I have an opportunity to look at church websites quite regularly as I try to familiarize myself with many pastors and Bible teachers that cross my path. I look at their church website because unlike the old paper phone books, it says a lot about their theological persuasion and philosophy of ministry.
Although it is not something new, I have noticed more recently that more and more churches are reducing their already paltry doctrinal statements to something even smaller and even more generic. Instead of a document that helps you to understand the convictions of this particular congregation, many says little more than that they believe in the Bible, the gospel, and God. Although these might prove that the church is evangelical (or not), they also leave anyone looking for a church with many questions.
This trend toward generic doctrinal statements isn’t accidental. It follows from the attitude that doctrine divides and that the doctrinal statement of the church should be broad and accepting of anyone that is a Christian. But those who believe this have lost sight of the difference between the local church and the universal Church. One is a local expression of Christ’s body in a particular setting, while the latter is inclusive of all true believers. While the local church is a part of the universal Church, the local church must seek to teach and defend the individual disciples within her care.
But how can you do this if nobody knows what they believe in particular areas of doctrine? Do we baptize believers or infants or is it simply a matter of personal preference? How do we understand the Lord’s Supper? Is it a memorial, or actually the physical body and blood of Christ, or some spiritual mystery? Where does the local church view the role of women in ministry? What about the form of church government? How does a church make decisions and how do they defend their view biblically?
In some churches, the doctrinal statement says nothing. And there is one other doctrine that is probably left out or made generic more than any other—it is the church’s view of the end times. Try it! Go to the website of a local church near you, the bigger the better, and look at their statement on end times. It will, at most, probably state that Jesus will return bodily to judge the wicked and bring his Church into his eternal Kingdom. It won’t say anything about the timing of these events, or what their view is of the millennial kingdom. It wont, most likely, tell you if they believe in the rapture of the Church, and whether that event (if they believe in it) will come before, during, or after the tribulation.
Now, I am not saying all churches have left these out of their doctrinal statements. Not all have. But the trend of churches is to move away from a strong eschatology to a more generic view, citing that many people disagree over which view is correct. But that is a cop-out. Many people disagree over many doctrinal issues, and yet churches still take a stand as to what that particular church teaches. Baptists teach believer’s baptism. If you don’t teach that view, at minimum, your not baptist!
Those who have moved away from such specific statements about their eschatology have often done so for pragmatic reasons—they want to gain more attendees and if they say they take one position, they know they might lose someone who is considering attending. Others have said that the leaders in the church differ on their views, and so for the sake of “unity” they don’t take a position. I wonder if these churches simply skip over the massive sections of Scripture that teach eschatology? How do they defend the faith in regard to end times teaching? I fear they probably don’t.
In reading through Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, I am once again struck by the critical place that eschatology has in the church. Think about this: Paul wrote to the young church in Thessalonica: “Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?” (2 Thessalonians 2:5 (ESV)) I find it interesting that so many pastors claim to not teach eschatology because they haven’t settled on a view, or they are rethinking their view or they don’t teach eschatology to their church because it is so confusing and difficult. Yet, Paul reminded the church that as a regular part of discipling them in their young faith, he taught them these things. Apparently, Paul didn’t think they were too hard for the average Christian to understand, nor for him to even consider not teaching them these things.
In Chapter 2 of 2 Thessalonians, Paul actually offered comfort to the church through correcting their doctrine of the end times. It was false teaching which caused trouble to their hearts and only right teaching could correct it.
Instead of over-reacting to the former use of charts and graphs, and snarky humor about fictional Christian novels about the end times, the church today needs to get serious about studying and teaching eschatology. No pastor should lead a church if he hasn’t settled his views on the end times. I understand that we will keep studying, and by conviction might change our view. But to say, “I don’t know and I’m ok with that” is pitiful. Such a man is robbing his people of great treasures and cannot defend the faith fully if he cannot defend biblical eschatology.
From 2 Thessalonians 1-2, I have compiled a quick list of six benefits that teaching biblical eschatology brings to the church. If we fail to teach on this doctrine, then we do a great disservice to the church and rob them of many comforts and blessings.
Six Benefits of Biblical Eschatology
- It helps us endure suffering (2 Thess 1:5-10)
- It settles the heart (2:1-2)
- It guards against deception (2:3- 4)
- It produces a thankful heart (2:13-14)
- It grounds us in the faith and the Word (2:15)
- It produces a comfort that promotes continued ministry (2:16-17)