Welcome to the age of revolution! In this lesson, we will look at five of the most important revolutions in modern history through the lenses of the Renaissance and the Reformation. We have looked at both the Renaissance and the Reformation in our previous two session and now it is time to begin assessing the impact each has made on history. By looking at the results of the English "Bloodless Revolution," the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution and the Industrial Revolution we will briefly trace how the Renaissance and the Reformation and the world views formed by them have contributed to influence the development of the modern world.
One of the most significant impacts of the Reformation tends to be virtually unnoticed in our current view of the world. Political freedom in the modern world can be traced back to the biblical freedom which was a result of the Reformation. "The Reformation did not bring social or political perfection, but it did gradually bring forth a vast and unique improvement. What the Reformation's return to biblical teaching gave society was the opportunity for tremendous freedom, but without chaos.” True individual freedom came about when a society or culture accepted the absolutes of the Bible as foundation of their government and law. These biblical values gave man freedom without that freedom leading to chaos.
Freedom is something that is not associated with the Bible. We are not taught that true freedom can only be achieved by the acceptance of biblical absolutes as governing principles. Many would claim that freedom was handed down to us from the Greeks or from Roman Law while ignoring the fact that no previous society came close to providing the world with what was produced by the Reformation. It was the Reformation that gave us "the basis for freedom without chaos."
Francis Schaeffer cites the mural, Justice Lifts the Nations by Paul Robert, as an example of what the Reformation gave us. "Robert wanted to remind them that the place which the Reformation gave to the Bible provided a basis not only for morals but for law. Robert pictured many types of legal cases in the foreground and the judges in their black robes standing behind the judges' bench. The problem is neatly posed: How shall the judges judge? On what basis shall they proceed so that their judgment will not be arbitrary? Above them Robert painted justice standing un-blindfolded, with her sword pointed not vertically upward but downward toward a book, and on the book is written - The Law of God. This painting expressed the sociological base, the legal base, in northern Europe after the Reformation. Paul Robert understood what the Reformation was all about in the area of law. It is the Bible which gives a base to law." Schaeffer goes on to quote Alexandre Vinet (1797-1847) who was a leading representative of French Protestantism in his day as saying, "Christianity is the immortal seed of freedom of the world." This is a thought that is hardly expressed today in Christian circles let alone in our culture.
The impact of the Bible on law is not limited to courtrooms but rather it impacts "the entire structure of a society, including the government." The Bible's influence on the governments of the Reformation countries is the greatest impact of the Reformation. What has come to be called the "constitutionalist model of government" was "implicit in Presbyterian church government" and highlighted the "principle of political limitation." The principle of political limitation allowed Reformation countries, most noticeably England, and its citizens to enjoy freedom "from arbitrary governmental power in an age when in other countries the advance toward absolutist political options was restricting liberty of expression."
It was the biblical concept of the responsibility of the people, including its kings and leaders, to be obedient to the laws of God, to laws that were established by a higher authority, laws that were absolute if you will, that came to separate the governments of the Reformation countries from those governments ruling by authoritarian control over its citizens. This was the principle of the Samuel Rutherford's (1600-1661) book Lex Rex, Law is King. The book, published in 1644, based its concept of government on a biblical foundation "rather than of the arbitrary decisions of men - because the Bible as the final authority was there as the base. This went beyond the Conciliar Movement and early medieval parliaments, for these had no base beyond inconsistent church pronouncements and the changing winds of political events." It was only where the Bible was the foundation of law that man was able to enjoy "freedom without chaos."
Rutherford and his book, Rex Lex., had a great influence on the development of the United States Constitution. This influence came about through the personage of John Witherspoon and the writings of English philosopher John Locke. Witherspoon (1723-1794), a Presbyterian clergyman, President of Princeton University (then known as the College of New Jersey) was the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence. He was instrumental in incorporating the principles of Rex Lex into the Constitution as he was an influential member of a number committees of the Continental Congress.
John Locke's (1632-1704) writings, while "secularizing the Presbyterian tradition," emphasized several of its key features. "He stressed inalienable rights, government by consent, separation of powers, and the right of revolution. But the biblical base for these is discovered in Rutherford's work. Without this biblical background, the whole system would be without a foundation." It was Thomas Jefferson who incorporated much of Locke's secularized form of Rex Lex into the Constitution. It is worth noting that while Locke stated many of the results of which come from Christianity in his writings but he clearly never grasped the understanding of the Bible that produced them.
It is clear that the United States Constitution owes much to Reformation and to the basis, the authority of the Bible, upon which the Reformation was built. It is likely with the Constitution in mind that Schaeffer concludes "To whatever degree a society allows the teaching of the Bible to bring forth its natural conclusions, it is able to have form and freedom in society and government."
The Reformation's emphasis on the Bible brought to light two significant items that would provide a profound impact on society and government. The first was the idea that man does not need to be governed by consensus or by popular vote if the absolutes of the Bible provide the foundation for judgement. In the words of Schaeffer, "51 percent of the vote never becomes the final source of right and wrong in government because the absolutes of the Bible are available to judge a society. The 'little man,' the private citizen, can at any time stand up and, on the basis of biblical teaching, say that the majority is wrong.” By practicing biblical teaching “one can control the despotism of the majority vote or the despotism of one person or group."
The second important item that Reformation thinking helped refine was that of the need for "checks and balances in government." The reformer's understanding that with the fall of man and all men are sinners the needs for a strong system of checks and balances in government, for the people in power. While the methods and types of checks and balances differed in each Reformation country, they all adopted a system of checks and balances. One only needs to look at the one that our founders developed for the United States as an example. "The White House covers the executive administration; Congress, in two balanced parts, is the legislature; the Supreme Court embodies the judiciary."
These two items did much to provide a viable form of government that reduced or eliminated the chaos that comes with a society that is without absolutes, or the recognition of the corruptibility of man.
The Reformation made a significant contribution to political reform. Like Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities (1859), most modern governments can trace their roots either to the Renaissance or the Reformation. Governments follow after either the Goddess of Reason as France did, or they adopt a form of government with Reformation roots.
If one does a Goggle search on the phrase "bloodless revolution," one will find many hits for a popular book on vegetarianism. However, the true bloodless revolution was a term that historians have applied to the revolution that took place in England in 1688. It was at this time that Parliament and the English monarchy became equal partners. "This arrangement brought about the deliberate control of the monarchy within specific legal bounds." Schaeffer, quoting the French Philosopher Voltaire, points to this event as the first time that a monarchy was constrained to do good and not evil by law and that a government was established with powers that delineated the role of the monarchy and the people. "The English are the only people upon earth who have been able to prescribe limits to the power of Kings by resisting them, and who, by a series of struggles, have at last established . . . that wise government where the prince is all powerful to do good, and at the same time is restrained from committing evil . . . and where the people share in the government without confusion."
In contrast to England's "bloodless revolution, France when it tried to bring about a similar change experienced a bloody revolution that resulted in the death of more than forty thousand of its citizens and ended with the authoritarian rule of Napoleon Bonaparte. France attempted to achieve political change along the lines of the English but it did so on an Enlightenment base rather than a Reformation base. The Enlightenment evolved from the Renaissance and rested on humanist elements from the Renaissance. "The humanistic elements which had risen during the Renaissance came to flood tide in the Enlightenment. Here was man starting from himself absolutely. And if the humanistic elements of the Renaissance stand in sharp contrast to the Reformation, the Enlightenment was in total antithesis to it. The two stood for and were based upon absolutely different things in an absolute way, and they produced absolutely different results."
The world view of the Enlightenment thinkers was that "man and society were perfectible." Ironically even with the period of the French Revolution known as the "Reign of Terror" leaders of the Enlightenment period clung to the "idea of the limitless perfectibility of the human species . . . " As Schaeffer tells us: "The utopian dream of the Enlightenment can be summed up by five words: reason, nature, happiness, progress, and liberty. It was thoroughly secular in its thinking." And unlike the English, the French without a Christian base could build only on man and that was not enough. The French Revolution brought about a bloodbath and another authoritarian leader. "How quickly all the humanist ideals came to grief. In September 1792 began the massacre in which some 1,300 prisoners were killed. Before it was all over, the government and its agents killed 40,000 people, many of them peasants. Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794), the revolutionary leader, was himself executed in July 1794. This destruction came not from outside the system; it was produced by the system."
The French Revolution, which came shortly on the heels of the American Revolution, has mistakenly been compared with it. In reality, there are more similarities between the American Revolution and the Bloodless Revolution of the English than there are between the American and French Revolutions. But there are strong parallels between the French revolution and the later Russian Revolution.
Even a cursory historical glance at the political fortunes of those countries that came under the influence of the biblically based Reformation shows a remarkable difference between those countries that did not. The results that were produced from the Reformation are in great contrast with those that have been produced from countries that have adopted a "humanist" world view. The humanist world view can best be identified, at least initially, with modern-day socialism or Communism.
The countries of the Reformation were able to experience freedom without chaos. The countries that fell under Communist influence were not as fortunate. "Marxist-Leninist Communists have a great liability in arguing their case because so far in no place have the Communists gained and continued in power, building on their materialistic base, without repressive policies. And they have not only stifled political freedom but freedom in every area of life, including the arts."
The Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn is quoted by Schaeffer as saying in Communism: A Legacy of Terror (1975), "I repeat, this was March 1918 - only four months after the October Revolution - all the representatives of the Petrograd factories were cursing the Communists, who had deceived them in all their promises. What is more, not only had they abandoned Petrograd to cold and hunger, themselves having fled from Petrograd to Moscow, but had given orders to machine gun the crowds of workers in the courtyards of the factories who were demanding the election of independent factory committees." The Humanistic ideal of utopia and the perfectability of man and society, once again, ended in bloodshed and authoritarian rule.
"Communists speak about 'socialism' and 'communism,' maintaining that socialism is only the temporary stage, with a utopian communism ahead. . . . and not only have they not achieved the goal of 'communism' anywhere, they have not even come to a free socialism." It is no accident that Socialism and Communism have led to government by dictatorship, by a ruling elite, that is not only not temporary, but that it is without freedom. One cannot find the freedom of the Reformation in any government built on the platform of humanism.
Has the world so quickly forgotten the millions of Russians that died by “internal repression?” Do we remember the repressions of Lenin, the purges of Stalin, “the Berlin Wall built in 1961 to confine the people of East Germany by force, or the disappearance of freedom in China?” If we can detect anything of the difference between the Reformation countries and the countries whose roots have been firmly planted in Humanism, how can we continue to “minimize the riches in government and society which came forth from the Reformation?” Granting the fact that countries with Reformation roots have not been perfect, how can we continue to deny the biblical basis of the Reformation has produced the only world view that has granted man the experience of Freedom without chaos or tyranny.
“Even in those places where the Reformation consensus was less consistent than it should have been, on the basis of the biblical view there were absolutes on which to combat injustice. Men like Shaftesbury, Wilberforce, and Wesley could say that the evils and injustices which they fought were absolutely wrong. And even if we must say with sorrow that all too often Christians were silent when they should have spoken out, especially in the areas of race and the compassionate use of accumulated wealth, the Christians who were silent were inconsistent with their position.”
Why do we continue to chase after the Goddess of Humanism, who says that there are no absolutes, that whether or not things are right or wrong is all relative? What is so attractive about an impersonal universe that leaves the determination of right or wrong, cruel or un cruel to each individual? Humanism without a way to provide absolutes can only lead man, ultimately to despondency and death.
Why can we not recognize and accept that it is only on a biblical basis, with its absolutes that man say “that certain things are right or wrong, including racial discrimination and social injustice?” Why can man not grasp that because “ . . . God exists and there are absolutes, justice can be seen as absolutely good and not as merely expedient.” When will man learn that freedom can only come from God, and that all our efforts to build the “tower of Babel,” to exert our own will always end in despondency and death? Not matter how romantically we paint the picture of man without God - man without God is a man without Freedom.