Thursday, September 13, 2012

Issues in Dispensationalism and Covenant/Reformed theology continued

Millenial and Eschatological views
When it comes to any verse pertaining to prophecy, Reformed and Dispensational christians are split on the issue. Reformed scholars tend to be either Amillenial or Postmillenial, while Dispensationalists are unequivocally Premillenial. This is no mere difference of opinion. It affects a believer's involvement in politics, missions, and also outlook for the future. An amillenialist or postmillenialist believes that it is their job to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven. In order to do this, they must make the world look as much like it will when Messiah comes to establish His kingdom. This includes many social outreach programs such as feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and caring for the enviroment. While each of these things are nice in and of themselves, they do not save souls. For the Premillenialist, especially the one who believes in an imminent rapture, sharing the gospel with the destitute along with a meal and clothing to show them the love of Christ, is our priority. The premillenialist does not do it to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven, only the King Jesus Christ has the ability to bring down His kingdom. The premillenialist goes out preaching the gospel because Christ could come back any second-- perhaps while you are reading this sentence. 

To help the reader remember the three prevalent millenial views better, let us look at the prefixes and suffixes of each one. The suffix for each one is the same: "-millenial". This comes from the latin word "mille" which means thousand and is used in other words such as millisecond, millimeter, millipede, etc. The prefix "a" means "without, lacking". So an amillenialist is someone who believes that there is no literal, earthly millenium. The prefix "post" means "after, later" and is where we get terms such as posthumous, or in sports, "post-game coverage". Postmillenialists believe that there is an earthly millenial reign, but that Christ will come after the millenial reign is through. The prefix is "pre" is means "before, prior" and is the reason why it is used in the term prefix to connotote that some words have an attachment to them that goes in front of the word itself. Premillenialists believe that there will be a literal, thousand-year reign of Christ on earth and that Christ must come down from heaven and establish it in order for the millenium to begin. 

Amillenialists and Postmillenialists while in disagreement on the literality of the millenium hold vital thing in common: they both either blur the line that seperates Israel and the Church, or they deny that such ever existed. It is of utmost importance to recognize the distinction of Israel and the Church that if one does not, then they could not possibly be a premillenialist. The reason why is because the millenium is a time for Israel, not the Church. The Church will reign at Christ's side yes, but they will reign in Jerusalem which will be the seat of Christ's earthly empire in the millenium (Isaiah 24:23; Joel 3:16,17). The millenium will bring in the complete fulfillment of the Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic and New covenants as they relate to Israel, its chief benefactor. If a believer sees no distinction between Israel and the Church, then the above covenants would be fulfilled in the Church which Covenant theologians see as one with Israel. 

Some of the teachings of amillenialism is that any verse referring to the earthly reign of Christ refers to this present age. The belief is that in this present age Christ is ruling from Heaven through His Church on earth. Verses in Revelation that refer to Satan being bound and thrown in the Abyss, the bottomless pit, are spiritualized to mean that at Calvary Christ's vicarious sacrifice caused Satan to be imprisoned. If Satan is bound in this present age through Christ's sacrifice, why did Peter warn in his first epistle that "your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." (1Peter 5:8)? As one pastor comically put it, "if Satan is bound and imprisoned today, then he certainly has a long leash." What is meant by this is that Satan's influence today is apparent and widespread. So widespread in fact, that in 2 Corinthians 4:4 he is called the "god of this age", and Ephesians 2:2 calls Satan "the prince of the power of the air". A prince has a certain degree of authority; If a prince be bound, they have no power. The belief that Christ's kingdom is today and that He is ruling it from Heaven through His Church is where we get the false teaching that the Church is the Kingdom and also what is called Dominion Theology. 

The other view that stands in contrast to Dispensational premillenialism is postmillenialism. Unlike amillenialism, postmillenialists do believe in a literal thousand-year reign of Christ, but they believe that He will not return until after the millenium is finished. Many postmillenialists also believe in Dominion Theology and reject the belief of the rapture in favor of the Church enduring the Tribulation. According to postmillenialism, Jesus will return in His glorious Second Coming at the very end of this present earth's history after the Theocratic Kingdom (i.e. the Millenium) has been restored to earth through human effort. This teaching makes up the bulk of what Dominion Theology is; It is Postmillenial in nature and outlook. 

The premillenial view is not a novel view. Early Church fathers such as Justin the Martyr, Ireneaus, Polycarp, Tertullian, et. al held a premillenial view. It was not until sometime in the 3rd-century that the theologian Origen developed a new system of theology called Alexandrian theology. Greek philosophy, especially the gnostic Greek philosophy such as Neo-Platonism, played an important part in Alexandrian theology. Much of Greek philosophy advocated that anything which is physical or material is inherently evil, and only the totally spiritual is good. Through this influence the Alexandrian scholars developed the idea that an earthly, political Kingdom would be an evil thing, and that only a spiritual, nonphysical Kingdom would be good. This idea prompted Alexandrian theology to reject premillenialism and its physical, political precepts in favor of amillenialism.6

Along the lines of Premillenialism, another distinguishing feature of Dispensationalism that stands in contrast with Reformed eschatology is the teaching of the Rapture followed by a 7-year period called the Tribulation. The term "rapture" is not found anywhere in scripture as it is Latin in origin. The Greek version is "harpazo", meaning "to snatch out of the way" and appears in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 which reads: "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." The phrase "caught up" translates as "harpazo" in the Greek, which in turn translates into "raptura" in Latin where we get the term "rapture" today. Now it should be noted in the Dispensational camp there is some disagreement about the timing and/or extent of the Rapture. Some postulate that the Rapture will occur after the Tribulation but before the Second Coming of Christ and the installment of the Millenium. Adherents to this theory are called Post-Tribulationists. Another view is that the Rapture will take place sometime in the middle of the Tribulation, and those who hold to this view are called Mid-Tribulationists. A lesser held view is the Partial Rapture, the belief that when Christ comes for His Church, He will only take the faithful, devoted ones leaving the carnal, immature believers on earth to face the Tribulation. The view that is held by this author as well as the majority of believers that identify with Dispensationalism is known as the Pre-Tribulation Rapture view.

In order to understand the nature of the Rapture and thus, have an understanding of when it shall occur, and to whom, one needs to understand the nature of the Tribulation and the subjects of it. The Tribulation is referred to in the Old Testament in Jeremiah 30:7 as "the time of Jacob's trouble", a reference to Israel. Daniel 12:1-2 makes reference to the Tribulation calling it "a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time". Revelation 3:10-- often cited as a verse which gives strong support for a Pre-Trib Rapture-- states: "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth." From these references and others, we can deduce who the subjects of the Tribulation are and other important details. According to Jeremiah 30:7, Israel is a main subject of the Tribulation. This passage and the one in Daniel show that the primary purpose of the Tribulation is to prepare Israel for her Messiah. God's purpose for Israel in the Tribulation is to bring about the conversion of a multitude of Jews, who will enter into the blessings of the kingdom and experience the fulfillment of all of Israel's covenants. And according to Revelation 3:10, the second main purpose of the Tribulation is to pour out judgment on unbelieving man and nations. The verse in its entirety reads : "Because you have kept the word of my patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation which will come upon the habitable world, to try those who dwell on the earth." (MKJV) By studying these significant passages that deal with this period of time known simply as the Tribulation, we can understand more fully its purpose and scope. 

Because the scope of the Tribulation is clearly towards Israel and the nations, one has to recognize that there is a distinction between Israel and the Church in order to accept the doctrine of the Rapture. One cannot hold to Covenant Theology and believe that the Church is going to be taken in the twinkle of an eye. The Rapture is for the Church and it is our hope that our Lord Jesus Christ will return someday in His physical Person for His Bride. It is not a mere escape plan the christians invented as Reformed theologians charge; It is our hope that we will see our Savior face to face as He picks us up to take us to His Father's mansion. It is a Heavenly blessing for a Heavenly people, whereas Israel is God's earthly people and God has not by any means cast Israel off (Rom. 11:1-5). Israel must endure a time of affliction to be brought to their knees in repentance. The Church (the true Church that is), on the other hand is made up of those who have put their faith in Christ for forgiveness of sins. They accept Christ's payment He made on their behalf at Calvary. For believers who make up the true Church, judgment has passed over them.

No comments:

Post a Comment