Home
Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
Index


A Letter and Response on "Jewish Dreams"

by Engelsma David

An Editorial



The editorial in the January 15, 1995 issue of the Standard Bearer, entitled "Jewish Dreams," took up the sword against postmillennialism. It contended particularly against the form that this error concerning the last things takes in the modern movement known as "Christian Reconstruction." It called this movement's vision and program for the earthly future "Jewish dreams." The reference is to the illusory hopes entertained by the Jews of Jesus' day for a carnal kingdom, as those hopes surface in John 6.

The phrase "Jewish dreams" is borrowed from the Second Helvetic Confession (A.D. 1566). In its time, this was one of the most influential of the Reformed confessions. Philip Schaff says of it that "it is the ... most catholic among the Swiss Confessions.... It was adopted, or at least highly approved, by nearly all the Reformed Churches on the Continent and in England and Scotland" (Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3, Baker, repr. 1983, p. 233). In its treatment of eschatology (the doctrine of the last things), this Reformed creed stated:

We further condemn Jewish dreams that there will be a golden age on earth before the Day of Judgment, and that the pious, having subdued all their godless enemies, will possess all the kingdoms of the earth. For evangelical truth in Matt. Chs. 24 and 25, and Luke, ch.18, and apostolic teaching in II Thess., ch. 2, and II Tim., chs. 3 and 4, present something quite different.

In these words, this creed expressed the view not only of Bullinger, its author, but also of Calvin and, indeed, of all the Reformed churches. The Reformed faith n the 16th century was amillennial. The Reformed faith in the 16th century condemned postmillennialism. It condemned postmillennialism as "Jewish dreams."

The "Three Forms of Unity," and the Protestant Reformed Churches in accordance with these Reformed confessions, maintain the Reformed adherence to amillennialism, as well as the Reformed condemnation of postmillennialism, especially in its "Christian Reconstruction" form.

To this editorial had come a letter of objection. Partly because of the length of the letter and response and partly because the letter opens up significant aspects of an issue that is of vital importance for Reformed and Presbyterian churches today, I run the letter and my response as an editorial.

What follows, then, is the letter objecting to "Jewish Dreams" and my response to the letter.

Letter:

Your editorial of January 15, 1995, "Jewish Dreams," was a very strong attack against those who have held to a victorious Church of Christ in the world—including the signers of the Savory Declaration which was chiefly authored by that stupid Jewish dreamer, Dr. John Owen.

At any rate, I think you owe it to your readers to quote another part of the Helvetic Confession, from chapter 30 ("Of the Magistracy"), which reads as follows:

...(the magistrate) shall root out lies and all superstition, with all impiety and idolatry, and shall defend the Church of God. For indeed we teach that the care of religion does chiefly appertain to the holy magistrate.

Let him, therefore, hold the Word of God in his hands, and look that nothing be taught contrary thereunto. In like manner, let him govern the people, committed to him of God with good laws, made according to the Word of God in his hands, and look that nothing be taught contrary thereunto.... Therefore let him draw forth this sword of God against all malefactors, seditious persons, thieves, murderers, oppressors, blasphemers, perjured person, and all those whom God had commanded him to punish or even to execute. Let him suppress heretics (who are heretics indeed), who cease not to blaspheme the majesty of God, and to trouble the Church, yea, and finally to destroy it.

If, indeed, the Second Helvetica condemns a so-called postmillennial eschatology, as you maintain (you did not cite the reference of your quote from the Confession), it certainly teaches a so-called theonomic ethic for civil government. Could it be that the author, Heinrich Bullinger, actually believed that civil government could be Christian in its theology and ethics—which is what a "postmill" prays and works for (Ps. 2:6-9Is. 2:1-4Micah 4:1-8Matt. 28:18-20)?

(Rev.) Norman Jones

Pierre, SD

Response:

"Stupid" is your word, and suggestion, absolutely not mine. The past and present postmillennialists whom I have in mind were and are many things. "Stupid" is not one of them. I did not demean the postmillennialists. I condemned postmillennialism. There is a difference.

Nor was John Owen a "Jewish dreamer." John Owen was a godly, orthodox Presbyterian theologian who, nevertheless, went seriously astray in eschatology (postmillennialism) and in ecclesiology (independency). He was not a "Jewish dreamer," but his eschatological error was a "Jewish dream."

The apostle Peter was no Jewish legalist, but his sin at Antioch (Gal. 2:11-14) was grievous Jewish legalism, in practice.

The Second Helvetic Confessions does indeed condemn postmillennial eschatology. It condemns it in the quotation that I gave fully and exactly. It condemns it in language that seems to have been deliberately drawn up precisely to describe the present-day variation of postmillennialism known as "Christian Reconstruction":

... that there will be a golden age on earth before the Day of Judgment, and that the pious, having subdued all their godless enemies, will possess all the kingdoms of the earth.

There is no "if" or "so-called" about the Second Helvetic's condemnation of postmillennial eschatology. The Second Helvetic condemns postmillennial eschatology. Plainly! Flatly! Sharply!

The appeal to Matthew 24, 25Luke 18II Thessalonians 2; and II Timothy 3, 4, puts beyond any question that the Reformed creed condemned the postmillennial view of the future because the creed was convinced that Scripture teaches that the future holds apostasy, Antichrist, and great tribulation for the church in the future. That is, the Second Helvetic confessed amillennialism.

If any additional proof were needed that the Second Helvetic Confession confessed amillennialism and condemned postmillennialism, the paragraph immediately preceding the quotation given in the editorial "Jewish Dreams," gives this proof:

And from heaven the same Christ will return in judgment, when wickedness will then be at its greatest in the world and when the Antichrist, having corrupted true religion, will fill up all things with superstition and impiety and will cruelly lay waste the Church with bloodshed and flames.

Dan. 11

But Christ will come again to claim his own, and by his coming to destroy the Antichrist, and to judge the living and the dead.

Acts 17:31

(The Second Helvetic Confession, in Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century, ed. Arthur C. Cochrane, Westminster Press, 1966, Chap. 11).

This is amillennialism—the Reformed doctrine of the end.

Holding this, and because it held this, the Second Helvetic Confession condemned postmillennialism.

I did indeed "cite the reference of (my) quote from the Confession." My citation was "Chap. 11, inReformed Confessions of the 16th Century, ed. Arthur C. Cochrane, Westminster Press, 1966." The Latin original, but not the English translation, is found in Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3 (Baker, repr. 1983), p. 257: "Damnamus praeterea Judaica somnia," etc.)

You quote the Second Helvetic's assertion that it is the duty of the magistrate to "suppress heretics" with the cold, steel sword of physical force, as though this contradicts the condemnation of postmillennialism. Fact is, one may hold this to be the calling of the state while recognizing that the Bible teaches that the kingdom of God in the world is spiritual, not carnal, and that the condition of the church in the last days will be tribulation, not that of a "golden age." This is the very position of the Second Helvetic Confession, as it was the position of John Calvin and, for that matter, the position of the Belgic Confession. In chapter 30, the Second Helvetic calls on the state to "suppress heretics" and to have "the care of religion" (although it begins by saying that "the chief duty of the magistrate is to secure and preserve peace and public tranquility"). In chapter 11, it condemns postmillennialism. There is no contradiction. The opinion that the state has the calling to promote the true religion does not imply a postmillennial eschatology.

I did not quote chapter 30 of the Second Helvetic on the duty of the state because my sole concern was to expose and reject postmillennialism as false doctrine in the Reformed churches, regardless of one's view of the duty of the state.

Your description of my editorial as an attack against "those who have held to a victorious Church of Christ in the world" takes us to the heart of the issue.

"... a victorious Church of Christ in the world!"

The assumption basic to the entire enterprise of postmillennial "Christian Reconstruction" is that the church of Christ is victorious in the world only if she prevails in history with political power, superior numbers, and cultural influence.

I deny this assumption. I repudiate this assumption. I abhor this assumption. I challenge this assumption as nothing less than a falsehood that puts the true church to shame, perverts the gospel (which is always the gospel of the cross, not the gospel of earthly triumph), and renders the living and reigning Lord Jesus Christ a miserable failure in history. It is a modern form of the "Jewish dream."

Was the small, despised, persecuted church of the apostles, themselves "reviled, persecuted, defamed, filth of the world, and offscouring of all things" (I Cor. 4:9-13), defeated or victorious?

Was the early church of Coliseum and catacombs defeated or victorious?

Was the Reformation church in the Netherlands during the persecution under Alva, in France during the persecution under Louis XIV, and in Scotland during the persecution under Charles II defeated of victorious? 

Is the true church in the world at this time—small, politically powerless, and culturally ineffective—defeated or victorious?

Has the church hitherto, the church from the apostles to the end of the 20th century, been a defeated church inasmuch as she never yet dominated the world with earthly power?

Whoever says that the church—the true church—in any age and land, or the church throughout the present age to this moment, has been a defeated church, because it has not had earthly dominion, is calling Jesus Christ a defeated King, a failure.

We amillennialists proclaim a gospel that declares the little flock of Christ, that will always have tribulation in the world and whose members are killed all the day long, to be not merely conquerors but "more than conquerors" (Luke 12:32John 16:33Rom. 8:36, 37). See, this is not pessimism. This is optimism. This is the hugest optimism. This is optimism without any hint of pessimism.

But the victory, indeed "more than victory," of the church, here and now, is spiritual, not carnal. It is achieved by the gospel of the forgiveness of sins, not by the gospel of world-domination. It is enjoyed by faith, not by settling down comfortably in a society or world governed by the saints. It consists of the pardon of sins, peace with God, holiness of life, and perseverance in Christ to the end; it does not consist of political power, big numbers, and cultural influence.

Esteemed friend Jones, permit me a question or two that reflect not only on your letter published above but also on the note that accompanied the letter.

You more than most Reformed Christians are well aware that R.J. Rushdoony, Gary North, and others of the "Christian Reconstruction" movement have for many years now been assaulting Reformed amillennialism as "impotent religion" and jeering at us amillennialists as "pessimillennialists." You also know that this tirade and ridicule are ongoing.

This has been, and continues to be, their "strong attack" against the doctrine of the end confessed by the Reformed churches in the Second Helvetic Confession and against all those Reformed theologians and other believers who have embraced Reformed amillennialism according to the Reformed confessions.

Would you say that they have "arrived at anideological stance for passionate postmillennialism that is not healthy"?

Would you warn them that "ideology and biblical theology are two different things"?

And have you ever actually said this to them and warned them of this, publicly, perhaps by a letter in Chalcedon Report?

—DJE

David J. Engelsma is a professor of Dogmatics at the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Church. He has earned his A.B. from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. B.D. from the Protestant Reformed Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI where he studied for three years under Herman Hoeksema. Th.M. from Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI. His Master's thesis was a 140-page study of the relation between the Trinity and the covenant. David is a very gifted Christian writer, a quality that is not an exception among the ministers of Protestant Reformed Churches (Herman Hoeksema, Homer Hoeksema, Herman Hanko, Ronald Hanko, Robert Decker, Barry Gritters, Steve Houck, Angus Stewart and many others).

[ Top | Eschatology | Bible Studies | Classics | Articles | Other Articles | Sermons | Apologetics | F.A.Q. | Forum ]

Home