All Around Us

Rev. VanBaren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.

Two Beasts

We often speak of the nearness of the end of time. In fact, throughout the New Testament age the church has testified of this. It is very true that for the past 2,000 years the church could rightly speak of the nearness of the end of time and of Christ's return. Since it is the next great event on that "time-clock" of God, it is properly called "near" even though thousands of years have transpired. The question might arise, however: could another thousand years go by before Christ's return? 

There have always been "normal" disasters. Christ even says concerning the coming of these that the end is not yet. But there have been additional and remarkable signs seen in our generation. There has been the rapid development of mankind in the realm of science and medicine—just think of those things which have happened within our lifetimes! But in addition to that, there is the fulfilling of the Word of God found in Revelation 13. There is revealed the two beasts: one arising out of the sea (one world-power arising out of the instability of nations), and one out of the earth (the rise of one-world church and development of science in a "stable" political scene). Two reports brought this to my attention recently.

The Christian News, May 4, 1998, reports on a call for church unity:

Kampen, the Netherlands (ENI)—

The general secretary of the World Council of Churches has renewed his call for the main Christian churches to start, in the year 2000, a process to lead to a universal Christian council uniting all churches and Christians.

And from the Denver Post, May 7, 1998:

In private parlays from Zurich to Hong Kong, in closed courtrooms from Singapore to Paris, in legal chambers in London and New York, in government offices from Washington to Tokyo, close-knit bands of global planners are writing the rules that will govern the world economy into the 21st century and beyond.

Most of these rules carry an American stamp. With the world's most powerful economy, the United States is exporting its laws and regulations to the rest of the world. The message: anyone who wants to do business in America has to play by American rules.

All this work has two things in common.

First, little of it protects workers or communities, or reins in the power of global markets. Instead, it is aimed at making the markets safer, more efficient and, hence, more powerful.

Second, it is taking place virtually unnoticed and not debated by voters, politicians or the press. To a great degree, the rules are being written by experts and technicians, with no democratic input.

The dread of the global market's power and anarchy has grown since the Asian financial crisis last autumn and dominates debates whenever world economic leaders gather.

"Creating the institutions and arrangements for handling globalization is the greatest intellectual challenge now facing the world," Richard Haas of the Brookings Institution said. "A gap must be filled. This is going to be the next great area of intellectual endeavor."

As the market's power has increased, so have efforts—some governmental, some private, some both—to wrap it in the rules and regulations that long have con

trolled all the major national economies, including the American one.

A global market ultimately requires a one-world power to enforce the rules and regulations adopted by the nations and by the marketplace. Some of this is seen already in the European Common Market, where the individual nations are increasingly submitting to centralized control. And, of course, the United States of America exists as a "common market" because of the centralized control found there. As such control is extended over the nations of the world, one can recognize the rise of the "beast out of the sea." There will be an enforced unity which will surely be the kingdom of the antichrist. Then, even as we are already seeing, the faithful child of God will suffer great persecution, and the attempt will be made to silence the faithful church of Christ.

It is true that we know not the day or the hour of Christ's return. Surely, however, we ought not to deceive ourselves into thinking that hundreds or even thousands of years can transpire before His return.

"Coffee, tea, or He?"

Charles Krauthammer, in an essay appearing in Time magazine, June 15, 1998, writes a very penetrating article concerning religion: conviction—or preference? One is surprised, to say the least, that in a national magazine of the stature of Time an essay of this insight could be presented. But, likely, few will read an article that might pinpoint the vast void in the nation's religious convictions. He writes:

As I checked in for an outpatient test at a local hospital last week, the admissions lady asked for the usual name, rank, serial number, insurance and ailment. Then she inquired, "What is your religious preference?" I was tempted to say, "I think Buddhism is the coolest of all, but I happen to be Jewish."

My second impulse was to repeat what Jonah said when asked by the shipmates of his foundering skiff to identify himself: "I am a Hebrew, ma'am. And I fear the Lord, the God of Heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." But that would surely have got me sent to psychiatry rather than X ray. So I desisted.

In ancient times, they asked, "Who is your God?" A generation ago, they asked your religion. Today your creed is a preference. Preference? "I take my coffee black, my wine red, my sex straight and my shirts lightly starched. Oh yes, and put me down for Islam."

The article continues:

According to Chesterton, tolerance is the virtue of people who do not believe in anything. Chesterton meant that as a critique of tolerance. But it captures nicely the upside of unbelief: where religion is trivialized, one is unlikely to find persecution. When it is believed that on your religion hangs the fate of your immortal soul, the Inquisition follows easily; when it is believed that religion is a breezy consumer preference, religious tolerance flourishes easily. After all, we don't persecute people for their taste in cars. Why for their taste in gods?

Oddly, though, in our thoroughly secularized culture, there is one form of religious intolerance that does survive. And that is the disdain bordering on contempt of the culture makers for the deeply religious, i.e., those for whom religion is not a preference but a conviction.

Yale law professor Stephen Carter calls this "the culture of disbelief," the oppressive assumption that no one of any learning or sophistication could possibly be a religious believer—and the social penalties meted out to those who nonetheless are.

Every manner of political argument is ruled legitimate in our democratic discourse. But invoke the Bible as grounding for your politics, and the First Amendment police will charge you with breaching the sacred wall separating church and state. Carter notes, for example, that one is allowed to have any view on abortion so long as it derives from ethical or practical or sociological or medical considerations. But should someone stand up and oppose abortion for reasons of faith, he is accused of trying to impose his religious beliefs on others. Call on Timothy Leary or Chairman Mao, fine. Call on St. Paul, and all hell breaks loose....

...We've come a long way in America. After two centuries, it seems we finally do have a religious test for office. True religiosity is disqualifying. Well, not quite. Believers may serve—but only if they check their belief at the office door.

At a time when religion is a preference and piety a form of eccentricity suggesting fanaticism, Chesterton needs revision: tolerance is not just the virtue of people who do not believe in anything; tolerance extends only to people who don't believe in anything. Believe in something, and beware. You may not warrant presidential-level attack, but you'll make yourself suspect should you dare enter the naked public square.

But you ought to find and read the entire article yourself. The man (whose "conviction" is evidently the Jewish religion) "hits the nail on the head." How true: anything is condoned and the "rights" of all are insisted upon—except when it is a matter of worshiping the one true God as He has revealed Himself in His Word. It is another indication of the last times in which we live.