I began to feel my age when my children asked me “Why do you call your column ‘The Fifth Column’?”, and I realized that they were not alive at the time of the Spanish Civil War. Fortunately, I was able to turn to the encyclopedia:
FIFTH COLUMN, supporters and sympathizers of an enemy, engaged in espionage and sabotage behind the home lines of defence. The term originated during the Spanish Civil War to describe the rebel sympathizers of Franco who were behind the Loyalist lines in Madrid and working in cooperation with the four military columns that were advancing on the city …
Far be it from me to confess that I try in these columns to undermine the organized structures of society, but nevertheless, I do have an angle. In the later chapters of Revelation, we see a picture of Christ confronted by three oppressive powers—the Beast, Babylon, and the False Prophet. They are strikingly similar to the three temptations of Jesus in the desert. In these symbols we see the three controlling powers of the world we live in: Government, Commerce, and Belief. All of them, under God, have a due and proper place in the structure of the civilized world. Any or all of them, made into an idol, can be God’s greatest enemy—and that can include the actions of the organized church.
In many places now we are seeing the collapse of the authority of governments, in physical defiance or incipient tax revolt, as an era when governments played God comes to an end. Before long, however, the Church will need to protest the intolerable social conditions brought on by uncontrolled ‘free market’ economics. As a matter of fact, I believe the church still underestimates its own resurgent political strength. The churches have had a vast influence over recent years in the reduction of racism: they have greatly influenced the recent liberal tend in the policies of the government of South Africa, and I believe have received less than their due credit for the remarkable and peaceable liberation of Eastern Europe. Not simply Christianity, either. The impact of Islam on world politics is already significant, and likely not yet at its peak.
So, at the beginning of our ‘decade of evangelism’, Christianity has already succeeded in striking a blow for humanity against totalitarian governments everywhere. Before long it will be asked to speak out much more stridently, for the sake of humanity, against the evils created by an economic system dominated by irresponsible moneychangers. That is its prophetic role, and if it does not fulfil it, then it becomes indeed a ‘false prophet’.
In the days before desegregation in the southern U.S., the story is told of an African American who tried to attend a ‘whites only’ church, and was unceremoniously asked to leave. As he stood dejected by the side of the road outside the church, a stranger came up to him. It was Jesus. “Don’t worry, my friend,” said Jesus. “It’s fifty years since that church was built, and I haven’t been able to get into it yet!”
– Anglican Messenger, April 1990