A Light in a Dark Place
By Pete Garcia
While one’s prophetic persuasion is not a primary issue a person’s salvation hinges upon, it does serve as an excellent weathervane of how a believer (or denomination) views all the other biblical doctrines. The movie Fight Club had a very famous line in it; the first rule of fight club is, you don’t talk about fight club. In a majority of churches today, the first rule of (pick a denomination) is, we don’t talk about Bible prophecy. This was not always the case though. For the first three centuries, the early church was quite vocal about the end-times. It wasn’t until men like Origen and Augustine came along and began to spiritualize, allegorize, and subsidize the literal interpretation of their own that the church began its descent into the theological abyss. Ignorance in this case is not bliss, but rather, spiritual blindness.
For the next 1,200 years, Christendom suffered in a theological dark age with the formation and domination of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) over the then civilized world. Roman Catholicism taught that the kingdom was now and it was spiritual. They (the RCC) taught that they were the embodiment of that kingdom here on the earth. But these ideas did not originate from the Bible, but with Augustine. So if the kingdom was spiritual and now, then the earth needed a human representative of Christ…enter the Pope…the Vicar of Christ.
John Nelson Darby and the Dispensationalist movement in the early 1800’s did for Biblical exposition, what Wycliffe and Tyndale in the 1300-1500’s did for its understanding. In their own ways, they each made the Bible readable, understandable, and contextual. Like Martin Luther centuries before, Darby did not add new doctrines into the Bible; he merely expounded upon what was already there by returning to a literal, grammatical, and historical interpretation. The Dispensationalist movement was the zenith of 2,000 years’ worth of Christian thought, teachings, and biblical exposition which has since lasted for almost two centuries. This is the culmination of progressive illumination of which finds its ultimate conclusion sequentially at the Rapture, the Tribulation, the 2nd Coming of Christ, and THE Kingdom.
This might sound redundant to those who are not Dispensationalists, but consider this- Martin Luther did not invent salvation by grace through faith. He simply recognized and accepted what the Bible had to say about it. Likewise, Darby did not invent Dispensationalism. He simply recognized and clarified what was already laid out in both Testaments. We also know and accept that with the conclusion of the Revelation that the canon of Scripture was closed. In fact, the Bible is very clear on this; there would be no further divine revelation from anyone.
“For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” – Revelation 22:18-19
So if Darby (or anyone else) were attempting to add new “revelation” into the Bible, we (Dispensationalists for the last 200 years) would have soundly rejected it. Just as there is a significant difference between salvation and sanctification, so too is the difference between revelation and illumination. The former is a one-time event, while the latter is a life-long event. One is something only God can do through His appointed, and the other is something God does for believers over time. Isaac Newton once said if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
We (I) have not come up with any unique new understanding; I simply expound upon what others before me have learned. They learned from those before them, and so on. This is the accumulation of knowledge. We take what the Bible says, particularly in the prophetic texts, and see how that matches up with what is going on around us. I do not need to hold a newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other to compare…ultimately I believe, the newspapers will reflect what the Bible has already said about it.
This is progressive illumination. Progressive illumination speaks to the illumination (increased understanding) God gives to certain men and women in increasing measures, to understand the theological concepts, prophecies, historicity, archeology, and other areas as time progresses. This works similarly to the way that progressive revelation did in Scripture. God did not reveal everything to Adam, or to Noah, or to Abraham, or even to Moses. God revealed to each what was appropriate to them while building on previously revealed truths to those before them. Often, He also told them of things to come in what we call prophecy. In other words, God expounded upon previous truths to subsequent patriarchs, prophets, priests, and kings in Israel’s history. This concluded the Old Testament with the coming of John the Baptist. Of him, Jesus said…
“Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he…For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.” – Matthew 11:11-14
Protestants find it just as hard today to accept that the Pope can speak ex-cathedra (aka…papal infallibility) concerning morals and doctrines, as it is for Dispensationalists to accept the erroneous teachings from Reformed and Covenant theological denominations that the Church is Israel, or vice-versa. After all, the Messiah came out of Israel, and the Church out of the Messiah. The Church could not exist until after the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. If the Church is Israel, then Christ did not build a new thing has He claimed He would do, but rather put new wine into an old wineskin. (Matthew 9:17, 16:18; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Hebrews 9:16-17)
Divide and Conquer
For the first time in around 1,800 years, the Church was finally embracing all of Scripture. At the peak of Christian learning and understanding, Satan began vigorously attempting to neutralize any spiritual growth by confusing and corrupting Christendom. Around the same time that Darby and the Plymouth Brethren were making gains, Satan was moving a man named Joseph Smith to establish the Latter Day Saints (Mormonism). They are a heterodox pseudo-Christian cult who add biblical text by claiming that it was a new revelation from the angel Moroni. In fact, there was an explosion of heretical and apostate groups all claiming new revelation. The Jehovah Witnesses, Christian-Science, Seventh Day Adventists, Transcendentalists, and Mormons to name a few.
The cults generally accept certain aspects of the biblical doctrine about Christ and his saving work on our behalf. However, they always deny one or more key aspects and introduce new twists of their own. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, deny that Jesus rose physically from the grave; on their view Jesus’ body was disintegrated by God and Jesus was recreated as a spirit creature. Christian Science denies that Jesus actually died; on their view his death was an illusion in the minds of the world who did not understand that only spirit is real. Mormons generally believe that Jesus’ redemptive suffering took place in Gethsemane before his arrest, not on the cross. (Source)
Out of the seven billion people who currently populate the planet, most (around five billion or so) are not Christian in any form or fashion. (Islam, Hinduism, Shintoism, Buddhism, Paganism, Wiccans, Atheists, etc.) Within the remaining 2 billion who do claim the Christian faith, probably less than half (around 500 million) even have an eschatological opinion. Out of that 500 million, these are divided around the four major eschatological views: Preterism, Amillennialism, Pre-Millennialism, and Post-Millennialism. While Pre-Millennialism (Pre-mill) is the dominant view out of this minority, even this camp is divided amongst Pre-Tribulation, Pre-Wrath, and Post-Tribulation believers concerning when they believe the Rapture of the Church will occur.
Roman Catholicism makes up around one billion adherents globally, and which (at least doctrinally speaking) are supposed to hold to an Amillennial eschatology. As a collective group, the RCC has all but abandoned the idea of a literal return of Jesus Christ. A Cardinal spokesman for the Vatican recently stated: “we just feel Jesus is not coming back by the looks of it.”
“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.” – Revelation 3:3
Let’s say hypothetically that the Bible doesn’t mean what it really says. Let’s also say that the Bible is not God’s direct revelation of Himself to mankind. Rather, the Bible is just a collection of moral, semi-historical, oral traditions passed down to help us be better people. Do you know what happens next? Well, the Bible then becomes just another book. Christianity, just another religion. The evidence?
The 20th and 21st centuries have seen wars and rumors of wars, famines and pestilence, false prophets and teachers, terrorism, crime and violence, natural and unnatural disasters of every kind escalating in size, frequency, and intensity. All of these, if churches were to accept what Jesus literally said in His Olivet Discourse, were to be heralding signs that the end of the age was drawing to a close. (Matt. 24:3-14)
But looking around Christendom today, we know that this is not the case. Denomination after denomination is in varying stations of straying from the literal interpretation because the culture around us is in rapid decline. Most of the mainline denominations in the West today are struggling to both stay true to the word of God, and also not be offensive. This is not only impossible but impossibly designed as such. Our culture has embraced the debased nature over the Godly, and that broad middle-ground that once marked the blending of church and culture from generations past is quickly disappearing. The culture is forcing us to choose; do we bend with the declining cultural norms, or do we plant ourselves like trees and lean into the storm?
“I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” – Luke 18:8
These straying denominations are they who are falling by the wayside and littering the road paved with good intentions. The unintended consequence of abandoning the literal and supernatural qualities about Holy Scripture is that it quenches the Spirit in a body of both believers and even attendees. If people wanted a lesson on how to be good moral people, they could just stay home and watch Dr. Phil.
When the Spirit is quenched in a church, they begin to lose their audience because the messages cease to have both power and truth. When attendance starts to drop because people are no longer impacted by God’s word, they (those churches) try to supplement it with entertainment and feel good messages. That may work for a season, but it’s not fulfilling nor sustaining. No one can live exclusively off candy and sodas without some serious detriment to their health. While people may not like labels (because it paints them into fixed doctrinal positions) being clear about what doctrine guides your faith is important. As mentioned before, a prophetic or eschatological position serves as an excellent weather vane that shows what or how a person (or group) views other doctrinal positions.
“And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” – 1 Peter 1:19-21