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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.

Early Church History (Pre-Reformation): A Believers Chapel Series

April 14, 2011 1 comment

I recently listened to the first half of Dan Duncan’s (Believers Chapel Dallas) Church History series:  15 messages for the pre-Reformation period.  He started this series in 2009, and is still teaching the second part, forward from the Reformation.  (At this writing, 14 more messages are available, up through Calvin part 4.)

Over the years I’ve picked up different aspects of Church history, from evening classes at local churches, as well as assorted articles on different topics, but this is the first church-class series I’ve seen that goes into fairly good depth especially concerning pre-1500, and that presents history from the evangelical, Calvinist premillennial viewpoint.  The lessons generally center on topics, such as the canon of scripture, martyrs, the heretics, bishops and popes (beginning of that system), and pastors and teachers (highlighted four men from the 4th and 5th centuries).  Additional sessions discuss Arius, Athanasius, and Augustine (three sessions).  Unlike most church history series, this one included two messages for the “Dark Ages.”  While I tend to disagree with his broad brush labeling of the full thousand year period as the “Dark Ages,” Dan Duncan did point out that it wasn’t all dark, and brought out several highlights from the period, including Anselm (11th century), a German monk from the 9th century, and Bernard of Clairvaux (12th century), as well as a brief history and proper perspective of the Crusades.

What standard Augustinian Reformed churches won’t address, this series points out:  the replacement theology inherent in the Crusades (the Holy Land is now for us Christians who have replaced the Jews), specifics of what Augustine taught both good and bad, and that Catholicism formed from Augustine’s ideas.  Other past series I’ve experienced would teach a great deal concerning the Jerusalem war of A.D. 70 and the subsequent Bar-Kokhba revolt ( A.D. 130), but omit many of the early church history characters, only briefly discuss Augustine, and primarily teach the Reformation.  This series really doesn’t say a lot about the destruction of Jerusalem (a topic well known in many church history series but really not part of that history), except in passing comments about the spread of Christianity to the Gentiles in the Roman Empire.  Typical Reformed church history series will not mention Augustine’s connection to amillennialism and Catholicism — or if they do, uphold Augustine as on a par with inspired scripture.  In this series Dan Duncan devotes a full message to Augustine’s later years, the formation of his amillennialism, and a (brief) discussion of Augustine’s exegetical errors with reference to Revelation 20.

Even this series is a general overview, of course, and books always provide more details than can realistically be taught within a weekly church class.  Even two lessons to cover the whole Medieval period omits much —  though I expect the series will cover a little more, since one of the later messages (in the Reformation section) is titled “Forerunners.”  The lesson on the martyrs only discussed the majors among “the ten” persecutions, omitting the particular incident I personally appreciate: the martyrdom of Perpetua, Felicitas and a few others in Carthage in 202. Yet Duncan does teach about the Montanists (early Pentecostals) and Tertullian’s joining them, pointing out both their good and weak points; Perpetua and Felicitas were “almost certainly” Montanists as well.  Through this series I also learned about the modalists (original version of today’s oneness Pentecostals, who deny the trinity and say that God changed modes, from Father to Son to Spirit), and reviewed other important early theological battles concerning Christ’s human and divine natures as well as Arianism and Pelagianism. I also appreciated the additional information concerning Anselm and Bernard of Clairvaux, men I had a little familiarity with.