Premillennial vs. Glorious

Premillennial vs. Glorious
Written by: Larry Elliott


"What is Premillennial anyway?"

This week we come to a passage of Revelation that has long been discussed, debated, loved, and hated - commonly referred to as the “Millennial Kingdom.”

Alan F. Johnson, Professor of Bible and Theology at Wheaton College sums up the difficulties of this passage in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary as follows: “The exegesis of this passage leads me to a premillennial interpretation. It should be recognized, however, that there are problems with this view of Revelation 20:1-6, just as there are problems with other views of this difficult portion of the book, and that responsible Christian scholars vary in its interpretation according to their convictions and presuppositions.”

What exactly is the Millennial Kingdom? When does it happen? Who is involved and why is it important? These and a host of other questions have been the topic of much discussion and debate over hundreds of years – I am quite sure I can clarify it all in the next few paragraphs!
This 1,000-year kingdom is revealed to us in Revelation 20:1-6. This is, to be sure, a weighty theological issue with divergent views. Let us begin by defining some terms. It is helpful to know the basic positions of premillennialism, postmillennialism and amillennialism. I will attempt to define them in their basic premise though I am sure proponents of any specific “camp” will be disappointed in my definitions because in every case there are multiple variations of the theological position.

Let us begin with premillennialism. Premillennialism is the theological position that the bodily, visible return of Christ happens prior to the establishing of his 1,000-year reign over an earthly kingdom. This view of the kingdom is based on the covenants God has made with the nation of Israel that remain yet unfulfilled - Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, New. The early church largely held to this view until the 4th Century work of Tyconius.

Conversely, postmillennialism is the theological position that the bodily, visible return of Christ will occur after the 1,000-year kingdom reign has been completed. This kingdom is said to take place as the gospel triumphs over a thousand-year period of earth’s history. Most postmillennialists view this as still future though many are not convinced that it need be a literal 1,000-year period.
Amillennialism is the theological position that denies there will be a millennial reign before or after Christ’s return. This position is based on the silence of the rest of scripture regarding such a reign finding it referenced solely in the Revelation passage.

I am aware that these are wholly inadequate and overly simplistic definitions but for our purposes they must do. How, you might ask, have we arrived at such widely divergent views of the same passage of scripture? The short answer is hermeneutics! The interpretive principles used to approach scripture dictate, to a large degree, our view of specific passages and lead us to certain conclusions.

The premillennial view has historically been held by conservative, dispensational scholars who are bound by historical, grammatical, contextual, literal interpretive principles. However, when it comes to prophetic literature there are often disagreements about what is to be taken symbolically and what is to be taken literally. These differences have resulted in the variations cited above.

Premillennialism & the EFCA Doctrinal Statement
In February of 2017, the EFCA Board of Directors made a motion to change a word in the EFCA Statement of Faith. The motion was to change “premillennial” to “glorious” in Article 9. It reads as follows:

“We believe in the personal, bodily and glorious (previously premillennial) return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.” (EFCA Statement of Faith, Article 9, Christ’s Return)

On June 19, 2019, delegates of the 132nd EFCA Conference approved the Motion to Amend Article 9 of the Statement of Faith – 79% of voting delegates affirmed the Motion.

This action may well raise some questions. I would direct you to this link to a Q & A session between Ed Stetzer and Greg Strand for additional detail,

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2019/august/one-on-one-with-greg-strand-on-premillenialism-and-efca.html

The basic premise of this decision has to do with the EFCA’s long standing emphasis on unity with others who hold to a Biblical understanding of the essentials of salvation.  Greg Strand, EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing clarifies in this statement from the above interchange.

“Our SOF (Statement of Faith) reflects a desire for unity in the fundamental tenets of the gospel. We are silent on those doctrines which through the centuries have divided Christians, fellow believers who affirm the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. We were silent except in this one place—where we came down on one particular view—and we required that only those who are premillennialists can be full members of our association, and in many cases, of our churches.
You can be young earth or old earth, you can be Covenantal or Dispensational, you can be Arminian or Calvinist (I listed those alphabetically!), you can be baptistic or paedobaptistic, you can be cessationist or continuationist, but you must be premillennial.”


Please note that all EFCA pastors will still be required to affirm the SOF “without mental reservation” – meaning an affirmation of the inerrancy of the word of God, the deity of Christ, the fallen nature of man… and all that is included in this doctrinal statement.

https://www.efca.org/resources/document/efca-statement-faith

This position, premillennial, was the one statement that did not promote a unity centered on the truth of the gospel. Like pre or mid tribulation, like modes of baptism, like early or old earth…pre or post millennialism are positions of a secondary or tertiary concern.

What this does not mean:
  • I can no longer hold my premillennial convictions and teach the scripture with this as my hermeneutic.
  • We have abandoned inerrancy (see Article 2) or any of the other essential doctrines of our 1950 Statement of Faith – sin, redemption, grace, the church…

This quote from EFCA past President is an excellent summary of all I have tried to say:

“Since the first days of the Christian church, evangelicals have been looking for that blessed hope and glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ. They may have disagreed as to the timing and just what events are on the eschatological calendar. They may have differed as to a pre-tribulation or post-tribulation rapture; the pre-, post- or non-millennial coming. They may have divided as to a literal rebirth of Israel, but all are agreed that the final solution to the problems of this world are in the hands of the King of Kings, who will some day make the kingdoms of this world His very own. At times in history the flame of hope has been burning brightly in the darkness of persecution. At other times the entire church has been asleep, but asleep while waiting. As Bible believers we are united in looking for a personal return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." - Dr. Arnold T. Olson's address at the International Prophetic Conference in Jerusalem in 1971.

I must confess my own struggles with embracing this change. I understand the intent, the current inconsistencies, the rationale and I personally voted in favor of the change but my convictions lean to a premillennial position even knowing it is an imperfect system, it seems to fit the whole of scripture as I understand it. Having said that, I embrace this change as consistent with the EFCA commitment to “majoring on the majors” and not allowing any non-essential to hinder the unity of the body Christ. 
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