Thursday, November 12, 2009

What's so important about the Last Days?

It is common in modern Irish Evangelicalism to speak of primary and secondary issues, whether they be of doctrine or practice. Often the primary issues are defined as those issues in which all Evangelicals are agreed. Naturally as more and more groups are accepted into Evangelicalism, with more and more erroneous and heretical views, these primary issues are being continually bombarded and slowly diminished from within. This arises out of necessity, for the inclusion of others who are automatically seen as genuine believers, because of another attitude within Irish Evangelicalism that shirks at any criticism (especially public) of any other religious group (including Rome, preferring to silently disagree). I would be inclined to call this "spinelessness" or "cowardice", and definitely being ashamed of Christ and His words (Mark 8:38), and definitely unloving.

Secondary issues are likewise, often defined as divisive issues - the issues which cause division between Christians. The prevailing attitude is not that these issues ought to be discussed so that agreement can be found, but rather in the hope of greater unity, that they ought not to be discussed and should be set aside as unimportant. The result of this, is that if a church, for example, strongly preaches a certain view of the Last Days, they are seen as needlessly divisive, and since their view is not universally agreed, they ought not to preach on the subject at all.

This view of doctrine is almost unquestioned, and even promoted as the true doctrine of the catholicity of the church. This is as if to say that if a church claims that her distinctive doctrines are true (and therefore the contrary views are wrong), that she is denying the catholicity of the church. She is guilty of being schismatic. Instead she ought to say we are all right (despite contradictions), or that we will never know on this side of eternity who is right. And since we do not know, or cannot know, we ought to preach only on the primary issues (which are continually being diminished). This view twists the old motto, “unity in diversity”, to define diversity as doctrinal diversity. And not surprisingly, this philosophy in practice usually does not result in silence on “secondary issues”, but rather it silences protests against all kinds of heresies; those of Romanists, other Arminians, Anabaptists, and Pentecostals, whose unchecked poisons then prevail in accelerating apostasy.

This is an ecclesiological heresy. The catholicity of the church is not that we must accept all doctrines as being equally true or valid. Indeed the catholicity of the church is not about diversity of doctrine at all (because there is one God, and therefore one Truth [John 14:6]), it is about believers from all tongues, tribes, and nations being equal in Christ, co-heirs with us all in all the promises of salvation - and this includes believers who are ethnically Jews. As our own Heidelberg Catechism explains this term found in the ancient Apostles' Creed:

Q. 54. What believest thou concerning the “holy catholic church” of Christ?
A. That the Son of God, from the beginning to the end of the world (John 10:11; Gen. 26:4), gathers (Rom. 9:24; Eph 1:10), defends, and preserves to Himself (John 10:16) by His Spirit and Word (Isa. 59:21), out of the whole human race (Deut. 10:14, 15), a church chosen to everlasting life (Acts 13:48), agreeing in true faith; and that I am, and for ever shall remain, a living member thereof (I Cor. 1:8, 9; Rom. 8:35ff).

Immediately this is the condemnation of all Jewish premillennial dispensationalism. All doctrines which teach a future earthly kingdom of the Jews are heretical - a gangrene which must be cut off because they inherently divide the body of Christ (Eph. 2:14-15; 3:6; 4:4), and hinder the true mission of the church - that of preaching the Gospel to every creature, and teaching them to observe all things commanded by God and baptising all nations (Matt. 28:18-20; Isa. 52:6-15).

Furthermore, this ecclesiological heresy proudly claims for itself special knowledge of what doctrines are important and what are not, and therefore what doctrines that ministers are allowed to preach, and what they must not preach. This is a dynamic, mystical, man-centred, and therefore unbiblical view of doctrine. Any preacher humbly devoted to God in his calling to preach, prayerfully studies the Bible as God's Word, which he must preach indiscriminately and uncompromisingly to be innocent of men's blood.

He understands that all the Bible is God's Word, and that the whole counsel of God must be preached (Acts 20:26-32), and that God's people are frail and weak spiritually, and full of sin, and need instructed, exhorted, reproved, and rebuked in every way to encourage them and build them up in unity, including doctrinal unity (Eph. 4:1-16; I Cor. 1:10; Phil. 2:1ff). He knows that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” And he knows that he must keep nothing back from them which is profitable (Acts 20:20). He has only one qualification for what he must preach – is it in the Bible? If it is, it must be preached!

That champion of the true biblical doctrine of justification through faith alone by grace alone, Martin Luther, says this far better than I could, speaking about what is perceived by Irish Evangelicalism as the most divisive (and therefore most forbidden) doctrine of all (though as much as it is crucial in cultivating true humility, the necessary prerequisite of unity, it is actually one of the most unifying doctrines of all):

“If, my Erasmus, you consider these paradoxes (as you term them) to be no more than the inventions of men, why are you so extravagantly heated on the occasion? In that case, your arguments affect not me, for there is no person now living in the world who is a more avowed enemy to the doctrines of men than myself. But if you believe the doctrines in debate between us to be (as indeed they are) the doctrines of God, you must have bid adieu [goodbye] to all sense of shame and decency thus to oppose them. I will not ask, 'Whither is the modesty of Erasmus fled?' but, which is much more important, 'Where, alas! are your fear and reverence of the Deity when you roundly declare that this branch of truth which He has revealed from heaven, is, at best, useless and unnecessary to be known?' What! shall the glorious Creator be taught by you, His creature, what is fit to be preached and what is to be suppressed? Is the adorable God so very defective in wisdom and prudence as not to know till you instruct Him what would be useful and what pernicious? Or could not He, whose understanding is infinite, foresee, previous to His revelation of this doctrine, what would be the consequences of His revealing it until those consequences were pointed out by you? You cannot, you dare not say this. If, then, it was the Divine pleasure to make known these things in His Word, and to bid His messengers to publish them abroad, and leave the consequences of their so doing to the wisdom and providence of Him in whose name they speak, and whose message they declare, who art thou, O Erasmus, that thou shouldest reply against God and say to the Almighty, 'What doest Thou?'

“St. Paul, discoursing of God, declares peremptorily, 'Whom He will He hardeneth,' and again, 'God willing to show His wrath,' etc. And the apostle did not write this to have it stifled among a few persons and buried in a corner, but wrote it to the Christians at Rome, which was in effect, bringing this doctrine upon the stage of the whole world, stamping an universal imprimatur [official approval for publication] upon it, and publishing it to believers at large throughout the earth. What can sound harsher in the uncircumcised ears of carnal men than those words of Christ, 'Many are called, but few chosen'? And elsewhere, 'I know whom I have chosen.' Now, these and similar assertions of Christ and His apostles are the very positions which you, O Erasmus, brand as useless and hurtful.”
- Martin Luther, “The Bondage of the Will”, sect. 23, as quoted in Jerome Zanchius, “Absolute Predestination”, pp. 96-97, Sovereign Grace Publishers.

Luther's testimony ought to sufficiently remove from all the godly, this heresy which teaches that man has the authority over what must be preached and what must not.

In this context many say that what we believe about the Last Days is simply unimportant. It is certain that not every detail about this time and the future is important (insofar as not every detail is given to us in Holy Scripture), but the general idea and our one blessed hope is. Wrong literalistic views of the millennium have this problem (aside from an over-emphasis on a very small portion of Scripture) – they predict a coming magnificent earthly kingdom of Christ as the great final triumph of the church. From this they say that we must be especially busy in politics, in the media, in economics, etc. to go about trying to carnally establish this carnal kingdom.

In this the supreme importance of Gospel-preaching is side-lined and neglected. The energy and resources of the church are spent on promoting the national Israel of 1948, or the institution of “Christian laws”, not on promiscuously proclaiming the Gospel to every creature. False eschatology (doctrine of last things) destroys the true mission of the church, and in fact plays into the hands of the great kingdom of anti-Christ that we know is even now developing. For this reason, all true preachers of the Gospel ought to denounce these errors wherever they are found.

The good news tells us that the kingdom of Christ is not an earthly one wherein dwelleth unrighteousness – it is spiritual and that this world is becoming ripe for judgment, so that through great tribulation we must enter the kingdom of heaven (Acts 14:22). This is good news, because even now we know that Christ is reigning in heaven and that in this way His glory and grace is most glorified through history and the salvation of His church from this present evil age. Our blessed hope, is in the personal return of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will usher in the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness – and that alone. As Prof. David J. Engelsma puts it:

“As deaf to the testimony of history as it is to the witness of Scripture, theological modernism still stubbornly entertains the hope of a “golden age” for mankind by means of evolutionary development and the efforts especially of preachers, politicians, scientists, and teachers in the state schools. Rome has its French Jesuit philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, liberation theologians, and, as his recent encyclical, 'Charity in Truth', indicates, the present pope.

“Protestantism has its Paul Tillich and hosts of pastors whose message every Sunday morning is love for mankind (referred to as humankind), tolerance of everyone and everything (except uncompromising confession of the truth and unswerving obedience to the law of God), and the uniting of all the nations and peoples of the world (excluding the holy nation, which is the true church).

“Natural men and women are moved by this hope of an earthly paradise – a carnal 'kingdom of God'. American politicians seek votes with the vision of 'a new world order'. Lenin and Stalin won the hearts of millions, including liberals in the United States, by their announcement of the coming of the millennium in the form of Communism, regardless of Communism's avowed godlessness, mass murders, and dictatorial cruelties. Hitler bewitched virtually all of Germany, including multitudes of German Christians, with the prospect of the 'thousand-year Reich' – the millennial kingdom of the messianic Fuhrer – reared up though it was by war, bloodshed, and terror.

“With his millennium, Antichrist will seduce the world, including many nominal Christians, who do not have their heart set on the spiritual kingdom of Christ, revealed in the sound doctrine of the Gospel (II Thess. 2). The seduction of will be the arrival, at long last, of the millennial kingdom of God and Christ (as Antichrist's prophet, the beast out of the earth [Rev. 13:11ff.] will describe it) in its full, carnal, bedazzling, beguiling splendour and beneficence.

“From this conception of the millennium, the Reformed post-millenialists are anxious to distance themselves. Understandably. Well may they be anxious also that their conception of a carnal kingdom not play into the program of the 'king of fierce countenance', who 'by peace shall destroy many' (Dan. 8:23-25).”

- Standard Bearer, 86(2), October 15, 2009, p.36.

The final objection may be, that while this may a serious problem for many elsewhere, it is certainly not an issue here in Limerick. Anyone who knows what is preached in Irish Methodist and Presbyterian churches today (especially in Presbyterianism), and the popular notions in Mallow Street hall (Brethren-style dispensationalism), and the local Assemblies of God institution, Abundant Life, knows that heretical eschatology is a deep and spreading poison among “Evangelical” Christians in Limerick.

Against this, and in promotion of the positive biblical Gospel, the true testimony of Scripture about the Last Days will be proclaimed this Friday evening by Rev. Angus Stewart. If it is God's truth, no God-fearing saint ought to dare to call it divisive. God's truth always builds unity, and gathers the saints together – because Christ's sheep hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:26-31).


Anonymous said...

Yours is a most interesting and informative blog! Am wondering if you have ever visited Google and typed in "Famous Rapture Watchers," "Pretrib Rapture Diehards," "X-Raying Margaret," "Thomas Ice (Bloopers)," "Pretrib Hypocrisy," "The Unoriginal John Darby," "Edward Irving is Unnerving," "Roots of (Warlike) Christian Zionism," "America's Pretrib Rapture Traffickers," "Pretrib Rapture - Hidden Facts," "Deceiving and Being Deceived" and "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" - all by journalist/historian Dave MacPherson who has researched the origins of the pretribulation rapture theory for 40 years and spent time doing so in Britain. His most complete and documented book on this is "The Rapture Plot" (300 pages) which is available at Armageddon Books online. Google "Scholars Weigh My Research" to see reactions to his findings. Many thanks for your worthwhile blog! Ian

Wiseguy said...

I haven't seen those before but I think I have heard of Dave MacPherson, though I can't quite remember the context. The lies of premillennialism certainly have an interesting history (one that well exposes it!). I'm happy to hear of others who "cast down strongholds" like this.

If you liked this post, perhaps you would be interested in Prof. David J. Engelsma's excellent book, "Christ's Spiritual Kingdom". In it he firmly opposes both pre- and post- millennialism, contending for the biblical and historically Reformed position of amillennialism. I think anyone would find it very helpful in studying the subject of eschatology.
It is available here for purchase or to read for free online:

If you like my blog, you would probably benefit greatly from many of the good biblical resources available on this website: You could also sign up to the Covenant Reformed News that they produce - as recommended at the head of my blog.

God bless!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to recommend an unusual and quite informative article that I discovered recently while going over the Nov. 12th edition of Joe Ortiz' "Our Daily Bread" blog. The article is entitled "Edward Irving is Unnerving." Patrick

Wiseguy said...

An interesting read, thanks for sharing.