The Apocalyptic Church

November 6, 2008Administrator

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.

  • http://naturalaw.failuretorefrain.com jurisnaturalist

    Dude! I totally had that T-Shirt in middle school!

  • http://naturalaw.failuretorefrain.com jurisnaturalist

    More seriously,
    Thanks Sam, for opening this necessary can of worms. We will need it if we are going to be able to fish out the differences among Christian responses to current events.
    I was tutoring two economics students yesterday, both middle-eastern, both wearing head-scarves. As economics often does (especially at GMU) the conversation turned political. The student's concerns turned to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in contrast to US involvement in Afghanistan/Iraq. Why is the US so supportive of Israel they wanted to know?
    My explanation:
    “Many Christians believe that in order for Jesus to come back the nation-state of Israel must re-occupy all of the land promised to the people in the Old Testament, and that the temple must be re-built on the Temple Mount, replacing the Dome of the Rock. They also believe that the nation-state of the United States Government will be blessed if it supports the nation-state of Israel.”
    This was one of the most vulnerable, open, and honest conversations about religion I have ever had with a confessing Muslim. I was able to confess my Lord, while discussing my own Jesus-Politics, and sharing in the grief which actions based on bad theology bring about.
    While emergents tend to shy away from systematic theology in general, there are important lessons to be derived from a careful study and inspection of correlated doctrines.
    Dispensationalism almost always ends (begins) with Zionism and implicit statism. The defenses of militarism and moral legislation which follow are among the most grievious blemishes on the Church.
    Nathanael Snow

  • jurisnaturalist

    Dude! I totally had that T-Shirt in middle school!

  • jurisnaturalist

    More seriously,
    Thanks Sam, for opening this necessary can of worms. We will need it if we are going to be able to fish out the differences among Christian responses to current events.
    I was tutoring two economics students yesterday, both middle-eastern, both wearing head-scarves. As economics often does (especially at GMU) the conversation turned political. The student's concerns turned to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in contrast to US involvement in Afghanistan/Iraq. Why is the US so supportive of Israel they wanted to know?
    My explanation:
    “Many Christians believe that in order for Jesus to come back the nation-state of Israel must re-occupy all of the land promised to the people in the Old Testament, and that the temple must be re-built on the Temple Mount, replacing the Dome of the Rock. They also believe that the nation-state of the United States Government will be blessed if it supports the nation-state of Israel.”
    This was one of the most vulnerable, open, and honest conversations about religion I have ever had with a confessing Muslim. I was able to confess my Lord, while discussing my own Jesus-Politics, and sharing in the grief which actions based on bad theology bring about.
    While emergents tend to shy away from systematic theology in general, there are important lessons to be derived from a careful study and inspection of correlated doctrines.
    Dispensationalism almost always ends (begins) with Zionism and implicit statism. The defenses of militarism and moral legislation which follow are among the most grievious blemishes on the Church.
    Nathanael Snow

  • http://al-muses.blogspot.com/ Al1

    Thanks for helping me gain a deeper understanding of my own past–pretty much based on option #1. It is certainly changing, but your thoughts help tie the various pieces together.
    I guess all of our theology is at best informed opinion. We SAY it is based on the Bible, but it still is our understanding of what the Bible is saying. What we understand about the character of God informs how we look at other people (the 'heathen'). And, of course, informs how we see the future unfolding. So, I'm not sure which comes first–ecclesiology or eschatology, or the overall understanding we have of who God is. But each one certainly begins to color the next one, and the cycle continues as we base one building block on what has already been laid.
    Nathanael's comments on Zionism certainly play into this. And we find it incredibly easy to try to help God fulfill our understanding of Israel's future by fighting their enemies, instead of living out the loving nature of God.
    I shudder when I realize how much all of our eschatology has already permeated the rest of our life with God. And I rejoice that God has shaken me up enough to begin to gently question much of what I took as 'gospel'. Going back to 'the Gospels' is certainly a good place to learn about the character of God, revealed in Christ. And then build an eschatology based on who God is.

  • http://al-muses.blogspot.com/ Al1

    Thanks for helping me gain a deeper understanding of my own past–pretty much based on option #1. It is certainly changing, but your thoughts help tie the various pieces together.
    I guess all of our theology is at best informed opinion. We SAY it is based on the Bible, but it still is our understanding of what the Bible is saying. What we understand about the character of God informs how we look at other people (the 'heathen'). And, of course, informs how we see the future unfolding. So, I'm not sure which comes first–ecclesiology or eschatology, or the overall understanding we have of who God is. But each one certainly begins to color the next one, and the cycle continues as we base one building block on what has already been laid.
    Nathanael's comments on Zionism certainly play into this. And we find it incredibly easy to try to help God fulfill our understanding of Israel's future by fighting their enemies, instead of living out the loving nature of God.
    I shudder when I realize how much all of our eschatology has already permeated the rest of our life with God. And I rejoice that God has shaken me up enough to begin to gently question much of what I took as 'gospel'. Going back to 'the Gospels' is certainly a good place to learn about the character of God, revealed in Christ. And then build an eschatology based on who God is.

  • http://sagely.wordpress.com Sagely

    Thanks for raising the topic of eschatology. All too often this critical bit is left out of our conversations and our dreaming about what Jesus' kingdom looks like.

    I think, though, that we need to look for maybe a third option. I've been doing a lot of thinking, talking, listening and reading about the inter-relationships between the way we follow Jesus now and they way Jesus and the early christians talk about the kingdom. I think you and your friend are quite right: our eschatology is at the heart of our ecclesiology. You can see this already in the NT when Paul tells the christians in Thessalonikki how to live on the basis of the sure return of Jesus and the resurrection. This is big stuff for both belief and practice.

    But I don't think we're limited either to a vision of the kingdom coming solely at the return of Jesus or solely in our own lives and relationships now (similarly, I think we don't need to make the kingdom just about our souls or just about our material realities). Taking up a theme that's been kicked around theological circles for the last hundred or so years, we need to embrace both the now of the kingdom and it's yet future parts too. Jesus planted the very real seeds of the kingdom here through his life, his death, and his resurrection. But then he returned to the Father and we wait for his coming again (Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again).

    So what does this mean for how we think of being the church? It means that we see the seedlings of the kingdom pushing up in our lives now, but not the full-grown tree haning with fruit and birds nesting in its branches. Christians are supposed to be the foretaste to the world of what's to come, sorta of like the Spirit is to be for christians. We seek to make the kingdom visible and touchable in our little spots of dirt and in our homes, in our friendships and in who we'll invite home for a meal. But we never confuse our stumbling and broken efforts to be Jesus' lightning-like return. We're just the provisional reality, what's here to get us through until Jesus remakes the world into a place where people aren't shattered by alcohol, sexual abuse, gang violence or war–a place without multinational coporations and with lots of parks to have picnics in.

  • http://sagely.wordpress.com Sagely

    Thanks for raising the topic of eschatology. All too often this critical bit is left out of our conversations and our dreaming about what Jesus' kingdom looks like.

    I think, though, that we need to look for maybe a third option. I've been doing a lot of thinking, talking, listening and reading about the inter-relationships between the way we follow Jesus now and they way Jesus and the early christians talk about the kingdom. I think you and your friend are quite right: our eschatology is at the heart of our ecclesiology. You can see this already in the NT when Paul tells the christians in Thessalonikki how to live on the basis of the sure return of Jesus and the resurrection. This is big stuff for both belief and practice.

    But I don't think we're limited either to a vision of the kingdom coming solely at the return of Jesus or solely in our own lives and relationships now (similarly, I think we don't need to make the kingdom just about our souls or just about our material realities). Taking up a theme that's been kicked around theological circles for the last hundred or so years, we need to embrace both the now of the kingdom and it's yet future parts too. Jesus planted the very real seeds of the kingdom here through his life, his death, and his resurrection. But then he returned to the Father and we wait for his coming again (Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again).

    So what does this mean for how we think of being the church? It means that we see the seedlings of the kingdom pushing up in our lives now, but not the full-grown tree haning with fruit and birds nesting in its branches. Christians are supposed to be the foretaste to the world of what's to come, sorta of like the Spirit is to be for christians. We seek to make the kingdom visible and touchable in our little spots of dirt and in our homes, in our friendships and in who we'll invite home for a meal. But we never confuse our stumbling and broken efforts to be Jesus' lightning-like return. We're just the provisional reality, what's here to get us through until Jesus remakes the world into a place where people aren't shattered by alcohol, sexual abuse, gang violence or war–a place without multinational coporations and with lots of parks to have picnics in.

  • http://thoughtloose.blogspot.com Maria Kirby

    I appreciate your comments, Nathanael. I'm afraid the dispensationalism eschatology will bring the end times, but not in the way those Christians intend. My impression is that they think Jesus is going to come rescue them before the tribulation. However, the way they are behaving they are going to bring the Great Tribulation down upon us all from those who are tired of our hypocrisy.

  • http://thoughtloose.blogspot.com Maria Kirby

    I appreciate your comments, Nathanael. I'm afraid the dispensationalism eschatology will bring the end times, but not in the way those Christians intend. My impression is that they think Jesus is going to come rescue them before the tribulation. However, the way they are behaving they are going to bring the Great Tribulation down upon us all from those who are tired of our hypocrisy.

  • folknotions

    I have two comments on this:

    First, jurisnaturalist:
    While you are right that there are fundamentalist Christians who support Zionism as a result of Christian dispensationalism, I don't think this really accounts for U.S. support of Israel and I think it is damaging to the witness of the church to attribute US-Israeli alliances solely to theology for the following reasons:

    1) It overstates the influence of fundamentalist Christianity on US politics. Certainly Barack Obama is no fundamentalist and his appointment of Israeli-hardliner Rahm Emmanuel is a good indication of his support of Zionism in the Middle East. Rahm Emmanuel has even criticized the Bush Administration (they are the fundamentalists, right?) for not being strong enough on their support of Israel.

    2) It overlooks the historical and political factors of US-Israeli relations: Israel being seen as the only “modern democracy” in the Middle East by the U.S., the strength of AIPAC, and the stereotypical Islamophobia that pervades American culture (and not “Christianity” per se), which have little to do with dispensationalism.

    Second,
    As for your post Sam, I would highly recommend G.E. Ladd's The Gospel of the Kingdom, as it articulates a premillennial eschatology that the church is already incarnating the Kingdom of God but that the Kingdom is not fully consummated until the return of Christ. This has immense impact on ecclesiology as service toward the building of the Kingdom and in preaching the gospel so that others can join in the work of building the Kingdom. I know this idea is super hip for a lot of Emerging folks but Ladd already articulated this point of view a half-century ago.

  • folknotions

    I have two comments on this:

    First, jurisnaturalist:
    While you are right that there are fundamentalist Christians who support Zionism as a result of Christian dispensationalism, I don't think this really accounts for U.S. support of Israel and I think it is damaging to the witness of the church to attribute US-Israeli alliances solely to theology for the following reasons:

    1) It overstates the influence of fundamentalist Christianity on US politics. Certainly Barack Obama is no fundamentalist and his appointment of Israeli-hardliner Rahm Emmanuel is a good indication of his support of Zionism in the Middle East. Rahm Emmanuel has even criticized the Bush Administration (they are the fundamentalists, right?) for not being strong enough on their support of Israel.

    2) It overlooks the historical and political factors of US-Israeli relations: Israel being seen as the only “modern democracy” in the Middle East by the U.S., the strength of AIPAC, and the stereotypical Islamophobia that pervades American culture (and not “Christianity” per se), which have little to do with dispensationalism.

    Second,
    As for your post Sam, I would highly recommend G.E. Ladd's The Gospel of the Kingdom, as it articulates a premillennial eschatology that the church is already incarnating the Kingdom of God but that the Kingdom is not fully consummated until the return of Christ. This has immense impact on ecclesiology as service toward the building of the Kingdom and in preaching the gospel so that others can join in the work of building the Kingdom. I know this idea is super hip for a lot of Emerging folks but Ladd already articulated this point of view a half-century ago.

  • folknotions

    I have two comments on this:

    First, jurisnaturalist:
    While you are right that there are fundamentalist Christians who support Zionism as a result of Christian dispensationalism, I don't think this really accounts for U.S. support of Israel and I think it is damaging to the witness of the church to attribute US-Israeli alliances solely to theology for the following reasons:

    1) It overstates the influence of fundamentalist Christianity on US politics. Certainly Barack Obama is no fundamentalist and his appointment of Israeli-hardliner Rahm Emmanuel is a good indication of his support of Zionism in the Middle East. Rahm Emmanuel has even criticized the Bush Administration (they are the fundamentalists, right?) for not being strong enough on their support of Israel.

    2) It overlooks the historical and political factors of US-Israeli relations: Israel being seen as the only “modern democracy” in the Middle East by the U.S., the strength of AIPAC, and the stereotypical Islamophobia that pervades American culture (and not “Christianity” per se), which have little to do with dispensationalism.

    Second,
    As for your post Sam, I would highly recommend G.E. Ladd's The Gospel of the Kingdom, as it articulates a premillennial eschatology that the church is already incarnating the Kingdom of God but that the Kingdom is not fully consummated until the return of Christ. This has immense impact on ecclesiology as service toward the building of the Kingdom and in preaching the gospel so that others can join in the work of building the Kingdom. I know this idea is super hip for a lot of Emerging folks but Ladd already articulated this point of view a half-century ago.

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