Sunday, 11 November 2012

Revolution or reformation

Changing the direction of society can be pursued progressively or suddenly. Advocates of change can be righteous or unrighteous; the change desired beneficial or disastrous. The path to Christendom is good, all other paths are broad and head toward Abaddon. The Western road to secularism, even though it probably won't end there, is in the wrong direction.

But what of the way we change where we are headed? The French revolution arising from the enlightenment and the worship of (fallen) reason was disastrous. Marxists in their pursuit of communism encouraged revolution against the bourgeois which led to the largest death toll in the history of conflict. A question arises as to whether the negative aspects of these revolutions were because of their wrong-headed goal—the idolatries of reason and the state respectively—or their revolutionary nature. If so, a second question is whether revolution is acceptable in the pursuit of the good.

The method of revolution is sudden change. The overthrow of a regime or system is pursued immediately. It declares war on its opponents and seeks to remove their influence by any means. It is not just transformation, but immediate change. As such the conflict is obvious to all, and prone to violence, especially so if wicked men are at the forefront.

Conversely reformation seeks to change by degrees. Though the creation of Protestantism may be viewed as sudden and it is referred to as the Reformation, Luther was not initially trying to split the church, he was trying to reform it. This failed, and the rise of Protestantism was good for both Christendom in general, and for the Roman Catholic church. Nevertheless, the method of reforming is gradual change, it re-forms, it replaces poor and wrong practices with good ones.

It seems that revolution is generally destructive when it is pursued for wrong ends. Though even reformation in the wrong direction is detrimental. And it is subtle. We may not be Marxists, though we are all Fabians. It is uncertain if abortion can be completely laid at the feet of socialism, yet Progressives do advocate its tolerance, and at 40 million abortions per year it dwarfs the communist death toll.

So is revolution a permissible method in pursuit of the good? There may be some situations where revolution may be defended, but in general it seems it is to be avoided.

Judgment at times is revolutionary in its arrival. God is patient with man, but disobedience may be punished greatly and suddenly. Resisting aggressive evil may leave no other option. Wickedness that is bold may need to be resisted by righteousness that is bolder. However these seem to be the exception.

Jesus tells us the kingdom of God is like yeast in bread (Luke 13:20-21). Daniel describes a stone that becomes a mountain that covers the whole earth (Daniel 2:35,44-45). There is no time frame for these but both are processes of growth and have been going on for the last 2000 years.

The kingdom of heaven reforms. God is in the process of change. He redeems people for himself. We become disciples and this takes time. We are baptised to show Jesus' life in us, and we take the bread and wine continually as we became more like him. We are changed in his likeness. In the same way Jesus can redeem and reform culture. Music, art, politics, justice, economics can all be redeemed; and the process of redemption is usually one of reformation. Revolution is destructive. It may be necessary at times, but God is redeeming this fallen world—transforming it slowly, a process of reformation. We need to take a long view. Looking at where people and cultures are is less useful than looking at where they are headed.


  1. Being from the United States, it is difficult for me to be as pessimistic about Revolution, but then I do think you have a point. Reformation is certainly to be preferred in terms of it is a more stable means of change.

    However, here's the real problem with it: generational disintegration. The advantage of revolution is the ones establishing the new world veiw are the same that started it. It can have a more unified vision for that reason.

  2. I don't know what I think about the American Revolution. Though if one views it positively it may come under the guise of opposing tyranny; resisting oppressive evil as I wrote above. Though was it revolution in the way I intended it above. It was war of independence. And did the resulting country differ that much from Britain? Parliamentary structure differed in some important ways, but as dramatic as the French, or Russia?

    As to your other comment I think one needs to keep in mind that God oversees the transformation of society. It is true that the next generation may abandon the faith of their fathers (think Wales), nevertheless, revivals like Methodism and the Great Awakenings were more reformational than revolutionary.

    I apply this widely. One of the problems that arises when people switch to a better option is the destruction that occurs if it is done too rapidly. Britain switched from coal to nuclear to break the stranglehold the unions had over the country through controlling energy (I believe). Though it was probably a good thing and I am not particularly concerned about the unionists, the effect this had on coal mining families was of major concern. What else had they been trained to do? How could they feed their families? The revolution from coal to nuclear was hard on many who could least afford it. A reformation of the energy sector may have helped. (eg. closing plants slowly, not rehiring as men retire, retraining, etc.) Perhaps the belligerence of the unions prevented this?

    Hope this adds clarity.



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