What Happened?

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I have borrowed the title of Hillary Clinton’s new book to use as the title of this blog posting concerning what is happening in America today and why. You will notice that I have added a question mark. Hillary is sure she knows what happened to cause her election defeat, and there are no questions; in this posting I am giving only my carefully thought-through, considered, opinion for your consideration.

I believe answering the question “What happened?” is a prerequisite to discovering the answer to what you may see as a more urgent one: “Where do we go from here?” However, where we have been is essential to understanding where we are going.

During a culture change, as we are beginning to experience now in America, there is always a leaving behind of previous cultural norms or customs and a starting anew, a “re-education” of the populace in the norms of the new culture. These can be changes we embrace and are eager to make, or they can be changes that we see as negative and we resist. It is important that we are aware of what is occurring.  

During my lifetime, I have experienced the end of one culture-changing era, called by secular historians the Industrial Revolution, and the beginning of another, now popularly known as the Information Age.

The Industrial Revolution began in the early 1700’s and was fueled by several factors. Three major ones were: 1.) the collapse in the restrictive, repressive feudal system in Europe, 2.) the expansion of world commercial markets due to exploration, and 3.) the new freedom and liberty experienced by all as a result of the Reformation. These helped set the stage for the most dramatic changes, up until that time, in the history of mankind.

Man is made in God’s image, and one aspect of that image is creativity. Now set free from religious and economic bondage by the Reformation, man was released to function as God made him to function, and life-changing inventions and discoveries began to flow from him like a river as a result.

The Reformation had rekindled, consciously in some but unconsciously in most, the creation-vision God had for man and then placed in his heart when He created him: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness, and let them have dominion . . . over all the earth’” (Genesis 1:26). Man was released at the Reformation to once again fulfill that for which he was created. In this passage from Genesis, God clearly tells us our purpose for life, the reason we exist, why we live. Should not this be the foundation for every sermon preached and every book written about man and his journey on the earth?

This vision of God’s purpose for man, to be His representative, His vice-regent, to rule over the earth for Him, had been lost at the fall in the Garden of Eden. It was re-instituted at the cross, re-discovered at the Reformation and now expressed in the Industrial Revolution. It began in England and then spread throughout Europe, America and eventually the whole world. In the process, man, still sinful but now redeemed at the cross, was fulfilling his creation mandate! Empowered by God’s Spirit, according to God’s law, He was learning, however imperfectly, to overcome difficulties, problems and the opposition from Satan in order to rule over the earth for God! The results were incredible!

Machines took the place of human labor, which were soon powered by steam and other forms of energy in factories where products were, no longer individually made, but now mass produced. Invention and innovation in agricultural production and processing, transportation, manufacturing  and energy availability exploded, and every aspect of life was changed. Man was learning to “rule well” over the task God had given him.

As a teen-ager in the 1950’s, I experienced the halcyon days of this era, and by the time I married and had a family of my own, cultural change was already in the air. Decline had begun decades earlier, but the turmoil of the 1960’s and the 1970’s signified the “beginning of the end” of this age.

The Industrial Revolution had been dominated by biblical cultural moral values. However, subtly, inconspicuously, and unknowingly, they had become no longer internal and heartfelt. Eventually, as a nation, we began to take credit ourselves for the prosperity of the Industrial Revolution. The pride and arrogance that so often accompanies success rendered the previous moral values only external, meaningless holdovers from previous generations. Thus, they were easily discarded by a culture that still enjoyed the fruit of the previous era, but now rejected the root—the gospel of Jesus Christ—that had been restored by the Reformation, creating “Western Civilization.” 

Where was the church during this decline? A church that had seen this vision clearly and had determined cultural values in America since 1620 was now nowhere to be found in the public square—in education, in politics or anywhere in the real world where we live daily. It had completely lost its influence in society. How did that happen? The answer is surprising.

In the mid 1800’s a priest in the Anglican Church of Ireland, John Darby, became disenchanted with the State-associated, formalized Anglican Church and its lifelessness. He resigned his clerical position, and joined with some others to form what we know today as the Plymouth Brethren. They had no clergy, no liturgy, and met around the communion table each week with no formal leader or preacher, patterning themselves after the New Testament church.

From this beginning, Darby eventually developed a new interpretation of ancient premillennial theology that included, among other distinctions, the imminent (at any time) return of Jesus to the earth to “rapture” (carry away) His saints. He taught that this would rescue His church from having to go through a seven-year time of great tribulation on the earth. They would then return with Jesus to rule with Him in His kingdom for a thousand years.

This new theology was called “dispensationalism,” and it became very popular in evangelical-fundamentalist circles in England and eventually in America as well. In the early 20th century the hugely popular Scofield Bible was published, which taught this theology in its notes, and today most fundamentalist-evangelicals adhere in some manner to dispensationalism, generally its prophetic teaching about future events, although they may have never heard the term “dispensationalism.”

Simultaneous to the rise of dispensationalism in Europe in the mid 19th century were two other significant developments—the publications of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848 and the Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin in 1859. I believe all three of these legs were necessary to seat us firmly on the stool where we sit as a nation today. How so? That is the topic of next week’s post.

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  1. Bob says:

    I really appreciate the insights about the industrial revolution and its association with the reformation. Looking forward to seeing where the next installment takes us.

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