Religion’s Tidal Wave—The Final Reckoning
BONFIRES crackle, sparklers flash, rockets rush to color the sky red, blue, yellow, and green. Potatoes in their jackets. Peals of laughter, shrieks of delight. Bonfire Night in England.
WORKERS found the 25 corpses by accident. The skeletons had been carefully buried, arms folded. Historians thus stumbled onto a trail of mystery going back some 200 years. Quebec, Canada.
The above are two unconnected events with a common root—the Reformation.
AN ARTICLE in our October 1 issue showed that Europe witnessed tremendous religious upheaval in the 16th century. The results spread to other parts of the world. Many aspects of life today are nothing more than gullies left by the Reformation waters. Perhaps they even influence your daily routine. Still more important, we stand on the brink of a final religious catastrophe that will definitely affect your life. Do you know how?
Trace the Reformation tracks in the following countries:
Germany: Some say that Luther’s influence on German culture is unequaled by that of any individual in the English-speaking world. His translation of the Scriptures is one of the most widely accepted German Bibles. Luther did much to set the tone of the language and to lay the framework for German domestic relations. He made the State recognize the need for schooling for all, elevating the status of the teaching profession.
Canada: The colonial past saw Britain and France engaged in a tug-of-war that left its mark on one province in particular—Quebec. Originally settled by French Catholic immigrants, Quebec came under British, and hence Protestant, control in 1763. It was shortly before then that the corpses mentioned at the start of this article were secretly buried near the fortified walls of the city. Why secretly? Because they seem to have been Protestants, who at that time were denied burial in Catholic cemeteries. Quebec still stands as an island of French-speaking Catholicism, and this gives rise to modern separatist movements.
Ireland: Unimpressed by the Reformation, the Emerald Isle kept its distance. In time, Protestant influence seeped across the Irish Sea from England into the northern provinces. The legacy today is a partitioned Ireland. Annual summer marches in Ulster commemorate Protestant victories of the past. Celebrations commonly leave a trail of barricades, bombs, and plastic bullets. The Orange Day Parade in July 1986 left 160 injured. It memorialized the day some 300 years ago when King William of Orange, who made Protestantism in Britain secure, defeated England’s last Catholic monarch, James II.
United States: “[The] variety of sects with differing European backgrounds was a potent factor in bringing about religious freedom in America,” writes A. P. Stokes in Church and State in the United States. Colonial days saw the United States draped in Protestant colors. Calvinist values gave direction in religion, politics, and commerce. The fundamental belief was that each man stood directly accountable to his Creator without priestly mediation. This ideal bred a character intent on working out its own destiny, on reaping the rewards of its own labor.
T. H. White recalls in his book In Search of History that at the turn of this century, 13 percent of the U.S. population was Catholic. This proportion rose to over 25 percent by 1960. Even so, few Catholics attained to the upper reaches of politics. White continues: “At the higher level of the Senate, where war and peace were made, where treaties and foreign policy were decided, where Supreme Court Justices were confirmed, Americans still preferred Protestants of the old tradition as custodians of national purpose.” The custom was broken when John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic president of the United States.
For further examples from other countries, please see box on page 29.
A Swamped Landscape
Under Protestantism, theological debate swelled, and Bible translations and commentaries came to float on the tide of liberty and individual expression. However, as time passed, freedom dredged Bible criticism to the surface. New ideas were accommodated; self-determination became the order of the day. Progress was no longer the gentle lapping of waves but the thunderous roar of breakers. The powerful current of reform swept away the very foundations of traditional Christian doctrine. Modern alternatives like evolution, women’s liberation, and the ‘new morality’ have been washed up like driftwood, silent witnesses to the storm. Personalized religion in some Protestant lands left each individual stranded, a castaway on his own lonely island of faith.
Terrain in Protestant areas is molded by a penchant for questioning established norms. People are raised on a credo of progress, freedom, and human rights. Max Weber, German sociologist and economist, published an essay in 1904 on Protestantism and capitalism. He stated that capitalism was not simply a result of the Reformation. But he did discover that in successful capitalist areas of mixed religious backgrounds, it was outstandingly the Protestants who were the owners, the leaders, the skilled, and the trained. According to Der Fischer Weltalmanach, of the 540 Nobel prizes awarded up until 1985, two thirds went to citizens from Protestant cultures. Inhabitants of Catholic environments won only 20 percent. Of the top 20 nations, in terms of gross national product per person, nine were Protestant, two Catholic. On the other hand, of the ten indebted developing countries listed, five were Catholic, none Protestant.
German newsweekly Der Spiegel wrote that Calvinist ideals spurred the British on to becoming a major world power. From the 19th century, the growing political strength of the United States, Germany, and Great Britain became a force for social renewal. Equality of opportunity for all was emphasized. Eddies within the mainstream of the Reformation are regarded by some as being precursors of modern socialism. A political awareness of social responsibility paved the way for the welfare state. Especially in Protestant surroundings, civil authorities gradually took over control of the legal aspects of birth, death, marriage, divorce, and inheritance. The availability of divorce and legal abortion in Catholic countries is now often quite different from that in Protestant lands.
Two bulwarks of Protestantism, the United States and Great Britain, grew together into the two-horned beast of Bible prophecy. (Revelation 13:11) A 20th-century giant of politics, the United Nations organization, first called the League of Nations, blossomed out of Protestant initiatives.
The Flood Will Return
A receding tide leaves a tidemark on the beach that reminds us of its pending return. Similarly, the Reformation of the 16th century left visible traces that we can see today. And there is strong evidence that we are standing on the threshold of an ultimate wave of religious change that will surpass all previous upheavals, sweep away false religion forever, and affect everyone alive. Will you survive it? Worldwide, there is a broad-based dissatisfaction with organized religion, among individuals and governments. Why the dissatisfaction?
Religion often goes beyond its spiritual mandate, confusing the cloak of office with the cloth of ordination, the crown with the miter, the scepter with the cross. Some years ago the Observer Sunday newspaper raised the question as to whether politicians in Ireland were prepared to take over from the priests the running of the country. Former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt commented on religious interference in politics by saying, “I do not believe that this can be permitted indefinitely.” And Le Figaro of Paris accused the church of “meddling in politics” so much that “it is in danger of seeing politics meddle with religion.” From India to Egypt to the United States, from Poland to Nicaragua, from Malaysia to Chile, the weary struggle between politics and religion goes on.
This is no surprise, nothing new. Revelation chapter 17 describes the whole of false religion as a harlot, “Babylon the Great,” which commits fornication with the politicians of the earth. Verse 4 further pictures her as being “adorned with gold and precious stone and pearls.” The religious empire is insatiate, wallowing in luxury, oozing wealth. In the 16th century, the glittering coffers of the Catholic Church attracted longing glances. The same is true of the jewel-studded lucre of all religion in our 20th century.
Governments already cast covetous eyes toward such opulence. Albania saw the more than 2,000 mosques, churches, and other religious buildings, and either secularized or razed them. The Sunday Times reported in 1984 that the government of Malta “began eyeing the church’s wealth,” cutting subsidies of church schools. Asked how the church should make up the loss, a government minister replied: “If need be, they can melt down their gold crosses and silver altars.” The Greek Orthodox Church has strongly fought legislation approved earlier this year by the Greek Parliament that would enable the government to take over huge church land holdings (about 10 percent of the area of the country).
Worldwide, religion is a great disappointment. Instead of unifying, it splits asunder. One German daily newspaper noted the “rivalry between Catholics and Protestants that amounts to hatred.” The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote that even ecumenical movements, designed to bridge the gap, started out from a position of “mutual distrust, irreconcilable enmity between Catholics and Protestants.” Elie Wiesel, 1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was quoted in another German daily as saying: “I often think we have failed. If someone had told us in 1945 that we would yet again see religiously motivated wars raging on practically every continent . . . we would not have believed it.” Religion that foments trouble, incites or condones war, is false religion. And the Creator decided long ago to do away with it.
Chapter 17 of Revelation leaves no doubt as to the fate of all false religion. In verse 16 we read: “The ten horns [governmental powers within the United Nations organization] that you saw, and the wild beast [United Nations], these will hate the harlot [false religion] and will make her devastated and naked, and will eat up her fleshy parts and will completely burn her with fire.”
Where Do You Stand?
Remarkable as it may seem, false religion has had its day. Its practices, customs, traditions, and privileges will soon disappear. That may seem as unlikely to you as the swamping of the Catholic Church did to people in the 16th century. But the Reformation waters were overwhelming. Church wealth went to the people, its power to the monarchs. Even so in our day, the nations will preside over the final dissolution of false religion.
What does that mean for you personally? Examine the religious institution to which you belong. Does what it stands for agree with the Bible in every way? If not, then your organization is part of “Babylon the Great,” or the world empire of false religion. Follow the command found at Revelation 18:4, which is: “Get out of her, my people, . . . if you do not want to receive part of her plagues.”
Remember, the tidal wave bringing conclusive destruction to false religion is on its way. It can be seen on the horizon. Where will you be standing when it brings thunderous destruction? In the valley of indifference? On the hill of some secular authority? Or on the mountain of Jehovah? There is only one safe place to be.
[Blurb on page 27]
A powerful current of reform swept away the very foundations of traditional doctrine. Alternatives like evolution, women’s liberation, and the ‘new morality’ have been washed up like driftwood
[Blurb on page 28]
There is strong evidence that we are standing on the threshold of an ultimate wave of religious change. Will you survive it?
[Blurb on page 29]
If someone had told us in 1945 that we would again see religiously motivated wars raging on every continent, we would not have believed it
[Box on page 29]
South Africa: Calvinist belief in predestination offered apartheid a theological foundation. The German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung called the theologians of the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (as the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa became known) “architects of the politics of apartheid.”
Switzerland: As the center of the Calvinist movement, Geneva attracted many thousands of refugees, who brought with them wealth and know-how. As a result, this is still a major banking city and has a thriving industry producing watches and clocks.
India: The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) grew as part of the Counter-Reformation, a movement to revive Catholicism following Reformation reverses. Society members came to the province of Goa in the 16th century, shortly after its colonization by Portugal. The influence of the church is reflected in the population today: In Goa, 3 persons out of 10 are Catholic, whereas in India overall, only 1 person in 25 is a professed Christian.
England: The year 1605 saw James I, a Protestant, on the throne. As oppression of Catholics in the country grew, a plot was conceived to blow up Parliament, King and all. The conspirators, a group of Catholics led by Guy Fawkes, were discovered and executed. November 5 marks the celebration of Bonfire Night. Families and friends still gather to warm up the damp evening with fireworks and to burn a “guy,” or model, of the plotter.
[Pictures on page 26]
Martin Luther and John Calvin—leaders in the Reformation