Previous article in this series: May 15, 2019, p. 379.
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.” Hebrews 10:16
“Why will God…have the ten commandments so strictly preached? .That we may become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us in a life to come.” Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 115
In previous articles in this series, I explained this “postscript” to my treatment of premillennialism’s doctrine of the last things, or eschatology. Although the content of this “postscript” is not strictly the premillennial doctrine of the last things, it is a necessary and extremely important implication of premillennialism’s theology of the end. It is dispensational premillennialism’s opposition to, and rejection of, the law of God consisting of the Ten Commandments as the rule of the holy life of the New Testament believer.
Premillennialism is antinomian, that is, literally, and actually, against the law.
In this aspect of its theology also, in addition to its false eschatology, premillennialism is a foe of the Reformed faith, and the Reformed faith, on its part, is the sworn foe of premillennialism.
In the previous articles in this series, I demonstrated the truth of the charge that dispensational premillennialism is antinomian both from some of the originators of that heresy and from several of the contemporary, supposedly more “moderate” defenders of the false doctrine. I also exposed as erroneous the explanation of Romans 10:4 (“Christ is the end of the law”) that makes the law “obsolete,” as though Christ did away with the law altogether.
In this article, I return to the observation I made in a previous article, that the antinomism of premillennialism is of special importance to members of the Protestant Reformed Churches, as well as to many others in other Reformed churches in North America, because of the controversy in the Christian Reformed Church over premillennialism in the early 1900s.
The capable and influential Christian Reformed preacher, Harry Bultema, embraced, defended, and attempted to spread in the Reformed community the theology of dispensational premillennialism. In a popular booklet of more than one hundred pages, Bultema argued the premillennial case for the abolition of the law.
With Herman Hoeksema playing a leading role, the Christian Reformed Synod of 1918 condemned Bultema’s premillennial theology. Although the synodical condemnation did not center on Bultema’s, and premillennialism’s, antinomism, the condemnation did extend to the antinomism of the heresy. From this controversy and its outcome, members of the Protestant Reformed Churches and other Reformed believers ought to be alerted to the threat of the popular error of premillennialism. They ought also to be confirmed in the Reformed faith over against the error, particularly against its view of the law—antinomism.
Premillennialist Bultema’s antinomism
Harry Bultema made clear at the outset of his advocacy of antinomism that his rejection of the law was part and parcel of his premillennial eschatology. In the “Foreword” to his small book, he announced “the return of the Lord for the taking up of His church and somewhat later for the restoration of Israel and the establishment of His kingdom.” This is vintage premillennialism.
But the main message of the book was the vehement declaration that the law of the Ten Commandments is not for believers. It is not for believers as a rule of the thankful, Christian life. Bultema condemned the teaching that “one must keep the law…as a proof of gratitude.” Such teaching is “blindness and folly.” For them [believers in the New Testament church—DJE], the law has nothing more to demand.” “God has ordained His holy law in no way for His Church, justified and sanctified in Christ.” Frankly, Bultema uttered his misguided “here I stand”: “I stand now in the holy conviction, that neither the law of Moses in its entirety, nor the law of the ten commandments in particular, is the rule of gratitude for the believers.”5
Drawing out the implication of premillennialism’s radical differentiation between Israel and the church, Bultema contended that “the law was given to Israel and not to us and is altogether no longer of application to us as law and rule.”6
With regard to New Testament believers and their children, “the law neither can nor may be proposed as rule of the new life of believers.”7
Clearly showing his dispensational colors, Bultema declared that he would not preach the law to the church, because “the law was given to Israel and not to the Congregation.”8 Only the error that supposes that the New Testament “Congregation is Israel” allows for the preaching of the law to the New Testament congregation.9
With the characteristic antinomian misunderstanding of Romans 10:4, Bultema contended that “the law…began with Moses and ended with Christ, Rom. 10:4.”10 Not that the law found its goal in Christ, so that, fulfilled in Him, it now functions as the authoritative rule of the Christian life. But the law ended with Christ, so that, as concerns the believer, the law is no more! With the ministry of Christ, the law is abolished!
The law may not, therefore, be preached “als levensregel” [English: “rule of life”].11
As one, especially as a preacher, who had fallen away from the Reformed faith and life, Bultema expressed his opposition to the law even more forcefully than do those who have cut their theological teeth on premillennialism. Striking out at the Reformed doctrine that the law functions “as rule of life for the believer,”—the so-called third use of the law—Bultema passed this judgment on the Reformed faith’s “third use of the law”:
This is an unproved conception, for which one can furnish not a particle of proof in the entire Scripture. It is a conception which people continue to maintain apparently only from the power of the tradition and for popular appeal, to the great shame of the spiritual life of believers.12
To this challenge, of course, the Reformed Christian does not respond by trying to find a text in the New Testament that states, “The Ten Commandments are the rule of the Christian life.” But he appeals to the Ten Commandments themselves. The preface to the commandments describes them as the will of God for the life of those whom God has delivered from the bondage of sin into the liberty of serving God in love for Him (Ex. 20:2).
When the premillennialist responds by denying the essential oneness of the true Israel of God in the Old Testament with the New Testament church, so that the Ten Commandments applied only to physical Jews, not to the spiritual Israel, having the faith of father Abraham, which is the New Testament church, the Reformed Christian replies, “This is the issue between us, and your sin—you deny the oneness of the people of God; the oneness of the Savior of the one people of God; and the oneness of salvation as faith in Jesus Christ, which shows itself by thankful obedience to the one will of God for His redeemed people.”
“Besides,” asks the Reformed Christian of the law-rejecting premillennialist, “are we to suppose that the worship of the one, true God only, as commanded by the law in Exodus 20, was the will of God only for the Jews in the Old Testament? Are we similarly to suppose that the prohibition of murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness against the neighbor, and coveting, as also the requirement to honor one’s parents, applied only to the Old Testament nation of Israel?
“They do not apply to the life of the New Testament Christian?”
Why are all the Ten Commandments repeatedly enjoined upon the members of the New Testament church in the New Testament Scripture? For instance, if the Ten Commandments are no longer the rule of the grateful life of the members of the New Testament church, why does the apostle command the children of believers to obey and honor their parents, identifying the command as “the first commandment with promise” in the law of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 (Eph. 6:1-3)?
(to be continued)
1 H. Bultema, Het Wettig Gebruik der Wet [English translation: The Lawful Use of the Law. To my knowledge the booklet has not been translated. All quotations from the book in this article are my translation of the Dutch—DJE] (Muskegon, MI: Bereer Publishing Comm., 1922).
5 Bultema, 43.
6 Bultema, 49.
7 Bultema, 53.
8 Bultema, 83.
9 Bultema, 83.
10 Bultema, 84.
11 Bultema, 88.
12 Bultema, 99.