Many in our local church know that a couple of years ago I relinquished my ordination credential with the Evangelical Free Church of America. I did not do this lightly. I say this not only because I love this association, its ethos, and its doctrinal statement, but also because the credential, which I held for over twenty years, was not easy to get in the first place.
Some of you may have forgotten or never heard why I did this. It had to do with the very healthy requirement the EFCA has for ordained pastors to reaffirm every point of our ten point doctrinal statement on a five year basis—and to do it without mental reservation. When it came time for me to do this at the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014, I could affirm with great gladness 99% of the statement. The one part of it I could not affirm without mental reservation is one word found in point #9: “We believe in the…premillennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Because I believe Bible doctrine and biblical ethics are very important, I take very seriously the signing of such statements and could not be dishonest with our association leadership. For almost thirty years I have been able to affirm the premillennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ. However, since moving to Minden, further study I had done on the subject led me to a different position.
Because of this, over the next few weeks I will blog about what I believe about the end times, why I believe it, and so why I changed my position.
Here are several points by way of clarification up front before I begin discussing what I believe.
(1) For the EFCA to require pastors like me to relinquish our credential when we cannot affirm even one word in a doctrinal statement is the right thing to do! Though I may disagree now with the majority of EFCA people about how things will be worked out in the end times, I whole-heartedly agree with and love the association’s commitment to the Bible, truth, and taking seriously its doctrinal statement. That I needed to relinquish my credential adds to my respect for association leadership!
(2) Since the EFCA does not require a pastor in the association to be credentialed in the EFCA, the lack of a credential in no way jeopardizes my ministry in the EFCA.
(3) In blogging on this subject I in no way am vying for the EFCA to change point #9 in its statement. Of course, if the word “premillennial” were removed, I would be fine with it. However, I will not campaign for that. Such is not the purpose of these blog posts. I merely want to share with my faith family, friends, and others interested why I have switched my position. I also want to encourage all followers of Jesus to think carefully through what the Bible teaches on this subject.
(4) Though I will offer a detailed analysis of why I have changed my position and will seek to do so heartily, I also do so with a great deal of humility and sensitivity. What one believes specifically about the nature of the millennium and related matters is not one of the priority doctrines of the church. Though it is an important topic to discuss, I don’t want to suggest in my posts that those who disagree with me are lesser Christians, lacking in biblical fidelity, or somehow are ignorant. I do not believe any of these things at all.
With those disclaimers made, in the rest of this post I want to introduce you to the position to which I hold that has replaced premillennialism. The position to which I hold now is known as amillennialism.
Some of you are now thinking, “pre-what?” “a-what?” “Tom, what in the world are you talking about?” So, let me explain.
In Revelation 20:1-6 the Apostle John speaks of a thousand year period (vv. 2, 4, 6) in which Satan is bound so that he might not deceive the nations (v. 2) and in which Jesus Christ reigns and saints with him (vv. 4, 6). The three major views of Christians throughout the history of the Church in regard to the return of Jesus Christ have been defined by how they relate to this period (the millennium) and they have been labeled accordingly. Let’s briefly look at them.
Most who hold to this position believe that this period is a future literal 1,000 year reign of Christ and the saints on earth before the earth and saints have been perfected (fully glorified) and a period that is different than the new heaven and new earth of Revelation 21-22. All who hold to this position believe Jesus Christ will return before this future 1,000 year period, which is why it is called premillennialism.
There are three different varieties of premillennialists. There are post-tribulational premillennialists—those who believe Jesus Christ will return after the tribulation and before the millennium. In this position there are some who believe the tribulation is a literal seven year period and some who think it is not. Also, there are mid-tribulational premillennialists—those who believe Jesus Christ will return in the middle of the tribulation (most of these believe in a literal seven year tribulation and a literal 1,000 reign of Christ and saints on earth). Finally, there are pre-tribulational premillennialists—those who believe Jesus will not only return before the 1,000 period, but also before the tribulation (most believing both the tribulation and millennial reign are literal in their numbers).
Before we leave premillenialism, there are three more things to say about it. To begin, many of the pre-tribulational and mid-tribulational adherents believe that one of the key purposes of the millennium is for God to fulfill his purposes and promises among the nation of Israel. Those who believe this believe there is a strong distinction between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church.
Another thing that needs to be said about premillennialism is that for the history of the Evangelical Free Church of America (it was founded in 1950), it has been an association that strongly affirms premillennialism. Since the late 70’s it has allowed credentialed pastors to hold to any of the three tribulational positions (pre-, mid-, or post-) as long as they affirmed without mental reservation premillennialism.
The final point to make before leaving this position is that there is a strong difference between post-tribulational premillennialism and its two cousins (pre- and mid-tribulational premillennialism)—especially in how the overall organization of the Bible is understood and how the relationship of Israel and the Church is seen. Post-tribulational premillennialism has much in common with Amillennialism. So, for me to switch from the former to the latter was not a big step to take biblically, even though it put me outside of the EFCA doctrinal statement. More about that later.
Those who hold to this position believe, as the name suggests, that Jesus Christ will return after the millennium, which is seen as a golden age on the earth, ushered in by the triumphant mission of the church and the spreading of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Some postmillennialists believe that the period is a literal 1,000 year reign, but most do not take it as literal.
In the remainder of my blog posts I will spend the vast majority of my time on this position, the one to which I now hold. The a- prefix on the word literally means “no” and so the wooden rendering of the label is “no millennium.” However, it is not accurate to say that amillennialists do not believe in what the Revelation 20:1-6 passage says about this reign of Christ and saints, nor is it accurate to say they do not believe in what other passages say that premillennialists interpret as describing the millennium (e.g. Isaiah 65:17-25). What is accurate to say is that amillennialists believe the Revelation 20:1-6 passage has nothing to do with a reign on earth, but instead is describing a reign of Christ and saints in heaven that runs concurrently with the present Church Age. What is accurate to say is that most other passages premillennialists interpret as referring to the millennium, amillennialists see as referring to the future new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21-22). In other words, it is not first and foremost that amillennialists disbelieve certain biblical teachings. They interpret them differently and see the events taking place at other times.
How Many Hold To Each Position
For those of you who are not currently confused or lost, those still in there with me, you may be asking, “So how much of the Church believes each position?” That is a great question. The reality is that in a recent poll of evangelical leaders, 65% said they believe in some form of premillennialism, 4% in postmillennialism, and 13% in amillennialism. It is possible the majority of evangelicals that believe in premillennialism and who are not leaders or pastors could be even higher. There is no question that premillennialism is believed by the vast majority of the evangelical church.
Why is premillennialism so popular? That is hard to answer. Part of the reason, though, has to do with the fact that premillennialists have done a better job over the past 150 years of getting their position out in popular books and movies and study materials.
So, I do want to say from the start that I have taken a position that is different than the majority of evangelicals. What I will do over the next several weeks is seek to explain to you why. However, as I do this, I will continue to affirm that I gladly lock arms with those who disagree with me, and I want to approach this discussion remembering that this is a family discussion. Those with whom I disagree are my brothers and sisters in Christ.
May God help me remember this and present my case with that attitude!
Joyfully awaiting the blessed hope of the appearing of Jesus Christ with you,
 Audrey Barrick, “Poll: What Evangelical Leaders Believe About The End Times,” Wed., March 09, 2011, at www.Christianpost.com, cited in Sam Storms, Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative (Scotland, UK: Mentor Imprint Of Christian Focus Publications, 2013), 43.