Archive

Archive for the ‘amillennialism’ Category

Christian Theology and Classics: Augustine, William Perkins, and Millennial Views

February 13, 2018 3 comments

In the 2018 Challies Reading Challenge, my recent reading has included writings from the 4th and the 16th centuries:  Augustine’s Confessions as a book about the early church, and Volume 1 of the Works of William Perkins, as a book by a Puritan.

Both of these were featured in Puritan Reformed Seminary’s 2017 conference:  Carl Trueman’s talk about Augustine’s Confessions  and Joel Beeke’s summary of William Perkins.  Augustine’s Confessions was an interesting read, my first such reading of early church writings, and I noted the parts mentioned by Trueman:  Augustine as a youth stealing figs from a fig tree; and a much later event that happened to one of Augustine’s friends (who resolved to never go to the gladiatorial games, was taken there by force by his friends; he kept his eyes closed, determined not to look; but the sounds aroused his curiosity so that he looked –and was then ensnared again in the games).  Trueman had noted here, the power of the visual image.  Other interesting parts included references to the other Christian leaders of the time including Ambrose of Milan and his role in Augustine’s later conversion, as well as descriptions about worship services including the singing of hymns.

As others who have read Augustine’s Confessions have noted, the last few chapters are strange, getting into Augustine’s Platonic philosophy, with a lot of repetitive thought as Augustine considered the meaning of time, memory and forgetfulness.  In this tedious reading, I also observed that the Librivox volunteer readers must have had similar difficulty; the majority of the recording, through Augustine’s conversion, was read by one or two authors. Then, for each ‘track’ section of the last few (weird) chapters, it was a different reader for each segment.

William Perkins

Volume one of Perkins is over 800 pages and three treatises. I read a little of the first treatise, all of the second one, and about a third of the last and very lengthy treatise (the Sermon on the Mount).  The first treatise was about biblical chronology and dating of early Bible events; after a while it was too detailed and tedious.  Here I first learned the idea that the Israelite stay in Egypt may have been only 215 years instead of 430 years—the 430 years starting from the time of Abraham instead of the actual time in Egypt.  I have always thought that the stay was 400 years in Egypt, from the narrative reading and my old NIV Study Bible dates.  From checking online articles, though, apparently this is an area of differing views, and some do take the 215 years view regarding the Egypt stay.  At this point, the 430 years in Egypt seems more reasonable to me, given the large population at the time of the Exodus and allowing for gaps in the genealogies, which occurs often even in later Old Testament genealogies.  For further reading and study on this, are these two articles:

The second treatise was of a manageable length and more interesting:  Perkins’ exposition of Matthew 4:1-11 and the parallel account in Luke, the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.  Good points brought out here include Perkins’ look at the scientific understanding of the human ability to live without food and water, that the human body has a limit of about 14 days­.  This event was supernatural, and necessary for Christ to experience, in similar fashion to the previous 40 days and 40 nights fastings of both Moses and Elijah.  Perkins adds, to any who might reason that ‘why did Christ not do double the length of time, 80 days?’, that Christ also must be shown to be human, and a fast of 80 days would have us question His humanity.  Another of Perkins’ ideas, though, seemed rather strange (again, the first time to hear this idea, for me):  the temptation of Jesus standing on the top of the temple in Jerusalem, was accomplished by Satan’s moving Christ’s body, slowly through the air, from the desert to the actual temple location.  Here again Perkins considers the known natural laws, and reasons that a human body could not physically withstand such flight movement through the air at very high speeds, but that Satan certainly could physically carry Christ a short distance at a slow speed.  I haven’t read other commentaries on this matter, but have always thought of this temptation as done in a vision, not actually there; if Christ were actually there, surely there would have been other people around to notice a man standing up on the top of the temple structure.   But Perkins reasoned that a temptation by vision would not be a real temptation.

The third work in volume one is a detailed exposition, with many excurses, of the Sermon on the Mount.  The reading is straightforward enough to follow, and similar in style to the later Puritans (who held Perkins in great esteem and were greatly influenced by him), with the outline format of different observations and ‘uses’ for application – as noted by J.I. Packer in his summary lecture series on the Puritans .  Throughout the reading, though, at several points I was turned-off by one particular aspect of Perkins’ views: his anti-millennial interpretations.  This comes out in such places as his exposition of Matt. 5:5 (the meek shall inherit the earth), in which he cites four ways in which the meek are said to inherit the earth.  The last two of these, Perkins considered as the primary ones:  3) inheritance in Christ in which ‘all things are yours, whether it be Paul or Cephas, or the world, things present or things to come’ (1 Cor. 3:21-22) and 4) that the meek will be made kings and ‘rule and reign’ (Rev. 5).  Before that, however, he considers that “if it fall out that meek persons die in want or banishment, yet God gives them contentation, which is fully answerable to the inheritance of the earth.”  As a premillennialist (and here I recall Spurgeon’s strong words about this text) such an idea misses the mark:  to say that a poor person being contented with what God gives him or her in this life “is fully answerable to the inheritance of the earth” is to seriously underrate and misrepresent the wonderful future promise of really inheriting the earth.  Elsewhere in the exposition, Isaiah texts about the millennial era are applied to what we have spiritually here and now.  At a point about various views regarding our neighbors and revenge, Perkins writes:  “Now the devil perceiving this to be their [the Jews’] natural disposition, makes God’s doctrine of salvation seem to them a doctrine of earthly benefits, for he caused them to dream of an earthly king for their Messiah, and of an earthly flourishing kingdom under him.”  Such statements reveal the standard European anti-Semitism along with an apparent hatred of the premillennial doctrine itself, implied in the idea that an earthly kingdom is somehow evil, carnal and unspiritual.  Premillennialists recognize the both/and of a future literal, earthly kingdom that is also spiritual in character, and that both physical and spiritual can co-exist, as in us believers today; and that the Old Testament did promise a future literal, earthly kingdom. The Jews had the basic idea correct; their error was in failing to recognize the two-stage purpose of God, the cross and then the crown, what is described in 1 Peter 1:10-11: the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow.”

The criticisms aside, both works — Augustine and William Perkins — are good for overall reading of classic and Reformation-era thought, as both provide interesting ideas and points for further thought.  They both serve the purpose of reading “the classics” of Christian theological works, and variety in reading, to go beyond the comparatively shallow and superficial nature of many modern-day books.

Israel and the Church (Book): The Covenantal View And Responses

March 26, 2015 3 comments

Following up on this previous post, my summary thoughts on the presentation of – and responses to – the first view, of (paedobaptist type) Covenant Theology.

I found this essay disappointing in several ways, most notably in its presentation of only one particular variation of CT (of which there are a few other variations) and its interaction with a non-standard version of dispensationalism.

As previously noted, this book omits the Baptist CT view. However, the CT view presented here is more specifically the paedobaptist, amillennial with no future for Israel (Romans 11 refers only to the salvation of Jews during this age) variety. This may be the most common view today (since most who hold to CT are paedo and amill), but more knowledgeable readers are aware of the variations within each of the systems, including the views held earlier in Reformed history. Yet this essay gives no indication of other variations, instead presenting just the one view and grouping together unrelated issues including even arguments against premillennialism itself (which is really a separate topic unrelated to the question of Israel and the Church).  Indeed, given that separate essays are provided for the three other views, all of which have a common starting point and certain things in common, I suggest that this book would have been better done as “Six Views,” with three “Covenant Theology” views: Paedobaptist CT, Baptist CT, and Covenantal Premill (its features unrelated to whether infant or believer’s baptism).

The CT essay further hinders its case – in terms of acceptance by those from a dispensational background – by addressing only a non-standard view of dispensationalism: the John Hagee view that current-day Israel is the fulfillment of OT biblical prophecy. Several paragraphs “refute” Hagee’s idea with the “answer” that those OT prophecies were fulfilled in the post-exilic period. The mention of Hagee, and no mention of or interaction with other notable dispensational teachers (as for instance John MacArthur), is a likely turn-off to the majority of dispensationalists, who do not agree with Hagee’s dispensationalism to begin with.

Responses to the CT essay

I find Robert Saucy’s response (Progressive Dispensational) the best written, both in its explanation of what PD believes and in addressing the CT essay misrepresentations. His scriptural references related to the future for ethnic Israel and basic premillennialism are explained well, and without reference to a “system” with “standard responses” – as contrasted with the Classic Disp response, which includes many such “standard response” statements, of “events” that “will transpire after the rapture of the church.”

Of interest, Saucy has no problem with the actual construction of the theological covenants of CT in and of themselves —  and further identifies the problem with the current-day paedo-construct of CT: the problem comes up when these theological covenants, which are essentially timeless—they apply to all human history—are made to level out all of the history of salvation. Though not dealt with in more detail, as I understand this is indeed the current-day paedo-CT approach, going beyond even what is stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith (which references only the Old, Mosaic covenant): that all of the biblical covenants of the Old Testament are administrations of the covenant of grace, thus flattening all of Old Testament history to put undue emphasis only on soteriology. I do not agree with all of Saucy’s views, including what is implied in his statements about what OT saints did or did not understand, but his response-essay is excellent in its explanations regarding several topics of what PD believes, including the future restoration of Israel, premillenialism itself, and the PD understanding of Israel and the Church with emphasis on their functions (instead of strict and exclusive reference to salvation of both groups) within God’s purposes.

The “Progressive Covenantal” (New Covenant Theology) response was the least helpful, as it mainly focused on the issue of infant baptism, providing scriptural reasons in support of believers’ baptism and rejecting CT for its “genealogical principle,” a topic that the CT essay only briefly mentioned.  This response does briefly state its position regarding the church as neither a replacement nor the continuation of Israel “but as something unique, which requires that we think of ethnic Israel as distinct from the church,” an idea undoubtedly developed more fully in their own essay later in the book.  Still, with the main focus on refuting infant baptism, this group continues a pattern I have observed (as have others): a persistent unwillingness to engage the Baptist Covenant Theology view, an incorrect idea that CT is synonymous with paedobaptism (and thus CT does not exist apart from infant baptism), refusing to acknowledge that CT also exists in the credo-baptist form yet with the same basic ideas regarding the one people of God and continuance of the moral law.

Old Testament Saints and the Holy Spirit

October 27, 2014 13 comments

From basic dispensational teaching I heard that — per John 7:39 and later references to Christ sending the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) – Old Testament saints were regenerated but did not have the permanent indwelling Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit only came upon them from time to time, for special empowerment, whereas we now have the permanent indwelling.  Yet I wondered about it, as something that didn’t make sense: how could people be regenerated and yet NOT have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? In daily Bible reading of the Old  Testament, we come across so many descriptions of believers who have “a different spirit” and a relationship to God in so many ways like ours.  John 3 tells us that OT believers were regenerated, as this was something that Nicodemus was expected to already know as a present reality, and Luke 1 and 2 (the birth narrative) include many references to godly people and the Holy Spirit present in their lives, before Christ’s birth.

As I’ve recently learned, the Protestant/Reformed understanding is that OT saints had the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the same salvific relationship to God (their understanding on the hope of what God would accomplish; and Christ’s work on the cross is applied to those who lived before Calvary).

The following posts from David Murray’s blog address this very question, of the difference between the Old and New Testament indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Regarding the original idea above (OT believers regenerated but didn’t have the indwelling Holy Spirit) I especially appreciate his point in the first post, that if Old Testament ‘believers’ believed by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit but kept believing without the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit, then Old Testament believers were not as depraved as we are, as they did not need the ongoing indwelling work of the Holy Spirit. (And in some ways, this debate really is a debate about the nature of human depravity in the Old Testament. Could anything less or other than the indwelling of the Holy Spirit keep a believer believing, repenting, hoping, obeying, etc?)

I also find helpful the analogy of the sponge with a water dropper, versus a sponge with a pressure washer. The difference in the Holy Spirit experience of OT and NT believers is one of degree and extent, not of quality or type. The OT believers had a small amount to sustain them in their personal lives, but after Pentecost the Holy Spirit flows out in excess, giving believers greater joy that overflowed and led to great missionary zeal and desire to share the gospel with unbelievers – and the amazing (humanly speaking) spread of the gospel during the 1st century and beyond.  As shown in the many quotes in the last post linked above, many commentators throughout history, as far back as Augustine and including also the Reformers as well as 19th century preachers including J.C. Ryle, have affirmed this as well, that OT believers did have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the difference between then and our age post-Pentecost is one of degree and extent.

As a side note here, I find it interesting that this same difference of degree between the OT and NT — of the great spread of the gospel in the NT – is said by amillennialists to be the result of a supposed “binding of Satan” allowing the gospel to spread unhindered. Yet as premillennialists have pointed out, what really hinders or allows the spread of the gospel is the Holy Spirit – as evidenced in the book of Acts, where the Holy Spirit did not allow Paul to travel east to Asia or Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7). Understanding the difference between the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Old and New Testament times (the water dropper versus the pressure washer) fits the biblical data much better, both in relating to the OT saints continually sustained by God and His presence, as well as the results of the great spread of the gospel that began at Pentecost.

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

September 16, 2014 7 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?

Premillennialism in Church History, Part III: The Reformation, and Return to Chiliasm

August 1, 2014 Leave a comment

Continuing with this series on Premillennialism in Church History, now part III: the return to premillennialism in the Protestant era.

It was the failure of the apostate “church triumphant” Roman Catholic church that led to the Reformation–as well as the return to the original chiliast doctrine. This section I find particularly interesting: that the late-medieval historicist idea of the Pope identified as the antichrist, provided the logical consequence of abandoning amillennialism and embracing chiliasm, albeit in a modified, historicist, version.

As seen from the chiliast writings, premillennialism was originally futurist, at least so far as recognizing, from texts in Daniel and Revelation, that at some yet future point in time antichrist would come and reign for 3 ½ years, which would be followed by Christ’s return, at which time He would deliver His people and slay the antichrist. The medieval eschatology introduced by the apostate church shifted the basic thinking — this great, successful church triumphant era was the millennium spoken of in the scriptures – along with the introduction of allegorical hermeneutics, and the non-literal interpretation of events once considered future. When the literal plain language hermeneutic is abandoned, anything goes in terms of interpreting the prophetic texts of the Bible, and thus the church began to think of prophecy as “symbolically” describing actual events occurring in history in the early Christian era. As mentioned in the previous post, of course, the difficulty here is that no one knows for certain what those actual events really are, as many actual events can be “correlated” to various scriptural “symbolic” events. Throughout the Middle Ages, past events were correlated to certain apocalyptic wars; but when the end of the world did not occur around 1000 A.D. and the start of the 1000 years shifted, it was convenient enough to ascribe “Gog and Magog” of Revelation 20 to the Ottoman Turk empire invading Christendom.

Following in this allegorical type of thinking, by the 12th century some Christians began to express doubts about this age really being the millennium. As Nathaniel West observed:

 Scintillations of light, however, began to gleam through the Papal darkness. The lapse of centuries had been required in order to lay the historic basis for a true interpretation, in connection with prophecy, of the Apostasy and Antichrist, and to demonstrate the early error that confined the 1,260 days to the Pagan persecution, Babylon to the Secular City of Rome, and Antichrist to Nero. Goth and Vandal had indeed scourged the apostatizing empire. Saracens had accomplished their mission. Turks were executing theirs. Christendom “repented not” of its crimes and idolatries. (Rev. 9:20, 21.) The sacred page had predicted things of Rome not fulfilled either under the sword of Constantine or Attilla. Antichrist had not been revealed when the “let” was taken out of the way. (2 Thess. 2: 7.)

The idea of identifying the “Church” with evil had come up before; the corruption in the papacy gradually brought it to the forefront, that the Roman “Church” itself was the evil Babylon of scripture:

Even Jerome had intimated long ago that Babylon was the “Church” and Gregory had uttered some ominous words about John the Faster as “the Forerunner of Antichrist,” which the act of his own successor Boniface III only intensified. “The days of Antichrist are come,” said he, “this proud bishop is like Lucifer—0 tempora, 0 mores!” (Villemain, Life of Gregory, p. 96.) … Convictions began to grow, as the predicted marks of Antichrist broke out like plague-spots on the body of the “Man at Rome,” not only that the Seven-hilled City was the seat of the Antichrist about to be revealed in all his blaspheming and persecuting deformity, but that the Roman “Church” itself was no less than the “Babylon” of the Apocalypse.

The logical implications of this became obvious to many, given the basic sequence of events in biblical eschatology: if the Pope is the antichrist, and the antichrist is destroyed by Christ before He establishes His kingdom, then since the Pope is still here and not destroyed, therefore we are not in the kingdom now. As expressed by a German writer, “The contemporaneousness of the Beast and the 1,000 years’ kingdom, or even the contemporaneousness of the existence and dominion of the Beast and the imprisonment of Satan, is a monstrous thought.” (Koch, Das tausend., Reich, 197.) The Protestant idea fixed the final judgment as being on the Papal Antichrist, associated with Christ’s Second Advent, and threw the 1,000 years into the future: not in the medieval period, but beyond the Second Advent.

And what the value of this for Chiliasm? What the bearing of this mighty movement? Much, every way, infinitely much. Ere even the Reformers were aware, the back-bone of the Lateran theory of the millennium was broken. The 1,000 years were thrown into the future. The medieval position was flanked and turned by an act of Providence—the Reformation—and the pretended Millennial Kingdom of Christ was held to be what Eberhard had called it, “the Babylonian Empire of Antichrist.” The movement that restored the Apostolic doctrine of the Church, opened the door for the restoration of the doctrine of the pre-millennial advent of Christ. If the Man of Sin (2Thess. 2:3.) is the Antichrist, (Uohn 2:22, 4:3; 2 John 7,) an identity unanimously held by the whole primitive Church as well as the Reformers, and, if this Antichrist is the Pope, the Head of the Papacy, figured by the Beast and False Prophet (Rev. 13:1-18); an identity unanimously held by the purest Catholics of the Middle Age, the Albingenses, Waldenses, and the whole Reformation— “communem Protestantium sententiam” (De Moor VI. 82-117. Turrettin IV. 147-177,) to be destroyed by the Parousia of Christ (2 Thess. 2:8. Rev. 19:11-21) and which destruction comes before the 1,000 years, as all interpreters of every school admit, then the demonstration is simply adamantine that the millennium is future and dependent on the Second Advent for its inauguration, when Christ shall personally and visibly come to destroy Antichrist by a sentence of judgment from His lips before all nations. The most ingenious Preterism is incompetent to evade this conclusion without first assailing, either covertly or openly, the Reformation doctrine and repudiating its symbols on this subject, and especially the strongest of them all, the Westminster standards.

The actual re-introduction of chiliasm had a few more obstacles to overcome, including the carnal, false premillennialism of extremist groups, including Thomas Miinzeer and the Anabaptists, the Prophets of Zwickau, and later the Fifth Monarchy men (Cromwell’s time, the 17th century), the notion of a secular kingdom of the saints, set up by fire and sword, and before the resurrection—a purely later Jewish conception. Calvin and the other Reformers attacked this false premillennialism in an environment still devoid of true, biblical premillennialism. Nathaniel West details the situation of Calvin’s day and the Augsburg confession, pointing out that the anti-millennial attacks of that time were directed against a false Chiliasm.

Here, too, belongs the strong protest of the Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter XL and the celebrated XVIIth Article of the Augsburg Confession, so “ill understood” by many who assume it to be aimed against a PreMillennial Advent of Christ, because aimed against a false Chiliasm. On the contrary, it only condemns those who scatter “Judaicas opiniones” and Melancthon’s comment in the “Variatio” expressly inserts “Anabaptistas” as those to whom the article referred. (Prolog. Var. Hase Lib. Symbol, p. XVIII. Walch. Introd. Luth. Symb. p. 314.) To the same parties are the “Judaica somnia” condemned in the Helvetic Confession, attributed, as also in the Belgic Confession. (Niemeyer, Coll. Conf. pp. 486, 387.)

Next time: A look at the Westminster confession, and its presentation of eschatology which is not at all in contradiction to premillennialism but follows even the biblical presentation style – and the chiliasts who understood and affirmed that confession.

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.

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.

1 Corinthians 15 and Premillennialism

August 6, 2013 6 comments

In S. Lewis Johnson’s study through 1 Corinthians, he devotes one message specifically to the question: was Paul a premillennialist?  Is 1 Corinthians 15 consistent with the teaching of an in-between kingdom (the 1000 years before the Eternal State)?

After a quite lengthy introduction and basic material (including definitions of terms such as amillennialism and postmillennialism), Dr. Johnson gets to the issue itself (starting shortly after 30 minutes).   The key scriptures here are the passage itself — 1 Corinthians 15:23-28 – plus its references to two Old Testament texts, plus Hebrews 1:13 through 2:8 (which also references the same two Old Testament texts and in the same sequence).

The first two ‘Then’ statements

Verses 23 and 24 include this section:  (23) “Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ,” followed by verse 24, “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father …”.  We know that the first “then” encompasses a gap of nearly 2000 years.

Would it be out of the possibility of accomplishment that we should say, since the first ‘then’ has comprehended almost two thousand years, that the next ‘then’ might comprehend a thousand years?  If the first ‘then’ comprehends we know so far close to two thousand years, it’s entirely possible for the next ‘then’ (one epeita, one is the preposition epe connected with the adverb eita.  And then eita very closely related epeita, eita). — see you people know Greek already then.  You know those expressions.  So it’s not beyond our comprehension at all.

Then verse 25, “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.” This also indicates a period of time for that reign. Because it is written in a tense, for he must go on reigning until he has put all enemies under his feet.  In other words, the reign of our Lord is a time of war or possible war, put it that way. 

Psalm 110:1 and Psalm 8

These two psalms are cited, in this order, both in 1 Corinthians 15 and in the first two chapters of Hebrews. In the 1 Corinthians passage, verse 25 references Psalm 110:1 — “until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”  Verse 27 further references Psalm 110:1 and Psalm 8:6b, “you have put all things under his feet”:  (1 Cor. 15:27)  “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”

Both places where these two psalms are cited, they speak of a reign of Christ, AND both locate the reign of Christ in the future after the Parousia (the Second Coming).  Hebrews 1:13 cites Pslam 110:1, and Hebrews 2:5, Psalm 8.  Notice Hebrews 2:8 (immediately after the quotation from Psalm 8):  “At present,we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him.”

Now it’s obvious, what he is simply saying is, if you look out at the creation, it’s ultimately to be under man; but at the present time it is not under man.  Now, as we look around it’s not in subjection yet to Him.  ‘But we see Jesus’: why should that give us encouragement?  Well, because He is the covenantal head, and what He has done is a guarantee that these things are going to come to pass.

S. Lewis Johnson considers the amillennialist claim here: that hostile powers have been conquered by the cross through the present reign of our Lord in heaven, that He’s reigning now, the kingdom is then delivered to the Father by the Son at the Second Advent, and the end comes with the destruction of death.  The key question is:  What is the destruction of death, and when does it take place?  The amillennialist answer is that later verses in 1 Corinthians 15, verses 50-58, talk about the coming of our Lord; and these verses discuss the defeat of death, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”  The amillennial idea is that our Lord is reigning now, the kingdom is now, and death comes at the Second Advent: that’s when death experiences death. In other words, if he is reigning now and if death is defeated at his second advent, then how can there be reign for a thousand years after death has been defeated? 

What this overlooks is that 1 Corinthians 15 is written about believers. See for instance verses 21-23: the “even so in Christ all shall be made alive” is talking about all believers; it doesn’t teach universalism.  So, 1 Corinthians 15:50 through 58 is concerned with the defeat of death for believers, but not the final destruction of death.

Hebrews 2:5, the section referencing Psalm 110:1 and Psalm 8, also refers to this as “the world to come.”  The kingdom age, that over which the Son of Man rules, is not this age but yet future.

1 Corinthians 4 also tells us that Paul expected a future kingdom age, in his comments to the Corinthians about their over-realized eschatology.  So while 1 Corinthians 15 by itself does not tell us everything about premillennialism, what Paul says here is consistent with Revelation 20 and the many other scripture texts that tell about the intermediate kingdom, yet future, before the Eternal State.

The Kingdom Offered at Christ’s First Coming

July 2, 2013 2 comments

Alva McClain’s “The Greatness of the Kingdom,” in chapter 23 (Christ’s Ministry in Preparation for the Interregnum) considers in some depth the question of Jesus’ offer of the Kingdom to Israel at His First Coming.  Addressing the controversy behind that idea, McClain well observes:

Those who cavil at the idea of an offer which is certain to be rejected, betray an ignorance, not only of Biblical history (cf. Isa 6:8-10 and Ezek 2:3-7), but also of the important place of the legal proffer in the realm of jurisprudence.  (p. 344)

Indeed this is one of those teachings with apparent contradictions. S. Lewis Johnson expressed the many questions and difficulties as he addressed his audience with these questions, interacting with the audience response (in this message): Was it really offered?  Was it foreknown that it would be rejected, this offer?  Was it foreordained that they should reject it?  Could Israel have responded at the first coming?

Or, as Dr. Johnson summarized it here:

Unfortunately, many people gained a great deal of credence among evangelicals by affirming that our Lord really offered a kingdom apart from a cross.  He never offered a kingdom apart from a cross, but He did offer a kingdom.  He offered the kingdom, however, through the cross.  It’s possible to make the other error, and that’s to say He never offered an earthly kingdom at all.  These are two errors, it seems to me, one on one extreme, the other, the other. He did offer a kingdom, but it was through the sufferings.

As an example of one of these two errors — in the first eschatology audio MP3 series I listened to a few years ago (a very lengthy one), the teacher rejected the idea that Jesus actually offered a kingdom, objecting to the Classic Dispensational (and Arminian) idea that “Jesus offered the kingdom to the Jews, and if they had accepted it He would have brought the kingdom then — but instead He had to switch to plan B.”  He noted one of the parables that taught the idea of a postponed kingdom, and the point that Jesus “even refused it when the people tried to push it.”

But the issue is more complex than that, as noted above.  As to the specific point that Jesus “refused it when the people tried to push it,” that is one of the very things McClain brings up.  Yes, in Jesus’ earlier ministry He refused it (John 6:15), but something changed at the Triumphal Entry: an occasion where the people did openly praise and refer to Him as king; the Pharisees noted what His followers were saying and objected to it, asking Jesus to silence them; and Jesus noted that if these were silent the very rocks would cry out.

From this chapter in McClain’s Greatness of the Kingdom, the following specific points show the genuine, official offer made to Israel, at the Triumphal Entry:

  1. The Journey to Jerusalem: the significance of that city as the royal city of the King
  2. The Preparation for His arrival – the nation was largely represented; 70 messengers sent ahead, taking time over a period of up to 5 months before the event.
  3. The Royal Entrance into Jerusalem.  On pages 347-348 McClain notes:  “It has been said by anti-millennial writers that the animal ridden by our Lord was intended to show humility and indicate that the Kingdom He came to found would accomplish its purposes by “peaceable” means and wholly without the use of force…. If Christ had wished merely to display His humility, He would not have ridden at all, for it would have been humbler to walk with the disciples.”

Regarding that Royal Entrance into Jerusalem:

  • Sending two disciples to a nearby village to get the colt of a donkey.  Matthew only quotes the first part of the full prophecy in Zech. 9:9-10.  If Matthew had believed in a ‘present Messianic reign’ ushered in by the first coming of the King, here would have been the time and place to cite in full the details of Zech. 9:9-10, but he says not a word about the wondrous things of verse 10.
  • Actions and praises of the people: awareness of the regal meaning of His entry into Jerusalem.
  • Deep significance in the very language with which the multitude expressed their joy, with references to the King of Israel, the son of David.
  • The very protest of the Pharisees against the acclamations of the multitude.  The Pharisees knew that previously our Lord had requested silence upon His disciples with reference to public acclamation of His regal claims and that He steadfastly resisted the popular movement to “make Him a king” (John 6:15)
  • The answer of Christ: a radically new junction has arrived in His career upon earth.  No longer is there any place for verbal silence. If these keep quiet, even the stones would cry out.
  • The moving lament of our Lord as He beheld the city, and the judgment He pronounced upon it, prove that a crisis-point is reached here in the history of Israel in relation to the Kingdom.
  • The acts of our Lord immediately following His entry into the city – cleansing of the temple, followed by other physical wonders.

Hermeneutics and Presuppositions: The 144,000 In Revelation

June 20, 2013 15 comments

A popular Reformed preacher has recently taught through Revelation (an amillennial view), and several of his fans have shared  excerpts from his teaching, agreeing with and saying how great his teaching is.  Looking at the specific “points” made by this preacher, though, I am reminded of S. Lewis Johnson’s observations nearly twenty years ago, that in our day so few people really know their Bibles and are thus more easily led astray.

Now for a look at one excerpt, what has been said with reference to the 144,000 in Revelation 7 (and Revelation 14):

If the 144,000 spoken of in Revelation is an actual number then, we have a problem, because the Bible says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, rather the 144,000 is a symbolic number of ALL the Elect (saved and sealed by Jesus Christ) of both Jews and Gentiles and are found spotless in the Lamb Jesus Christ His Perfect Bride….if we take the 144,000 literally then one must conclude that there are actually 144,000 who are virgins, and as the text says they are blameless, which is a serious problem because we have all sinned.

Right away several problems can be noted in these two statements.  First is the “root problem” presupposition, that the description of 144,00 in Revelation 7 must be about soteriology and specifically saying something concerning the doctrine of election.  But let the text speak for itself, and Revelation 7 reads as a (future) narrative event, describing the calling of a specific group of saved individuals, during a future event.  (Thus it belongs in the category of eschatology, the doctrine of last things — not soteriology.)  Nothing in the Revelation 7 and 14 texts says: a) that these 144,000 are the only people ever saved; b) that these 144,000 are the only Elect; or even c) that they are supposed to be representative of the elect.

The passage itself, in Revelation 7:13-14, explains the meaning of this scene (the 144,000 followed by the multitude):    Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?”  I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation.

Revelation 7 and 14 are describing narrative events that occur during the Great Tribulation, a particular time period (yet future to our day) often described by the prophets in the Old Testament by several terms: the time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jeremiah 30:7), the Day of the Lord, Daniel’s 70th week, the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24; also reference Deuteronomy 4:30).  Here we note also that Revelation is a book that relies heavily on Old Testament understanding, with many, many allusions to Old Testament texts.  So we look at all of scripture and what it has to say concerning a certain future time period (and there are many such texts especially in the Old Testament but also references to it in the New Testament), and see that Revelation is also describing this future time period.  Revelation is a narrative text that sometimes uses symbolic language, not a book explaining soteriology through the use of symbols.

Now to the second statement:  “if we take the 144,000 literally then one must conclude that there are actually 144,000 who are virgins, and as the text says they are blameless, which is a serious problem because we have all sinned.”  In the first place, what is so difficult to understand about the idea that 144,000 individuals are virgins?  Even in Jesus’ day there were eunuchs (Matthew 19:12), some of whom had made themselves so “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

But moving on to the next phrase:  the text says they are blameless, which is a serious problem because we have all sinned. Here again familiarity with the Bible and its usage of the term “blameless” must be considered.  A brief search through an online Bible reveals that the following individuals (all humans, who sinned) were described as “blameless”:

Clearly the Bible uses the term “blameless” in a different way than supposed by the teacher who thought of “blameless” as meaning sinless perfection.  Yet the Bible consistently uses the term blameless as meaning something else: our conduct and righteous living as redeemed sinners, the elect of God.  Other passages attest that God looks for and supports “those whose heart is blameless toward Him.” (2 Chron. 16:9).  Several of the Psalms speak of the righteous one, the saved sinner, as blameless, indicating that – even though indeed all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – God does look upon His saints as blameless; see, for instance, Psalm 15:2; Psalm 19:13; Psalm 37:18,37. Psalms 101 and 119 consider the “way that is blameless” and those whose way is blameless.”  This pattern continues in the New Testament, where again we are exhorted to righteous living and conduct, to be blameless.  The apostles were blameless in their conduct toward the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:10), and one of the tests for deacons in the church is that they be blameless (1 Timothy 3:10).

How appropriate S. Lewis Johnson’s statement (from his 1 Corinthians series) regarding the state of the church today, as seen in so many examples such as this one:

In evangelicalism, it’s much easier today for evangelicals to be led astray by false doctrine.  I personally believe that the reason is that evangelicals are not reading the Bible much these days.  They are not really studying the Bible much.  Sometimes they are reading books about the Bible, but a lot of times they are just attending evangelical services.  And therefore they are not themselves involved in the study of the Scriptures and pondering the words that are found in the Scriptures.