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As we indicated earlier in this study of theology, orthodoxy is that body of Christian doctrine that was hammered out in the early general councils of the Church, upon which Christians generally agree. The great creeds of the Church, such as the Apostle’s Creed, the Creed of Nicea, and the Athanasian Creed are summaries of Christian orthodoxy.

The word comes from the Greek orthos, which means “straight,” and from doxa, which means “opinion,” or “thought.” Therefore orthodoxy literally is “straight thought.” The opposite of orthodoxy is “heterodoxy,” which means “another opinion,” in the sense of a doctrine that is different from, or other than, the orthodox.

As the Church moved through the Enlightenment and into the modern world, a two-fold threat to orthodoxy emerged. One aspect of the threat came from outside the Church via philosophy and science. The other came from within the Church itself, as we shall see.

The result of these forces led to the rise of classic liberalism. The first outside force we want to discuss is rationalism. In the eighteenth century, rationalism became a powerful cultural force in philosophy. The rationalists rebelled against any and every authority, apart from reason. Therefore since Christianity had a different authority base; namely, the Scriptures, rationalism became a threat to orthodoxy from outside Christianity,

Among the rationalist attacks on orthodoxy was David Hume’s argument against the possibility of miracles. Hume argued that resurrection is impossible, because of the “law of historical probability.” Hume insisted that the universal experience of mankind is that when people die, they stay dead. Therefore he concluded that Jesus did not rise from the dead. C. S. Lewis dealt with that problem by declaring that if Jesus is the son of God, then it is probable that he rose from the dead. The whole issue turns on who Jesus is.

A second threat to orthodoxy from philosophy was Immanuel Kant’s arguments against the so-called proofs for the existence of God. During the middle ages several philosophical “proofs” had been set forth; and many believed that they had settled the matter. But Kant demonstrated that the proofs didn’t really prove anything. They certainly provide a lot of evidence that God exists; but that is not the same thing as proof.

The truth is the existence of God is a “faith” matter that cannot be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt intellectually. That isn’t really a great problem, because most people would agree that the evidence for God’s existence is overwhelming. But because of the commitment that many people had made to the so-called “proofs,” the arguments of Kant shook up the orthodoxy of his day.

At the same time that rationalism was attacking orthodoxy in philosophy, the disciplines of the natural sciences were rising. Two scientific theories in particular troubled orthodoxy. They were those of Copernicus and Darwin.

Copernicus was the one who established the truth that the earth is not at the center of the universe. This truth hit orthodoxy like a sledge hammer. And as humanity has learned more about the universe, we have come to realize that we not only are not at the center of the universe; we are somewhere on the fringe.

This truth made it very difficult for many to believe that we here on the earth are important enough for God to care about us in the way the Bible suggests. But if one thinks it through, the Bible nowhere suggests that we are worthy of the attention God gives to us. He does it out of his mercy and grace, not because we are worthy.

The second threat from the area of science came from the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species. The acceptance by many of Darwin’s theory of evolution, which claims that man is merely a highly developed animal that evolved from a single cell, rather than a special creation of God, shook a lot of orthodox Christians.

But if orthodoxy was having difficulty with the thinking of secular philosophy and science outside of the Church, it also was having difficulty within.

With the rise of rationalism a new theological movement arose inside the Church. It was called Deism. The Deists were people who believed in God, but who were over-influenced by rationalism. They wanted a religion all rational men of good will could accept. Because of their rationalism they rejected divine intervention in human like generally, and miracles in particular. And of course this is a direct attack on orthodox theology.

A second threat from within was a movement that began in the eighteenth century, and flowered in the nineteenth. It was what scholars have come to call the discipline of biblical criticism, though it is frequently called historical criticism.

This method of biblical study assumes that the Bible is no different from any other book. Therefore it takes the rationalist position that God does not interfere with human affairs. Thus miracles are explained away, and the Bible becomes men’s words, instead of God’s Word. This kind of interpretation became entrenched in the nineteenth century. And classic liberalism was the result.

As the attacks of liberalism against orthodoxy continued, people committed to liberalism began to move into places of authority and influence in the church hierarchies and bureaucracies, including the seminaries. As this took place, there were three reactions to liberalism.

First, in all of the denominations in America theological conservatives who were committed to orthodoxy rose up to challenge liberalism. They were determined to protect the faith from the liberals, though in those days they called them modernists, rather than liberals. These conservatives became known as fundamentalists, because they emphasized five fundamentals of the faith.

The five fundamentals are are:

1) The inerrancy of Scripture,
2) The deity of Jesus,
3) The virgin birth of Jesus,
4) The substitutionary atonement, based on the death of Jesus on the cross,
5) And Jesus’ physical resurrection and bodily return in the end-time.

A battle royal began between the modernists and fundamentalists for control of the churches, the denominational hierarchies, and the seminaries. Unfortunately the liberals won that theological war. Some fundamentalists pulled out of their denominations to form their own institutions. Others simply withdrew into a kind of isolation.

A second reaction to liberalism came to be known as neo-Orthodoxy. This reaction came out of liberalism itself. As the liberals entered the twentieth century, they did so with great optimism. They believed that the twentieth century was going to be the Christian Century. Indeed a liberal journal was founded early in the century that carried that name, The Christian Century. The liberals believed that humanity was evolving into a better and better creature. As we progressed in the twentieth century we would, by means of better education and evolution, see the errors of our injustices to one another, and we would decide to stop sinning.

World War I was a bit of a set-back; but the liberals decided that it was the war to end all wars. But then in just a little over twenty years the world was swept up into World War II; and Nazi Germany, a so-called “Christian” nation murdered 6,000,000 Jews.

Many liberals realized that they had been wrong about their optimistic appraisal of humanity. They began to realize that humanity is unalterably sinful. We are not becoming better and better. And we rather consistently tend to be hateful towards our fellow human beings. They also realized that humanity now had the capacity; namely atomic energy, to destroy itself.

Pastors and theologians such as Karl Barth began to realize that liberal theology could not meet the needs of their people. Barth and others began to take the Bible seriously again. They began to re-emphasize sin. And they began to proclaim once again the need for the redemption of human beings.

However, neo-orthodoxy is not a return to orthodoxy, let alone fundamentalism. The neo-orthodox theologians despised fundamentalism as much as the liberals did. They also were radical biblical critics. They were called neo-orthodox, because they represented a movement back towards orthodoxy, rather than a movement back to orthodoxy.

The third reaction to liberalism, in addition to fundamentalism and neo-orthodoxy was humanism. This was the reaction of the opposite side of the spectrum from fundamentalism. Whereas fundamentalism and neo-orthodoxy thought the liberals had gone too far, the humanists believed that the liberals did not go far enough. Humanists deny the existence of God. They are totally materialist, with no belief in life beyond the grave. All of their hope and faith is in humanity and humanity’s capabilities.

By the end of World War II, fundamentalism was in a shambles. It had become so extreme in its positions, that they alienated people who were sympathetic to their basic beliefs. They completely rejected biblical criticism of any kind, even orthodox criticism. They insisted that the King James translation was the only inspired Bible. And anyone who disagreed with them they called a communist.

During the mid-forties in America, a successor to fundamentalism arose out of the ashes of fundamentalism. It is called evangelicalism. Evangelicals still hold to the fundamentals of the faith. That is, they are orthodox believers. But they do not have the closed mind-set of the earlier fundamentalists. Evangelicals promote biblical criticism, rather than condemn it. But they do not embrace the presuppositions of liberalism. Evangelicals do not insist that women wear no pants, makeup, or bathing suits. They do not frown on dating outside the church membership, or disallow dancing. Nor do they condemn to hell persons who are Indeed evangelicalism is a true return to biblical orthodoxy.

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In the last essay we studied Individual Eschatology, which includes the subjects of physical death, spiritual death, immortality of the soul, and the intermediate state. In this essay we shall study General (also known as World) Eschatology. The first matter under this head is the second coming of Christ. We will begin with Heb. 9:26b-28, which reads, “he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. .And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Chris, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Notice that these verses clearly indicate two comings of Christ, the first when he came to die for our sins, and the second, when he will come again to institute his kingdom.

Next, I suggest that you turn to 1 Cor. 15:22-24, which expresses the three eschatological stages of the end time. Those verses read, “For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed every ruler, and every authority and power.”

Notice that all three stages clearly are set forth. First is the resurrection of Christ as the “first fruits” of the end-time resurrection harvest. Then second is the resurrection of those belonging to Christ. And finally, third, after destroying every evil, Christ will hand the kingdom over to the Father.

Now part of that end-time process is the consummation of the kingdom. We already have studied the difference between the present kingdom in which we participate now by faith, and the future end-time kingdom that Christ will consummate when he returns. Of course it is the future, end-time kingdom that is in view here.

There are two aspects to the end-time kingdom, the millennial and the eternal. Rev. 20:4-6 speaks of the millennial kingdom. That passage reads, “Then I saw thrones, and those seated on them were given authority to judge. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God.” They had not worshipped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years.”

As you can see, the first phase of the consummated kingdom will be a thousand-year rule of Christ, which is commonly called the millennial kingdom. Christ will resurrect the dead believers (bringing the intermediate state to a close) and reign with them for a thousand years. The second phase will be the eternal phase that will be instituted following the millennium. There will be a final rebellion, and a creation of a new heaven and earth. Rev. 21:1 tells us about the new creation. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.” The eternal heaven is associated with this new heaven and earth.

It does not serve our poses in this broad study to go into detail concerning the many biblical passages that deal with heaven. I recommend Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven (Tyndale, 2010), if you wish to delve deeper into the subject.

In my own study I have come to several conclusions. First, heaven will be on the renewed, or recreated, earth. Second, the eternal state of heaven is, will be both superior to and similar to our present experience, as we saw in relation to the intermediate state, Third, there is consciousness there. Fourth, in contrast to the intermediate state, there will be no disembodied souls in the eternal state in the future heaven. In the eternal state all human beings who are there will have spiritual bodies. Fifth, the eternal heaven will be more than a state of mind. That is, it is a genuine existence in a genuine place. Sixth, memory seems to play a part. We saw that even in regard to the intermediate state (Lk. 16). Seventh, the future heaven is life. That is, the people there will be living. This implies growth and development rather than stagnation.
And eighth, the future heaven is a gift from God.

Turning to the concept of hell, the available information is limited. Several images appear in the New Testament to express the horrors of being among those who refuse salvation. For example, following the healing of the centurion’s servant, Jesus spoke about the faithless people in Israel being “thrown into the outer darkness, where they “will weep and gnash their teeth” (Mt. 8:12).

Thus we already see three powerful images, darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth. Gnashing of teeth seems particularly offensive to me. It is like fingernails screeching on a blackboard forever.

Then after Jesus told the parable of the wheat and the tares, he said, “The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth” (Mt. 13:41-42).

Here of course the primary image is fire. The Revelation also uses that image. After the defeat of the antichrist and his armies, the antichrist and the false prophet are cast into the “lake of fire.” Later Satan receives the same judgment.

Since these images are so varied, and in some cases, even contradictory (fire and darkness, for example), they probably are not intended to be interpreted literally. The reality of hell is made clear in Mt. 25:41. The saying follows Jesus’ judgment of the sheep and the goats. It reads, “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” Whatever else hell may be, it means to be cut off from God and God’s influence forever. That is, it is eternal banishment from the presence of God.

I once read that someone said he would prefer to be in hell, because there would be more interesting people there. Right! Take a few moments to think about what it would be like to spend eternity with those “interesting” people with no divine influence whatsoever.

I want to mention one more matter regarding general eschatology. It is the existence of Satan. The name Satan means “adversary.” Of course some people deny the existence of Satan altogether.

Others define Satan as a personification of an evil force. Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, is an example. The play is about the Salem witch hunts. And Miller’s point is that although the Salem people thought they were fighting the evil of Satan by killing witches, the witch hunt itself was the evil.

The orthodox view of Satan and demons is that Satan is a real person, probably a fallen archangel who is in total rebellion against God. He leads a group of demons, also fallen angels, who seek to undermine or destroy the plan of God at every turn (Rev. 12:7-12; Eph. 6:11-12). Their powers on the earth are limited primarily to the ability to tempt free creatures to rebel against God. But if a person gives permission to Satan or his demons to work in or through them, the consequences can be extremely destructive.

Nevertheless the “bottom line” is that the Holy spirit who dwells within us is stronger than the devil and all of his demons. As the apostle John tells us, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4).

As we indicated in the last essay, eschatology literally is “the study of last things.” This area of theology includes both individual and general, or world, eschatology. Individual eschatology includes the subjects of physical death, immortality of the soul, and the intermediate state (the state of existence between physical death and resurrection). General eschatology, on the other hand, includes such subjects as the second coming of Christ, the kingdom of God and its consummation, the eternal state, and the existence of Satan.

Turning first to individual eschatology, the first element I want to discuss is physical death. Barring the second coming of the Lord, death is the one certain fact. Death also is a universal fact. It happens to everyone sooner or later (again baring the second coming). Technically speaking, physical death is a separation of the soul from the body. Eccl. 12:7 reads, “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Moreover, Jesus distinguished between the death of the body and death of the soul, when he said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28). Thus physical death is the termination of the “animal” or organic life of the living.

However, it is not physical death that is the major problem. The major problem is spiritual death. When Hebrews 2:9 says that Christ tasted death for every man, and provisionally abolished death for all, it means of course spiritual death. Apart from those believers who are alive at the second coming (those who will be “raptured”) all Christians must die a physical death. But death has lost its sting for them, because of Jesus’ victory over death.

Rev. 20:14 tells us that Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire; and the lake of fire is identified as “the second death.” This is the Revelation’s vivid symbol of eternal, spiritual death. Because Jesus died for the world, all of us who are willing to believe will be delivered from that eternal death. But spiritual death awaits those who will not repent and believe.

Now when we talk about spiritual life and death, we must talk about immortality of the soul. If physical death marks the separation of body and soul and the decomposition of the body, we must ask, what becomes of the soul?

Historic Christianity traditionally has said that humanity has a continuous or endless existence. After physical death, the body passes into dissolution; but human beings still retain their soul-identity as an individual being (Rev. 6:9-11). This is an important part of what we mean by immortality of the soul. But we orthodox Christians believe something more. We believe that we will receive spiritual bodies when we are resurrected. Therefore it would be better to speak of ourselves as immortal persons rather than as immortal souls.

We have been speaking about the doctrine of immortality from the perspective of orthodox Christianity. But the orthodox Christian view is not the only view of immortality that has been advanced. Indeed there are at least four views, counting the orthodox view.

The first theory we will call biological immortality. In this view human beings live on in their children, and that is the only immortality there is. In other words, there is no life after death, but our lives continue through the lives of our children. .

A second theory is sociological immortality. Again there is no life after death. This kind of immortality depends entirely on the impact an individual has on society. For example, Hitler is sociologically immortal, because of the tremendous impact he had on the world, even though it was a very negative impact.

The third theory is spiritual immortality. This is the kind of immortality that is seen in the Eastern religions. Both Hinduism and Buddhism believe in reincarnation, and their ultimate hope is for eventual absorption into the Absolute. It is a very pessimistic kind of religion, because even if they attain their goal of absorption into the divine, they have continued personal existence.

The fourth view is the kind of view with which we began. It is individual immortality, which is characteristic of orthodox Christianity. Individual immortality is not, however, the exclusive property of Christianity. Plato believed in immortality of the soul. He believed that the soul existed in the realm of ideas before physical birth, and that it went back to the realm of ideas after death. Thus to the Greeks, there was no great tragedy in death, because the physical body was a prison for the soul. And death released the soul from that material prison. It enabled the soul to return to its original home.

Those are the four types of immortality: the biological, sociological, spiritual, and individual. Now we are ready to move to the subject of the intermediate state. As I mentioned earlier, the intermediate state is the state of existence between physical death and resurrection. You may be surprised at how little information there is in the New Testament about the intermediate state. But we will look at what there is.

We will begin with the intermediate state of believers. First, the soul immediately enters Christ’s presence in heaven. You will remember that Paul said, “we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6-8). Thus Paul definitely believed that to leave the body in death was to go into the presence of the Lord. And he indicates no time delay in the process.

You also will remember that Jesus said to the thief who was dying on the cross beside Jesus’ own, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43). Once again, it is clear that the Christian enters immediately into the presence of Christ at death.

Second, the believer’s existence in the intermediate state is greatly preferable to the present one. 2 Cor. 5:8 is once again an appropriate Scripture. Paul declared that he would rather be with the Lord. In other words it was a preferable existence.

Third, the soul of the believer is in a state of consciousness while in the intermediate state. The primary Scripture for this point is the story in Luke 16:19-31. It is the story of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus. Lazarus lay at the gate of the rich man, eating the rich man’s garbage. And the rich man did nothing to help him. Both men died. The poor man went, after death, to “the bosom of Abraham,” which is an expression for the heavenly intermediate state. The rich man, on the other hand, went to Hades, where he was in torment. The rich man cried out for mercy, because he was suffering. But he was told that he was reaping what he sowed while alive, and Lazarus was doing the same. And he was told further that there was no way to pass from Hades to Abraham’s bosom, or vice versa. Now scholars differ on whether or not this is a parable, and on whether or not it should be understood as providing teaching on the intermediate state. But it certainly seems legitimate to understand from it that the sate of existence there is a conscience one.

Fourth, the intermediate state is a state of rest and happiness. Rev. 14:13 says this clearly. It reads, “’Write this: blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth’ ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.’” Such is the New Testament evidence in respect to the intermediate state of believers.

Now we turn to the evidence regarding the state of unbelievers between death and resurrection. Here the evidence is even less full. According to the story in Lk. 16, the unbelieving soul immediately enters a place of torment (Lk. 16:23-24). Since there is no evidence to the contrary, we can agree with one systematic theologian who put it this way: “If the righteous enter upon their eternal state at once, the presumption is that this is true of the wicked as well” (Berkhof, ST, 680)

Thus we conclude that persons apparently can be assigned to their eternal place (heaven or hell) without yet being in their final, eternal state (with a resurrection body). The intermediate state is a state of existence in heaven or hell, but because it is a bodiless existence, it is not the final state of existence for either believers or unbelievers.

Now I want to look at the intermediate state as it has been presented in Church history. The majority of the early Church Fathers assumed a distinct state of existence between death and the resurrection. And they seemed to believe that the righteous enjoy a measure of reward not equal to their future heavenly reward, and the wicked suffer a degree of punishment not equal to their future hell while there. The intermediate state was thus a slightly reduced version of the ultimate state of things.

In the Middle Ages the idea of an intermediate state was retained, but the Roman Catholics developed and added their doctrine of purgatory. Thus the prevailing view in the Western Church was that wicked souls, the unbelievers, go at once to hell. Fully righteous souls, the saints (especially the martyrs), go at once to heavenly blessedness; while all others are retained in purgatory for a longer or shorter period, where they suffer the purging effects of the purgatorial “fire.”

The Reformers (e.g., Calvin and Luther) accepted the idea of an intermediate state; but they rejected the idea of purgatory and an intermediate place. They insisted that the righteous go immediately to heaven and the wicked to hell.

Among Socinians and Anabaptist groups the doctrine of soul sleep was revived. This is the view that there is no conscious state of existence between physical death and resurrection. Instead souls literally sleep from the time of death until the resurrection. Some held this in the Ancient Church, and it is held now by some Adventist sects and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The doctrine of soul sleep even has some evangelical adherents. In the New Testament, the metaphor of sleep definitely is used to represent death. Sleeping implies being unaware of the passing of time. So one can see the reasons why this doctrine keeps popping up. But in light of the scriptures that tell us that the intermediate state is one of being in Christ’s presence, one of consciousness, and one of happiness, the sleep metaphor is not normally interpreted in a literal sense.

Now that we have dealt with the intermediate state, we are ready to turn to the eternal state. Jesus himself referred to a final judgment (Mt. 24:31-45). And John in the Revelation gives a detailed account (Rev. 20:11-15). Now this idea of a coming judgment has implications about the future of humanity after the intermediate state. The book of Revelation expresses the state of things after the judgment by suggesting a coming together of heaven and earth. John accomplishes this by using the imagery of a heavenly city coming down out of heaven, and by the renewal, or creation, of a new heaven and earth (Rev. 21).

Now then, there are several views of life and death. First is the orthodox Christian view. We believe that there is both a heaven and a hell. In this view everyone survives physical death; and following the judgment, everyone lives eternally either in heaven or hell. Those who accept God’s forgiveness through faith in Christ dwell eternally in heaven. And those who do not believe dwell eternally in hell.

A second view is Materialism. Materialists teach that no one survives death. That is; there is no life after death. Therefore there is no salvation.

Third is Universalism. . In universalism everyone is saved in the end. Universalists believe that God is so loving that he could never allow any human being to be punished forever. Therefore universalists believe that God will save everyone.

Finally fourth is Annihilationism. In annihilationism the righteous are saved, but not the wicked. That part is not controversial. The controversy comes from their view of how God handles the wicked. Annihilationism says that the wicked are annihilated at physical death rather than sent to hell. Indeed there is no hell to send them to. The righteous go to heaven; and the wicked are annihilated. This view protects God from doing something that those who hold the view perceive is an unfair thing for God to do. They cannot understand how a loving God could punish people eternally for their sins. It just isn’t fair. The answer to that objection is that God punishes only those who insist on it. That is those, who like the devil, absolutely will not repent and accept God’s forgiveness are punished accordingly.

In this essay we begin to study the doctrine of last things. The big theological word is “eschatology.” It comes from the Greek eschatos, which means “last things,” and “logos,” which means “reason.” So “eschatology” is reasoning about last things.

To talk about “last things” implies a very definite view of history, perhaps we should say, a philosophy of history. The two common broad views of history are the cyclical and linear. According to the cyclical view the universe functions according to laws that cause history to repeat itself. Thus there are constantly recurring cycles. Historians call them by different names: ages (Plato), cultures (Spengler), or civilizations (Toynbee).

In the linear view, history is moving in a recognizable direction. It has a goal, a destiny. Some whose thinking was from this perspective suggested that progress is made when there is a strong ruler. And that ruler should rule according to his own self-interest. When Machiavelli’s prince or Nietzsche’s superman is in control, history moves forward. When there is no strong leader, then there is no real progress.

Interestingly, Augustine took a similar position, but with God as the great determiner of progress. Augustine believed that God is the Great Leader, who is leading the world to a predetermined end, his kingdom. John Calvin later advanced Augustine’s ideas to their logical conclusion. Many would say that Augustine and Calvin overemphasized the degree to which God determines events. But they were correct in understanding that the Bible has a linear view of history, and that God will bring human history to a proper conclusion.

We can say at least five things about the Biblical view of history. First, history is a growth process. That is to say, history is not just a willy-nilly succession of events. God is guiding history, and those of us who are following his guidance are growing and developing. As a result, Positive change takes place.

Second, history is a scene of trial and error. Obviously there are failures along the way. But there also are breakthroughs.

Third, history is a scene of the unusual. That is, miracles occur. God is not locked out of the system he created. Rather he is involved with it, and sometimes he acts within it in ways that are miraculous to us.

Fourth, history is moral. This is where we see the eschatological element coming to the fore in biblical thought. In the end, God will make things right morally and bring about justice. We certainly do not see that happening in the present. We more often see the innocent suffering, the just being persecuted, and the wicked prospering. But the biblical message is clear. There will be an accounting in the end time. The righteous will be vindicated. Those who have suffered unjustly will be rewarded. And those who have prospered at the expense of the downtrodden, who are unwilling to repent, will be punished.

Finally, fifth, history has a goal and purpose behind it. History is going somewhere. It has a destiny prepared for it by God. If we are confused, it is because we have not seen the end of the story. The goal, the end, as far as the biblical revelation is concerned, is the second advent of Christ. Jesus is coming back! And when he comes, he will consummate the future Kingdom of God. And of course as soon as we raise that subject, we are talking about the end times.

When one studies the various views of the end times, one discovers that there are three basic positions concerning the second coming of Christ. The first is that the second coming already has happened in the past. Persons who take this view generally would say that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room at the first Christian Pentecost was the second advent.

The second view suggests that the second coming is happening every day in the present. Persons who hold this position usually will claim one of two things. They may claim that Christ comes again every time an individual accepts Christ. In other words the reception of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, at conversion is the second coming for that individual. Or they may claim that the presence of Christ in the sacraments is the second coming. Jesus taught his followers to “eat, this is my body.” Thus Christ comes again to each believer in the Eucharist every time one partakes of it.

The third view is that the second coming of Christ will happen in the future. This is the orthodox view of the Church. The Bible teaches that the return of the Lord will be a personal, bodily return that will take place sometime in the future. And when he comes he will institute the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God, or the kingdom of Heaven (which is a synonymous expression), represents an idea that is found in both the Old and New Testaments.

In the Old Testament the expression, kingdom of God, is not found. But the idea of God’s being a king over his covenant people is. In the New Testament, the kingdom of God constitutes the central theme of the teaching of Jesus; and thus it is of supreme importance to the Christian faith. Both Jesus and the Gospel writers center their eschatology on the idea of the Kingdom.

The Gospel writers expressly declare that the kingdom of God was the theme of Jesus’ preaching. For example Luke writes, “Soon afterward he went on through the cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the Kingdom of God” (8:1). Matthew says it just a little differently, “And he went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (4:23). A study of Jesus’ sayings and parables shows that the kingdom was indeed central in Jesus’ thought and teaching. So the important matter is to get at what he meant by the phrase.

As I already indicated, the idea of the kingdom of God was found in the Old Testament. And so the concept was not new to those who heard Jesus. The Old Testament clearly teaches that God is eternally the king, that God is sovereign right now, whether people acknowledge it or not, and that there is a kingdom which lies in the future. All of these ideas are found in the teachings of Jesus.

But the most important emphasis of Jesus in respect to the kingdom is the eschatological, or end-time, element. In the New Testament, the Greek word basileia means, basically, “kingship” or “rule.” And when the word is associated with God, it means the “rule” of God.
Therefore, the “kingdom of God” is not so much a place as it is a sphere of authority. If you are a part of the kingdom of God, it is not because of where you are located. Rather it is because you are under the rule of God, wherever you might be.

Now Jesus taught, on the one hand, that the kingdom of God, that is the rule of God, is to come in the future. On the other hand, some of Jesus’ sayings clearly imply that the kingdom, in the eschatological sense, already has come in the person and ministry of Jesus himself. This paradox has troubled many scholars. Some have attempted to deal with it by bringing all of the teachings of Jesus under one or the other of these senses of the kingdom, either present or future. These attempts invariably have failed, because they force all of the sayings into the one mold or the other, whether they fit or not.

The most famous representatives of these two interpretations are C.H. Dodd, who stressed the present aspect and Albert Schweitzer, who stressed the futuristic aspect of the kingdom. Dodd is famous for the phrase “realized eschatology,” and Schweitzer for the phrase “consistent eschatology.” By realized eschatology, Dodd meant that believers realize (experience) the blessings of the end-time kingdom in the present. Jesus never intended that we are to receive those blessings in the distant future. We are to experience them now.

By consistent eschatology Schweitzer meant that we must interpret Jesus’ statements regarding a future kingdom consistently as something that would take place in the future. Neither of these approaches is correct. The best approach to Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom is to accept the fact that Jesus indeed taught us about two very real aspects of the kingdom of God, one present and one future.

The kingdom has come in fulfillment of the promised messianic salvation. That is, the promise in the Old Testament of a coming Messiah has been fulfilled in Jesus. But the perfect realization of the Kingdom of God (and remember that means the perfect rule of God over everyone everywhere) has not yet come.

George E. Ladd expresses this beautifully in his Theology of the New Testament. After stating that the glorious kingdom will be experienced only in the Age to come Ladd writes:

In advance of the manifestation of the Kingdom in glory, however, this same Kingdom of God, his kingly reign, has manifested itself among men in an unexpected form. The Kingdom is to work secretly among men. While the evil age continues, the Kingdom of God has begun to work quietly in a form almost unnoticed by the world. Its presence can be recognized only by those who have spiritual perception to see it. This is the mystery of the Kingdom: the divine secret that in the ministry of Jesus [God’s present kingdom] has for the first time been disclosed to men. The future, apocalyptic, glorious Kingdom has come secretly to work among men in advance of its open manifestations (p. 158).

Traditionally Protestantism has rejected five of the seven sacraments accepted by Roman Catholicism. The two that Protestants accept are Baptism and Eucharist (The Lord’s Supper). Our reason for rejecting the other five is that Protestants are convinced that there is no biblical basis for them, as sacraments. That is to say, though there is a biblical basis for the ideas of confirmation, marriage, ordination, anointing with oil and repentance, there is no biblical basis for considering these matters sacraments.

But there are variations in Protestant thought. The Quakers and Salvation Army, for example, do not formally recognize even Baptism and Eucharist as having special sacramental value. On the other hand, the Lutheran and Anglican traditions speak of sacramental acts in order to lift some of these practices above the ordinary, without going so far as to call them sacraments.

And then there are the varying interpretations and practices respecting Baptism and Eucharist seen among the mainline Protestant Churches. Taking up Baptism first, the major difference in practice is that some churches baptize infants, and some do not.

Among those Protestant churches that baptize infants, the Lutherans and Anglicans believe that the grace of God truly is transmitted via the sacrament. However, it is not ex opere operato, as the Roman Catholics claim. Rather faith on the part of the recipient is necessary. In the case of the infants, it is the faith of the church that is necessary for the grace to be imparted. In no case do they believe that Baptism is necessary for salvation.

The other mainline protestant denominations that practice infant baptism such as United Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists are more radically Protestant than the Lutherans and Anglicans in respect to Baptism. Those traditions consider Baptism to be a sign or symbol that the infant belongs to the fellowship of the Church, or that it is a memorial supper. They would say that the grace of God is conveyed in an inward, spiritual sense, rather than directly and literally.

Turning specifically to the subject of infant Baptism, the practice is reasonable in Roman Catholic theology, because Baptism is necessary for removal of inherited sinfulness and thus for salvation. But Protestants do not believe that. Therefore infant Baptism is more difficult for Protestant theology to justify.

Traditionally, Protestants have set forth several scriptural/theological arguments in favor of Protestant, infant Baptism. The first is the strongest in my opinion. It is argued that infant Baptism represents the covenant relationship that Christians have with God in a way analogous to circumcision under the Old Covenant. As the Hebrews brought their infants for circumcision to symbolize their participation in the covenant people, Christians bring their infants for Baptism for the same purpose.

A second argument revolves around those New Testament passages that speak of whole households being baptized. For example, in Acts 16:32-34, the Philippian jailor and his household are said to be baptized. Presumably, says this argument, there were infants in those households; and thus, baptizing infants is both legitimate and meaningful. Of course, to say that there were infants in those households is a large, unprovable assumption.

A third argument is based on the saying of Jesus where he said, “let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:14). He certainly said that, but unfortunately, there is no indication in the context that it had anything to do with Baptism.

A fourth argument for infant Baptism is that it is a public demonstration of God’s unmerited love for all. Some people seem to believe that God loves only those who serve him in a special way. But God loves everyone, and the Baptism of infants illustrates that fact.

A fifth argument is that infant Baptism teaches boldly that God’s grace can only come from God. No human being can provide it. And the helplessness of the infant strongly symbolizes this.

A sixth argument is that if infants are excluded from Baptism, it implies that they are excluded from the Church. And there is no sound theological reason for excluding infants.

On the other hand, there are a couple of powerful arguments against the practice of infant Baptism. Those who practice only believer’s Baptism will quickly point out two things. First they will point out that the New Testament never mentions the Baptism of an infant. They will say in respect to the “household” passages that a household does not necessarily imply infants. They also suggest that the biblical usage of “household” is a Jewish usage which traditionally included only those twelve years of age or older.

They will point out, second, the fact that the New Testament never mentions the Baptism of any person prior to his confession of faith. These are powerful arguments.

Now before we leave the subject of Baptism, I want to say a word about the mode of Baptism. There are three modes: immersion, pouring, and sprinkling. Immersion is the dipping of the candidate completely under water. Pouring is, as it sounds, the pouring of a larger quantity of water over the candidate. Sprinkling is, of course, the use of a small quantity of water to baptize the candidate.

I believe that all denominations that baptize infants use sprinkling as a mode, though some like the United Methodists permit all three modes. Denominations that do not baptize infants generally insist on Baptism by immersion only.

The main argument for immersion is the use of the Greek word baptizo. In its classical usage, the term did mean “to dip.” However in Hellenistic Greek, the meaning of the word broadened; and the word was used for Jewish rituals that could not mean “immersion.” For example, this Greek word is used in a Jewish ritual to cleanse a bed. And in that ritual, they did not immerse the bed.

It is not my intent to convince anyone that a particular view is correct. However, even though in my opinion the symbolism of immersion is stronger than the others, I believe that any of the three modes can be supported scripturally.

Turning now to the Protestant view of the Eucharist, we might see the differences more clearly if we look at all of the various views, beginning with the denominations that put the most stress on the sacraments and moving to those that stress the sacraments the least.

Of course, the most sacramental churches are the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, because they place great stress on the sacraments and accept a total of seven. In terms of the Eucharist, specifically, they hold to the doctrine of transubstantiation.

Then we find the Anglican Church, which in many ways is the most Catholic of the Protestant denominations. When it comes to the Eucharist, the Anglicans speak of the real presence of Christ in the elements, but they make no attempt to define the Holy Mystery. So although they do not hold to transubstantiation, they still take Christ’s presence quite seriously.

The Lutherans can be placed with the Anglicans since they too are closer to the Catholic view of the Eucharist then the others. But the Lutherans did attempt to define the presence of Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, and that sets them off from the Anglicans. The Lutheran doctrine often is called consubstantiation. The “con” is from the Latin preposition which means “with”; and that is the key to the Lutheran understanding. In their view the body and blood of Jesus do not literally appear as in transubstantiation; but they appear spiritually “in, with and under” the elements of bread and wine.

Below the Anglicans and Lutherans we find most other mainline denominations, such as the Methodists and Presbyterians, who look upon the Eucharist as an outward symbol of the inward reality of Christ’s presence. Here also you will find the Baptists, though they emphasize the Lord’s Supper as a memorial supper, taken “in remembrance” of what Christ has done for us.

And the denominations that put the least emphasis on the sacraments are the Quakers, or Friends, and the Salvation Army who do not officially recognize any sacraments. However, I should say that I have never known any Quaker or Salvationist to refuse to take the sacrament when present at a service of Holy Communion.

One of the interesting practical consequences of the differences between denominations in regard to the Eucharist is the refusal of some groups to serve the sacrament of Communion to people from other groups. Where this takes place, it is called “closed communion.” That is, the sacrament is closed to all but the members of the particular group in question. For example, Roman Catholics practice closed communion.