90 Momentous Years

October 20, 2008

Three recent events have prompted me to reflect back over the past century. One, the Russian invasion of Georgia and certain parallels with the outbreak of World War One. Two, the current global financial crisis and obvious comparisons with the Great Depression. And three, my father’s 90th birthday this month. 

He was born just one month before the end of the First World War, and one year after the 1917 Russian Revolution, two events which midwifed these 90 momentous years. 

Jesus gives us a way to view both this short century and where it may be leading us; to interpret yesterday as well as to anticipate tomorrow. In Matthew 13:24-30, he tells a story about an enemy who sowed weeds in a field of wheat. Both wheat and weeds were allowed to grow up together until the harvest before being separated. Good and evil, Jesus implied, will grow side by side until the harvest. 

In the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens referred to the era of the French Revolution with these words:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

These same words could accurately be applied to my father’s portentous era. 

The Worst 

For looking back to World War One, we can safely declare this era to have been the worst in history. It has been the century of greatest bloodshed and inhumanity ever. Surely it was Satan’s Century!  

It began with the euphoria of young men going off to a glorious war which quickly produced the nightmarish horrors of the trenches, gas warfare, mass slaughters and, for the first time in human history, aerial combat.

The Peace of Versailles, followed by the Great Crash of 1929, sowed the seeds of bitterness which would lead to the rise of a saviour promising to restore the pride and dignity of the German people. My father’s family, like many others, went bankrupt during the Depression. As a schoolboy, he was told that a war was coming, and that he and his classmates would be fighting in it. 

Five short years later, he found himself in a troop ship convoy steaming towards the Middle East. The horrors of this second global war were different from the first, climaxing in the Holocaust and the atom bomb.

A literal cloud now hung over the future of the human race. The war was over, but the future would never be the same. Never in history had a weapon been made that could obliterate the human race.

Grave doubts plagued Europeans about a God who could allow the Holocaust to happen. Many lost faith and hope. Churches became inward looking, lacking confidence in their message for the world. An exodus from the churches began. Secularism was the new faith of post-war Europe. 

The Cold War had set in. A century dominated by such names as Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Mao-Tsetung and Pol Pot seemed to have set the church in retreat.


< p style="margin-top: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-bottom: 4px; margin-left: 0px; text-align: justify; font: normal normal normal 10px/normal 'Gill Sans Light'; color: rgb(26, 26, 26); ">Then suddenly and unexpectedly, the Wall came down in 1989! Communism collapsed and the Cold War thawed. The triumph of liberal democracy had signalled the end of history, some proclaimed… prematurely.

For equally suddenly and unexpectedly, a mere dozen years later,  the 9/11 attacks triggered the Global War on Terror and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. 

And now, most recently, the world has been plunged into a new global financial crisis. The end is not yet in sight.

Yes, it’s been the worst of times.

The Best 

And yet, surely it has also been the best century ever! Of all centuries, this has been the Century of the Spirit! It started with the Welsh Revival and the Azusa Street awakening. These birthed the Pentecostal movement which has brought renewal to almost every stream of Christianity. It quickly spread to Scandanavia and down into the Continent-where in Germany it met with fierce resistance. In 1908, church leaders issued the Berlin Declaration stating the Pentecostal movement to be the work of the devil. 

Some believe this powerful Reformation country was thus opened to a spirit of deception, allowing it to lead the world into two global conflicts. These bloody upheavals certainly were diabolic diversions to the global work of God’s Spirit, weeds among the wheat. 

When mission leaders from around the (western) world gathered in Edinburgh in 1910, to plan to finish the Great Commission, few foresaw the coming bloodbath. Yet despite all the Adversary could incite to thwart God’s purposes, the advances of these 90 momentous years far exceeded anything dreamed of in Edinburgh. 

Few if any dared believe that sub-Saharan Africa would emerge predominantly Christian by century’s end. Or that Korea would produce the world’s largest churches. Or that a vigorous indigenous church would surface in China after decades of ruthless oppression. Or that Pentecostal churches would mushroom all across Latin America.  

Few dared predict that such a century would usher in a global church with its centre of gravity in the non-western world. Historian Philip Jenkins foresees this ‘Next Christendom’ as the single greatest factor shaping the coming century politically, economically, socially and spiritually. 

Breathtaking advances in travel and communication-from steam trains to ICE, from flimsy biplanes to double-decker jets, from telegraph to the internet-have transformed mission endeavours. 

So, what kind of future can we expect? Will it be better? Will it be worse? 

The parable of the wheat and the tares would suggest the simple answer to be: YES!!

Till next week,

Till next week,

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