I’d like to present the story of what God is doing in history with a slightly different angle than you may have heard before.
Phase 1 – The Return.
Jesus did not simply go to heaven when he died. He could have just been up there just sitting with God the Father but he did more — He returned to earth in a resurrected body. It was in this resurrected body that he gave the disciples the great commission, saying that “all authority” had been given to him and they were “disciple all the nations.” Jesus had been crucified for being the “King of the Jews,” but now he has returned.
Put this in another context: as analogy, think about Napoloen. He was exiled for claiming to be ruler of the Franks. Then he returned in bodily form. His simple return from exile was an act of defiance and war. He immediately began his conquest again.
This is exactly what Jesus did. After being crucified, he only came back with greater strength. He returned a conqueror. He had not been defeated but had come back stronger. Except, he had defeated something far greater than his natural enemies. He had defeated death itself. Therefore, Jesus re-emergence on the earth was literally the presence of a new world order. He set foot on the planet and commissioned his disciples to extend this order to all the ends of the earth. The conquest of life over death, freedom over bondage, health over sickness, holiness over sin, had begun.
Phase 2 – Establishing a Beachhead
His disciples faithfully took this message aggressively to the far corners of the world. East into Persia, and as far as India and eventually China. South to Ethiopia, the doorway to Africa. North to the Caucuses and West to Rome. The conquest of life over death had begun. The explosive power of the church made major inroads everywhere it went. This was the Holy Spirit, but it was more — it was the risen Christ resident in his people. It was the spirit of the conqueror manifesting through the love and power of his followers. They were bringing onto the earth a completely new Kingdom, not to take over the old, but to replace it. This is an important distinction. If Jesus had wanted to take over, he could have taken Satan’s offer to rule all of the Kingdoms of this world, or at least the Jews offer to make him King. Instead, he inaugurated a new Kingdom of a new type with his return to earth.
The war was brought against them by the powers and princes of this world. Just as they attacked Christ, so they attacked the messengers of his Kingdom. Just as they could not stop Him, they could not stop the messengers either. Just as he gained life through death, so through their deaths, even more were brought to life. The first phase of this conquest ended with Armenia, Ethiopia and Rome all becoming officially Christian.
Phase 3 – Defending the Beachhead
Rome then split into two parts. Of these four, three of them all ended in the same way — with the church no longer persecuted, but enmeshed in the state. There would be one official state doctrine and state church. All others would be persecuted. This meant that instead of pagans killing Christians, Christians would persecute other Christians. Every point of theology must be agreed or you would not be welcomed in the empire. The state was tamed, made more merciful — such as the outlaw of gladitorial games, and the practice of exile instead of execution — but persecution could still arise again at any time against true Christians by those holding power who claimed also to be Christian. Powerful heresies like Arianism competed for control of the state against orthodox doctrine. Eventually this allegiance of political power and the state led to a dead version of Christianity, looking almost nothing like the New Testament stories.
Phase 4 – Transformation
In the West, there was too much chaos to enforce a single state church. Although the pope enforced a single doctrine, for more than a thousand years, wars would be fought over who was really in control — the church or the state. This battle left space for regular people to make a mark. First they joined monasteries. Then these monasteries began to produce great leaders, and eventually these great leaders gained control of the church. These leaders purified the church and sent preachers back again to the regular people. This led to the start of many mass movements. Each took a different version of Christian truth, but each represented regular people taking real heart belief in the words of the New Testament. Many reformers emerged, but all failed to bring lasting and permanent reform to the church.
Phase 5 – Freedom
Then a man named Martin Luther emerged, under protection of the state, and spoke the truth to Rome. They could not stop him and people everywhere took a hold of their religion. The began to believe in a religion where a direct personal relationship with God was possible instead of one with priest and popes in the way. Half of Europe fell to this vision. Luther’s and Calvin’s churches were still enmeshed with the state, but they had redefined Christianity as a religion of internal piety instead of one of formal externals. This version of Christianity took hold in Northern Europe, but especially in the England and Scotland, and eventually in the English colony of America. Protestants of every stripe came to America and established a new kind of government, one that would be based on individual freedom, limited government, and Chrisitan morality, but which would not directly enmesh the church with the state. This meant that the state could and would no longer persecute the true church because it disagreed with the political church. Although there were always believers in the political church, the political had persecuted the believing church in spells ever since the conquest of Rome.
Phase 6 – Globalization
Even before freedom was achieved, the rise of Western power created a situation where the a form of the Gospel could go around the world. The Americas were discovered and colonized not by Muslims or Asians, but by Christians, and so an entire half of the world fell under the sway of a form of Christianity. As the purified form of Christianity arose in Britain and then America, they began to gain increasing power. Freedom, which based on Christianity, began to be projected around the world. State power, the instrument of Satan’s persecution was being rolled back now on a global scale. This led to a massive expansion of the Gospel worldwide. Having a friendly but non-controlling state behind it, the church was able to make massive advances in places where it had never succeeded before. Christianity became a global religion.
Phase 7 – Conflict and ?
All of this has led up to now. The global church in new places and cultures that we could have never imagined, but the historical church is in decline. The United States holds the current world order in place, but is in threat of being taken over by the enemy or replaced by another hostile power. If this happened today, it would lead to a significant roll back of gains. A radical re-engagement is necessary.
The master theme of church history is purification and expansion against hostile powers. Satan is always raising up non-Christian powers, even a non-Christian “church” to persecute the true church, but over the centuries the church is always advancing, becoming more pure, gaining influence over a greater and greater part of the world, neutralizing the powers of this world to stop it. All the meantime the church which is appearing looks more like Him, worshiping him more in the way he has longed for since the dawn of creation.
What does this mean for you? You cannot win a battle if you do not understand and engage the enemy. We are locked in a multi-generational struggle for history. We must purify the church, and fight back the powers of this world so that we can expand the church worldwide. We must pass a powerful form of Christianity down to our children that will gain even more ground for God, manifesting his presence in even greater dimensions.