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Premillennial or Amillennial?
An Introductory Study
By Chester E. Tulga, D.D.
"The Premillennial school of interpreters are electionists in doctrine, holding that God has foretold that not everyone, in this present age, will be saved, but rather that, through a world-wide preaching of the Gospel there will be gathered from the Jews and Gentiles a people for His name. Such interpreters further hold that when this promise has been fulfilled, the Lord will gather His people to Himself and then, personally, bodily, literally and visibly return to earth and that following this, He will set up a Kingdom upon earth with its center at Jerusalem which will be particularly related to the Jews but world-wide in its influence and beneficence. They also hold that this kingdom will endure for exactly one thousand years. That after this time, the new heavens and earth will be brought into view and then, that eternity, with its rewards for the saved and punishment for the lost, will follow." Henry W. Frost (The Second Coming of Christ, p.152)
"The third generic view of the interpretation of the facts of Scripture relating to eschatology, is called Amillennialism. The name itself is unfortunate in that it would seem to indicate that its advocates do not believe in the thousand year period of Revelation 20. The name literally means no millennium, while as a matter of fact, its advocates believe that the Millennium is a spiritual or heavenly Millennium, rather than an earthly one of a literal reign of Christ on earth before the final judgment. From one point of view, it might be called a variety of Postmillennialism, since it believes that the spiritual or heavenly Millennium precedes the second coming of Christ." Floyd E. Hamilton (The Basis of Millennial Faith, p.35)
"Now we frankly admit that a literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies gives us just such a picture of an earthly reign of the Messiah as the Premillennialist pictures." Floyd E. Hamilton (The Basis of Millennial Faith, p.38)
True Baptists have always been a Bible people. They study diligently the writings of men, but they check them by Holy Writ. They have a profound respect for historical theology, but they check it with Biblical theology. They hold great names in high esteem, but they refuse to make them final authorities in religion, or that last word in interpretation. They respect scholarship, with many reservations: it must be a believing scholarship, it must be a humble scholarship, it must be theological rather than philosophical, it must be true to the teachings of the Word of God.
True Baptists believe the Bible to be the Word of God, and they refuse additions to it by interpreters and subtractions from it by unbelievers. They believe the Bible should be interpreted literally unless the language or the context indicates otherwise. Baptists teachings are based upon the plain statements of the Scriptures and depend in no wise for their support upon allegory or the spiritualization of the Scriptures, which they believe corrupts the meaning of the Scriptures. They insist that the Bible is the only authority and make every effort to interpret it correctly and apply it properly.
I. Premillennial Baptists
Believe That They Hold
the Faith of the Early Church Concerning the Return of The Lord
"Faith in the nearness of Christs Second Advent and the establishing of His reign of glory on the earth was undoubtedly a strong point in the primitive Christian church." Adolph Harnack (Millennium, Encyclopedia Brittanica, XV. p.495)
"The most striking point in the eschatology of the Ante-Nicene age is the Prominent Chiliasm (Millennialism), that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on the earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment. It was indeed not the doctrine of the Church embodied in any creed or form of devotion, but a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers." Phillip Schaff (History of the Christian Church, II., p.614)
1. The prevailing ties of the early Church concerning the return of Christ and the Kingdom of God was eschatological. L. Berkhof, an Amillennial writer, says, "During the early Christian centuries the prevailing, though not officially recognized view of the Kingdom of God was eschatological, and in some cases Chiliastic (Millennial)," (The Kingdom of God, p.21). Kenneth Scott Latourette, the modern historian, says, "To many of the early disciples, perhaps to the overwhelming majority, the early return of their Lord was an inspiring hope. That return would mean the victory of Christ. Right would prevail and Gods will would be fully done. Of that they had no doubt. A new heaven and a new earth would appear in which righteousness would dwell. But had anyone suggested that this would come by slow stages and without the sudden eruption of divine judgment, they would have looked at Him in puzzled incomprehension. The gradual evolution of a perfect order would have been to them an entirely alien idea." (The Christian Outlook, p.189). George E. Ladd (Crucial Questions About The Kingdom Of God, pp.155-157) says, "Millennial doctrine seems to have been widely prevalent. This cannot be appreciated merely by endeavoring to count the adherents of the position on the one hand and those who do not espouse it on the other. As a matter of fact, no judgment in this area of the history of doctrine can be final, for our sources are so fragmentary that we cannot really recreate the history of thought during the first years of church history....It is to be admitted that only a few of the church fathers say anything specifically about an earthly Millennial reign of Christ. This, however, is not necessarily to be construed as evidence against their belief in the doctrine. Most of the fathers do not mention it one way or the other and cannot be shown to be Premillennarians or Amillennarians. They have little to say about eschatology in any form. Whenever the Kingdom of God is mentioned, it is a future Apocalyptic Kingdom. (Emphasis ours, CET). It is also to be admitted that we sometimes find hostility to the doctrine of an earthly kingdom but such hostility is directed mainly against the extreme form of Chiliasm taught by Montanus or by men like Papias. The Amillennialism which we find before Augustine is negative. It consists of opposition to contemporary Chiliastic teachings and does not suggest and alternative interpretation, as Augustine did." Summing up he says, "A survey of the literature leads to the following conclusions. The understanding of the Kingdom is exclusively eschatological and with one exception there is no church father before Origin who opposed the Millenarian interpretation, and there is no one before Augustine whose extant writings offer a different interpretation of Revelation 20 than that of a future earthly Kingdom consonant with the natural interpretation of the language." (p.23) The Church fathers cannot be used as witnesses for Amillennialism.
2. The basis of this eschatological interpretation of the Kingdom was the book of Revelation. T. Francis Glasson (His Appearing And Kingdom, p.122), not a Premillenarian, says, "In the early centuries, it was largely on account of the book of Revelation that Millenarianism flourished in some quarters." He says that the area from which the book of Revelation came was a center of Premillennialism. Quoting Neander, he says, "Years ago Neander, the great church historian pointed out that Wherever we meet with Chiliasm, in Papias, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, everything goes to indicate that it was diffused from one country and from a single fountainhead." The area concerned is evidently Asia Minor, precisely the soil from which the book of Revelation sprung. Papias was Bishop of Hierapolis; Justin lived for a time at Ephesus; and Irenaeus spent the early years of his Christian life in Asia Minor. Montanus and his followers made Pepuza their center, again in the same country. Tertullian was a Montanist and in the fullest description of his Chiliastic doctrine (Against Marcion, III, p.24) refers to Montanism, the "new prophecy." It is evident that the early church was influenced by the normal interpretation of Revelation 20, as the fulfillment of the prophecies concerning the Messianic kingdom. The normal interpretation of the prophets and the Revelation would produce the Premillennial interpretation.
3. The basis of this interpretation was not contemporary Judaism as some assert but Jewish in the Old testament sense. Premillennialism was not the result of the infiltration of current Judaism into Christianity as some claim, but was rather the logical position of those who interpreted the Kingdom prophecies of the Old Testament as the New Testament writers did. George B. Stevens (The Theology of the New Testament, p.55) quotes Holtzmann as saying, "It was psychologically inevitable that as the Old Testament Messianic idea had realized itself in Christianity, the Chiliastic popular belief also passed over with it into the Jewish-Christian hope for the future. Hence the Revelation of John teaches that, after the coming of Christ, His steadfast confessors will rise and reign with Him for a thousand years." Premillennialism has its roots in the idea of the Messianic kingdom as set forth by the prophets.
Charles R. Erdman (The Return of Christ, pp.77-78) says that "those who deny that a Millennium is ever to appear upon earth seem to attach little weight to the stirring prophecies of the Old Testament which speak of the time when nations shall learn war no more, when the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, when the kingdom of God will be perfect and universal in all the world. They do not appear to consider all that Jesus has said of the regeneration, of Peter of the restitution of all things, or Paul of the deliverance of the whole creation from its present bondage of corruption." Revelation 20 is not an isolated statement as some assert, but stands in logical order to the prophecies of the Old Testament and the chapters of Revelation which precede it.
II. The Rise of Amillennialism
"Augustine, the father of the Amillennial view." D. H. Kromminga (Millennium In the Church, p.259)
"According to Albertus Pieters (The Millennial Problem, In Intelligence Leader, March 5, 1943, p.17), the term Amillennialism originated with Abraham Kuyper. But whether this be so or not, the doctrine is old: Saint Augustine was a true Amillenarian, even though he did not call himself so." Oswald T. Allis (Prophecy And The Church, p.286)
"Through the combined influence of Origin and Augustine, and of the Christianizing of the empire in the time of Constantine the Great, the Chiliastic view of the Kingdom was gradually eclipsed by the representation of the Kingdom as a present reality." L. Berkhof (The Kingdom Of God, p.113)
"While it is possible that others before him may have held this view, Augustine was the first one who ventured to teach that the Catholic Church was the Kingdom of Christ and the City of God, and that the Millennial Kingdom had begun with the first appearing of Christ and therefore was to have no future fulfillment." George E. Ladd (Crucial Questions About The Kingdom Of God, p.24)
To understand the shift from Millennial interpretation to Amillennial interpretation, we must consider a number of factors which began to operate in that period. Amillennialism was not primarily derived from the Scriptures, but was a theological accommodation of Christianity to a given historical situation. This has been a common thing in the history of doctrine and the Church is never free from this.
1. The changed climate of Christianity. Shirley Jackson Case (The Millennial Hope, p.141) an older modernist, calls attention to the changed situation. "With the passing of the years, as the Lord delayed His return and Christians began to feel more at home in the present world, they easily drifted into the habit of believing that the new regime had already been inaugurated, at least in some substantial preliminary manner." The history of doctrine down to the present time shows clearly that Christians are often more influenced by their times than the Word of God and frequently bring forth interpretations of the Scriptures to fit the times, thus necessitating periodic "Back-To-The-Bible" movements and theological reformations.
2. Christianity won new earthly victories and the millennial hope faded. Again, Case calls attention to this. "As the Christian movement gathered momentum, gradually winning for itself a more substantial place within the ancient world, the Millennial hope suffered a corresponding loss of popularity. The lapse of time proved that the vivid expectancy of earlier days had not been justified and the success of Christianity on the present earth lessened the demand for an early catastrophic end of the world. With the passing of the years believers became increasingly content to hope for a blessed abode in Heaven to be attained by individual souls immediately after death. Millennial speculations were not completely abandoned but they were projected farther and farther into the future, thereby losing their original spontaneity and becoming more doctrinaire in character." (p.155)
3. The "conversion" of Constantine affected theology. D. H. Kromminga (The Millennium In The Church, p.107) says, "Friend and foe are agreed that Constantines appearance and work spelled further disaster for Chiliasm. That was due first of all, of course, to his recognition of the Christian Church, his adoption of the Christian religion as the official religion of the Roman Empire. This meant a tremendous change in both the outlook and the fortunes of the Church and its members, such as could not but affect the Christian hope. True, the things hoped for could not and did not undergo a modification; but the circumstances which the realization of the hope was expected to end, did experience a change when the oppression and persecution by the government came to an end. As a result, the traditional interpretation of the precursory signs of the coming of the Lord had to be altered. It was no longer possible to identify the Roman Empire with the unchristian power." The "conversion" of Constantine altered ecclesiology and theology and seemed to force a "re-interpretation" of the Scriptures concerning the return of our Lord.
4. The rise of Greek influence in theology to the disparagement of the Hebrew-Christian viewpoint. V. H. Stanton (The Jewish And Christian Messiah, p.324) says, "The subsequent general rejection of Millenarian doctrine by the Church from the third century onwards is to be traced to the influence of the great Greek theologians and notably of Origen, while at the same time Millenarian views were brought into discredit through their espousal by Montanists."
The growing influence of Greek thought in the Church is outlined by William A. Gifford (The Story Of The Faith, pp.151-155). "The Church was assimilating Hellenic philosophy and ethics and social forms, Roman ideas of law and government. Change is seen in the Christian method of interpreting the Scriptures. Symbol or allegory became the favorite device for interpreting ancient literature and religion in such a way as to bring them in harmony with the higher ethical ideals and the monotheistic tendency in philosophy. All the great literature of the past became a literature of riddles and the grammarians were their interpreters. Christians employed the current methods. The prophets wrote not in plain words but in pictures whose meaning was purposely obscure. Thus the allegorizing of ancient literature went on apace. Sober Christian scholars at first denounced the application of such a method to the Christian Scriptures. But it was suited to the times and secured a firm footing, first in the great school of Alexandria, where the influence of Philo was strongest, then throughout the churches." The Church became more and more Greek in its views and principles of interpretation thus preparing the soil for the rejection of Hebrew-Christian Millenarianism, and the accommodation of Christianity to the new political situation. L. Berkhof (The Kingdom Of God, p.21), an Amillennial writer, admits that "the Alexandrian school, and especially Origen, its most brilliant representative, undermined Chiliasm by means of its allegorizing of the Scripture."
5. Augustine, not John, is the father of Amillennialism. Mentioning Origen and Alexandrian school, Berkhof says, "But an even more powerful factor entered in the west, when in the fourth century, Augustine raised his mighty voice against the Millennial tendencies of his day and directed the thought of the Church into a different channel." (Emphasis ours, CET). Oswald T. Allis (Prophecy And The Church, pp.2-3), a well known Amillennial writer, says, "The view which has been most widely held by opponents of Millenarianism is associated historically with the name of Augustine. He taught that the Millennium is to be interpreted spiritually as fulfilled in the Christian Church. He held that the binding of Satan took place during the earthly ministry of our Lord (Luke 10:18), that the first resurrection is the new birth of the believer (John 5:25), and that the Millennium must correspond, therefore, to the interadventual period or church age. This involved the interpreting of Rev. 20:1-6 as a recapitulation of the preceding chapters instead of as describing a new age following chronologically on the events set forth in chapter 19."
George E. Ladd (Crucial Questions About The Kingdom of God, p.24) says of Augustine, "Another type of interpretation was introduced by Augustine. This great theologian at first espoused the natural interpretation of Revelation 20 concerning the Kingdom of God as a future literal reign of Christ with His saints on earth (De Principiss, II, xi, pp.2-3). However, Augustine reacted against the gross sensual interpretation of contemporary Chiliasm, and in the course of working out his concept of the City of God, he came to identify the Church and the Kingdom of God and to explain the Millennium in Revelation 20 as representing Christian experience when Christ raises the believing soul from a state of spiritual death to share His spiritual life and so to reign with Him." Augustine, not John was the father of Amillennialism.
6. The new Amillennial principle of biblical interpretation placed a force meaning on Revelation 20:1-6. George E. Ladd (Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God, pp.136, 149) makes some serious charges against these interpreters. "One suspects that many non-Millenarians interpret some passages of the Scripture as they do, not because they are convinced that inductive exegesis leads to the conclusions they espouse, but because their system does not leave room for any Millennial period. They are, therefore, under the necessity of finding an interpretation for Millenarian passages by which their theological system is not impaired. This is improper procedure. Exegesis must always precede theology." Ladd, in view of the history of doctrine, is not harsh in this judgment, for church history, past and present, is full of instances of this type of forced interpretation in the interest of bolstering a theological or a philosophical system.
Again Ladd says, "The first anti-Millenarians disparaged the natural interpretation of Revelation, not for exegetical reasons because they thought the Book did not teach a Millennial doctrine." (p.149) Every honest interpreter of the Word of God must continually guard against the constant temptation to make the Word of God fit into his theological of philosophical framework, but few do.
Charles R. Erdman of Princeton (The Return of Christ, pp.67, 68) made it very plain that he does not regard the Amillennial interpretation of Revelation 20:1-9 as even plausible. "The position of those who deny that there will be a Millennium is even more delicate for here is a passage which describes a Millennium and names it six times. But they meet the situation adroitly. It is confidently asserted that, while indeed there never will be a Millennium on earth, this scene depicts the blessedness of the saints in heaven.
"However, the serious troubles is that John says the Millennium is to be on earth, and says nothing about heaven. He states that during this thousand years Satan is bound, so that he should deceive the nations no more, and when the thousand years are finished he comes forth to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth and these nations go up over the breadth of the earth and compass the beloved city until fire comes down from heaven."
"One should not be suspected of any lack of charity or of sympathy who expresses the belief that some more plausible explanation of the Millennium will be found than that which removes it from earth to heaven." Amillennialism is based upon a forced interpretation of the Word of God, in order to maintain a theological system which originated in a particular historical situation, instead of the Word of God.
Dean Alford, the distinguished Greek scholar and commentator, has some stern words for Amillennialists. "I cannot consent to distort words from their plain sense and chronological place in the prophecy on account of any risk of abuses which the doctrine of the Millennium may bring with it.
"Those who lived next to the Apostles, and the whole Church for 300 years, understood them in the plain literal sense and it is a strange sight in these days to see expositors who are among the first in reverence for antiquity, complacently casting aside the most cogent instance of consensus which primitive antiquity presents. As regards the text itself, no legitimate treatment of it will extort what is known as the spiritual interpretation now in fashion." (The Greek Testament, IV, p.732)
Amillennialism was an attempt to accommodate the teachings of the Scriptures to a political and cultural situation which seemed to contradict them. This accommodation of the Scriptures to a political or a cultural pattern is a common thing in history and has been illustrated in our own times by that modernism which attempted to create a working synthesis of Christianity and modern thought.
7. There are many testimonies to Premillennialism in the early Church. James H. Snowoen (The Coming Of The Lord, p.17) acknowledges this. "The early Christians generally expected the return of Christ in their day to establish His Kingdom by an exercise of cosmic power. The church fathers, Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, all in the second century, and Tertullian in the beginning of the third century, held to the Millenarian coming of Christ in their day."
Harris Franklin Rall (Modern Premillennialism And The Christian Hope, p.96), also a liberal writer, bears the same testimony. "The early Church before Augustine in its popular thinking was largely apocalyptic. An early return of Jesus was expected to establish His Kingdom."
George E. Ladd (Crucial Questions About The Kingdom Of God, p.23), who considers himself a "historic Premillennialist," rather than a dispensationalist, says, "However, a survey of the literature leads to the following conclusions."
"The understanding of the Kingdom is exclusively eschatological and with the one exception, there is no church father before Origen who opposed the Millenarian interpretation and there is not one before Augustine whose extant writings offer a different interpretation of Revelation 20 than that of a future earthly kingdom consonant with the natural interpretation of the language."
John F. Walvoord (The Millennial Kingdom, p.119), a Premillennial writer says, "The available evidence in regard to Premillennialism of the first century is not extensive by most standards, but such evidence as has been uncovered points in one directionthe Premillennial concept....In other words, there are clear and unmistakable evidences of Premillennialism in the first century. In contrast to these clear evidences, there is not one adherent, not one live of evidence is produced sustaining the idea that any first century Christians held Augustinian Amillennialism. Furthermore, there is no evidence whatever that Premillennialism was even disputed. It was the overwhelming view of the early Church." There is no evidence for Amillennialism, Berkhof and others notwithstanding. (The Premillennialists And Their Critics, Chester E. Tulga, p.14,15).
III. Amillennialism is in conflict with Basic Scriptural Principles and Doctrines
"The main difference between the Chiliasts and those who do not hold this view, is centered in the method of Scripture interpretation. If all prophecy must be interpreted in a literal way, the Chiliastic views are correct. But if it can be proved that these prophecies have a spiritual meaning, then Chiliasm must be rejected." William Masselink (Why Thousand Years, p.31)
"Now we must frankly admit that a literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies gives just such a picture of the earthly reign of the Messiah as the Premillennialist pictures." Floyd E. Hamilton (The Basis Of Millennial Faith, p.38)
1. Amillennialism departs from sound biblical interpretation. Charles Feinberg (Premillennialism Or Amillennialism? p.32) considers this the root of the problem. He says, "Since it is admitted by both Premillennialists and Amillenialists that the root of their differences lies in the method of biblical interpretation, we do well to consider the whole question of interpretation."
Amillennialism, without adequate Scriptural warrant and by arbitrary choice, spiritualizes many Scriptures thus forcing them to serve their theological system. Premillennialism believes that the Scriptures are to be interpreted normally as other writings, unless the language or the context clearly indicates otherwise. In this it believes that it is consistent with the proper use of language, the inspired interpreters of the New Testament and the principles which makes the Word of God intelligible to the ordinary people for whom it was intended.
The proper principles of interpretation have been set forth by many writers. Bernard Ramm (Protestant Biblical Interpretation, p.172) says, "Interpret prophecy literally unless the evidence is such that a spiritual interpretation is mandatory, e.g., where the passage is poetic or symbolic or apocalyptic in literary form or where the New Testament evidence demands a spiritual interpretation." Ramm quotes Craven (Langes Commentary On Revelation, p.98), "The literalist is not one who denies that figurative language, that symbols are used in prophecy, nor does he deny that great spiritual truths are set forth therein. His position is simply that the prophecies are to be normally interpreted (i.e., according to the received laws of language) as any other utterances are interpretedthat which is manifestly literal being regarded as literal and that which is manifestly figurative being so regarded."
George E. Ladd (Crucial Questions About The Kingdom of God, p.141) says, "Unless there is some reason intrinsic within the text itself which requires a symbolical interpretation or unless there are other Scriptures which interpret a parallel prophecy in a symbolic sense, we are required to employ a natural, literal interpretation."
Charles C. Ryrie (The Basis Of Premillennial Faith, p.42) calls attention to the difference between interpretation and application. "Interpretation is one; application is manifold. The primary aim of the interpreter is, in every case, to discover the true and only interpretation. Literal interpretation allows wide latitude in making spiritual applications from all passages but there are two extremes to be avoided in applying this principle. Some have made so much of application that the true interpretation has been lost. This is usually the pathway to Amillennialism. Others, and Premillennialists are often guilty of this, have been so intent on discovering the interpretation that they have lost all application along with the resultant blessing."
Again, referring to the interpretation of figurative language, Ryrie says, "Although much of prophecy is given in plain terms, much of it is in figurative language and this constitutes a problem of interpretation. It may be said as a general statement that the use of figurative language does not compromise or nullify the literal sense of the thing to which it is applied. Figures of speech are a legitimate grammatical usage for conveying literal meaning."
Ryrie quotes Patrick Fairbairn (Hermeneutical Manual, p.148), "Care should be taken to give a fair and natural, as opposed to a far-fetched or fanciful turn to the figure employed. We do so, on the ground, that figurative language is essentially of a popular caste and is founded on those broader and more obvious resemblances, which do not need to be searched for but are easily recognized and generally used." In order to make a plausible case for itself Amillennialism must resort to what someone has called "Standardless Interpretation," that type of interpretation which is bound by the will of the interpreter rather than fundamental principles of language.
2. Amillennialism and the prophecy of Gabriel (Luke 1:26-33). Daniel Steele, (A Substitute For Holiness Of Antinomianism Revived, pp.204,205) lays down a sound principle of interpretation that particularly applies to the prophecy now under discussion. "Now we lay down, as a canon of interpretation, that a homogeneous passage of Gods Word must be expounded homogeneously, that is, it must be entirely literal or entirely symbolical. It will not do to mix these methods and dodge an absurd literalism by resorting to a figurative interpretation where the passage is a homogeneous unit."
Applying this principle to the prophecy of the angel Gabriel, we get a consistent prophecy. According to the angels words, Mary literally conceived in her womb, literally brought forth a son. His name was literally called Jesus; He was literally great and He was literally called the Son of the Highest. Is it not in the interests of sound interpretation to believe that He will also literally occupy the throne of His father David, that He will reign over the house of Jacob forever that this throne is an earthly throne as Davids throne was? According to Dr. Steele, since this is a homogeneous prophecy, it should be interpreted homogeneously.
The Amillennialists will not have it so. They would change the rule of interpretation in the middle of the prophecy, with no warrant for doing so other than the desire to fit it into their theological system neatly. They would spiritualize one item in the prophecy, even though it violates other Scriptures. To say that Davids throne is now a heavenly throne is to dodge the issue instead of facing it honestly.
We conclude with Godet (Luke, pp.56,57), "The throne of David should not be taken here as the emblem of the throne of God, nor the house of Jacob as a figurative designation of the Church. These expressions in the mouth of the angel keep their natural and literal sense. It is, indeed, the theocratic royalty and the Israelitish people, neither more nor less, that are in question here. Mary could have understood these expressions in no other way. It is true that, for the promise to be realized in this sense, Israel must first have consented to welcome Jesus as their Messiah. In that case the transformed theocracy would have opened its bosom to the heathen and the empire of Israel would have assumed, by the very fact of this incorporation, the character of universal monarchy. The unbelief of Israel foiled this plan and subverted the regular course of history so that at the present day the fulfillment of these promises is still postponed to the future." The Amillennialists, in attempting to explain this prophecy to Mary, never even approach plausibility. (See The Basis Of Millennial Faith, by Floyd E. Hamilton, p.55)
3. Amillennialism parts company with the New Testament teaching concerning the Kingdom. Oswald T. Allis (Prophecy And The Church, pp.70,71), an Amillennial writer, says, "The Kingdom announced by John and by Jesus was primarily and essentially a moral and spiritual kingdom. It was in a sense Jewish and Davidic but also worldwide." William Masselink (Why Thousand Years, p.101), another Amillennial writer, says, "This future Messianic Kingdom was to be of a spiritual nature." Allis says again, "The Kingdom which He preached and which He declared to be at hand, to be already come, corresponds to that spiritual Church which He said that He would build." (p.258)
On the contrary, unprejudiced readers would be bound to confess that the Old Testament prophets predicted an earthly kingdom and that honest exegesis can arrive at no other conclusion. Berkhof states the case, "Both the eschatologist and the Millenarian maintain that Jesus conception of the Kingdom of God was identical with that of His contemporaries. According to their common conviction it was determined altogether by Old Testament prophecy and by Jewish apocalyptic writings. They equally reject the suggestion that Jesus spiritualized the idea of the Kingdom of God and really established it during His life on earth." (The Kingdom Of God, pp.87-88) Premillennarians do not accept the idea of many liberal eschatologists that Jesus was influenced in His views by uninspired apocalypticism but they do agree that His conception of the Kingdom was derived and is in harmony with the Messianic Kingdom of the Old Testament. There are excellent reasons for holding this position.
Both John and Jesus used language which the people were expected to understand. If either had used the expression "the Kingdom of God" in and unusual sense, they might reasonably have been expected to re-define the term. But as John Bright (The Kingdom Of God, p.17) says, "Jesus never once paused to define it. Nor did any hearer ever interrupt Him to ask, Master, what do these words Kingdom of God, which you use so often, mean? On the contrary, Jesus used the term as if assured it would be understood and indeed it was. The Kingdom of God lay within the vocabulary of every Jew. It was something they understood and longed for desperately. To us, on the contrary, it is a strange term and it is necessary that we give it content if we are to comprehend it. We must ask where the notion came from and what it meant to Jesus and those to whom He spoke." It is always sound exegesis to expect a preacher or a writer to be intelligible to his hearers.
C. L. Cadoux (The Historic Mission Of Jesus, p.195), a liberal writer, says, "For, though we may by no means take it for granted that He thought as His fellow countrymen thought and may still less force the evidence of the Gospels so as to make it support such an assumption, yet we must on the other hand remember that while Jesus is using the language of the people and (it may be confidently presumed) desiring to be understood by them, it is likely that He gave to the great leading terms He used a connotation at least approximately identical with that which His hearers would naturally assume Him to be giving."
Cadoux (pp.108-109) describes the point of view prevailing at the time of this announcement. "While all agreed that in some sense God was King already and while the thought of His Kingdom as a purely religious concept survived, as we shall see, among certain of the rabbis it was a glorious future state for the nation, a state soon to be miraculously and catastrophically brought in by God that the rank and file of the people mostly pictured it."
Godly men like Joseph of Arimathea were on the lookout for the Kingdom of God (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:51) in the same way that Simeon was on the lookout for the "consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25) and others "for the redemption of Israel" (Luke 2:38). A man who had been listening to Jesus talking at a table volunteered the remark, "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God." (Luke 14:15) The Pharisees once asked Jesus to tell them when it was coming (Luke 17:20). As He approached Jerusalem, people thought that the Kingdom of God was on the point of appearing (Luke 19:11). When He rode in triumph into the city, the crowds shouted with enthusiastic expectancy, "...Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord..." (Luke 19:38) Luke pictures the disciples asking their risen Master, "...Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6) All this serves to show that when Jesus spoke in public about the Kingdom, He was using a phrase that was already familiar to His hearers as a name for the great hope of the nation.
Because of the differences between Jesus conception of the Messiahship and the ideas of it held by the people, many have thought that a similar gulf was fixed between His own view of the Kingdom and theirs. Cadoux says correctly, "Caution, however, is necessary at this point. We observe, for instance, that while the novelty of Jesus view necessitated great reticence on His part while speaking about His Messiahship, He clearly felt no corresponding need for secrecy as regards the Kingdom of God. On that subject He was apparently quite willing to run this risk of misunderstanding in which publicity of speech might involve Him. May we not infer that His beliefs regarding the Kingdom were sufficiently close to those of His hearers to render it possible for Him to convey His meaning to them without difficulty by means of the normal method of teaching?" (p.109)
Theodor Keim also reminds us that "Jesus did not uproot from the minds of the sons of Zebedee their belief in the thrones on His right hand and His left. He does not hesitate to make His entry into Jerusalem in the character of the Messiah-King. He acknowledges His Messiahship before the council without making any careful reservations. Upon the Cross His title is the King of the Jews. He consoles Himself and His followers with the thought of His return as an earthly ruler and leaves with His disciples, without any attempt to check it, the belief which long survived, in a future establishment or restoration of the Kingdom in an Israel delivered form bondage. Amillennialism parts company with the Scriptures in its view of the Kingdom and puts Jesus in a highly dubious position which the Scriptures certainly do not. When Allis says of the spiritual kingdom of Amillennialism that it is "in a sense Jewish and Davidic," he is speaking exegetical non-sense. Twisting the Scriptures to make them fit into a preconceived theological system produces many absurdities.
4. Amillennialism parts company with the New Testament teaching concerning the Church. D. H. Kromminga (Millennium In The Church, p.300) says, "It is becoming noticeable that your new interpretation and understanding of the Apocalypse hangs together with your view of the Church." Again he says, "To the Roman Catholic view of the Church, a preteristic Amillennialism is fitting and the the Anabaptist conception of the Church, futuristic Premillennialism is fitting." (p.302)
Masselink (Why Thousand Years, p.69-70), an Amillennial writer, says, "The Premillenialist drives a wedge between the Old Testament church and the New Testament church." He says, "Children are not members of the Church in the Old Testament at all. Circumcision was not a sign and seal of the spiritual covenant of grace. It has only national significance."
"Right here is the fatal error of the whole scheme. Since circumcision had no spiritual significance in the Old Testament and since the children of believing parents were not considered as children of God in that dispensation, it is quite natural for the Chiliast to conclude that the same holds true in regard to the child in this new dispensation. Hence the children of the godly are deprived of these great benefits. The Church was always mistaken in considering the child as an heir of the Kingdom of God and member of the Church."
In line with the above position, Masselink says, "We now introduce one of the most serious errors of present day Premillennialism. It is the repudiation of the doctrine of infant baptism." (p.69)
It is evident, as Amillennial writers point out, that Amillennialism and the doctrine of the Church is of one piece that Amillennialism logically embraces one view of the Church while Premillennialism logically takes another view of the Church. This is true and destroys the argument of those who insist that there are no radical differences here that should divide Christians. Amillennialism depends upon one principle of interpretation for its support, Premillennialism depends upon a different principle of interpretation. New Testament Baptists in particular will find it illogical to be Baptists in doctrine and accept Amillennialism.
Amillennialists see this clearer than some Baptists. D. H. Kromminga (The Millennium In The Church, pp.300,301) states the case. "As I see it, there are just three fundamental varieties of the Christian conception of the Church. They are Roman Catholic, the Reformed and the Anabaptist conception. The Roman conception identifies without reservation the mystical body of Christ with its own visible organization. The Reformed conception operates consciously with the distinction between the visible historic Church as an object of our faith. The Anabaptist conception has apparently developed from the Medieval spiritual rejection of the Catholic conception and organization. Originally it recognized only local organizations of experiential believers and thus broke the strength of the historical continuity of the organization by leaving the children of believers out. Thus the Anabaptist view of the Church and Premillenialism fit together. It should be noted, that modern Anabaptist sentiment holds strongly to the futuristic understanding of the Apocalypse." (p.302) The Amillennial position excludes the Baptist doctrine of the Church as the New Testament Baptist position must logically exclude Amillennialism. They are incompatibles. Premillennialism is a New Testament position based upon Biblical theology. Amillennialism is a theological position based upon historical theology. Premillenialism is biblical. Amillennialism is Augustinian.
IV. The Amillennialists and their Friends Plead for Tolerance and Cooperation
"In view of the number of consecrated scholars who disagree so completely in this realm of thought (Millennialism-CET) and who have changed their own position so greatly in many instances, we should not permit eschatology to divide evangelicals." R. I. Bohanan (Report To The Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Board, p.10)
"There are doctrines in the Word, precious because they are part of the Scripture, yet of such nature that differences in understanding them should not and must not divide evangelical Christians. This statement is true for three reasons:
(1) Because differences in understanding this type of doctrine do not affect our salvation.
(2) Because differences here do not reveal an essentially different attitude toward the authority of Gods Word.
(3) Because there are areas of divine truth where the Scriptures have not provided enough light to justify dogmatic conclusions to the total exclusion of all other opinion." Dr. W. T. Taylor (A Paper Delivered To The CBA Ministers Conference Of Greater New York, October 24, 1955)
"Inasmuch as the current tensions caused by emphasizing differences of prophetic interpretation among those who are unquestionably our brethren in the Lord tend to produce division and distraction to the detriment of world evangelization and inasmuch as our Bible teachers of unchallenged orthodoxy and sound Christian scholarship are unable to agree on all aspects of revealed truth regarding eschatology....we recommend that we refrain from establishing criteria of Christian fellowship beyond those already contained in our CBFMS statement of faith, which action would inevitably separate brethren of like precious faith." (Resolution Of Fifty-five CBFMS Missionaries And Appointees, December 6-13, 1955, adopted at the CBFMS Headquarters, Chicago, Ill.)
1. These three exhortations offend both logic and sound Baptist doctrine.
(a) They are not logical, but confused. They plead for tolerance and compromise with Amillennialism, Pre-Tribulationism, Mid-Tribulationism and Post-Tribulationism without distinction. Pre-Tribulationism, Mid-Tribulationism and Post-Tribulationism are varieties of Premillennialism and must have separate consideration (which this paper does not attempt). Amillennialism is anti-Premillennial and involves a theological system that challenges the Baptist position and in some instances flatly contradicts it. It is neither logical nor intelligent to group these schools of thought together for equal tolerance. It indicates not that love for which they plead but that indifferentism to truth which characterizes our day.
(b) These pleas depart from the Baptist position concerning scholarship. Scholars disagree on almost everything and this argument carried to its logical conclusion would destroy any positive stand for the truth until scholars ascertain the truth. When did the Baptists ever have such a notion or determine their position by such a notion? Baptists have always taken their stand on the teachings of the Word of God and most of the scholars of the world, even of "unquestioned orthodoxy," have disagreed. R. T. Ketcham (Baptist Bulletin, Feb. 1956) under the heading, "Conservative Baptist Missionaries Rebel," says concerning this matter, "The contents of these resolutions are strange. It is declared that the mission board should not positionize itself on the matter of Premillennialism because (of all things) Bible teachers of unquestioned orthodoxy cant agree on the matter, so why should the CBFMS ask its missionaries to do so!!
"The ridiculousness of this is clear when we transfer it to another question of Bible interpretation. True it is that Bible teachers of unquestioned orthodoxy have disagreed on some of the details of our Lords return. It is likewise true that Bible teachers and scholars of unquestioned orthodoxy have disagreed on the mode and subject of baptism. Because this is true, should the CBFMS also refrain from positioning itself on the matter of infant baptism and sprinkling? The fact that some teachers disagree on some things should never be a deciding factor as to where we are to stand. If that were true, then there would be no place to stand. Certainly of all the people on earth who ought to be able to say here we stand it is the Baptists." This viewpoint is expressed in these three pleas. If carried to its logical conclusion it would destroy the Baptist position and tie Baptist to historical theology instead of the biblical theology which gave us birth.
(c) These pleas depart from the Baptist principle of separation. Baptists historically have not only separated from apostasy but also from that which they conceived to be a violation of the Scriptures. This does not mean that they have always considered those of other communions outside the family of God but it does mean that Baptists have always been concerned for purity of doctrine, for consistent truth and over and over have refused to compromise their convictions of truth for some vague idea of fellowship based upon indifferentism of truth. Baptists testify to this Baptist principle. These three pleas show no understanding of the Baptist position on consistent truth.
(d) These pleas would urge Baptists to be evangelical basing their stand upon a minimum faith instead of the maximum faith, the whole Bible and all of its truths. Baptists are more than evangelicals. Their faith does not consist only of those doctrines essential to salvation, nor on what orthodox scholars can agree, or what theologians assert, for Baptists derive their truths directly from the Word. They are not mediated through hierarchies, theologians, scholars or "Bible teachers of unquestioned orthodoxy." Amillennialism and Baptist truth are incompatibles.
2. Amillennialists and their friends play down the seriousness of the differences. Many today, who plead for tolerance, simplify the differences and overlook the serious complications that result from these differences. An instance of this oversimplification is the statement by Floyd E. Hamilton (The Basis Of The Millennial Faith, Preface). "When Christ comes again we will know who is right on these questions, so why fight over the order of the eschatological events connected with the return of Christ? Especially is that true when both parties believe that the world will not be converted before Christ comes again. If our task now is to preach the Gospel and to witness to an unbelieving world of the unsearchable riches of Christ, trusting in the Holy Spirits power to add to the church those who are being saved, then we should be able to carry on that task in harmony no matter what our views of eschatology may be. In the hope that Premillennarians may be brought to an understanding of what Amilllennialists believe and so be brought to realize that hearty cooperation with them in the church is possible, this little book is being written." It is interesting to note that, while an Amillennialist pleads for tolerance and cooperation, that Amillennialism in some denominations have shown little tolerance toward Premillenialists. Premillennialists are discriminated against in every major denomination in our country, including the Amillennial groups.
Hamilton here plays down the issue to a simple difference in eschatology. This is deceptive and misleading oversimplification. The conflict between Premillennialism and Amillennialism involves more than eschatology. The issue is whether Christianity will be biblical or Augustinian. The issue is whether we will interpret the Scriptures according to their normal meaning or whether we will impose upon them theological interpretations that change their meaning. The issue is whether we will be true to the New Testament conception of the Church or embrace an Old and New Testament Church with all the doctrinal errors that are involved. The issue is whether we will continue to believe the great truths concerning Israel as set forth by the Word of God or dissolve these truths by a vague spiritualization that violates the fundamental principles of interpretation. The issue is whether Baptists will accept covenant theology which destroys New Testament principles or whether we will remain true to the teachings of grace as set forth in the New Testament. For Baptists the issue is: will we cease to be Baptists? The differences are not simply eschatological; they are of far reaching and eternal import.
3. The plea for solidarity against modernism and unbelief. A casual reading of "Prophecy And The Church" by Oswald T. Allis, will convince any reader that it was not designed to play down the difference between Amillennialism and Premillennialism but to force them out into the open in sharp contrast. This he succeeded in doing.
Strangely enough, he appeals for understanding and cooperation, after ruling out the dispensationalists in such a way that cooperation must be on Amillennial terms. Dispensationalism has been becoming increasingly in recent years a seriously divisive factor in evangelical circles. All who accept the Bible as the Word of God and hold it to be the only infallible rule of faith and practice should be able to stand shoulder to shoulder in their opposition to modernism and higher criticism. But unfortunately, dispensationalism introduces and cannot but introduce a cleavage which tends very seriously to undermine that solidarity and harmony with which evangelicals should face the assaults of skepticism and unbelief." (p.vi)
True Baptists have been in the forefront in the fight against modernism and regardless of doctrinal differences with other groups have never been hesitant in taking a stand for their faith. They also believe that their very jealousy for truth and their separateness in the interests of truth have made them a more effective foe than many others. They have never in their history believed that, in order to face a common foe, that they must compromise the truths they hold dear. True Baptists do not disfellowship true believers because of a difference in dispensational details but they certainly refuse to minimize their differences with a theological system which would compromise their position on the Scriptures. The plea to disregard truth, to compromise convictions, to provide a common front against a foe is common in our days. Baptists have always fought well and effectively in proportion as they have been true to New Testament Baptist principles. Amillennialism is Augustinian; Baptists are biblical. The difference is too great.
"In ecclesiology, the main doctrine of the Church, Premillenarianism has a firm basis. The main point in question is whether or not the Church is a distinct body in this present age. If the Church is not a subject of Old Testament prophecy, then the Church is not fulfilling Israels promises but instead Israel herself must fulfill them and that in the future. In brief, Premillennialism with a dispensational view recognizes the Church as a distinct entity, distinct from Israel in her beginning, in her relation to this age and her promises. If the Church is not a distinct body, then the door is open wide for Amillennialism to enter with its ideas that the Church is some sort of full-bloomed development of Judaism and the fulfiller of Israels promise of blessing (but not of judgment). Thus Premillenialism and ecclesiology are inseparably related." Charles C. Ryrie (The Basis of Premillennial faith, p.126)
"True Baptists have always been a Bible people. They study diligently the writings of men but they check them by Holy Writ. They have a profound respect for historical theology but they check it with biblical theology. They hold great names in high esteem but they refuse to make them final authorities in religion or the last word in interpretation. They respect scholarship but they do not assign to it the task of interpretation for them. They study theology but they do not substitute philosophy for theology. They interpret the Bible literally unless there is ample warrant to interpret it otherwise. They hold that truth is of God and must not be compromised in the interest of human associations."
Chester E. Tulga