Thursday, September 17, 2009

RPCUS Distinctives and the Westminster Standards, Part 4 -9/17/09

A Continuation...4 of 6

By Rev. John M. Otis

The Postmillennial Distinctive

A third distinctive of the RPCUS is that we are a postmillennial denomination. We do not practice eschatological liberty because the Westminster Standards do not allow such liberty. Again, the operating principle of the RPCUS is that we subscribe to all the doctrines of every chapter of the Confession. All forms of premillennialism are unacceptable viewpoints. Dispensational premillennialism is fundamentally out of accord with the Standards by espousing a view that denies covenant theology, which is the clear position of the Standards. Historic premillennialism is out of accord due to the following reasons: 1) It believes that the kingdom of God in its fullest sense will not be present on earth until Christ’s second coming when He establishes an earthly reign of at least a thousand years. 2) It believes that the effects of the gospel will not bring about worldwide conversion and cultural renewal. It believes that the world is steadily getting worse, culminating in a great apostasy, the rise of the antichrist, and the Great Tribulation at the end of the church age. 3) It believes in two bodily resurrections. The first, commonly called the Rapture, occurs at Jesus’ second coming. The second bodily resurrection, commonly known as the Great White Throne Judgment, occurs at the end of the millennial reign of Christ.

Where are the tenants of historic premillennialism out of accord with the Westminster Standards? The Confession and Larger Cathechism do not differentiate as separate events the second coming of Christ, the last day, and the great day of judgment. All these events are contemporaneous, meaning that these are all facets of one great event. There are not two bodily resurrections but only one, and there is no time separation between these events such as a thousand-year reign of Christ. Chapter 32 sections II and III of the Westminster Confession refer to the last day as the day of resurrection for both the righteous and unrighteous. Chapter 33 speaks of the Day of Judgment where the righteous and the unrighteous will be judged. Chapter 33 section III associates this great Day of Judgment with Christ’s Second Coming. Larger Catechism question # 87 states, “What are we to believe concerning the resurrection? Part of the answer states, “We are to believe, that at the last day there shall be a general resurrection of the dead,… both of the just and unjust: when they that are then found alive shall in a moment be changed…” The answer to Larger Catechism question # 88 refers to the day of resurrection, the Day of Judgment, and Christ’s Second Coming as one event. Question # 88 states, “What shall immediately follow after the resurrection?” The answer states, “Immediately after the resurrection shall follow the general and final judgment of angels and men; the day and hour whereof no man knoweth, that all may watch and pray, and be ever ready for the coming of the Lord.”

Shorter Catechism question # 28 asks, “Wherein consisteth Christ’s exaltation? The answer states, “Christ’s exaltation consisteth in His rising again from the dead on the third day, in ascending up into heaven, in sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and in coming to judge the world at the last day.” We can see that the Shorter Catechism links Christ’s coming and His judgment of the world with the last day.

Larger Catechism question and answer # 56 links Christ’s coming with the last day, which is also the Day of Judgment. The question states, “How is Christ to be exalted in his coming again to judge the world?” The answer states, “Christ is to be exalted in his coming again to judge the world, in that he, who was unjustly judged and condemned by wicked men, shall come again at the last day in great power, and in the full manifestation of his own glory, and of his Father’s, with all his holy angels, with a shout with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, to judge the world in righteousness.” Historic premillennialism has always associated I Thessalonians 4:16 with the Rapture, where Christ descends with a shout, with a voice of an archangel, and with a trumpet. Yet, the Rapture is supposedly separated from the Day of Judgment by at least a thousand years. The Larger Catechism refutes this notion, and it emphatically states that Christ, “shall come again at the last day in great power…” Moreover, the Catechism states that Christ is exalted “in his coming again to judge the world.” Hence, the Second Coming and the great Day of Judgment are one event!

Amillennialists would agree with every correction that we have pointed out with reference to the premillennialists. There are great similarities between amillennialists and postmillennialists, but the basic difference between the two is paramount and is of such magnitude that an amillennialist would not pass a theological exam in the RPCUS. While the amillennialist does believe that Jesus is presently reigning in this age, he is essentially pessimistic in his view of history. He does not believe that the gospel will prosper in bringing about the Christianization of the world. He believes that culture will continue to decline , leading to a great apostasy which culminates in Christ’s Second Coming at the end of this millennial age.

Some might say that the RPCUS’ postmillennial position is too dogmatic and too narrow in denying amillennialists entrance into the denomination. Yet, the distinguishing mark of postmillennial eschatology is central. It believes in the victory of the gospel in space and time during the present millennial age. The Great Commission of Christ in Matthew 28:18-20 will be accomplished in history prior to Christ’s Second Coming. The knowledge of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea as promised in Isaiah 11:9 and in Habakkuk 2:14. King Jesus will take possession of His inheritance as was promised Him by the Father in Psalm 2:7,8. Verse 8 says, “Ask of Me and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession.” From His ascended throne in heaven, King Jesus exercises His kingly reign by subduing His enemies, making them a footstool for His feet just as Hebrews 10:12,13 says, “but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.”

The postmillennialist asks every amillennialist, “How can a sovereign God, who has foreordained the end from the beginning and who has all power, ever lose?” The Great Commission is not the foreordination of defeat but of victory. This optimism is seen in the Larger Catechism question and answer # 54, “How is Christ exalted in his sitting at the right hand of God?” Part of the answer states, “Christ…doth gather and defend his church, and subdue their enemies;…” Shorter Catechism question # 26 asks, “How does Christ execute the office of a king?” The answer is: “Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.” One of the proof texts given by the Westminster delegates on this question and answer is Psalm 110 and I Corinthians 15:25. The Corinthian passage says, “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.”

Larger Catechism question # 191 states, “What do we pray for in the second petition?” The answer is: “In the second petition, (which is, Thy kingdom come,) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fulness of the Gentiles brought in, the church furnished with gospel officers and ordinances, purged from corruption,…”

This portion of the Lord’s prayer is unquestionably postmillennial. A prayer for the kingdom of sin and Satan to be destroyed is a prayer for the victory of the gospel in the millennial age. Since the first promise of the Messiah in Genesis 3:15, there has been enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. We know the seed of the woman (Christ and His seed, i.e., his people) shall have ultimate victory over the seed of the serpent (Satan and His seed, i.e., his followers). We know that the woman’s seed is the church of Christ, all the elect of God, and the serpent’s seed is all the reprobate, the children of the Devil. In Genesis 22:17 we have the promise that Abraham’s seed will possess the gates of their enemies. Galatians 3:29 identifies the church as the seed of Abraham. To possess an enemy’s gate is to conquer one’s enemy. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promised His church that the gates of Hell would not be able to withstand the assault of the church. From II Corinthians 10:3-5 we learn that the church has divinely empowered spiritual weapons for the destruction of fortresses. The church destroys ungodly speculations and brings all thoughts captive to Christ’s obedience. We know that Jesus’ millennial reign shall be victorious as noted by Psalm 2; Psalm 110; I Corinthians 15:20-28; Hebrews 10:12,13; and Ephesians 1:20-23. Since prayer is a means ordained by God to bring about His sovereign decrees, would God have us pray for something that He does not intend to accomplish? Of course not!

When we are commanded to pray that the gospel be propagated throughout the world, we are praying that the gospel accomplish its intended purpose รข€“ that of the Christianization of the world’s nations. This is the promise of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. In verse 18 Jesus said that he possessed all authority in heaven and earth. In light of this fact, Jesus commanded His church to go and make disciples of the world’s nations. Since Jesus said that he would be with the church to the end of the world, this means that His sovereign power would always be energizing His church to fulfill her task.

The prayer for the Jews to be called to Christ is a fulfillment of what was promised in Romans 11:26 that all ethnic Israel would be saved, that she, the natural branch, would be grafted back onto the tree. The prayer that the fullness of the Gentiles be brought in is a prayer for the Christianization of the world in accord with Matthew 28:18-20 and what was promised in Psalm 22:27,28 that all the families of the nations will worship God. It is also a prayer for the fulfillment of the promise in Isaiah 2:2-4 that the peoples of the earth will stream to the mountain of the house of the Lord to learn the ways of Jehovah, and the nations will beat their weapons of war into tools of productivity to the glory of God.

The Westminster Standards are postmillennial. What the RPCUS wants to hear from its candidates is that they believe in the success of the gospel during the millennial age before the Second Coming of Christ.

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