by Prof. David J. Engelsma
This was an editorial by Professor David J. Engelsma, from the January 15, 1995 issue of The Standard Bearer. The Standard Bearer is a Reformed magazine published twice a month.
The hope of the Reformed church and believer at the beginning of a new year is the second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the body. A hope, as was pointed out in the previous editorial, is the resurrection of the soul at the believer's death. The hope is Christ's return and the resurrection of the body.
The Word of God makes this the hope of the church. The "glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ" is our "blessed hope" (Titus 2:13). "We groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:23). The prayer of the saints is, "Come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20).
It is no part of the church's hope that a majority of humanity will soon be converted; that the church will then physically dominate the world; that all nations will be "Christianized"; and that a "golden age" of earthly peace and prosperity will precede the coming of the Lord Jesus.
This is the hope of some in Reformed and Presbyterian circles. Certain teachers aggressively promote this hope, particularly those associated with a movement known as "Christian Reconstruction," or "theonomy." The church will enjoy earthly dominion. This future dominion -- the "Christianizing" of the world -- will be the Messianic kingdom.
Because this doctrine of the last things thinks to base itself on Revelation 20's teaching of the "thousand years" (Latin: millennium), it is commonly referred to as postmillennialism. Jesus Christ will come only after a thousand years in which the church has had earthly victory and the kingdom of Christ has been the political world power.
The hope of postmillennialism, particularly in its "Christian Reconstruction" form, is a "Jewish dream." This was the express judgement of the early Reformed creed, the Second Helvetic Confession (A.D. 1566):
We further condemn Jewish dreams that there will be a golden age on earth before the Day of Judgement, 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 the apostolic teaching in II Thess., ch. 2, and II Tim., chs. 3 and 4, present something quite different (Chap. 11, in Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century, ed. Arthur C. Cochrane, Westminster Press, 1966).The carnal kingdom of postmillennialism, particularly as painted by "Christian Reconstruction," is exactly the kind of Messianic kingdom dreamed and desired by the Jews in the days of Christ's earthly ministry. This was what the Jews of John 6 wanted: Christ as the king of an earthly kingdom and a temporal future bright with the prospect of political power and earthly glory.
The damning judgement upon postmillennialism by the Second Helvetic Confession reflected the theology of the early Reformers, Luther and Calvin, as well as Bullinger, author of the creed. More importantly, it is the stand of the confessions that bind Reformed and Presbyterian churches and Christians today.
I leave to those whose creeds they are to demonstrate that the Westminster Standards rule out the illusory dream of postmillennialism. But it may be noted that Anglican theologian Peter Toon has written that the postmillennialists at the Westminster Assembly failed to "affect the final wording of the (Westminster) Confession of Faith, which gives the impression of following the Augustinian teaching" (Puritan Eschatology: 1600 - 1648, in the Manifold Grace of God, Puritan and Reformed Studies Conference, 1968, p. 50).
It is surely significant that, immediately after the adoption of the Westminster Confession, the independents drew up their own creed, the Savoy Declaration of 1658, in which they explicitly affirmed their postmillennial hope:
...we expect that in the latter days, Antichrist being destroyed, the Jews called, and the adversaries of the kingdom of his dear Son broken, the churches of Christ being enlarged and edified through a free and plentiful communication of light and grace, shall enjoy in this world a more quiet, peaceable, and glorious condition than they have enjoyed (see the Savoy Declaration, 26.5, in P. Schaff, Creed of Christendom, vol. 3, Baker repr., 1966, p. 723).The Three Forms of Unity condemn the hope of postmillennialism. The church in the end time will be a persecuted church, not a triumphalist church (Heid. Cat., Q. 52; Bel. Conf., Art. 37). The Messianic kingdom in history is the church, not a "Christianized" world (Heid. Cat., Q. 123; Bel. Conf., Art. 27).
For this reason, it is unfaithfulness on the part of officebearers bound by the Three Forms of Unity to permit the advocacy of the postmillennial dream in the churches for which they are responsible. There is this openness to postmillennialism, evidently, in the churches that have recently split from the Christian Reformed Church and that are loosely associated in the Alliance of Reformed Churches (ARC). There is openness to these "Jewish Dreams" in the extraordinary virulent form of "Christian Reconstruction." To a chief theorist and proponent of "Christian Reconstruction" was given the privilege of drawing up the hermeneutical basis of the set of new creeds once envisioned by leaders in the Alliance and sanctioned by the Alliance itself. At least one of the most prominent, and vocal, ministers in the Alliance has publicly associated himself closely with "Christian Reconstruction."
Already virtually committed to the dead-end of independency, the churches of the ARC are opened up as well to millennial fantasies. Reformed saints in this movement do well to brace themselves for a wild ecclesiastical adventure.
The consequences will be injurious, if not disastrous.
The "Jewish Dreams" of postmillennialism produce practical nightmares.
They take the hope of the church off the coming of Christ and the resurrection of the body. For they direct hope toward the golden age and the carnal kingdom. Just as the "blessed hope" of premillennial dispensationalism is the earthly rapture, so the "blessed hope" of postmillennialism is the kingdom of Christ as earthly world-power. We groan for the redemption of the body (Romans 8:23); the committed postmillennialist groans, if he groans at all, for the millennial kingdom.
Postmillennialist and "Christian Reconstructionist" David Chilton cheerfully informs us that history has "tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of years of increasing godliness ahead of it, before the Second Coming of Christ" (Paradise Restored, Reconstruction Press, 1985, pp.221,222). That Christ will not come for hundreds of thousands of years saddens this postmillennialist not at all. Indeed, this gladdens his heart. For Christ's coming is not his hope; the carnal kingdom is.
In some quarters, postmillennialism leads to passivity where there should be arduous activity. Certain postmillennialists in the British Isles are content to allow the secular state to educate their covenant children, rather than to fulfill the demand of the covenant by establishing good Christian schools. Their reason is that in the millennial kingdom that is coming the state will be Christian, indeed Presbyterian. It will then give Christian instruction in the schools.
Other postmillennialists, particularly the "Christian Reconstructionists," urge an unbiblical activity. They call the church to "Christianize" the world, a task that Holy Scripture nowhere assigns either to the church or to the believer. Christ calls His church to guard against becoming worldly; He does not call her to make the world Christian.
This self-willed servicer of Christ -- a law of man imposed upon Christ's church (which we might call "anthroponomy," 'human law' -- leads, inevitable, to another gross evil. Reformed men and churches make strange, forbidden, wicked alliances in order, by hook or by crook, to build the earthly kingdom of Christ. "Christian Reconstructionists," e.g., are cooperating with charismatics to get dominion. Thus, of course, these Reformed men and churches are exposed to the theology and practices of neo-Penteconstalism. It is as if Luther had begged the help of the "heavenly prophets" in order to advance the Reformation.
The "Christian Reconstruction" brand of postmillennialism introduces the fundamental heresy of judaizing into the circles where it is accepted. This is the imposition upon New Testament Christians of a vast array of Old Testament laws that, according to Article 25 of the Belgic Confession, have been accomplished in Christ, so that the "use of them must be abolished among Christians." In the coming millennial kingdom, the earthly Christian state will decree all the civil, or judicial, laws by which Jehovah governed Old Testament Israel. Presumably, obedience to these laws will again be a matter of conscience for the Reformed believer. The interested reader is invited to read through the Old Testament to discover the number of laws, precepts, statues, and regulations with which the conscience of the Reformed believer will be burdened in the glorious Messianic kingdom of "Christian Reconstruction."
The enormous, and obvious, blunder of "Christian Reconstruction" that results in such bondage, as well as in the innumerable hefty tomes of instruction in and controversy over this Reformed "utopia " -- this "no-place," this "never-never-land" -- is the failure to understand that the fulfillment of Old Testament. Israel is not a future, earthly Christian world power, but the church. The fulfillment of Old Testament Israel as a nation is the church -- the present, spiritual church. The apostle of Christ teaches in I Peter 2:9: "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people."
The New Testament reality of the nation of Israel, the real kingdom of God in the world, does not legislate and execute the civil laws of the Old Testament. It has no use for the civil laws of the shadow-nation. For the church is a spiritual realm. She does not, e.g., put adulterers and homosexuals to death. Where there is a public, impenitent practice of these sins, the church exercises disciplines, which is a spiritual key of the kingdom of heaven. Her purpose is the repentance of the sinner, so that she may again receive him into her fellowship.
Not the least of the practical evils of postmillennialism is that it ill-prepares the people of God for the struggle that lies ahead, shortly before the return of the Lord. Postmillennialism denies a future Antichrist and a future great tribulation for the true church. All of this lies in the past. The future is rosy.
But, as the Second Helvetic Confession observed, "evangelical truth in Matt., ch. 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."
As a confessional, biblical Reformed denomination, the Protestant Reformed Churches are not open to postmillennialism. It is their solemn duty from the soon-coming Christ to expose the hopes of postmillennialism as "Jewish Dreams."
We do urgently warn our own people and all who will hear us that the kingdom of the beast will come. Indeed, it is coming now. Its features are distinct in a lawless society, an apostate church, and a uniting world of nations.
Rather then be deluded by "Jewish Dreams" Reformed Christians and their children must heed sober Christian reality.
Be prepared for the Antichrist!
Hope for the second coming of Christ!
Hope only for the second coming of Christ!