As you probably know if you are regular reader of this blog, I am “known” for my views on Bible prophecy (whatever that means). Because of my background in the Churches of Christ, a group that has well over 25 divisions all claiming to be the One True Church, many readers may wonder if I believe that one’s view of prophecy is a “test of fellowship” or “salvation issue.” The answer is a resounding “NO!”
I do not believe that those who disagree with me on one of the more complex and complicated topics in the Bible are “false teachers” or apostate or whatever.
Now, it is true that I once said things like, “Now we have the truth!” when talking to those who share my opinions, and I still believe my views are true. But when I said that I meant those who didn’t agree with me didn’t have “the truth.” By “the truth” I meant the gospel in the typical way one in the Churches of Christ uses the expression. In Galatians 1, the apostle Paul says,
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!Galatians 1:6–9
This passage is used to condemn everything from the use of instruments to women taking an active role through public prayer, song leading, or passing a communion tray while standing up. In fact, when my family told me to resign, they sent letters to neighboring churches saying I had left “the gospel.”
The problem with the above interpretation of Galatians 1 is that Paul didn’t have all of these things in mind. He said what the gospel was right before the passage previously cited:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.Galatians 1:3–5
This is the basis of Christian unity: trust in Christ’s giving of Himself. This transformative and redemptive sacrifice of Jesus is the foundation of unity, not belief or adherence to a system of doctrines (even doctrines concerning the purpose or function of the atonement, another complicated subject).
I’ve spoken about all of this on my website before, but I like to remind my readers of this from time to time so that they won’t mistake my enthusiasm for studying prophecy for a “my way or the highway” kind of attitude.
Even if you disagree with my views of Revelation, I still hope you gain something from those articles focused on eschatology.
As a side note, it will be observed that Paul did believe that certain views of eschatology, the study of Bible prophecy, could shipwreck one’s faith. But as I have pointed out before, the people Paul dealt with were the subject of prophecies Jesus made concerning the end of the age in Matthew 24. These “false Christs” or one’s who claimed that Christ was “here or there” were using the hope of a Messiah to lead people in a revolution against Rome. It would have been impossible for Christians to participate in such a revolution and claim to love their neighbor or enemies. Jesus spoke against violence in the name of the kingdom of God several times, and through claiming that the Messiah had “come again” already in the first century (2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Timothy 2:16-18), insurrectionists could convince those oppressed by the Roman Empire that God was working through their violence to restore Israel.
In this way, I agree with Rob Bell who said in his book Love Wins that eschatology shapes ethics. It’s the ethics I am concerned with when discussing eschatology as a test of fellowship, not the questions of interpretation. By ethics, I mean whether or not one loves their neighbor and enemies. If a system of eschatology (or any -ology) promotes oppression, violence, or hate for one’s neighbor or enemy in any way, then we have a problem.