Premillennial doctrines refuted

The so-called dispensationalist premillennial interpretation of Revelation, which in spite of being popular in modern evangelicalism has no provenance in the church, came about in the 19th century as a result of the teachings of Darby and Scofield. Its proponents may claim that it is a literal understanding of the text in contrast to what they perceive to be non-literal spiritualized approaches. Although I would agree, as all orthodox Protestants, that the Bible should be read and understood literally, I believe we must distinguish a literalistic interpretation from a literal one. As the divine Turretin taught, there is only one literal sense, that which is intended by the Holy Spirit, but this may be proper or figurative. I believe that dispensationalist premillennialism falls over in that it interprets Revelation literalistically, thereby missing its literal sense, whereas this system’s flaws are discovered by comparison to other passages of Scripture (in determing the true literal sense of any passage, we must let Scripture be its own interpreter). I will focus on two points of doctrine in this article.

Are there two resurrections or one?

Because Revelation 20 refers to a first and a second resurrection, dispensationalist premillennialists teach that there are two actual resurrections. There are other places in scripture, however, which teach that the resurrection of the dead, both the righteous and the unrighteous, is a single simultaneous event. As formerly in Daniel 12:2, John 5:27-29 says that “all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation”. John 6 also teaches that the elect will be raised up at the last day, i.e. the day of judgement, which takes place after the tribuation.

Furthermore, I have yet to see any place in the Bible which implies a secret coming of Christ before His coming in glory (this being a prerequisite to a “pre-tribulation rapture”); to the contrary, when He comes it will be as the lightning flashing from the east to the west (Matthew 24:27), and every eye will see Him, including those who have pierced Him (Revelation 1:7). Where it is stated in Matthew 24:40 that one shall be taken away and one shall be left, we only have grounds to make a distinction between the elect, who are caught up to glory, and the reprobate, who are passed over to be judged for their sins. There is no mention here of any period of tribulation between these events and no indication that the elect will be spared from tribulation (indeed, the church has already undergone, and continues to undergo, tribulation).

In light of this belief in a single resurrection and a single second coming, historicists (following the classical Protestant interpretation of Revelation) believe that the resurrection spoken of in Revelation 20:4 is a spiritual event rather than physical. Given that the genre of prophecy elsewhere uses such figures to refer to spiritual truths, as with the dry bones coming to life in Ezekiel 37, we are not failing to interpret the text literally. Dutch Reformed divine A Brakel also argues in his commentary that because the actions in Revelation 20:4 are ascribed to souls as opposed to people (i.e. not yet reunited with their bodies), they cannot refer to a bodily resurrection. Rather, in his words, these souls “triumphed over the Antichrist and all enemies; they are free as kings, glorious, brave, and immense because of the glory of Christ, which he has endowed upon them through His Spirit and power. And through Him, they are part of His reign”. The “rest of the dead” is taken to mean the godless enemies of the church who, like Satan, will be constrained for a thousand years and therefore unable to oppress the church. “The first resurrection is the glorious state of the church after the battle at Armageddon and the destruction of the Antichrist. The second resurrection is the blessed resurrection and positioning at Christ’s right hand, after the revolt of Gog and Magog.”

At what point will Christ return?

Premillennialists believe, based on the saints’ reigning with Christ a thousand years (Revelation 20:4-6), that Jesus returns at the beginning of this millennium. Postmillennialists and amillennialists believe that He will return at the end of the millennium. Significant issues arise with the former interpretation: Christ suffered humiliation at his first coming, yet He ascended into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. The millennium, while we can expect it to be a time of unprecedented gospel advance, unity, and purity of doctrine and worship (a spiritual reign of Christ and the saints through the church on earth), is clearly not a sinless time, as it precedes the final apostasy (when Satan is loosed from his bonds) and the final judgement. It is inconceivable that a glorified Christ should again be humiliated by His leaving the right hand of the Father and dwelling for a thousand years on an earth where sin and death remain and where Satan has not been permanently defeated. The Bible states clearly that Christ will sit at the right hand of the Father till His enemies are made His footstool (Psalm 110:1). He will return in glory to judge the living and the dead once and for all.

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The organization of the Christian church

Presbyterians, including the Continental Reformed, in the 16th and 17th centuries sought to return to the structure of the apostolic church. The Bible, in Ephesians 4:11-12, tells us of various officers with authority to teach and administer sacraments in the church.

 And [Christ] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.

Of these apostles, prophets, and evangelists were acknowledged to be extraordinary insofar as they had revelation by the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This kind of inspiration has only occurred in special periods of church history, leading to the writing of the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments. In the five centuries that elapsed between these Testaments, we read in Jewish history that there were no prophets (1 Maccabees 9:27; 14:44). With the close of the New Testament canon following the completion of the Book of Revelation, the purpose of these extraordinary offices has been fulfilled. The apostles were also eyewitnesses of and immediately appointed by Christ, and were confirmed by accompanying signs and wonders. The evangelists, meanwhile, were mediately appointed through the apostles to assist them with propagating the gospel and ordaining ordinary church officers.

Presbyterians acknowledge the perpetuity of a fourfold church office comprising pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons. The first three are all considered elders, or presbyters, and have qualifications in common which are listed in Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Nevertheless, though all elders must be apt to teach, a distinction is made between teaching elders, i.e. ministers (pastors and teachers), and ruling elders on the basis that ministers are given in particular to labour in the word and doctrine, and therefore employed in full-time ministry (1 Timothy 5:17). Ruling elders have been appointed since the time of Moses (Numbers 11) to assist the priests and Levites in the government of the Jewish church.

Furthermore, a distinction is made between pastors and teachers, although these two offices are commonly conflated. Pastors must also be teachers, but – as the Westminster Standards acknowledge – some may be more gifted in exposition of the Scriptures, teaching doctrine, and convincing gainsayers than they are in application. Such people are “of most excellent use in schools and universities”, e.g. as seminary professors. A comparison is here drawn with the teachers of the law, or scribes, in the Jewish church, such as Gamaliel (Acts 5:34), who taught in schools connected to synagogues.

No distinction is made by Presbyterians between presbyters/elders and bishops. Both words are used interchangeably in the New Testament; elder is taken to denote the spiritual maturity of the officer, whereas bishop (from the Greek word episkopos, meaning overseer) is taken to denote his function. In the earliest centuries of the Christian church, the Didache and writers such as Clement also seem to use the words bishop and presbyter interchangeably. Jerome in his letter to Evangelus wrote that “the apostle clearly teaches that presbyters are the same as bishops”, distinguishing them only from deacons. Calvin in his commentary on Titus disapproves of the title of bishop being transferred to one alone when God gave it in common to all presbyters, though he does not disagree with the practice of choosing a moderator in a consistory of bishops (presbytery). It is a matter of convenience that a presbytery should delegate certain responsibilities to a moderator, yet the permanent designation of the title bishop in the early church to one particular overseer in relation to other presbyters has led to the rise of episcopalianism. Crucially, the moderator in a Presbyterian church has no unilateral authority: the presbytery is not below him, but rather as a body appoints him, and he is the organ of the presbytery. Authority is held collectively in the plurality of elders, who all have parity, so that the Bible tells us that ordination, for example, is through the laying on of hands of the presbytery (1 Timothy 4:14), rather than a bishop. This parity of elders is also evident in the collective judgement reached at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). The unilateral authority of the bishop in the episcopal polity seems to be more grounded in the office of evangelist, who had authority over elders of local churches, including that to appoint them (Titus 1:5), than it does in any biblical or historical use of the word.

The fourth perpetual church officer is the deacon (from the Greek word diakonos, meaning servant), whose qualifications are laid out in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Deacons are treated separately from elders. To this office, in the words of the Westminster divines, “it belongs not to preach the word, or administer the sacraments, but to take special care in distributing to the necessities of the poor.” Deacons give particular attention to the practical ministry of mercy so that elders do not have to leave their spiritual duties to serve tables.

Now, a word should be said about the difference between Presbyterian and Congregationalist, including Baptist, churches. Congregationalist churches have the same officers, yet their polity posits that every congregation is independent from all others, without any external jurisdiction, and that authority therefore resides in the entire membership of the church. To the contrary, there is in the Scriptures a clear appeal to higher courts, or synods, than the local church, seen again in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), whose elders came from several congregations, and whose judgement was binding in nature on these respective congregations. The Westminster divines also identified the church of Ephesus as one consisting of multiple congregations:

That there were more congregations than one in the church of Ephesus, appears by Acts xx. 31, where is mention of Paul’s continuance at Ephesus in preaching for the space of three years; and Acts xix. 18, 19, 20, where the special effect of the word is mentioned; and ver. 10. and 17. of the same chapter, where is a distinction of Jews and Greeks; and 1 Cor. xvi. 8, 9, where is a reason of Paul’s stay at Ephesus until Pentecost; and ver. 19, where is mention of a particular church in the house of Aquila and Priscilla, then at Ephesus, as appears, Acts xviii. 19, 24, 26. All which laid together, doth prove that the multitude of believers did make more congregations than one in the church of Ephesus. 

After this model Presbyterian churches are organized into a hierarchy of assemblies: at the bottom is the session, composed of elders of a local congregation, then the presbytery, and at the top is the synod. The Presbyterian polity promotes accountability and, as the presbytery may depose and replace unsuitable elders of local congregations, helps to protect them from false prophets. It is opposed both to the tyranny of episcopalianism, which gives an unbiblical degree of authority to individual men, and to the anarchy of independency, which gives an unbiblical degree of autonomy to congregations.

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Why I use the King James Bible (Textus Receptus) primarily

Not too long ago, I made the decision to switch to the King James Version (first published in 1611) as my primary Bible translation. This is not just for the sake of being quaint or because I believe the KJV is inspired by God in its translation (an erroneous belief found among many “King James Onlyists”). (In fact, the main reason I prefer the KJV over a similar modern version such as the New King James is for the words thou and ye, which preserve the singular-plural distinction in the second-person pronoun, found in the originals.) But I use the KJV because its New Testament is representative of the Textus Receptus, or Reformation Text, as opposed to the critical text which underpins most modern translations. I confess, with the framers of the Westminster Confession, based on scriptural testimony:

The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and, by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical. (WCF 1:8)

To determine what is truly meant by this, I will briefly consider the Hebrew text. At the Reformation and still today, Protestants hold to what is called the Masoretic Text as the inspired Word of God transmitted through the ages. Even though some earlier Hebrew Old Testament manuscripts have now been discovered which in places may be cited to support Greek Septuagint readings, this has not affected textual decisions. The foundation of the Masoretic Text remains unshaken. The same is not true of the New Testament.

The philosophy of modern NT textual criticism is that the perfect Word of God was found only in the autographs (those texts set down by the inspired authors) and, though they would argue that it has been preserved in all ages, that with the autographs being lost, it is our responsibility to reassemble the original text using whatever means we have – and they would say that the relatively recent rediscovery of many early manuscripts and fragments, and the existence of the critical text itself, have come about by God’s providence – and this is how He preserved the text. But this does not resolve the issue that the absolutely perfect original text is unknowable. Perhaps we can know about 95% of it. Perhaps we can be relatively certain of it, but we are essentially reducing the doctrine of preservation to probabilities and making the Word of God dependent on scholarship – often even on secular scholars.

Is this what the Westminster divines had in mind when they wrote about the doctrine? I would argue no, and I will cite their contemporary Turretin, the successor of John Calvin, in my favour:

By the original texts, we do not mean the autographs written by the hand of Moses, of the prophets and of the apostles, which certainly do not now exist. We mean their apographs which are so called because they set forth to us the word of God in the very words of those who wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Turretin says that the original text can be found not only in the autographs, but equally in the apographs (faithful copies). Turretin could pick up his Greek Textus Receptus, the Reformation Text, and say with confidence, This is the original text of the New Testament.

But what is the Textus Receptus? It is so named because it is the text received by the Church. It is by nature ecclesiastical. Modern textual criticism, however, views the Bible in the same way as any text not preserved by God, and gives significant weight to two manuscripts in particular, the Sinaiticus and the Vaticanus, because they are the oldest extant manuscripts we have. Where these two manusripts agree, even against the majority of manuscripts, their reading is preferred to the majority. Nevertheless, simply because they are the oldest extant manuscripts does not entail that they represent the oldest apographs. It is possible that an older copy may be further removed from the original text than a newer copy because we do not know from which source they are copied. On the other hand, the Textus Receptus is based on the testimony of the Church.

The fact is that the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus readings are often not the ones copied (and therefore received) by the Church. The Textus Receptus position holds that God’s providential preservation of His Word is reflected in the transmission of the text, so we trust the texts copied over those which were lost. For the most part, the Textus Receptus is supported by the majority of Greek manuscripts and also by the witness of the Early Church Fathers and various versions such as the Syriac, Old Latin, Vulgate, and the Diatessaron. The witness of these together often predate the variants found in the oldest extant manuscripts and therefore the critical text: the “oldest is best” principle is therefore not applied consistently, but rather weighted subjectively. Some passages, such as the ending of Mark and the story of the woman taken in adultery, were universally received by the Church for over a millennium, but now there are scholars who would remove them on very limited evidence. While there are some minority readings found in the Textus Receptus (and these deserve to be dealt with separately), this is still well reasoned from the testimony of the Church: textual criticism is not faulty per se, but rather the method of it. The men who put together the TR were ecclesiastical in their method, and had a high view of the doctrine of preservation, but the intellectual descendants of Westcott and Hort treat the Bible as they would other ancient texts.

To summarize, I would rather trust the text received by the Church in faith (received by the ancient Greek and Latin Church, as well as by the framers of the Reformed confessions), and like Turretin, say that this is the original text – as I would argue God has promised – than to hold to a text which is always in flux, where verses can be removed and later inserted back into the text based on changing evidence. However, I am grateful that I can say that even with the critical text, we still have a New Testament which contains what the Apostles wrote, that even if I pick up a translation based on the critical text, it still contains substantially the very same doctrines as the Textus Receptus, and the majority of the differences are minor (order of words, spelling, etc.). The critical text does not contradict the Word of God. What a great providence this is!

For more information on the Textus Receptus position, I would recommend the book The King James Version Defended by Edward F. Hills, freely available as a PDF.

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One Covenant of Grace in the Old Testament and the New

I was reading Exodus on the Lord’s Day and arrived at a glorious moment when Moses sprinkles the blood of the covenant on God’s people, reminding us of the long-standing Covenant of Grace which unites the Old and New Testaments:

And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words. (Exodus 24:5-8, emphasis mine)

Was there any inherent efficacy in the blood of the oxen? No, as it is said in Hebrews 10:40, the blood of animals cannot take away sins. The true efficacy of this blood is that it typifies that of Christ – in light of the Covenant of Grace, the believing Jews received the blood of Christ; they were saved by grace through faith in the Messiah in whose advent they had faith, yet still under the veil of their ceremonies. We, however, are blessed to know Christ without this veil and to have a fuller outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus echoes the words of Moses when he says:

For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matthew 26:28)

Notice that this is no longer just the blood, but as Jesus says, “my blood”. He claims it as his own because he always has been the substance of the Covenant, but that substance is now exhibited under the New Testament. In the words of the Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 35, grace and salvation are now “held forth in more fullness, evidence, and efficacy, to all nations” through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

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Against the example of Deborah as an argument for ordaining women

Returning to the topic of women and church offices (about which I wrote an article back in November), I have heard the example of Deborah being used in favour of the ordination of women. But rather, we should see this example in a different light. Yes, it is true Deborah was a great saint and a powerful woman – and therefore worthy of honour – but the very fact that God raised a woman to such a lofty place was a judgement against the men of Israel’s disobedience and weakness. In the same way, we should see the prevalence of female ministers in our age as a judgement against Christian men and a lukewarm Church. If reformation does not come, large parts of the so-called evangelical church will spiral into apostasy (look to the PC(USA) denomination, which today celebrates all manner of sin, for an example of what happens over a few generations when the Word of God is subverted.)

In 1558, John Knox addressed the topic of Deborah and how it relates to the role of women in his book The First Blast of the Trumpet:

And what greater force, I pray you, has the former argument: Deborah did rule Israel, and Huldah spoke prophecy in Judah; ergo, it is lawful for women to reign above realms and nations, or to teach in the presence of men. The consequent is vain, and of none effect. For of examples, as is before declared, we may establish no law; but we are always bound to the written law, and to the commandment expressed in the same. And the law written and pronounced by God forbids no less that any woman reign over man, than it forbids man to take plurality of wives, to marry two sisters living at once, to steal, to rob, to murder, or to lie. If any of these has been transgressed, and yet God has not imputed the same, it makes not the like fact or deed lawful unto us. For God (being free) may, for such causes as are approved by his inscrutable wisdom, dispense with the rigour of his law, and may use his creatures at his pleasure. But the same power is not permitted to man, whom he has made subject to his law, and not to the examples of fathers. And this I think sufficient to the reasonable and moderate spirits…

God by his singular privilege, favour, and grace, exempted Deborah from the common malediction given to women in that behalf; and against nature he made her prudent in counsel, strong in courage, happy in regiment, and a blessed mother and deliverer to his people. The which he did, partly to advance and notify the power of his majesty, as well to his enemies as to his own people, in that he declared himself able to give salvation and deliverance by means of the most weak vessels; and partly he did it to confound and shame all men of that age, because they had for the most part declined from his true obedience. And therefore was the spirit of courage, regiment, and boldness taken from them for a time, to their confusion and further humiliation.

While true, this teaching is indeed not popular in much of the modern “evangelical” church, which has so readily embraced pagan feminism. So let us fervently pray that reformation will come, or there will be grave consequences.

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Should I care about Easter?

I woke up to the news this morning that the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby is hopeful of fixing the date of Easter so that it does not vary from year to year. It seems the Romish Church and the Eastern Church are in agreement (it never ceases to disappoint me that the Church of England gives credence to these idolaters). My initial reaction was surprise that this ancient tradition could be changed so carelessly. I then wondered whether the date of Easter had any significance at all, and finally whether Easter has any significance at all.

Easter is vaguely connected to the Passover festival, yet God never instituted the continuation of the Passover as an annual festival in the New Testament. In fact, while they continued until the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, the Bible clearly teaches that the Jewish festivals are now abrogated, severed from any holiness that was in them under the ceremonial law; they were merely typical of the reality of Christ (Colossians 2:17; Galatians 4:10), like a scaffold on an unfinished building.

There is no need to leave scaffolding on a finished building: there were no biblical feast days instituted in the stead of Old Testament festivals. Notwithstanding, the observance of Passover continues in force sacramentally, not as an annual festivity, but as the Lord’s Supper, which is administered regularly in churches. Neither the Passover nor the Resurrection of Christ is truly a warrant for the celebration of Easter.

The Resurrection is, however, a warrant for the celebration of the Lord’s Day of which there are fifty-two, not just one, in a year. The weekly Sabbath is a creation ordinance – and therefore a part of God’s moral, rather than ceremonial, law – and now observed on the first day of the week following its institution by the resurrection of Christ and its consecration by the apostles. It serves as a foretaste of our eternal Sabbath, which has not yet been realized, a day when we recall the resurrection of Christ and anticipate His second coming.

Is the Lord’s Day upon which Easter falls any more important than that which precedes it or that which follows it? If you think it is, why is that? Simply because man has called it a holy day, when the Word of God has not distinguished it from the weekly Sabbath?

Easter is often an especially jubilant day on which Christians triumphally proclaim, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.” Why can we not have this same jubilation on other Sundays?

 

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Please support Eric and Jocelyn

Eric and Jocelyn are a US-based Christian couple whose campaign I first noticed in the Reformed Pub group on Facebook. They have already put their pro-life beliefs into practice by adopting a child. They now have the opportunity to adopt another child, but must cover the legal fees. As Christians, we must call for the abolition of abortion, but we can also meet a practical need by adopting and providing for others who adopt. Please consider if you might make a real difference to the life of this couple and an unborn child made in God’s image by blessing them with donations and prayer.

See more here

https://www.gofundme.com/GormanAdoptionFund

 

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