The Comforting Effect of Biblical Eschatology

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

  1. It helps us endure suffering (2 Thess 1:5-10)
  2. It settles the heart (2:1-2)
  3. It guards against deception (2:3- 4)
  4. It produces a thankful heart (2:13-14)
  5. It grounds us in the faith and the Word (2:15)
  6. It produces a comfort that promotes continued ministry (2:16-17)

Thankful for Gospel Partnerships

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” Philippians 1:3–5 (ESV)

The idea of separation in fundamentalist circles has been a blessing at times and at other times it has resulted in the unnecessary weakening of the Church through schism after schism. Some historians have noted that the doctrine of separation in fundamentalism has probably helped to preserve the Bible church from the influx of much that is plaguing the evangelical church in its ecumenism and inability to even define the gospel. Of course, fundamentalism has its own issues to deal with.

Getting the right balance, biblically speaking, can be a challenge and it takes great wisdom along with a desire to be faithful to the Lord and the Word above all else. This wisdom and fidelity, when applied with humility, will allow for the opportunity to partner with other biblically faithful Christians to do the work of the ministry for the glory of Jesus Christ.

As Paul reflected on his time with the Christians in the city of Philippi, he fondly remembered their partnership for the sake of the gospel. Although Paul was the church planter and Apostle in this city, he could not carry the burden for the work alone. Paul joyfully proclaimed the gospel and watched as the work of God in the heart of his people in Philippi bloomed into a beautiful fellowship of saints who would carry on the work as Paul carried the gospel seeds elsewhere.

Right now in our country the world is ablaze with such hatred and violence that it is shocking to see. More evidence of a coming persecution like we have never seen in the States is looming on the horizon. Like Paul, I am thankful for the many gospel partnerships that exist within my fellowship at IFCA, and those outside as well. I have noticed that where there had been bad blood between certain groups and denominations in the past, many biblical Christians are now seeing that our differences were really in-house debates with other brothers and sisters, and as such should be laid aside as we gear up and band together for the work that Jesus has sent us to do. That is a great thing to see!

I pray that as the circle of those who are committed to biblical truth and the fundamentals of the Bible becomes smaller in the face of a growing external aggression, we would draw closer to one another, working together, praying for one another, and if we are called, being willing to suffer together for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the end, it is not about our little corner of the vineyard. Instead, may we remember that it has always been about Jesus.

Humble Submission to Christ the Lord

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:38, ESV

This morning I read from the book of Jonah. I have been pondering the incarnation for the last several days and the wonder of Christ’s birth, and then I read Jonah. To put it lightly, Jonah had problems. Massive spiritual problems. I’ll come back to him in a bit.

All too often in Protestant churches, Mary, the mother of Jesus, has scorn heaped upon her because there are some who have taken this woman of God and have worshipped her. But that isn’t Mary’s fault! From my reading of the New Testament, Mary was a gracious and beautiful example of incredible faith that we should emulate–such as the passage I cite in Luke 1:38 above. Yes, Mary was a sinner, and she too needed a Savior. But look beyond this and see her humble submission as well.

I’ll let the scholars handle the age of Mary, but I think most agree that this woman was still very young. But her words, particularly in what has been called the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55), show a spiritually mature child of God. She is not a scholar, nor of the priestly line. She is a simple, humble woman from a back-woods town who is preparing to marry a humble carpenter. That is why her words should stop us in our tracks: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

She is saying through the angel to the Lord God, “I am yours. Do with me whatever you see is right. I am nothing, you are everything. Whatever you want, I will submit to you wholly.” O, how we need more people of God with this heart! But she isn’t alone in the Bible.

In the Old Testament, we find Abram willing to leave everything he has ever known–land, family, language, comfort, safety, the familiar, the safe. He leaves it all because he is following his God (Gen 12:1-4). Again, the spirit of Father Abraham is that the Lord is Sovereign. He commands, and we joyfully follow; even into the unknown darkness. Later, when he has received his son Isaac after many years of waiting, Abraham is asked to sacrifice this beloved gift (Gen 22:1-19). There is no argument, or pleading with God to reconsider what he is asking. Genesis 22:3 simply says that Abraham rose early in the morning and set out to obey his Master.

I saw this same commitment to humble submission when I recently re-read the book of Hosea. In Hosea 1:2-3 it says:

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.” 

(Hosea 1:2–3, ESV)

We can understand the purpose of God in doing this because the Bible is clear about the reason for this request–to be a shockingly visible illustration of the way that Israel was toward the Lord God. But that didn’t make Hosea’s obedience and heartbreak any easier. The shame he endured as God’s man must have been unbearable at times as his unfaithful wife continued to bear children fathered by other men. Yet, Hosea continued to faithfully and humbly submit to all that the Lord asked of his servant.

That brings us back to Jonah.

Mary endured shame, scorn and great pain in order to bring the Savior into the world. Abram left everything and was willing to sacrifice his most beloved son. Hosea walked his entire life in the darkness of a broken relationship for the cause of illustrating the enduring love of God in the face of rebellious and idolatrous Israel.

And Jonah…he sulked and ran and was enraged because he wanted to be the master of his life. Jonah wouldn’t rejoice at the repentance of the lost. He wouldn’t rejoice at his salvation from the fish’s belly and a new opportunity to be used by God. He wouldn’t even enjoy life, but would rather be struck dead because he was such an angry little man.

John Paton

I recently read the biography of the great missionary to the Pacific, John Paton. In Paton’s day, the church had taken on the attitude of Jonah. They loved their comfort and ease. They didn’t like it when men and women of God wanted to take the gospel to the world because they didn’t want their comfort to be unsettled. Some were bribed with money to stay. Some were belittled and treated with contempt–being told that God would’t use them because they were ungifted. Some said that the primitive people would never be able to appreciate the fine education they had earned, so why waste it? Others were so fearful of the dangers of cannibalism and disease that they forbid anyone from going to these people. Serve Jesus in England, where it is safe. You can serve Jesus here. WE need him too!

But Paton, and a few others accepted the call and braved the hardship and ridicule heaped on them back home and face the dangers in the Pacific. They humbly submitted their lives to the Sovereign they loved more than life itself. Most died, but the Lord raised up many more servants until the Pacific was won for Christ.

But the Jonah spirit is alive and well in many hearts and churches today. I take comfort in the fact that there are also still in Christ’s church Mary’s and Abraham’s and Hosea’s among us. Those who will submit to the Lord their God with joy and humility. If that is you, don’t allow the Jonah spirit in the church to dissuade you. See the joy in the hardship. Know that the Lord is greater than any hardship you may endure. As Luther wrote,”Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever!” 

And if you see too much of Jonah in your own heart, then Jonah’s message to Ninevah is God’s message to you too. Repent. This life isn’t for you. It isn’t about you. It’s about Jesus. Humble yourself before the mighty hand of God, and he will lift you up (1Pet 5:6).