"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 1, Number 12, December, 1998
My first "Bible teacher" after my conversion was C. I. Scofield, not in person (he was dead decades before I was born) but through his reference Bible and its abundant notes. Besides reading the Biblical text repeated, I also diligently read and uncritically accepted whatever he said in his notes, with decidedly mixed results. Yes, he was sound on the great fundamentals of the faith for which I am eternally grateful, and he pointed me in the direction of pre- millennialism and dispensationalism (though I have come to view the dispensations somewhat differently than Scofield). But he also taught what I now am convinced were erroneous interpretations on several matters, among them the gap theory and day-age theories regarding Genesis one, certain views of the church, his denial that the Sermon on the Mount was for believers today, and other points. In short, my own study and independent thinking have compelled me to abandon some of what I had once learned at the feet (or should I say, from the footnotes) of Scofield. Among these is his view of Revelation 2 & 3.
In a note to Revelation 1:20 (pp. 1,331-2), Scofield wrote: "The messages to the seven churches have a fourfold application," which he categorizes as 1. local (to the historic churches addressed); 2. admonitory (applicable to all churches in all time); 3. personal (applicable to individuals); and 4. prophetic (predictive of the flow of church history from the first century to the second coming). It is with the fourth of these that I must part company with my teacher.
1. is obviously the original intention and purpose of the writer--to instruct seven existing first-century churches regarding their faith and conduct, to encourage, exhort, rebuke and discipline them. 2. and 3. are legitimate applications of the instruction and principles of the letters to the seven churches, inasmuch as the problems and needs of those first-century congregations and believers are likely to arise again and again in the course of history in various churches and in the lives of various individuals. In much the same way, we apply the teaching and principles of Romans and Colossians and the rest of the New Testament epistles to our own lives and in the churches today. 4. requires that we accept that there is contained in these letters a prophetic foretelling of the course of church history, and that this was part of the original intent, if not consciously of the human author (John), then certainly of the Divine author, Jesus Christ, who spoke these words which John then wrote.
Let us quote Scofield at length: "4. prophetic, as disclosing seven phases of the spiritual history of the church from, say A.D. 96 to the end. It is incredible [that is, it is not credible] that in a prophecy covering the church period there should be no such foreview. These messages must contain that foreview if it is in the book at all, for the church does not appear after 3. 22. Again, these messages by their very terms go beyond the local assemblies mentioned. Most conclusively of all, these messages do present an exact foreview of the spiritual history of the church, and in the precise order. Ephesus gives the general state at the date of writing; Smyrna, the period of the great persecutions; Pergamos, the church settled down in the world, "where Satan's throne is," after the conversion of Constantine, say, A.D. 316. Thyatira is the Papacy, developed out of the Pergamos state: Balaamism (worldliness) and Nicolaitanism (priestly assumption) having conquered. As Jezebel brought idolatry into Israel, so Romanism weds Christian doctrine to pagan ceremonies. Sardis is the Protestant Reformation, whose works were not "fulfilled." Philadelphia is whatever bears clear testimony to the Word and the Name in the time of the self-satisfied profession represented by Laodicea."
I was trained to follow the literal-grammatical interpretation of Scripture, namely: the surface and obvious meaning of a Biblical text is to be accepted as the correct interpretation unless something in the text (figures of speech, obviously symbolic or non-literal language, etc.) compels another interpretation.
Interpreting the letters to the seven churches as prophetic of the unfolding of the history of the church age flies directly in the face of that principle. For example, in the letter to Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13), Jesus identifies the adversaries of the congregation of believers as "them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not." These individuals certainly were Jews "after the flesh" (that is, descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) but not in the spirit (see Romans 2:28, 29). Since the Philadelphia church is allegedly the 'faithful' of the post-Reformation era (now extending to four centuries!), I must ask--when in the past 400 years has there ever been large and concerted and effective opposition by Jews to conservative, non-Catholic, professing Christianity? Rather it is the Jews who have suffered severe persecution in this era at the hands of professing Christians--Catholic, Orthodox, and even in all too many cases conservative Protestant. To somehow transform the letter to Philadelphia into a precise prophecy of the past 400 years of conservative Christian history requires the grossest kind of allegorizing and the taking of extreme liberties with the plain meaning of the text.
My grounding in the literal-grammatical method revolts against such twisting and contorting of Scripture. And what is true of the letter to Philadelphia is true of all the seven letters--only a high-handed allegorical refashioning of the sense of the text is adequate to make the letters to the churches correspond in any real way with the flow of church history. I have long been a student of church history and have read scores of books and multiplied thousands of pages on most aspects of the subject, and frankly, I must say that no one approaching Revelation 2 & 3 from the perspective of a knowledge of church history would ever suspect that these chapters were in anyway descriptive of the flow of events in Christian history. It is indeed an pre- conceived allegory imposed on the text by clever interpreters but which is in no way related to its real meaning and sense.
This interpretation of Revelation 2 & 3 seems to have originated with Joseph Mede (1586-1638) in his writings on Revelation, and gained a fair number of followers, including John Gill (1697-1771; see his commentary on the passage), and others. In the 20th century, Scofield's notes popularized this interpretation and dispersed it widely. J. Dwight Pentecost follows the lead of Scofield (as Dallas Seminary in general did for the first 50+ years of its existence) in his book, THINGS TO COME (pp. 149-153). A listing of commentators and writers adopting this point of view would be lengthy.
Nevertheless, a consistent literal-grammatical approach to Revelation 2 & 3, and a thorough knowledge of professing Christianity compels a rejection of the "stages in the church age" viewpoint. Adam Clarke in his commentary well- summarized what I am convinced is the correct approach to these two chapters: "[T]hey have no reference to the state of the Church of Christ in all ages of the world, as has been imagined; . . .the notion of what has been termed the Ephesian state, the Smyrnian state, the Pergamenian state, the Thyatirian state, &c., &c., is unfounded, absurd, and dangerous; and such expositions should not be entertained by any who wish to arrive at a sober and rational knowledge of the Holy Scriptures" (vol. VI, p. 975).
[I would like someday to write a book-length history of this interpretation and refute it in detail, but other duties call just now--DK]
Additional note: after writing the above, I ran across an appendix in Richard Chenevix Trench, COMMENTARY ON THE EPISTLES TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES IN ASIA: REVELATION II, III (London: Parker, Son, and Bourn, 1861), "Excursus on the Historico-prophetical Interpretation of the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia," pp. 220-237. This lengthy appendix directly addresses the claim that Rev. 2, 3 are a prophetic foretelling of the unfolding of events in the church age.
Trench corrects my understanding at several points. First, this interpretation did not originate with Joseph Mede, as I thought, but is actually traceable to a pre-Reformation group of strict Franciscan monks, the Fratres Spirituales (pp. 227- 8). Thomas Brightman (1557-1607), an Anglican Puritan, was the first that Trench was able to locate in the post- Reformation era to hold this view, (p. 228), though Trench suspected that there were others who also held it. Thereafter, it was embraced by Mede (as noted earlier), Henry More (1614-1687), Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669), Campegius Vitringa (1659-1722), and many others.
Up front, Trench cautions us of the danger of embracing the discovery of a hidden prophecy in these chapters:
"[B]efore we admit any such discoveries of treasures hid in the field of Scripture, it will be good always to remember, that there is a temptation to make Scripture mean more than in the intention of the Holy Ghost it does mean, as well as a temptation to make it mean less; and that we are bound by equally solemn obligations not to thrust on it something of ours, as not to subtract from it any thing of its own (Rev. xxii. 18, 19); the interpretation in excess proving often nearly, or quite, as mischievous as that in defect; . . . ." (p. 221)
Trench's considered conclusion concerning the historico- prophetical interpretation of Revelation 2, 3 is worthy of note:
"Much more might be urged on the arbitrary artificial character of all the attempted adaptations of Church history to these Epistles; but this Essay has already run to a greater length than I intended; and indeed it is not needful to say more. Where there are no pre-established harmonies in the Divine intention between the one and the other, as I am persuaded here there were none, it could not have been otherwise. The multitude of dissertations, essays, books, which have been, and are still being written, in support of this scheme of interpretation, must remain a singular monument of wasted ingenuity and misapplied toil; and, in their entire failure to prove their point, of the disappoint which must result from a futile looking into Scripture for that which is not to be found there,--from a resolution to draw out from it that which he who draws out must first himself have put in. Men will never thus make Scripture richer. They will have made it much poorer for themselves, if they nourish themselves out of it with the fancies of men, in place of the truths of God" (pp. 237-8).
Amen and amen.
Those who wish to delve into the subject more deeply should consult this appendix in Trench's book.
My paternal grandfather departed this life October 15, 1998. His days extended to 96 years, 10 months, and 9 days. To my knowledge, none of my other direct ancestors or even more remote blood relatives has lived so long (though many have made a full four score and beyond). Beyond dispute, his life witnessed a greater transformation in human society in all its facets than any previous generation or even two or three generations had experienced.
When he was born, no one had ever flown in an airplane, and very few had ever ridden in an automobile or even seen one. The telephone was almost brand-new, as was electricity. Most American homes still had neither. Gas lights and oil lanterns illuminated the night, when it was illuminated at all. Paved roads were a rare luxury. Radio was a decade in the future, and television was not quite a half-century away. Robert Goddard wouldn't begin his experiments with liquid-fueled rockets for more than 20 years. The fastest mathematical calculator on earth was still the human brain. Influenza and polio and whooping cough still killed many thousands every year. Anti-biotics and chemotherapy were the stuff of science fiction.
Anyone who traveled across the country did so by train, and trans-oceanic travel always was by steamship. Most Americans lived on farms or close to the farms in small towns. Immigrants still flooded into the U.S., mostly from Eastern Europe (as my grandfather's parents had done in 1892). And there were only 45 States in the Union.
The British, Austrian-Hungarian, German and Russian Empires were at their heights. The Ottoman Turks controlled most of the Middle East. All these political powers and more would soon be locked in conflict brutal vastly beyond human experience, the so-called "Great War." The still darker shadow of World War II was not even vaguely imagined.
And there was still an emperor in China. Most of the countries of Europe still had monarchies. Marxism was just a crack-pot theory of a scarcely noticed, lazy, unwashed German expatriate who had lived and died in London.
Without any question, that life of 96 years, 10 months and 9 days witnessed the most dramatic transformation in human technology, cultural and society in the whole history of man. Human life was revolutionized, and that revolution was revolutionized. Man's capacity for accomplishment and achievement has shown brightly in a planet increasingly filled with mechanical and electronic devices that lighten man's burdens, increase his comfort, multiply his productivity, lengthen his days, and clutter his closets and garage.
At the same time man's apparent incapacity to control himself and his sinister nature has shown more starkly and hideously in his 20th century-long orgy of brutality, cruelty, bloodshed, war, terror and destruction. War has been piled upon war, revolution upon revolution, repression upon repression, genocide upon genocide. Robert Burns' famous dictum, "Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn," must be re-written for our century: "Man's ceaseless and unspeakable brutality to man makes countless millions die."
As we view our century as it careens toward its end, man seems locked in a head-long frantic rush into self- annihilation. The pace of change has not slackened. Indeed, it seems only to become ever more hurried and rushed and frantic. Nor has man's capacity for brutality toward others of his species been sated or constrained. Ominously, turmoil, chaos and upheaval lurk in the shadows.
Sam Watkins was a private in "Company H" of one of the regiments in one of the battalions of the Army of Tennessee in the American Civil War. He was one of 7 men in Co. H. (out of an original 120) who survived the war. Watkins doesn't give a complete narrative of the war or even of the battles he personally took part in, but rather reminiscences of the things he personally saw, heard, smelled and otherwise experienced in the camps, on the march, in battle and on furlough during the War. He wrote from memory some 20 years after the events, without the aid of notebooks or letters. His "history" is mostly anecdotal. He is by turns enthusiastic, disgusted, humorous, melancholy, nostalgic and bitingly satirical, but always personal and very eloquent, and highly perceptive. His style reminded me some of Mark Twain.
Co. H was active in virtually every major battle west of the Appalachians and Watkins "saw it all." He draws on a rich memory and presents his recollections in very expressive, very readable prose (this account was frequently quoted in the PBS series on "The Civil War"). Watkins was himself a true believer in Jesus Christ, and had unshakable confidence in the Providence and goodness of God. He is not, however, above poking a little fun at an overly-pious, self-absorbed and exceedingly verbose "big city preacher" who came and preached to the soldiers while in winter quarters.
This little volume is an absolute delight to read.
Massachusetts-born Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) was one of the great 19th century missionaries. He grew up in a conservative Congregational pastor's home, and entered Rhode Island College at age 16, being given status as a sophomore (he had been a veritable child prodigy. His mother taught him how to read in one week--at age three!). At college, under the influence of another student, Adoniram became a "free-thinker" and deist. He graduated at age 19 and was valedictorian. When he thereafter announced to his parents his altered religious viewpoint, they were devastated.
He soon left home on a journey of discovery, hoping to enjoy the exhilaration of a life free of oppressive religious restraints. He went to New York City and joined a traveling acting troupe. Very soon he was disillusioned and disappointed in what he saw in these who had seemed from a distance to have the good life. On the return journey to Massachusetts, he was much troubled in spirit, and in an inn, had to take a bed separated from that of a dying man only by a thin wall. All night long Judson struggled with his thoughts about God, life, death, and eternity, and then felt ashamed of himself--what would his deist friend think of his silly thoughts of God? In the morning, Judson learned that the dying man had passed into eternity--and that it was his deist friend from college!
Judson returned home and struggled to find God in Bible study. He entered Andover Seminary and during the first semester there, he made peace with God through repentance and faith in Christ. Shortly afterward, he felt a call to the ministry, and a burden for the heathens of the Orient. By his efforts and those of several other like- burdened students, the Congregationalists organized a society to send and support them as missionaries.
Judson and his wife Ann Hasseltine Judson, sailed for India in 1812 along with other missionaries. On the voyage, and after the arrival in India, Judson studied the question of baptism, and came to the conviction that the Baptist view (that baptism is for believers only and must be by immersion only) was Biblical. He submitted to Baptist baptism at the hands of William Carey's colleague, William Ward. This necessitated a resignation from the Congregational missions board, and the virtual creation of a Baptist mission board from a distance of 12,000 miles so that he could stay on the field.
Prohibited residence in India, the Judsons went to Burma (now Myanmar), where they labored to life's end. Judson's extensive linguistic knowledge (Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and French) served him in good stead as he learned Burmese, and then over a period of several decades translated, revised and published first the NT and then the OT in Burmese. His Burmese version was based on the Hebrew and Greek texts, not on any English version.
The struggles, trials, persecutions, imprisonments and sorrows which they endured for Christ's sake were almost unbearable. Indeed, Anne Judson died in Burma because of the strain of the work, the persecutions, and the wasting tropical diseases. Judson some years later married Sarah Boardman, the widow of another missionary. She too died after a few years due to life on the field. Finally, while in America for a necessary respite from his labors, Judson married a third time, to Emily Chubbock, and she also had a very much shortened life because of the physical strain of life in the tropics. All three of Judson's wives were remarkable women who made great contributions to the work of the mission. Judson buried several children in Burma.
Judson was on the field 34 years before he returned to the States, for his one furlough home. He had spent and been spent for the conversion of the pagan Burmese, and for the translation of the Scriptures in to their language. He had waited 6 years for the first convert, but ultimately saw hundreds come to Christ. It is tragic that 150 years after Judson's death, Burma (Myanmar) is a country all but absolutely closed to the Gospel message from outside. Even so, by God's grace, there is a sizable Christian population (about 4% of the whole but reaching more than 50% among some tribal groups).
Anderson has written a valuable, informative, highly readable and sympathetic account of Judson's life. Judson is not presented as a "plastic saint" free of faults and defects, but is shown to have been a man of like passions with us. The work is not documented as a technical scholarly work would be, but there is an extensive bibliography with a valuable note regarding the sources for this work. A highly profitable volume.
This volume was written in response to a perceived need for such a book arising from the Urbana 76 missions rally (for college students). The volume adequately meets the design: to give a survey of Christian missions (stretched to include everything that calls itself "Christian") from the first century to the twentieth century. It gives a broad perspective and much helpful information. There are numerous threads of information which are presented which demand further study from the reader.
Unfortunately, Roman Catholic "missions" is treated at times as though it were Christian missions (especially true of the medieval period). At times, the book fails to note the obvious: the failure of Nestorian "Christianity" to conquer China for Christ after its introduction there in the 8th century was due to its corrupted doctrine which no longer taught the Bible way of salvation and therefore lacked the power of the Holy Spirit. Likewise the inability of North African Christianity to fend off the onslaught of Islam in the 7th century was due in large measure to the fact that this Christianity was corrupted by idolatry and human tradition, leaving it spiritually powerless.
Kane ignores missions to the Jews, says nothing about the medieval missions of the Waldensians and related groups, and is apparently blind to the very serious inroads liberalism and apostasy have made into numerous mainline American denominations. Of course the date of writings leaves it somewhat dated, particularly regarding developments in Eastern Europe since 1989.
In spite of these defects, and others, there is much to learn in this brief book. It can been read with considerable profit, if read with a measure of discernment. There is much to encourage the believer to greater efforts for world-wide evangelism.
I have long been in search of a complete, authoritative and readable history of "The Great War," "the war to end all wars," "the war to make the world safe for democracy," or whatever other names have been given to the general war in Europe (which spilled over into the Middle East and Africa, and even affected Far Eastern Asia and America) between 1914 and 1918. Gilbert's volume exactly fills the need.
By the Summer of 1914, there had been no general war in Europe in a century and Europe viewed itself as the pinnacle of earthly culture, wisdom and progress. Much of Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands was under European colonial rule. For many years, a war of some kind was viewed with favor in Europe as a means of weeding out the weak and favoring the superior races and nations (political Darwinism). It was expected that such a war, when it came would be over in a few weeks, or at most months, and would be relatively bloodless and inexpensive. When push came to shove in the Summer of 1914, sparked by the assassination of the heir-apparent to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, the empires of Europe chose war over negotiation, lining up German and Austria-Hungary against France, Britain, and Russia.
World War I was a horror of unbridled carnage, with devastating new weapons of war: the machine gun, grenade, airplane, submarine, flame-thrower, tank, barbed wire and poison gas. Average--AVERAGE--deaths PER DAY numbered 5,600 for the entire four years, three months of the war. There were battlefronts in France, Belgium, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Italy, Serbia, Romania, Greece, Egypt, Palestine, and Mesopotamia, and of course on the high seas.
Stagnant trench warfare, with its insane mass assaults by footsoldiers on entrenched and heavily defended positions regularly resulted in the capture of only a handful of square miles of territory at the cost of thousands, even tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of casualties and battle deaths (20 million deaths in all). Pre-assault artillery barrages of a million shells or more were not rare. The record of this war that devastated the people and resources of Europe is a pullulating din of carnage upon carnage in a fruitless persistence at self-annihilation.
The author puts a human face on the numbers of battle deaths, giving anecdotal information about this private, that major, these lieutenants who fought here, were wounded there, or disappeared is shower of red when an artillery round scored a direct hit on their position.
By the end of the second year of the war, all sides were exhausted and willing to consider peace--provided the other guy yielded first. And since no one wanted to be the first to back down, the desolation continued for another two years. In truth, all the nations in the war lost; some were also defeated. If there was ever a war to no purpose, surely it was World War I. And Europe, in all its ancient wisdom, repeated the folly scarcely two decades later, at more than two and a half times the cost in lives.
Martin Gilbert is a history writer of no small merit. He was the official biographer of Churchill, and has dozens of volumes to his credit, most centered on the twentieth century and many focusing on Jewish subjects (of which race Gilbert is apparently a part).