Monday, December 26, 2011

Israel & Armageddon - Fact & Fiction?

As mentioned before, there’s a tendency for proponents of replacement theology to claim that those who support a prophetic future for Israel have a dangerous influence on politics. This is an all-too-common canard. Israel’s very presence in the land offends its neighbors, regardless of its actions. Moreover, any insinuation that God has further plans for Israel apparently offends some Christians.

Steve Wohlberg writes:

“The belief that God will ultimately defend Middle East Jews at Armageddon is so strongly embedded within the 21st century evangelical psyche that it has spilled over into politics and even influences U.S. foreign policy toward the Jewish State...”

The following is a portion of a rather convoluted article that he’s posted on his website. These “explanations” become convoluted when people attempt to make Scripture say something other than what it means. In this case, Wohlberg wants to excise Israel (the nation) from prophecy:

“What about "Armageddon"? Surprisingly, this exact word is used only once in the Bible, in Revelation 16:16. The Word says, "And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue, Armageddon." Honestly, there is no literal "place" anywhere on Earth bearing this exact name. It's true, there is a valley north of Jerusalem which was called "Megiddo" (Judges 5:19) in Bible days. It was a place where the armies of Israel often met foreign enemies in bloody battles. Because "Megiddo," sounds like, "Armageddon," millions assume this same place will be the location of a final showdown against the Jews. But is this right?”

I wonder how many times something needs to be mentioned in Scripture to make it valid. Wohlberg assumes that it isn’t Megiddo, not because of Scripture but because it doesn’t fit into his Adventist tradition. He then constructs a number of arguments to work his way around the problem of certain biblical texts which happen to be specific about who is involved and the location. He continues:

“A careful study of "the Revelation of Jesus Christ" proves that Christianity's massive "God-Is-Behind-Modern-Israel" theology is just not true. Not that God doesn't love Modern Israel, the Israeli people, and Jewish people. But as we have seen, Revelation's focus is not on "Israel after the flesh" (Israel one), but on "the Israel of God" (Israel Two) composed of both Jews and non-Jews (including Arabs) centered in Jesus Christ.”

To be specific, “Israel Two” would be Sabbath observing Adventist church saints as opposed to the Sunday worshipping earth dwellers of the RC Antichrist system, although Wohlberg leaves those pertinent details out of his narrative. He either writes for Adventists in the know or his readers will “get it” later down the track as they get more involved in Adventist thought.

More importantly, Revelation doesn’t support any of his contentions – not even once. That is what he believes despite the plain references to Israel and the 12 tribes in the following passages - Matt 19:28; Luke 22:30; Acts 1:3-7; Acts 26:6-7; James 1:1; Rev 7:4; Rev 21:12.

Michael Rydelnik once brought up Zechariah 14 in his radio discussion/debate with Gary Burge. Dr Burge suggested that it had an historical context. To which Dr Rydelnik rightly pointed out that the last time he’d visited the region, the Mount of Olives was still intact.

Readers of Wohlberg’s materials should undertake a careful reading and comparison of Zech 14 and Revelation 16. See also Joel 3:2; 11-16 and Zech12:1-3 and the verses cited above. Connect the dots as to whether there is a literal gathering of nations in a specific place (Megiddo) that is near a literal nation called Israel, or whether this is “fiction”.

What does Scripture say sans the circular reasoning?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Early Church Fathers & Eschatology

One persistent theme that’s rehashed against pretribulationalism is the argument that it’s not found in the Didache and the early church fathers (ECF) didn’t teach it. Following on from that, the ECF appeared to hold that the church would suffer under the Antichrist, thus the early church was posttribulational.

In 2002 Dr Steve McAvoy wrote two articles for the Conservative Theological Society (Posttribulationism’s Appeal to Antiquity Parts 1 & 2) that address the issue. They can be sourced from Galaxie.Com for a modest yearly subscription fee.

McAvoy quotes Ladd and Gundry:

“Let it be at once emphasized that we are not turning to the church fathers to find authority for either pre- or posttribulationism. The one authority is the word of God, and we are not confined in the strait-jacket of tradition… While tradition does not provide authority, it would nevertheless be difficult to suppose that God had left his people in ignorance of an essential truth for nineteen centuries” George Ladd, The Blessed Hope.

“We’re dealing here with perspective, of course, not proof. For Bible-believing Christians, proof lies in the pages of Scripture, and the view that seems to represent its meaning most naturally is the view that seems best to adopt. Agreed. But Christians belong not only to current communities of faith. They also belong to a community of faith that spans the whole of church history. And since the Spirit of God has been at work throughout that history, Christians should at least respect primary beliefs of the church at large, past as well as present, and suspect the new and novel at least to the extent of requiring extraordinarily good scriptural evidence in its favor.” Robert Gundry, First the Antichrist.

So which is it - tradition or Scripture? The point Ladd and Gundry (and others) try to sell is that, while one must primarily rely on Scripture, the church couldn’t have been wrong until Darby discovered or invented the doctrine. God didn’t leave His people in ignorance.

Yet, as McAvoy and others point out, the church quickly espoused replacement theology (still predominantly the case) which led to interpreting certain prophetic passages non-literally and from a church perspective. The same may be said of soteriology up until Martin Luther’s 95 Theses (1517 AD) and the advent of the Reformation. Could the church have possibly been wrong for so long over such a primary issue as salvation? Where did the ECF stand on TULIP?

Many pretrib apologists will also argue that, from the outset, the eschatology of the ECF wasn’t developed anywhere like it is today. The rapture doctrine wasn’t on their radar. How many rapture references of any kind does one find in their writings? There wasn’t any systematic eschatological statement of faith. For a number of reasons, Amillennialism and the allegorical approach to hermeneutics quickly shaped the church’s eschatology.

Amillennialists will argue the early church was “clearly amillennial”; but I would counter that even if that were the case, the Bible clearly isn’t. Scripture is the final arbitrator. It seems inconsistent that people with differing beliefs rely on the teaching of the ECF to critique pretribulationism. This is especially a problem for those whose teachings are relatively modern developments as in some newer forms of posttribulationism, preterism, Covenant Theology and prewrath rapturism.

Let me try to illustrate. Preterists might have a hard time explaining to most ECF that Christ actually arrived in 70 AD but that they’d missed the event. In fact, don’t partials technically teach two “second” comings of Christ? Gundry might have trouble selling his postmil Sheep & Goats Judgment and maybe even his two-stage first resurrection. Would the ECF nod in unanimous agreement with prewrathers over the meaning of Matt 24:22? And what about that interesting multi-phase “single parousia”? Did the ECF have a consensus on the meaning of the Day of the Lord? I doubt it.

Appealing to the ECF to determine the validity of a doctrine is somewhat simplistic. Perhaps it’s best to stick to Scripture after all.

Further reading:

Answering The Arguments Of Post-Tribulation Rapture Position





Hippolytus is one ECF who is often cited against pretribulationism. Yet McAvoy is quite right when he points out that the ECF read the church in key prophetic texts. Hippolytus, who taught that the Antichrist would spring from the tribe of Dan and who would raise the kingdom of the Jews, writes:

By the woman then clothed with the sun,"he meant most manifestly the Church, endued with the Father's word, whose brightness is above the sun. And by the "moon under her feet" he referred to her being adorned, like the moon, with heavenly glory. And the words, "upon her head a crown of twelve stars," refer to the twelve apostles by whom the Church was founded. And those, "she, being with child, cries, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered," mean that the Church will not cease to bear from her heart the Word that is persecuted by the unbelieving in the world. "And she brought forth," he says, "a man-child, who is to rule all the nations;" by which is meant that the Church, always bringing forth Christ, the perfect man-child of God, who is declared to be God and man, becomes the instructor of all the nations. And the words, "her child was caught up unto God and to His throne," signify that he who is always born of her is a heavenly king, and not an earthly; even as David also declared of old when he said, "The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit Thou at my right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool." "And the dragon," he says, "saw and persecuted the woman which brought forth the man-child. And to the woman were given two wings of the great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent." That refers to the one thousand two hundred and threescore days (the half of the week) during which the tyrant is to reign and persecute the Church, which flees from city to city, and seeks conceal-meat in the wilderness among the mountains, possessed of no other defence than the two wings of the great eagle, that is to say, the faith of Jesus Christ, who, in stretching forth His holy hands on the holy tree, unfolded two wings, the right and the left, and called to Him all who believed upon Him, and covered them as a hen her chickens. For by the mouth of Malachi also He speaks thus: "And unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in His wings."

Hippolytus of Rome: Commentary on Daniel

Writings of Hippolytus

Note also:

Those who wish to point out what the early church fathers taught when criticizing pretribulationism may also want to examine what many of the ECFs thought about Mary's perpetual virginity.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty

Well it has been a long break since receiving my last “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” spam but I got another one last night. They invariably begin by saying something like - “Interesting and informative blog” – and then suggest Googling the familiar diatribe. The Google searches lead to polemic sites run by preterists and/or posttribulationists who rely heavily on Dave MacPherson’s material. The better part of wisdom suggests ignoring it; however, wisdom isn’t one of my strong points.

Last year someone sent me a link to a 2009 article on Joe Ortiz’s blog. The headline read:

“Dave MacPherson Finds Note of Rapture Vision by Margaret MacDonald - Copy of Handwritten Note by Woman Who Introduced the Pretribulation Rapture in 1830 is Found!”

Directly below the blurb was a photocopy of that note which contained the following words:

nothing: So that two shall
be in one bed, the one taken

and the other left; because
now will the wicked be re-
vealed with all power, and

signs, and lying wonders,

The inference was that this was new and incriminating evidence that Margaret MacDonald was really a pretribulationist and that Darby really did get his idea from her, contrary to his claims to have discovered it through studying Scripture. However, the red-flag is obvious. There’s nothing about a pretrib rapture mentioned in the note above and it isn’t new evidence. Moreover, it is actually an edited portion of an existing document.

Here are the relevant details they left out:

“I felt that those who were filled with the Spirit could see spiritual things, and feel walking in the midst of them, while those who had not the Spirit could see nothing - so that two shall be in one bed, the one taken and the other left, because the one has the light of God within while the other cannot see the Kingdom of Heaven...I saw the people of God in an awfully dangerous situation, surrounded by nets and entanglements, about to be tried, and many about to be deceived and fall. Now will THE WICKED be revealed, with all power and signs and lying wonders, so that it it were possible the very elect will be deceived - This is the fiery trial which is to try us. - It will be for the purging and purifying of the real members of the body of Jesus; but Oh it will be a fiery trial. Every soul will he shaken to the very centre. The enemy will try to shake in every thing we have believed - but the trial of real faith will be found to honour and praise and glory. Nothing but what is of God will stand. The stony-ground hearers will be made manifest - the love of many will wax cold.”Margaret also stated that:

“The trial of the Church is from Antichrist. It is by being filled with the Spirit that we shall be kept.”

You can read the full version of Margaret’s vision HERE and HERE

It is people like Ortiz and MacPherson who are being dishonest and spreading malicious gossip.

Further reading:

A review of The Rapture Plot

Given that there's a broken link to Dr Stallard's site, here is his review in full:

This work is a popular renewal of the claim begun two decades ago concerning the origin of the pre-tribulation rapture. MacPherson believes that the doctrine of the “secret rapture” (the two-phase Second Coming or what has come to be called the pre-trib rapture) originated with a deluded teenage girl named Margaret MacDonald. She was a member of the Irvingites, a cultish band of unorthodox Christians centered in London who practiced visions. In fact, the claim is that the pre-trib doctrine originated with one of the visions received by this girl. The main thesis of the book, the so-called “rapture plot,” is that dispensationalists have been covering up this origin because of the embarrassment it would cause their position. They have consistently maintained that the pre-trib doctrine originated with John Nelson Darby and have sought to downplay the fact that he borrowed it from the Irvingites. The implication is that, since this doctrine originated with a deluded teenage girl and since dispensationalists have sinfully covered this fact up, then indeed the pre-trib doctrine itself is suspect and cannot be held to be the truth.

The book begins with a chapter on preliminary considerations and discussions of the earliest teachings of the pre-trib rapture from MacPherson’s point of view. The second chapter focuses on Margaret MacDonald and attempts to show her involvement in not only creating the pre-trib doctrine, but also participating in occult practices. Although he does not say so directly, MacPherson uses this section to leave the impression that pretribulationalism is of Satanic origin. Chapter three discusses the Irvingites in general, including the influence of Margaret MacDonald upon them.

Chapters four through six turn to Darby himself. Chapter four tries to catalog chronologically the development of his thoughts. In chapter five, the later writings of Darby are explored with the conclusion that Darby was a historical revisionist of his own earlier experiences. Chapter six, entitled “Pre-PlotPracticing,” begins to call into question the integrity of William Kelley, an early Brethren editor of Darby’s writings.

Chapter seven carries the title of the book itself. Here MacPherson evaluates William Kelley (d. 1906) in detail as to his alleged revision of Darby. The next and final chapter attempts to show the continuing influence of Kelley’s rewriting of Brethren history. MacPherson spends most of his time dealing with the claims of the pretribulationist R. A. Huebner. It is this concluding chapter which may reveal MacPherson’s motivation for his vitriolic attack on the pre-trib position. He comments that “during the 18thand 19th centuries genuine revival during the First and Second Great Awakenings swept two continents before pre-trib dispensationalism emerged and extinguished the flames” (p. 234). MacPherson adds five appendices, including one attempting to refute the recent claims that a pre-trib rapture can be found in Morgan Edwards (ca. 1788) and in Pseudo-Ephraem (374–627 A.D.), an early Syriac church father.

One is hard-pressed to find good qualities in the argumentation of MacPherson’s work. However, the detailed bibliographical information concerning original sources will aid the historian wanting to study nineteenth century eschatological developments. MacPherson, as a former investigative reporter has done a good service to us in this area. Unfortunately, blinded by his rush to a preordained conclusion, his analysis of those sources is clouded by a hateful style which prevents much of what he says from being taken seriously. For example, beginning on page 91 he concocts a fictional conversation between himself and a dispensationalist to make points rather than interacting with detailed complaints with his own view. Although he does interact in other parts of his book to specific complaints, the disingenuous presentation here undermines his credibility. Another example is his labeling of Ephraem (the Syriac father in question concerning the writing of Pseudo-Ephraem) as a “Catholic” (p. 268), as he probably knew the connotation it would bring to his largely Protestant audience.

As to the details of his argumentation, several questions emerge from reading the book, many of which have to do with methodology. First, MacPherson has not dealt adequately with the debate over whether the Irvingites were pre-trib, partial-trib, or post-trib. His chapter on Edward Irving and his group totally ignores the fact that the group by means of visions and prophesying believed that they were living in the last three and one-half years before Christ’s return and dated that period from January 14, 1832, to July 14, 1835. The Irvingites were historicists in contrast to the developing futurism of the Darbyites. It is amazing that a historian would totally overlook the impact of this teaching while discussing documents during the time leading up to the alleged Second Coming. 

Second, MacPherson’s book shows the absence of any historical work involving followers of Irving and Darby on the Continent. There are emerging studies especially focusing on Geneva and the development of separatist movements in that region. Of special note would be the Darbyite Émile Guers who pastored in Geneva. His books La Future D’Israël (pub. 1856) and Irvingism and Mormonism (pub. 1853) aid understanding of the development of Darbyism prior to its supposed rewriting by Darby and Kelley. Furthermore, he shows the large wedge between Irvingism and Darbyism that existed as early as the 1830s. So for the conspiracy to be true, more players have to be added whose weight combines to increase the likelihood that the conspiracy did not take place! This conclusion is bolstered by the historian Barron H. de Goltz (Genve Religieuse au Dix-Neuvime Sicle [pub. 1862]), who attacked separatist movements like Darbyism and Irvingism. He also characterizes the great gulf between the visions of the Irvingites and the Scripture readings of the Darbyites.

Third, MacPherson’s book amounts to an ad hominem attack. He suggests that the pre-trib position is wrong through guilt by association. However, even if Margaret MacDonald had a vision of the pre-tribrapture, that does not invalidate the doctrine. It does not guarantee that she was the originator. At best, his view should be held in a preliminary fashion. Fifty years from now, after competent scholars have done the historical work for a little studied area, the one holding his view may find himself embarrassed. However, even the fact that Margaret MacDonald clearly gave a pre-trib vision is not at all a ready conclusion. 

Fourth, MacPherson does little detailed analysis of those sources which support his thesis. Men like Robert Baxter and Robert Norton are automatically accepted as credible. One must ask MacPherson, “Are sources only valid when they agree with his thesis?” This is seen in his handling of the Pseudo-Ephraem material. He appears to accept Paul Alexander as the expert on Pseudo-Ephraem although Alexander is a non-evangelical who would not be studied in the nuances of eschatological readings from the various evangelical viewpoints. To expect him to present a summary involving rapture timing nuances is too much to ask.

MacPherson’s thesis has been rejected by many competent scholars who are not pre-trib. Men like F. F. Bruce, John Bray, Timothy Weber, and others have found his conclusions untenable. MacPherson misleads his reader by mentioning F. F. Bruce as a good friend of his without letting the reader know that Bruce, a Brethren scholar who rejected pre-trib, totally discarded the rapture plot idea (p. 40). The fact of the matter is that the real test of whether the pre-trib rapture is correct doctrine is not its historical origin but its exegetical support from the Bible. MacPherson’s book provides no help in this area.

Reviewed by Mike Stallard, Associate Professor
Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Analyzing Replacement Theology

Here's an article by Mike Vlach writing on a subject close to my heart:

I have spent the better part of the last ten years studying and examining the doctrine of Replacement Theology which is the view that the New Testament church replaces or supersedes the nation Israel as the people of God...An Analysis of Neo-Replacement Theology

Saturday, December 10, 2011

False Prophet Follow-Up

On the same day I wrote about the incident where my friend was accused of being a false prophet because he taught pretribulationism, I came across another interesting interaction in another forum. A budding apologist provided a link to an article on his website where he took Patrick Heron to task for arguing that the apostasia in 2 Thess referred to the rapture.

To be fair to Heron; Ken Wuest and Thomas Ice agree with him on that point. However, most pretribulational scholars do not.

The problem was that this article linked anti-pretrib items, two of which were produced by proponents of the view the apologist actually leaned to. While admitting that all rapture views had major issues, this individual was overtly anti-pretrib. Somewhere in the ensuing discussion his view was challenged, yet while asserting that he was aware of all the arguments, the little interaction he offered suggested otherwise. Personally, I think he underestimated the level of competence on that pretrib site.

In response, he threw out his seminary qualifications employing the word exegesis in his narrative. Where have I seen this approach before? He implied that if others had the benefit of his experience, they wouldn’t be so adamant about debating the rapture. But didn’t he just initiate that debate? He didn’t seem to recognize his own anti-pretrib bias or that proponents of his view are adamant they are right.

Later on he posted another link to an article by better-known apologist Greg Koukl. In that article, Koukl, who obviously isn’t pretrib, took a scattergun approach to pop-beliefs in the church including the prosperity industry. Right there in the mix was the seven year tribulation and the pretrib rapture. Koukl should stick to apologetics because he’s very good at it - eschatology, not so much.

That same week someone provided a link to “Believer’s Journey” where blogger Sarah notes that the pretrib rapture was unknown before 1840. How tiresome this canard is! She then mentions Margaret MacDonald:

“Whether true or untrue the story goes that a young teenage Plymouth Brethren girl (this is in Great Britain) is reported to have either had a dream of given a prophetic word or had a vision. It was then interpreted. This interpretation was circulated and Pastor John Darby then relayed it to C. I. Scofield who bought into it as revealed truth. Scofield placed this pre-tribulation rapture notion as a footnote in his popular Bible, hence this teaching became very widespread.”

Had Sarah actually read the link she provided after her article – or even done some simple research – she would have realized that “Irvingite” MacDonald had a vision of the church under persecution by the Antichrist, hence she was most likely posttribulational. Moreover, Sarah’s adopted rapture view only became widespread after Van Kampen formulated and promoted it via Rosenthal in the nineties.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

False Prophet?

I’ve been accused of attacking other belief systems on this blog so I’m just going to re-iterate what I’ve stated before. It’s relatively common for individuals to regularly criticize either dispensationalism and/or pretribulationism. Yet whenever there’s a response, these critics often cry foul.

That said; a friend, who maintains a prophecy website and daily briefing service, announced that he was attending the 2011 Pre-Trib Conference. It seems that some readers felt inclined to label him a false prophet on the basis of his pretribulationism. In contrast, my friend has never attacked others for entertaining different eschatological viewpoints.

Anyway, they - very thoughtfully - sent him a link to another website in order to set him straight. That link is to a page called “Questions for a Pretribulationist”. As irony would have it, it was one of the first web pages I found when I began studying that particular rapture doctrine.

Some time ago, an advocate of that same position labeled Hal Lindsey a false prophet and added that false prophets were showered with stones in the Bible. This is an example of the nature of the vitriol leveled against him. But, while one can find areas of disagreement with Hal, he never set dates for the rapture.

Perhaps the real motive for the attack was his pretribulationism. Yet on the same basis that Hal was judged, one can also look to the prognostications of those who thought the ENP was the Antichrist’s covenant.

That same article also erroneously linked Mark Biltz to pretribulationism. A quick fact-check would have indicated otherwise. Biltz is neither a pretribulationist nor a dispensationalist. In fact he is contra-dispensationalism and is one of those so-called teachers who promote Torah observance. It’s a pity so many (pretribbers included) have carelessly promoted this individual because of his “exciting” blood moon theories without checking his other credentials.

Speaking of which; two other people to be wary of are Dewey Bruton and Monte Judah. Bruton gained popularity over his novel Daniel’s Timeline theory but a link on his website leads to another site containing articles by Monte Judah and others who support him. That there may be a direct connection between the two is strongly suggested by the narrative on Bruton’s website. Judah promotes Torah observance; has had past failed date setting issues and believes Hebrews shouldn’t be part of the NT Canon.

Labeling someone a false prophet based on his rapture belief is myopic.

On close examination, advocates of the system promoted by the “Questions for a Pretribulationist” link are in no position to point fingers at pretribulationists.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

John 14:1-4 - a revisit

John 14:1-4 strikes me as pretty straight forward. But, no, some people don’t like what it says so they try to make it say something else. Taking his cue from Gundry and Warner one individual asks:

“Many have often assumed that the ‘Father’s house’ in John 14 referred to Heaven, and that when Christ says He’ll receive us unto Himself He was referring to a ‘rapture’ of the Church being whisked away to Heaven to live in a “mansion just over the hilltop”. And all of this, of course, before the world is tossed into the abyss of a seven-year tribulation. But is this what Jesus was referring to when He says “My Father’s house”? ”

Well, let’s look at the verses:

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going. John 14:1-4

I’m sorry but there are no “assumptions” involved. Christ is speaking about going to His Father’s house in heaven. That is where He is going to prepare a place for His audience. That is where the “dwelling places” are. It’s pretty clear. Just read the verses.

But that idea doesn’t comport with premil-posttribulationism so they must argue their way around a plain reading. There seems to be a lot of that sort of “reasoning” going around these days. And they accuse pretribulationists of superimposing their beliefs onto the text!

Anyway, Andy Woods has a great study on the topic HERE