A Reformed Commentary on the 2020 Pandemic (Part 2) – July 2020 “Standard Bearer”

July Standard Bearer preview articleThe July 2020 issue of the Standard Bearer (produced only once per month in June, July, and August) is now out (in print and digital forms). This is our annual “PRC Synod” post-view issue, complete with a wrap-up of Synod 2020’s decisions and some photos of the delegates at work and in fellowship.

But the issue also contains a regular editorial and a number of other scheduled rubric articles, including Prof. D. Kuiper’s next installment on the ecumenical councils of the early church (Constantinople 381), Rev. J. Laning’s article on “God’s Sure Promise,” a powerful mission article with testimonies from the Philippines’ field, Rev. R. Barnhill’s second article on “Entitlement” (especially for the young people), a book review by Prof. R. Cammenga on Mrs. S. Casemier’s new historical novel on Katie Luther, and the latest church news.

The editorial by Prof. B. Gritters is another timely commentary on the pandemic (part 2) that continues to sweep the world and affect our lives in every aspect. He argues that Reformed theology presents the best commentary on what we are seeing and experiencing, looking this time at the last two parts of Reformed doctrine – Eschatology and Christology. Here is part of what he has to say:

We live in a very difficult time, when our Father’s hand brings disease and gives the world over to the lawlessness it so fervently seeks.

Reformed theology has the best, really the only, way to interpret for the people of God these otherwise strange and fearful happenings in the world. Reformed theology, we are convinced, is simply the doctrine of the Bible, and the Bible is the lens through which the believer must look in order to bring order out of the disorder. That is, Reformed theology is faith’s seeing what unbelief and false teaching cannot see. Reformed theology is faith’s understanding of what unbelief and heresy finds utterly confounding.

Last time I gave a sampling of doctrines from four of the six chapters (loci) of Reformed theology that help clarify what otherwise might be fuzzy to men, that shed light on what otherwise might be dim or even dark. That editorial treated theology and God’s sovereign providence and just judgments; anthropology and man’s fall into sin and death; soteriology and the graces of sanctification and hope that God works through affliction; ecclesiology and the importance of public worship and the relationship between church and state. Here, I follow up with the last two chapters, eschatology and Christology.

Eschatology (The Doctrine of the End Times): Heaven on Earth?

If it’s true that Christians wrongly react to the pandemic, and churches wrongly explain troubles in the world on account of bad theology, anthropology, soteriology, and ecclesiology, it is even more so on account of false teachings in eschatology. Eschatology teaches the people of God what to expect in the end times, what is the goal of God with the church’s labors in the world, to what believers ought to aim, and unto what they press their efforts. Eschatology deals with the future—the near future and the distant future, the future of the church and the future of this world, the future of the devil and his hosts and the future of King Jesus and His relationship to all created things.

Getting eschatology wrong has been disastrous for most nominal Christians these days because their hope is earthly. Their expectations are for improvements here and now, soon. They believe God’s goal with the church’s labor is a Christianized world. So they press their efforts to fulfill the ‘cultural mandate.’ They labor hard to create an earthly kingdom. Rather than to carry out the Great Commission to bring to the nations the gospel of forgiveness in Jesus Christ, they want to redeem society from its chaos. Their desire is to bring the nations the ‘good news’ of social equality, food for the poor, clean water, justice for women and other oppressed people, and probably a vaccine for COVID-19. They are convinced that these are what God wants for the world and that the church is the instrument to bring them about. But note well, it is not the church as institute that carries out this work, through her offices, but the church as organism.

In addition to being bad ecclesiology, it’s also false teaching regarding eschatology. Instead of quickening hope in the coming of Christ, the false teaching leads to despondency, because the depressing happenings in the world do not bode well for a Christianized world. And as for the nominal Christian church—her drift towards Roman Catholicism and her ecumenical adulteries have rendered her impotent for gospel good.

Someone once said that when a man expects to be “hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” Wrong eschatology dulls one’s thinking, lulls the church to sleep. She now imagines a future of ease and prosperity. Her mind is not ‘concentrated’ at all, but clouded and then confused. If the future is to be so bright, how can such evils increase in the world? And what can be done to turn the world into a peaceful place, to make the crooked straight and the rough places plain, when men and nations are so vile? Their hopes are shaken. Worse, they expose themselves to the allurements of the Antichrist who, Scripture teaches, will someday solve the world’s problems.

This is the major error of neo-Calvinism today, in which the false teaching of ‘common grace’ predominates special, redeeming grace. Common grace prided itself in being a ‘two-track’ theology—special saving grace on one track, common grace on the other. God’s ‘common grace’ will remedy the world’s violence, poverty, injustice. Special grace saves souls and prepares them for heaven. But the two-track theology has become a monorail of common grace. Neo-Calvinists focus on the common grace that will save bodies and give a good life on earth. Neo-Calvinism is completely exposed to N.T. Wright’s “heaven is on earth” mantra.

The bracing realism of Reformed orthodoxy ‘concentrates our minds wonderfully.’ Reformed theology focuses our minds on, and directs our efforts to, preaching the gospel of God’s gracious salvation and establishing churches. Reformed ecclesiology teaches that the true church is the “Israel of God,” the new ‘nation’ for which He cares, and that the church institute is the messenger of that gospel. And Reformed eschatology is a-millennial.

Biblical doctrine of the end times promises victory to the church by faith in Jesus Christ. But it teaches that the victory comes through tribulation, suffering, persecution (John 16:33, Acts 14:22). It teaches that Christ’s coming is preceded by wars and rumors of war, pestilence and other troubles in this life, and apostasy in the church (II Thess. 2). It teaches that the days right before the coming of Christ will be like the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37-39), terrible days of apostasy and unbelief when the true church will be small and preachers of God’s righteousness ridiculed.

So Reformed eschatology helps believers to see clearly and to keep balanced in troubling times like today.

To read further in this issue, visit this link. To subscribe to the magazine, go here.

Premillennialism, Revelation 20, and the Great Tribulation – D.J. Engelsma

Also in the March 15, 2015 issue of the Standard Bearer,under the rubric “Things Which Must Shortly Come to Pass”, Prof. (emeritus, PRC Seminary) David J. Engelsma delves deeper into the errors of premillennialism by taking on its explanation of Revelation 20, a key passage for a proper understanding of the doctrine of the last things (eschatology) and the believer’s hope of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Among the serious errors that Engelsma addresses in this article is the error of teaching that the NT church (Christians) will avoid the “great tribulation” (trial of persecution) at the end of this age. Properly showing how dangerous this is to the life and hope of the believer, Engelsma makes these comments – comments that ought to alert us to our true hope of the one coming of Christafter the tribulation – indeed, to deliver His own out of the midst of this fierce battle with its great personal cost.

Let every Reformed, indeed Protestant, reader take note that premillennialism has the coming great tribulation fall upon the Jews.  We Christians will be exempt, for we, of course, are supposed to be in the air somewhere or other while the tribulation rages.  All Christians will have been raptured before Antichrist rampages on the stage of world history.

…This exemption of the church and the Christian from the persecution of Antichrist is an outstanding sin of premillennial doctrine.  The sin is eminently practical.  Premillennialism does not prepare God’s people for the looming threat of persecution for Christ’s sake at the hands of the antichristian world-power.  In this respect, premillennialism is one with postmillennialism.  Both of the millennial errors assure the church of the 21st century that she has nothing to fear, or prepare for, with regard to suffering the great tribulation.  Premil-lennialism tells the church that she will be raptured prior to Antichrist’s raging in the world, and that the object of his hatred will be the Jews.  Postmillennialism preaches to the church that, whoever the Antichrist was and whenever he carried out his antichristian work, Antichrist and his fulminations are safely in the past.

     Exempting the church from the persecution by Antichrist helps explain the popularity of the two millennial errors.  Humans shrink from persecution, especially from that persecution about which our Lord said, “such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” (Matt. 24:21).

     Nevertheless, this is altogether the wrong attitude of Reformed Christians with regard to the coming persecution.  The believer should regard it an unspeakably great privilege to be counted worthy by the Savior to confess that Jesus is Lord in the face of the greatest attack on God and His Anointed in all history, and to seal this confession with his suffering and even with his blood.  And the divine reward for this spiritual battle against the beast and this faithfulness to Jesus will be correspondingly great.  This reward is described in Revelation 20:4-6:  resurrection in the soul at the moment of death into the life and glory of heaven, where they reign with Christ.

Premillennialism: Why a Reformed Critique?

StandardBearerIn the November 1, 2014 issue of The Standard Bearer professor emeritus (PRC Seminary) David J.Engelsma began a new series on premillennialism in connection with his rubric “Things Which Must Shortly Come to Pass.” In pointing out the absurdity of dispensational premillennialism Engelsma raises the question whether it deserves serious attention from the Reformed camp. “…A Reformed teacher might be tempted to limit his critique to the bare statement that premillennialism is un-Reformed and ridiculous, or to ignore premillennialism altogether” (p.59).

But he goes on to show why we ought to consider it and critique it carefully, both biblically and confessionally. I give you here his first three reasons why Reformed Christians ought to and why, therefore, he intends to continue a lengthy series on this significant error.

First, premillennialism is a theological explanation of the thousand-year period of Revelation 20. A thorough study of the millennium, therefore, ought also to take premillennialism into account.

Second, by contrasting his amillennial belief with the premillennial error the Reformed Christian will better and more clearly understand the truth he confesses.

Third, even though premillennialism is un-Reformed from stem to stern and is not the internal threat to the doctrine of the last things for Reformed Christians that postmillennialism is, premillennialism is prevalent and popular in Christian circles. Likely, a majority of Christian churches today proclaim the gospel of premillennialism and entertain themselves of a Sunday evening by producing and studying elaborate premillennial charts. Multitudes of professing Christians believe, support, and witness to the premillennial gospel, making their ‘blessed hope’ (Titus 2:13) the rapture of themselves out of the world and its history at any moment.

“In 2014, Heaven is Still Our Hope”

SBLogoSuch is the title Prof.Barrett Gritters gives to his editorial in the January 1, 2014 issue of the The Standard Bearer. In the face of the contemporary enemies of the gospel who speak of heaven (and hell!) as being only on this earth and in the here and now, Prof.Gritters writes about the believer’s only true hope in this world of sin, suffering and sorrow – his glorified perfection in heaven in the presence of his precious Savior.

Below is some of what he wrote. I pray that it encourages you to remember what we live for and aim for, also in 2014. A blessed New Year to you and yours!

Although I would be heckled off the podium at most Christian universities and even Reformed colleges if I began a speech with such a line, I still confess with all the conviction my heart can muster: ‘Heaven is still my hope. Heaven is still my home.’

As the year of our Lord 2014 begins, my prayer for you, readers of the the Standard Bearer, is that you still hope for heaven, too.

We look to the future and embrace what our hearts are set on: heaven. As the world becomes increasingly wicked, we await with joyful anticipation our life in the presence of God and His saints – in heaven. As the church becomes more and more apostate, caring little for biblical righteousness and less for truth, we eagerly await heaven. As we become older, our thoughts more and more turn to our future home – to heaven and dwelling in eternity with God.

This is our hope.

…The deep error of those whose hopes have gone offtrack is to ignore the truth that Jesus is coming again – physically and bodily, as He ascended (Acts 1:11). Coming again for judgment. Coming again to redeem His earthly creation. Coming to resurrect those who fell asleep in Him and to change their bodies into heavenly bodies just as He changed their souls into heavenly souls when they died (I Cor.15!). Coming soon.

This earth will be destroyed. It is not salvageable by man. The political machines of the world will not be Christianized. The court systems of this world will not mete out justice, but more and more promote wickedness and condemn the godly. And when the cup of iniquity has been filled and the people of God are persecuted for standing for truth, then believers will cry out more than they do now, ‘Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Rend the heavens, and come down! Deliver us from our adversaries! And justify Thyself before all those who have rejected Thee!’

The hymn was right: ‘This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.’

In 2014, our hope is still heaven (pp.148-151).

Concerning the Millennium – December “Tabletalk”

Not a Simple Matter by Burk Parsons | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

TT-Dec2013As we begin a new month, the final one of 2013, we take a brief look at the latest issue of Ligonier Ministries’ Tabletalk magazine. This issue is devoted to the theme of “The Millennium”, i.e., the varying views found in the church today on the end of the world and the return of Jesus Christ, especially as set forth in Revelation 20.

Burk Parson provides his customary introduction to this topic under his editor’s column “Coram Deo – Before the Face of God”. He titles this editorial “Not a Simple Matter”, describing how the church has struggled to understand Revelation 20 and other passages relating to eschatology. Here is his closing paragraph:

If you are among the many Christians who find it difficult to understand eschatology (the doctrine of last things) and have found yourself in a quandary in the millennial maze, you are not alone. Even some of the church’s greatest scholars, past and present, have admitted their own struggle to understand the Bible’s teaching on the last things and the millennium. It is not a simple matter. Nevertheless, it is a biblical matter and therefore an important matter, one we should never stop studying as we continually strive to rightly divide the Word of Truth for our edification and for God’s glory as we eagerly anticipate the return of our conquering King, Jesus Christ, when we will see Him and reign with Him coram Deo, before His face forever.

Yesterday I also read the first main article on “The Millennium”. Keith Mathison in his article “The Millennial Maze” provides an overview of the four major views of eschatology: historic premillennialism, dispensational premillennialism, postmillennialism, and amillennialism. Though brief, Mathison’s descriptions are accurate and also give concrete examples of figures in the church who have held these positions.

This is how Mathison opens his article (with a little humor):

I once heard someone define the millennium as a thousand-year period of time during which Christians fight over the proper interpretation of the book of Revelation. While amusing, that definition is obviously incorrect. Christians have been fighting over the proper interpretation of the book of Revelation for two thousand years. In all seriousness, however, all of the fighting has led some Christians to adopt despairingly a position they call panmillennialism (we don’t know which view of the millennium is correct, but we know it will all pan out in the end).

While we may smirk at these comments, and also acknowledge the difficulty in understanding the Bible’s teaching on the return of our Lord, we should also be clear that the problem is NOT the Bible’s clarity, but our own frail and feeble understanding.

It is inconceivable that Jesus would leave us in the dark about such an important event, and indeed we believe that His teachings are plain and simple. But because of our own limited understanding, as well as sin and pride, we do not grasp His teaching as we ought.

Having said that, I firmly believe that the amillennial position – in spite of the shortcomings of its name – is the correct one, and that all the others are in error on this matter. To my mind this position best reflects the plain and simple teaching of the Word of God. And, I might add, also the teaching of the historic creeds of the church (especially the Reformed creeds).

May God give us true light on this important doctrine even as we live in these last days. And may that true light give us true hope for the one, final coming  of our Savior and Lord.

The Real Hope of the Reformed Believer: Christ’s Personal Return & Reign – D.J.Engelsma

StandardBearerAnother excellent article I read yesterday came from the June 2013 issue of The Standard Bearer, a Reformed periodical published by the RFPA (publisher of good books too!). As part of a lengthy series on “The Reformed (Amillennial) Critique of Postmillennialism” (I see another book coming!), Engelsma is contrasting the true hope of the Reformed believer from the false hope of the postmillennialist – at the very heart: the return of the Lord Jesus. Pointing out that the “postmills” “shove His coming into the distant future – so far into the future as to make that remote coming an unreality”, Engelsma then shows what is and must be the Christian’s real hope:

Quite different from the postmillennialists is the Reformed believer. With the saints of all ages, he lives in the eager anticipation of the second coming of King Jesus. Rather than contentedly to shove the second coming into the far distant future – perhaps a ‘million years’ – he prays daily, ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus’ (Rev.22:20). And this prayer is his response to Jesus’ assurance to the church, ‘Surely I come quickly. Amen’ (Rev.22:20).

Radically different from the will of the postmillennialists that desires the glory of the reigning saints during the fulfillment of the Messianic kingdom is the will of God. God wills the glory of the personally ruling Messiah. During the ‘days’ that Messiah has ‘dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth’, it will be He Himself who has this dominion. All will ‘fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.’ ‘To him shall be given of the gold of Sheba’ (Ps.72:8-15).

In the coming kingdom that Scripture proclaims, not the saints, much less the saints in the absence of Jesus, but Jesus Christ Himself will be the powerful, glorious king. And the saints would have it so. ‘When the Son of man shall come in his glory… then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory(Matt.25:31). ‘The Lord Jesus shall be revealed…[in] the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in the saints, and to be admired in all them that believe’ (II Thess.1:7-10) [p.398].

The Latest “Dispie” Fad

A newsletter I have been receiving (free) for some time is Charles H. Robinson’s “Prophecy Newsletter” – usually just a single page, double-sided paper addressing Biblical prophecy issues. While I do not agree with all that Robinson writes, he is always “dead on” when it comes to pointing out the errors of Dispensationalism. And though quite elderly now (I believe approaching 90!), his mind and pen are sharp, so that his articles are always instructive. I like to read these too before worship services, since they are short and stimulating. And we should all be aware of what this “school of prophecy” teaches, because it is by far the most popular and the most vocal and visible (just watch any Christian TV programs!).

Robinson’s last issue (February 2012) has an article titled “The Trouble with Dispensationalism is….”, in which he addresses the latest “Dispie” fad – a return to the Jewish phylactery. If you don’t know what this is, and want to know how it’s being used, keep reading. This is what Robinson has to say:

It (Dispensationalism – CJT) seems to be adrift on an open sea without an anchor, going from bad to worse. A new generation of self-styled Bible ‘scholars’ is teaching off-the-wall heresies which would have been scorned by the best classic dispensationalists of my time. The current dispensationalists’ fascination with anything Jewish is taking them and their followers backward rather than forward, shallower rather than deeper, making them more literal rather than typical, more carnal and less spiritual.

…The pitiful fallacy that most of them are promoting today is the use of the Old Testament worship aids, such as the tallith, the shofar, and the mezuzach. This latter object, also known as phylactery, is a small box with strings for tying it to the door frame of one’s house. It may contain a Bible text – proverb or promise – and ancient Jews used it to publicly declare their faith in God. That is all! Check this out at Deuteronomy 6:9-12 and 11:18021. Its present day promoter, though, goes further, claiming that it will defeat Satan and protect your home from his evil power. He adds that you should have one for every room in your house, inasmuch as each room is ‘its own domain’. Accordingly. God must be unable or unwilling to protect your entire house; He can only take care of one room.

This nonsense reminds me of the times when I used to drive through the countryside past farms where buildings were adorned with hex symbols to ward off evil spirits. Are we Christians supposed to use Old Testament worship forms as some sort of dispensational voodoo?

As if that were not enough, these same practitioners claim that these objects will release power on your behalf, and also release blessings which you would otherwise miss. Never mind that neither Old or New Testament has anything to say about this. In fact, these tools were only testimonial in purpose, and had nothing whatsoever to do with bestowing blessing or power.