The Current Scene
Two impressive occurrences took place in Western Europe in 1978. The first came as a surprise to many of the forecasters. Early in the year it looked favorable for Communism to make significant gains in France and Italy, and this, through the ballot box. With the outcome of the voting, Communism failed to secure an influential place in the government of either country. It is now felt by some that Communism has peaked in these countries and demonstrated its ability to capture the electorate. Of course, in the event of a real economic collapse, things could turn out quite differently.
In our understanding of prophecy (Ezek. 38-39), we envision Russian expansion into that most critical area, the Near East. Here, and in the foreseeable future, is the source of Europe’s oil — a life or death necessity. To counterbalance this awesome threat to survival will be the resurrection, in some form of coalition, of the old Roman Empire. It too will be under a dictatorship — “the beast” of Revelation 13:1. From its earliest stages, it is dominated in some way by “mystery Babylon” (Rev. 17:5) — generally considered to be apostate Christendom. This then would suggest that atheistic Communism is not for this area of the world. Possibly it will be something politically similar to the dictatorship witnessed when Spain was under Generalissimo Franco.
The second surprise of last year was the rise in popularity of the papacy. Since World War II the Roman Catholic Church has not shown impressive strength or leadership in world problems. Internally there are rebellious elements, such as priests that want to marry and liberals who have attacked the church’s dogmas, even papal authority. Its positive stand against birth control and abortion is probably being ignored by a large number of its communicants. The appearance of two new popes in the last year has somehow quickened the appeal of the church to its nominal members, and perhaps to the world. With two requiem masses and investitures given worldwide TV viewing, the church has enjoyed a renowned publicity. Rome has again revealed herself as a master of ceremony. With the religious instinct that resides in most of mankind, the Roman church is well equipped to satisfy. It is a system to which the natural man can readily adjust. However, beneath the extrabiblical appeals to the senses and emotion rests the heart of the gospel. Just how many penetrate the external and lay hold of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus, only God knows.
It was my experience to be in St. Peter’s when Pope John Paul I made his last public appearance. The building was packed to capacity and the doors closed long before the expected appearance. At the appropriate hour the late pope arrived and immediately acclaim and electrification possessed most that were present. The pontiff sat high on a platform carried by eight men. If the Bible had only laid the foundation for the church building and is to be finished with the superstructures that have been added by church councils and synods, then Rome is to be commended. On the other hand, if the church is to function only within the context of Scripture, then where such simplicity reigns it will invoke divine approbation at least on that score.
Getting back to the prophetic outlook, we turn to Revelation 17. In this chapter two channels of evil, yea blasphemy, are identified —namely, the scarlet clad woman and the “beast” that she rides upon. The woman is “Mystery Babylon,” a symbol suggesting apostasy, and she has mothered many others like herself. John is invited to see the judgment that is to be visited upon her. This comes about by the treachery of the beast (v. 16). The beast ascends out of the bottomless pit and we are told that “he was” present in John’s day and “is not” (i.e., not around today). Then this same “beast” (the power that he represents) “is yet to come.” The woman “drunk with the blood of the saints” (v. 6) cannot be the imperial power, for that is represented by the “beast.” The woman became the persecutor of the saints long after the persecutions under the Caesars. Church history informs us of just when the woman developed the horrors of the Inquisition. Protestantism, and the liberal societies it has fostered, has curbed this bloodthirsty aspect of the woman. Prophecy intimates that the woman, allied with many of like mind, will at last reach her cherished ambition, saying, “I sit a queen and am no widow” (Rev. 18:7). This dizzy and short-lived achievement is to be simultaneous with that of the resurrected “beast” who is also to “continue a short space.”
The geographic location of these subjects of prophecy “are the seven mountains, on which the woman sitteth.” This certainly identifies the city of Rome. So while most eyes are on Jerusalem these days, and understandably so, let us not overlook Rome.
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Having just read a sharp critique of the United States’ social reform programs, we quote from the writer as follows: “We have had for over a century now, in this country and elsewhere, an infinite variety of juvenile delinquency programs. They have all been studied exhaustively by sociologists, criminologists, and social workers, and the findings are dismal. Not a single such program works better than no program at all.”
To this observer the only programs that work are those where there is a voluntary decision to apply oneself to some purposeful program. Nor does this writer rule out religious conversion. He laments that many prisoners today are reading law books instead of the Bible. They are engaged with their “rights” (?) and not with how they can mend their ways and become useful members of society. This professor of urban values at N.Y.U. places a high value on “opportunity programs.” Night school is mentioned and Alcoholics Anonymous is used as an example. He says, “In it, people who wish to cease being alcoholics can achieve that. As for those who prefer to remain alcoholics— well there is no program on God’s earth which can reform them.”
Drug addiction gets the same treatment. With a reluctant admission of defeat, there continues a mechanical disposition to throw the taxpayers’ money at the problems anyway. Of course, what our analyst has observed our Lord has been saying all along. His parable of the prodigal son is a classic along this line. It was not until the prodigal had made up his mind to say, “I will arise and go to my father” (Luke 15:18) that events began to move in his favor. Jesus Christ invites all and sundry to Himself — “him that cometh unto Me and I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). He can save from the most stubborn cases of sin.
There was no reason to believe that the writer of the article that so caught our attention was a committed Christian. However, few evangelicals would fall out with his conclusion: “What it comes down to is that our reformers simply cannot bring themselves to think realistically about human nature. They believe it to be not only originally good, but also incorruptible (hence the liberal tolerance for pornography).” Here, indeed, is a flagrant revolt against one of the most patent doctrines of the Bible — we are sinners by nature and practice. The closer we get to the Ten Commandments, the more we realize this fact in our actual experience. Let the best of sinners, as well as the worst, discover and own up to this, then the gospel is as water to the thirsty soul.