Preterism and the Church: The Biblical View on Heaven and the New Covenant
By Jonathan M. Companik
Anti-Church Movement (Hyper-Preterism)
At the heart of our eschatology is knowing and understanding the biblical doctrine of the Covenant and the Church. What is the Bible really teaching about the nature of the Church up to and after A.D.70? Who consists of "the Church"? Who are to be considered true members of the New Covenant? I am convinced that there is a formulation of the doctrine of the Church in Scripture that we (Preterists) have not to this point adequately or precisely articulated, and it is to this end that I present the following case:
DEFINING "THE CHURCH"
I am persuaded that the Church on Earth (historical) and the Church in Heaven (eternal) consist of the One True Church established by God when the fulness of the Kingdom arrived on earth in A.D.70 at Christ's Parousia. The best way to understand this concept would be to proceed on the following bases:
1.) The Kingdom of Heaven/Kingdom of God/Heavenly Jerusalem is made up of all the earthly saints who are members of the historical covenant (New Covenant), as well as those who have been perfected and glorified in Heaven through sanctified obedience to the stipulations of this covenant. This citizenship is granted externally on the basis of baptism and a profession of faith. (It also applies to infants who are "holy" - born into a household with at least one professing marriage partner - I Cor.7:14)
2.) Therefore, without imposing an unscriptural dichotomy between "two cities" (one earthly and one heavenly), we are to see the difference between the earthly saints and the saints in Heaven as individually soteriological in nature - corresponding to the process and finalization of individual sanctification from within the covenant. Some within this covenant will break the covenant and apostasize. Others (the predestined) will remain faithful to the covenant demands of Scripture through holiness, good works, repentance, and the means of grace - in the end being glorified and established forever in the heavenlies in the direct presence of God and the saints who have persevered unto death before them.
Point 1 shows how we are to view the Church from an historical, covenantal, outward, and visible vantage point. Point 2 is concerned with the eternal decree of God in predestination (invisible), and establishes who is and who is not actually regenerate. From the vantage point of our membership in the New Covenant, it is impossible for finite men to infallibly identify those whom God has eternally predestined unto salvation.
THE ORGANIC CHURCH
Now, this much we can discern: The formulation above would render the Heaven Now paradigm theologically bankrupt. Heaven Now advocates rightly recognize that there is only ONE Church and ONE Kingdom of Heaven in the New Testament. However, Heaven Now promoters are defining "the Church" as consisting of all saints (whether dead or alive) who make up the "true Church". This is evident from the fact that all "true believers", in their system, have supposedly been granted a ubiquitous spiritual "body" or "covering" existing pervasively within and around them. Now, here is the rub: if all the saints on earth have received spiritual "perfection", possessing the very same status as those who have preceded them in death, and if Jer.31:31-34 "proves" (as they allege) that only "true believers" are ever members of the New Covenant/Heavenly City, why is it that the New Testament includes nonbelievers in the New Covenant Church - those described as having previously been of the elect; partakers of salvation; partakers of the Holy Spirit; even sanctified by the blood of the New Covenant? The following New Testament passages renders this an indisputable concept, as they directly parallel the three major characteristics and requirements of the New Covenant as set forth by Jeremiah:
First: "I will write my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts"
This passage from Jeremiah on the New Covenant is reproduced in Heb.10:16-17, and later on in the same chapter, we receive the following...
-- For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb.10:26-29). In addition...
-- For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again...the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" (Heb.6:4-6)
Does this principle of apostasy (and subsequent judgment) from the Covenant of Christ apply only to those of the "transition period" leading up to the Parousia who tasted of the "powers of the age to come"? Absolutely not; for the principle above further expands on the unforgivable sin from Matt.12:31-32. Earlier in this passage, Christ is accused of casting out demons in the name of Satan (vs.24), to which He responds in vs.28: "But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you" The significance of this verse cannot be overestimated: The Pharisees, as direct witnesses of Christ's power in casting out demons, literally tasted of the "powers of the age to come"! Just like those the writer of Hebrews speaks of! Yet what did the Pharisees do? They blasphemed the Holy Spirit - something which Christ declares to be unforgivable (vs.31) - not only for the age in which His accusers lived, but also in "the age to come" [the Kingdom of God] (vs.32). The Pharisees, as members of the Old Covenant, blasphemed the Spirit of grace and were counted dead already. Ananias and Sapphira, as members of Christ's newly established Church, lied to the Holy Spirit and were immediately struck dead. How much worse, then, will it be for those who come to know Christ in a more intimate way in the fulness of the Kingdom of Heaven, who are direct partakers of the Holy Spirt, become sanctified by the blood of the New Covenant, and yet crucify unto themselves the Son of God a second time?
Ananias and Sapphira lied to God, and Peter proclaimed to Ananias that "Satan filled your [his] heart". Lying directly to the Holy Spirit is literally considered the worst of all sins, for it goes to the very heart of Satanic activity - the most grievous sin that one can possibly commit against God. (This statement should not be construed as an endorsement of active, demonic activity after the Parousia. This author believes that Satan was cast into the Lake of Fire in A.D.70 - yet sinners can continue to partake of activity which, due to their sin nature in Adam, can and should be seen as nothing less than Satanic - for in this we partake of Satan's Table, rather than feasting with Christ at His Table in the Kingdom of Heaven.) By making a solemn covenant oath to Christ in committing ourselves in faith to His Covenant and His Church, we understand that this oath is two-sided, consisting of cursings and blessings. (This concept is firmly rooted in the Old Testament, but it is not the author's intention to digress away from the intended goal of this thesis.) This particular oath is the most serious of all oaths. In making this oath, we invoke the inherent blessings of the covenant, yet we sumultaneously call down upon our own heads the wrath and vengeance of God should we lie to His Spirit by partaking of Him, only to later break that covenant. Christ cleanses sins once (Heb.10:29). To put Him back on the cross a second time is unforgivable (Heb.6:4-6). This equivalent to the unforgivable sin. Second: "they shall all know me"....
-- "For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning" (II Pet.2:20) -- (See again: Heb.6:4-6; 10:26).
Third: "I will forgive their iniquity"....
--"But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: 'A dog returns to his own vomit', and, 'A sow, having washed, to her own wallowing in the mire' " (II Pet.2:22). And again...
-- "Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Heb.10:29)
Further, II Tim.2:12 clearly reveals that one can lose his/her place among the elect in the New Covenant; the epistles often contain greetings from the Apostles to "the elect" (the whole Church or collective group to whom they were writing); and Rev.22:19 specifically teaches that one can be a citizen of the heavenly city, and subsequently lose that citizenship:
-- "...if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."
Similar warnings are given to the Gentiles in Rome by Paul in Rom. 11:17-24 concerning their part in the Olive Tree, as well as by Christ Himself in His analogy of the Vine and Branches in John 15: 1-6
THE COVENANT AS HISTORICAL & CONDITIONAL
Now, the Heaven Now advocate will deny that sanctification is a process which extends into the Kingdom beyond the Parousia (as implied above). In this schema, sanctification is a purification process which applies to the Church from the Cross to the Parousia (30-70 a.d.), with the wheat and the chaff ultimately being separated at the Judgment seat of Christ. It was a 'transition period' of preparation and cleansing for the Bride (the Church) prior to Her union with Christ, the Groom. However, are other Preterists denying this eschatological blessing and reality? Not at all! There are numerous passages in the N.T. which testify to the Church as being fully established, purified and cleansed, made immortal and eternal, and brought to full spiritual maturity. This concept, however, cannot apply in an absolute sense to each and every individual within the New Covenant Church. The N.T. emphasis on eschatological maturity, covenantally speaking, primarily centers on the external and collective position of the historical, earthly Church relative to the time of the Parousia. The characteristics and attributes embodying this reality include:
1.) The establishment of a perpetual, historical covenant, based on the precondition of faith, repentance, and baptism, which can and does consist of non believing individuals. (See above)
2.) Christ's completion of the Atonement process in the heavenly Holy of Holies. (Lev.16; Heb.9)
3.) The emptying of Death/Hades, and the gift of immortality to the Church. (I Cor.15:51-55; II Cor.5:1-5, 8; Rev.20:12-15)
4.) The rendering of Sin, Death and the Law powerless to accuse the believer. (I Cor.15: 55-57)
5.) The Accuser's (Satan) eternal consignment to the Lake of Fire.(Rom.16:20; Jude vs.6; Rev.20:10)
One thing that these attributes have in common is that they say and reveal nothing in terms of our ability to know who is truly regenerate. We would have to have access to the mind and eternal decree of God to obtain this knowledge. Biblically, the concept of "covenant" does not apply outside of space and time. The biblical concept of "covenant" is that it is a uniquely historical relationship through which God progressively reveals His predetermined and eternal counsel concerning His plan of redemption to mankind. Covenants do not belong to eternity. They belong to history. From an external point of view, the covenant which Christ has "cut" on earth for the historical Church is the only reasonable basis upon which we can determine, to the best of our ability, who is a predestined child of God. Scripture teaches that there are primarily two evidences that one is in the faith: (a) By virtue of outward profession and baptism, and (b) continual faithfulness to the obligations of the covenant through obedience to the Law of Christ written upon hearts. Regeneration itself is an unconditional act of the Holy Spirit, but the New Covenant itself (as was the Old) is externally conditional. "Faith without works is dead", says James (Jms.2:26).
Conversely, it is for this reason that ecclesiastical authority has only been granted the power to excommunicate individuals from the historical covenant through removal from the Lord's Table on the basis of their fruit, following the example of the N.T. for advice on when and how to apply that discipline. Human authority has not been granted the power to consign individual souls to Hell. Only Christ has been granted this authority from the Father. Just as external admittance to the Covenant is based upon external criteria (verbal profession; the sign of baptism), so also exclusion from this Covenant.
WHAT IS TRUE FAITH?
All of this is to say that, if we are to have any reasonable, biblical basis for knowing and recognizing the sincerity of a person's faith, we are to revert back to the concept (rooted in the Old Testament) of covenant promise and covenant obligation - two elements of every historical covenant in the Bible, going back to the Old Covenant (e.g., Deut.7:6-11). The promise applies to those whom Christ has called and ingrafted into Himself (Jn.15:1-6; Rom.11:17-24) as historical members of the New Covenant Church. Failure to meet the covenant obligations of obedience through holiness to the Law of Christ results in one's permanent cutting off from the Vine or Olive Tree. It is not enough to simply "believe". Faith and practice go hand in hand, scripturally.
This is not to say that we are saved by our works; it is merely to say that we are saved by Christ's death, applied to us by the Holy Spirit through faith, a faith which inevitably produces covenantal obedience that remains with us as regenerate individuals until our glorification. Only if we deny the necessity for personal holiness can we limit the requirement for personal salvation and eternal life to a mere intellectual and verbal profession. But this is the necessary and logical outcome of Heaven Now Theology. Intellectual assent becomes equated with heavenly citizenship. The claim I am hearing and have received from this camp is that spiritual union with Christ is experienced and applied through invisible, ethereal means by a heavenly, spiritual "tent" or "covering" which indwells our physical bodies [plural], functioning simultaneously as a spiritual covering over the Body of Christ [corporate]. This newly invented doctrine of justification, then, rearranges and redefines biblical terms such as "faith" and "conversion". They become synonymous in this scheme. "Faith" (belief or confession) is equated with an inherently effectual "conversion" (regeneration) - and it is at this point that the believer supposedly becomes inseparably united to his Savior as a soteriologically complete and perfected individual, logically rendering the need for sanctification and good works unnecessary for the Christian life, contradicting Jms. 2:26.
"Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband" (Rev.21:2)
In summary, without going into great exegetical detail, the above verse from Revelation concerning the "holy city" captures the precise nature of the discontinuity between the condition of earthly believers and that of the saints in Heaven. This passage sets the stage for how we ought to be interpreting all other N.T. passages related to the Kingdom of Heaven. The city is seen as "coming down from" heaven from God. It is not Heaven itself, where glorified saints today reside. Both the saints on earth and those who have been glorified consist of the singular, organic Church. Both are citizens of the "holy city", or "heavenly county" (Heb.12:22-23; 11:16). But both do not reside in Heaven itself. We on earth are awaiting perfection. The New Jerusalem is described in the Bible as being several things: a heavenly city (an adjective, not a noun) which came down from heaven; the Kingdom of Heaven, or Kingdom of God; a "holy city" or "heavenly country" - but not Heaven itself. The New Jerusalem was in Heaven, and at the Parousia became an extension on earth of the "holy city" from Heaven - a literal place where the saints who have preceded us in death now live in perfect and eternal communion with their Savior.
Let us lay hold of our eternal inheritance from Christ with great joy and confidence, boast in His finished work, and glory in the destruction of Death and the power of Sin made unoperational. Likewise, let us with freedom and steadfast effort obey Christ with renewed hearts and minds, looking forward to that time and place wherein we shall experience perfect rest and fellowship with those who have preceded us in faith. To God alone be all Glory, Honor, Power and Dominion forever and ever. Amen!
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- 07 May 2002
Jonathan was kind enough to ask me to preview and critique his article on the "covenant." I made several suggestions and pointed out some inconsistencies and direct contradictions of the biblical text in his original article. He has changed some of these, and added much new material to the final article. The problems that remain are here numerous however. First, the elect of God cannot "lose" their salvation. If God elects, then he does so from a position of sovereignty, and this foreknowing sovereignty does not leave it up to an individual to "choose" to apostasize to the point of damnation. (This is the reason for church discipline. 1 Cor. 5, chap. 11, etc, to bring forth repentance). 2 Tim. 2 does not teach, nor do the Heb. 6 & 10 texts, that an individual believer who has been made a new creation in Christ and is given Christ's nature and is a partaker of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1: 4-5), can finally fall away into damnation. Heb. 6 says it is impossible for the sinning person to renew them again unto repentance. But it is NOT impossible for God to do so. And so V.'s 7-8 of the sixth chapter of Hebrews demonstrates using metaphorical language about the field burning practice of the Hebrews to bring forth greater fruit, that the Lord will discipline the believer back to himself. See V. 9 "But beloved, we are persuaded of better things of you, things that accompany salvation!" Next, Yes, a believer CAN know that they possess eternal life on the basis of faith alone in Christ alone. ( I KNOW that I possess it!) Outward actions or righteous "fruit" that the believer demonstrates, are simply another way that this is confirmed, but it is not the only way. The NT is clear that one can know that they possess eternal life by simply believing the scriptures on the subject. See John 3: 15-16, John 5: 24, 1 John 5: 13 ("These things i have written unto you who believe, that you might KNOW that you HAVE everlasting life..."- Believing equals knowing) Rom. 8: 1, (No ultimate condemnation-KATAKRIMA, in Christ) etc... Finally, there exists no mutual equivalent between the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit uttered by the scribes, and the sin of Ananias and Saphira. Mk. 3: 28-30, says Jesus will forgive all blasphemies and all sins except for those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Then in V. 30, Mark says exactly what the blasphemy is that is unforgivable: "Because they said, 'He hath an unclean Spirit.' " The elect believer cannot do this. Otherwise they would never be elect, and they would never have the forgiveness that is guaranteed to the believer in Christ. Ananias and his wife performed a serious sin, but was it unforgivable? Where does the text even imply this? Certainly it cannot be on the same level nor is it correct to say that it is the equivalent to the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit as Mark 3: 28-30 presents it. There lives were removed from the earth. But that's all we are told. To assume more than that is to add to the scripture. Heb. 10 25 ff speaks of forsaking the assembling together of the church that was existing in Judea at the time, and returning to the temple sacrificial system. The writer of Hebrews states that it is a willful sin (V. 26)to separate ones self from God's people in assembling, and that the fiery indignation of V. 27 seems very strongly to point towards the AD 66-70 conflagration that was about to be. The individuals are revealing the truth of their lack of regeneration by "trodding under foot the Son of God (can a new creation in Christ do this?), counting the blood of the covenant that was sanctifying them (an assumed sanctifying) an unholy thing, (can a participant in the divine nature do this?) And doing despite unto the Spirit of grace." This article concerns me, as it should all grace oriented believers. Jonathan, in attempting to demonstrate the implausability of the "Heaven Now" position, has taken matters too far outside of the biblical text in some of his comments, and in doing so, has created a worse problem soteriologically for us to wrestle with, and inadvertently (I believe) has brought into question not only the electing sovereignty of God (and damaged God's nature), but has made "shakey" the biblical promise of assurance that God grants to all his elect.
Dr. Kelly Birks Pastor, Messiah Reformed Church firstname.lastname@example.org
- 07 May 2002
- Remote User:
Dr. Birks, You are a good man. I appreciate the time you put into that to interact with my article. Iron sharpens iron, and it is only through sharing some healthy criticism that we can expect to grow not only in love and dvotion to Christ and to one another, but in knowledge as well. I sincerely do welcome the criticisms brought forth from both of you as edifying for myself as well as for everyone. Thank you. For now, Dr. Birks, I will very briefly touch on the objections you bring forth with respect to soteriological matters. In your comments, I have discerned two fundamental concerns with my paper: 1.) That my thesis would destroy the electing sovereignty of God by suggesting that one who has been saved can then apostasize of his own free will, and 2.) that in my view, no true believer would have any basis for confidence or assurance that he is indeed a child of God. It is possible that there were a couple of statements in my paper which deserved further qualification for the sake of clarity, but for the most part, I believe that I was fairly clear in defining my terms. In response to your first point: I believe that the apostles and prophets viewed election from the perspective of the covenant, as opposed to viewing the covenant from the perspective of election. In viewing things from the perspective of the covenant, we, as creatures, cannot penetrate the eternal decree of God; nor can we discern (apart from seeing outward fruit in the lives of those who profess Christ) with exactness or absolute correctness who is of the predestined (the truly regenerate). Only God knows this. Therefore, in writing my article, I was not attempting to show that the predestined may "lose" their salvation, but that the "elect" (covenant members of the Church)may lose their place in the covenant. Indeed, God promises up that whose whom He has predestined, He has also called; those whom he has called He has also justified, and those whom He has justified, He has also glorified. (Rom.8:30) With regard to your second point: I did not deny that an individual can know (for himself, personally) with absolute assurance where he stands in the sight of God in terms of soteriological status. I know that I am saved as well, based on passages such as Rom.8:16. The Spirit has indeed borne witness with my spirit that I am a son of God. But the Spirit cannot bear witness with my Spirit that you, or Todd, or anyone else is a child of God. If we claim that this is so, then we REALLY destroy God's nature, and lose the Creator/creature distinction which Paul labors so diligently to elucidate in the first chapter of Romans. I thank you all for your interaction, and perhaps even a second part to the original article might be in order - using your comments and concerns as a springboard for further explication and clarification on my view. Also, for anyone reading these posts who may be interested in pursuing this issue further, I would highly recommend reading Norman Shepherd's book, "The Call of Grace". Norman Shepherd is cutting edge in Reformed circles today, and has (IMO) established the strongest biblical framework (from the perspective of covenant) for understanding issues related to election, regeneration, evangelism, etc., from the standpoint of Calvinistic soteriology. Shepherd has received criticism directly matching the kind of concerns which Dr. Birks makes above. I believe, however, that Shepherd has been greatly misunderstood. His book really cuts to the very most foundational issues related to covenant. It ought to be read by all. Further comments on my article are, of course, welcome :-) God bless! Jonathan
- 19 May 2002
- Remote User:
Just a couple of questions Mr. Companik: You wrote, "The city is seen as "coming down from" heaven from God. It is not Heaven itself, where glorified saints today reside. Both the saints on earth and those who have been glorified consist of the singular, organic Church. Both are citizens of the "holy city", or "heavenly county" (Heb.12:22-23; 11:16). But both do not reside in Heaven itself. We on earth are awaiting perfection. The New Jerusalem is described in the Bible as being several things: a heavenly city (an adjective, not a noun) which came down from heaven; the Kingdom of Heaven, or Kingdom of God; a "holy city" or "heavenly country" - but not Heaven itself. The New Jerusalem was in Heaven, and at the Parousia became an extension on earth of the "holy city" from Heaven - a literal place where the saints who have preceded us in death now live in perfect and eternal communion with their Savior." If the "heavenly Jerusalem" is the "fulfillment" of God's promise to "historical Israel", and "historical Israel" are "in heaven", then how do they receive the fulfillment of the "promise" if the New Jerusalem "came down" from heaven without bringing "heaven" with it? Your position seems to imply "two Jerusalem's". One for the "historical church" and one for the "heavenly church". Also, how is the "new covenant' fulfilled to historical Israel if "Covenants do not belong to eternity[,]they belong to history"? How does "the eternal covenant" in Heb.13:20 fit in with this statement? Thank you Tracy
- 22 May 2002
- Remote User:
Bro. Todd: This emphasizes the importance of being able to distinguish between the nature of the Old and New Covenants, and their relationship to 70 A.D. If this site does not provoke, in the good sense, a man to think about 'what is Truth?'I wonder what it would take? G. C. Finney was an aspiring young lawyer and extremely zealous of success. A older man asked Finney what his goals were and Finney went through a list of accomplishments: success as a lawyer, marriage, family, weatlth, a fine home, and the older man stopped Finney in his discourse and said, "And THEN WHAT?". At 68 years of age I am still contemplating, as a Believer, "And then WHAT?". I wish I knew what I DON'T know.....an antinomy, an oxymoron and I feel more like the moron. Your Friend and Brother, Bob Pelham, NC
- 26 Mar 2003
i believe CHRIST JESUS is the temple of GOD as much as he is the head of the church see haggia chapter2 see the reference in the column when it speaks of the temple reply and debate other topics email@example.com
- 23 Jul 2003
Dear Jonathan, Great work, Brother! Paul Richard Strange, Senior 119 Marvin Gardens Waxahachie Texas 75165 972 -- 937 -- 7129 firstname.lastname@example.org