Premillennialism and the Churches of Christ

Premillennialism is an “end times” doctrine based partly upon some interesting interpretations of Revelation 20 and the Old Testament apocryphal books (Daniel, Jeremiah, etc) which teaches that after a “rapture” and a seven year period of “tribulation”, Christians will reign with Christ for 1000 years of earthly bliss.

The purpose of this post is not to delve very deeply into this teaching. (If you would like a complete treatment of this doctrine then visit this site.) The purpose of this post is to discuss the strong premillennial tradition within the Churches of Christ.

From the very beginning of our Restoration Movement the doctrine of premillennialism was taught and embraced. None other than the “Father of the Restoration Movement”- Alexander Campbell- was a believer. (In post-millennialism- thanks BV- His second major periodical was not named the Millennial Harbinger for nothing!)

Later Restoration luminaries such as David Lipscomb and James A. Harding continued the premillennial tradition.  This doctrine only increased in popularity among Churches of Christ in the early twentieth century thanks to the work of a prominent Nashville Bible School product, R. H. Boll and to J.N. Armstrong who was the first president of Harding College.

Eventually though this doctrine and those who taught it came under attack led by Foy E. Wallace, Jr. and H. Leo Boles. At one point the very future of Harding College hung in the premillennial wind. Ultimately the Wallace’s and Boles of our fellowship had their way and the “damnable doctrine” of premillennialism was pushed to the margins of our movement.

But it never completely went away. There are still pockets of premillennial Churches of Christ in south Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and other places.

Interestingly enough I once had an encounter with a sister who strongly held to this teaching. We were both guests at a luncheon on a Sunday at a south Mississippi church where I- still in college- had been the visiting speaker. Someone asked me if I knew anything about premillennialism and I was quick to share my knowledge. After I finished she complimented my presentation and added, “this is exactly what I believe.” After that words failed me! I did not know anyone in the Churches of Christ would believe this!

Even though I had already taken a class on the Restoration Movement- little did I know then!

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27 Responses to Premillennialism and the Churches of Christ

  1. Steve Lavin says:

    I am sure this is way too deep a subject for me and I will admit, right off the top, that I have done very little study in this area, but one question always comes to my mind whenever this subject comes up.

    Didn’t 12 other guys, about 2000 years ago, miss the point by constantly looking for the establishment of an earthly kingdom?

  2. (The link did not work for me). Just a minor correction here. Campbell was a postmillennialist. But Stone was a premillennialist. Walter Scott held both positions depending on when you talked to him. Moses Lard was a premillennialist as was T. W. Brents. The amazing thing is that it was never an ISSUE in the 19th century. Here is a link to Lard’s understanding

    http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/texts/mlard/lard1.html

    Boll was shafted by the powers that be. We tell the story in Kingdom Come.

    Seeking Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

  3. dannydodd says:

    Thanks Bobby for that correction. It is important to note that.

    I also corrected the link. It should work now.

    A lot of things were NOT issues then that later became issues- and later divided us.

    It is lamentable that we could not keep the spirit of tolerance that defined the early restoration period.

    And Steve- your point was well made.

  4. Donna says:

    I love the word “lamentable”

    I was just saying today as I talked to some folks who had been blitzed by the Church of Christ that Jesus himself came to unite not to divide…yet we seem to find ways to do just the opposite. I hate the days when I am ashamed of my heritage. But I love it when the Spirit allows me to rise above it and try to help be one of the uniters….

  5. Teresa says:

    2000 years ago when Jesus came to Earth and lived among men, the prophecies were there for all to see. And yet they all missed it. They didn’t see the fulfillments even as they played out in front of them. It just didn’t play out as they expected it.

    It is my belief that the same thing will happen when Christ comes again. We have all of the prophecies concerning that Second Coming, and yet it will probably be like nothing we can imagine! God has a way of being so much grander and more creative than my finite mind can comprehend. Hallelujah!

  6. Philip says:

    How enlightening. I was aware of our movement’s roots with that theological stance, but I did not know that pockets of premillennial Churches (or churches) of Christ still existed. That’s good to know

    I enjoy your blog, my Florida panhandle brother. Added the RSS feed to my Google Reader. Glad to have come your way.

  7. Steve Lavin says:

    Philip,

    A friend’s dad from church is a minister at a CoC in Jennings, LA. He believes and teaches Premillennialism but he graciously allows for the salvation of brothers and sisters that don’t believe as he does. I love and admire his spirit.

  8. dannydodd says:

    I love it too, Donna.

    Teresa, I believe you are right. God always confounds us. We simply do not have the ability to figure him and his ways out totally.

    Thanks for stopping in Phillip- and posting. Glad to know another blogging brother in the Panhandle.

    Steve, I am not surprised that the preacher from Jennings is a premill believer- that is one area where this belief in the CoC is still more common.

  9. Adam G. says:

    The comments explain what the post itself leaves very confused. A. Campbell was a post-millennialist, not a pre-millennialist. He was not alone, either. Many people from various denominations and traditions throughout the 18th and 19th centuries were hopeful post-millenialists. This fed the missionary zeal of that age of colonialism and expansion. The two World Wars pretty much knocked post-millennialism down.

    In the late 1990s while attending Harding, and thus with pretty active contact with those in the acappella branch of the movement, I got in touch with some premilliannial brethren and received a few copies of their “Word and Work.” My interest was unity and brotherhood rather than joining them or “correcting their errors.” Never heard anything out of them afterward, but also never had any reason to maintain contact.

  10. dannydodd says:

    Adam, yes, I got Campbell wrong on this one.

    I wish your work of unity would have taken root. We need it.

  11. It is a mistake ot define Alexander Campbell by what modern “scholars” say. Alexander Campbell allowed a lot to be published in the MH. The Millerite doctrines which he had written as early as 1822 but only gradually exposed was the focus of most of the MH rebuttal.

    “Between 1831 and 1844, based on his study of the Bible, and particularly the prophecy of Daniel 8:14, William Miller, a Baptist preacher, predicted and preached the imminent return of Jesus Christ to the earth.”

    I am reviewing The Second Coming Here:

    http://www.piney.com/Second.Coming.Campbell.html

  12. Cyrus Oquias Gesulga says:

    I am glad to know there are still Christians, Churches of Christ, who accept and believe the premillennial coming of Jesus the Messiah!You count me as one of them, but i am against the Brands Premillennialist, Postmillennialist, and Amillennialist; that is the root cause i think that fostered DIVISION. I favor this; Neither Premillennial nor Postmillenial nor Amillennial: but Christians only with freedom of opinions and expressions. Thank you! (Churches of Christ, the called out believers. Mindanao, Philippines)

  13. Brian Davis says:

    I left the cofC due to legalism on matters such as these, but if there were a premil coC in my area I would consider returning. Maybe I will start one!

  14. Brownwood, Texas says:

    It should be noted that if one believes that Rev 19 depicts the return of Jesus then one’s view is necessarily PreMil: before the thousand year period of Rev 20. If one does not believe Rev 19 is about Jesus’ return then where in the Revelatioin is His return?
    J.D. Flanagin

  15. Warren Christianson says:

    I’m not a theologian, and different terms mean different things to different people, but it seems clear to me that Jesus said He would go and prepare a place for us in His Father’s house and come again to receive us unto Himself. Revelation 20 seems to me to repeat this senario. If Jesus really is returning soon, I guess we will all know for sure, won’t we?

  16. J.D. Flanagin says:

    J. D. Flanagin observes:
    If one believes Revelation 19 depicts the return of Christ then one must be Pre-Mil in their view, no matter what they think the Millennium is, since His return will be before (Pre) whatever.
    Think about it !

  17. Leah Chitty Walton says:

    I am a product of Harding University and resident of Searcy, Arkansas; therefore I had not bought into the premise of Premillennialism. However; upon further reading; find myself searching the scriptures for my own opinion on the subject. In reference to J.D. Flanagin’s reply: I, as a firm believer in the promise of salvation; it matters not, as long as I, by grace, am accepted into Glory, when my life on earth is at an end…

    • jdwandaf@verizon.net says:

      J.D. here.  I don’t remember the comment I made but this must have been to a site I visited when I was searching the net for the subject of Pr-M

      • Leah Chitty Walton says:

        I am simply agreeing that it is not a Salvation Issue; however, will continue to study the subject…

      • Pilgrim says:

        I agree that it is not a salvation issue. However, some of the ideas that people have about the end times are questionable as to how great is their understanding of salvation.
        jd

      • Leah Chitty Walton says:

        I agree… I had only recently found out that an extended family member is of this belief and knew that the next time we are together; I had better know my facts and be prepared… I suppose I had become complacent on the subject; thinking that no one I knew personally was of the belief of a 1000 year reign… At 64 years of age; I have to re-energize my scriptural memory-bank database for such discussions… Newcomers to any family sometimes bring new beliefs; therefore, complacency goes right out of the window…

      • Pilgrim says:

        At 64 years, you are just a young’un from my standpoint of four score and one. I would be happy to hear from you in personal e-mail if you want to discuss anything about the end times or other matters. If you would like and if it is permissible, I can leave you my e-mail address in a next post here. In any event, it has been nice to speak to you via this means.
        My view is Pre-mil, though it has not always been so. It is now, primarily because I see Revelation chapter 19 as portraying the return of King and this is Pre (before) chapter 20 which speaks of the thousand years which is the first resurrection.

        Thank you.

  18. David Ramsey says:

    Premillennialism is the concept that Christ, after his second coming, will reign on earth for 1000 years. By comparison, postmillennialism puts the 1000 years prior to His second coming. Amillennialism (a.k.a. nunc-millennialism) views the 1000 years as symbolically characterizing the reign of Christ right now in the hearts of His followers.

    Emphasis on the term “rapture” followed by a seven-year period of tribulation characterizes that variant of premillennialism now designated as “dispensational premillennialism.” Boll and his associates much took to this view while teaching that the kingdom already existed as the church, which would come to fill the whole earth under Christ’s rule after His second coming.

    Although David Lipscomb, James Harding, T.W. Brents, and others of that era were explicitly premillennial, it was not a topic in which they took much interest, and they did not concern themselves with speculations about the rapture and the tribulation. Thus, unlike Boll, they were probably historical premillenniasts (not dispensational). As the dispensationalists became so insistent on the terms “rapture” and “tribulation,” some of the historical premillennialists have correspondingly come more to be called “non-tribulational premillennialists.”

    Much of the controversy which came to surround Boll arose, however, not from his premillennialism but from his emphasis on grace. Thus his detractors could tar both his premillennialism and his emphasis on grace with the same brush. They were both, after all, associated with him. A causal relationship, however, is less likely, because indeed one can emphasize God’s grace regardless of the interpretation, if any, that person has of Revelation 20.

    If the Lord’s intention had been a view of the millennium so dogmatic as to require a chart, surely the Holy Spirit would have inserted one into the Bible. Nonetheless, individuals who find such graphic aids useful in discriminating the various views may want to look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennialism#mediaviewer/File:Millennial_views.svg .

    • Pilgrim says:

      This is to my view a fair description of the various major views of the thousand years John wrote about in Revelation 20. jd

      • David Ramsey says:

        There was little or no amillennialism in the restoration movement prior to World War I. That War, however, had a debilitating effect on postmillennialism. The concept that the world would turn to the gospel, and thus usher in a thousand years of peace and holiness culminating in the return of Christ, became untenable as a “war to make the world safe for democracy” dragged on through four years and some 20 million corpses with new technologies for fighting and killing on land, in air, and at sea.

        Additionally, the 1909 publication of the Scofield Reference Bible (with its dispensationalist notes) by Oxford University Press attracted many of the historical premillennialists to the dispensational view, and the postmillennialists, largely unwilling to go in that direction, switched to the amillennial perspective.

        The catalysts for this shift were felt within the churches of Christ. In the 1927 written debate between R. H. Boll and H. Leo Boles, it was obvious that Boll entered the debate thinking that Boles was still postmillennial when in fact Boles had become amillennial, a concept which should not have mystified Boll in that he had grown up in Roman Catholic schools in Germany and amillennialism had been the position of Roman Catholicism ever since Augustine of Hippo had supported that view in THE CITY OF GOD.

        The 1927 debate ended amicably, but the issue continued to fester. A few years later, in the Depression-Era debate between Foy E. Wallace and Charles M. Neal on the thousand years of Revelation 20, animosities had intensified, and they got no better when Wallace debated Baptist Frank Norris. In that debate two preachers associated with Boll went on the platform in Fort Worth to state their agreement with Norris. Decades would pass before civility could be restored among congregations with different expectations on eschatology.

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