We Need a Sixth Fundamental in 2012
By Tim LaHaye
My friend and editor of the thriving WORLD magazine that is attuned to the news most Christians want to read today has written an excellent article in the January issue on what constitutes "fundamentalists" of yester year and those of the secular media. In it he quotes the brilliant theologian J. Gresham Machem, the Presbyterian and reformed scholar who defined the "five fundamentals" written shortly after the turn of the century, around the 1920s.
A study of religious life in America during those days disclosed the gross liberalizing of many denominational seminaries, particularly in what the media calls the "main-line" churches. He defined the minimum core beliefs of the fundamental church as follows:
"…the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, the atoning work of Jesus' death, the physical resurrection of Jesus, and the historical reality of Christ's miracles. Those 'fundamentals' were seen by orthodox believers as foundational to their Christian faith — as the girders on which the rest of the structure rested."1
Machen was a great defender of the faith, particularly the inspiration of Scripture and the virgin birth of Jesus. Some of his debates with liberals in his own denomination were legends for most of us who attended conservative Christian colleges, Bible schools, and seminaries. I shudder to think what Christianity would be today had Machem and his generation of fundamentalist preachers, scholars, writers, and those in higher Christian education not taken up the cudgel and fought the battles of the pre-60s wars that caused the liberal theologians and secular media to taunt, distort, and degrade them so. The voice of true Christianity would have all but died had they not taken an aggressive stand for truth.
Fortunately, the Holy Spirit guided them and the many other men and women of God who took the Bible literally and built Bible-believing churches, Christian colleges, and faithful seminaries which sprang up helping to return the church into a vital force in America where today almost 70 million citizens openly claim to have had a "born again" experience with Jesus Christ. These Bible-believing churches are springing up everywhere, so much so that at election time this year many politicians openly seek the "evangelical" vote.
While we can gratefully thank God for their valiant work for Him during the first half of the last century, today's Church should take up the cause of the sixth fundamental they unfortunately omitted or neglected. That is the teaching of Jesus' Second Coming — His promise to rapture His saints to heaven before the seven years of Tribulation followed by His Glorious Appearing when the Savior will establish His Kingdom of peace over which He will rule as "King of Kings and Lord of Lords" for one thousand years. He will bind Satan for that entire period, after which it gets even better. He will take all His saints, or those who have put their faith in His sacrificial salvation for our sins, and take us all to heaven forever.
The reason I say this Second Coming teaching is an integral part of the cardinal doctrines of the early church is because it was the earliest teaching of the first century believers and has been since the days of the Apostle Paul. His first two books, I and II Thessalonians, may have been the first two books of the New Testament. It is thought by many scholars to have been written about eighteen years after Pentecost to the young church he founded in Thessalonica. It was a strong, Greek city filled with pagan religious thought. Paul ministered to these young Christians only three weeks before jealous Jews drove him from the city. Read all eight chapters and underline all the references to Christ's Second Coming, and you will find it mentioned in every chapter.
Dr. Mark Hitchcock has a new book on prophecy coming out soon in which he mentions that there are more than 300 references to the Lord's coming in the New Testament, which has only 260 chapters. Prophecy makes up twenty-eight percent of the Bible. There are over 300 prophecies concerning Christ's Second Coming in the New Testament — one out of every 30 verses. He also states that there are 109 prophecies of His first coming (which He fulfilled completely), yet there are 224 that forecast His Second Coming. Twenty-six books of the New Testament refer to the promise of His coming, and three of those were personal letters to individuals. The rest highlighted this important doctrine that was preached in the earliest days of the church.
I have read that every church counsel from the first century until today referred to our Lord's return. So I am on good ground referring to it as a cardinal doctrine of the Church that should have been included by Dr. Machen and his friends. We can understand his reluctance to bring this point up, for in the Reformed church it did not play an important position in their view of "the faith once delivered to the saints." Most reformed brothers have followed the line of Augustine who in the sixth century taught that while the Bible was to be taken literally, prophecy should be interpreted symbolically or allegorically — or spiritualized. Unfortunately, this tends to confuse the body of Christ about the all important fundamental teaching that He will come again as He promised and return us to His Father's House — John 14:1-3 and many other scriptures.
Personally, I think that is the reason so many believers have strayed into amillennialism or postmillennialism and even from midtribulationalism into posttribulationalism. These are hope-stealing, false teachings about prophecy based on the faulty idea that prophecy cannot be understood.
Which broaches the subject of how can Rev. 1:3 be fulfilled — that reading the Book of Revelation can be a blessing — if you cannot understand it? It can't! Why would God inspire the prophecies in the Bible unless they are for our understanding and edification? He wouldn't! This is why I believe the sixth fundamental of the faith should be the promise that Christ is going to keep His and the disciple's word by coming back one day as the apostle Paul described it in I Thess. 4:13-18 and again in I Cor. 15:50-58.
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thess. 4:13-18)
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." "O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?" The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Cor. 15:50-58)
I have been in the ministry of the Lord for 65 years and have observed that those who have this "blessed Hope" in His return, and those churches that stand for and preach it as a cardinal doctrine of their life and that of their church have a fire in their heart to win others to Christ. This truth has an unparalleled effect on those who read, study, and chart their life course by it; they live a more evangelistic life and anticipate meeting their Lord in Heaven. That could be this year. Though it is doubtful, for Satan has already stirred up a drive through the Mayan calendar that ends in late December 2012. That cannot be right, for God alone knows the day and the hour when He will say to His Son, the Lord Jesus, what the songwriter coined in his great Second Coming song, "These are the days of Jehovah…Son, go gather My children!" He alone knows the day and the hour.