Previous article in this series: January 15, 2015, p. 180.
“The doctrine of the future is the best known element in dispensational theology, and at the same time, the least important…. [The] underlying concept [of dispensational theology] is the difference between Israel and the church.”
“[Separating Israel and the church, dispensationalists] fundamentally misunderstand the Bible…. Dispensationalism… divides the people of God…. It divides the people of God into the endless future…. This proves that dispensationalism is not a biblical doctrine but is, in fact, anti-biblical at its essential level.”
“Dispensationalism…destroys the salvation message.”
– John H. Gerstner, “Primer on Dispensationalism”
Confessional, Reformed Doctrine about the Church
For a Reformed Christian it is binding, creedal doctrine that God has, and has ever had, only one, unified people—the elect church composed of believing Jews and Gentiles—in the one Savior, Jesus the Christ, who is both the church’s Head and the church’s King. That in the time of the Old Testament the vast majority were of Jewish descent and that in the time of the New Testament the vast majority are non-Jews, or Gentiles, makes no essential difference. The church is the body and kingdom of the Messiah, or Christ, of which elect believers in God, as He makes Himself known in His Messiah, are the members and citizens.
What dost thou believe concerning the Holy Catholic Church?
That out of the whole human race, from the beginning to the end of the world, the Son of God, by his Spirit and Word, gathers, defends, and preserves for himself unto everlasting life, a chosen communion in the unity of the true faith… 1
For a Reformed Christian it is binding, creedal doctrine that Jesus is not only the Head of the church, but also the King of the church, in contradiction of premillennialism’s teaching that Jesus is Head of the church, but King only of the coming nation of Jews.
We believe and profess one catholic or universal Church, which is a holy congregation and assembly of true Christian believers…. This Church hath been from the beginning of the world, and will be to the end thereof; which is evident from this, that Christ is an eternal king…2
Article 27 of the Belgic Confession identifies Jesus Christ as King of the church, indicating that the church is the kingdom of God in the world, contrary to dispensationalism’s doctrine that the church and the kingdom are two distinct, different, and eternally separate peoples and that Jesus is King, not of the church but of the coming nation of the Jews.
The Catechism on the Second Petition
Likewise, the Heidelberg Catechism teaches that the church of Jesus is the kingdom of God. To the question concerning the meaning of the second petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” the Catechism answers: “Preserve and increase thy Church.”3 Premillennialists of all stripes flatly deny that the church is the kingdom of God: “The church is not the kingdom.”4
Denying that the church is the kingdom of God, premillennialism explains the kingdom in the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer as the earthly kingdom of the nation of Israel that will someday be re-established as God’s kingdom on earth, in Palestine.
According to A. McClain, the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer requires us to ask God to establish “on earth, the historic nation of Israel.” The “favored nation” constituting the kingdom on behalf of which Christians pray in the second petition “will be the Israel of history.” The petition desires “a regathering of the dispersed nation [of Israel] back into the land from which they were cast out…[with] a restoration of ancient privileges and rights.” The “capital [of the kingdom of God of the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer] will be the city of Jerusalem.”5
Condemning this theory as erroneous interpretation of the biblical kingdom of God and as false doctrine, the Heidelberg Catechism confesses the kingdom of God to be the church of both Old and New Testaments.
Also, when the Catechism goes on to affirm that the “full coming of [God’s] kingdom” will have God being “all in all,” it condemns premillennialism.6 For premillennialism, the full coming of the kingdom of God is the millennial kingdom of national Israel. But, as premillennialism must acknowledge, God is not “all in all” in their millennial kingdom, for there are still sin and sinners, indeed reprobate sinners, in the millennial kingdom, to say nothing of the threat of a brooding, though bound, Satan.
For Reformed Christianity, the full coming of the kingdom of God, in which God will be all in all (), will be the perfecting of the church at the future, one coming of Jesus Christ in the body to raise all the dead, conduct the final judgment, and re-create the heaven and the earth as the home of the members of the church, who are also the citizens of the kingdom. According to , God will be all in all when “all things shall be subdued unto him.” This will not happen in the millennial kingdom of premillennialism, by the admission of all. But according to the Reformed Heidelberg Catechism, this will take place at the one, only future establishment of the kingdom for which all Christians hope, or should hope: the full perfecting of the kingdom, at the end of history and the onset of eternity.
One Church from the Beginning
Both Article 27 of the Belgic Confession and Q&A 54 of the Heidelberg Catechism confess that the church has existed, as the one people of God, from the very beginning of the world, that is, from God’s pronouncement of the promise of the gospel of Jesus the Christ to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15. This contradicts the teaching that is fundamental to premillennialism, namely, that the church was born on the day of Pentecost. Prior to Pentecost, according to premillennialism, the church did not exist.
Although present-day, supposedly more “moderate,” or “progressive,” premillennialists howl at the charge in affected outrage (without disproving that this was the teaching of the earliest proponents of premillennialism and is still the inescapable implication of dispensational teaching, and without a frank confession of the gross wickedness of the teaching), there is good reason to charge that for dispensational premillennialism the church was not in the mind of God from the beginning of His thinking and planning of history. God’s purpose was the kingdom of Israel, as an earthly kingdom with carnal benefits. Only because the Jews rejected this kingdom, which Jesus supposedly offered the Jews at His first coming, with Himself as King (as though the Jews of Jesus’ day were opposed to the earthly kingdom and carnal kingship that Jesus supposedly offered the Jews!), did God interrupt His program for history by turning to the Gentiles for the forming of the church.
According to all premillennialists, whether the original teachers or the later, purportedly more “moderate,” theologians, the church did not exist until the day of Pentecost. C. I. Scofield, he of the notes of the Scofield Bible, one of the original teachers, wrote that “the birth of the Church [was] in Acts 2.”7 John F. Walvoord flatly declared that “prior to Pentecost there was no church.”8 Charles C. Ryrie affirmed that “the Church…is a distinct entity in this present age” and that “the Church could not have begun until Pentecost, and it had to begin on that day.”9 The still more moderate George Eldon Ladd likewise contended that “the Church properly speaking had its birthday on the day of Pentecost.”10
Condemned and Banned by the Creeds
As I have stated, it is not my purpose here to enter into controversy with premillennialism concerning its false doctrine of the church. For the exposure of the premillennial error concerning the church, the reader should consult the books mentioned above, especially Gerstner, Allis, Hoeksema, and Bavinck. My purpose here is only to demonstrate that premillennialism stands condemned as un-Reformed by the Reformed creeds, some of which I have cited in the preceding paragraphs.
For a Reformed Christian, it is binding, creedal doctrine that the church existed in the Old Testament. It existed, originally, in the fellowship of our first parents, Adam and Eve, who worshiped their gracious God in the hope of the promise of the coming seed of the woman, who is Jesus Christ. In the gathering of the two of them for worship in the name of the coming seed, the Christ was in their midst (see).
Then the church existed in the family of Adam and Eve. Abel’s bringing of an offering to Jehovah indicates some form of worship, the spiritual activity of the church (). Inasmuch as Abel’s offering was “of the firstlings of his flock [of sheep],” the worship by Adam’s household was founded upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, in typical form. Though with only rudimentary knowledge, the church that was the household of Adam and Eve raised to God its worship of praise and gratitude for the redemption of the cross. In principle, that earliest worship was the worship of the church of Jesus Christ in His name and on the basis of His atoning death. Even more formal worship of the Lord by the extended family of Adam and Eve, as the worshiping church, is indicated by the statement in : “then began men to call upon the name of the Lord”.
In the ark, though they numbered only eight persons, was the church. Peter identifies Noah and his family as the church, essentially one with the church of the New Testament, even though he does not use the term “church.” For the apostle teaches that the water by which Noah and his family were “saved” was essentially the same as the water of New Testament baptism. The water of the flood, like the water of the sacrament of baptism, signified and sealed to Noah and his family “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (). This good conscience comes only by the justification based on the cross of Christ. And insists that the water of the flood spoke to Noah and his family, as the water of our baptism speaks to us today, of salvation “by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” A body of persons cleansed by the blood of Christ and saved by the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the church of Jesus Christ.
The church existed in the midst of the nation of Israel as the seven thousand who did not bow their knees to Baal (), or the remnant according to the election of grace among the Jews ( ).
It is creedal, binding, Reformed doctrine, therefore, for all Reformed believers that the teaching of premillennial dispensations is false doctrine. No Reformed minister or theologian may teach the doctrine. No member of a Reformed church may believe it. That professing Christians in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area who claim to be Reformed flock to premillennial churches, particularly Calvary Church and its daughter, Mars Hill, is evidence, not only that these deluded people have wrongly abandoned the Reformed faith, but also that many Reformed churches, which these converts to premillennialism left, miserably failed to warn them concerning the heresy of premillennialism. The readiness of many in Reformed churches to abandon covenant theology and to convert to premillennial dispensationalism is an indictment of the Reformed churches and their pastors for their lack of solid instruction of their members, especially the lack of catechizing the children and youth, which includes warning against the errors of premillennialism.
I do not make the foolish boast that no member of a Protestant Reformed church will ever fall away to a premillennial church, any more than I would contend that no member of a Protestant Reformed church will ever apostatize to outright unbelief. But I do maintain that no member of a Protestant Reformed church, whose pastor has fulfilled his calling, will ever be a member of a premillennial church without a guilty conscience, or will ever hear the heresies of a restored nation of Israel and the folly of the rapture without being smitten in his or her soul by the truth of the one covenant of the grace of God in Jesus Christ with its one hope of eternal life in the new creation, in which truth he or she was indoctrinated by a soundly Reformed church.
Since its teaching of the millennium is rooted in its heretical doctrine of dispensations, the premillennial teaching about the thousand years of Revelation 20 must be, and is, also erroneous.
As will be demonstrated.
… to be continued.
1 Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 54, in Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966), 324-25.
2 Belgic Confession, Art. 27, in ibid., 416, 417.
3 Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 123, in ibid., 352; emphasis added.
4 Kenneth L. Barker, “The Scope and Center of Old and New Testament Theology and Hope,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, ed. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 316. Ominously (with regard to the NIV translation of the Bible), Barker is identified as “Executive Director, NIV Translation Center, International Bible Society” (table of contents).
5 Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (Winona Lake, Indiana: BMH Books, 1959), 148-152.
6 Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 123, in Schaff, Creeds, 352-353.
7 C. I. Scofield, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (New York and Chicago: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), 9.
8 John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question, revised and enlarged ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 65.
9 Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), 135, 137.
10 George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959; repr. 1981), 117.