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The EFCA Turns Away from Premillennialism
By Jonathan C. Brentner
On the afternoon of June 19, 2019, the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) voted to remove the word “premillennial” from their statement of faith. As one who has attended EFCA churches in the past, I feel a deep sense of sadness at the decision. I believe this removal of the word “premillennial” takes the EFCA in an unacceptable direction.
Premillennialism is the belief that Jesus returns to earth at the end of the seven-year tribulation and establishes a one thousand year rule based in Jerusalem with a restored Israel. This millennial reign of Jesus occurs before the eternal state of Revelation 21-22.
I believe that the members voting in favor of removing “premillennial” from their statement of beliefs made their decision the basis of three false assumptions.
False Assumption 1: Premillennialism is not an Essential Doctrine
The key argument that the EFCA made for removing the references to premillennialism was that its members should unite on the essentials of the faith and not let periphery matters such a premillennialism divide them or exclude others from their fellowship. This is a false assumption.
Who decides what beliefs are essential and which ones are not? Back in 1960, the founders of the EFCA decided premillennialism was an essential belief, one that all its members should uphold. The recent vote of the EFCA betrays those who originally established this association of churches. The founders of the EFCA believed premillennialism was an indispensable article of faith or they would not have included it in their founding statement of beliefs.
How much biblical support is necessary for someone to decide if something is a core element of faith or not? Premillennialism has an abundance of biblical support. All the Major Prophets, almost all of the Minor Prophets, and many of the Psalms prophesy that the Lord will someday restore a kingdom for the nation of Israel. Zechariah 12-14 unmistakably predicts a future repentance for Israel as well as a kingdom where Jesus reigns in Jerusalem over a kingdom where sin is still possible.
Those who deny the millennial reign of Jesus must devote large sections of the Old Testament and much of the book of Revelation to allegory. It’s only through altering the original intent of many of the authors of Scripture that one can conclude the premillennial return of Jesus is not a fundamental matter of our faith as New Testament believers.
False Assumption 2: Amillennialism Beliefs are Biblically Sound
The other false assumption behind the EFCA decision is that those who advocate amillennial beliefs are just as biblically sound as those who believe in the millennial rule of Jesus. Such is not the case.
Those who claim God has rejected the nation Israel, as the amillennialists assert, stand in direct contradiction to the clear teaching of Scripture. In Romans 11, the apostle Paul proclaims that “God has not rejected his people” (v. 2) and later in the chapter predicts the future conversion of “all Israel.” If Israel equates with the church in Romans 11, what possible reason would the apostle have for saying, “God has not rejected the church?”
Speaking of Paul’s assurances Romans 11, Eric Sauer wrote this in his book The Triumph of the Crucified, “In words which simply cannot be misunderstood Paul here confesses his belief in a full conversion of Israel, and explains how from it the greatest and most blessed effects will flow to mankind.”
If Israel equals the church in Romans 9-11, Paul’s line of reasoning in these chapters makes no sense whatsoever. If he’s not asserting a future for Israel, one most also interpret his words symbolically rather than how Paul intended them.
Amillennialism finds it basis in the faulty wisdom of man that retrofits the original intention of the Old Testament prophets with interpretations totally foreign to them at the time they wrote. It’s only by bringing unnatural interpretations to these texts that one can deny the repeated promises of God’s Word regarding the future of Israel.
False Assumption 3: Amillennialism Does not Lead to a Further Erosion of Faith
The third false assumption at the heart of the EFCA vote is that embracing amillennialism will not affect other items of core beliefs at a later time. History proves otherwise. Over time, amillennialism leads to a further erosion of faith and opens the door to heresy. It has done so in the past and will do so again.
To maintain an amillennial belief, one must relegate all Old Testament prophecy regarding the future of Israel to allegory as well as most of the book of Revelation. But who decides what prophecies convey symbolism and which ones reveal the intent of the author? And if we depart from the plain meaning of a passage, who decides what the allegory means?
The answers to these questions vary widely among those who deny a future for Israel. This is especially true with regard to the last chapters of Revelation. Amillennialists differ widely on what verses are allegorical and which ones are literal in Revelation 20-22.
Can you see the serious problem with this? If Revelation 20:1-10 is all allegory as they must maintain as amillennialists, then what does this say about the Lord’s precious promise in 21:4? Who decides if this is symbolic or literal? Who determines if the New Jerusalem is symbolical or a physical city (amillennialists differ widely on this matter)?
Amillennialism depends more on the presumptions of interpreter than it does on the words of the Bible.
This explains why amillennialism so easily morphs into heresies as preterism, the belief that Jesus returned to earth in AD 70 and in doing so fulfilled most, if not all, of biblical prophecy. The only difference between preterism and amillennialism consists in how much of Matthew 24 and the book of Revelation one relegates to symbolism (or previous history) and what interpretation one gives to the passages one regards as prophetic. The interpretations depend on the assumptions that one brings to the prophetic text rather than the original intent of the author.
Dominion theology also has its roots in such an approach to biblical prophecy. Those who hold to this belief falsely assert that the church will win the world to Christ and thereby take control of it ushering in the millennium; Jesus does not return until the end of the church’s reign over the world. Dominion theology is currently the fastest growing belief system in the church regarding the end times.
In addition, if one asserts that Paul did not really mean what he wrote in Romans 11:1-2, does this not make it easier to disagree with the clear intent of Paul’s writing in other places? Of course it does!
The vote of the Evangelical Free Churches of America (EFCA) on premillennialism troubles me. Although I recognize that amillennialism and dominion theology dominate the church today, I still fail to understand the wholesale rejection of all the biblical promises regarding the continuance of Israel as a nation. I cannot accept theologies that make God’s Word say something different than what it actually says.
If Scripture is clear about anything, it’s that the Lord will someday restore a kingdom to Israel. The Lord said through the prophet Jeremiah that Israel’s continuance as a nation is just as sure as His “covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth” (Jer. 33:25-26; 31:35-37).
The sun successfully appeared today after the night; God’s promises to the nation of Israel thus remain intact.