Do Pentecostals need to be
A Discussion Paper submitted to the
General Council of the
Assemblies of God.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
(1) Foreword . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
(2) Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 – 5
(3) Historical Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5 – 7
(4) Specific Influences
[a] Edward Irving . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 – 10
[b] The Brethren Movement & J N Darby . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10 – 13
[c] C I Scofield and the Scofield Reference Bible . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13 – 14
[d] Summary of Influences & Implications and Developments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14 – 17
(5) Answers to Posed Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 – 18
(6) Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 – 20
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DO PENTECOSTALS NEED TO BE PREMILLENNIAL?
This paper has been written in response to a request received from the Executive Council of the
Assemblies of God in Great Britain and Ireland.
I am thankful to the Executive brothers for the opportunity to produce this paper and hope that it forms a helpful contribution to the current debate in our Fellowship about what we believe to be fundamental in the context of a Pentecostal Statement of Faith.
I am a second generation Pentecostal leader and am premillennial in my understanding of our Lord’s second coming. What I mean by this, is that being premillennial gives me a framework of belief and understanding which I regard as reasonable and helpful. It doesn’t mean that I feel premillennialsim provides entirely adequate answers to the plethora of questions posed to us by the incredible prospect of our Lord’s second coming.
It has to be admitted at the outset that within the premillennial school, there is wide ranging debate and disagreement about the Tribulation, the Nation of Israel and the Anti-Christ, all within the context of holding to a premillennial view of our Lord’s return. This simply highlights the fact that no school of eschatology can adequately provide all of the answers. These differences of belief are basically brought about by the existence of two streams of understanding within the premillennial school: (i) Dispensational Premillennialism and (ii) Historical Premillennialism. These will be elaborated on these in due course.
Some of us will be uncomfortable that we are even having this debate. Asking questions is not something which we Pentecostals have always been good at. Firstly, we do not wish to be seen to denigrate the memories and theological beliefs of our forefathers, and secondly, we do not wish our questioning to be regarded as the first steps on the ‘slippery slope’ towards liberalism. It’s my personal belief that some honest questions need to be asked with regard to whether our eschatology (as currently expressed) is as fundamental an issue as we have made it. This paper is not intended to denigrate anyone. Our forefathers were pioneers who sought to establish Pentecostalism within the UK and Ireland in the face of strong opposition and scepticism.
1 Assemblies of God Year Book, 2002, last page.
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They laid a foundation on which we are seeking to build. I don’t personally believe that they ever intended their phraseology as expressed in our Truth Statement to be set in concrete. Asking honest questions about what we believe does not mean that we are becoming theologically liberal. On the contrary, it is a responsible and mature thing to do as we look to the challenges facing Pentecostals in the 21st century. Point 3 of our Statement of Faith (as amended by the 2001General Council) states:
“We believe in the Virgin Birth, Sinless Life, Miraculous Ministry, Substitutionary
Atoning Death, Bodily Resurrection, Triumphant Ascension, and Abiding
Intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ and in His Premillennial Second Advent as
the blessed hope set before all believers . . .” 1
The purpose of this paper is to ask, “Do Pentecostals need to be Premillennial?” Some obvious issues flow from this which will be addressed in due course:
(i) Is Pentecostal belief and practice devalued or compromised by
embracing those not holding a premillennial position?
(ii) Is there anything distinctively Pentecostal in pre-millennialism?
Finally, I am aware that I’m writing to an ‘educated’ audience. By this, I mean that readers of this paper will possess a working knowledge and understanding of the subject matter. In view of this, I have not taken an approach which involves discussion of specific Scriptures. Rather, I have sought to examine the backdrop and underpinning sources of the eschatology which was adopted by the newly emerging Pentecostal groups in the first quarter of the 20th century. I trust that I’ve managed to ‘pitch’ this paper at the right level. Whether or not you agree with my approach or conclusions, I sincerely hope that this paper will help to stimulate a quality and good spirited debate with our Fellowship.
We now need to address some historical issues which are of considerable importance. I
appreciate that history isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’. However, in the words of James (John) Glass: “Pentecostals will have a better understanding of where they are going when
2 Glass, James J., Eschatology: A Clear and Present Danger – A Sure and Certain Hope, in Pentecostal Perspectives, (Ed) Keith
Warrington, Carlisle, Paternoster Press, 1998, p. 121.
3 A helpful overview of early church teachers who held a pre-millennial theology is provided by:
Ladd, G.E., The Blessed Hope, Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans, 1990, pp. 20-31.
4 Berkhof, Louis., The history of Christian doctrines, Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1978, p. 262.
5 According to Murray, this name was derived from their assumption that Christ’s kingdom , the fifth, was in succession to the
four kingdoms prophesied by Daniel:
Murray, I., The Puritan Hope, London, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1971, p. 48.
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they have better understood where they have come from.” 2
(3) HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
We can say with some certainty that belief in a literal millennium was held by some teachers in the early Church, notably, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus and Tertullian. The first of the Church Fathers to address it in any detail was Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons in the late second century AD.3 Even theavowed Reformed a-millennial theologian, Louis Berkhof, is prepared to admit that Barnabas, Justin and Tertullian all believed in a literal millennial Kingdom. Sounding a word of caution however, Berkhof says that
“ . . . it is not correct to say, as Premillenarians do, that it was generally accepted in the first three centuries. The truth of the matter is that the adherents of this doctrine were a rather limited number . . . There is no trace of it in Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilius, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Dionysius, and other important Church Fathers.” 4
With the passing of the centuries, the premillennial beliefs of some of the early Church Fathers gradually faded away. The influence of Augustine cannot be underestimated here. His identification of the Church with the Kingdom of God encouraged people to bring their thinking out of the future and into the present.
By the time we reach the Reformation, belief in a premillennial second advent of Christ had arguably disappeared. Berkhof has said:
“At the time of the Reformation the doctrine of the millennium was rejected by the Protestant Churches, but revived in some of the sects, such as that of the more fanatical Anabaptists, and that of the Fifth Monarchy Men.5 Luther scornfully rejected ‘the dream’
6 Berkhoff, op. cit., p. 263.
7 An excellent explanation and critique of the Post Millennial position is given by:
Erickson, Millard J., Contemporary Options in Eschatology, Grand Rapids, MI, 1977, pp. 55-72.
8 Baptist Missionary Society-1792; London Missionary Society-1795; Church Missionary Society-1799; The British and Foreign
Bible Society-1804. Details in:
Miller, A., Miller’s Church History, Glasgow, Pickering & Inglis, 1980, pp. 1039-1042.
9 A good example of this approach is Donald Dayton’s book, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism, Peabody, MA, Hendrickson
10 Glass, op. cit., p. 133.
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that there would be an earthly kingdom of Christ preceding the day of judgment.” 6
It would be reasonable to say that up to the early part of the nineteenth century, the prevailing view in Protestantism with regard to the return of Christ was that of Post-Millennialism,7 which saw a triumphant church waiting for the return of her Lord and Saviour. Jonathan Edwards and Charles G. Finney were two of the best known proponents of this position.
The Wesleyan revival in England together with the ‘Great Awakening’ on the east coast of America and the formation of various Missionary Societies,8 helped to contribute to an ‘up beat’ expectation which was espoused by the post-millennial position. However, all that was to change with the failure of the appearance of a ‘golden age’ and the emerging Pentecostal groups of the early twentieth century were seen to embrace a premillennial position with regard to the return of Christ.
All beliefs stem from somewhere, so it’s reasonable for us to ask how and why belief in Christ’s premillennial second advent was incorporated into our original Statement of Fundamental Truths.
The answer to this question is within the history of the Pentecostal Movement. The theological roots of Pentecostalism have typically been traced from the Wesleyan Holiness and Methodist Movements.9 Commenting on this, James (John) Glass has pointed out that,
“It seems that there was not a uniform eschatological outlook in the Holiness movement. Postmillenialism and premillenialism were both espoused by proponents of Holiness teaching.”10
Accepting this to be true, we need to recognise that some of the formative influences on modern day Pentecostalism originated from a post-millennial understanding of Scripture.
It must also be acknowledged that there were other significant influences on the formation of Pentecostal eschatology.
11 Menzies, William W., The Non-Wesleyan Origins of the Pentecostal Movement, in Aspects of Pentecostal-Charismatic Origins,
Ed: Vinson Synan, Plainfield, NJ, Logos International, 1975, p. 83.
12 Ibid., p. 86.
13 An excellent overview of Edward Irving is provided by David Allen in: The Unfailing Stream, Tonbridge, Sovereign World,
1994, pp. 80-92.
14 Sandeen, E.R., The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism 1800-1930, Grand Rapids, MI,
Baker Book House, 1978, p. 18.
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William Menzies has observed that :
“There is no question that the seedbed of the modern Pentecostal movement was the holiness revival of the late nineteenth century. However . . . there is some evidence of influence from early fundamentalism in the forming of pentecostal tradition.” 11
Menzies also points out the contribution of the Keswick Conferences, speaking of characteristics which marked the Keswick movement as:
“ . . . the denial of the eradication of inward sin and the emphasis on premillennialism, faith healing, and the gifts of the Spirit . . . “12
Having looked briefly at the historical backdrop and the general formative influences on the newly emerging Pentecostal groups, we now need to look at some specific individuals whose impact was (and still is) considerable.
(4) SPECIFIC INFLUENCES
(a) Edward Irving
To understand the source of current day Pentecostal eschatological belief, we begin by tracing a line from Edward Irving (1792-1834).13 In July 1822 he took on the pastorate of the Caledonian Chapel in Hatton Garden (Church of Scotland) and within a year attendance levels had rocketed to 1000+, necessitating the construction of a new building in Regent Square. Sometime during 1825/1826 Irving began to associate with a group of people who met at Albury Park in Surrey, the home of a wealthy banker called Henry Drummond. The purpose of these gatherings was to discuss Biblical prophecy. Ernest Sandeen is of the view that it was, “The Albury conferences more than any other event that gave structure to the British millenarian revival.” 14
15 Gundry, R.H., The Church And The Tribulation – A Biblical Examination of Post Tribulationism, Grand Rapids, MI,
Zondervan, 1973, p. 185.
16 Ladd, op. cit., p. 36.
17 Allen, op. cit., pp. 84-85.
18 MacPherson, D., The Incredible Cover-Up, Plainfield, NJ, Logos International, 1975, p. 61.
19 Ladd, op. cit., p. 36.
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Lady Powerscourt also attended the Albury meetings together with leading members of the Plymouth Brethren Movement, including B.W. Newton and S.P. Tregelles.15 Commenting on the background to Irving’s attendance at the Albury meetings, Ladd says:
“Just before Irving attended the Albury meeting, he had come upon a copy of the work on the Coming of the Messiah by the Spanish Jesuit, Lacunza (Ben Ezra). Lacunza had rediscovered the truth of the second advent of Christ to establish His millennial kingdom which had been lost in Catholicism. Even though he was a Catholic, he applied the prophecy of the second beast in Revelation thirteen to a corrupted Roman priesthood. In 1827, this book and the millennial question became the main objects of study at the Albury Conference.16
Commenting on the influence which this document had on Irving, David Allen says that:
“Irving’s very firm conviction that Christ’s return was imminent led him, his associates in the Albury circle, and a small group in the Regent Square church, to begin ‘seeking the Lord’ for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This alone, believed Irving, would enable the Church to push back the tide of unbelief and godlessness . . . and to bring in the final harvest of souls before the reappearance of the Son of Man.” 17
In 1829 the Albury group issued a six point paper which set out their views. The second point stated their convictions regarding the return of the Jews to Palestine, while point five affirmed their belief in the second advent of Christ prior to the millennium.
The fact that Irving preached the imminent second coming of Christ in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Rosneath and other cities and towns in Scotland is referenced by David MacPherson18 and George Eldon Ladd who says that Irving preached the imminence of Christ’s second coming to open air crowds of up to twelve thousand people.19 Irving also contributed to a periodical associated with the Albury group called
20 Christenson, L., ‘Pentecostalism’s Forgotten Forerunner’, in Aspects of Pentecostal-Charismatic Origins, Synan, V., (Ed),
Plainfield, NJ, Logos International, 1975, p.19.
21 Ibid., p. 20.
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The Morning Watch (a title later adapted by our Fellowship to designate
early morning Bible studies at our annual conference).
Commenting on Irving’s ultimate acceptance of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Larry Christenson says:
“In July of 1831, Irving mentioned in a letter to a friend, ‘Two of my flock have received the gift of tongues and prophecy.’ Two years earlier , in his ‘Homilies on Baptism’, Irving had taken the established position of the Church of Scotland at that time, that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit had disappeared in the Church.
. . . He counselled extensively with the individuals involved, and slowly satisfied himself that these were indeed genuine manifestations of the Holy Spirit. Having come to this conclusion, with the single-minded sincerity which was his characteristic, Irving spoke out in favour of the movement, lending it the not inconsiderable weight of his reputation and pastoral office. 20 Irving began to pray for the gift of tongues, although there is no record that he ever exercised this gift. Being true to his convictions, he allowed the public operation of spiritual gifts at Regent Street. This ultimately proved to be his downfall. Irving was accused of heresy in 1827 and was ultimately expelled from the Church of Scotland in March, 1833. He died from pneumonia in Glasgow the following year.
Looking back on Irving’s life, Christenson says:
He was a man ahead of his time, pointing to things yet future for the great body of
the Church. He was a forerunner not only of the Catholic Apostolic church in a direct
sense, but of the entire Pentecostal phenomenon of the twentieth century. The
things he said and did, his emphases and concerns, largely rejected in his own day,
have become commonplace in the Pentecostal movement of our time. 21
Christenson is right with regard to Irving’s premillennial theology: It has become commonplace in the Pentecostal movement of our time. How Irving acquired his beliefs, is, I believe of significance:
22 Miller, A., op. cit., p. 1054.
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In the context of Lacunza’s writings and the Albury Conferences with their Brethren influences.
We now turn to a second major source from which our eschatology was derived.
(b) The influence of the Brethren Movement and J.N. Darby
With regard to the beginnings of the Brethren movement, Andrew Miller has commented:
“Unlike (other) denominations . . . the Brethren movement owes its origin to the
nineteenth century. It is commonly referred to as “Plymouth Brethrenism” since
Plymouth was one of the early centres of the movement.” 22
The leading figure in the Plymouth congregation was B.W. Newton, a Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. The Brethren movement had its beginnings in Dublin in 1825. In 1827, a high churchman called John Nelson Darby began to attend the Dublin meetings. He was then curate of the Church of Ireland parish of Wicklow and was disenchanted with what he saw as the Church’s poor spiritual condition.
In 1831 the Powerscourt Conferences began along similar lines to what Lady Powerscourt had experienced at Albury Park. These gatherings were attended by the followers of Irving and by Darby himself.
It is to the Powerscourt Conferences that the Plymouth Brethren trace their roots as a separate movement. Reflecting the meetings at Albury Park, the main subjects for discussion were eschatological themes. For Darby all of this was connected to his exclusive idea of the true nature of the Church, expressed as follows:
“It became clear to me that the church of God, as He considers it, was composed of
only those who were so united with Christ, whereas Christendom, as seen externally
was really the world, and could not be considered as “the church” . . . I saw that the
Christian, having his place in heaven, has nothing to wait for save the coming of the
Saviour . . . In effect, the Cross of Christ and His return should characterise the
23 Darby, J.N., The Letters of J.N. Darby, 2nd Edition, London, Morrish, 1914-15, 3 Vols, Vol. III, pp. 298-301.
24 Gundry, op. cit., p. 12.
25 Weber, T., Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1983, p. 16.
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church and each one of the members.” 23
Darby taught that history was divided into seven dispensations: Paradise, Noah, Abraham, Israel, Gentiles, the Spirit and the Millennium. (This approach is familiar within Pentecostal circles).
He made a sharp distinction between God’s dealings with natural Israel, His ‘earthly people’ and with the Church, His ‘heavenly people’. All Biblical prophecy was divided in two ways – that which pertained to Israel, and, that which pertained to the Church. Commenting on this approach,
Gundry has observed:
“ . . . the dealings of God with the Church are severed from His dealings with
Israel. Justification for the severance derives from the designation as “mysteries”
of certain churchly doctrines missing in the Old Testament. These mysteries
sharply set apart the Church. So runs the reasoning.” 24
Darby maintained that Christianity cannot go back prior to the Cross for anything as its basis.
There is nothing in the Old Testament which has anything whatsoever to do with the Church; national Israel is in view, nothing else.
The distinct dealings of God with Israel and the Church were strengthened by Darby’s
interpretation of the 70 Weeks prophecy in Daniel 9:
“After a specified period, which the prophet described as seventy weeks after one
of the Gentile rulers issues a decree allowing the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem,
Messiah would come to restore David’s throne (Dan. 9:24-27) . . . During the first
seven weeks, the city would be rebuilt. Sixty-two weeks later Messiah would appear,
but would be rejected (“cut off”). During the final week an evil ruler would attempt
to destroy the Jews, but he would be prevented from doing so by the return Messiah,
who would vindicate God’s people and restore his Father’s line.” 25
Darby regarded the ‘weeks’ as representing periods of seven years. These promises to the Jews
were understood to have been fulfilled in that Jesus was seen to have been put to death 483 years (that is, sixty-nine weeks) after the decree of Artaxerxes, enabling the Jews to rebuild the walls of
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Jerusalem, as described in Nehemiah 2. The obvious problem with this approach is that Christ should have returned after seven years (the seventieth week) to establish the kingdom. Darby resolved this problem with his ‘postponement theory’, whereby God suspended the prophetic calendar when the Jews rejected the Messiah – at the end of the sixty-ninth week. During this time of ‘postponement’, Christ’s attention is focussed on the Gentiles from whom God’s heavenly people will be drawn in the form of the Church. (This type of approach is well known within
Darby saw all of the prophecies regarding the end of the age as pertaining to Israel, so he had to
propose a scheme whereby the Jews were back on God’s calendar once again. He did this by
putting forward the idea of a pre-millennial ‘secret rapture’ of the Church from the earth. Christ
would come for His saints in secret and then publicly with His saints to set up the millennial
kingdom on the earth. These two events would be divided by a period of seven years (the
seventieth week) during which time a period of Tribulation would be manifested upon the earth in
accordance with Scriptures such as the book of Revelation, Matthew 24, Mark 13 , Luke 21 and
II Thessalonians 2. (Again, this type of approach is well known within Pentecostal teaching).
The pre-millennialism espoused by Darby was futurist in its emphasis. He believed that none of
the ‘last days’ prophecies would be fulfilled until immediately before Christ’s return. Those
prophecies regarding national Israel would then be fulfilled during a period of seven years (during
which time the Church would have been ‘raptured’ into Heaven) and afterwards in the millennial
kingdom on the earth.
As we have seen, Darby had a strong conviction that the ‘secret rapture’ could occur at any
moment. Thus the concept of imminency is seen to take a central place in his understanding.
(Once again, this type of approach is well know in Pentecostal circles).
Ladd’s comments are interesting:
“Not all of the Brethren accepted the teaching of a pre-tribulation rapture. In 1842,
B.W. Newton of Plymouth published a book entitled Thoughts on the Apocalypse in
which he taught the traditional view that the Church would go through the Tribulation.
There arose a sharp contention over the issue of pretribulationism between the two
men. Newton considered Mr. Darby’s dispensational teaching as the height of
26 Ladd, op. cit., p. 41.
27 Glass, op. cit., p. 126.
Glass also observes that because of Darby’s involvement in the prophetic conferences of the early 1800s, his influence
extended to Anglican evangelicals who were in attendance. He sees importance in this, stating that, “British Pentecostalism
had its beginnings in the Anglican Church.” (Footnote, p. 126).
28 Information on Scofield has been gleaned from an Internet article by Professor G. Ross Th. D., The Scofield Bible
and C. I. Scofield.
29 I have in my possession a book by Dr Brooks entitled I Am Coming – A setting forth of the Second Coming of our
Lord Jesus Christ as Personal – Private – Premillennial. It is a standard Darby influenced text.
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speculative nonsense” (H. A. Ironside).”26
Samuel Tregelles also adopted Newton’s position against Darby and posited the view that the source of Darby’s ‘secret rapture’ theory was in fact a prophetic utterance given by one of Edward Irving’s congregation.
In concluding this section, the comments of James (John) Glass will be seen as relevant:
“If one examines the ecclesiastical soil in which Pentecostalism took root, one will
find that Brethrenism provided a major source of ideas and personnel. The result
was that some Pentecostals were in fact Brethren who had grafted the baptism and
gifts of the spirit (sic) onto their Brethrenism. Dispensationalism was, therefore,
theologically generative in early Pentecostalism.” 27
I believe that Glass’ point is well made and again, warrants our serious consideration.
(c) C. I. Scofield and the Scofield Reference Bible
The most significant and influential tool responsible for the spread of Darby dispensationalism was, and arguably still is, the Scofield Reference Bible, first published by Oxford University Press in 1909.
Cyrus Ingerson Scofield 28 was born in the State of Michigan in 1843. He became a Christian in September 1879 and spent a great deal of time under the teaching ministry of Dr James H. Brooks29 in St Louis. He was subsequently licensed to preach by the Congregational churches of St Louis and in 1896 accepted a call to pastor the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Northfield, Massachusetts, D. W. Moody’s home church. He remained there until 1903 when he returned to Dallas hoping for more free time to work on the Reference Bible.
30 This happened in Grand Rapids in 1989.
31 Menzies, op. cit., pp. 84-85.
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Following the publication of The Reference Bible in 1909, The New and Improved Edition was published in 1917. This included dates at the top of the centre column, and comments in the book introductions as to the time of events, according to Usher. Sales of the Scofield Reference Bible grew and by 1930 it became the first book published by Oxford University Press to attain one million sales. Oxford renewed the copyright in 1937 and 1945. Around 1990 the name was changed to The Scofield Study Bible and it continues in print today.
Like Darby, Scofield was certainly not a Pentecostal, yet the number of Pentecostals who own a copy of his Bible is considerable. (I base this assertion on my own personal experience, both in the United Kingdom and in America, where I once got into trouble with a Pastor’s wife for disagreeing with Scofield’s theology at an Assemblies of God church in Michigan). 30
Commenting on theological developments at the beginning of the twentieth century, William Menzies has said,
“ . . . fundamentalism became increasingly identified with dispensationalism, chiefly
under the direction of A.C. Gaebelein and C.I. Scofield. Those who held to historic
pre-millennialism gradually lost influence, particularly after the Scofield Reference
Bible was published in 1909. In the Assemblies of God alone, more than 200 titles
by dispensationalist-fundamentalist writers appear in the catalogues of the Gospel
Publishing House during the height of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. 31
(d) Summary of Influences on the formation of Pentecostal Eschatology & Implications
The introduction into this section came with the following quotation from James Glass:
“Pentecostals will have a better understanding of where they are going when they
have better understood where they have come from.”
It is my belief that our eschatology has come from sources which embody a strong Brethren influence. The immediate context of this paper is premillennialism, but it is impossible to discuss the subject matter without noting how premillennialism has been
32 This information was derived in a recent telephone conversation with Dr William Kay
33 This point is well made by George Eldon Ladd with regard to Justin Martyr and Irenaeus:
Ladd, op. cit., pp. 24-27.
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incorporated and expressed within our teaching and practice, ie, largely via a dispensational approach.
If Brethrenism has been so influential upon the particular type of premillennialism which has been (and is) so prevalent within our Fellowship, then I feel a question is warranted:
“If we believed that the Brethren were so wrong with regard to their pneumatology, why do we believe them to be so right with regard to their eschatology?”
The answer to this question may, as Glass has suggested, rest with the influence which former Brethren people exerted upon the newly formed Pentecostal Fellowships in the first quarter of the 20th century. Possibly the most notable ‘transfer’ from the Brethren to the Assemblies of God in Great Britain and Ireland was W.P.F. Burton, who went on to become a member of the Executive Council and exert a massive influence on our overseas missions work, particularly in Africa.
That Mr Burton’s Brethren eschatology was intact is witnessed by a debate which he had with John Carter as to the timing of the Lord’s second coming and the millennium. Mr Carter took a position which has in more recent times been espoused in an AoG setting by John Phillips and John Whitefield Foster, stating that the second coming, the rapture, and the inauguration of the millennial kingdom will occur simultaneously in the context of one major event. Mr Carter prevailed and Mr Burton adjusted his position accordingly.32
This is a clear example of a debate held in the context of a premillennial viewpoint. I’m sure that some reading this paper will wish to express their disagreement with the position put forward by Mr Carter, while others will be saying a loud “AMEN” to it!
We have previously noted that a number of the Early Church Fathers were premillennial in their eschatology. However, they were not dispensational premillennialists in the schools of Darby and Scofield.33 They held to a position more akin to a historical millennial view rather than a dispensational one. The following quotation from Millard Erickson will help to distinguish the dispensational approach from the historical approach:
34 Erickson, Millard J., Contemporary Options in Eschatology, Grand Rapids, MI, Baker Book House, 1977, p. 103.
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“ . . .premillennialists see a special status for Israel during the state of the millennium, though they disagree concerning the exact nature of this status. On the one hand, dispensational premillennialists hold that there will be a virtual restoration of the Old Testament economy. According to this view God has only temporarily turned from His prime dealings with national Israel to the church, or spiritual Israel. God turned away because Israel rejected Christ’s offer of the kingdom. When God has accomplished His purpose in connection with the church, however, He will resume His relations with Israel. In the millennium Israel will be restored to the land of Palestine. Jesus will sit upon the literal throne of David and rule the world from Jerusalem. The Old Testament temple worship and priestly order will be restored, including the sacrificial system. Into the millennium is placed the fulfilment of virtually all Old Testament prophecies not fulfilled by the time of Christ, or at least by Pentecost.
On the other hand, a historical premillennialist like Ladd places considerably
less emphasis upon national Israel than do the dispensationalists. He believes
the church has become the spiritual Israel and that many of the prophecies and
promises relating to Israel are now fulfilled in the church. The Old Testament
sacrificial system has forever passed away because Christ, the reality, has come.
Nonetheless, he believes that literal or national Israel is yet to be saved. He
bases this primarily upon Romans 11:15-16. In the future Israel will turn to Christ and be saved. Not every single Israelite will be converted, but the nation as a
whole will be. Through the agency of Israel, God will bless the whole world, and
presumably this will occur during the millennium.” 34
Again, as we read a comparison like this, some of us will naturally identify with one viewpoint, while at the same time struggling with another, or we may identify with a hybrid of the two. Our ability to be certain about these things is limited and, as we have seen, within the same school of belief there are wide ranging views as to how everything will actually work out in the future. In light of this should we be so dogmatic in stating premillennialism in our Statement of Faith?
The central issue on which we are all agreed is that the King is physically and visibly coming again to reign in power and glory! Is this not the fundamental issue? Brothers and sisters who hold to a-millennial and post-millennial positions are also of the view that the King is physically and visibly
RJ Hyde – October 2002. Do Pentecostals need to be Premillennial? Page 17
coming again to reign in power and glory, but as with the premillennial school, they hold different views as to what the millennium is (or isn’t) and the events surrounding the approach to our Lord’s return.
(5) ANSWERS TO POSED QUESTIONS
On the second page of this paper I posed two questions which for which I now offer answers as
(i) Is Pentecostal belief and practice devalued or compromised by embracing
those not holding a premillennial position?
I do not believe so. On the contrary, believers holding to a-millennial and post-millennial positions have much to offer to the debate over our Lord’s second coming. One area in which we as premillennial Pentecostals are in need, is a tangible theology of the Kingdom which has some bearing on the present as opposed to an over emphasis on the future. This point came home to me forcibly two years ago when I was writing a paper on what Pentecostals believed about the Kingdom of God. I was unable to find any significant work by a premillennial Pentecostal writer which wrestled with the fact that the King has already come.
Our eschatological preoccupation with the future has, in my view, left us wanting with regard to a tangible and workable kingdom theology for the present. While we have taken issue with the likes of C.H. Dodd, Jurgen Moltmann and more recently, Rick Godwin, we have at the same time, failed to generate a thoroughgoing Pentecostal kingdom theology which deals with the present. The very mention of “Kingdom Now” is likely to result in you being lambasted in some publication or other as a heretic!
Experience and history have shown us that a fascination with the doctrine of imminence coupled with a future millennial kingdom, has at times resulted in unfortunate extremes. For example, provision for retirement was not regarded as necessary and a negative view towards life insurance was expressed by some who believed (sincerely, but wrongly) that the Lord would return in their life times.
Also, the lack of Pentecostals in the arenas of politics and education could also be attributed to a dispensational/premillennial view which by its very nature, militated against such things. Why spend time training for these vocations when the Lord was coming anyway? The ‘ministry’ has
35 Assemblies of God Year Book, 2002, last page.
RJ Hyde – October 2002. Do Pentecostals need to be Premillennial? Page 18
been understood in one way: Working full-time for the Lord in Christian leadership, whereas ‘ministry’ in, for instance, a post-millennial view, would incorporate demonstrating the kingdom within the ‘secular’ vocations in which the Lord’s people were engaged.
For my own part, the Pentecostal believers known to me who do not hold to the pre-millennial
school of interpretation are certainly not devaluing their beliefs because of their eschatology. If anything, the opposite is true, because they are actively engaging with the reality that the King has actually come.
(ii) Is there anything distinctively Pentecostal in pre-millennialism?
I have sought to show that in the context of 20th century Pentecostalism, the overriding thing about pre-millennialism is that it is distinctively Brethren. While Edward Irving was sympathetic towards Pentecostal belief and practice, J.N. Darby and C.I. Scofield were definitely not.
The pre-millennial eschatology of Darby and Scofield is by far the most influential view amongst British Pentecostal leaders and yet, it was derived from men who denied the doctrine of the Baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit in the way in which we as Pentecostals understand them. In this regard, I do not believe that there is anything distinctively Pentecostal in pre-millennialism.
To remind ourselves, point 3 of our Statement of Faith reads as follows:
“We believe in the Virgin Birth, Sinless Life, Miraculous Ministry, Substitutionary
Atoning Death, Bodily Resurrection, Triumphant Ascension, and Abiding
Intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ and in His Premillennial Second Advent as
the blessed hope set before all believers . . .” 35
I am unreservedly certain about all of these tenets, with one exception – the word “Premillennial”.
For myself, I am a historical premillennialist and while I believe that the premillennial school offers what I regard as a sound and reasonable approach to Scripture, I am not as certain about it as I am about the other beliefs stated in point 3 of our Statement of Faith.
36 I downloaded this from the website of the UK Elim Pentecostal Church Headquarters.
RJ Hyde – October 2002. Do Pentecostals need to be Premillennial? Page 19
My lack of unreserved certainty is linked to one thing: The essential basis for premillennialism is linked a particular exegesis of just two verses in Revelation chapter 20 and an eisegesis of a host of other Scriptures, ie, we read into other Scriptures what we believe them to mean on the basis that they need to fit into our predetermined premillennial framework. I am as certain as I can be about premillennialism, but ultimately, is not premillennialism at best, a theory of what Pentecostals believe to be true? By definition, it cannot be regarded as a truth because we cannot test its veracity. We believe it to be true, but, we may not be right.
To preclude able people from holding status simply because they do not subscribe to our theory on events surrounding the second coming, is I suggest, at best regrettable and, perhaps at worst, a most unfortunate manifestation of theological pride.
I think we need to come of age and recognise that we have nothing to fear from believers who hold to an a-millennial or post-millennial position. On the contrary, I have suggested that a diversity of ideas (alongside that which we already have with dispensational and historical pre-millennialism) will contribute to, rather than detract from Pentecostal eschatology.
In 1993/1994 our sister Fellowship, the Elim Pentecostal Church in the United Kingdom, undertook a review of their Statement of Fundamental Truths. With regard to the second coming, they adopted the following wording:36
THE COMING KING
We believe in the personal, physical and visible return of the Lord Jesus Christ to reign in power and glory.
Have our friends in Elim got it right with regard to the wording they have employed concerning the Lord’s return?
Commenting on Elim’s decision to adopt this statement Glass says,
“The reason that pre-millennialism was removed from the Elim fundamental
beliefs was not because Elim had suddenly been converted to some other
school of prophetic thought, but rather signalled a desire not to make one
school of thought a basis of fellowship; in the past the statement
37 Glass, op. cit., p. 145.
38 Dodd, C.H., The Coming of Christ, Cambridge, CUP, 1954, p. 151.
RJ Hyde – October 2002. Do Pentecostals need to be Premillennial? Page 20
concerning the Lord’s coming proved an insurmountable stumbling block
to some who wanted to become pastors.” 37
In closing, I offer a quotation from C.H. Dodd:
“The conviction remains central to the Christian faith, that at a particular
point in time and space, the eternal entered decisively into history. An
historic crisis occurred by which the whole world of man’s spiritual
experience is controlled. To that moment in history our faith always looks
back. The Gospel is not a statement of general truths of religion, but an
interpretation of that which once happened. 38
And, Pentecostals may definitely wish to add, an expectation of that which is yet to come!
NOTE: For information, the best overview and analysis of the respective millennial positions
that I am aware of is Millard J. Erickson’s book, Contemporary Options in Eschatology,
published by Baker Book House.