By Peter Coker
In the 16th and 17th centuries, the English and American Puritan Postmillennialists developed a positive, hopeful outlook for the gospel of Jesus Christ and its future. Their vision of a world-conquering gospel looked forward to the worldwide spreading of the gospel and the ultimate conversion of the Jewish people just prior to the visible return of Jesus Christ. Their positive postmillennial views were rooted in Scriptures, such as; Ps. Chap. 67, 68: 1; Ps. Chap. 18; Mal. 1:11; Rom 10: 1, 11: 25-26; Rev. 12: 10-11.
“You delivered me from strife with the people; you made me head of nations; people who I had not known served me. As soon as they heard me they obeyed me; foreigners lost heart and came trembling out of their fortresses. The Lord lives and blessed be my rock, and exalted be the God of my salvation – the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me, who delivered me from my enemies; yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me; you rescued me from the man of violence. For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations and sing to your name.” (Psalm 18: 43-49)
This future hope was not only held by Puritans, it was held throughout the early reformation period by the various protestant sects. The early reformers taught about a new era of optimism, an era of growth, purity, unity for the church, the fullness of the Gentiles, and conversion of the Jews. The reformation period, though tumultuous, was also a time of future optimism, looking forward to greater more glorious days ahead for the church. A hope for greater unity of the church and for a decline of evil. In the 1500’s this hope was expressed in the writings of people like; Theodor Bibliander, Martin Bucer, Peter Martyr, David Paraeus, Theodore Beza, and many others. Early reformation theology held to a postmillennial perspective that believed the Scriptures taught that Christ would eventually subdue the whole world through His gospel. This future hope was not thought to be the salvation of every individual on earth, but a general worldwide acknowledgment of recognizing Christ’s authority.
“May we never grow weary, but learn to overcome the whole world…” (John Calvin)
Postmillennialism was developed more through the Puritans, and adhered to by Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and other protestant sects as well. It was the most prevalent view throughout England, Scotland, and the (American) New England colonies. In fact, it was the optimism of postmillennial thought that helped inspire a ‘spirit of hope’ that led to the colonial settlements to the new-world (American colonies). It was, in part, this optimistic view of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which motivated the reformers to believe they were fulfilling God’s commands, to take the gospel to new frontiers, to develop a growing missionary calling, and expand the boundaries of the kingdom of God.
The view of postmillennial hope was carried on with other notable figures such as; Henry Finch, Richard Sibbes, William Strong, George Gillespie, Robert Baillie, John Owen, Thomas Manton, John Flavel, Moses Wall, Dickson Hutcheson, John Cotton and others. English reformer, John Cotton, came to the American New England colonies in 1642 where he published millennial studies of Revelation that expressed the reformation’s postmillennial hope via the fall of Antichrist (Roman Catholicism), the down fall of (Muslim) Turkey, and the widespread “rising of men from spiritual death to spiritual life.” (In an era of Protestant and Roman Catholic conflict, Roman Catholicism was viewed by reformers as the Antichrist). For reformers like John Calvin, the future of the gospel was the eventual restoration of the world to spiritual life and a renewal of God’s Creation order.
[The late] Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen has shown that the postmillennial perspective was also expressed in; the Westminster Assembly, the Westminster Standards, in the ‘Directory for the Publick Worship of God,’ The Confession of Faith, and The Larger Catechism. According to Bahnsen, these all expressed; an age of blessing on the Church, the visible prosperity of the gospel through the rule of Christ, the future accomplishment of the great commission, the overthrow of the (Roman) Antichrist, the fullness of the Gentiles, and the conversion of the Jews. This view provided a future paradigm that reflected a history of growth for the Church and a future that would eventually define the kingdom of Christ as the prevailing belief system on earth as foretold in the Scriptures. (Ps. 2: 8, 22:7, 86:9; Dan. 2: 35, 7: 26-27, 44: 45; Zech. 14: 9).
The reformers optimistic attitude towards the gospel of Jesus Christ is far removed from today’s pessimistic, self-defeating faith of today’s dispensational-premillennial heresies. Instead of carrying the idea that Christ’s gospel eventually overcomes and overwhelms the world, today’s ‘dispensational’ Christianity has basically retreated from this view by holding to a ‘limited’ gospel. This pietistic retreat does not make a stronger, more spiritual Church, it reduces the Church to a basic fear of overcoming the outside world, by maintaining an inward private faith. It has thus become a Church that is afraid to confront the world’s values by hiding behind its own walls, or worse, by conforming to worldly values. Yes, it is still committed to converting individuals, but it no longer adheres to the full scope of the great commission; teaching all nations the ways of Christ, proclaiming God’s commands for righteous Christian living, and for bringing ‘justice’ under the government of Christ. (Is. 9: 6-7).
The 20th century brought us a dispensational retreatist-faith, much like the 18th century Church facing the Enlightenment era. The Church in that era also retreated into pietism for a time and turned inward to a large degree. This is once again, the same tactic embraced by much of today’s Church under the influence of dispensational-premillennialism. This inwardness is the same sort of pietism practiced by the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. Their pietism was in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. But, Jesus exposed this ‘limited’ holiness as man-centered and self-righteous; rather than serving the overall kingdom of God they were more concerned with appearing to be ‘spiritual.’ Just as almsgiving may be self-serving or for social-recognition, so too, a Church of ‘little faith’ becomes unhealthy and impotent in influencing its surrounding cultural environment. In like fashion, today’s pietistic ‘Phariseeism’ has refocused the New Testament ‘sign of tongues’ at Pentecost, into a self-aggrandizing ‘personal experience,’ instead of its original prophetic vision of taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations and tongues. Today’s unhealthy ‘dispensational’ attitude does not encourage the Church to challenge its surrounding cultural environment because it believes it is in the ‘last days,’ so why bother with reforming politics, economics, justice, the legal system, law enforcement, schools, etc. Overall, its pessimistic outlook continually grants victory to an antichristian world order.
The ‘postmillennial hope’ promotes a far more robust view of the future of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is, in the long run, a more complete gospel message that ultimately overcomes the world. It reflects a gospel that influences and builds up all areas of our lives and communities. Although Christianity may be stagnant today in much of the Western World, it is rapidly expanding in the southern hemispheres and many other parts of the world. May that motivate 21st century Christianity in the western world to recover and revive its ‘gospel hope’ and move forward again in reestablishing an everlasting gospel paradigm that reflects an all-encompassing robust faith.
“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” (Is. 9: 6-7)
Article derived from the Journal of Christian Reconstruction Vol.III, No. 2, 1976-77; with a contributing chapter by Greg L. Bahnsen, titled; The Prima Facie Acceptability of Postmillennialism. See www.chalcedon.edu and www.garynorth.com.
Also, ‘Church History in Plain Language’ by Bruce L. Shelley.
Article also posted at ipatriot: http://ipatriot.com/reviving-gospel-hope/