Eyes Wide Shut
By Pete Garcia
Since the first century stoning of Stephen by the Jewish leaders, Christianity has always suffered under some form of oppression, suppression, or persecution. By AD70, with Jerusalem in ruins and the Jewish Temple pulled apart stone by stone, the Christians traded persecution by the Jews, to the Romans. Yet, persecution was always a visible symbol of the world’s hatred of Christ. Corruption was often that unseen enemy that secretly and silently slithered its way into the Church to turn its members astray.
Although the early church fathers (ECF-the disciples of the Apostles) differed on varying doctrines, they were primarily chiliast in their eschatology. This view is what we would call today, Pre-Millennialism. They believed in a literal 1,000 year reign of Christ on the earth and that He would establish His kingdom. To those who didn’t hold to this, they considered heretical because they were departing from what Scripture and the Apostles actually taught. From Lambert Dolphin’s excellent summation of the ECF’s strong and widespread Pre-Millennial view he writes and quotes;
Philip Schaff, the dean of American church historians and himself a postrnillennialist, provided the following summary of the early church’s view of the millennium:
“The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age is the prominent chiliasm, or millenarianism, that is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on 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, such as Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius.” Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, VIII vols. (Grand Rapids. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1973), vol. II, p. 614 (http://www.ldolphin.org/premillhist.html)
From the first through the third centuries there arose two prominent schools of theology in the Middle East; one in Antioch (modern day Syria), and the other in Alexandria, Egypt. Alexandria had come to be the new center of Greek philosophical learning and academia and thus had a strong cultural influence. So when Christianity began to become a dominant force in Alexandria, Gnosticism influenced how they shaped their views of Christianity.
Yet, the allegorical approach struggled to gain acceptance during the first two centuries primarily because of the ten periods of intense persecution by the Romans. How could the Kingdom Age be now if the “kings” were imprisoning, torturing, and killing all the Christians? But with Emperor Constantine gaining the empire in 306AD and then subsequently converting to Christianity, a new golden era seemed to be on the horizon. This is when the allegorical approach really began to take off because then it became far more politically correct to believe they were “the kingdom” than teaching that Christ would physically return and overthrow the kingdoms (including Constantine’s) of the world to establish His own.
Once the allegorical view became the majority view, it quickly and soundly dismissed the idea that Christ would return literally and physically. This view championed by theological giants like Augustine is what we call the Amillennial view of eschatology. (A-meaning a negative, like Atheist, or Apolitical) The Amillennial view then transferred all the promises and blessings from a non-existent Israel to their Gentile audiences. The Kingdom as it were, was not some future event to look forward to in some distant day with Israel at the head of the nations and Christ at the head of Israel but to them, the Kingdom was spiritual and it was now.
The Amillennial view became the default eschatological view of the rising Roman Catholic Church, which not only helped them assimilate many different cultures into the church but by promoting the idea that they were kingdom gave themselves immense power and authority. For the next thousand years, they kept their translations of their Bibles purely in Latin which made the new converts (or the illiterate and/or who couldn’t speak Latin), completely reliant on the Roman Catholic priests to read it to them. Of course, this kept the RCC prominently in power and they exercised great power over kings and kingdoms for many centuries through the Middle Ages. This Amillennial (and later Post Millennial) view dominated Christendom from the time of Augustine well past the Protestant Reformation.
This is in part, why opponents and critics of Pre-Millennialism, the Pre-Tribulation Rapture and Dispensationalism, often accuse our view as only being a ‘recent’ teaching since the 1830’s. The truth is, it was taught; first in the Scriptures, and then by the (ECF) for the first few centuries before being suppressed by a popular and more powerful and politically correct view of eschatology. Another thing to consider is from the 1st century through the 18th, owning your own Bible was a privilege that few could afford. The invention of Guttenberg’s Printing Press in 1440 helped put more Bibles into circulation but illiteracy was rampant and the average person usually had to rely on clergy to teach them what the Scriptures actually said…which came with its own set of problems.
Augustine of Hippo, was a pagan convert to Christianity around the turn of the fourth century AD. His views on Scripture were still highly influenced by the Greek syncretistic view of the dualistic and Gnostic understandings of good and evil. (Syncretism is the combining of different, often contradictory beliefs, while blending practices of various schools of thought.) He converted to Christianity and greatly influenced the founding and formation of the Roman Catholic Church system through his vast writings. Dr. John F. Walvoord writes;
The importance of Augustine to the history of amillennialism is derived from two reasons. First, there are no acceptable exponents of amillennialism before Augustine, as has been previously discussed. Prior to Augustine, amillennialism was associated with the heresies produced by the allegorizing and spiritualizing school of theology at Alexandria which not only opposed premillennialism but subverted any literal exegesis of Scripture whatever. Few modern theologians even of liberal schools of thought would care to build upon the theology of such men as Clement of Alexandria, Origen or Dionysius. Augustine is, then, the first theologian of solid influence who adopted amillennialism.
The second reason for the importance of Augustinian amillennialism is that his viewpoint became the prevailing doctrine of the Roman Church, and it was adopted with variations by most of the Protestant Reformers along with many other teachings of Augustine. The writings of Augustine, in fact, occasioned the shelving of premillennialism by most of the organized church. The study of Augustine on the millennial question is a necessary introduction to the doctrine as a whole.
Subsequently, when the Protestant Reformation came to be almost a 1,000 years later, the Catholic monk Martin Luther, in his attempt to reform Roman Catholicism, was expelled and would create his own movement which rejected the Catholic system of penance, purgatory, indulgences, and priests, in favor of sola scriptura (Scripture alone as the sole authority). Yet he, and those who followed, didn’t change the Amillennial eschatology but simply brought that over with them when they left the RCC system. So the Lutherans, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and others, still to this day maintain in large measure, the Amillennial view of eschatology.
Preterism came out of the Roman Catholic Church around the 17th century, in an attempt to quell the Protestant assertion that the Pope was the Antichrist, and his RCC, the Beast. According to Wikipedia:
“Historically, preterists and non-preterists have generally agreed that the Jesuit Luis de Alcasar (1554-1613) wrote the first systematic preterist exposition of prophecy – Vestigatio arcani sensus in Apocalypsi (published in 1614) – during the Counter-Reformation.”
Again, it aligns itself with the Amillennial view, which denies a future, visible, and physical Kingdom with Christ at its head but goes even further by saying, that either all (or most) of all Bible prophecy had been completed at Christ’s first coming.
What we see when using historical hindsight is how true Biblical eschatology was corrupted over the last two millennia, first by the Gentile converts with their cultural, educational, and theological baggage they brought with them and then by the changing views of who and what the Church actually is (Ecclesiology). Both the Pre-Millennial and Dispensationalism views aren’t new they’ve just been rediscovered once men of God began to go back to a literal interpretation of the Scriptures. The same could be said of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. M. Luther didn’t invent salvation by grace through faith he simply rediscovered something that the Roman Catholic Church had long suppressed. These views (Premillennialism and Dispensationalism) once held by many, became suppressed and censored by the rising Roman Catholic Church and were limited to small pockets of believers here and there. In summary:
1. The early church was predominantly Pre-Millennial from the 1st – 3rd centuries.
2. The early church widely understood in varying degrees, that God’s progressive revelation to man was dispensational in nature. An excellent article here breaks down the departure from Scripture over the first three centuries.
3. The burgeoning ecclesiastical and largely Gentile Church, in large part, suppressed and corrupted the role and nature of Israel either by assuming it through varying degrees of-Replacement Theology, or by ignoring it through Reformed and/or Covenant Theology.
This historical explanation should then rule out any historical claims that the Amillennial and Preterist camps make in saying their view is the “original” view. In fact, it should be abundantly clear that the Amillennial, Post Millennialism, and Preterist view were and still are, heretical in their assertions. So instead of throwing out the term “heretic” loosely, let’s define what the definition of heresy is according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: A belief or opinion that does not agree with the official belief or opinion of a particular religion. I think an even more in-depth definition that I’ve come across, is one that comes from the website Let Us Reason.
“Heresy can be defined as any departure from Christian orthodoxy which is a teaching, doctrine or practice that goes beyond the apostles teachings – the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Biblical heresy is often a denial of the core beliefs held in the Church that are founded on the Bible. In this sense it applies to groups which reject basic Christian doctrines and separate themselves from the historic church.”
Clearly, the Bible teaches that a literal, physical, tangible Kingdom will come in the future to the earth, with Israel at the head of the nations, and Christ at the head of Israel. [Daniel 2:44-45, Isaiah 2, 11, 65, Zech. 14:16-21, Luke 1:31-33, Acts 1:6-8, Rev. 20] The only way you can dismiss this is if you ignore, redefine, and allegorize what the literal interpretation says, and then teach that it means something else. That is not what we are to do with our Holy Scriptures, nor were we given permission to do that. (Rev. 22:18-19)
Yet, that is exactly what Amillennialism, Post-millennialism and Preterism does. They (promoters of these views) looked at the conditions of their day and they saw the nation of Israel gone and the Roman Empire finally embracing Christianity and turned the Pre-Millennial view on its head in order to remain ‘culturally relevant’ (i.e. politically correct). So if the Bible doesn’t teach the Amillennial, Post Millennial or Preterist view, why do so many Christian denominations still promote them as legitimate views?
In order to take either view, again, one has to completely disregard what the Bible actually says and then redefine it to say what the interpreter wants it to say. In other words, the views of Amillennialism and Preterism deny what Scripture says and then offer their own interpretation. You might be asking, ‘so what’? True, one’s eschatological position does not impact one’s status in regards to salvation but it has huge implications on one’s sanctification and maturing in the faith. Roman Catholicism has long exerted power and control not only over its constituents, by keeping its adherents in bondage to a works-based salvation but has also exerted vast influence over kings and kingdoms both politically and militaristically for centuries.
They have done this, because they believe they are ‘the kingdom’ and their Pope is the “Vicar of Christ” on earth. They have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews and Christians during the Crusades, 30 Years War, and the Inquisition, as well as leading millions of people to hell with a false gospel centered on one’s own good works as justification for salvation. This is not a slam against Catholics who truly believe that they are doing the right thing but this is absolutely a slam against Roman Catholicism as a religious system. This is also a slam against the heretical, eschatological views that have long been given a pass as irrelevant. Ideas have consequences.
Heretical teachings have consequences. The consequences of Amillennialism is a misplaced of “Kingdom Now” and militantly forcing itself on the world at large, in an attempt to change a world that the Bible says is currently under the sway of the ‘wicked one’. (1 John 5:19) The Bible is also clear, that things will progressively get worse and worse until the whole world comes under the control of one man, Antichrist. (Rev. 6, 13) Yet because Amillennialist, Post Millennialist and Preterist outright deny what Scripture says, they are in actuality, working to build a world which falls right in line with what the Antichrist will inherit.
Furthermore, the theological damage these views have in part have helped decimate generations of believers who no longer are looking up, but are skeptical, critical, and have fallen away from the faith in large measure, because their ‘blessed hope’ (Titus 2:13) has been removed and placed with visions of a fallen world and a Bible they aren’t sure they can believe in anymore. The real tragedy is that because these views remove the imminence of Christ’s return and the expectation we should have as believers, many will not be ready when He does come back for the Church.
“Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.” – Rev. 3:3