Premillennialism in Church History, Part II

July 28, 2014 5 comments

Continuing from Part I in this series, now for a brief look at the early medieval period, when the martyr doctrine was itself martyred. As well established from the available writings of the early church, the true church pre-Constantine (those who were of the Christian faith and not heretics) affirmed chiliasm. Nathaniel West’s essay points out the connection between the martyrs and their “martyr doctrine,” the hope of the future reign with Christ. Premillennialism is the doctrine of the martyred church, a great truth that has no place in apostate Christianity, that false faith that springs forth in times of peace, free from persecution.

This part of the history is more known to premillennialists, at least in general terms: the allegorical approach in the Alexandrian school, and Augustine formulating what is now called amillennialism, including “progressive parallelism” as a “spiritual” answer in response to the “carnal” excesses of some chiliast groups. And the political climate after Constantine, the church triumphant, was contrary to the idea of the persecuted church and a future time of Christ ruling the earth – after all, the church is doing just fine now, so this must be the kingdom.

The details here are interesting, though, as to the spiritualizing that took place. I had not realized that the Roman Catholic idea of venerating the saints, their bones having miraculous power, setting forth images of them, etc., was the 5th century papacy’s advancing of their reinterpretation of the former chiliast (premillennial) faith, “the reign of the risen saints.”

 The fatal blow to the doctrine of Polycarp and Irenaeus was given, first of all, by a Roman Pope, whose secretary was Jerome, at the close of the fourth century — Damasus I., A.D. 380 — who condemned the martyr faith as a ” heresy,” in the person of Appolinarius, the opposer of the principles of Origen and Dionysius, while the advancing Papacy began to expound the reign of the risen saints, — ” secundum ana gogen!” — as meaning their idolatrous worship, the miraculous virtue of their bones, the presence of their images, the sanctity of their tombs, and their ghostly intercession.

Nathaniel West provides some great quotes at this point of the history:

 The martyr age had passed away. No more councils like that of Nice, in which martyrs, fresh from the Maximian persecution, answered to their names. No Paphnutius, any more, venerable with silver hairs, one eye gouged out by the tool of the Pagan torturer, its frightful socket seared with red-hot iron, both legs ham-strung, and standing beside young Athanasius of only twenty-seven summers, defending the orthodox faith. A new generation has appeared, intoxicated with the Christian conquest of heathenism, the careering splendor of a church and state establishment, and whirling a mystic dance around the tranquility of the empire. As the aspect of outward affairs changed under Constantine, these views lost their hold on men’s minds. The church now prepared for a long-continued period of temporal prosperity, and the State-Church of that time forgot the millennial glory of the future.

By union of church and state, and perversion of victory, the foundation was laid in the empire for a carnal caricature of the Millennial Kingdom of Christ on earth before the time. A Millennium sunk in the gross materialism and idolatry of medieval, political and military Christianity. By union of church and state, the martyr doctrine itself was martyred, not merely the unfortunate Jewish admixtures cast away, but the truth itself rejected, no council resisting, and vanished from view with the departing glory and last remnant of a suffering but pure apostolic church.

The “church is the kingdom” idea really only prevailed until about the 12th century, and this particular form of amillennialism had a temporal starting point, to continue for 1000 years until some yet-future time. First it was to end in the 6th century (the world’s six thousand years to have ended); then around 1000 A.D.: 1000 years after Christ’s birth. When nothing happened then, the starting date for the kingdom was changed to begin with Constantine’s victory in the year 312 A.D.. As West aptly observed: This new lease of three centuries caused the Ottoman Turk invading Christiandom to be regarded as the Gog and Magog of Revelation, and reserved for the fourteenth century another Antichiliastic panic, revived by the Flagellants and Loquis, less extensive, however, than the former; and followed by the general opinion that the 1,000 years were of indefinite duration.

It was the corruption in the Catholic church, the wickedness seen in the Pope and his system, that gradually brought people to see that this age of the Church is not the kingdom. And that leads to another interesting point, for next time: the connection between Historicism, and the Pope as AntiChrist, and the Return to Premillennialism.

Chiliasm: Premillennialism in Church History, Part I

July 23, 2014 Leave a comment

The following is the first in a short blog series, with details concerning the history of premillennialism, from the early church through the Puritan era. Further resources for this information: Nathaniel West’s History of the Premillennial Doctrine (1879), and “The Voice of the Church on the Coming and Kingdom of the Redeemer, Or, a History of the Doctrine of the Reign of Christ on Earth” by Daniel Thompson Taylor (1855).  Nathaniel West’s essay is a good overview and defense of premillennialism, in which he points out the true positions of early teachers and later attempted criticism of this hope of the martyr church. The earlier book (by D.T. Taylor) is a more comprehensive look at the actual history, with more details including many quotes from premillennialists through the centuries.

For today, a look at what the early church believed, and the scriptures they referenced in support of chiliasm – from the writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Lactantius and several others. Contrary to what is sometimes said about the early church, and what is sometimes presented as “historic premillennialism,” the early church had very definite ideas concerning what Revelation was about (quite opposite to what a local church pastor has often claimed, that the earliest believers didn’t understand the book of Revelation and didn’t know what it was about), and their premillennialism was based on many texts of scripture beyond the “one text” presentation of Revelation 20, including many Old Testament passages.

  • Psalm 37:11, “The meek shall inherit the earth, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace,” and the promise in the gospels, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”
  • Revelation 20, Genesis creation, Isaiah 65:17, Psalm 90:4; (also Peter’s reference in 2 Peter 3); Zechariah 14. (Note these verse also in reference to the millennial week concept of creation, including the six thousand years of history followed by the seventh thousand as the millennial era.)
  • That the city of Jerusalem would be “built, adorned, and enlarged according to the Prophets.” (Justin Martyr)

As noted in this previous post, the early church also affirmed a future 3 ½ year Tribulation, during which the believers will be persecuted by antichrist, after which Christ will Return. They especially understood the parallels between Daniel 7 and the book of Revelation, and that Revelation gives more temporal information of what Daniel’s account compresses, and that these passages refer to Christ’s Second Advent. Consider the following parallels, as presented by Nathaniel West:

As to the Cloud Comer:
Daniel 7:18 “I went on gazing in the night’s visions, and behold! One like a Son of Man came in the clouds of heaven,” etc.
Revelation 1:7 “Behold! He cometh in clouds, and every eye shall see Him; they also that pierced Him.”

As to the Persecuting Antichristian Beast:
Daniel 7:21, 22 “I went on gazing, and the same Horn made war with the saints and prevailed against them until the Ancient of Days came,”
Rev. 11:7; 18:7; 17:14. “The Beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.” “War with the saints and overcome them.”

As to the time of the Dominance of the Beast:
Dan 7:25. “They shall be given into his hands for a time, times, and the dividing of a time.”
Rev. 12:14; 11:2, 3. “For a time, times, and half a time.” “Forty and two months.” “A thousand, two hundred and threescore days.”

As to the Judgment on the Antichristian Beast:
Dan. 7:9, 10, 22, 26, 11. “I went on gazing till the thrones were placed and the Ancient of Days did sit,” -etc. “The judgment was set and the books were opened.” “And judgment was given to the saints of the Most High.” “The judgment shall sit,” etc. “I went on gazing—till the Beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame.”
Rev. 19:11; 20:4, 12; 19:20, 21. “I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse,” etc. “I saw thrones and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them.” “And I saw a great white throne, and the books were opened.” “And I saw the Beast,” etc. “And the Beast was taken, and with him the False Prophet that wrought miracles before them,” etc. “These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of Him that sat on the horse,” etc.

As to the Kingdom and Reign of the triumphant saints:
Dan. 7:18, 22, 27. “The time came that the saints possessed the Kingdom.” “The saints of the Most High shall take the Kingdom forever, even for ever and ever.” “And the Kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the Kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom,” etc.
Rev. 6:10; 11:15; 20:4, 5. “We shall reign with thee on the earth.” “The Kingdoms of this world are become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever, and ever.” “And I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God,” etc. “And they lived and reigned a thousand years. This is the first resurrection.”

As to the Blessedness of the Millennial Reign:
Dan. 12:12, 18. “Blessed is he that waiteth and cometh to the thousand, three hundred and five and thirty days.” “Thou shalt rest and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.”
Rev. 20:6 “Blessed and holy is He that hath part in the first resurrection; on such the second death hath no power. But they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.”

An excerpt from Nathaniel West on this point:

The prophetic page of Daniel was regarded as a sacred calendar of the future, measuring the range of successive Gentile empires from the captivity date to the finishing of the mystery of God under the seventh trumpet, embracing the conversion of the Jews or recall of Israel to the covenant, the overthrow of Antichrist, the first Resurrection, and the Millennial Reign and Final Judgment. (Rev. 10:7; 11:15; Rom. 11:26; Rev. 19:20; 20: 1-7)—a course of history spanning 490 years of the later Jewish dispensation, all the Christian dispensation closing with the overthrow of the Beast and Little Horn, and the erection of Daniel’s fifth and everlasting Kingdom as an external polity, upon the extinct polities of all nations. The whole time thus covered, by this scope, was the long period of Israel’s expectation, running parallel with the Captivity, Restoration, Rejection, the times of the Antichristian Apostacy—all this the “Times of the Gentiles,”—together with the ” Time of the End,” and of the 1,000 years. The prophetic page of John, too, was regarded by the early Church as a compend, not of the details, but of the chief events and results of history in their relation to the coming Kingdom, a further development of the vision of Daniel, depicting the rise and progress of Antichrist, the final overthrow of the Roman Empire, and the judgment on Antichrist at the end of the 1,260 days—the Great Image no longer standing on its feet, Beast and False Prophet no longer existing, the Millennial Kingdom coming with One who comes in the clouds of Heaven. With such a view it was impossible for the early Church not to be Pre-Millennarian, for the visions of Daniel (chap. 7) and John (Apoc. chaps. 4-22) were one.

Next Time: The Martyr doctrine that was itself martyred

The Chiliasts (early premillennialists) and John Bunyan

July 17, 2014 6 comments

In my ongoing interests in premillennialism and church history, lately I have been looking more closely at the earlier premillennialists (pre-19th century), and particularly John Bunyan.  While searching on the Internet a few weeks ago, in reference to the question of “reformed Baptists” and historic premillennialism, I came across a recent article that explain a little of the history of the 1689 London Baptist confession and connection to premillennialism.  The following paragraph especially caught my interest:

Likewise, Nathaniel West tells us that “the English Chiliasts issued a public protest against both the conduct and principles of the revolutionary sect, a protest in which all true pre-millennarians were represented. (Neal’s Puritans, II. 221.) Eleven years after the Assembly adjourned, the English Baptists presented their pre-millennarian confession to Charles II., A.D. 1660, John Bunyan’s name among the number, declaring, ‘We believe that Christ, at His Second Coming, will not only raise the dead, and judge and restore the world, but also take to Himself His Kingdom, which will be a universal Kingdom and that, in this Kingdom, the Lord Jesus Christ will be the alone visible, Supreme, Lord and King of the whole earth.’ (Crosby’s History of the Baptists).

Prior to this, my primary knowledge of John Bunyan was his famous allegory, “Pilgrims Progress,” and related allegorical fiction, and a general impression that he did not write anything with specific reference to eschatology. Then I started looking at overall Puritan literature, including the John Bunyan volumes available at Bunyan Ministries, including Bunyan’s unfinished commentary on Genesis, which covered the first 10 chapters.  Recognizing that this was nearly two centuries before the 19th century controversy over evolution and the age of the Earth, still I was curious to find out what, if anything, John Bunyan had to say regarding the Earth’s age, in his writings about the early Genesis chapters.

Indeed, we won’t find anything in Bunyan’s writings in reference to the 19th century teaching of evolution or long, vast ages of earth history. But it was exciting and interesting to find this Puritan, hundreds of years before the more developed premillennial writings of the 19th century Benjamin Wills Newton and Nathaniel West variety, affirm the basics of premillennialism – and to specifically relate it to the doctrine of creation:

Which sabbath, as I conceive, will be the seventh thousand of years, which are to follow immediately after the world hath stood six thousand first: for as God was six days in the works of creation, and rested the seventh; so in six thousand years he will perfect his works and providences that concern this world. As also he will finish the toil and travel of his saints, with the burden of the beasts, and the curse of the ground; and bring all into rest for a thousand years.

Bunyan further understood the connection between the early Earth, the pre-flood era, and what is promised in the future millennial era, as in his comments on Genesis 5:

These long-lived men therefore shew us the glory that the church shall have in the latter day, even in the seventh thousand years of the world, that sabbath when Christ shall set up his kingdom on earth, according to that which is written, “They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years” (Rev 20:1-4). They:—Who? The church of God, according also as it was with Adam. Therefore they are said by John to be holy, as well as blessed: “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God, and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (v 6). In all which time the wicked in the world shall forbear to persecute, as did also the brood of wicked Cain in the days of Adam, Seth, &c. Hence therefore we find in the first place the dragon chained for these thousand years.

Bunyan’s view was quite similar to that of the early church, including the “millennial week” idea of a day as a thousand years, thus six thousand years of history for the six days of creation, followed by the “seventh day” as the 1000 year millennial kingdom. “Historic premillennialism” as expressed in the last 200 years, carries forward many features of early premillennialism, except the millennial week. For a modern Bible teacher who holds to chiliasm, see these articles from Tim Warner (note: he is also rather anti-Calvinist, and not in the usual tradition of the 19th century Calvinist Premillennialists), the only one I know of who holds to chiliasm in modern times:

Bunyan also taught according to the literal, non-spiritualizing hermeneutic, as seen in his reference to Zechariah 14:4, in this work addressing the error of the spiritualizing Quakers:

And his feet shall stand in that day [the day of his second coming] upon the Mount of Olives’ (Zech 14:4). Where is that? Not within thee, but that which is without Jerusalem, before it on the east side.

Regarding premillennialism in church history, the following online works:

Charles Spurgeon in History: 1862, the American Civil War

July 7, 2014 3 comments

For something a little different this time: Charles Spurgeon and his time, the American Civil War years. My chronological reading of Spurgeon sermons, begun with volume 1 (1855) about five years ago, is now nearing the end of 1862, and along with the timeless commentary and quotes expounding the word of God, are many interesting comments concerning the then-current events, especially what is now referred to as the American Civil War.

Spurgeon apparently did not comment on the war during 1861; the only news-related events mentioned up to that time specifically related to England, including an excellent sermon given on the occasion of Prince Albert’s death in December 1861. But beginning in the summer of 1862, he occasionally spoke about the war, giving his opinion of it at that time. As Civil War historians well know, this was the year before Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation, before the war itself had any direct connection to slavery. From Spurgeon we learn of specific incidents and how the war affected even people on the other side of the Atlantic.

From a sermon delivered in July 1862:

The question of the rightness of war is a moot point even among moral men. Among those who read their Bibles, the allowance of defensive war may, perhaps, still be a question; but any other sort of war must certainly be condemned by the man who is a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. We shall say nothing, however, or but very little, concerning the criminality of those ambitious and unscrupulous persons who hurry nations into war without cause. Lust of dominion, and a false pride are setting the United States on a blaze. I know at this time a tragic incident connected with the present war in America. Four brothers left one of our villages in Oxfordshire, two of whom, if now alive, are in one army, and two of them in the other; and, I doubt not, as desperately as any of their comrades, they are thirsting for each other’s blood! What horrors cluster around the iniquity of civil war. On yonder soil it is the blood of brothers that cries from the ground. Men are fighting, one against the other, in this lamentable conflict for no justifiable cause. The one cause which justified the war, as we thought—the snapping of the fetters of the slave—is gone, emancipation is not proclaimed, the slave is forgotten. What might have been a struggle for the rights of man is now a shameful and abominable slaughter of brothers by brothers! And a cry is going up to Heaven from those blood-red fields which God will hear, and will yet avenge on both sides. Oh that they would sheathe their swords and end it once and for all! What does it matter if there are two nations or one? Better two in peace, than one divided with intestine strife! How much better to have even 20 nations of living men, than one nation of mangled corpses! What difference is it to the survivors if they have all the honor and dignity of conquerors, when they are stained up to their elbows in the blood of their fellow men? Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, “Consider your ways.”

Then in November 1862, a sermon specifically in reference to the “Lancashire Distress,” which affected a part of England with poverty and famine; Spurgeon called it a worthy cause, concerning people truly in need yet hard working and the calamity beyond their own control, a people who had not (at least by this point in time) taken to any rioting or looting. I was unfamiliar with the “Lancashire Distress,” though gathered at least this much from the sermon itself, and that it had to do with the cotton industry. I later found this Wikipedia article that provides more details concerning the historical event, an economic depression due to an oversupply of cotton during the late 1850s followed by less demand and what was going on related to the cotton industry in the American Civil War.  The Lancashire Distress lasted from 1861 to 1865, about the same time as the American Civil War, and included later rioting, the following spring (1863), several months after Spurgeon’s message.  From this sermon, delivered November 9, 1862:

 the cause of this suffering is a national sin—the sin of slavery! We have not yet passed the third generation, and upon a nation God visits sin to the third and fourth generation. We have rid ourselves, at last, of this accursed stain as far as our present Government is concerned—we are therefore delivered from any fear in the future on that ground; but still, if slavery is now in America, we must remember that it would not have been there if it had not been carried there—and we are partners in guilt! Moreover, there has been too much winking at slavery among the merchants of Manchester and Liverpool. There has not been that abhorrence of the evil which should have been, and therefore it is just in the Providence of God that when America is cut with the sword, we should be made to smart with the rod! If the Lord is pleased to smite our nation in one particular place, yet we must remember that it is meant for us all. Let us all bear the infliction as our tribulation, and let us cheerfully take up the burden, for it is but a little one compared with what our sins might have brought upon us! Better far for us to have famine than war! From all civil war and all the desperate wickedness which it involves, good Lord deliver us; and if You smite us as You have done, it is better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of man!

The Puritans, and Online Resources

July 1, 2014 4 comments

In 1987 Dr. S. Lewis Johnson observed the negative slant our culture puts on the Puritans, while emphasizing the positive aspect of true Puritanism:

There is a genuine New Testament Puritanism. A separation from sin and evil that a genuine Christian must cultivate. Even Arminians and Calvinists who don’t agree on soteriological truths, do agree here if they’re believers in Christ. Christians are to separate from evil and sin in their Christian life. …. New Testament Puritanism is no harsh, repellant thing eradicating the affections. It’s the opening of the heart to eternal love, to eternal joy, to eternal comfort in rich fruitfulness. There is puritanism in the New Testament. It’s for everyone of us who named Christ. May God help us to illustrate it in our lives.

Yet in recent years within evangelical Christianity, the Puritans have made a “comeback,” with increased popularity as their writings have become more available to our generation. Over the last few years I’ve come to greatly appreciate Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle, both of whom were influenced by the Puritans. So I’ve recently looked more closely at the Puritans, both in the history and literature, and put together this list of resources for introduction:

Introductory articles:

Why You Should Read the Puritans, by Joel Beeke:

He recommends starting with these three works:

then move on to the works of John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, and Jonathan Edwards.

History of the Puritan Era

Overview history:

The detailed history of the Puritans, over a thousand pages in the details starting with Henry VIII, through the late 17th century, is available online: Daniel Neal’s History of the Puritans.  The full five volumes are available online, both at Google Play and Archive.org. Here are the two volumes of the abridged set, from Henry VIII to the early 18th century Queen Anne:

  • Volume 1 (Henry VIII to King Charles I)
  • Volume 2 (King Charles I to Queen Anne)

Collections of Puritan Writings

Puritan Blogs

The Prophet Zechariah and Modern Criticism: David Baron

June 26, 2014 1 comment

The book of Zechariah, especially the last few chapters, often is mentioned as being a challenge for non-futurists and non-premillennialists.  A recent online conversation among a group of preterist amillennialists, for example, involved people citing various commentaries in support of various “spiritual” or allegorical ideas not related to the specific text itself.

David Baron’s Zechariah commentary, written nearly 100 years ago, shows that nothing is new in biblical commentary and criticism. Here is a look at this rather interesting issue, the various “interpretations” of higher criticism and the idea that Zechariah chapters 9 through 14 were not authored by Zechariah.

Before the modern liberal thought, 17th century Joseph Mede argued for pre-exilic authorship and attributed chapters 9 through 14: to justify inerrancy of the reference in Matthew 27:9-10, which ascribes a prophecy in Zechariah 11 to Jeremiah. And proceeding from this point of view, he discovered, as he thought, internal proof that these chapters belonged not to Zechariah’s, but to Jeremiah s time. He was followed by Hammond, Kidder, Newcome, etc. Here Baron considers the possibility that the mistake occurred with the transcribers of Matthew’s Gospel – rather than the Jewish Church making a mistake in their canon of scripture.

The more serious, unbelieving criticism came later, in the era of “modern criticism.” Like the claims of a “deutero Isaiah” and other anonymous writers who added to the original prophets’ writings, this comes from the root of naturalism and an anti-supernaturalist presupposition, the idea that it is not possible for a human writer to so well predict the future.

reading the many, and for the most part conflicting opinions of modern writers on this question, one is struck with the truth of Keil’s remarks, that the objections which modern critics offer to the unity of the book (and the same may be said also of much of their criticism of other books of the Bible) do not arise from the nature of these scriptures, but “partly from the dogmatic assumption of the rationalistic and naturalistic critics that the Biblical prophecies are nothing more than the productions of natural divination; and partly from the inability of critics, in consequence of this assumption, to penetrate into the depths of the divine revelation, and to grasp either the substance or form of their historical development so as to appreciate it fully.”

All operating from the same naturalist presupposition, the various writers come up with several different ideas, with their only thing in common their rejection of the obvious, their insistence that it could not have been written by the prophet Zechariah. Some say it was written by someone during the later, post-Zechariah, post-exile time period (anywhere from 500 to 300 B.C.), while others give it a pre-exile date as in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s time. S. Lewis Johnson’s observation so well applies here: “When we lack the will to see things as they really are, there is nothing so mysterious as the obvious. David Baron well points out the problem with the pre-exilic view:

it must be pointed out that the prophecy, had it preceded the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, could not have been earlier than the reign of Jehoiakim, since the mourning for the death of Josiah is spoken of as a proverbial sorrow of the past. But in that case the prophecy which ” anticipates” a miraculous interposition of God for the deliverance of Jerusalem would have been in direct contradiction to Jeremiah, “who for thirty-nine years in one unbroken dirge predicted the evil” which should come upon the city; and the inventive prophet would have been “one of the false prophets who contradicted Jeremiah, who encouraged Zedekiah in his perjury, the punishment whereof Ezekiel solemnly denounced, prophesying his captivity in Babylon as its penalty ; he would have been a political fanatic, one of those who by encouraging rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar brought on the destruction of the city, and in the name of God told lies against God.

It is such an intense paradox that the writing of one convicted by the event of uttering falsehood in the name of God, incorrigible even in the thickening tokens of God s displeasure, should have been inserted among the Hebrew prophets, in times not far removed from those whose events convicted him, that one wonders that any one should have invented it. Great indeed is the credulity of the incredulous!

The full chapter goes into great detail concerning the views of many scholars of that time, and their flawed reasoning. David Baron provides a good summary of those who stand on the shaky ground of human wisdom:

But there is truth in the remark that “Criticism which reels to and fro in a period of nearly 500 years, from the earliest of the prophets to a period a century after Malachi, and this on historical and philological grounds, certainly has come to no definite basis, either as to history or philology. Rather, it has enslaved both to preconceived opinions; and at last, as late a result as any has been, after this weary round, to go back to where it started from, and to suppose these chapters to have been written by the prophet whose name they bear.”

Evangelism, Islam, and the Kingdom of God

June 19, 2014 5 comments

A speaker from a Christian missionary group recently presented an evening conference at a local church, about how to evangelize and reach Muslims. The presentation was a condensed form of material sometimes presented in all-day seminars, covering several interesting points: basic history of the Muslim faith, the cultural connection with blending of state and religion, the overall population of Muslims worldwide (only about 20% are Arabic, and representing many dialects and ethnic groups even within the Arab world), as well as the main beliefs and the 5 or 6 “pillars” of Islam, and how this works-based religion approaches these pillars: really good Muslims will try to follow most or all, while others may skip on some of the works while performing others.

The speaker had experience mainly with Turkish Muslims, and thus no reference to Muslims in more radical Islamic countries.  Rather, he emphasized the variation among individual Muslims and varying commitment level to their faith, while acknowledging that yes, parts of the Koran (Mohammed’s later writings as compared to earlier) do advocate violence.  Nothing was said regarding present-day events, such as the trend evident in Europe, of the increasing Muslim population and the gradual overthrow of European society by these immigrants. Likewise nothing was said regarding Muslim eschatology and the Mahdi, or even any mention of the historic and ongoing enmity between Jews and Muslims.

Much of what the speaker had to say included general evangelistic principles, applicable to any group of unbelievers, whether Muslims, Jews, or secular atheists: personal evangelism rather than theological debates; most Muslims you meet on the street are not that expert in what their religion teaches, so talk to each one and find out what they believe).   As anyone who has spent any time in facebook group theological discussions knows, yes of course such “debates” are not useful for changing someone’s beliefs: whether unbelievers to Christianity, or even for convincing believers of secondary doctrines they misunderstand.  Also, same as with other unbelievers, it usually takes many experiences of hearing about Christianity before God works in the heart; we plant seeds and pray for God to change the heart, but often it takes many years and a lot of exposure to Christian truth before a Muslim, or any other unbeliever, comes to Christ.

It was the speaker’s handling of one doctrinal issue that led me to tune out briefly. After pointing out the Muslim’s negative association with the term “crusade” as referencing what was done in the name of Christianity (Catholicism) so many centuries ago, he asserted that the kingdom is only spiritual and not an earthly kingdom such as that attempted by the crusaders. The second part of that is certainly correct: the kingdom of God is not something such as was attempted by the medieval Crusades. But why not rather acknowledge that Christians do have differing views of this, including the fact that the church itself was generally premillennial for the first 300 years, and that premillennialism returned early in the Protestant era? Instead the speaker gave a brief one-sided and partial “exposition” of Acts 1: just before Jesus’ ascension, the disciples are asking if the kingdom will be restored; after all this time of Jesus teaching them they are still confused, they don’t get it and they don’t know that the kingdom is only spiritual — and instead they need to be out evangelizing the world. As usual with amillennial teaching, the speaker stopped at that verse and did not continue to consider Christ’s actual response in the very next verse.  He did not rebuke them or give any indication that they had an incorrect understanding (that they were such idiots for thinking Christ’s kingdom is a real, physical kingdom), but merely said it was not for them to know the “times or seasons.” And Peter’s speech in Acts 3, plus other references later in Acts, tell us that the apostles later on were still expecting the future kingdom.

A proper perspective helps at this point. Yes, certainly, it is better that Muslims be saved even if with incorrect understanding of a secondary doctrine. The Unitarian, who denies the divinity of Christ yet participates in online Christian eschatology groups, who understands and can defend premillennialism with all the scriptures, yet isn’t even a Christian at all, serves as a clear example of what Al Mohler likely meant by “theological triage.”  Still, premillennialism is not some evil doctrine that would prevent anyone, including Muslims, from coming to Christ. To evangelize Muslims and address this point of the nature of the kingdom — as contrasted with the negative Crusade experience — one can simply explain that the kingdom is something that will be established by Christ upon His return, not that which has been attempted by the outward visible “Church” during this age.

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