What do Christians do when “civilization” is overrun by the “barbarians”?

A week ago I read two articles, both of them in August’s “Tabletalk” devotional, that have greatly influenced my thinking. The first, by R.C. Sproul Jr., is called Bread and Circuses. In it, Sproul goes back to the fall of Rome, and shows how God used that cataclysmic event to advance His kingdom. He then draws parallels to today’s age.

Just two pages later in the same devotional was an article by Gene Edward Veith–cultural editor of World Magazine – entitled Back to Barbarism. In it, he calls upon Christians to be salt and light in a new barbarian society.

With these excellent articles fresh on my mind, I prepared the following as a Sunday School lesson for our young people entitled The Barbarians in Rome–Christians and the Fall of Civilization.

In 410, a Goth named Alaric (the gentleman on horseback in the painting above) entered Rome with his innumerable hordes. The whole world was shocked, including St. Jerome.

Sproul quotes B.K. Kuiper:

Jerome was sitting in his cave in Bethlehem, writing in his Commentary on the Prophecies of Ezekiel, when he heard the news [of the fall of Rome to the Goths in 410]. He was overwhelmed with anguish and consternation. he believed that the antichrist was at hand. He said: “The world is rushing to ruin. The glorious city, the capital of the Roman Empire, has been swallowed up in one conflagration. Churches once hallowed have sunk into ashes.”

The reaction of another Christian luminary of the same time is educational. St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, was concerned that pagans were blaming Christians for the disaster at Rome. After all, this had happened after Constantine declared Rome a Christian empire less than a century earlier. Augustine sat down and penned his obra prima which has since become a classic of Christian literature: The City of God. In this magnificent–and massive–treatise, he contrasts the city of man (earthly civilization) with the City of God–that eternal kingdom which is right now being built in the hearts of men.

Today, the civilization that has been so painfully constructed since the fall of Rome is on the verge of destruction. It is decaying within, and being threatened from without. We live in a new age of Barbarians.

Paganism

The nations of the West in general, and the US in particular, used to pride themselves on being a Christian society. Not only is this no longer the case, but very few references are made anymore to “Christendom”. Popular media never misses a chance to promote some form of pagan worship or another. When – by some fluke – a quality film such as The Passion of the Christ is released, it is subject to relentless criticism. All religions are in vogue now, except for Christianity.

The Culture of Death

Abortion. Euthanasia. As a society, we are taking great strides in the cheapening of human life. Our evolutionary underpinnings have brought us to “survival of the fittest” mode. Our insatiable desire for pleasure is quickly bringing us to the point where any sexual deviance is considered “good”, no matter how dangerous it is to others and to society. Ex: “I am concerned about AIDS, but don’t expect me to give up my sexually freewheeling lifestyle.”

Do you wonder where that road takes us? All you have to do is look at some European countries where pedophilia is coming into the mainstream of society. Think it couldn’t happen on this side of the Atlantic? Think again.

Terror

Up until now, I have dealt with the barbarians within. As Veith said:

Judging from our art, our education, our manners, and our morality, it seems indeed that we are back to barbarism.

However, serious attention must also be given to the barbarians without. Like the Goths and Visigoths of old, the Islamic terrorists have no respect for international law or civilized order. They have no regard for innocent life – or any life for that matter. They love death. That is what they say, and that is what they demonstrate by their actions.

Once again, if you think we are far removed from the problem – if somehow you feel that September 11 was a fluke, some re-thinking may be in order.

The above image is the logo for the Venezuela chapter of Hezbollah. Right here in our own hemisphere, the Islamic radicals are carrying their message with missionary zeal. Interestingly enough, they are doing so in a country that just recently kicked out a group of Christian missionaries.

So what are we to do?

R.C. Sproul Jr. puts it very well in his article:

The barbarians have come to teach us to toss our petty stratagems and to give up our hope in princes, so that we, “the civilized”, might rest upon and serve alone our great king.

I would like to add four important principles we as believers should follow during these exciting times:

1. Be careful not to confuse human “civilization” with the kingdom of God. While Christianity has had a purifying effect on nations at various times throughout history, no human society can make the claim to be fully “Christian”.

Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. John 18:36

2. Remember who the real enemy is. We get so caught up in the human events around us, that we begin to view Bill Clinton, Hugo Chavez, or Jimmy Carter as “The Enemy”. Scripture is clear that this is not the case:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high [places]. Ephesians 6:12

3. We must continue to exercise our biblical function in society. And what is that function?

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16

And finally…

4. Don’t be surprised when we run into human opposition, or even persecution. I am reminded of the video I saw this last week of Rosie O’Donnel claiming that Christianity in the US was just as dangerous as Islam. And she was applauded!

Christ was very clear:

But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.
The disciple is not above [his] master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more [shall they call] them of his household? Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, [that] speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, [that] preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

In short, as the city of man crumbles around us, we must hold all the more strongly to the City of God. In fact, as both Sproul and Veith point out, this may be God at work to bring the “barbarians” to Christ, as happened in the years immediately following the fall of Rome. In that case, bring on the barbarians!

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