Terms and Distinctions: Reformed/Covenant Theology, NCT, and Covenantal Premillennialism

September 16, 2014 6 comments

Among some Christian circles today, especially Calvinists and dispensationalists, a more superficial understanding of theology persists, and the tendency to think that:

  • anyone who is not “dispensational” adheres to covenant theology
  • anyone who holds to amillennialism believes Covenant theology, and vice versa, AND
  • covenant theology equals “church replacement theology” (amillennial/preterist ideas)

Accordingly, some will use the terms “Calvinist” and “Reformed” interchangeably, though in discussion it becomes clear that what is actually meant is Calvinist soteriology aka the “doctrines of grace.” Yet as I’ve recently come to understand more clearly, 5-point baptistic Calvinism, as popularly seen in the “Sovereign Grace” movement characterized by smaller, non-denominational churches with informal affiliation — and often associated with amillennial or postmillennial eschatology — is but one component of what is included within overall “Reformed/Covenant  Theology.”   Covenant Theology aka Reformed Theology includes not only Calvinist soteriology, but also understanding and adherence to the 16th and 17th century Reformed confessions. The confessions include the teaching of the theological covenants (covenant of works, covenant of grace, and covenant of redemption), and understanding of the Old Testament law as having three parts (moral, civil, ceremonial) and a “third use” of the law (the moral law, the ten commandments), as a guide in sanctification (not salvation) for the believer.

Here I observe that some churches that affirm the “Doctrines of Grace” aka Calvinism and reference the term “sovereign grace,” may also hold to covenant theology.  But more often they actually hold to a “dispensational” understanding of the law, particularly with NCT, New Covenant Theology (which has developed within the last 30 years, about as old as progressive dispensationalism, both of which are more recent than classic or even revised dispensationalism). To add to the name confusion, some churches with “Reformed Baptist” in their name actually teach NCT instead of Reformed Baptist theology. The difference shows up while visiting church websites, that some reformed churches will specifically state their adherence to the 1689 London Baptist Confession (or another of the 17th century confessions, such as the 1644 Baptist one or, for paedo-baptists, the Westminster Confession); some of these will state qualified agreement “generally” or “in large part” while others state full agreement; whereas NCT “Sovereign Grace” churches usually will not explicitly mention their “NCT” belief (which is not one single, confessional belief and likely includes several variations).  With specific churches (as true for all doctrinal views) one must look carefully at the stated versus actual beliefs; in recent church-site searching I came across a few church websites stating agreement with the 1689 London Baptist confession but with sermon content of traditional dispensationalism.  Further: though NCT “Sovereign Grace” churches are also predominantly amillennial/ postmillennial, a few are historic premillennial (for instance Fred Zaspel and a few others), and a few that self-describe as “Sovereign Grace” are of the Calvinist-Dispensational variety.

Another important point regarding Covenant Theology and millennial views: though many who hold to “Covenant Theology” also are amillennial or postmillennial – with variations among themselves on the futurist-idealist-preterist line, CT itself does not at all require an anti-premillennial view, or even an anti-future Israel view.  Though the true history has been largely forgotten by many of today’s CT advocates… ironically enough, as noted in Nathaniel West’s “History of the Premillennial Doctrine” and in my recent “Premillennialism in Church History” series, many if not most of the Westminster Divines were in fact premillennial: a truth that returned soon after the Reformation and held sway throughout the early Protestant years.  Many great theologians of the CT tradition, down through the 18th and 19th centuries, were premillennial, and many of these also affirmed a literal future for regathered ethnic, national Israel.

Covenant theologians (such as Horatius Bonar, also J.C. Ryle and Charles Spurgeon) can well articulate BOTH the tenets of covenant theology and the reformed view of the law (see Horatius Bonar’s God’s Way of Holiness, especially chapter 6), AND affirm historic/classic premillennialism, including future restoration of ethnic, national Israel.

Here I note an example of modern-day CT writing which conflates teaching on the Reformed/Covenantal view of the Law, with eschatology and Israel, in this passing statement near the end of this otherwise helpful article about the third use of the law; but such is the author’s own confusion. The article’s statement – This is one eternally important reason why Israel received the Law in the Mosaic Covenant, with the associated typological promise of blessing and cursing. Christ, the antitype of Israel, takes the antitypical curse for the Covenant people and fulfills the righteous requirement of the Law to give them the antitypical (eternal) blessings by faith in Him. – actually has nothing to do with covenant theology itself, and only shows the author’s own confusion and mixing of unrelated issues with excessive spiritualizing. Perhaps, too, this statement could be taken as an illustration or analogy, yet the primary truth and primary meaning (of literal Israel still experiencing literal curses in this age, to be followed by literal blessings in the future) still remains.

To conclude, a selection from Covenant premillennialist Horatius Bonar:

It seems often taken for granted that those who assert the literal interpretation of the blessings promised to Israel, thereby exclude the spiritual. They do not. They assert the literal blessing, because they believe that God has promised it; but they maintain the superiority and necessity of the spiritual as firmly as do the others. They believe that Israel will be converted, and they rejoice in this as the glorious issue towards which the prophets point. But they believe more; they believe not only that they will be converted, but they will be restored to their own land. But does their literal restoration take from them one single spiritual blessing? Or does it prevent the Gentile nations from enjoying one of those innumerable blessings which are given to them for an inheritance?

Revelation 5, the Christology of Heaven (S. Lewis Johnson)

September 10, 2014 3 comments

From S. Lewis Johnson’s Revelation series, a few observations concerning the great throne room scene of Revelation 5 – the Christology of Heaven.

The three-fold praise in heaven gives a natural three-point sermon:

  • The Song of the creatures and the elders (Rev. 5:8-10)
  • The Shout of the angelic host (Rev. 5:11-12)
  • The Saying of “the whole creation” (Rev. 5:13-14)

Revelation 5 references the atonement and that satisfaction that Christ has rendered in His death on the cross.

this expression that, “the lamb of God was slain and has purchased”, is a reference to his penal death, that is he died under the penalty of the sins of men, further that it is a substitutionary death that we should have died, but he died instead of us. He died as our representative. He died as our covenantal head. Incidentally, Bach makes that point over and over in the St. John Passion, of how He was bound that we might not be bound and so on. And then also it is a satisfaction that is the Lord Jesus Christ in His sacrifice in His blood has satisfied the claims of a holy and righteous God against us. And as Anselm pointed out, it was something we must do — but we did not have the power to do and someone else, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the one who has done it for us. … It is good news that men who cannot save themselves do have a Savior to whom they may appeal and expect to find full, free forgiveness and justification of life. So it is a penal substitutionary satisfaction, and I would like a minor emphasis this morning, we don’t have time to deal in detail with this, to say that also it was a particular redemption.

The ninth verse: “For Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed to God by Thy blood.” (ESV: for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God):

Most of the translators supply the words either “men” or “some”. Luther supplied the German word Menchen, which means something like mankind, but it’s a supply because of the partitive construction in the original text. Take my word for it. It’s true. After forty years of teaching New Testament Greek exegesis. Jesus, I assure you there is no doubt about it whatsoever, it is a partitive construction. That is, a reference is to some out of the whole, a part out of the whole. So he does not say he has redeemed to God by Thy blood, every kindred tongue and people and nation, but “out of every people tongue and nation.” In other words, there is a selection, a part of the whole that is the object of the redeeming work.

That verse 9 means more than simply talking about the fact that some should be lost, is seen in the very next verse: “And hast made them unto our God kings and priests.”

In other words, everyone who is the object of the purchase is also effectually made a king and a priest, and surely you’re not going to be universalists are you? No, you know that that is not true. So everyone who has been purchased has also been made a priest and a king, and I won’t say anything more about it. I don’t want your blood to rise, become hot and angry because there are other things that are very important in this great passage, but I want you to think about it. It’s evident then, I think that what John says is harmonious with a particular redemption.

Another observation: the angelic hosts know where to put the crown: they don’t put it on man, but on the Son of Man, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Ask those angelic hosts how men are saved, and from their own language that they would say, “The glories that men who are saved have are not due to the individuals. They are due to the lamb who was slain,” or if you were to say to the elders and the living creatures, “Where did the faith come from by which this vast multitude was saved? Did it come from them?” they would say, “No a faith did not come from them. It was the gift of God.” For after all the apostle wrote, “No man can call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Spirit.”

Creation Apologetics: The Creation Ordinance Sabbath

September 2, 2014 3 comments

In studying the idea of a creation ordinance sabbath – the significance of the seven day week and setting aside one of those seven days as different from the others – I recall the value of extra-biblical historical records, for apologetics related to other events of Genesis 1-11, in support of biblical “young earth” creation, the flood of Noah, dinosaurs (dragons) coexisting with humans, and the “Table of Nations” genealogies.  Reference this post (After the Fall), related to the study of the nations listed in Genesis 10.

It is not the purpose of this post to consider all the issues related to the Christian Sabbath. One very good resource is Robert L. Dabney’s “Systematic Theology,” of which nearly a full chapter (25 pages) is devoted to the issue of the 4th commandment, available online here, and includes the historical background of the two main views throughout Christian history as well as all the pertinent scripture passages.

The issue (for this post) is related to creation, and evidences available, including early historical records.  It is often asserted by non-sabbath believers, that the Pentateuch makes no mention of Sabbath observance after Genesis 2, until Exodus 16, and thus we have no evidence of any Sabbath observance before the law of Moses.  In response: first, the seven day week itself is an unusual phenomenon, as it does not fit with any calendar system of timekeeping — a strong evidence for the biblical record itself in contrast to evolutionary ideas; see this article from the Institute for Creation Research.  (As a side note: observance of a Christian Sabbath is not a “Covenant Theology vs. Dispensationalism” issue. As acknowledged in online discussions, even some dispensationalists believe and practice it; ICR is one such example, 4-point Calvinist-Dispensational with Christian Sabbath.)  Aside from the fact that the Sabbath is mentioned in the Exodus wilderness before the giving of the law on Sinai, it is true that the references in Genesis (after chapter 2) only mention the seven day week cycle and do not explicitly mention anything of people observing a rest for one day out of each seven.  Yet consider: if the seventh-day sabbath precept did originate at creation, we should expect to find some indication of it in early pagan civilization and their written records – similar to what is found regarding the flood of Noah, dragons, and the “Table of Nations” genealogies. Interestingly enough, we do find such evidence that the sabbath (a rest day for one out of seven days) goes back to creation itself.

Ancient Pagan Religious Practices

Secular sources note that the ancient Babylonians, like the Jews, also observed a seven day week (somewhat modified for their lunar monthly calendar), and their pagan observance included “holy days” every 7th day. Such evolutionary sources, such as Wikipedia, of course try to “find” another explanation for the 7 day calendar, apart from its origin in Genesis, yet still note the following about early Babylonian practice:

The origin of the seven-day week is the religious significance that was placed on the seventh day by ancient cultures. The earliest ancient sources record a seven-day week in ancient Babylon prior to 600 BCE.[1] Babylonians celebrated a holy day every seven days, starting from the new moon, then the first visible crescent of the Moon, but adjusted the number of days of the final “week” in each month so that months would continue to commence on the new moon … Counting from the new moon, the Babylonians celebrated the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th as “holy-days”, also called “evil days” (meaning “unsuitable” for prohibited activities). On these days officials were prohibited from various activities and common men were forbidden to “make a wish”, and at least the 28th was known as a “rest-day”.[4] On each of them, offerings were made to a different god and goddess.

And from this online article:

In their normal seven day week, the Babylonians held the seventh day of each week as holy, much like the Jews did and still do.  However, the Babylonians also held the day to be unlucky.  Thus, similar to the Jews (but for a different reason- the unluckiness of the day), the seventh day had restrictions on certain activities to avoid dire consequences from the inherit unluckiness of the day.

Early Pagan Literature

This idea can also be found in ancient extra-biblical literature. Cited in Dabney’s “Systematic Theology”, the following evidence from early pagan literature:

The assertion that the Sabbath was coexisting with the human race, and was intended for the observation of all, receives collateral confirmation also from the early traditions concerning it, which pervade the first Pagan literature. It can hardly be supposed that Homer and Hesiod borrowed from the books of Moses, sabbatical allusions which would have been to their hearers unintelligible. They must be the remnants of those primeval traditions of patriarchal religion, which had been transferred by the descendants of Japheth, to the isles of Chittim. The early allusions to a sacred seventh day may be sufficiently exhibited by citing a collection of them from Eusebius’ Preparation Evangelica(50. 13., Sect. 13), which he quotes from the Stromata of Clement of Alexandria. The latter father is represented as saying: “That the seventh day is sacred, not the Hebrews only, but the Gentiles also acknowledge, according to which the whole universe of animals and vegetables revolves.” Hesiod, for instance, thus says concerning it:

“The first, the fourth also, and the seventh is a sacred day.” (Ieron `Hmar .) Dierum, line 6.

And again: “The seventh day once more, the splendid dawn of the sun.”

And Homer: “The seventh day then arrived, the sacred day.”

Again: “The seventh was sacred.”

“The seventh dawn was at hand, and with this all the series is completed.”

And once more: “On the seventh day, we left the stream of Acheron.”

And thus also writes Callimachus the poet: “It was now the Sabbath day: and with this all was accomplished.”

Again: “The seventh day is among the fortunate; yea, the seventh is the parent day.”

Again: “The seventh day is first, and the seventh day is the complement.”

And: “All things in the starry sky are found in sevens; and shine in their ordained cycles.”

“And this day, the elegies of Solon also proclaim as more sacred, in a wonderful mode.” Thus far Clement and Eusebius. Josephus, in his last book against Apion, affirms that “there could be found no city, either of the Grecians or Barbarians, who owned not a seventh day’s rest from labor.” This of course is exaggerated. Philo, cotemporary with Josephus, calls the Sabbath eorth pandhmo”.

These references from ancient history clearly support the biblical data for a seven day week and its associated creation sabbath ordinance: a creation precept set in place in Genesis 2, an ordinance and precept unlike the later ceremonial Sabbath set forth in the law section of the Pentateuch (which was given AFTER the events of Exodus 16 and AFTER the giving of the Ten Commandments). Like other knowledge from the antediluvian era, this was passed down to the post-flood world by Noah and his sons.  As with other knowledge from that time, though, this original understanding of the true God was soon distorted among the Gentile peoples who spread out from Babel (Genesis 11), along with all other distortions of yet true accounts in their literature (i.e., the creation story and the flood), and finally forgotten by our world which looks to godless evolution and millions of years, suppressing the truth (Romans 1) that was known by our distant ancestors.

The Unbelieving Spouse: A Spurgeon Illustration, and Application

August 28, 2014 7 comments

From my recent Spurgeon reading comes this interesting story: a possibly greater motive, for wives with unbelieving husbands, than the words of 1 Peter 3:1-4:

We have heard of a wife, a godly woman, who for 20 years had been persecuted by a brutal husband—a husband so excessively bad that her faith at last failed her, and she ceased to be able to believe that he would ever be converted. But all this while she was more kind to him than ever. One night, at midnight, in a drunken state, he told his friends he had such a wife as no other man had; and if they would go home with him, he would get her up, to try her temper, and she would get a supper for them all! They came and the supper was very soon ready, consisting of such things as she had prepared as well and as rapidly as the occasion would allow; and she waited at the table with as much cheerfulness as if the feast had been held at the proper time! She did not utter a word of complaint. At last, one of the company, more sober than the rest, asked how it was she could always be so kind to such a husband. Seeing that her conduct had made some little impression, she ventured to say to him, “I have done all I can to bring my husband to God, and I fear he will never be saved. Since, therefore, his portion must be in Hell forever, I will make him as happy as I can while he is here, for he has nothing to expect hereafter.”

In a later telling of this account (this sermon) Spurgeon added that the husband was saved as a result of this event.

This week I’ve also been listening to S. Lewis Johnson’s Revelation series, including Revelation 3, the church at Laodicea. The above situation involved someone who was “cold” to the things of God, one who was apart from professing Christianity, knew he was not a believer and wasn’t interested. As Dr. Johnson observed regarding Revelation 3 and the desire that the Laodiceans would be cold rather than lukewarm: Perhaps because if a person is really cold in the spiritual sense it might be possible for them to be awakened, but if a person has a kind of protecting covering of religiosity, it is most difficult to reach such people.

If the godly woman (in the above account) had given up hope of her very ungodly husband ever being saved, how much more the seeming (and perhaps actual) hopelessness for the “lukewarm” professing, nominal Christians who may well be just as lost – only they don’t realize it and are quite content with regular attendance at church but completely secular interests the rest of the week (and even while at church, only interested in secular topics of conversation), lives conformed to a non-Christian worldview. What James said (James 2:19) also comes to mind, to explain the seeming paradox of people who say they believe all the basic truths of the word of God, yet show no application of it in their lives: You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

Regardless of the type of husband (cold or lukewarm) the godly woman’s actions serve as a very strong motivator for those among us unequally yoked; if anything the case is all the more true and urgent with the “luke-warm” professing husband. “I fear he will never be saved. Since, therefore, his portion must be in Hell forever, I will make him as happy as I can while he is here, for he has nothing to expect hereafter.”  Others are not guaranteed the same outcome this godly woman had (1 Cor. 7:16, “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?”), and realizing that sobering fact that this life may be the best that the unbelieving partner has, the only proper response is to “make him as happy as I can while he is here.”

Historical Theology and the Covenant Concept

August 25, 2014 4 comments

I once thought that “covenant theology” had (only) its three theological covenants, whereas (only) dispensationalists taught regarding the historical covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, New), with no overlap or combinations in between.  Also I heard the commonly asserted idea, that covenant theology only began in the 17th century.

Though some current day Calvinist-Dispensationalists may take exception to the idea of any theological covenants, it is interesting to note that classic dispensationalism from earlier years recognized the “Adamic/Edenic Covenant” (CT’s covenant of works). Also, the late Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, even in his earlier Dallas-Seminary years recognized in scripture both the “covenant of works” (Edenic) covenant and the theological “Covenant of Redemption,” along with all the historical covenants. The CT side, it turns out, also recognizes the historical covenants, though seeing the historical covenants as the redemptive history outworking of the theological “covenant of grace.” See for example this series on covenant theology, taught at a 1689 reformed, historic premillennial church, which teaches through the three theological covenants AND each of the historical covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New).

Variations also exist among different covenant theologians in terms of eschatology, with the (in modern times dominant) amillennial and postmillennial spiritualizing/replacement idea concerning the prophetic texts, as contrasted with the many classic/covenantal premillennialists’ literal understanding of the OT prophetic texts as describing the future millennial age and national Israel’s restoration. Such different approaches clearly relate to the different covenant theologians and their eschatological views, as well seen in examples such as Horatius Bonar’s “Prophetic Landmarks,” (see this excerpt and also this one) written by a covenant theologian advocating the literal, future Israel understanding of the Old Testament prophecies, with very sharp words against the  spiritualizing hermeneutic of his reformed/amillennial contemporary Patrick Fairbairn.

Regarding the development of “covenant theology,” certainly its highly developed form originated in the 17th century. But as pointed out in some online articles, the rudiments of covenants, and the scriptural approach to covenants, goes back to the early church. As with the doctrines of grace, Augustine had a more developed view of covenants than the earlier church fathers, even recognizing the “covenant of works” with Adam, as in this excerpt from Augustine:

But even the infants, not personally in their own life, but according to the common origin of the human race, have all broken God’s covenant in that one in whom all have sinned. Now there are many things called God’s covenants besides those two great ones, the old and the new, which any one who pleases may read and know. For the first covenant, which was made with the first man, is just this: “In the day ye eat thereof, ye shall surely die. “Whence it is written in the book called Ecclesiasticus, “All flesh waxeth old as doth a garment. For the covenant from the beginning is, Thou shall die the death.”

Even Augustine’s more limited (compared to later ages) understanding of covenants limited his thinking, as Ligon Duncan observes in his “History of Covenant Theology“:

That is why Augustine, with as good as an answer as he gave to Pelagius, didn’t quite solve all the issues related to original sin because Augustine did not have a fully worked out Covenant Theology.  Augustine was a realist in his view instead of a federalist in his view of the imputation of Adam’s sin, and so Augustine got up to a certain point and he was stymied. Some of the errors in his theology are related to that distinction with regard to the imputation of Adam’s sin.

Yet the basics were there, what he had learned from the even earlier Christian teachers.  Ligon Duncan’s article explains the early church use of the historical covenants: as part of their understanding and ability to respond to the early heretics. Irenaeus, in “Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching,” expounded God’s redemptive plan as “unfolded in covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the New Covenant, and Christ.” Justin Martyr, Tertullian and others likewise explained their thinking, their apologetic, on the basis of these covenants set forth in scripture. Their covenantal thinking helped in their responses to the gnostics, by showing the continuity of scripture, that the God of the Old Testament is the same God in the New Testament, and Christ is that same God. Their response to unbelieving Jews, who denied that Christians were the legitimate heirs of the Abrahamic promises, was similarly based on the historical covenants and the Abrahamic promises.

As we know, the early Reformation emphasized a return to the original languages of the scriptures and early Christian writings. Through this, the 16th century Reformers (a century before the Dutch and the full development of Covenant Theology) including especially Zwingli, rediscovered the covenant concept. Several of the 16th century reformers use the covenants as an organizing principle, especially Zwingli and Bullinger. Calvin taught the unity of the covenants for a covenantal framework to understand the sacraments and argue against the Catholic teaching. Other 16th century reformers followed with important contributions toward the development of full covenant theology.

The articles mentioned above give more details regarding the development of covenant theology from the early church up to the 17th century, for a helpful part of historical theology and the development of Christian theology that we have inherited from those who went before.

 

Reformed Baptists (1689) and the Christian Sabbath

August 20, 2014 9 comments

Through study of the puritans and church history, and online reformed Baptist theology discussion groups, I am now more aware of the differences among various types of Calvinist Baptist groups, even among non-denominational, “reformed Baptist” type churches. Some “Sovereign Grace” (Calvinist, baptist) type churches, for instance, adhere to New Covenant Theology with its rejection of the three theological covenants – whereas other churches profess agreement with the 1689 London Baptist Confession, with its teaching of the theological covenants and reformed, confessional thought, beyond the basic Doctrines of Grace.

One especially new idea (to me): the Christian Sabbath teaching as expressed in the 17th century confessions, the Westminster Confession and the similar 1689 London Baptist Confession. I had read references to the Sunday Sabbath from classic writers such as 19th century preachers Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle, and recall the description of the practice in 19th century pioneer America, through the young-child perspective from author Laura Ingalls Wilder.  Yet I was not aware of the actual teaching itself, the doctrinal basis, or that it is practiced (and how) in modern times by at least a few evangelical Christians, especially among reformed Baptists.

The Sabbath statement in the 1689 Confession

8. The Sabbath is kept holy to the Lord by those who, after the necessary preparation of their hearts and prior arranging of their common affairs, observe all day a holy rest from their own works, words and thoughts about their worldly employment and recreations, and give themselves over to the public and private acts of worship for the whole time, and to carrying out duties of necessity and mercy.

The local NCT (New Covenant Theology) church has only briefly addressed the issue, insisting that the Sabbath was for the OT Jews only, it was on the 7th day and thus there is no reason for the church to observe it on Sunday instead; and their (Jews) Sabbath was not only the seventh day but many other ceremonial days – and thus anyone today wanting to observe a “Christian Sabbath” is being legalist and actually unable to observe the Sabbath because it means all those extra Jewish ceremonial feast days.

Yet from what I’ve read so far, the Christian Sabbath position sees the Sabbath as a “creation ordinance,” with its source in the Genesis creation, when God Himself set aside the seventh day; in Exodus the Sabbath commandment is given to the Israelites shortly after their exodus from Egypt and before the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. Christian Sabbath practice follows the “spirit” of the law from creation, rather than the “letter” of the law, without the specific rules and regulations of the Mosaic covenant Sabbath. Important to the Christian Sabbath are 1) the clear switch in the New Testament church, from meeting on the seventh day to the First day of the week, the Lord’s Day – a fact well established from passages in Acts and elsewhere in the NT regarding the day the church met; and 2) key verses including Mark 2:27-28 (“The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath.”), while seeing the context of Colossians 2:16-17 as referring to the Jewish ceremonial laws and not related to the Sabbath-from-creation.

I am still studying this issue, and need to read and study the 1689 Confession itself. Thus far, I am not convinced that the 4th commandment is directly set forth in scripture, but see it as certainly a good idea for overall Christian life and practice, in general terms of setting aside time, as much as possible, for public and private worship on Sundays, and part of the believer’s ongoing sanctification.

Several resources of interest:

Dr. Peter Masters, Sword and Trowel (2009), Remember the Lord’s Day

John Piper, Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy

“The Christian Sabbath” — Sermon summary from Andy West; includes quotes from Voddie Baucham and others, plus general Sunday and Sabbath history

Blog posts with resources for studying the Sabbath:

This last one has a somewhat different approach, pointing out the example of Sabbath from our Lord as sufficient, in the absence of a direct command:

Early Christians justified Sunday worship on the basis of Christ’s resurrection. This makes perfect sense since Jesus’ resurrection is his enthronement (compare Ps. 2:6-7 with Acts 13:33; see also Phil 2:5-11). Because divine enthronement is linked with Sabbath-rest, Christians are justified in keeping Sunday as a Sabbath on the basis of Christ’s example. In other words, just as God’s example of resting on the seventh day was sufficient warrant for man to follow his Maker’s example, so Jesus’ example of resting on the first day is sufficient warrant for the new humanity to follow its Re-Maker’s example.  So I don’t need a direct NT command to keep Sunday holy. I have Jesus’ example to follow.

Premillennialism in Church History: Part VI, the Return to Futurism

August 15, 2014 4 comments

Continuing in this series through Premillennialism in Church History, we come finally to the 19th century and the development of Futurist Premillennialism, after over two hundred years of Protestant, historicist premillennialism. Nathaniel West did not address this issue, the development of futurism, in his essay “History of the Premillennial Doctrine.”  Thus, the following information comes from several online sources, pulled together for overall information.

As briefly noted concerning the early church, the chiliasts understood the prophetic texts as referring to actual 1260 days as ordinary days, and affirmed that there would come a future 3 ½ year tribulation period during which antichrist would rule and persecute the saints during this time just prior to Christ’s Second Advent. The 5th century introduced “realized eschatology” and an allegorical hermeneutic for the “church triumphant” Roman Catholic church, and the corruption and apostasy of that age finally led to believers embracing the idea that the Pope is really the antichrist, and therefore we are not now in the kingdom but in the age which occurs BEFORE Christ returns to slay the antichrist and inaugurate His kingdom – hence the return to premillennialism, though of this historicist variety, during the early Protestant era — late 16th through the 17th century, and continuing in opposition to the newer postmillennial idea through the 18th century.

Yet for several centuries into the Protestant era, the identification of the Pope with antichrist held as a very strong idea, such that the suggestion that the antichrist described in Revelation was a future ruler (and not the Catholic Pope) was taken as being pro-Catholic. Further complicating the matter was the fact that, in the post-Reformation era, it was the Catholics who first suggested a futurist view – and their motivation did appear to be the cause of promoting Catholicism and deflecting criticism from the Pope. The Jesuit Ribera in the late 16th century first proposed the futuristic approach, in his commentary (1590) on the book of Revelation. As noted by several sources, the early 19th century saw the development of futurism, within Protestantism, from two groups: Protestants who disagreed with the Reformation and had leanings toward Rome, but also by the continually-reforming type Protestants who saw that the Reformation had not been completed. Both of these groups recognized and referenced the tradition of the early church in reference to a future antichrist reigning for 3 ½ years just prior to Christ’s return.

The earliest Protestant futurist premillennialists included S.R. Maitland, James H. Todd, William De Burgh and Isaac Williams. As Robert Gundry observed, in Church and the Tribulation: A Biblical Examination of Posttribulationism  (specific page viewable here and click ‘page’ to see the full page):

Historicism having discredited itself through the fixing of dates and fantastic interpretations of current events, Maitland, Todd, Burgh and Isaac Williams restored premillennial futurism to Protestant circles. Tregelles, B.W. Newton, Nathaniel West, and many others followed. Both premillennialism and futurism revived before the first glimmer of pretribulationism.

The later futurists – Tregelles, B.W. Newton and others – have previously been noted, and included in the list of resources here.  Many of the writings of these earliest Protestant, futurist premillennialists, can be found online.  Following are several links to these:

George Ladd’s “The Blessed Hope” (Google view of this section available here) also provides much of the history, including details about Ribera the earliest (post-Reformation) futurist (an amillennial futurist), as well as the three key Protestant futurists (S.R. Maitland, James H. Todd, and William Burgh), noting their clearly historic premillennial yet futurist understanding. An excerpt:

Burgh knows of only one coming of Christ, at the end of the Tribulation when the dead in Christ shall be raised and the living believers raptured. He believed that Israel was to be restored at the end of the age when the seventieth week of Daniel would occur. Antichrist will make a covenant with Israel only to break it in the midst of the week and to turn in wrath against Israel. … These early futurists followed a pattern of prophetic events similar to that found in the early fathers, with the necessary exception that Rome was not the final kingdom. In fact they appealed to the fathers against the popular historical interpretation for support of their basic view. A pretribulational rapture is utterly unknown by these men, and while Israel is to be restored, the gospel which Israel will preach in the millennium is the Gospel of grace, and those who are saved are included in the Church. The Tribulation concerns both Israel and the Church; in fact, it will be the time of testing an apostate Christianity.

The theological debate within premillennialism, historicism versus futurism, continued throughout the 19th century in the form of many papers written by one side opposing the other or responding to the other. The anti-Catholic historicist view still held on with some historic premillennialiasts, who saw the futurist view as being sympathetic to Catholicism. Though some who promoted a futurist view during this time did have sympathies toward Catholicism, clearly not were pro-Catholic, but returning to the original chiliast futurist premillennial faith. H.G. Guinness’ 1905 book, History Unveiling Prophecy (see pages 284-295), is a good example of the historicist rhetoric against futurism. Guinness’ protest against the futurist view adds his own emotional involvement in the issue as being one about the Pope, including faulty reasoning that if the Pope is not said to be THE antichrist spoken of in the scriptures, then the Pope would really be the vicar of Christ. He apparently could not understand a third possibility, that the Pope is AN antichrist (of which there have been and are many, as per 1 John), while recognizing that the prophetic scriptures speak instead of a future antichrist who will rule for 3 ½ years rather than 1260 years.

The only other development within overall premillennialism is the well-known one begun by Darby and his associates, what continues today as pre-tribulational dispensational premillennialism, a topic well-known with popularity especially in the U.S. Non-dispensational, historic premillennialism continues today with such organizations as the Sovereign Grace Advent Testimony in England, and other resources available online. Most premillennialists today are futurist, though I hear of a few exceptions, as for instance author James M. Hamilton, who take the historicist approach instead.

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