will sincerely aim at entire conformity to the revealed will of God. Then, by the agency of imperfect but faithful men, we may expect God to do what He has promised to do’ (Israel and the New Covenant, p. 162).
Premillennialists sometimes try to refute this general view by citing the question asked in Luke 18:8, ‘When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?’ And they infer that the answer must be ‘No.’ But in order to give a negative answer to this question it is necessary to ignore the many statements in Scripture which describe the latter day glory of the Church. Surely an answer which at first might seem to be implied but which is not given in Scripture should not be allowed to overweigh the many references which speak of the triumph of righteousness in the earth. We submit that a question such as that in Luke 18:8 does not necessarily require a negative answer. When in the farewell discourse to the disciples Jesus asked, ‘Do ye now believe?’ (John 16:31), no answer is given, but we do not believe that the implied answer is ‘No.’ When Paul asked, ‘King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets?’ (Acts 26:27), the implied answer might seem to be ‘No,’ for there was little to indicate that Agrippa did believe. But Paul quickly adds, ‘I know that thou believest.’
In closing this chapter we should point out that some postmillennial writers, as well as others, have fallen into the error of assuming too rapid progress. Dr. Snowden, for instance, after showing so clearly the error of the Premillennialists in date-setting and in assuming the near return of Christ, went on to make the same kind of an error in assuming that the Millennium was just about to dawn. In his book, The Coming of the Lord, written while the First World War was in progress, he assumed that the successful conclusion of the war, which he saw as in the near future, would put an end to militarism forever, and that it would be followed by a rapid development toward the millennial era. That the lessons learned from the First World War should have had that effect we readily agree. But whether the time will be long or short we have no way of knowing. This we can say: Postmillennialism does not despair of the power of the Gospel to convert the world, but holds rather that it cannot be defeated, that over the centuries it will win its way, and that eventually the goal will be achieved.
In the light of these facts we face the future confident that the best is yet to be. Let Christians everywhere thank God for the progress that has been made and take courage, Their future is as bright as the promises of God.