2015-49-Main Body-Church-State Relations and the Book of Revelation
Preterist-Idealism: The Wintery Flight (1876) “All who believed in Jesus Christ remembered what He had said, and left their homes hurriedly, and fled to a little town called Pella, on the other side of the river Jordan. Not one Christian perished in the siege of Jerusalem. The Jews who had refused to believe in Jesus, trusted to their strong walls, and their weapons, and stayed in the city.. Now, my children, I have not told you these things only as a chapter of history. I want you to learn some very important lessons from these words. For us there is an escape, a flight, to be undertaken, and for us there is a place of refuge like Pella. “
The Judgment of Jerusalem and Rome
by Don Juan de Jauregui
CHURCH-STATE RELATIONS AND THE BOOK OF REVELATION:
The Scriptures must be allowed to speak for themselves — a liberty which many will not concede.
Behind all of the symbols found in the Bible’s Book of Revelation is a struggle for control between the Christian Church and civil government. The great enemy of the Book of Revelation – MYSTERY BABYLON – represents, in particular, that type of spiritual oppression found when civil and religious institutions unite to demand authority over religious expression. The visions the Apostle John recorded in his apocalyptic book ultimately display Jesus Christ and His people being victorious against those combined powers of church and state.
There are many different opinions about precisely which period of history is contemplated by the visions of John, but few deny the Apocalypse’s focus on the civil and religious struggle faced by Jesus Christ and His churches.
The present-day establishment view of Christianity is that the apocalyptic visions of John are descriptive of this very generation – or one not too distant into the future. In fact, this perspective of the contemporary fulfillment of Bible prophecy’s “last things” is endorsed by nearly every single major church and parachurch organization today – as it has been by those of the previous ten generations. Regardless, there have always been dissenters to that established view. Throughout the centuries, many able Christian preachers and authors have stretched the boundaries of the accepted beliefs regarding Bible prophecy. One of those dissenters was James Stuart Russell of the Evangelical Alliance.
I. CHURCH-STATE RELATIONS IN THE FIRST CENTURY
While pastoring a congregation of the Dissenting Church during England’s Victorian Era, Rev. J.S. Russell wrote a highly controversial book that flew in the face of the establishment position on the subject of Bible prophecy. Within his book, The Parousia: A Critical Inquiry into the New Testament Doctrine of Our Lord’s Second Coming, Rev. Russell engaged his wide readership with new ideas regarding old difficulties. In the process, he freed the Book of Revelation from centuries of ecclesiastical and political tyranny.
Russell explained that the imagery of the Book of Revelation points not to his own day, but to battles fought long ago in Palestine during the first century – in particular, the civil and religious war between the first generation of Christians and the combined powers of Israel and Rome. Because of his successful approach, a great reformation arrived for the study of Bible prophecy. Only the onset of two world wars stopped the momentum generated by his book.
Placing the key elements of the book of Revelation within a first-century context drew a number of surprising conclusions. Perhaps none of these conclusions were as controversial as the “second coming” of Jesus Christ having occurred in the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. With the overthrow of the oppressive and murderous regimes in Jerusalem and Rome, Russell taught, Jesus found full vindication before his enemies. The fact that the Christians had been delivered from the holocaust in Jerusalem to the safety of Pella (located in present-day Jordan) served to further prove the conclusion.
Summing up his conviction, Russell wrote:
Our Lord affirms the same speedy coming of judgment upon the land and people of Israel; and He further connects this judgment with His own coming in glory, – the Parousia. This event stands forth most prominently in the New Testament; to this every eye is directed, to this every inspired messenger points. It is represented as the nucleus and centre of a cluster of great events; the end of the age, or close of the Jewish economy; the destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem; the judgment of the guilty nation; the resurrection of the dead; the reward of the faithful; the consummation of the kingdom of God. All these transactions are declared to be coincident with the Parousia.
By presenting Scripture without restriction, Russell believed, the imagery of the Book of Revelation predicted a massive catastrophe for both first-century Jerusalem and its temple – that is, for both its state and its church.
It is instructive to trace the growth and progressive development of the Theocratic idea in the history of the Jewish people, and to observe how, as it loses its political significance, it becomes more and more moral and spiritual in its character.
Author James Stuart Russell was qualified to comment on church-state matters. During the 19th century, he was the spiritual leader of the final fight to free Christians from the oppressive religious restrictions of the British government. His doctrine of spiritual liberty insisted upon complete independence from the Church of England’s corrupting influence. To accomplish his goal, he deployed his message from one of the most visible pulpits in the British Empire, that of the Congregational Church at Great Yarmouth.
That particular church in Yarmouth was a symbol of liberty in England. Long known in the realm as the “Mother of Nonconformity,” the Yarmouth records show struggles dating back to the 17th century. In fact, it was from this assembly point from which the Pilgrim Fathers departed their native continent seeking freedom of expression on the other side of the world. The liberty they found ultimately resulted in the writing of the Constitution of the United States (under the authority of “We the People”) and the Bill of Rights, the latter of which protected spiritual and civil independence on a scale larger than the world had ever known.
Rev. Russell traveled widely to spread the cause of liberty. After centuries of tyranny, he felt it was time for absolute freedom from church-state control of Christian doctrine. In this historical drama, he was hugely successful. The arch of triumph in this cause is the Evangelical Alliance.
In 1846, Christians of the British Empire came together – independent of any church or denominational control – to strengthen ties against the oppressive church establishment, which routinely arrested and assassinated dissenting Christians while denying citizenship to those who stood apart from the ruling authority. Within a short space, the Council of the British Organization of the Evangelical Alliance wielded great influence in England, successfully lobbying Parliament and the Royal Family for assistance.
In retrospect, history views the Evangelical Alliance’s founding as the culmination of a thousand-year war in England over the issue of spiritual independence. Present at the founding of this organization, Russell served it wholeheartedly until his retirement over forty years later. During that span, Christians enjoyed a liberty of conscience and expression never before held by Englishmen.
The battle won at home, Russell used the Evangelical Alliance to bring reformation to nations abroad. He provided relief during the Irish famine, established churches in nations such as Switzerland and Germany, and was a founder of the free school movement. He even retraced the steps of his predecessors at Yarmouth by personally bringing the Evangelical Alliance’s vision of independence to American shores.
It wasn’t until forty years after winning the battle for religious liberty that Russell turned to liberate the study of Bible prophecy. During the year his book The Parousia was published, James was one of the most active members of Christian society, serving as secretary and chaplain for the Evangelical Alliance, as well as filling pulpits throughout England – preaching up to five times a week.
A year after publishing The Parousia, Russell’s focus remained on the cause of liberty:
The Rev. J.S. Russell spoke of the formation and of the past history of the Evangelical Alliance, and urged the importance of the great principle of the Alliance – the manifestation of the oneness of the Church of Christ. He believed that it was impossible to calculate the amount of good which had already been accomplished in the… great objects of the Alliance. The efforts of the society on behalf of the persecuted for conscience’s sake in various lands have shown the power of Christian union as represented in the Evangelical Alliance.
The issue of religious liberty and establishment dominance was so strong at the time of his writing that he initially published the book anonymously, lest his dissenting reputation dissuade acceptance of first-century fulfillment by members of the Church of England. One should read The Parousia in this light.
As controversial as was the doctrine of The Parousia, there had been, from time to time, establishment writers who suggested the same controversial idea of prophetic accomplishment. After all, the first known modern preterist (“past fulfillment”) commentary on the Book of Revelation was written by a Jesuit priest in 1614. The first-century application of John’s Apocalypse is also found in the writings of other famous theologians, including some of Russell’s British countrymen: John Lightfoot, Henry Hammond, Samuel Lee, George Stanhope, Herbert Thorndike, George Wilkins, Frederic William Farrar, Zachary Pearce, Beilby Porteus, Gregory Sharpe, and Bishop William Newcome, the latter of which wrote, The Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus is Emphatically Called the Coming of Christ. However, none of these authors were able to write on the subject with the simplicity and forcefulness of Russell.
Countless others have suggested that John purposefully wrote his apocalyptic book as the capstone to New Testament revelation. To most, the motivation of John in the writing and transmission of the book was to lift the spirits and hopes of the persecuted churches of his own day. For students of ancient documents, this method is not at all unusual. Most letters are written for contemporary recipients. In addition, that method is the rule for “apocalyptic literature” — focusing on contemporary struggles in the light of approaching victory. For the Apostle John, the greatest difficulties were borne by the messengers of his churches who were suffering under the anti-Christian jurisdiction of Roman and Jewish power.
This point demonstrates why Christian scholars’ initial reaction to Russell’s work is so important. The greatest Bible experts of the British Empire accepted the orthodoxy of James Stuart Russell’s Christian faith without comment to the contrary. In fact, the literary reactions to The Parousia were all so positive that the book received high praise even when critics strongly rejected its doctrinal conclusions. Sadly, the book’s critics these days are not up to the level of mastery held by those from the 1800s.
Numerous denominational publications stood in line to recommend The Parousia, including The Sword and the Trowel, United Presbyterian Magazine, The British and Foreign Evangelical Review, and even the bastion of church-state reporting in England, The Spectator:
It is with great pleasure that we introduce this work to the notice of our readers . . . . With many of its principles, and with no inconsiderable number of its criticisms, we agree; from others, we emphatically dissent. Many of its positions are simply startling . . . . We anticipate that our readers will wonder how we can speak in strong commendation of the work which contains such incredible positions. Nevertheless, our commendation is given in all sincerity.
The writer of this review expressed himself to an even greater degree, declaring that Russell’s case for the Greek word aion having been translated “age”, as opposed to “world” (as in, the “end of the world”), was so strong that the soon-to-be-completed Revised Version (or English Revised Version) of the Bible should reflect the anonymous author’s insight – which it did!
In many other ways, Russell’s spiritual labor surprisingly helped unwind the dictatorial control of the civil-religious establishment. The revival of interest in his writings in the twenty-first century shows their continued impact today — which is a good thing considering that freedom is perpetually under attack.
III. CHURCH-STATE RELATIONS IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
From what quarter, then, was danger to be apprehended from too great freedom of speech?
In many ways, The Parousia throws the chains off eighteen centuries of biblical interpretation, reflected in one thousand years of English literature. Commenting on this lack of quality exegesis (that is, the interpretation of the Bible), author Milton S. Terry wrote:
During the period extending from Gregory the Great to the time of Luther (A.D. 600 to A.D. 1500), the true exegetical spirit could scarcely be expected to maintain itself, or produce works of great merit. The monasteries became the principle seats of learning, and the treasuries of theological literature gradually found their way to them as to so many asylums. Superstition and ignorance effectually hindered the progress of critical inquiry.”
Russell felt that, after centuries of scriptural oppression in the field of Bible prophecy, it was time for absolute freedom of expression. As successful as Rev. Russell was in the field of religious liberty in public ministry, he was equally successful in the field of religious liberty in print. His arch of triumph in this case is The Parousia.
The free and clear presentation of Scripture within its pages gives the New Testament an entirely new life. Freed from the shackles of the Church of England, Russell made the most of the opportunity by holding nothing back on a subject that the religious establishment had obscured deliberately for a millennium.
As natural as the revelation of contemporary events may have been to the original recipients of the Apocalypse of John, such clarity has met with strong resistance in the 21st century. Leaders within today’s church establishment seek methods to oppose and suppress those who teach first-century relevance. Russell made his case so well, in fact, that those seeking to protect positions of power have come to despise both The Parousia and the Rev. Russell’s liberty in writing the book.
Because The Parousia allows the pages of the Bible to speak freely and radically, government-licensed theologians chafe at its power and attempt to impugn the author’s character. This should come as no surprise. Perhaps they feel that they have something to lose by allowing the discussion to proceed with full liberty of expression. The modern publisher of C.H. Spurgeon’s Works eradicated that preacher’s extremely positive comments regarding The Parousia and its author, censoring it from all of their reproductions.
Some choose to oppose the doctrine of The Parousia by challenging the author’s Christian orthodoxy. This is an innovation and is utterly misplaced. It is important to note that none of Russell’s peers cast a single charge of ‘heresy’ against the man or his book. This smear has only recently been deployed. Though some now try to paint Russell as a pantelist (“all things fulfilled”), their charge is absurd and deliberately suppresses his presentation. Says one writer regarding the institutional threat represented by The Parousia:
He initially published his book anonymously. This indicates that he recognized at least some of the personal risks in proposing such a creed-denying thesis. Most of his followers have not been equally alert to these risks. They have committed themselves emotionally and intellectually to a ticking time bomb. Russell made subversives out of most of his disciples. As awareness spreads among church officers regarding the dangerously heretical nature of his theology, only a few of his followers will avoid the accusation of being subversives: the frontal-assault kamikazes who are willing to go public in defense of his position. As laymen without any institutional base, they can be dealt with easily enough. The subversives in the churches are the main threat.
Despite this panicked rhetoric, James Stuart Russell is no pantelist. For one, his writings refer to immensely significant blocks of key Bible prophecy unfulfilled by AD 70, and an unlimited amount of prophecy which can be fulfilled outside of the frame of the “apocalyptic limit” which was the primary focus of The Parousia. Prophetic events which awaited fulfillment following the destruction of Jerusalem include the entirety of the millennium, the loosing of Satan and the final consummation of all things in the “destruction of the old serpent”! Also included within this spectrum of unfulfilled prophecy is the final resurrection. Displaying full candor in what remained unfulfilled in the first century, he wrote:
“It is evident that the prediction of what is to take place at the close of a thousand years does not come within what we have ventured to call ‘apocalyptic limits.’ These limits, as we are again and again warned in the book itself, are rigidly confined within a very narrow compass; the things shown are ‘shortly to come to pass.’ It would have been an abuse of language to say that the events at the distance of a thousand years were to come to pass shortly; we are therefore compelled to regard this prediction as lying outside the apocalyptic limits altogether. We must consequently regard this prediction of the loosing of Satan, and the events that follow, as still future, and therefore unfulfilled.”
Russell also believed that the Gospel was in the midst of a great evangelical movement which would ultimately lead to the complete renovation of humankind on Earth:
That favoured apostle who more than any other seems to have comprehended ‘the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ,’ suggests to us ideas of the extent and efficiency of the great redemption which our latent incredulity can scarcely receive. He does not hesitate to affirm that the restorative work of Christ will ultimately more than repair the ruin wrought by sin. ‘As by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall the many be made righteous.’ There would be no point in this comparison if ‘the many’ on the one side of the equation bore no proportion to ‘the many’ on the other side. ‘Where sin abounded, grace did beyond measure abound: that as sin reigned in death, even so might grace reign in righteousness unto eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Rom. 5:19-21).
It does not fall within the scope of this discussion to argue on philosophical grounds the natural probability of a reign of truth and righteousness on the earth; we are happy to be assured of the consummation on higher and safer grounds, even the promises of Him who has taught us to pray, ‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is done in heaven.’ For every God-taught prayer contains a prophecy, and conveys a promise. This world belongs no more to the devil, but to God. Christ has redeemed it, and will recover it, and draw all men unto Him.
Whether or not his view followed the creeds of others, he was never held in contempt, or disciplined, according to his ruling creeds in the Evangelical Alliance and Congregational Church. His peers laid not one such charge at his feet. In fact, the president of the Evangelical Alliance in Russell’s day, Philip Schaff, supported him — and he literally wrote the book on the creeds. He felt no need to suggest the censorship or discipline of Russell following the publication of either edition of his work. In fact, he incorporated the book into his Dictionary of the Bible under the heading for “parousia”.
Thankfully, due in no small part to the freedom of expression offered by the Internet of the late 20th century, dissenting Christians have risen again to the demands of spiritual liberty. If the readership of The Parousia continues to accept its risky challenge of standing for Truth, then perhaps James Stuart Russell’s presentation of Jesus Christ as the Savior of the whole world – in a church-militant sense – is true.
JAMES STUART RUSSELL – CHAMPION OF CHRISTIAN LIBERTY
Rev. J.S. Russell and the Apostle John share something in common historically: Both were caught up into the raging seas of war between Church and state. Likewise, around the world today, there are numerous governments intent on limiting the propagation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to only state-licensed sources. It often appears that liberty of religious communication is at the heart of battle in the 21st century:
[T]here is scarcely a single country from Morocco to Pakistan in which Christians are fully free to worship without restriction. Muslims who convert to Christianity or other faiths in most of these societies face harsh penalties. There is now a high risk that the Churches will all but vanish from their biblical heartlands in the Middle East. The suffering is no less acute elsewhere.
Instructive in this regard is the case of Rev. Russell’s struggles for religious liberty in Berlin, Germany. Having worked with German Christians during the ascension of the Austrian Empire, he was finally able to deliver the Evangelical Alliance message of Christian unity to Germany in 1857. For eighty years, the alliances forged during those early days flourished, allowing them the greatest Christian liberty found within continental Europe. Then, in the wake of World War I until the full ascension of the Third Reich in Greater Germany, these liberties steadily eroded and were finally cut off entirely. The godless forces completely surrounded the camp of the saints in that nation, and Germany’s state-church became entirely compromised by the Aryan Theology of their pagan government.
Ultimately, on July 1, 1937, the dictator of that empire crushed all audible Christian dissent, symbolized by the arrest of Martin Niemöller and the dissolution of the German Evangelical Alliance. The domination of the Nazi State over Europe’s continental churches yielded a MYSTERY BABYLON rivaling that Roman form of the first century. Any true Christian activity from that 1937 date until May of 1945 was carried out covertly with espionage.
Those who would allow encroachment upon religious liberty through the institution of church incorporation should consider the example of the gradual drift of Germany’s church-state admixture. Church incorporation was the Stalingrad of German Christianity. Once church incorporation compromised the issue of authority, Germany’s Christian churches fought a losing battle against the enemy’s onslaught. Even if not initially successful against the rising tide of tyranny, we should remember the fruits of that labor as in post-WWII Germany:
The hand of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ, is against any state-church that seeks to unlawfully dominate His rightful subjects.
All nations which subvert the Gospel by mandating doctrines and practices within the scope of public policy are on notice regarding the declared fulfillment. The consequences of ignoring God’s warning were fully displayed to the “chosen generation” of John’s contemporaries — yet also by his writings to all succeeding generations. And as it was revealed to the Apostle John in the first century, to James Stuart Russell in the nineteenth century, and to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the twentieth century, all such attempts are doomed to failure and assure the ignominious defeat of the perpetrators.
In closing, the 1912 summation of author J.E. Clowes provides a fitting eulogy for one of the most dedicated historical Christian lovers of liberty – James Stuart Russell:
In few men probably has the ideal of the Christian Ministry been more fully realised than in Dr. Russell. He was a most impressive preacher, with a style remarkably simple, clear and direct, and a happy choice of words. No class of hearers was neglected by him, and his occasional addresses to the young were looked forward to with brightest interest. As a pastor he was a systematic and eagerly welcomed visitor in the homes of his people. Whilst indulging in no undue intimacies with a few, he sought to know each member of his flock and to interest himself in and share his or her individual joys and sorrows. With a happy knack of saying the right thing in the right place, he would aptly but briefly counsel, reprove or encourage as occasion might require. He was a man of rare tact and sound judgment, intensely sympathetic. Absolutely free from vanity or any assumption of superiority, he bore himself with simple dignity, and was the last with whom any one would take a liberty. In all relationships and under all circumstances his deportment was that of the true christian gentleman, and not only did he enjoy the love and unshakeable confidence of his own people, but also the respect, esteem and friendship of fellow-townsmen who held views widely differing from his own. It was no unusual thing to see members of the Church of England and other communions, men of note and position, listening with deep interest to his preaching, and reverently joining in the simple but beautiful service. The chapel was frequently so crowded that it was impossible to find seats for all, and at times the congregation overflowed into the vestry.
Rev. Todd D. Dennis
Point Loma Nazarene University
JAMES STUART RUSSELL’S KNOWN WRITINGS
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Date: 17 Feb 2013
Todd… Great work. Dual fulfillment, futurism… Or simply idealistic understanding that how God deals with man… And how independent Christian remnants have always been the ones to deliver the truth through the centuries… This church and state battle.. Where both are fighting the truth (priests and Rome vs. Christians who fled) is always how it will be. With AD 70 like culminating events… All throughout history.
Date: 18 Feb 2013
Very nice Todd. Downright eloquent!
Date: 19 Feb 2013
Where can I find an accurate version of Spurgeon’s review of the book.
Date: 21 Mar 2013
The work of James Stuart Russell in his book The Parousia is a great labor from a man of the experience of facing the system of the political and church combined operation. This political and church agreement is one of the main subjects of the book of Revelation and the whole gospel. The first century christian were facing the great Babylon. The 21 century christians are fighting with the same matter in a different situation. The new great Babylon is modern and systematic. They have the history as a mirror to look back and to avoid to make the same mistakes of the past. But in effect, as Christ confronted the system in his days the christians must fight the same. In this way the Apocalypse is repeated each time. Juan C. Peña Marrero – Bayamón, Puerto Rico.