Issues Etc & the Whitewashing of Protestant History

By Cris D. Putnam
I just listened to a “back and forth” on Issues Etc. a Lutheran radio show that I generally like for its discussion of apologetics and theology. They had Dr. Thomas Ice on talking about “Rapture Theology” and then a follow up response by Dr Kim Riddlebarger Responding to Dr Thomas Ice’s Rapture Theology. While I identify as a progressive dispensationalist, I do not really want to debate the timing of the rapture rather the strawman representation of premillennialism and complete white washing of classic Lutheran eschatology displayed by the host of Issues Etc. and Riddlebarger. One of the major objections to dispensationalism was that it was relatively new development of the nineteenth century whereas the Amillennial view was the classic protestant view. This is a drastic oversimplification of the Lutheran and Reformed positions.

In truth, Historicism was a foundational interpretation of Protestantism and it is perplexing that it is so flippantly forgotten. They completely ignore the subversion of Biblical doctrine by the Roman Catholic Church and the fact that many early Fathers were Premillennial. Even worse, the host and Riddlebarger made sport of premillennialists for speculating on current events in Israel as prophetically significant while ignoring the Historicist view (see p1 p2 p3 ) of the reformed tradition’s tendency to do the same. In fact, far from demuring to speak to current events, classic Protestantism has affirmed that the Great Tribulation as an ongoing reality along with the judgements of the book of Revelation. In the recent past Protestants did not speculate about the identity of Antichrist, they claimed sure knowledge. It is in all of the creeds!

Despite political correctness and its nearly forgotten status in modern evangelicalism, almost all of the original protestant confessions affirm that the papacy is antichrist. For example, The Second Scotch Confession of AD 1580 states:

And theirfoir we abhorre and detest all contrare Religion and Doctrine; but chiefly all kynde of Papistrie in generall and particular headis, even as they ar now damned and confuted by the word of God and kirk of Scotland. But in special, we detest and refuse the usurped authoritie of that Romane Antichrist upon the scriptures of God, upon the Kirk, the civill Magistrate, and consciences of men.[1]

Similarly, The Westminster Confession of Faith does not mince words concerning the papacy:

There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ.Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof: but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.[2]

This statement was repeated virtually verbatim in the Baptist Confession of 1688, otherwise known as the Philadelphia Confession. It was the most generally accepted confession of the Regular or Calvinistic Baptists in England and in the American south. The Westminster confession is still widely used today.

While many modern Lutherans seek to distance themselves from it, The Book of Concord still contains the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise on the Primacy of the Pope. Accordingly, many orthodox Lutherans still affirm the veracity of those documents. However, in the 1860s the Iowa Synod refused to grant doctrinal status to the teaching that the Papacy is the Antichrist. They listed this teaching under the category of “open questions.” The Iowa Synod later became part of the American Lutheran Church, and its teaching on the Antichrist persisted in the new union. Since 1930, the ALC taught that it is only a “historical judgment” that the Papacy is the Antichrist. In 1938, this view was officially sanctioned in the ALC “Sandusky Declaration.” It stated:

We accept the historical judgment of Luther in the Smalcald Articles…that the Pope is the Antichrist…because among all the antichristian manifestations in the history of the world and the Church that lie behind us in the past there is none that fits the description given in 2 Thess. 2 better than the Papacy…

The answer to the question whether in the future that is still before us, prior to the return of Christ, a special unfolding and a personal concentration of the antichristian power already present now, and thus a still more comprehensive fulfillment of 2 Thess. 2 may occur, we leave to the Lord and Ruler of Church and world history.[3]

In a sharp rebuttal, the Missouri Synod’s “Brief Statement” of 1932 renounced the teaching that the identification of the papacy as the Antichrist is only a historical judgment. It professed, “The prophecies of the Holy Scriptures concerning the Antichrist…have been fulfilled in the Pope of Rome and his dominion.” It subscribed, “to the statement of our Confessions that the Pope is ‘the very Antichrist.’” It argued that the doctrine of Antichrist is “not to be included in the number of open questions.”[4] However, their position has softened since.

In 1951, the Report of the Advisory Committee on Doctrine and Practice of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod stated:

Scripture does not teach that the Pope is the Antichrist. It teaches that there will be an Antichrist (prophecy). We identify the Antichrist as the Papacy. This is an historical judgment based on Scripture. The early Christians could not have identified the Antichrist as we do. If there were a clearly expressed teaching of Scripture, they must have been able to do so. Therefore the quotation from Lehre und Wehre [in 1904 by Dr. Stoeckhardt which identifies the Papacy as Antichrist] goes too far.[5]

This view was endorsed at the Missouri Synod Convention in Houston in 1953. Even so, many still struggle with their traditions. A Lutheran scholar, Charles Arand, wrote an article to help contemporary Lutheran’s deal with the cognitive dissonance they feel when they want to applaud the pope’s position against abortion and other moral issues. While he never denies the classic Lutheran position, he claims, “The identification of the papacy as the Antichrist in the Confessions takes place in an apocalyptic climate in which the Reformers also considered other candidates for the title of Antichrist, the most prominent of which were the Turks (Ap XV, 18).”[6] The text he refers to is this one: “For the kingdom of the Antichrist is a new kind of worship of God, devised by human authority in opposition to Christ, just as the kingdom of Mohammed has religious rites and works, through which it seeks to be justified before God.”[7]

Indeed, one could infer a Muslim antichrist from this one statement. But, in truth, his use of this reference is obfuscation because the very next sentences in Apology of the Augsburg Confession XV, 18 say:

It does not hold that people are freely justified by faith on account of Christ. So also the papacy will be a part of the kingdom of the Antichrist if it defends human rites as justifying. For they deprive Christ of his honor when they teach that we are not freely justified on account of Christ through faith but through such rites, and especially when they teach that such rites are not only useful for justification but even necessary.[8]

This issue of elevating their rites above the salvific power of the Gospel has never been recanted by the Church of Rome. He goes on to argue that as part of the “already but not yet” paradigm, the papacy was a manifestation of Antichrist during the time of the reformation but not necessarily the ultimate one. Nevertheless, this confession clearly says they will be a part of Antichrist’s kingdom. He maintains to be dogmatic that the papacy is the only antichrist precludes awareness and vigilance toward new manifestations, yet to relativize the confessions as only historical is equally an error.[9] So contrary to views expressed on the recent Issues Etc, dispensationlism did not amend their anemic modernized view rather hard-line Historicism.


It is a demonstrable historical fact that every notable protestant theologian of the 16 -19th century, regardless of denomination, believed and taught that the papacy was antichrist.

For a cogent Defense of premillennialism I recommend John MacArthur’s series here.

[1] The Second Scotch Confession in Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, Volume III (Joseph Kreifels), 349.

[2] Morton H. Smith, Westminster Confession of Faith (Greenville SC: Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Press, 1996), 2.

[3] “Statement on the Antichrist,” Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, last accessed January 18, 2011,,1.

[4] Ibid.


[6] Charles P. Arand, “Antichrist: The Lutheran Confessions on the Papacy,” Concordia Journal (October 2003), 402.

[7] Philip Melanchthon, Apology of the Augsburg Confession XV,18 in Robert Kolb, Timothy J. Wengert and Charles P. Arand, The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 225.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Charles P. Arand “Antichrist: The Lutheran Confessions on the Papacy,” 403.

Why Eschatology Matters Part IV: Premillennialism

continued from Why Eschatology Matters Part IV

I. Pre-millennial View: This is the view that the parousia (second coming) occurs at the conclusion of the Church age and Christ rules from Jerusalem for a literal millennium.[1] Adherents, myself included, argue that a consistent literal interpretation of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, predictions by the prophets and the announcement of the kingdom of heaven by John the Baptist and Jesus unavoidably lead to premillennialism.[2] It was the accepted view of the early church fathers up to early Augustine, who later erroneously discarded the view due to a personal prejudice against a particular belief (cited under amillennial).[3] Later post reformation teachers of the Lutheran, Reformed, and Puritan traditions like Jonathan Edwards, John Gill and Charles Spurgeon rediscovered premillennialism.[4] Today it is widely held by protestant evangelicals.

A. Basic Premises:

i. Millennium: A straight forward one thousand years as the text in Revelation chapter 20:1-6 says. The idea of a thousand year reign may also be supported by passages such as Acts 3:19–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:23–26, which speak of a future restoration and reign of Christ.[5]

ii. Resurrection: There are two resurrections the first are believers at the beginning of the millennium and the second at its conclusion for the great white throne judgment.[6]

iii. The Binding of Satan: Jesus Christ binds Satan upon his return. Dr. John Walvoord comments, “The passage makes clear that Satan is not simply restricted, as some would teach, but he is totally inactive in the Millennium.”[7] This point is simply not explained by any other view.

iv. The reign of Christ: While Christ is spiritually active in the lives of believers today his literally earthly reign will commence upon his arrival. He will rule from Jerusalem on the throne of David as promised in the New (Lk. 1:32) and Old Testaments (Zech. 14:9).

v. The Kingdom of God: The kingdom is here and also not yet. In Matthew 13:11, Jesus instituted a spiritual kingdom until His second coming, when He will initiate the anticipated messianic kingdom.[8]

vi. Israel: God will restore national Israel and fulfill all of His unconditional promises. At the end of the Tribulation, before the beginning of the Millennium, when Jesus is finally accepted by Israel, “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26).[9]

vii. Hermeneutic: A ‘literal’ interpretation means the understanding which any normal person would conclude. Premillennialism is rooted in a historical-grammatical interpretation of prophecy. The historical-grammatical method involves giving each word the same meaning it would have in normal usage.[10] (i.e. Israel means national Israel and thousand means 1,000).

B. Points of Strength:

i. The early church was indisputably premillennial, including: Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, Lactantius and Irenaeus. Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp who had direct contact with John, the author of the Apocalypse.[11] Their familiarity with the Apostle makes it hard to imagine why anyone would diverge from their understanding. Irenaeus wrote extensively on the literal future Messianic kingdom, a brief excerpt being, “The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon their rising from the dead.”[12]

ii. Stated as a weakness in the opposing views, the fact that the New Testament explicitly teaches that Satan is alive and well on planet earth (1 Jn. 5:19, 2 Cor. 4:4, 2 Cor.4:3-4, Eph. 2:2, 2 Cor. 11:14, 1 Pet. 5:8). The argument seems overwhelming that Satan’s current imprisonment is absurd. Anyone who tries to advance the Gospel knows that Satanic opposition is very real.

iii. In the New Testament, the Angel Gabriel promised Mary that Jesus would sit upon the throne of David (Lk. 1:32-33). At that time there was no Israelite throne to sit on, even Herod was a vassal and this promised event has not yet occurred. Because God always keeps his promises it follows that this will be actualized.

iv. In Romans 9, 10, and 11 Paul’s purpose was to explain Israel’s future. If you simply read that sequence of chapters, replacement theology is absurd. The gentile church is clearly described as “grafted into” not replacing Israel.  Paul makes it abundantly clear in Rom. 11:29 that their election is irrevocable.

C. Points of Weakness:

i. The final releasing of Satan at the end of the millennium and subsequent apostasy after the millennium kingdom is difficult to explain. Yet Revelation 20 clearly predicts it.

ii. The millennium population of humans in a non-translated state must be rationalized by believers that come to faith during the tribulation.

iii. Satan was defeated at the cross. Why does he still have dominion on earth?

iv. The ambiguity about the timing of the rapture is problematic.


Premillennial eschatology not only offers a real hope for the world’s future through its anticipation of the personal earthly reign of Jesus Christ  for one thousand years, it also provides for the literal fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to Israel and Mary in the New Testament. Concerning the kingdom Missler argues,

There are at least 318 references in 216 chapters of the New Testament. And 23 of its 27 books give prominence to the event. The early church looked longingly for His promised return as their “Blessed Hope” to rid a desperate world of its evil rulers.[13]

In contrast, those promises are given only a vague fulfillment in amillennial and postmillennial eschatology, a psuedo-fulfillment that only weakens our faith in the promises of the Bible. God promised a real space time kingdom headquartered in Jerusalem. God does not lie. It is dangerous when one’s theological constructs impute the character of God.  It’s fascinating how contrary supersessionism is to God’s sovereign election. If it is true, it means that God’s elect nation lost their election. That sounds suspiciously like Arminiainism. Isn’t it ironic that most reformed denominations embrace it? They need not. Jesus in Luke 19:42 and Paul in Romans 11:25 explain that Israel is blinded nationally for the church age. Temporarily blinded not replaced. We are grafted in. National Israel has a future as the spiritual leadership of the world (Zech 8:23).

I find the amillennial and postmillennial views both to be incoherent. They are inconsistent with reality and the biblical text. I can evidence both points in that Satan’s deceptions have not been restrained. The numerous biblical proof texts have been cited throughout this series and the nations are demonstrably being deceived. The U.S. Center for World Missions estimates that Christianity’s is growing at about 2.3% annually, approximately equal to the growth rate of the world’s population. Islam is growing faster: about 2.9% and is thus Islam will surpass Christianity as the world’s main religion by 2023.[14] Whether this is completely accurate is immaterial to the point that the world is full of false religion and unbelief. Jesus warned of widespread deception and we certainly do see it today.

I sincerely cannot believe a person can read the bible without outside influence and come to a conclusion other than premillennialism. Just read Revelation 20, that is clear and literal 1000 year kingdom. The alternate views are imposed on the text for external reasons. Of course sincere Christians maintain these views but I just do not find their rationale compelling. To embrace allegory over literal meaning requires a more persuasive theological and exegetical basis than the arguments offered. I have demonstrated that Augustine’s basis was quite shallow and had nothing to do with exegesis. I think those views stand on mere stubborn tradition. While the reformers did a great service in the areas of soteriology and ecclesiology they were duly occupied and failed to correct eschatology back to the apostolic intention. The early church, which had intimate contact with John the author of the Apocalypse were verifiably premillennial. I find that decisive. Finally, no matter what one’s millennial position, true Christians all look forward to the soon return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

θά, μαράνα θά

[1] Ed Hindson, Revelation, 89.

[2]Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Four: Church, Last Things (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2005), 553.

[3] Geisler, Systematic Theology, 567.

[4]Geisler, Systematic Theology, 572.

[5]Elwell and Comfort, 896.

[6] Edward Hindson. Revelation: Unlocking the Future, (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), 203.

[7] John F. Walvoord, The Prophecy Knowledge Handbook, Includes Indexes. (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1990), 625.

[8] Geisler, Systematic Theology, 556.

[9] Geisler, Systematic Theology, 556.

[10] Geisler, Systematic Theology, 416.

[11] David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996, c1992), 3:457.

[12] Quoted in Geisler, Systematic Theology, 569.

[13] Chuck and Nancy Missler. The Kingdom, Power and Glory: The Overcomer’s Handbook. Coeur d’Alene, ID: The King’s Highway Ministries. 2009. 100.

[14] Unattributed. “Growth Rate of Christianity & Islam” Religious Tolerance ORG, (accessed 06/10/2010).

Why Eschatology Matters Part IV: Postmillennialism

continued from Why Eschatology Matters Part IV

II. Post-millennial View: The belief that Christ will physically return to the earth only after a non-literal millennium is completed. Postmillennialism is quite optimistic about the end times in that he essential idea is that the church will exercise a transformational positive social influence in history.[1] Thus, the world is allegedly improving morally and spiritually every year. This may have seemed to be so historically, as many of the reformers, early-American colonists and puritans shared this view. Most theologians have abandoned it in the twentieth century after the two world wars and subsequent nuclear age anxiety. Today this view has been appropriated by the charismatic movement and provides the impetus for dominion or “kingdom now” theology. Dominionists believe they have a mandate to impose the kingdom by earthly means. They even believe it is their responsibility to initiate the second coming of Christ.[2]

A. Basic Premises:

i. Millennium: Literally “after the thousand years.” Some suppose the era of peace is still in the future but the majority holds that it began with the first advent of Christ and is continuing until the gospel conquers the world. The word thousand is considered symbolic of a long period of time.

ii. Resurrection: This view also maintains that there is only one resurrection much like their amillennial counterparts. They employ the same strategy of spiritualization to Revelation 20:4-5.

iii. The Binding of Satan: Satan is currently bound by the power of gospel and cannot deceive the nations.[3]

iv. The Reign of Christ: Christ reigns now in the hearts of believers. Yet, Christians are to conquer the unbelieving world through the spread of the gospel, in the power of the Holy Spirit. However, there is a disturbing trend leaning toward the emphasis of nonspiritual means.

v. The Kingdom of God: The Kingdom is manifested now in the church and increasing in its positive influence over the earth. There is a popular movement today to reclaim the “seven mountains of culture” that is derivative of this idea.[4] Even more strident, Dominionists think they are to accomplish this by military or legal force if necessary.

vi. Israel: They argue that the New Testament church became the “Israel of God” of which Paul speaks in Galatians 6:16.[5] They use the same arguments for supersessionism as the amillennialist in that God’s Old Testament covenants were conditional and no longer binding. See Micah 4:8 vs. Replacement Theology.

vii. Hermeneutic: A very similar approach to the amillennialist is used. Prophecy is understood to be preponderantly symbolic and open to allegorical interpretation. For example, “Israel” now means the church and the word “thousand” simply means an indeterminate long period of time.

B. Points of Strength:

i. Postmillennialism’s greatest strength is its optimism regarding the kingdom of God and its ability to transform the nations of the earth before Christ returns.[6]

ii. The bible promises universal gospel proclamation (Matt. 28:18–20).

iii. They also argue that the word “thousand” is used symbolically in scripture (cf. 1 Chron. 16:15; Ps. 50:10).

C. Points of Weakness:

i. Again a simple reading of the biblical text does not lead to this conclusion. The postmillennial interpretation of Rev. 19-20 seems arbitrarily imposed upon the text.

ii. Jesus clearly taught that “many will fall away”, “lawlessness will be increased” and that “the love of many will grow cold” at the time world evangelization is completed (Matt 24:10-14). In the parable of the Tares in Mt. 13:36-43, Jesus taught that evil people will continue to exist alongside of God’s redeemed people until the time of harvest. The clear implication of this parable is that Satan’s kingdom will continue to exist and expand as long as God’s kingdom grows, until Christ returns.

iii. The Apostles taught increasing apostasy toward the end of the age (2 Thess. 2:3-4, 1 Tim. 4:1,2 Tim. 3:1-5, 2 Tim 4:3-4, 2 Pet. 3:3).

iv. As explained under amillennial weakness ii, the two resurrections of Rev. 20:5 and Rev. 20:13 are described as are bodily and distinct.

v. As stated under amillennialism, the word “thousand” is used literally in the vast majority of its occurrences in the biblical text. The fact that it is repeated 5 times in Revelation 20:1-6 should give pause.

vi. History and current events do not support the idea that things are getting better for Christians. In fact, quite the opposite is true. According to the World Evangelical Alliance, over 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries are denied basic human rights solely because of their faith. David B. Barrett, Todd M. Johnson, and Peter F. Crossing in their 2009 report in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (Vol. 33, No. 1: 32) estimate that if current trends continue, by 2025, an average of 210,000 Christians will be martyred annually.[7]

vii. Postmillennialism undermines the NT emphasis on the church’s imminent expectation of Christ’s return.  It undermines the essential element of watchfulness to the NT church. See 1 Cor. 16:22; Rom. 13:11-12; Phil. 4:5; Jas. 5:8; 1 Pt. 4:7; 1 Jn. 2:18; Rev. 1:3; 22:20.

viii. The OT identifies the “golden age” with the New Heavens and New Earth which come only after the millennium of Rev. 20 (Rev. 21-22).

ix. Scripture never teaches the progressive and eventual wholesale reconstruction of society (i.e. 7 mountains of culture) according to Christian principles prior to Christ’s return.

x. The Bible teaches that when Jesus returns, he is at war. The idea that he returns to receive a kingdom accomplished by the church is simply incoherent.  “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.” (1 Co 15:24, Zec. 14:3, 2 Thes. 2:8, Rev. 19:15)

xi. Postmillennialism minimizes one of the primary experiences that will characterize the church and all Christians throughout this present age, suffering with Christ (2 Tim 2:3, 1 Pet. 4:13, 2 Thes.1:5, Rev.6:10). For instance, Romans 8:18-25 speaks of creation groaning for redemption, and that we “wait for it with patience” not take it by political means or force. To the contrary, much like Christ at His first coming, the church actually wins by losing…

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height
nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the
love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Ro 8:36-39)

Next up Premillennialism

[1]Sproul, The Last Days, 9.
[2]Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale reference library (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 896.
[3] Hindson, Revelation, 86.
[4] Os Hillman. Reclaiming the 7 Mountains of Culture. 2010. (accessed 06 11, 2010).
[5]Sproul, The Last Days, 9.
[6]Geisler, Systematic Theology, 550.
[7]Unattributed. How Many Christians Killed for their Faith Every Year. (accessed 06/10/2010).

Why Eschatology Matters Part Four


continued from Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

Christians of all denominations routinely implore “thy kingdom come” without giving it a second thought. It follows that if one is still asking for something to come, then it cannot be fully present. Even so, the expectation for a literal millennial reign of Christ on earth is perhaps the most controversial subject in eschatology. It is inescapable that the bible plainly proclaims it. Revelation 20:1-6 speaks of a one thousand year period when believers reign with the Lord Jesus after his return.

Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6)

This plain sense view is also called “chiliasm” from the Greek word chilioi for thousand. Although the word “thousand” is used six times in Revelation chapter 20, the duration is a major point of contention. There is an acknowledged history of allegorical interpretation deeply entrenched in ecclesiastic tradition. Because of this, the majority of the denominational church denies a literal millennium.[1] There are three principle views concerning the millennium promised by God in Revelation chapter twenty: Premillennial (divided into pre & post tribulational positions on the chart below), Postmillennial, and Amillennial.

My next post will outline the Amillennial view and its theological implications.

[1]John F. Walvoord, The Prophecy Knowledge Handbook, Includes Indexes. (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1990), 624.