I’ve been following the discussion at “Expository Thoughts” blog, concerning “Mark Dever’s BIG Statement” and a response to it. The overall issues here are two: a local church’s doctrinal statement, and the subjective idea of doctrinal “triage” in which various biblical doctrines are ranked as being of first, second, or third-tier importance.
In the matter where my experience is more limited (I’ve only been a regular member at two churches in my life), I learned of the differences between local churches — some have very detailed doctrinal statements. Some churches that have detailed statements require membership adherence to that doctrinal statement; others do not exclude for membership based on these matters, but simply give the statement as “this is what we teach and believe.” My local church has neither a detailed doctrinal statement, nor membership qualification based on that; nor do they ever fully disclose and teach “New Members classes” though the church has had a great influx of new members and regular attenders in the last six years. The pastor happens to be amillennial and partial preterist in his view, and this is the only view presented. He frequently makes passing remarks showing his confused and highly-allegorized ideas of scripture, so he is clearly not neutral, in contrast to the many pastors that are amillennial but relegate the matter to a lesser level of importance.
The other issue, of doctrinal hierarchy, is one I’ve given some thought to, and I firmly believe that much of this concept is based on man’s ideas rather than God’s. Many of the preachers and bloggers (and many of the blog posters are also pastors) apparently rank eschatology as of little importance (3rd tier), others at 2nd tier, though all concurring that we shouldn’t divide and restrict fellowship based on either 2nd or 3rd tier doctrines. When these individuals rank eschatology on the same level of importance as drinking alcohol, or KJV-only versus non-KJV only, though, I believe that they do a great disservice to scripture and miss a huge difference between these items. Drinking alcohol, for instance, is explicitly designated in scripture, through Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians, as one of the lesser matters (along with eating meat sacrificed to idols, and general attitudes toward physical eating and drinking) up to each person’s own conscience. The KJV-only controversy is, of its very nature, not a biblical issue but a more recent development in which people have elevated the matter of translations to the level of doctrine itself.
Eschatology fits neither of the above cases, and in fact the Bible throughout addresses the subject very frequently and is quite clear on its meaning — clear, that is, unless one chooses to eisegete, instead of exegete, scripture. The matter really should not be that difficult. As one poster at Expository Thoughts noted, “the same hermeneutic that leads to an affirmation of believer’s baptism also leads to a premillennial view.” When Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, speaking of the coming man of sin, says that this person will set “himself up in God’s temple proclaiming himself to be God,” it is not difficult to understand that Paul is speaking of an actual temple building — especially when we also consider the many other texts that speak to the matter. To quote S. Lewis Johnson regarding the 2 Thessalonians text, “This cannot be a temple made of men who believe in the Lord Jesus, and the Lord Jesus, while right in the midst of that temple, would be sitting in the abomination of desolation. How ridiculous can you be in the interpretation of Scripture? So Paul understands that in the last days, that temple in Jerusalem is going to be rebuilt.”
As S. Lewis Johnson pointed out, in the New Testament our Lord’s second coming is referred to 318 times, so that is is mentioned proportionately in every chapter of the New Testament; some epistles have not just one but many references to the second coming. By contrast, the doctrine of baptism is mentioned 19 times in 7 epistles, and the Lord’s Supper is mentioned only six times. Yet we have whole denominations based on the teaching of baptism, also on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. Yet these same people want to relegate eschatology to something unimportant, on the level of eating/drinking or different English translations?!
A common reasoning on this point is that the Reformers were such great, learned Christian men, great leaders, and thus since they obviously believed amillennialism and yet professed Christ, we must include fellowship with similarly-minded believers today and thus eschatology is not essential. True, the Reformers believed this, but it was among several teachings that they brought in, unchanged, from their Roman Catholic background. They were in error, and by their own admission did not study or give eschatology serious consideration. John Calvin evidently thought that the supposed millennial kingdom was the same as the eternal New Heavens and New Earth, and concluded that eternal life could not be restricted to 1000 years — merely showing his own lack of understanding on the matter. Today’s Protestant believers do not have the same excuse as the Reformers, a background (from most of their lives) where they had only been exposed to the concepts of Catholicism and Church-State government. To say that we should seriously consider the validity of amillennialism because the Reformers believed it is the same as saying we should believe any other teaching of Catholicism. Here I heartily concur with Dan Phillips’ remark concerning “Big-name guys were asked what one thing they’d change about John Calvin” — “my no-name answer would be that he be more conscious of what he brought over uncritically from Roman Catholicism, and take pains to reform it as well.”
I’ve just completed S. Lewis Johnson’s 37-part eschatology series, which cleared up and explained more questions I had concerning the tribulation and the Millennial kingdom.
One interesting item is the purpose of the Millennial Kingdom age (in SLJ’s message 35). Revelation 20:3 states that, after having been bound, Satan must be released for a short time. The Greek term for must indicates logical necessity; it is not that Satan will or shall be loosed, but that he must. In considering this text, S. Lewis Johnson points out that in each successive “age” or dispensation, God gives man some additional “help” to answer the human objection of what was lacking in the previous dispensation. Each successive age removes another human excuse, as again and again man still fails miserably even with extra assistance, showing his true wickedness and depravity.
In the “age of conscience” (from Adam to the flood), man lacked human government and its restraints: basic capital punishment. So the “age of human government” (Noahic era) answered that objection with new directives (Genesis 9). Then came the era of divine principles — the Abrahamic covenant, and the Mosaic covenant (the law) — and again man failed. Our present Church Age answers the previous system’s objection: our inability to keep the law. Now we have divine enablement with the Holy Spirit indwelling the believer. Yet even this is not appropriated by all (only by believers), and is not perfectly appropriated even by believers. Thus, as the scriptures tell us, this age will end in general apostasy. As S. Lewis Johnson explains it:
Well, someone might say after this age is over, the reason that this age ended in general apostasy is that we had satanic opposition. Surely, we had divine enablement, but we had satanic opposition and Satan’s opposition is too much for us.
The next age, the Millennial kingdom, addresses the current-day objection of “the devil made me do it,” by the binding of Satan. So the Millennial kingdom gives man every possibility to succeed. Man has more than the divine enablement of the Church Age, he actually has Christ reigning on the throne in Jerusalem, with only resurrected saints and living believers entering the kingdom. It is a time of true peace, Israel in the land, worshipping, with Jesus reigning there; the Gentiles come to Jerusalem for the feasts (Zechariah 14, Isaiah 66), and the people have long life spans in the manner of the pre-flood age. Man also is free from demonic influence during this time. Yet the end of it proves even further that, left to himself, without Satan’s influence, man still rises up in rebellion against God. Every inducement to do good, and every human excuse for man’s failure, has been tried by the end of that age.
Thus we see the logical reason why Satan must be released. There is sin and death in the Millennial kingdom; it is not the final consummation of God’s plans. Satan’s “second coming” accomplishes two purposes: it demonstrates Satan’s utter incorrigibility, and it demonstrates human depravity.
Now, what then is God demonstrating through all of these ages? Well, he is demonstrating the sinfulness of the human heart. He is demonstrating original sin. He is demonstrating condemnation. He is demonstrating the fact that it is impossible for a man in the flesh to please God. So I think that probably is the explanation of that statement, And after that, he must be loosed for a little season. There is a logical necessity for God to demonstrate that even though Satan is not here, still man is sinful and rebels against the revelation of God.
I’ve really been enjoying listening to S. Lewis Johnson, to his messages from Genesis, as well as his 37-part eschatology series. Here are a few good thoughts to remember:
From the end of Genesis 3: Adam and Eve were naked and ashamed. The Lord clothed them with the animal skins. Then the Lord Jesus took that shame of nakedness on the cross — He was naked on the cross, taking on Himself that shame that Adam and Eve originally experienced.
From Genesis 4: Cain was the first seed of the serpent, and Abel the first righteous one to die. S. Lewis Johnson considers the issue of what Eve said when she gave birth to Cain, pointing out that some have constructed the Hebrew to say that she thought Cain was the promised seed. SLJ does not hold to that view (a view I first learned from John MacArthur), but does agree that Eve clearly expresses her understanding as a believer, that God was the one that gave her the child.
From both the Genesis and Eschatology series, I’ve learned about the significance of the creation and its curse — and the necessary reversal of the curse on the creation. In Genesis 3 the curse is pronounced on mankind, and in Christ that curse is reversed. So too the creation was cursed, and that curse will be reversed, at the renewal and restoration, when our Lord returns everything to the ideal condition of Genesis and the Garden of Eden, as described in Revelation 21 and 22. Paul in Romans 8 speaks of the creation itself groaning and in travail, waiting for the renewal. As S. Lewis Johnson says:
the whole of this creation will be refashioned, and we shall have a glorious refashioned earth upon which the Lord Jesus will rule and reign in righteousness and in justice.
Jesus also speaks of this in Matthew 19:28 — that at the renewal of all things, the disciples will also sit on twelve thrones; here again is a reference to the renewal of the creation as well. It is indeed very reasonable to see that, just as He redeemed our souls and will resurrect and give us physical bodies, so He will also redeem and restore creation to that “utopian” condition.
Amillennialists are so plagued by the Greek notion that anything physical cannot also be spiritual, that physical means sinful and carnal and material. Yet in this life we see it all the time, that the physical and spiritual co-exist. SLJ tells a great “parable” (from a true event) about a gathering of preachers at a banquet, enjoying fried chicken while discussing their views of the future kingdom.
If the kingdom of God can exist now on the earth in a 200-pound preacher full of fried chicken without any reprehensible materialistic connotation, perhaps it also can exist in eating and drinking under more perfect conditions in a future millennial kingdom.
To the amillennialist charge of “how ridiculous” a millennial kingdom would be, with resurrected saints walking around and interacting with non-glorified saints (those still living in their natural bodies), the most obvious answer is: well, Jesus Himself in His resurrected body interacted with non-glorified bodies, coming and going for 40 days.
I encourage everyone interested in good Bible exposition to read and/or listen to S. Lewis Johnson, a great resource for Bible teaching. Some of the audio files are of poor quality, from original tape recordings in the 1970s, but for the most part the audio is good. The SLJ Institute also has transcripts of all his messages.
Over at Pyromaniacs … In “A Reasonable Question” Frank Turk considers the biblical account of Peter’s behavior in eating with the Gentiles, then eating only with Jews, and Paul’s rebuke — and relates that to a modern false teacher, John Stott, who teaches annihilationism of the lost:
Peter needed a rebuke. John Stott prolly needs a rebuke. God knows that Frank Turk needs more than one rebuke — all of them, for false teaching. That doesn’t mean that any of them are not Christians. Some false teachers are Christians. It disqualifies them as teachers, not as men or women who are being saved by grace. Some non-Christians are also false teachers.
This is a good point, one I’ve been considering — and I had come to the same conclusion regarding my local pastor’s numerous errors: that he very likely is a real Christian, yet I do not see that he is fit as a teacher. One who purposely rejects several areas of the Bible, including matters regarding the beginning and the end (those areas in which we must especially look to what God says) should not presume to teach others, no matter how much he may feel “right” and no matter how much he knows and loves the Lord. As Frank Turk added in a follow-up comment, “But some false teachers are Christians who need not to be teachers anymore — who in fact need better teaching to help them out.”