I have started to watch a fascinating documentary series on TV called “Civilization” and presented by Prof. Niall Ferguson the distinguished Oxford and Harvard historian. I read his book, “Civilization: The West and the Rest” in which he tries to explain the central problem for historians: Why the West and not the rest? He forms it this way: “…the rise of Western civilization is the single most important historical phenomenon of the second half of the second millennium after Christ. It is a statement of the obvious. The challenge is to explain how it happened.”  And his book and many others in on the same theme try to explain this phenomenon. I am going to write several essays on this theme to answer this historical conundrum because all other explanations including Prof. Ferguson’s are just plain wrong. He has six reasons for the dominance of Western civilization. I have one: The preaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom and its effect on the world.

This is an important issue for those who wish to understand the gospel of the Kingdom and what the Lord is doing in the earth today. It is also important for the future because if I am right then the further the western world moves away from the Biblical roots of civilization to closer comes the day it returns to the barbarism from which it came from.

The problem for historians is this. Up until about 1500 all nations and all civilizations around the world had about the same level of development by any measure you wish to use. Health of the people, food availability, technology, mobility and so forth. In fact Ferguson makes good point that in fact through the 1400’s China was somewhat more developed than England or Europe at the time. But what was common everywhere is that average life expectancy was about 37, large percentages of children died before their 5th birthday. Life was incredibly hard, short and brutish. Food was limited. Crime rampant, with no real legal protections. Property rights almost non-existent except for the clergy and nobility.  Land was the chief source of economic activity and most if owned by nobility or clergy who remained tax free leaving tax burdens on the peasants. Illiteracy and ignorance was universal, superstition rampant.  This state of affairs was universal. The system of government world wide was some form of feudalism. The king or emperor was divine. There was always some sort of clergy who would declare this to be the will of heaven or destiny or whatever. The king or emperor would divide up the productive assets of the nation, the land, between his supporting nobles and the fawning clergy. The peasants serve their divinely ordained masters.  This was true whether in Europe, China, India or the America’s.

But after 1500 something happened in Europe that broke this feudalistic model of civilization. From 1500-2000 the small enclave of northern Europe rapidly developed to such an extent that it came to absolutely dominate the world. What was it? Ferguson using modern techno jargon says the West downloaded six “apps” that changed the world: Competition, Science, Property, Consumption, and the Work ethic. Well yes, but wholly unconvincing. Ferguson makes his books always interesting with all the many interesting historical anecdotes to try to support his thesis which I find fascinating.  But his central problem is this: He is confusing fruits and roots. Let me explain:
Science: Yes Europe far outstripped the rest of the world in scientific discoveries but why? What created the environment for men to create new discoveries that was different from other places in the world?
Medicine: Yes but same as above.
Property: Yes but the right to private property comes from a concept of law and that concept of law comes from where?
Consumption: Yes we created a consumer society that drives the economy but before there can be consumption there must be production, what caused the rise of industrial production in the west and not the rest?
Work Ethic: Please Prof. Ferguson, if hard work alone was the key to civilization then the Chinese would have been the world beaters.

These six “apps” I agree were all wonderful aids to Western civilization but they did not cause it. They all came from the one central cause of Western civilization which was this:

The publication and dissemination of the Word of God in the language of the people starting in the late 1400’s and massed produced by the newly invented Gutenberg press and widely disseminated among the common people resulted in what we call the Reformation of the 1500’s.  To put it in modern tech language: The publishing of the Bible the Word of God provided a free “open source” new operating system by which to run a new civilization. This new operating system was written by the One who made the world in the first place and soon everyone who downloaded it found that their world worked far better if you applied it. This new operating system came with downloadable apps such as salvation of the soul, instructions sets on government, law, economics, human rights, family, work, ethics etc. Everyone who applied these apps soon found profound changes in the human condition.

In several essays I am going to do some app downloads for you to demonstrate my argument. But in this essay I want to start with the central (apart from salvation) effect of the Reformation that allowed all the other advances to be made: The destruction of Feudalism.

The core idea of all Feudalistic systems is the “divine right” of the ruler to ownership of the land and the people who were “subjects”. This ownership structure is supported by the priestly class and the nobility who are given assets to control by the ruler. A ruler marries a princes and she brings a dowry of land assets and people with her.

The revelation of the Word of God gave divine insight to the two towering figures of the Protestant Reformation, Luther and  Calvin, that enabled them to destroy the twin pillars of the Feudalistic order of Europe: The apostate Roman Catholic Church and the concept of the “Divine Rights of Kings.” When the authority of king and church were destroyed by the revelation of the Gospel of the Kingdom, the liberation of Europe could start.

Luther and Rome

The power and hold of the Catholic church on the people of Europe was based on its exclusive right to dispense salvation on earth.  The means of salvation was the “eating of the body of Christ” which was performed at the Mass through the power of the priest to perform the rite of trans-substantiation. When Luther preached salvation by faith alone and the priesthood of the believer this effectively destroyed the hold the priests had over the populace. That hold was based on fear of hell which only the priest could an escape from. Now every person had direct access to God through faith withy no mediation needed by the priestly class and no need for bribes known as “indulgences” to get forgiveness of sins. Luther’s further stance that the Word of God is the basis of all authority further undermined the legitimacy of the Church and its claim to universal truth.

Calvin and King

Calvinism is famous for its doctrine of “election”, that is to say that before the foundations of the world the Lord foreknew His saints and elected them to salvation by His will alone.  This to us today seems an arcane theological dispute. But in the world of feudal Europe this was a dangerous idea.  At that time the supreme authority of the king was based on his unique “election” by God through birth and inheritance. The king alone was elect of God and thus came his “divine right by election”. For common peasants to declare they are elect, chosen and loved of God from before their birth places them in a similar privileged position. Other “elect” of God therefore also have divine callings, therefore also have rights that originate from God and not the whim of the king.

These two powerful ideas had consequences.  Geneva broke away from the Duchy of Savoy and Calvin and the elders declared themselves an independent city. The United Provinces of the Netherlands became a haven for those persecuted by the Catholic church through their agent the king of Spain and his mighty empire. The Protestants rallied there and fought for their independence strengthened by their faith and their “election” in Christ and their firm belief the Pope was the Antichrist and their cause righteous. After Holland won their independence they became the world economic center of power.

When Charles I in England refused to accept the radical ideas of the Puritans with regard to what they believed to be their Christian rights as revealed in the Bible it resulted in the English Civil War. In essence it was a war of Presbyterians against the Church of England. A war between two ideas, the “divine right of kings” to rule or  what we today call ‘the rule of law.” Cromwell’s New Model Army that defeated Charles was an army of Puritan’s who believed they were fighting for their rights as revealed by the Bible which they all read and revered. The divine rights of kings was defeated in that war and the primacy of the rule of law in the form of the Parliament of the people one the day. The world was changed from that moment on.

These people did not fight feudalism from reading Plato’s Republic or studying Greek democracy! Their belief system came from the Bible! The origin of our Western Civilization is the Protestant Reformation. This was the great movement that destroyed feudalism’s twin pillars of oppression: kings and priests. The fundamental human rights to freedom of thought, rule of law and right to private property came from reading the Bible, not Greek philosophy. Man’s rights came from his relationship with God, not his relationship with kings and priests. This was the foundation from which all other advances were built on.  

 I made the assertion that the key to understanding why the West advanced so far with regard to the rest of the world over the last 500 years was because of the preaching of the gospel starting in the 1500 with what is known as the Reformation. All civilizations around the world up to that point labored under the bondage of feudalism and it was the doctrinal teachings of Luther and Calvin that destroyed the authority of the twin pillars of feudalism: the kings and its attendant nobility and the priesthoods and their various orders.

This revolution resulted in a new standard of authority: the rule of law. Now all powers were to be subject to the rule of law. Those that did not such as Charles 1 in his fight to maintain his “divine right” to absolute power lost his head to the Puritan Parliament and its army under Cromwell.  In Lutheran Europe unfortunately this half of the revolution did not succeed as the German princes co-opted the church into the state system with salaries and official state status.

In England, King James tried the same but the Puritan church resisted and stayed outside of the Church of England, much to the great anger of the King and his son Charles after him.  This allowed the English revolution to proceed to the next level of liberation which was to curb the power of the king and make him subject to Parliament. It was this curbing of both the power of the king and priests in three critical nations, England, Holland and Scotland that allowed these three nations to become the leaders in the 1600’s in financial power and scientific advances.

The Luther and Calvin theological revolutions in these three countries laid these foundations in their general societies:

* All are subject to the law of God even the king<
* The Bible is the specific revelation of God to man and nature is the general revelation of God to man and it is incumbent upon all men to seek God’s revelation through study of His Word and study of His creation<
* The priesthood is unnecessary for interpreting God to man and unnecessary for salvation, revelation and salvation are in the hands of each seeker after truth.

This new common understanding among the people of these three nations came about because people read the Bible, the only widely available book to read in a time where there were no media, no novels or magazines. People read the Bible!  The result of this was an atmosphere of freedom.  Freedom to work, freedom to worship, freedom to travel, freedom the explore, freedom to investigate the world that God made.

The other things that common people soon discovered in the Bible especially from reading the story of Israel and the commandments of the Old Testament was that there were guidelines in the Bible for political and economic affairs and should one follow these commandments the Lord promised great economic prosperity and blessing and national victory over your enemies.

Let me outline for you the seven broad political/economic principles taught in the Old Testament that promised blessing and which when applied by the nations of the West starting with England, Scotland and Holland resulted in economic wealth and national power. The Lord told Israel as they came out of Egyptian slavery that He had a wonderful promised land before them and gave them instructions as to how they were to possess this land and how to govern themselves.  The Puritans of England, Scotland and Holland believed these instructions and applied them to their political and economic philosophy:

The Rule of Law

God gave instructions to Israel that they were not to have a king over them, the Lord was to be their King. They were to be ruled by judges who would apply the law to the land and people. Today we call this kind of political structure a Republic. This was a 1000 years before Plato’s Republic. If they did demand a king (as they asked Samuel the prophet) then the Lord said that king was to rule according to God’s law. Today we call that a constitutional monarchy.

Diffusion of Power

The entire nation of Israel was to be divided into tribes or what we today call provinces in order for power to be dispersed and no central strong power to oppress the people. Furthermore two other authorities were established apart from the tribes and the king. The Priesthood which was independent of king and provinces and the Levites who were given 42 cities where they were responsible for health, education, welfare, justice, social upliftment. Today the separation of powers is entrenched around the world as a sound form of government.

Private Property

In a world that for millennia was dominated by kings and priests and where these owned the land, the promise of the Lord to the enslaved Israelites that He was taking them to a land where each family was to be title holder to their own piece of land, this was revolutionary! Not only were the common people to own land but they were each to have asset producing property as well. The Lord said each was to sit under his own vine and fig tree. The property rights were extended to male and female heirs meaning women had equal property rights to men. Again, unheard of for thousands of years!

Sound Money

The Lord demanded that Israel was to have equal weights and balances. In that day money was a measure of weight. You had a standard weight measure and you counted out gold or silver on the other side of the scales. False weights meat you short changed someone in a transaction.  For millennia kings and emperors debased their coins with clipping or additions of copper or other metals. The Roman empire was destroyed by a debased currency.  God hates inflation! God hates fraudulent transactions.  Sound money and just trade relations are principle of God’s requirement for prosperity.

The Jubilee Principle

he Jubilee Principle relates to God’s commandment to Israel of what was to happen in the seventh year and the fiftieth year.  Every seventh year all debt was to be forgiven and every fiftieth year all property assets in the nation was to be distributed in the nation. From this Jubilee two important economic principles were developed that greatly increased prosperity. The first was the concept of “limited liability”. If you got into financial trouble you did not lose your financial independence for the rest of your life. You can start over again debt free. This developed in England and Holland in the formation of the first limited liability stock companies by which investors and entrepreneurs could join forces and create new wealth producing ventures by taking on limited risk.  Investors could limit their liability to the capital they subscribed (in case the venture failed) and enjoy the fruits of a successful venture should it succeed. The fifty year Jubilee capital dispersal program of Israel provided to the principle of diverse capital diffusion in the nation. The Lord wanted all the citizens of the nation to participate in the wealth production of the economy. In the days of Israel land was the major source of wealth production. But as wealth production moved to industry and the money economy, the development of the stock market, bond market and pension funds established the principle of capital diffusion throughout society.

Voluntary tithe tax

The Lord promised Israel financial blessings if they tithed. But unlike our church teachings on tithing, the tithe then was voluntary and was paid to the Levites for the administration of the nation. They were the national bureaucracy and he tithe was the tax of the day. The Levites in turn paid a tithe to the priest of the Temple. Another voluntary tithe was to be paid every third year for distribution to the poor. So the NGO sector of the nation was supported by voluntary contributions and not coercive tax extraction.

The Sabbath Principle

The Sabbath principle was that every seventh day and every seventh year a person and the land was to be at rest and be restored. Land was the productive sector of the economy and needed to be restored so that it could produce more. The principle is sound. We need to invest in our productive capacity through study, skills development, reflection and relaxation.  When this is applied in a modern economy the productive powers of the economy are greatly enhanced.

These were the broad economic and political principles that the broad section of society accepted as the Bible and its teachings became more and more dispersed in the 16th and 17th Centuries. They form the basis from which the West developed its economic, scientific and political power. The usual propaganda from historians that our western culture sprang from Greece is utter nonsense. Athens produced a democracy for a brief period of about 80 years that everyone raves about forgetting it collapsed in anarchy as the “democrats” voted for pensions and wars of conquests resulting in the Peloponnesian Wars and the destruction of Athens. The so-called Founding Fathers of America despised democracy. They chose a Republic.  The ordinary soldiers of the Dutch  and English civil wars did not carry a copy of Greek philosophers into battle. They carried a musket, sword and Bible.

Our western civilization was built on the foundation of the Bible and the preaching of the Gospel!

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