Those Sinful Premillennialists?

NickOfTime

A recent, widely-circulated sermon took aim at pastors who lead their congregations to adopt premillennialism as an article of faith. The sermon posited that, by instituting premillennialism as a doctrinal test, those churches were unnecessarily dividing the body of Christ. Addressing pastors who encourage their churches to adopt premillennial confessions, the preacher said, “You are sinning.”

This sermon raises an important question. Is it a sin to implement a particular millennial view as a test for church membership? Or is every church obligated to grant eschatological latitude? The question may not be as easily answered as the sermon assumed.

Perhaps the place to begin is by recognizing that some doctrinal and practical tests are essential, not merely to church membership, but to any Christian fellowship. The basis of all Christian fellowship is the gospel. Those who deny the gospel should never be accorded Christian fellowship or recognition at any level. Therefore, any proposition that is essential to the gospel is also essential to Christian fellowship. No level of Christian fellowship, including church membership, is ever proper with those who deny the essentials of the gospel.

Historically, most gospel-affirming churches have required more than simple affirmation of the gospel for membership. Their requirements have usually included some level of Christian obedience. Baptism provides a convenient illustration. Most Christians have thought that baptism, while not essential to salvation, is essential to obedience for those who have been saved. Since one function of a church is to foster obedience in its members, most churches have typically required baptism as a precondition for membership. Other Christians, however, believe that baptism, while advisable, is not essential to obedience. Their churches do not require baptism for membership. A very few Christians even believe that water baptism should not be practiced at all.

Since believers disagree rather strongly about the necessity of baptism, their options are limited. If they intend to remain together in one congregation, one side or the other must agree not to press its understanding of Scripture. Alternatively, if they all intend to act and teach according to their understanding of Scripture, then they must form separate congregations. In short, they must either limit their message or else they must limit their fellowship. Either a church will require baptism or it will not: it cannot respect every Christian’s conviction.

The same is true of Christians who disagree about the biblically-authorized subjects of baptism or the biblically-required mode of baptism. It is also true of Christians who disagree about certain aspects of church order. A church cannot be governed congregationally, presbyterially, and episcopally at the same time. Not every Christian’s conscience can be respected in the order of every congregation.

When Christians disagree about biblical teachings, then they must limit either their message or their fellowship. Obviously, some differences are so marginal that they should not significantly affect fellowship. In the face of such differences, Christians ought to agree to limit their message. For example, making a particular view of the authorship of Hebrews into a test of fellowship would be unnecessarily narrow.

Other differences are more serious. These differences are likely to create divisions if both sides are taught enthusiastically within the same congregation. If the differences are sufficiently important, it is wrong to deny believers the right to express, rejoice in, and propagate their convictions. For such issues, the best way to unity may actually be to organize separate congregations in which members have full liberty to explore and proclaim their understanding of God’s will.

How can Christians distinguish those areas that must be made tests of fellowship, those areas that may be made tests of fellowship (but also may not), and those areas that must not be made tests of fellowship? Two criteria are helpful. First, the more important a doctrine or practice is, and the further it reaches in its effect upon the system of faith, the more likely it becomes that disagreement over this doctrine or practice will cause serious disruption in Christian fellowship, and the more necessary it becomes to limit fellowship in areas that are affected by the doctrine or practice in question. Second, the more directly an area of doctrine affects Christian practice and obedience, the more likely it becomes that Christians will be unable to remain in fellowship at levels where the doctrine manifests its influence.

What about the doctrine of the millennium? How far-reaching are its implications, and how immediate is its influence upon conduct? Is it a doctrine over which Christians should limit their message, or is it one that requires them to limit their fellowship?

Of course, most Christians permit and expect some level of fellowship among those who hold differing theories of the millennium. Very few would limit their personal fellowship to Christians who held identical millennial views. Even fundamentalists, those most notoriously separatistic evangelicals, have allowed for some levels at which premillennialists, amillennialists, and postmillennialists can work together.

Church membership, however, is one of the more restrictive levels of Christian fellowship. Joining a church is not like joining a club. Church membership is a covenant relationship. In becoming members of a church, believers submit themselves to the discipline of the congregation and take responsibility for one another’s wellbeing. Not everyone who qualified for personal fellowship or even parachurch collaboration will necessarily qualify for church membership.

The fact is that one’s millennialism (or lack thereof) never occurs in a theological vacuum. On the contrary, one’s view of the millennium is part of a complex of doctrinal problems that are pretty far-reaching in their implications. Millennialism is tied to one’s opinion about the present and future status of national Israel. It influences one’s understanding of which biblical promises and blessings can be claimed by the church. It affects one’s perspective on the integration of Mosaic Law into Christian living. It is a direct consequence of and contributor to one’s hermeneutic. To varying degrees, it carries implications for the definition of the Kingdom of God, the present status of the New Covenant, the concept of People of God, and a variety of other biblical and theological constructs.

Millennial views also appear to exert some influence upon conduct. Premillennialists have been blamed for escapism and a lack of social ethics, and they have often charged their opponents with a lack of urgency for evangelism and missions. While these accusations are certainly overblown on both sides, they probably do indicate some connection between theology and practical emphasis.

Another practical concern is the frequency with which amillennialism and postmillennialism have been used to excuse anti-Semitism. This is not to suggest that every amillennialist or postmillennialist is an anti-Semite, nor is it to suggest that premillennialists have been entirely exempted from this particular sin. Nevertheless, in a post-Holocaust world, many premillennialists fear that the denial of a future kingdom for Israel is almost intrinsically anti-Judaistic. They are keenly aware of a long history, beginning with Augustine, in which supercessionism (the denial that Israel can expect a future kingdom) has been used to excuse or even legitimate the persecution of Jews.

A greater problem concerns the trustworthiness of God’s promises. The apostle Paul ends the eighth chapter of his epistle to the Romans with marvelous promises to believers. He then launches into a three-chapter exploration of God’s future plan for Israel. Premillennialists believe that these two things (God’s promises to church saints and God’s future for Israel) are connected. If God did not have to keep His promises to Israel, or if God could fulfill those promises by giving them to someone else, then God does not have to keep His promises to Christians, or He might fulfill those promises by giving them to someone else. To many premillennialists, the future security of believers and the future security of national Israel are inextricably linked.

The above considerations are intended neither as a defense of premillennialism nor a refutation of post- or amillennialism. Defense and refutation would require much more detail and much more careful and balanced consideration of the arguments. The point is not that premillennialism is right and other eschatologies are wrong. Rather, the point is that the choice between these views is freighted with theological and practical implications. Premillennialism is not some isolated theological backwater. It is a rushing river with currents that sweep through many doctrinal and ethical pools.

Is a church obligated to incorporate premillennialism into its doctrinal statement and to make premillennialism a test of membership? Any church that allows for eschatological diversity should be aware of the differences that it will have to manage. If it gains members who are seriously committed to divergent millennial views, it will certainly find itself challenged. Any view of the millennium affects broad stretches of faith and conduct. What would be the consequences for a church that included both Douglas Wilson and Thomas Ice in its membership?

On matters of so much importance, a church cannot rightly expect God’s people to remain silent about their convictions. Before God they must have liberty to teach, exhort, and conduct themselves according to their understanding of the Word of God. Churches that enjoy very skilled leadership and a high level of maturity may be able to navigate this kind of diversity. Most churches, however, will experience a significant degree of tension. This tension will not arise from malice or from factious behavior. It will arise from the significance and implications of the alternatives.

Because the choice is so important, millennialism is not an area in which God’s people should agree to limit their message—certainly not within the local church. If a church can tolerate the enthusiastic proclamation of multiple messages, then it certainly may practice eschatological diversity. If people take their convictions seriously and express them enthusiastically, however, this difference may well create significant division within individual congregations. For that reason, churches that choose to adopt a single millennial view as a criterion for membership are not necessarily sinning. Their approach may actually be the one that best preserves the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Peace

Samuel Speed (d. 1681)

I sought for Peace, but could not find;
I sought it in the city,
But they were of another mind,
The more’s the pity!

I sought for Peace of country swain,
But yet I could not find;
So I returning home again,
Left Peace behind.

Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell? said I.
Methought a voice was given:
‘Peace dwelt not here, long since did fly
To God in heaven.’

Thought I, this echo is but vain,
To folly ‘tis of kin;
Anon I heard it tell me plain,
‘Twas killed by sin.’

Then I believed the former voice,
And rested well content,
Laid down and slept, rose, did rejoice,
And then to heaven went.
There I enquired for Peace, and found it true,
An heavenly plant it was, and sweetly grew.


This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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Mike Durning's picture

Speaking as the pastor of a Bible church that allows a little more breadth on these issues, let me say that Dr. Bauder's observations are much appreciated.

We have a taught position at our church (embodied in the doctrinal statement), but allow the board discretion to recommend membership for someone who differs on non-cardinal matters, so long as they do not express hostility to the doctrinal statement.

The practical impact of this is that we have a constant undercurrent of discussion on such issues. This discussion, much like the concept behind Sharper Iron itself, has been helpful and healthy, and encouraged greater growth and deeper study on the part of those who so engage themselves. But managing interactions between divergent parties can require a little effort. It also requires that the pastor, while affirming the doctrinal statement, is able to frame the different positions in the broader context so that others in the church can understand that they are not heretics for having a different view on such issues as millennial viewpoint.

Truly, as Dr. Bauder hints, the sources and implications of the viewpoint can be more important than the viewpoint itself. The hermeneutic implications of replacement theology or amillennialism are far more serious to me than whether or not one believes it. But it's also important to remember that frequently, newcomers have their views because of who has taught them, rather than having them as a part of a fully developed theology. So, at least for our church, this kind of thing boils down to a teaching issue in our church. It is a very long and drawn out journey for some to understand why we have the position we hold.

Paul Matzko's picture

I enjoy your posts Dr. Bauder, but I found your citation of a- and post-millenialist anti-semitism unnecessary. Historically, the spectre of anti-semitism was as, if not more, associated with premillenialism than with its alternatives. Arno Gaebelein is rightly infamous for anti-semitic passages in "The Conflict of the Ages." (See also Leo Ribuffo, "The Old Christian Right"). Not that premillenialism deserves to be labeled as inherently anti-semitic; after all, Carl McIntire, a dedicated premillenialist, was quite philo-semitic. But this sort of name calling adds no light and far too much heat to have a place in your discussion. Nothing ends a rational, reasonable conversation like, "Your position is kinda racist!"(-;

Red Phillips's picture

I agree with Dr. Bauder that limiting fellowship based on millennial beliefs is not necessarily sinning. I also agree that a person's view of the millennium has far reaching implications. It is partially because of these far reaching implications that we should be very careful about ascribing a level of theological certainty to the issue that Scripture does not warrant.

However, I think it is unfortunate that Dr. Bauder raised the anti-Semitism issue. While true anti-Semitism does exist, the word has become an all purpose slur that is used as a thought stopper to silence debate. One doesn't have to express any overt hate or ill will towards Jews to receive the label. Often they just have to disagree with some approved political opinion. For example, I have not infrequently seen opponents of the Federal Reserve and/or the bank bailout described as anti-Semitic. Because we "all know" what lies behind any condemnation of banking. That sort of thing.

Conversely and equally unwisely, post and amils call premils racist because they place importance on genetic Jewishness. This is all so short-sighted it is incredible. I shouldn't have to point out that political correctness doesn't have much use for orthodox Christianity. "What do you mean there is only one way to Heaven? How intolerant of you!" That belief in and of itself would be described as anti-Semitic by the ADL. The ADL called the Gospel of John anti-Semitic in the wake of Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ. Is it really wise for Christians of various stripes to lend credence to the PC thought police by dropping the a word or the r word against fellow believers? We should make a theological case and leave thought stopping epithets to the left-wing PC thought police.

In my experience, and I am a long time veteran of many a foreign policy debate with fellow Christians and conservatives, the post and amils issue is not so much with Jews per se as it is Israel and the United States "special relationship" with it. A relationship that has harmed fellow Christians in the region, set us up for special contempt from Muslim nations, arguably plunged us into unwise and un-Christian wars, and generally not served our interests. Of course there are exceptions, but most anti-premils do not think Jews should be viewed negatively because they are Jews. They should just not be looked at any differently than any other group of lost sinners in need of a Savior.

Joseph's picture

I am not familiar with the sermon the sparked off Dr. Bauder's reflections, and I would certainly not say what the preacher apparently said.

With that said, I wish to question the helpfulness of the two criteria Dr. Bauder mentions. Here is what he says:

Kevin Bauder wrote:

How can Christians distinguish those areas that must be made tests of fellowship, those areas that may be made tests of fellowship (but also may not), and those areas that must not be made tests of fellowship? Two criteria are helpful. First, the more important a doctrine or practice is, and the further it reaches in its effect upon the system of faith, the more likely it becomes that disagreement over this doctrine or practice will cause serious disruption in Christian fellowship, and the more necessary it becomes to limit fellowship in areas that are affected by the doctrine or practice in question. Second, the more directly an area of doctrine affects Christian practice and obedience, the more likely it becomes that Christians will be unable to remain in fellowship at levels where the doctrine manifests its influence.

The first point is of limited helpfulness for at least two reasons. First, in wide-ranging and systemic disputes, as a dispute about the place of eschatological beliefs in one's system and the role and function they should have with respect to fellowship with Christian is, this point is precisely what's going to be in question. As a criterion, it's not helpful because it is exactly what people will be disagreeing about; people who think specific eschatological beliefs (e.g. beyond the second coming) should not be a factor in membership, etc. are going to fundamentally differ with those who do think so precisely on the relative importance of such doctrine. Each positions will have already presupposed normative views of the importance of such beliefs, such that they can and will say things like, "You make that too important" or "You don't take this seriously enough." Criticisms like this stem from normative commitments about the importance of the beliefs under debates that are presupposed in specific critcisms, like "you're sinning for making x a test for y."

Second, one could easily mount an immanent critique, i.e., a critique that derives its force from taking the critiqued position's own norms and using them to reveal internal weakness in the position, of any system in which obviously fundamental doctrines, like the Trinity, would have sufficient importance that they issue in tests of fellowship, yet the same system applies similar, if not as far ranging or damning, restrictions on people who hold specific eschatological beliefs. The logic here would be that on a spectrum, no matter how relatively important x millenial belief is, it's pretty far downstream from something like the Trinity, and making tests of fellowship for both doctrines implies a level of comparable weight which, while probably not intended, is an unavoidable implication of such a test. If I can't join a church because I'm a modalist, fine; if I can't join because I don't know what I think about the millenium, and I'm honest enough to admit it, say, that is really problematic or would be seen so by many, including myself. The fact is, most people do not have an adequate understanding of the Trinity, much less an good knowledge of the three major eschatological systems that have emerged in Christian history, a condition which alone should cause churches to reconsider their doctrinal prioritizing.

Regarding the second criterion, the first criticism applies mutatis mutandi. Moreover, such a criterion of "direct affect" is both vague and problematic. It's vague as to what its actually describing. It could be describing (and this seems to be one of the most sensible interpretations), to put it technically, the kinds of propositions that, in a hierarchy of principles and maxims, are mostly likely to show up as the minor premise in a practical syllogism. To explain that, Aristotle took "practical reason" to refer to things that issue in actions. The conclusion of a practical syllogism is an action, so you have something like this. P1: It is always right to help one's neighbor when they are in need. P2: This person sitting accross from me is my neighbor and needs help. Conclusion: I get up and help. That's how a practical syllogisms work. So, "direct affect" could obviously apply to things that stand in the P2 spot, like, "John is my neighbor and needs help," because those beliefs have the most direct affect on action in practical reasoning. But note those are always quite specific and therefore, normally, not properly statements of doctrine. Rather, principles or maxims, general statements, get stated in the first premise, P1, like that "one should always help one's neighbor." That kind of principle has an indirect affect on our behavior; far more indirect, however, are propositions like, "Revelation and Ezekiel mean x, y, and z with respect to the end times." These kinds of beliefs can have an enormous influence, but precisely because of their relatively high place in the hierarchy of propositions that can be practical (result in action that is a practical conclusion to which they are premisses), these kinds of things, like specific echatological beliefs, will not have a direct affect, certainly not "direct" in an obvious sense of that word. This points to what's problematic about the second criterion; it contradicts the first. For, as I've just briefly shown, the more directly practical a belief or proposition is, the less deeply it is embedded in a theoretical system, and this is necessarily the case, because system-altering beliefs or systematic positions can only issue in actions that are justified by those high-level beliefs through a very long process of mediation.

More often than not, people simply refer their actions to beliefs that, really, have no direct relation whatsoever to the action they performed but are appealed to as somehow justifing that action. In case this is too abstracted, take an apparently simple, or at least common, case: middle-east politics and eschatology. People often say we should vote for x or support y policy because of their Dispensational (or whatever) understanding of Israel. Now, that understanding may, in fact, justify the specific policy under discussion, like whether we should do x on the Gaza strip, but most people could not actually make the connections, because there is no obvious or clear connection between a belief about Israel's relations to the world and how a specific nation should execute its foreign policy. In order for some high level theological belief to legitimately (key word) or with justification affect or result in an action in foreign policy, the chain of mediation would be quite long and very complicated, starting with theological positions and issues, moving into issues of how they generally affect nations, then to the specific circumstances of American's foreign policy, then to the specific circumstances regarding Israel-Palestine, and finally to a policy directive. If that seems long in writing, imagine what the steps would actually look like in reality. And that's clearly not what's going on for most people who claim that their theological positions are justifying, in some obvious way, some specific political action.

So, if Bauder's first criterion applied, and specific eschatological positions were quite important, then they would necessarily be higher up in the systematic heirarchy of beliefs, and would therefore not have anything like a justified, or legitimate, direct affect on practices or actions.

The more general point is that criteria are over-appealed to; they only work and are useful when all the people in the discussion agree with them or their interpretation; but they are often invoked to help adjudicate disputes of systematic scale, and there they are worse than useless, for they misdirect attention regarding what's actually separating people, what's actually at issue. Thus criteria work really well in the hard sciences, say, where the research community has a very specific and agreed upon understanding of what it means to "test a hypothesis" and report on it in a peer-reviewed journal. But they are practically worthless if people are arguing about the relative merits of a piece of literature, for in such arguments the underlying problem is usually precisely criteria: what people take to be relevant standards of judgment and evaluation fundamentally differ, hence the common experience of "talking past" one another.

Part of the problem in all of these discussions is that we do not focus enough on the mediating beliefs and practices that would produce actions resulting from our supposedly most fundamental beliefs, like in the Trinity, but we rather spend more time focusing on beliefs that are, whatever their relative value, less important but often more exciting or apparently applicable. Thommie Ice and Wilson should be able to get on fine in a church if all that separates them was specific eschatological beliefs (I, and many I know, have gotten along fine differing over such matters); but it's not all that divides them; they differ fundamentally on a host of other things regarding theology, culture and practice, including things like the kinds of sensibilities we should be cultivating, things people like Ice normally don't even articulate or see as theological concerns, and hence these issues and concerns get lumped in, as Bauder perhaps just did (implicitly), with some more obvious belief. Separating out what is actually legitimating ("causing" is not nearly as helpful a term here) some practice, disposition, orientation, or belief is a task that needs to be pursued more than it is currently. In it's absence, you get wide-ranging discussions that end up lumping a host of heterogenous positions and sensibilities and beliefs under one big umbrella, like a soteriological dispute, as if that's the mainly, primary, or the only important thing separating the disputants.

Donn R Arms's picture

I have great respect for Mark Dever so I am inclined to allow him some latitude for hyperbole, especially in light of some of the dumb things I have said from the pulpit over the years. His point is valid even if his speech was a bit over the top. It is interesting to note that for all the hand ringing in the GARBC over the hermenutics from which premillenialism arises it was not a desire for doctrinal purity that originally led to the inclusion premillenialism in their doctrinal statement. The old Baptist Bible Union had no such statement. It was added for purely political reasons in order to box T.T. Shields out of the new organization.

Donn R Arms

Kevin T. Bauder's picture

Paul and Red,

You both seem to think that my mention of the anti-semitism was gratuitous, as if it were simply some speculation that I had made up for the occasion. It is not.

If you wish to explore the anti-semitic uses of supercessionism ("anti-semitic" being intended in the very worst sense), you will find a nice summary in the following work:

Horner, Barry E. Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged. NAC Studies in Bible & Theology. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2007.

____________________________________________

Donn,

Actually, the original confession of the BBU was explicitly premillennial. That article was dropped before the 1923 meeting, in order to make room for Shields. Did you know that Shields was one of the "committee of five" who were charged with erecting the GARBC out of the ashes of the BBU? I have correspondence from Shields to his good friend, O. W. Van Osdel, dated before the 1932 Belden Avenue meeting. Shields is withdrawing from the movement, he says, because it is concentrated in the United States. He had his own work to do in Canada.

Shields did not have to be kept out of the GARBC. He had already removed himself. Now Norris was another story. . . .

Donn R Arms's picture

My take on it all is based on conversations with several men from the era including my grandmother's brother who was a student at DMU in 1929. I have no documentation but had been told by several men that Shields had become an issue for many following the DMU fiasco and his amillennialism and five point Calvinism became an excuse to distance themselves from him. I will be interested to read your account of all this in the book I hope you are working on.

Still, one has to wonder about the wisdom of making one's eschatology a test of fellowship while one's soteriology (i.e. the doctrines of grace) is a matter of soul liberty.

Donn R Arms

Paul Matzko's picture

Dr. Bauder,

I will gladly acknowledge that some supercessionists use the deprivileging of the Jewish people as cover for their anti-semitism. I simply wanted to note that this is a non-unique charge since it can be leveled at millenialists of all stripes. Indeed, strains of anti-semitism have periodically resurfaced within fundamentalism since the beginning of the movement.

Shouldn't we avoid judging an intellectual current or a movement by its most extreme adherents ipso facto? If we are to define a movement by the fringe then all anabaptists were apocalyptic militants (Munster), all new evangelicals are licentious, and all fundamentalists are either racists, anti-semites, or legalists. Unless you're willing to propose that anti-semitism profoundly characterizes a- or post-millenialism, I'd avoid mentioning it in your argument. It is a distraction from your otherwise well-argued position.

Charlie's picture

Joseph wrote:
This points to what's problematic about the second criterion; it contradicts the first. For, as I've just briefly shown, the more directly practical a belief or proposition is, the less deeply it is embedded in a theoretical system, and this is necessarily the case, because system-altering beliefs or systematic positions can only issue in actions that are justified by those high-level beliefs through a very long process of mediation.

Exactly. This is, really, the issue of Fundamentalism (I think I just went off topic). Most high-level beliefs are discounted in favor of conformity in "practical" areas. For example, at BJU, you could be a Calvinist or not, be a Dispensationalist or not, be a Baptist or not, but you had to be for altar calls and against movies and alcohol. Or, in some other circles of Fundamentalism, nobody can even express the difference between Pelagianism and Augustinianism or why knowing that would matter, but everyone is trained in how to "soul-win" and lead someone through the sinner's prayer.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Charlie's picture

Kevin T. Bauder wrote:
Paul and Red,

You both seem to think that my mention of the anti-semitism was gratuitous, as if it were simply some speculation that I had made up for the occasion. It is not.

If you wish to explore the anti-semitic uses of supercessionism ("anti-semitic" being intended in the very worst sense), you will find a nice summary in the following work:

Horner, Barry E. Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged. NAC Studies in Bible & Theology. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2007.

Dr. Bauder, have you read this work? Horner's use of Anti-Judaism (or anti-Semitism) is extremely idiosyncratic. He applies the term to anyone who does not agree with Israel's right to the land and all the other blessings that Dispensationalists say they should get someday. (Horner does not claim to be a Dispensationalist because of his post-trib position, but it is clear that his position on Israel vis-a-vis Church is Dispensational). Sam Waldron had an 8-part review and critique online which I am disappointed to find unavailable due to his site being in the process of upgrade (something familiar to SI patrons). Perhaps it will be available again soon. In any case, with such equivocation on the term anti-Semitic, it's hard to see how he's really relevant to what people normally mean when they use the term.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Jay's picture

Charlie wrote:
Joseph wrote:
This points to what's problematic about the second criterion; it contradicts the first. For, as I've just briefly shown, the more directly practical a belief or proposition is, the less deeply it is embedded in a theoretical system, and this is necessarily the case, because system-altering beliefs or systematic positions can only issue in actions that are justified by those high-level beliefs through a very long process of mediation.

Exactly. This is, really, the issue of Fundamentalism (I think I just went off topic). Most high-level beliefs are discounted in favor of conformity in "practical" areas. For example, at BJU, you could be a Calvinist or not, be a Dispensationalist or not, be a Baptist or not, but you had to be for altar calls and against movies and alcohol. Or, in some other circles of Fundamentalism, nobody can even express the difference between Pelagianism and Augustinianism or why knowing that would matter, but everyone is trained in how to "soul-win" and lead someone through the sinner's prayer.


Welcome to Young Fundamentalism, Charlie. Nice to know there's another one of us out there somewhere. Smile

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

sbradley's picture

Thanks for the great article. It helped strengthen my resolve as a pastor to continue to speak out that millennial views do really matter. It seems to me that the list of doctrines that matter is continually being chopped all for the sake of a false unity. Doctrine does matter and should effect our actions. Thanks again for taking the time to write something that would have taken me weeks to accumulate and articulate.

Red Phillips's picture

I appreciate Dr. Bauder breaking his silence. I was not accusing him of making something up. Unfortunately, it is a common charge and nothing new. I just think it doesn't really further the debate (as Paul said much more heat than light) and it is very unwise for Christians, who are a target of political correctness, to lend it credence by repeating one of its bugaboos. It feeds the beast. If Christians accept the underlying universalistic and purist egalitarian principles that inform political correctness, then how can they later defend Christian exclusivity or even Jewish choseness?

I don’t doubt that supercessionism has been used to justify anti-Semitism. But the real question is whether it is inherently anti-Semitic. What seems to often underlie this idea is that anything that is not specifically philo-Semitic is therefore anti-Semitic. I have run into this line of thinking a lot. Since it “displaces” or “replaces” or “robs” the Jews then it is ipso facto anti-Semitic. I once was called anti-Semitic because I said I wanted to end foreign aid to Israel. Now if I wanted to shower every other country on earth with foreign aid except Israel, then perhaps that would be anti-Semitic. But if I want to end foreign aid to every country including Israel then that can only be contorted to support a charge of anti-Semitism if anti-Semitism means not specifically favoring Jews and Israel.

But that isn’t even all of the problem. The correctness of a theological doctrine does not rise or fall on the perceived consequences. It is right or wrong depending only on whether or not it is a correct interpretation of the Scripture, and the implications and consequences must be lived with. (The consequences in this case not being discriminatory harshness toward Jews in particular which would be an unwarranted leap, but just no modern day special status for them.) For example, the well supported theological doctrine of gender roles is by modern reckoning “unfair,” leads to discriminatory outcomes, and may hurt women’s feelings. But is it to be dismissed on those grounds? No. It is either a correct interpretation and application of Scripture or it isn’t.

Likewise, dispensational pre-millenialism is not wrong because the amils and post-mils claim it has racist implications since it places importance on genetic/ethnic Jewishness. Quite frankly, by modern militantly egalitarian PC standards, it is racist. But so what? So is the Old Testament concept of a chosen race which we all accept. Dispensational pre-millennialism is either a correct or incorrect theology based on whether or not it is an accurate interpretation of Scripture.

rrobinson's picture

I am not sure I entirely understand sbradley's post. To be sure, there must be false unities to be had out there. And I am sure we can think of some examples. In this context, however, the only "false unity" that I can imagine is one in which the membership of a local church is so homogenous in convictions, personality, training, background, personality, dress, looks, speech, etc. that he it is actually a little creepy. A conscious effort within a membership to encourage that tendency is certainly one way to make a statement that we are different from the world; but maybe it is not the best way, or even a healthy way.

On the other hand, how is limiting acceptable millenial views within a membership from two or three to one "chopping the list of doctrines that matter"? Seems that one VIEW of the doctrine of eschatology is all that matters? On the contrary, churches that allow two or three are (ideally) guiding and shepherding their members into humility and deference one toward another, as well as sharpening. A "false unity" is more the case when you drive those away who are not fully aligned with your own positions in all areas, and you are primarily catering to those whom you have either raised and taught yourself, or transplants who come into the area and seek you out because of how many boxes you tick on their list.

In a locale like Greenville, one may shop around and choose a church that precisely fits his checklist and matches more of his positions on everything. That is a real luxury. You are not comfortable with one thing at aa particular church, try the one across the street (but, you might miss a blessing to be challenged or to challenge someone else). In other parts of the world, however, one does not really have this luxury. You kind of have to make do with the body of believers you find. There might be both Jews and Greeks (fundamental believers one and all) all in one glorious local body. What to do? There won't be a church on one side of town for the Greeks and on the other for the Jews.

To go to a foreign field, and to wear a certain set of glasses with a predisposition to cater to or to look for one type of person only in order to build a local church of the same order of homogeneity and disposition as the sending church, could be akin to creating a false unity within a body, before the work is even begun. Yes, we speak about churches "reproducing" themselves. But I certainly don't want my children to be exactly like me. Sometimes I wonder if some American missionaries to hardened places (in Europe for example), give up and leave the mission field after 12 years and a church membership of two, because they have placed unduly narrow strictures on church membership and fellowship? Is this not a false unity -- often presented as a unity with the gospel? If the missionary's sense of unity (or more likely, his American supporting churches' sense of unity) corresponded a little more closely to the senses of Christian unity we see in scriptures, perhaps the missionary could retire with a stable church of 20 members instead of 2 (stable because the full complement of members really do reflect a complete body with different body parts and not all heads or hands). I would be curious to hear about the missions policy of Mr. Bradley's church, and whether a supported missionary would be allowed any latitude in "non-fundamental" areas and be able to use his own discretion according to the field and the individual individuals he there encounters and brings into his church.

rrobinson's picture

sorry: how is NOT limiting acceptable millenial views within a membership from two or three to one "chopping the list of doctrines that matter"?

sbradley's picture

If your millennial view matters and affects your actions and beliefs like Dr. Bauder stated, then limiting church membership based on one's millennial view only makes sense. I would not want a situation in my church where an opposing millennial view was allowed to grow and eventually dominate because I allowed people to become members who held to an opposing view.

While premillennialism is not a fundamental of the faith alongside the gospel, it is still a teaching of Scripture that I believe in, and therefore I must pay honor to it and stand by what the Bible teaches as truth. I can't minimize it, ignore it, sweep it under the carpet, or say that it doesn't matter.

And in reference to supporting missionaries, why wouldn't I want to support missionaries that believe like I do? There are certainly enough of them out there. I want my money going to support someone who believes the same things I believe the Bible teaches. Certainly some latitude is given, but I don't think premillennialism is a "doesn't matter" type of doctrine. I think that is the real debate - does your millennial view matter - and it certainly does.

rrobinson's picture

Sbradley,
Thank you for your candor. I understand that you are choosing to limit your fellowship and not your message, because of your conclusions. I don't know that Dr. Bauder necessarily drew any conclusions about which millennial view matters (the most), nor how much it could or should influence either the practical operation of a church inwardly, or the conduct of its members outwardly. I read that it is certainly something that the leadership needs to ask itself about, think about, plan for and continually assess. Regarding conduct, I read it is "part of a complex of doctrinal problems"; is "tied to"; "influences", "carries implications to varying degrees"; and "appears to exert some influence on":

[quote]What about the doctrine of the millennium? How far-reaching are its implications, and how immediate is its influence upon conduct? Is it a doctrine over which Christians should limit their message, or is it one that requires them to limit their fellowship?
Of course, most Christians permit and expect some level of fellowship among those who hold differing theories of the millennium. Very few would limit their personal fellowship to Christians who held identical millennial views. Even fundamentalists, those most notoriously separatistic evangelicals, have allowed for some levels at which premillennialists, amillennialists, and postmillennialists can work together.
Church membership, however, is one of the more restrictive levels of Christian fellowship. Joining a church is not like joining a club. Church membership is a covenant relationship. In becoming members of a church, believers submit themselves to the discipline of the congregation and take responsibility for one another’s wellbeing. Not everyone who qualified for personal fellowship or even parachurch collaboration will necessarily qualify for church membership.
The fact is that one’s millennialism (or lack thereof) never occurs in a theological vacuum. On the contrary, one’s view of the millennium is part of a complex of doctrinal problems that are pretty far-reaching in their implications. Millennialism is tied to one’s opinion about the present and future status of national Israel. It influences one’s understanding of which biblical promises and blessings can be claimed by the church. It affects one’s perspective on the integration of Mosaic Law into Christian living. It is a direct consequence of and contributor to one’s hermeneutic. To varying degrees, it carries implications for the definition of the Kingdom of God, the present status of the New Covenant, the concept of People of God, and a variety of other biblical and theological constructs.
Millennial views also appear to exert some influence upon conduct. Premillennialists have been blamed for escapism and a lack of social ethics, and they have often charged their opponents with a lack of urgency for evangelism and missions. While these accusations are certainly overblown on both sides, they probably do indicate some connection between theology and practical emphasis.
[quote]

Now, what influences it exerts and "how immediate is its influence upon conduct action", seem to be open questions that the article raises. In light of this, further questions have been raised in this thread: in particular, are some examples of conduct that we traditionally attribute to the influence of our millennial view, in fact legitimate results of a correct understanding of the implications of that view? (eg. US National foreign policy). Is other conduct cited as reason for reproaching a particular millennial view actually a legitimate concern (apparent lack of zeal among amillenialists for numbers and quick conversions). Either way, another post raises the point that whatever the conduct a cherished doctrine may lead to one way or another, be that as it may, that is not a reason for holding or not holding a particular millennial view: rather, is it Biblical? You are persuaded that yours is, and that is why you hold it.

However, I don't think the article necessarily answers all the questions for you, just like that. It is still not clear that limiting fellowship over the message is required or even desirable, in the case of differing millennial views within one church membership. Certainly, it "makes sense", in one way, to limit fellowship. Why, all memberships are easier to run when everyone is on exactly the same page in all matters. Some of the considerations just come down to convenience. Hence student rule books at universities.

But what would really happen in a church where "an opposing millennial view was allowed to grow and eventually dominate"? Would the gospel fail to be preached? Or, would some members or other just be a little uncomfortable? Certainly, in many churches, there will be those who want to make a stinky issue of it -- just as there are those who make issues of music style. What does one's millennial view, in the final analysis really say about specific instances of one's conduct. You might be surprised. If nothing else, it might be nice to have around a few people who do have a little different take on things, and for whom this might actually affect some of their actions in different ways than you are used to. This is called diversity (not "false unity"), and it really is something to be strived for in some limited ways. Of course, maybe the opposing view won't be so generous if it does gain a "dominating position" Wink

If your view really is important enough that it leads to your conclusion that you must withhold membership from those who hold opposing views; and that is your view of preserving unity; and that kind of unity is a real value and goal for your church: I can understand, but disagree. But in a way, I think one of the implications of premillennialism is that you are going to feel this way.

Charlie's picture

rrobinson wrote:

To go to a foreign field, and to wear a certain set of glasses with a predisposition to cater to or to look for one type of person only in order to build a local church of the same order of homogeneity and disposition as the sending church, could be akin to creating a false unity within a body, before the work is even begun. Yes, we speak about churches "reproducing" themselves. But I certainly don't want my children to be exactly like me. Sometimes I wonder if some American missionaries to hardened places (in Europe for example), give up and leave the mission field after 12 years and a church membership of two, because they have placed unduly narrow strictures on church membership and fellowship? Is this not a false unity -- often presented as a unity with the gospel? If the missionary's sense of unity (or more likely, his American supporting churches' sense of unity) corresponded a little more closely to the senses of Christian unity we see in scriptures, perhaps the missionary could retire with a stable church of 20 members instead of 2 (stable because the full complement of members really do reflect a complete body with different body parts and not all heads or hands). I would be curious to hear about the missions policy of Mr. Bradley's church, and whether a supported missionary would be allowed any latitude in "non-fundamental" areas and be able to use his own discretion according to the field and the individual individuals he there encounters and brings into his church.

Mr. Robinson, I agree with your assessment that an overly narrow unity is false in its own way. One of the reasons that I am glad to be Presbyterian is that our doors are as wide as Christ's arms. Anyone who can make a credible profession of faith and agree to the membership vows can be a member in my PCA church. On the other hand, elders are required to hold to the Westminster Standards. In this way, we have quite a diversity of people, but unity of teaching. Congregationalism, on the other hand, seems to lead inevitably either to schism or laxity. If a Congregational church considers a doctrine important, they must separate over it. So, the only way to avoid separation is to declare many doctrines unimportant.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

swalker's picture

"However great the divergence of views among students of prophecy may seem to be, and in spite of the many varieties of opinion among the representatives of the two schools which have been mentioned in passing, the points of agreement are far more important. The main difference is as to the order, rather than as to the reality of events.

The great body of believers are united in expecting both an age of glory and a personal return of Christ. As to many related events they differ ; but as to the one great precedent condition of that coming age or that promised return of the Lord there is absolute harmony of conviction: the Gospel must first be preached to all nations (Matt. 24:14). The Church must continue to "make disciples of all the nations. . . even unto the end of the age" (Matt. 28: 19, 20).

This is therefore a time, not for unkindly criticism of fellow Christians, but for friendly conference ; not for disputing over divergent views, but for united action; not for dogmatic assertion of prophetic programs, but for the humble acknowledgment that "we know in part;" not for idle dreaming, but for the immediate task of evangelizing a lost world." Charles R. Erdman, “The Coming of Christ, The Fundamentals: A Testimony of the Truth, vol. 11(Chicago: Testimony Publishing, n.d.), 98

sbradley's picture

So a view of premillennialism that chooses to separate to an extent (at least in a local church setting) now keeps other people from being able to evangelize? This cry of lets forget all other doctrine and just concentrate on the gospel is clearly unbiblical. If these other doctrines don't matter then much of the N.T. is unnecessary reading and God is really doing us a disservice by giving us extra things to read and study when we could better use our time just evangelizing.

Jack's picture

Saying something shouldn't divide the body is not the same as saying it doesn't matter.

dadenny's picture

It seems to me that what you should include in your test of fellowship - especially for church membership - depends on very practical issues affecting the health of the church. 1) How integrated is this doctrine into the preaching and teaching and day to day life of the church? and 2) How large is this church and how does it operate?

On the basis of the first question I suspect it would be easier for an amillennialist to include premillennialists and postmillennialists than the other way around.

On the basis of the second question I think that large churches - especially if they have a top down government have the luxury of being able to tolerate more diversity in their membership. In small congregationally governed churches there is no such luxury. Factions over ANYTHING damage the pastor's ability to minister, the spiritual health of the people, and the church's testimony in the community. Have you ever had the experience of a member gathering a group for a study in which he presents views diametrically opposed to what you have been preaching or teaching? It does nothing for your ministry and can ultimately threaten the life of the small church. I think it is different in large churches - but I've never been pastor in one of those. Smile

(Titus 3:9-11) But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.

It seems to me that making your millennial view a test of fellowship is a way of avoiding divisiveness down the road. When I meet with new member candidates I go through our doctrinal statement in some detail. I tell them that they do not need to understand everything completely or affirm everything without reservation, but that they must not be in complete disagreement with any part. Questions are fine - we can deal with those.

MShep2's picture

rrobinson wrote:
... In this context, however, the only "false unity" that I can imagine is one in which the membership of a local church is so homogenous in convictions, personality, training, background, personality, dress, looks, speech, etc. that he it is actually a little creepy.
Wait, I've been at that church!

MS
--------------------------------
Luke 17:10

MShep2's picture

I think one of the biggest problems in having NO position on Eschatology would be attempting to fulfill Paul's goal to preach the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). When you get to Daniel or Revelation, which view do you preach? One month Premillennial, the next month Preterist, the next Amillennial, etc.??? Or does the pastor teach one thing from the pulpit while other church leaders/members teach another view in the Sunday School classes or small groups?

I think a church should be flexible with these issues when it comes to church membership, but in leadership - especially in what is to be taught - there needs to be conformity or there will be many possibilities for confusion in the church.

MS
--------------------------------
Luke 17:10

Charlie's picture

MShep2 wrote:
I think one of the biggest problems in having NO position on Eschatology would be attempting to fulfill Paul's goal to preach the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). When you get to Daniel or Revelation, which view do you preach? One month Premillennial, the next month Preterist, the next Amillennial, etc.??? Or does the pastor teach one thing from the pulpit while other church leaders/members teach another view in the Sunday School classes or small groups?

I think a church should be flexible with these issues when it comes to church membership, but in leadership - especially in what is to be taught - there needs to be conformity or there will be many possibilities for confusion in the church.

I believe you have touched upon a legitimate concern. I am also in partial agreement with you, since I think that having "NO position" on eschatology would indeed be highly problematic. However, I really don't think that's the case for the majority of people who are at all involved in this discussion. Dever, for example, (remember the original cause of this article) has a position - he is amillennial. He teaches from an amillennial standpoint, and he has preached through the entire Bible, at least in summary. You can buy his sermons on each book of the Bible collected in two books, entitled The Message of the Old Testament and The Message of the New Testament.

Since in expository preaching the main point of the text is the main point of the sermon, we have to ask how often the areas of disagreement actually constitute the main point. Although many passages mention the future, I would daresay that very few of them are primarily intended to teach when or even how the Lord will return, but rather that he will. Beyond that, all conservatives agree in a bodily return, his reign over all the Earth (either millennial or restored), the ultimate judgment and separation of redeemed and lost, and that all Christians eagerly await when we shall "forever be with the Lord." It seems to me that only when we are "charting" do the differences really look that big. I'm sure that on this board and probably in our close circle of friends, we have disagreements about about the precise import of some of the Lord's parables, or the meaning of some miracles, or how to resolve certain problem passages or interpret certain events in the Old Testament. We might even preach these passages in a different way. I don't think that we would let those differences stop us from fellowshipping or being in the same church. Why let a few prophetic passages separate us?

So, I think that what most people are pleading for is the acknowledgment of the orthodoxy of other views within the boundaries of a congregation, association/denomination, and school/seminary. For example, most of the Professors at my seminary seem to be post-mill, but George Knight III teaches there and is historic pre-mill. I have been in churches where the elders differed, and our Church standards (WCF etc.) do not address the issue directly (though some interpret them as being against pre-mill). People actually can disagree on prophecy and still serve together well!

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

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