Jesus Christ Is Lord

That every knee should bow and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father!

Posts Tagged ‘history of doctrine’

Why The Early Church Fathers Were Millennialists And Why The Gentile Church Quickly Rejected It For Sadduceeism

Posted by Job on October 16, 2008

This can be considered a supplement to The Early Church Fathers: Amillennialism and Universalism. Why were the church fathers millennialist? Simple: Christianity was never originally a new religion – nor was it intended to be by its founder Jesus Christ – but can accurately be described as a Jewish sect. Was it true Judaism, fulfilled Judaism, or what Sinai Judaism pointed to? Yes, but it was still Judaism, and it offered accommodations to Gentiles that were little different from, say, what the Pharisees of that time offered. (Whether other Jewish parties like the Sadducees, Essenes, etc. accommodated Gentiles who did not wish to become circumcised or otherwise fully convert to Judaism is of little consequence.) So rather than Christianity being a separate religion that has replaced or even exists alongside Judaism, it is helpful to consider that Biblical Christianity is Judaism, with Gentiles practicing what the Jerusalem Council and later the Pauline epistles gave to us, and Messianic Jews practicing what the Jewish Christians – including the same apostles who guided and instructed the Gentiles – did. Of course, in practice, Messianic Jews retain a lot of things related to Talmudism and eastern European Ashkenazism that have nothing to do with the practice of James and Peter, and we well know what westernism has done to Biblical Gentile Christianity. For a longer treatment of these topics, please consider A Better Replacement Theology For Christians And Jews.

So now that it is established that Christianity is in fact Jewish, it then becomes easier to understand why the early church, including the Gentile apostolic fathers who received the faith from the apostles, were millennialists. The reason is that millennialism doctrine was long established in Jewish thought prior to Christianity. It is very much reflected in the eschatological passages in the prophets and writings (especially Isaiah and the Psalms), the idea that the Messiah would rule the whole world. Jesus Christ’s refusal to set up an earthly kingdom was a major why the Pharisees rejected Him. Further, even Jesus Christ’s own followers, after His resurrection, still expected Him to set up a literal rule of the earth according to the early verses of Acts 1. So when Jesus Christ went to the right Hand of the Father promising to return, the Jews felt that upon His return Jesus Christ would fulfill the Messianic prophecies concerning His literal earthly rule that had been part of Judaism many centuries.

Please realize that these prophecies cannot be cast away. Not only does that damage the doctrines of infallibility of scripture and the rule of faith, but the all important doctrine of progressive revelation. God did not reveal mankind everything at once, but only rolled out revelation gradually, primarily through His prophets, with the ultimate and completed revelation being Jesus Christ. See the prologue to the epistle to the Hebrews for verification of this. (Incidentally, the concept of progressive revelation also explodes the lie common to liberal scholarship that Judaism lacked any real concept of a spirit world, an afterlife, or even mature doctrines of angels and demons before their interactions with Zoroastrianism during the Babylonian exile. Needless to say, the references to the dead children of Job, Jeroboam, and David as well as God taking Enoch and Elijah going to heaven on a chariot of fire make the claims that Judaism had no concept of righteous people having an eternal afterlife with God ridiculous.)

So, the millennial expectations of the Jews was not only a part of progressive revelation, but a huge part of it, and became even more pronounced during their captivity in Babylon and subsequent domination by the Persians, Greeks, and Romans. As a matter of fact, it remains a component of Orthodox and Conservative Judaism to this day, and is a major reason why the alliance between said Jews and dispensational pre – tribulation rapture evangelicals is so successful: both believe in the coming of Messiah, both believe that the Messiah will convert one side to the other, and both are willing to wait and see who is right (while each believing themselves to be).

So whether the Apocalypse of the Apostle John, better known as the Book of Revelation, was read by the other apostles or not (as some evangelical scholars assert that John wrote Revelation before he wrote his gospel) claiming that they did not teach that Jesus Christ would return to set up an earthly kingdom is rather difficult to sustain. It would require rejecting or either completely reinterpreting the Old Testament scriptures in a way that not a single teaching of Jesus Christ recorded in the gospels or the writings of the apostles who learned from Jesus Christ (the original ones including Matthias directly, Paul by revelation) supports. So then, while the scenario where Jesus Christ returns, rules with the saints of the first resurrection for 1000 years while Satan is bound (does amillennialism and preterism even allow for a first resurrection since neither suffers a literal interpretation of Revelation 20 and denies a linear timeline governing Revelation 19 and 20), and then there is the final battle followed by the great white throne judgment given in Revelation 19 – 20 may be an enlargement that contains new material, it is consistent with what Jews believed prior. Asserting amillennialism, then, is akin to saying that the Jews who lived in Jesus Christ’s day and time and prior were wrong, and the Gentile Christians who came along 200+ years later were right and did a better job of interpreting scripture than the Jews did. Of course, the post – apostolic fathers church, especially the Alexandrian allegorists, did have this belief. But when you recall that these were the people who gave Christendom the practice of praying to angels, pictures and statues, and a Mary that they claimed remained a virgin, we are not bound by their pretensions.

Now I mentioned earlier that the Pharisees believed in the millennium, which leaves out the Sadducees. Why did the Sadducees reject the millennium? Simple: because the Sadducees were Hellenists first, Jews second. The best example of this group was Herod, who obeyed the Jewish commandment not to eat pork while disobeying much more important commandments in murdering people, including members of his own family. Even the Roman Caesar noted that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than his son. The Jewish worldview is a spiritual, otherworldly one. By contrast, the Hellenistic worldview was, while not quite secular in the modern sense of the word, was definitely naturalist and this – worldly. Therefore, the Sadducees were only able to accept the Torah, and even there a despiritualized interpretation of it, as valid. (It was made easier for them by the fact that the Old Testament scriptures used at the time, the Greek Septuagint, already contained some concessions to the Hellenistic mindset.) The Sadducees rejected the writings (i.e. the Psalms) and the prophets. This meant that they not only denied the resurrection (as the gospels explicitly state) but the millennium, because they rejected all spiritual things. (Please recall that even the Greek “gods” were merely superhumans that lived in the natural plane, and that the Greek “underworld” where the dead went was literally underneath the physical surface of the earth, not spiritual at all.)

Now the Pharisees, on the other hand, believed in spiritual things, so that was not their error. Their error was A) failing to fully understand them and more importantly B) failing to understand the implications of spiritual things on earthly matters. That was why Jesus Christ criticized them for failing to use mercy in their interpretation and the administration of the law, for the law was not an earthly institution intended for regulating human affairs (the position of the Saduceees) but a spiritual thing that God gave mankind to teach man about His nature, so the Pharisees should have used the law to show the same mercy to the people that God had always shown Israel.

When you understand that the Sadducees rejected the resurrection, the millennium, the writings, the prophets, and even the more spiritual aspects of the Torah in order to create “Greek Judaism” that was more Greek than Jewish, (Hellenism with external Jewish customs and regulations that not only had no spiritual content but was also totally devoid of morality) then that also explains why the post – apostolic fathers church rejected millennialism for amillennialism. Now the precursor to this piece stated that millennialism had to go in order to accommodate such ideas as universalism and purgatory that made Christianity more acceptable to Greek pagans, not only for the purposes of mere popularity (Origen was regarded as a great intellect by the Greek pagans for telling them that they would ultimately be saved whether they converted and lived godly lives or not!) but because they made spiritual biblical Christianity more accommodating to naturalism and other pre – existing Greek constructs.

After all, did Greek paganism afford different fates to people in the afterlife based on how they lived and worshiped in this life? Nope. There was no basis for the different reward, because there was no single all powerful creator to mete out rewards and punishments. There were many gods, and serving one was as good as serving the other. So no matter who you worshiped or how you lived, everyone would receive the same fate: the underworld. The purgatory and universalism doctrines of Origen, Clementine, Gregory, etc. removed the idea that some would receive good and others evil in the next life. This was not because the Greco – Romans were so committed to egalitarianism, indeed quite the contrary. In that culture women and children had no rights, there were more slaves than citizens, and the rulers only cared about the poor literally starving to death inasmuch as its potential to cause mass revolts. And the Greco – Roman religion did not hold out equal status in the afterlife as the hope or aim of their religion. Quite the contrary, the purpose of their religion seems to have been to use drunken orgies to forget the difficulties of their daily existence, which was why the actual practice of their religions was most common and popular with people who had the lowest status: women, slaves, and the poor. So then, the reason why the idea that people will get different rewards in the afterlife based on which God they served in this one was so offensive to the Hellenistic mindset was because this concept is unworkable without a spiritual reality that opposes pagan naturalism. The Origenic Christianity, then, did require them to reject multiple gods for one God, but allowed them to worship according to a system that, while spiritual in theory, was practically and effectively little different from the prior pagan mythology. Again, there is a reason why cultured pagans who had no intention of converting came from far and wide to listen to Origen’s lectures and left praising his great intellect.

So this brings us back to the issue of millennialism. For the events of Revelation 19 – 20 to be fulfilled in a literal fashion, Jesus Christ ruling the nations with a rod of iron along with angels and resurrected martyrs … not only spiritual but on a fantastic and grand scale. Now please recall that the Sadduccees rejected the spirituality of the Torah, instead regarding it as only being useful for history and for governance. In a similar fashion, Jesus Christ literally ruling on earth could not coexist to the Hellenistic natural mind. So, the rule of Jesus Christ over the earth had to be accomplished naturally, through human institutions. Jesus Christ rules the church, but the church rules the earth by controlling political, economic, military, religious, and cultural life. In short, dominionism.

Of course, it was no small thing to separate it further and make it even less spiritual. Jesus Christ rules the earth through His rule of the church, but His rule over the church is not direct and personal, but rather through His VICARS on earth, or His appointed representatives. Except that Jesus Christ does not even need to directly appoint His representatives by way of a revelatory anointing or calling. Instead, said vicars are chosen by the church itself, either from among the church leadership or the emperor, as head of a church state, that has the ability to appoint them. (Please note that the church really never opposed the practice of Roman emperors taking the prerogative to name bishops until the doctrine of the primacy of the bishop of Rome was fully matured, and even then the right of monarchs to appoint at least some bishops was never denied. After all, so long as the monarch was a baptized Christian, he was part of Christ’s rule of the earth, especially those monarchs that the prelates themselves either crowned or used political manuevers to help get into office.)

So, though this sort of amillennialism alleged that Jesus Christ was ruling the earth during a symbolic millennium that inaugurated when Jesus Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father, the fact was that the His rule was limited to a church that moreover was free to govern its own affairs through Christ’s vicars and totally ignore Him. Jesus Christ’s actual Person was reserved for mystic experiences (which you had better believe that communion/transubstantiation is certainly one!) and even those are not for the purposes of exerting any authority over the church – let alone the world – but rather for the mystical experience of the believer. Thus, Jesus Christ’s actual return was an event believed only in theory with no practical doctrinal or theological implications, because the church was already allegedly accomplishing what the long history of Jewish Messianic progressive revelation was supposed to teach the church to expect. All that remained was final judgment, something not only intangible and far off, but a great deal less important than such things as, say, getting your deceased relatives out of purgatory and into heaven with your good works.

So, amillennialism does the same to millennial doctrine – and possibly to Christianity itself – what Sadduceeism did to Judaism. It removes the spirituality that Jesus Christ will literally fulfill in favor of a system for gaining, maintaining, and exerting earthly power through humans and institutions. That the Protestant reformers generally continued to be amillennial, then, is a great shame. It is not unfair to propose that the first generation Reformers went on to set up state churches that greatly involved themselves in civil affairs because of it. It is also fair to propose that the “free churches” that were not part of either the Catholic or Protestant state church system were generally open to other doctrines. We can guess that the reason for this is that if you are not a state church but instead are being persecuted by a state church, then it is rather difficult claim that Jesus Christ is ruling the world with a rod of iron through your influence in governmental, economic, and military institutions, and even more difficult to explain why, with Jesus Christ already in heaven and Satan bound, the dominion that amillennialism states and implies not taking place even in the church, let alone in the world. I can propose that the reason why the early reformers held on to amillennialism was because of they were so steeped in it from Roman Catholicism, and also because of the Augustine to which they were so deeply indebted. In other words, for the same reason why the reformers continued to support infant baptism.

What is even stranger still is how premillennial pre – tribulation rapture dispensational evangelicals (as opposed to fundamentalists with this same eschatological orientation) have practically adopted some things pertaining to amillennialism, and are the new dominionists as a result. On one side is the religious right, who believes that the duty of the church is to exert influence over the nation’s laws, culture, and morality (if not spirituality). On another side is the third wave charismatic movement, especially those influenced by the Word of Faith/prosperity doctrine teachings that the church must reclaim the dominion over the earth that God gave to Adam as a precondition for a worldwide revival that will evangelize the globe and fulfill the prophecy for the return of Jesus Christ. Now both these movements, the Southern Baptist dominated former and the Pentecostal dominated latter (generalizing just a tad, I know), come together in two ways. One is the notion that an undivided fully sovereign biblical Jewish state of Israel must continue to exist at all costs, and that the United States must not only ally with Israel, but use its economic, political, and military might – including aggression – to defend Israel, with the church’s exerting all the influence (pressure) that it can on our government to ensure that it does so. So, we have the notion that Jesus Christ is acting to accomplish His redemptive purposes not only through the SECULAR state of Israel, but through the United States as well. So, Jesus Christ’s rule on earth at this time is not only primarily manifested through Israel due to its singular importance in dispensationalism, but it is secondarily – but still vitally! – manifested through the United States whose military, political, religious, and economic dominance of the globe allows Israel to remain sovereign so Jesus Christ can rule through it, and through the church that makes sure that the United States accomplishes its divine purpose of protecting Israel so that God may continue to use it.

How does it come together the other way? In the person of none other than Sarah Palin, the woman who was born Roman Catholic but rebaptized into Pentecostalism, and has been fully steeped in third wave Pentecostal dominion theology preaching (see video below) and is herself perhaps the single leading figure in the religious right now that other figures have died or marginalized themselves.

And that little nugget is something to think about.

Advertisements

Posted in Christianity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

The Early Church Fathers: Amillennialism and Universalism

Posted by Job on October 15, 2008

According to William J. La Due, who can hardly be considered fundamentalist (he has been a professor at St. Francis Seminary and Catholic University of America) in The Trinity Guide To Eschatology (which I do not recommend) Irenaeus of Lyons, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Hippolytus were millennialists. It was those who came later, such as Origen, Jerome, and Augustine who rejected it, and Origen and Augustine in particular for amillennialism.

What happened? Simple: the influence of Greek paganism. From La Due’s writings, it is easy to connect the dots and come to the conclusion that 1) amillennialism was required for universalism and 2) universalism was needed to resolve the conflict between Christianity and Hellenism. Despite the claims of universalists that their interpretations are more consistent with the overall body of scripture, the truth is that Origen and the rest simply used a grotesquely out of context interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:28 (When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all) to justify their refusal to reject Greek pagan religion.

La Due further stated that the first prominent theologian to try to merge Christianity and Hellenism was Clementine of Alexandria, who died in the early 3rd century. This Clementine was the first Christian advocate of purgatory. By this Clementine imported the Greek mythological concept of purgatory into Christianity as a key component of universalism. (The Vatican II returned to Clementine’s doctrine by using purgatory to facilitate “all religions and good people who follow them lead to heaven” pluralism as opposed to “everyone whether religious or not and good or evil goes to heaven” universalism.)

Augustine incidentally rejected universalism. Further the Roman church did not get around to officially condemning Origenism in 543 and 553. (Augustine’s view of purgatory, by the way, were much closer to Jesus Christ’s parable of Lazarus and the rich man than they were to contemporary or historic Roman Catholic doctrine on the matter.) However, only Origen was so condemned, not Gregory of Nyssa, Clement of Alexandria, or the many others that played with this doctrine, including Ambrose of Milan. La Due suggests that the real reason why Origen was condemned while the many other universalists were not was Origen’s proto – Mormon doctrine of pre – existence, not universalism. Perhaps condemning universalism would have meant condemning purgatory as well?

In any event, it certainly looks like Origen and his fellow travelers rejected the endtimes views of the early church because millennialism (and ultimately eternal punishment) made doctrines that conformed to the worldviews of the Greeks unworkable. We see the same thing going on today, with not only so many leading evangelicals following the lead of Vatican II Roman Catholics and theological liberals in adopting pluralism to please the current philosophical mindset, but many also adopting annhiliationism (the belief that sinners will simply cease to exist based on the notion that the worth of man is so great that God cannot judge mankind as He sees fit without being considered cruel and tyrannical). By contrast, Augustine taught that the reason why sinners would be resurrected and receive new incorruptible bodies on judgment day would be so that the flames of the lake of fire would never consume them!

Alas, it is regrettable that so many Reformed evangelicals either believe in the pre – tribulation rapture (i.e. John MacArthur or Albert Pendarvis) or amillennialism (e.g. R.C. Sproul). It is even more regrettable that many Reformed amillennialists insist that amillennialism was the mainstream position of the early church. On the other hand, it does appear that my oft – proposed theory that the Constantism (the Roman imperial church and the Roman Catholic Church) adopted and promoted amillennialism to justify its goals of co – opting Christianity for political and military ambitions – dominionism or official theology – is problematic, as amillennialism has to go with the practice of worshiping saints and Mary and the doctrine of purgatory as yet another thing that cannot be blamed on Constantinism because it predated his takeover of Christianity by at least 100 years. Amillennialism is not evidence of how the Roman Empire took Christianity off its path, but rather how the Roman Empire adopted a faith that had already long veered from its apostolic foundations.

So instead, amillennialism, purgatory, saint and angel worship, and the heresies concerning Mary were simply attempts to make the faith acceptable, conformed with, and relevant with the world. Am I exaggerating, then, to say that Clement and Origen of those days are the emergent leaders like Rick Warren, Erwin McManus, Rob Bell, and Dan Kimball or political Christians like James Dobson, Barry Lynn and Bill Moyers today? Not a whole lot, and probably not at all. Whether it is Hellenism or enlightenment rationalism or postmodernist consumerism, James 4:4 and Romans 12:1-2 still applies.

Posted in Christianity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

 
%d bloggers like this: