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Vol. X • 1988

The Fifth Kingdom: Battle for the Title
Gary North

History manifests a war between two organizational principles of international civil government, kingdom and empire. Christ's kingdom is decentralized, a hierarchical appeals court system, both civil (Exodus 18) and ecclesiastical (Matthew 18:15-18). Satan's principle is centralized; a top-down bureaucratic system of issuing commands. Satan does not possess God's omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence, so he must rely heavily on his own hierarchy (or as C. S. Lewis calls it in The Screwtape Letters, "the lowerarchy"). The larger Satan's empire becomes, the more overextended he becomes. Like a man who attempts to juggle an increasing number of oranges, Satan cannot say no to his assistants, who keep tossing him more decisions. Eventually, every empire collapses. The principle of empire cannot sustain human government: church, state, or family.

In the colloquial phrase, empires always bite off more than they can chew. The Bible teaches that human empires were always replaced by other empires, until the advent of Christ's kingdom. From that time forward, it is the kingdom principle that is dominant in history.

The "thousand-year Reich" of Nazi Germany lasted twelve years (1933-45). The Communist empire of the Soviet Union is a creaking economic hulk, one which relies on the threat of nuclear war and a strategy of criminal subversion in order to extend its power, and which is steadily bankrupting itself by supporting its bankrupt client states. Empires are parasitic, relying on their conquest of productive nations in order to keep its bureaucracies well fed. But as their political power grows larger with the growth of empire, these bureaucracies steadily strangle the productivity of those who have already fallen to the empire. The empire cannot sustain its expansionist impulse. Meanwhile, its enemies multiply and strengthen their will to resist, unless they have already begun to worship the gods (world-and-life view) of the conquerors.

The modern West seems paralyzed in the face of Soviet expansion[1].'This lack of resistance is unique in world history. The West has adopted the religion of humanism, but a much less confident version than the Soviets adhere to. The West's humanists believe in world unification through trade, government planning, and secret arrangements at the highest government and private levels. They do not believe in direct confrontation, but in subversion through infiltration. The Soviets, on the other hand, are masters of subversion, but they are also expansionist and ruthless in the pursuit of empire that the West's flabby humanism cannot match. Thus, the West's buffer states are falling to Communism because the West's religious presuppositions are so similar that it finds itself unable to resist. This is the same plight that Israel found itself in time after time. The Israelites repeatedly adopted the gods of the very invaders that later threatened them. Then they lost their will to resist.

Gospel vs. Empire
An empire is necessarily threatened by the gospel. The gospel challenges the theology of man as divine which always undergirds every empire. But to stamp out their Christian enemies, the bureaucrats take great risks. The bureaucrats who run the economy always want to meet their production quotas and earn their bonuses. If they persecute Christians, they threaten their firms' output. Time and again, the most productive citizens of any empire are the hated Christians. They are the ones who are not addicted to alcohol, or absenteeism, or other forms of passive resistance. The Biblical idea of service serves Christianity well. The failing productivity of the empire makes the bureaucratic functionaries increasingly dependent on Christians in order to meet the assigned production quotas. Like Jacob in Laban's household, Joseph in Potiphar's household and the Egyptian prison, competent service to others creates dependency on the servant. Dominion is by service. "But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matthew 23: 11).

Satan believes that dominion is by power. He seeks to control others. Their resistance slows his ability to bring others under his power. There is built-in resistance to expansion in every empire. Territory and people once captured cannot be held captive indefinitely. They find ways of thwarting the bureaucratic system.

Empires do not survive for long. Their masters must work very fast and take high risks in order to extend the power of their empires. In contrast, Christians have plenty of time. Slow growth multiplies over many generations. This is God's promise: "For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands [of generations][2], to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:5-6). "Therefore know that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments: and He repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them. He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face" (Deuteronomy 7 9-10).

Pagan empires are invariably cut off in the midst of history. They try to achieve world dominion, but there are always new empires rising up to challenge them (Daniel 8). God will not permit any nation to achieve total world dominion in history. The one-State world is a denial of God's universal sovereignty over man, and also a denial of Christ's progressive kingdom in history. The pagan empire cannot tolerate rivals. It cannot be content with a federation. It cannot share the glory of power. It therefore cannot succeed in history.

The kingdom of Christ imposes the requirement of modesty on the nations that compose it. No Christian nation can hope to impose its will by force on the whole world. Such pride is recognized as being evil, as well as self-destructive. Dominion is by service. Thus, the decentralized earthly kingdom of Christ can grow over time to fill the earth, but without becoming an empire. No one nation can hope to achieve dominance, though one or two may achieve primary influence temporarily, through adherence to the principle of service. Long-term cooperation among nations is possible only if all of them realize the inherent, God-imposed limitations on the power wielded by any one nation. The Christian nation faces the same warning that Christian individuals face: "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 18:18).

The residents of each nation must regard their own nation as mortal, just as men are. The more closely a nation conforms to Biblical ethical standards, the longer it will survive as a separate entity. This is the Biblical principle of inheritance. The heirs of any national group will retain their separate character only as long as God continues to grant the nation His grace. Rebellion against Him brings destruction and national obliteration. As always, dominion is by covenant[3].

Christians have good reasons to be confident about the earthly future of Christ's kingdom. Pagans do not have much of anything to be confident about. Time is against them.

Time and Self-Confidence
If people believe that they are doomed as individuals, they find it difficult to survive in a life-threatening crisis. This is also true about civilizations. Self-confidence rests heavily on an optimistic view of the future. The vision of time that a society shares is very important for understanding how it operates. If you think you are running out of time you will do certain things; if you think you have all the time in the world, you will do different things. Your vision of the future influences your activities in the present.

Communism's Confidence
One of the great advantages that the Soviet Union has enjoyed in its confrontation with the West is that Communism appears to offer Soviet leaders a doctrine of linear (straight line) time. It gives them confidence about the future. They believe that the forces of history are on the side of international Communism. This self-confidence is an illusion because Marxism's optimism is an illusion. Marxism is a publicly optimistic religion with deeply pessimistic roots.

Karl Marx professed faith in linear time, and so do his followers. Ultimately, Marxism is pessimistic and cyclical, as are all pagan religions. Marx explained mankind's history in terms of revolution. "Revolutions are the locomotives of history", he wrote[4]. Problem: what will serve as the engine of progress after the final Communist revolution? Revolutions will cease. What then becomes the basis of human progress?

To understand the Communists' lack of any answer, you must understand Marxism's doctrine of the fall of man. All religions have such a doctrine: you just have to look for it more carefully in humanist religions. Marx wrote that mankind is alienated. This is the equivalent of being under a curse. This theme of human alienation is the heart of Marx's psychology, economics, and humanist theology. Human alienation is the basis of all of man's conflicts, Marx wrote. How can mankind overcome this alienation? By revolution. But how can revolution solve man's problem? No answer.

Marx wrote that man's alienation led to alienated labor, which in turn led to the creation of private property. He wrote that "though private property appears to be the source, the cause of alienated labor, it is rather the consequence...."[5] Then what was the cause of alienated labor? He never really said. Then how can Marxists be sure that men will not fall back into alienation after the Communist society is established? They cannot be sure. It could happen again. This is why Communism really has no legitimate reason for its linear view of time.

So, the Marxist system is at bottom implicitly cyclical, since what the Bible says is the root cause of alienation, man's ethical rebellion against God, has no relevance in Marxism. Marxism cannot deal with sin and guilt. The "fall of man" (alienation) was metaphysical in Marxism—a flow in mankind's being or environment—rather than ethical, as the Bible teaches. There is no way for man to repair this flow in nature. Thus, the supposed linearity in Marx's view of history is illusory.

But Communists say they believe in linear history. They believe that it has direction. Though the historical forces are impersonal, Marxists teach, the forces of history are leading inevitably to the triumph of Communism in history[6]. This vision of inevitable victory gives Marxists an enormous edge over Western humanists, who today lack confidence in some assured future[7].

The Biblical Concept of Time
The Bible teaches that time is linear. It also teaches that everything that takes place in history is governed by the absolute sovereignty of a personal God. Thus, Christians rest their earthly hope in the providence of God. History is neither random nor determined by impersonal forces. It is governed by the God who created the universe.

The Bible teaches the doctrine of creation, meaning creation out of nothing. It teaches that man rebelled against God, and both nature and man now labor under God's historical curse. It tells of Jesus Christ, the Son of God: His birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven to sit at the right hand of God. It tells of Pentecost, when He sent His Holy Spirit. It tells us of Christ's church in history, and of final judgment. There is direction in history and meaning in life.

Christians are told to believe in "thousands of generations" as their operating time perspective. This is probably a metaphorical expression for history as a whole. Few if any Christians have taught about a literal 25,000-year period of history (1,000 x 25 years). The point is, the Bible teaches that the kingdom of God can expand for the whole of history, while Satan's empires rise and fall. There is no long-term continuity for Satan's institutional efforts. He has nothing comparable to the church, God's monopolistic, perpetual institution that offers each generation God's covenantal sacraments.

If growth can be compounded over time, a very small capital base and a very small rate of growth leads to the conquest of the world. Growth becomes exponential. This is the assured basis of Christianity's long-term triumph in history. God is faithful. The temporary breaks in the growth process due to the rebellion of certain generations of covenanted nations do not call a halt to the expansion of the kingdom.

The errors, omissions, and narrow focus of any particular Christian society need not inhibit the progress of Christ's earthly kingdom. These limitations can be dealt with covenantally. The international church can combine its members' particular skills and perspectives into a world-transforming world and life view (I Corinthians 12). Modern telecommunications and modern airborne transport are now making this possible.

Christianity has in principle a far more potent view of time than any other religion, including Marxism. If Christians fully understood the implications of the Bible's view of time, and if they also possessed the covenantal faithfulness to translate this vision into institutional action, then the world would soon fall to the gospel. It is only because of corruption by anti-Christian outlooks that the universal church and Western civilization are visibly in retreat today.

A Vision of Victory
Because the West has lost its faith in God, it has lost its faith in the future. Only with a revival of covenantal Christianity is the West likely to reverse the drift into despair. Such a revival is possible, and there are signs that it is coming.

The Communists are suffering from their own waning of faith in Marxism, as Solzhenitsyn has said repeatedly. The problem is, when there is a contest between two empires, or two non-Christian systems, the one that has greater self-confidence, and overwhelming military superiority to back up this confidence, is likely to be the winner. The escape religion (Western humanism) is no match for the power religion (Communist humanism). The West is losing faith in five major premises concerning history. Conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet writes:

How will the West defend itself against an implacable Communist enemy? The West has lost faith in the future, so it finds it difficult to defend itself morally in the present. Western intellectuals perceive the West as morally bankrupt, as Revel has warned eloquently. Guilt is eroding the moral foundations of a successful defense of the West, Nisbet says:

Because Western men have lost their faith in God, biblical low, and God is sanctions of cursing and blessing in history, they have also lost their faith in the future. The West has begun to lose confidence in its past, its present, and its future. This has paralyzed Western foreign policy for over a generation. The West has lost its faith in progress.

The Soviets are also suffering a spiritual crisis. They have lost their faith in Marxism. Then what keeps the Soviets on the offensive? Their quest for power. They still believe in the power religion, even if they have lost faith in the specifics of Marxism-Leninism. In contrast, the West is in the process of adopting the escape religion. Solzhenitsyn has sounded the warning, but no one in Washington's highest circles has heeded it:

The Bible teaches that God deals covenantally with nations, even at the final judgment and beyond. Thus, nations are under the terms of the covenant, either explicitly (ancient Israel) or implicitly (all nations under God as Judge). The covenant process of blessings and cursings are therefore called into operation in the history of nations. National continuity and discontinuity must be viewed as an outworking of this fourth point of the Biblical covenant.

History has seen the rise of empires. They have all failed. They are satanic imitations of the implicitly (though not historically) unified kingdom of Christ on earth. The tendency of Christ's kingdom is toward expansion. This leavening process is also a feature of Satan's imitation kingdom. But his kingdom is on the defensive since Calvary. Whenever Christian nations remain faithful to the terms of God is covenant, they experience blessings leading to victory over time. Whenever they have apostatized, they have faced judgment and have had their inheritance transferred to other nations, either through military defect or economic defect.

The West now faces its greatest challenge since the fall of the Roman Empire. The formerly Christian West has abandoned the concept of the covenant, and with it, Christianity's vision of victory in history. The Marxists have stolen this Biblical viewpoint and have applied its vision of victory to Communism. Thus, the Communists now appear to be in a position to impose their will on the West before the end of the twentieth century[11]. This is a religious crisis, and it therefore has become visible in every area of life.

There is only one long-term solution: comprehensive revival leading to the transformation of all things and the healing of the nations[12].


[1]- Jean François Revel, How Democracies Perish (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1984).

[2]- This is the standard interpretation. See the Jewish commentator U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, [1951] 1974), p. 243.

[3]- Ray R. Sutton, That You May Prosper: Dominion By Covenant (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1987).

[4]- Karl Marx, "The Class Struggles in France, 1848 to 1850," in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, 3 vols. (Progress Publishers, [1969] 1977), I, p. 277. Italics in original.

[5]- Karl Marx, "Estranged Labor," in The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (New York: International Publishers, 1964), p. 117.

[6]- F. N. Lee, Communist Eschatology (Nuiley, New Jersey: Craig Press, 1974).

[7]- Robert Nisbet, History of the Idea of Progress (New York: Basic Books,1980), p.355.

[8]- Ibid., p. 317.

[9]- Ibid., p. 331.

[10]- Solzhenitsyn: The Voice of Freedom (Washington, D.C: AFL-CIO, 1975), p.12.

[11]- Quentin Crommelin, Jr. and David S. Sullivan, Soviet Military Supremacy (Washington, D.C: Citizens Foundation,1985).

[12]- Gary North, Healer of the Nations: Biblical Blueprints for Internationol Relations. (Ft. Worth, Texas: Dominion Press, 1987).

"The Fifth Kingdom: Battle for the Title"
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