Secularism and Reconciliation, Part Two

“. . . He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death,” (Colossians 1:21)

Ideas matter. Ideas have consequences. Secularism is a political and moral philosophy devoid of any faith or worship. Last week I noted the lead up to the French Revolution, showing how three combustible ingredients-corruption in government, oppression of the poor, and the impotence of the church, fueled by the Age of Reason ignited the conflagration. Furthermore, I briefly noted the reason why the Age of Reason was able to flourish-the vacuum left by the persecution of the Huguenots.

By the spring of 1789 Louis XVI needed money but the populace was tired of the excessive debt and were concerned with the deleterious effects of inflation. So Louis bowed to the pressure and called for a meeting of the Estates General, a kind of Parliament. The Estates General was composed of three parts-the nobility, the church, and the bourgeoise. But the Estates General had not convened in 175 years and the participants really had no idea how they were to work with the king. The bourgeoise very quickly realized that by all three estates voting together they would have far more clout to influence the king. When Louis realized this he suspended the meeting of the Estates General. On June 20, 1789 the third estate, the bourgeoise, refused to disperse and made their way to a nearby tennis court and vowed to continue meeting until they had forged a new constitution. Meanwhile mobs were demanding change, all around Paris. On July 14 a mob of dissidents, the militia of Paris, later called the National Guard, overran the Hotel des Invalides, an armory, and confiscated 30,000 muskets. The problem now, however, was that they also needed gun powder and shot. So the militia stormed the Bastille, an ancient fortress which had long served as a prison. The mob set free the prisoners (there were only seven of them and one was insane) and captured 30,000 pounds of gunpowder. The governor of the Bastille, Bernard Rene de Launay, was captured and beheaded. The mob placed Launay’s head on a pike and paraded it throughout the streets of Paris.

By the fall of 1789 inflation had caused the price of bread to go through the roof and thousands of women in Paris were incensed. These women, now accompanied by their husbands as part of the militia, made their way to Versailles to confront King Louis and to demand lower prices. At the head of the parade was Lafayette, the French General who was a hero of the American Revolutionary War. The mob demanded Louis to come with them to Paris. When Louis understandably hesitated, Lafayette promised to protect him. So Louis reluctantly agreed to go to Paris. He never came back to Versailles. He was repeatedly insulted by the citizenry. For several months, as many as 10,000 of the nobility fled France, seeing the handwriting on the wall, making their way primarily to Austria, waiting for the time they could return again to France and regain their power and privilege. Outwardly Louis was saying ‘Yes’ to the French people but inwardly he was saying “No.” He was secretly working with emigres to regain control. So, in June 1791 Louis XVI and his Habsbourg wife, Marie Antoinette, along with their young children, disguised themselves in servants garb, and made their way in the dead of night from Paris in a stagecoach, headed for the Austrian border. They almost made it but when Louis stuck his head outside of the coach (after all it was June and very hot inside) he was recognized by an antagonist, arrested, and brought back to Paris. Eighteen months later, in January 1793, Louis XVI, King of France was executed by the most efficient engine of execution yet devised, the Guillotine. Shortly thereafter his wife Marie was also beheaded.

During this time the Third Estate wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man, calling for Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. On the surface this all sounds very good, but remember the French Revolution was fueled by atheism. Among other things, the Declaration of the Rights of Man was all about expunging religion from the heart and soul of France. To be sure the church was corrupt and impotent, and the poor were oppressed. The Third Estate did away with the seven day week, and consequently the observance of the Christian sabbath, and instituted a ten day week. All titles of nobility were abolished and the church’s tax free privilege was abolished.

As conflict arose between two rival parties, the Girondins and the Jacobins, suspicion abounded. Who was for the Revolution and who was against it? In this vacuum of leadership Maximilien Robespierre came to power, heading up the euphemistically named Committee of Public Safety. Anyone at all whom he suspected to oppose the new regime, was rounded up and summarily executed. In the Reign of Terror, from September 5, 1793 to July 28, 1794, 16,594 were executed by guillotine with another 25,000 murdered in other ways.

During this time, the emigres, fortified by the armies of Austria and Prussia, saw their opportunity to invade France. The French National Guard, surprisingly, repulsed the invasion. Eventually the National Guard was forged into a powerful and fearful killing machine, led by Napoleon, who would wreak havoc on Europe until his final defeat in June, 1815 at the hands of the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo.

So where does the doctrine of Christ’s reconciliation come into play here? All of us are born into enmity with God. We are estranged from Him because He is holy and we are not. Enmity with God ultimately leads to enmity with people. Without the Spirit indwelling us, we all are prone to abuse others. When in a position of leadership (a father or husband, a pastor or elder, a member of Congress, an owner of a business) our tendency is to lord our authority over those under our authority. So husbands sometimes abuse wives, some fathers sexually molest their children, some congressmen or presidents live large on the backs of taxpayers, and business owners sometimes exploit their employees. On the other hand, when under anyone’s authority (a wife, a child, a citizen, an employee) our tendency is to rebel, to want our own way, to make unreasonable and unjust demands of our authority figures. Conflict arises when people in authority abuse their privilege and when those under authority rebel against those over them. But reconciliation with God through the cross of Christ makes it possible to be at peace with others. If we are reconciled to God, if we are peace with the One who is a consuming fire, then we can be at peace with people. This does not mean that war is never necessary. This does not mean that we cannot or should not defend ourselves against a home invasion. But it does mean submission to authority figures is vital for a home, church, business, or nation. It means those in authority must lead with sacrificial love, remembering that to whom much is given, much is required.

Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.

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