What defines the Western World?
It's too easy for those who live in North America and Europe to take Western society for granted. As citizens, we are guaranteed to have physical, civil and legal protections. Instead of worrying about our personal safety, our primary concerns often shift to fleeting issues created by material luxuries, social media, sports and entertainment. Yet in reality, we still live in a World where in many places, electricity, safe drinking water and even food are still considered to be luxuries.
Prior to the mid 20th century (before the Second World War), the rest of the world outside of Europe and North America was still living in the literal Dark Ages. Yet, North America and Europe did not become technologically advanced, civil minded, literate or democratic because of their race, ethnicity, climate or mere fate… This transformation was greatly due to the gradual societal adoption of the Christian philosophy. It took hundreds of years of hard work and sacrifices from brave Christian leaders, theologians, activists as well as the masses of anonymous faithful believers to transform Western society. Together, they all changed the Western World for the better. Each in their own way, many with their lives, they stood up to greed and corruption in governance, society and even the Church itself.
Before World War II, the entire span of Asia consisted of primitive societies that promoted polytheistic deity worship, caste systems and totalitarian leadership. A good example of this was Japan. When the Japanese navy attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Emperor was still worshiped by the Japanese people as a God. Yet, after adopting Western cultural values from their American occupiers, Japan became a peace-loving democratic world power. The same story goes for South Korea. In the chilling shadow of Chinese and North Korean socialism, the thriving modern society of South Korea has turned to Jesus!
Fall of the Roman Empire
Historically, the first resemblance of modern democracy was conceived in Athens around 500BC. Athenians had elected leaders and a court system providing a trial by jury. Unfortunately, their democratic system only lasted about 175 years and was not true democracy in the modern since because slavery was an accepted part of society and women or those who were not born in Athens were not allowed to vote.
Administered by an elected senate, the Roman Republic also had brief periods of a simple democracy, but fell back into dictatorship around 49BC with the rise of Julius Caesar. Throughout the pagan Roman era, slavery was the norm and charity for the poor was virtually non-existent. The Roman era was also dominated by polytheistic deity worship. Before, during and after the fall of the Roman Empire, the rest of Europe was barbarian. When Rome was overrun by barbarians in 410AD, most of Europe was very dangerous and violent.
So how did today's democratic technologically-advanced Western World evolve?
God’s timing for the ministry of Christ was not a coincidence. For the first time in human history, the vast amount of roads and trade networks across the Roman Empire acted like a massive system of arteries that spread information around the entire Mediterranean region. The Gospel of Christ and the ministries of His apostles delivered a compelling message of love and compassion that caught the attention of the masses of poor and disenfranchised.
The Gospel gradually gained a foothold across the greater Roman Empire at the grass roots level. As the Roman Empire gradually faded because of war, corruption and debt, God’s timing for the ministry of Christ was by design.
After the fall of the Roman Empire and the vestiges of its authoritarian social, economic and political control faded, Europe became a rural backwoods with a large collection of small kingdoms, cultures and languages. As technologies were lost and forgotten, there was a light in the hearts and minds of a growing Christian minority. A minority that had been previously persecuted harshly by earlier 1st and 2nd century Roman rulers.
So while most of Europe was entering the Dark Ages, South Eastern Europe was enlightened by the rise of the Byzantine Empire after the first Christian Roman ruler, Constantine the Great, took control in 306AD.
Constantine built a new capital city called Constantinople, now known as Istanbul, Turkey. This emerging city became the capital of the world's first Christian Empire. And true to Christian philosophy of service and compassion, the Byzantine Empire becomes the first to build a public hospital system and offer wide ranging humanitarian resources similar to the homeless shelters and food kitchens we see in today's Western society.
Many anti-Christian historians fail to acknowledge the involvement of Christianity in the transition of Western Europe from the Dark Ages into the Italian Renaissance. They apparently fail to realize that:
1) The Renaissance, generally described as taking place from the 14th century to the 17th century, was led by Christians. The two greatest names associated with the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, were so motivated by the Gospel, they used Christ as their primary inspiration for their design, engineering and artistic abilities.
2) The cultural and societal rebirth of Western Europe during the Renaissance was directly aided by the 1204 A.D. sacking of Constantinople in the east by Latin supported crusaders. This event exposed Western Europeans to the enlightened Byzantine Christian philosophy that included more ethical and righteous concepts for society, law, engineering and art that rapidly spread across the rest of Europe. This transfer of virtuous knowledge was again accelerated as scholars, intellectuals and theologians fled southeast Europe after Constantinople was sacked again by the Muslim Ottomans in 1453 A.D.
4) The Renaissance was lastly propelled by the influence of Florence banking cartels and Venetian trade empire in part because of the perceived corruption in the Catholic Church that was based back in Rome during this critical era of social and cultural change. This scenario illustrates that on occasion the Church as a human controlled organization can be corrupted by leaders that operate for their own self-serving agendas. It is at these unfortunate times that honest, Biblical inspired Christians must clean house.
3) Possibly the greatest discovery during the fall of Byzantine Constantinople was the monumental revelation of the early Greek language New Testament manuscripts that were now exposed to the rest of Europe. The Greek versions of the New Testament predated Latin translations that were common across Europe, as they were considered to be much more accurate representations of the original New Testaments books, most of which were originally authored in Greek. These manuscripts are considered by many to be the primary factor that would galvanize social and religious enlightenment across the continent. These manuscripts would also eventually inspire the Christian revolution that would eventually be known as the Protestant Reformation.
The Vulgate (The First Latin Bible)
The common Renaissance era Catholic Bible was called the Vulgate. Primarily written by a theologian named Jerome in 382 A.D., this Bible was based on Latin manuscripts that promoted the notion of eternal salvation by a Christian's works and deeds.
The most infamous example of a Middle Age Catholic policy based on obtaining salvation by one's works was the church policy of "indulgences". This doctrine taught that salvation and one's pathway to eternal life in heaven could be purchased. In other words, with enough money, one could buy their own salvation by making cash payments or donations of (land or items of value) to the Church.
The policy of indulgences was so out of control that an individual's salvation could be paid for by a separate wealthy family member or even for the future sins of another individual or an unborn grandchild. This concept and church policy obviously contradicts everything today's Bible (and Christ's original teachings) say about salvation.
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing;
it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:8-10
The earlier written Greek manuscripts of the same New Testament promoted the notion of salvation not by a person's deeds, but by their faith in Christ and the grace of God.
The Bible today consistently teaches that we are all saved by grace because of our faith and not by our personal works and deeds. This means that once someone accepts Christ as their savior, they do not have to worry about their own eternal salvation and are now free to focus on helping others. This new Protestant concept revolutionized Europe!
The Protestant Reformation
While the entire message of Christ divinely promoted human rights, many people still fail to comprehend that there will always be false teachers and individuals who use the Bible for their own personal gain. This issue led to the Protestant Reformation after scholars were able to review more accurate translations of the New Testament from the newly found Greek texts following the fall of the Byzantine Empire. These manuscripts directly contradicted many of the Latin translations used by the Catholic Church of that era. The Protestant Reformation was led by a German theologian Martin Luther.
The Reformation was initially inspired by the publication of the Ninety-five Theses by Martin Luther in 1517, but there was no official schism between the Catholic Church and the protestant movement until the 1521 Edict of Worms.
When Ferdinand II became the King of the Habsburg dynasty in 1619, which ruled the powerful Holy Roman Emperor, he tried to impose religious uniformity on his kingdom by forcing Roman Catholicism on its peoples. This event led to the beginning of the Thirty Years' War. Fought primarily around Central Europe between 1618 and 1648, it was one of the most destructive conflicts in human history.
I have heard Christian skeptics claim that the Church (both Protestant and Catholic) held European progress back. What they fail to comprehend, is that the Christian Church was reformed by fellow Christians themselves as they weeded out corrupt doctrines and practices. This progression allowed for a more accurate interpretation of scripture and allowed believers to worship freely through their own interpretation of the Bible.
The growing democratic philosophy within the Church community transformed the greater Western society. As church reform progressed across Europe and the newly discovered America, the Protestant movement, with its emerging demand for religious freedom from overpowering governments, exposed the need for the separation of Church and State.
Jesus said that we are to "love your neighbor" and "your enemy." This message disarmed the self-serving monarchies and authoritarian leaders of Europe as the populous gradually acquired the wisdom of the scripture via wide spread literacy.
Early Christian reformers like the 8th century King Charlemagne helped to create a society that promoted education and literacy. Without true Church reform declarations like the Magna Carta or events like the English Reformation, the Western World would not have advanced as fast as it thankfully did.
Translating the Bible
Fourteenth century English theologian John Wycliffe completed a translation, in 1382, directly from the Vulgate into Middle English. This important English version of the Bible is now known as Wycliffe's Bible. Wycliffe's followers were known as Lollards. The Lollard movement for many is regarded as the precursor to the Protestant Reformation.
Sixteenth century theologians John Calvin and William Tyndale both aided in promoting and/or translating the Bible into English while standing up to societal corruption. John Calvin (July 10th 1509 – May 27th 1564) was a French theologian and reformer in Geneva during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism.
William Tyndale (1494 – October 6th 1536) was an English scholar who became a leading figure in the Protestant Reformation in the years leading up to his execution. After the creation of the Wycliffe Bible in the late 14th century, laws were enacted by Catholic leaders that led to the death penalty for anyone found to possess an unlicensed copy of Scripture in English. This law eventually led to Tyndale's execution.
Tyndale created the first English Bible written directly from both Hebrew and Greek texts, the first English translation to use Jehovah ("Iehouah") as God's name as preferred by English Protestant reformers. It was also the first English translation to take advantage of the printing press and first of the new English Bibles of the Reformation.
The invention of the printing press by the Protestant leader Johannes Gutenberg allowed the masses to finally read the Bible for themselves. Johannes Gutenberg also created the Gutenberg Bible. It was under this pretext across Northern Europe that Christians would create the era of literacy and modern liberal democracy with the confines of a libertarian-limited government. As European society rapidly progressed, it blossomed into what modern historians refer to as the Age of Enlightenment.
Advancing Freedom and Democracy
Once translated into common languages for public consumption, the message of the Bible promoted Europe's gradual change from societies led by self-serving monarchies into modernized democratic societies promoting human rights, liberty, literacy as well as religious freedom. Ultimately, Christianity promoted the basic human rights we expect today in the Western society. The original concepts of freedom of speech can be found in early human rights documents like England's Bill of Rights 1689 which legally established the constitutional right of freedom of speech in Parliament. This ruling is still in effect.
The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, adopted during the French Revolution in 1789, specifically affirmed freedom of speech as an inalienable right. Adopted in 1791, freedom of speech is a feature of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Judeo-Christian philosophy eventually inspired Christian political leaders in America to write the framework of the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Era of Revivals and Great Awakenings
The powerful Christian revivals of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries laid the grass roots foundation for our current Western civic-minded society. This foundation bonded the Judeo-Christian ethos in communities big and small across Europe and America. For the first time in history, the West began to resemble our current era with a society of human rights, public hospitals, public education and the vast network of charity organizations that still exist today. The series of Christian Great Awakenings in 19th century America led to the Christian Abolition movement (ending slavery). Christian inspired societal change led to the creation of the women's suffrage and worker's rights movements at the beginning of the 20th century. The civil rights movement in 1950s and 1960s America also began with grass-roots protests that started in protestant churches across the United States.
If one were to travel around the World today, especially in Africa and Asia, one would notice that the vast majority of humanitarian organizations are being administered or were started by Christians. Too often, the focus in today’s secular media and popular culture is on the minority who do wrong while claiming to be a Christian. Jesus warned of false prophets and those lukewarm Christians who come in his name for their own greed and self-serving agendas. Sadly, the secular media rarely reports on the great majority of the two billion Christians who sacrifice their time and resources for the good of others across the World.
What's at Stake?
Over the last few centuries, masses from the 3rd World have wanted to visit or live in the Western World. Do they or the current citizens of the West realize why our society is so appealing? On the surface it may be because of the perceived material wealth of the West. But in reality (whether understood by citizens, visitors or immigrants), the greatest strength of the Western World has been its spiritual wealth and the divine guidance its leaders have received. Christianity created our thriving egalitarian society that led to the material wealth that now consumes and threatens our society.
The greatest threat to the political, religious and economic freedoms of the Western World today, are the forces that diminish the Christian philosophy. The same philosophy of love, equality and personal freedom that originally created the modern society we now take for granted. In our current era, the comforts of technology, complacency and self-interest rule most aspects of Western culture, our society and our lives.
In this increasing technology-based society, will we be distracted to the point of our own self-destruction? This is the greatest issue of our era.
A recent August 2019 poll reveals that young Americans have lost faith in America and God.
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