In a conversation with a man I respect and have sat under as a learner, a subject was broached that continues to bother me, not in a he’s wrong, I’m right sort of way, rather it is an unsettled dissonance. We had a conversation in graduate school when my class was studying Dispensationalism, an eschatology [study of the end times] that uses segments of time [dispensations of time] to determine the outcome of the end of the world.
He said, “Yes, there are other interpretations [read: opinions] of the end times but the reason I ascribed to dispensationalism is because dispensational eschatology determines the ecclesiology [doctrine of the church] I practice.”
I hesitantly agreed and told him I wanted to chew on that for awhile. After a few moments of contemplation I became increasingly unsettled in my agreement. Questions began to arise in my mind…
Does my lack of an certain eschatological view influence how I do church? And should that matter…?
What are the different views of end-times? And what church doctrine follows these different/competing views?
Have we founded our practice of church [our ecclesiology] on pillars of opinion, rather than on Jesus?
These questions fueled a vicious appetite for knowledge on eschatology, on doctrine, and on Jesus… After a heavy dose of Dispensationalism in grad school, I skimmed around some Post-Millennialism and Amillennialism doctrine, and after this confusing foray I decided to balance the scales and dig into the Gospels, reading and re-reading in different formats, translations, and paraphrases what Jesus had to say on the “end of the world.” In the search I hung on Jesus’ commentary on the Kingdom of God, a central topic to the dissonance found in the eschatological debate. The Kingdom of God, which most Dispensationalist offer as the ‘coming Kingdom,’ seems to be more than We have been brought up to know.
We being most Westernized Protestant Christians.
In dispensationalism the ‘coming King’ is central to the story of tribulation, doomsday economics (wars, famine, one-world government, et cetera) and the final judgment. Of which the ‘coming King’ rides in on a white stallion with a sword of truth cutting down the enemies of truth… staining the ground with blood and covering his robe with the evidence of disobedience. If this interpretation is true, Jesus is a dichotomist in his ways. How can he die on a cross for us (the sinner) taking with him the burden of sin, only to come back and murder all who have not spoken his name in a prayer. He comes first to love the prostitute, the tax collector and the sinner and second to kill them…? It just doesn’t fit. I have struggled with this duality for some time and may not be any closer to an answer, but I can tell you that my ecclesiology will not be influenced by a “death threat theology.” It seems that we have shrunken our view of Jesus, and bloated the perception of our own reflection… Creating a very self-centered gospel message. A message that focuses on the eternal fate of our soul rather than the present state of our neighbor. In this vein it is easy to ignore the social, environmental and political atrocities that are happening around the world and even in our suburban backyards. This ignorance drives Duane Clinker to realize that,
“specific evil action is not required to wipe out vast sections of humanity, but simple apathy.”1
Apathy. We proselytize. We don’t familiarize.
Familiarize – familial, family, group of people relating to one another. When we focus on conversion rather than being familial – we cut short the full meaning of the Gospel. But a familial lifestyle is hard to live out — I don’t want to make sinners apart of my family. I don’t want to love the addicted, the depressed and the broken… It is easier to lead someone in a prayer than lead them down the road to recovery and victory over sin. We are called not to the “coming Kingdom” but to bring the Kingdom here and now… Your kingdom come, Your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven is present tense!
Reality: This world can be a bad and ugly place…
Optional Response #1: Do not worry about the bad and the ugliness of this world… because once everyone hears about Jesus (through evangelistic messages and cool Jesus video’s)… Jesus will come back to judge all, giving a shiny new world to the good and throwing the bad into an eternal furnace of fire.
Optional Response #2: Blessed are the spiritually poor – the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Blessed are those who mourn, who weep about sin and long for how things are supposed to be – they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek and gentle – they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful – they will be shown mercy. Blessed are those who are pure in heart – they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers – they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of their righteousness – the kingdom of heaven is theirs. And blessed are you, blessed are all of you, when people persecute you or denigrate you or despise you of tell lies about you on My account. But when this happens, rejoice. Be glad….
You, beloved, are the salt of the earth. But if salt becomes bland and loses its saltiness, can anything make it salty again? No. It is useless. It just lies there, whit and bland and grainy. It is tossed out, thrown away, or trampled.
And you, beloved, are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden. Similarly, it would be silly to light a lamp and then hide it under a bowl. When someone lights a lamp, she puts it on a table or a desk or chair, and the light illumines the entire house. You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it.2
Option #1 is easy… Invite a neighbor to church on “Invite a Friend Sunday” but never actually get to know their needs.
Option #2 is tough… It’s hard and self-sacrificing to go to a homeless shelter, a prison, an orphanage, or a neighbor and share with them the love of God; loving hands of service, loving words of encouragement, loving loaves of bread, and loving clothes for the head.
So I guess, my mentor was right – my eschatology does affect my ecclesiology.
Someday I am going to die, it may be tomorrow or it may be when I’m 90… and that will be the end of my time – my eschatology. And at this moment of judgment I will hear a remark on how I did community/church/family – my ecclesiology… And my hope is this will be the words that flow from my Father’s lips:
“Well done, good and faithful servant. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”3
1. Duane Clinker, Social Holiness; unpublished manuscript, found in “Everything Must Change” by Brian McLaren, pg. 244.
2. The Voice of Matthew by Lauren F. Winner – the beatitudes; Matthew 5:3-16
3. Matthew 25:35-36
Author Bio:: I am constantly wading through the gray areas of life, looking for crayons, with which to scribble the beauty of God’s love… I blog at www.duregger.net. In the daytime I work as a project manager for LifeChurch.tv’s Digerati Team.