Friday, January 1, 2010

What To Do When Preterism Comes To Your Church: For Pastors & Elders

Some things that are brought into a congregation via new attendees or members can be addressed easy enough.  Some doctrines are even within acceptable toleration within historic Christianity, but what happens when a belief comes in that is so aberrant, so out of sync with the unified doctrines of historic Christianity that it causes disruption to the congregation?
MS WORD or PDF <== New versions

Preterism as a theological perspective is actually nothing more than understanding much of the Olivet Discourse (Mt 24/Mk 13/Lk 21) as having fulfillment in the first-century, specifically in the destruction of Jerusalem & the Herodian Temple in AD70.  Most of Christianity pre-1800s was “preteristic” in its interpretation of these passages.  For instance,
“In answer to the disciples, the Lord tells them of things which were from that time forth to have their course; whether He meant the destruction of Jerusalem which occasioned their question, or His own coming through the Church, (in which He ever comes even unto the end, for we know that He comes in His own, when His members are born day by day,) or the end itself, in which He will appear to judge the quick and the dead.” (Epist., cxcix, 9)
“If any one compares the words of our Saviour with the other accounts of the historian (Josephus) concerning the whole war, how can one fail to wonder, and to admit that the foreknowledge and the prophecy of our Saviour were truly divine and marvelously strange.” (Book III, Ch. VII)
This prediction of the destruction of the temple, therefore, opened up a path for the ignorant and weak. Now, though it was advantageous that the temple should be destroyed, lest its services and shadows might exercise an undue influence on the Jews, who were already too much attached to earthly elements, yet the chief reason was, that God determined, by this dreadful example, to take vengeance on that nation, for having rejected his Son, and despised the grace which was brought by him. (Commentaries)
Notice, first, how Christ prophecies in this chapter concerning the final destruction of the Jewish nation, which the Jews did not at all believe, even though they had been clearly told through great signs and words, the promises of God which he made to the fathers, like unto which had happened to no other people upon the earth. For this reason they strongly insisted and depended upon it, thought it will continue forever, as they think even at the present time; that their kingdom is not destroyed but has only disbanded a little and shall be reestablished. They cannot get it out of their minds that they are not completely ruined. (Luther sermons)
As you can see, the interpretation that the Olivet Discourse spoke at least in the primary to the destruction of Jerusalem & the Temple is in FACT, the historic Christian interpretation.  It may only seem an oddity after the 1800s & the dominance of “Left-Behindism” which relegates almost all things to the future.  Therefore, there really isn’t such a thing as “Preterism” as it is actually nothing more than the historic Christian interpretation but that term has been bandied about since the early 1990s as referring to a refocusing of the Church’s eschatology more in line with its historic interpretation.
However, another and heretical version of the “Preterist” interpretation has also been making an appearance in churches.  This version claims ALL of the N.T. prophecies were fulfilled in the first-century.  More specifically, this version claims 5 things (among other variations):
  1. That Jesus came back spiritually, once & for all in the 1st-century.
  2. That the resurrection of the believers was spiritual & in the 1st-century.
  3. That the judgment of the wicked & righteous happened in the 1st-century.
  4. That there is no more sin, evil, or devil — not even for non-Christians.
  5. That there will be no culmination of the earth.
The version that claims these things is called HYPER-Preterism (hyper, because hyper means to go beyond the original scope or intent).
Hyper-Preterism denies what historic Christians have affirmed in UNITY.  Whether you look at pre-Roman Catholic Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Greek/Eastern Orthodox, Syrian, Protestant/Reformed, Anabaptist, or Modern Evangelical — ALL of these expressions of Christianity have ALL AGREED that these events are YET future.  So, when a person comes into a congregation claiming just the opposite & encouraging other people to deny these united beliefs of historic Christianity, it will cause division. (Romans 16:17-18)
The first thing to do is to determine which version of Preterism has come to your congregation.  I would suggest a private session with the individual(s) advocating the teaching.  If you ask them if they are Preterists or Hyper-Preterists they more than likely will not answer clearly since Hyper-Preterists often like to pretend there is no other version than their own heretical kind. So, you will need to ask specific questions such as the 5 things listed above & even then, if the person is a Hyper-Preterist, they may try to dodge revealing they are a Hyper-Preterist or they may have a variation of the 5 things.
If the individual(s) turn out to be only Preterists, this may be a great opportunity to discuss historic eschatology with your congregation but be on the look out — many Preterists eventually have fallen into Hyper-Preterism.  I’d also try to steer the individuals away from using the terms, “Preterist/Preterism” & instead try to get them to understand what they are advocating is simply historic Christian eschatology.
If you determine the individual(s) are Hyper-Preterists you can take several courses of action.  I would say these depend on how grounded & strong you think your congregation is.
If you think your congregation has a good grasp of historic Christian doctrines & especially the TRUE concept of Sola Scriptura (which is NOT equal to private interpretation), then you may want to take this opportunity to openly discuss Christianity’s eschatological views & contrast why Hyper-Preterism is outside historic/biblical Christianity.  Address the Hyper-Preterist(s) privately & advise them you do not want them to spread their teaching but keep an eye on them as Hyper-Preterists don’t often abide by this request.  Ultimately, you may need to ask them to leave the congregation if they continue to disrupt & cause division by teaching contrary doctrine.
If you don’t think your congregation has a strong grasp of historic Christian eschatology, you may want to remove the Hyper-Preterist from the congregation first, then take the opportunity to address historic Christian eschatology & what variances within Christianity are acceptable & which cross the line & are outside Christianity such as Hyper-Preterism.  Leaving a Hyper-Preterist within your congregation, no matter how loving & kind you may want to be will only allow them to eat away at your congregation.  There are many examples of how this has happened.  Eschatology isn’t a side issue.  Do not be fooled into thinking that just because a doctrine may not ultimately be a “salvation issue” that such a corrupt doctrine will not have very damaging effect on your congregation.
Some Pastors/Elders may want to immediately remove a Hyper-Preterist from their congregation, telling them in no uncertain terms that Hyper-Preterism is outside biblical & historic Christianity.  If the person is a member, excommunication may be necessary if the person does not repent.  Even if they do repent, keep an eye on them, as there have been cases of Hyper-Preterists outwardly repenting but still spreading the heresy.  You may or may not want to inform your congregation of these actions until you have a chance to build up their understanding of the gravity of the error of Hyper-Preterism.
Typically, and depending on how militant the Hyper-Preterist you can expect them to claim that they are like Martin Luther & you are like the Roman Catholic pope.  They will claim you are holding to “traditions” or to “man-made” beliefs.  You can be assured that Hyper-Preterists are NOTHING like Martin Luther or any other Reformer but rather they are like the radicals in Luther’s day (see here) whom he rejected as private interpreters.  You can remind them that Christians SHOULD be holding fast to the traditions of these men:
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (2 Thes 2:15)
What Hyper-Preterists MUST do is get you into a proof-texting battle where they can twist Scripture (2 Pet 3:16).  They MUST get you to buy into a notion that 2000 years of UNIFIED Christian interpretation has all been wrong & now the Hyper-Preterists are here to bring the “truth”.  They will cite a bunch of disconnected verses they will call the “time-texts” & claim these speak of 1st-century return of Christ.  These texts have been interpreted much differently by historic Christianity & in full context.
If you need more help on how to deal with Hyper-Preterism in your congregation you can contact me, Roderick Edwards or Dee Dee Warren.
I had actually been a Hyper-Preterist for about 15 years. Dee Dee Warren has had an apologetics ministry against Hyper-Preterism for over 10 years. [contact]  I would be happy to meet with you or speak before your congregation on the topic if you request.
Several well-known authors have written books to refute Hyper-Preterism.  Perhaps the most well-known is a book called When Shall These Things Be? A Reformed Response to Hyper-Preterism.  It is also advised that you visit this website for more resources:
Nine minute video on the History of Hyper-Preterism

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