Friday, March 13, 2009

Together for the Pretribulationalism?

I've been intrigued by the GARBC's proposed amendment to its statement of faith to clarify it's position on the Rapture. Here are a couple perspectives from bloggers in the Association. One argues that the GARBC is demonstrating an over-emphasis on eschatology. The other replies that Pretribulationalism relates to a essential matter of hermeneutics.

In no way am I intending to disparage Pretribulationalism or create an argument over its exegesis. I reject the notion that any truth Scripture teaches is irrelevant. If Scripture teaches it, it's important. That doesn't necessarily mean it's essential for fellowship and cooperation.

I am curious to hear a rationale for why it's so essential that it demands division of an association, or even a local church. Hermeneutics is a big issue, but there are lots of other matters virtually no one includes in statements of faith, which similarly relate to hermeneutics. And it's a canard to treat Pretribulationalism as the issue of final arbitration between literal and figurative hermeneutical approaches.

25 comments:

James Kime said...

It is so important because we are supposed to be sober and vigilant in these last days. Obviously only pretribbers fit that definition.

Kent Brandenburg said...

The term pre-tribulational or even rapture is in Scripture. However, we have all the truth in Scripture that leads to a pretribulational position. If someone denies those truths, I can't ignore that. If imminence is in the Bible, for instance, and it is a major basis for holy living in the NT, then without it what do we get? Do we lose a motivator that God wants us to have?

Kent Brandenburg said...

"isn't in Scripture" should be in the first sentence of my comment.

Ben said...

Kent,

But there are many other things that we'd agree are quite clear in Scripture—perhaps even far more clear than the timing of the Rapture (female pastors, homosexuality, etc.)—which are not included in the GARBC statement of faith or that of other churches.

I think the functional purpose of statements of faith historically has been to define what we must have in common to have a certain level of fellowship/cooperation. Obviously, they're not comprehensive, but address those matters that need to be addressed. Statements of faith are by nature reductionistic in one sense. By that I mean that they don't define everything that you believe as a pastor, but merely those things your flock needs to agree on to be a church.

So what makes Pretribulationalism an issue that we must hold in common to have fellowship at the level of an association of churches or even at the level of a local church?

And by the way, I've hears Amils argue that they believe in imminence more than Pretribs because Christ can literally return at any moment in his Second Coming, not merely in the air in prospect of the SC seven years later.

James Kime said...

Right on Ben. Amills embrace imminence also. It is the rest of their scheme that ignores reality.

So really, the rapture position only weeds out the wierdo midtrib, posttrib, and prewrathers.

localhist said...

I am a former member of a GARBC church and more or less accepted the position of the Association regarding Christ's return. However, when I went to Westminster Theological Seminary, I became convinced that an amillenial position was more biblical. Amillenialists believe that Christ will return at any time. We believe in the creation of new heavens and a new earth, which the Bible teaches is the place where God is moving. Our new birth in Christ and the gathering of the church are the first fruits of what God is doing. Thus, we do not believe in an intermediary millenium. The fact that Christ will return is a sole sufficient basis for fellowship without any pre-trib, pre-mill qualifications,

James Kime said...

Localhist, I wonder how many more groups we could have fellowship with if we didn't have to worry about other theological issues either.

The NT never simply states that Christ will return. We have major portions of the gospels, epistles and of course Revelation that describe it all. It is convenient but naive to adopt a reductionist mentality.

You show me where Paul tried to build bridges in theology and I will show you where he said we are to tear down strongholds.

Ben said...

James,

Maybe I'm daft, but are you arguing FOR or AGAINST the position that people can disagree on the timing of the Rapture and still have fellowship at the associational or local church level.

James Kime said...

I think people can work together at various levels and disagree on the timing of the rapture. I was specifically addressing this thought:

"The fact that Christ will return is a sole sufficient basis for fellowship without any pre-trib, pre-mill qualifications,"

Really? So as long as someone thinks he is coming again that passes the litmus test? That is... absurd.

Why is eschatology the area where people get to be that reductionist? Since when did eschatology become so unimportant?

Bruce said...

It seems that the Church survived its first 1900 or so years without any statement on the timing of the rapture. What makes it essential now? Is it really defending critical points of eschatological doctrine, or a dispensationalist reading of Scripture?

I know, I know-- if you're a dispensationalist, then naturally, you believe that to be true. I'm not trying to pick a fight-- I have fellowship with dispensationalists in my own congregation. But my question is, does your system (or the way you have constructed it) require you to draw lines that haven't been "necessary" until the past hundred years or so?

Ben said...

So James, what about at the local church level? Were the authors of the New Hampshire Baptist Confession wrong in 1833 when all they affirmed was:

"We believe that the end of the world is approaching; that at the last day Christ will descend from heaven, and raise the dead from the grave to final retribution; that a solemn separation will then take place; that the wicked will be adjudged to endless punishment, and the righteous to endless joy; and that this judgment will fix forever the final state of men in heaven or hell, on principles of righteousness.

James Kime said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Kime said...

Bruce, you said:

It seems that the Church survived its first 1900 or so years without any statement on the timing of the rapture.

My response:

It survived over 300 years without explicit language about the Trinity also.

It survived 1000 years of justification being in darkness.

It survived the bible being in a language people couldn't read.

It survived ____________.

The point is that the church's survival is due to the faithfulness of God. That does not give us reason (or better, excuse) to be slackers or people who fumble Scripture.

James Kime said...

Ben, the local churches should be more specific than statements of faith for groups and associations. I understand that groups need to be reductionist to a certain point. My reaction was something so reductionist that as long as Christ returns we are good.

This is not a time for people to reduce so much theology. We should strive to maximize it and teach it.

Paul said he did not shrink to declare the whole counsel of God. Peter said he needed to remind them of the first principles.

As for the NHBC, it does affirm alot of things that will take place when Christ returns. They at least were able to put it down in writing. They could have put more no doubt but at least they weren't theological agnostics about it.

Ben said...

James,

I don't think you're addressing the question. Why would people have to agree on the timing of the Rapture in order to fellowship together in a local church? I haven't heard an answer yet from anyone on that point.

Concerning the NHBC, I think it's a canard to suggest that because they didn't include more specifics on eschatology that they were reductionistic or agnostic. I don't remember any specifics on who put that statement together and what they believed individually, but the fact that they defined the parameters for their fellowship on that statement doesn't necessitate reductionism or agnosticism. It simply means that was the parameter for fellowship at that level.

Bruce said...

James,

I appreciate your critique of my use of the "survival" argument. I would agree that it is a poor support in the way that I put it, but allow me refine my argument and throw back to you. [This, of course, should be a benefit of good dialogue/debate.] I would like to use your examples to make my point.

Was the Trinity an unknown truth, or an unarticulated one? My sense is that it was the latter. I believe that it was in some sense assumed by the church, but not articulated. And, when it became clear that there were those who were teaching against what was handed down from the apostles, courageous men had to stand up for the truth and see it put down in the creeds, because Arianism, Modalism, etc. would have destroyed the gospel and wreaked havoc in the churches.

I don't see pretribulational rapture as a doctrine that has been assumed by all Christians since the apostles, and somehow needs to be articulated since it has come under attack so as to prevent the demolition of the gospel. This is where the "survival" idea came from, though I agree I need to find a way to put it differently. If a position on the pre-trib rapture is critical like the Trinity is, why has confusion or tolerance on the timing of the tribulation not created problems? It should be noted that I am contending that imminence (constant expectancy that encourages holy living) does not depend on holding a pre-trib rapture position.

Similarly, justification was a doctrine that was to some degree lost in the Middle Ages. The Reformers then were involved in restoring good doctrine when they brought this to the fore, not discovering something that no other Christians had heard of or believed, a la pre-trib rapture. Again, the loss of justification by faith alone through grace alone was an issue in which the gospel was compromised, whereas the timing of the rapture is not a threat.

The question remains: Why is this necessary now? The answer has to be something more than "Because it is true" for the reasons that Ben has already articulated.

Also, I do not believe that either Ben or I are condoning or promoting doctrinal agnosticism. I have a eschatalogical positions on the rapture, millennium, judgment, and so on, and I gladly teach and defend them as appropriate and necessary. I welcome others to hold somewhat different positions if we can be in agreement on the major concerns, such as those articulated in the New Hampshire statement Ben mentioned. I welcome the opportunity for believers who differ on the details to challenge and sharpen one another's understanding. I am in favor of allowing for some differences of opinion on these matters within a fellowship of churches or within the membership of a local church. I do not see that as doctrinal agnosticism.

James Kime said...

Ben, maybe I am missing something here. I do NOT think that people have to have the same view of eschatology within their church. I know for a fact that the elders in my church are mostly pretrib, but we do have a prewrath fella.

I did lament that the NHBC did not include more but at the same time
I was praising the NHBC for not being agnostic about end time events.

Ben said...

James,

My apologies for misreading you on the agnosticism comment. That was clearly my mistake.

I'm confused, though, when you say it's fine to disagree on eschatology within a church, but you're critical of the NHBC because it's not specific enough. I refreshed my memory on the background of the NHBC, and it's original purpose expanded far beyond merely a local church (though it may have been that--I haven't researched that point). So why would you be critical of its minimalism if it was intended to define fellowship even more broadly than a local church?

Other than that, it sounds like we agree.

James Kime said...

Sigh, okay, in my latest response to you, include groups there with church. It was church groups I was talking about.

If associations were required to have absolute agreement in every point, associations wouldn't be any bigger than the individual churches.

My criticism about the NHBC is a reflection more on the churches themselves that they have to be wordsmiths to make sure they can all be vastly different yet work together. By doing this, it almost becomes a necessity to avoid those theological truths altogether.

It seems that the issue is pragmatic more than anything else.

Ben said...

James,

I don't grasp your angst. You agree that we should be able to disagree on some matters and still have fellowship. But you seem to resist codifying those differences in statements that provide for disagreement. What approach would you prefer? Are you opposed to statements of faith in principle because you feel they are inevitably reductionistic on something?

And concerning your other observation, I agree. And I'll go a step further. If church members were required to have absolute agreement in every point, churches wouldn't be any bigger than one person.

kevin said...

Hi Ben--Here's my take. The Council of Eighteen suggested these clarifications because the proposed language better describes the GARBC's position. I don't think this is a case of the GARBC becoming "more" premil as a result of the new language.

I agree that statements of faith define fellowship, but they are also teaching tools for the folks in the pew. I think this is biggest motivator in the language revision.

Ben said...

Kevin,

I agree that it's not a change. It does seem to be rising from some desire to emphasize and elevate the significance of eschatology as a point where fellowship must be limited.

Anonymous said...

All should read "Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty" which I saw on the "Powered by Christ Ministries" site!
Clyde

Joel said...

btw this was approved today by vote here, 277 to 6

Ben said...

Who were the other 5?