Dangers of ‘Hard-line’ Eschatology

1 Aug

Note: this post is rather long.

The following is an excerpt of my response from an email dialog which occurred in fall 2011 between me and several people about eschatological issues.  My experience has been that those whose central message is eschatology are prone to creating division if they are not agreed with… as opposed to guarding and promoting the unity of the body of Christ.  The hard-line response I received afterward required that I ‘pull out’ of the dialog.  For those who are ‘fighters’, there is no letting up and no end to the contention until someone is subjugated… or worse… pit-bull style.  Unfortunately and historically, for the hard-line eschatology ‘fighters’, ‘blood flowing in the streets’ is of only minor concern… and in some cases it may be celebrated as a personal victory trophy.

This thread started as a random general email asking me for feedback about the differences between IHOP and Bethel.  I didn’t respond to the initial general inquiry as I feel that most wranglings of this kind are fruitless and only leave you forced to believe like the other person… or they leave you with a bruised or severed friendship.  I responded only after a personal email inquiry.

________________________________________
Dear friends,

We received your first general email on this topic and wondered if I should respond.  I hesitated because I never like to initiate a ‘crossing’ of someone else’s views.  But since you have specifically asked a second time, I’ll offer some ideas for your consideration.  I rarely share like this, because as I’ll explain, I value people hearts more than I need them to adopt my doctrines… especially if they are not doctrines essential for salvation.  So please read this as only my personal thoughts.  They are not binding on anyone else and nor does anyone need to believe the way I express herein.

I’ve been around forceful eschatology preaching from many national and international voices since the early 60s.  And one thing I’ve found is that dogmatic positions change about every 5 to 20 years… usually because of a new development on the world scene.  And unfortunately, when their positions change, very few hard-line preachers of eschatology go back to repair the resulting collateral damage of lives which occurred from their earlier strongly-proclaimed positions.  That is of little consequence to them because their amended, new-and-improved eschatology is now so gripping to them.

But really, it’s not hard to get people to buy into dogmatic forceful preaching, because most people are fearful of the future for many reasons… (the world decline of morals, the national decline of fiscal issues, and their own self condemnation about their lack of personal devotion to God which makes them feel they’ve got a lickin’ coming, etc….)  So subconsciously they feel that when they believe something very dogmatically it will somehow vicariously assuage their inner pain and discomfort with themselves.  As a result, for a forceful preacher to quickly find an amenable audience (and at the same time quickly draw ‘fire’ from an opposing view) is very easy.

Frankly, many eschatology views create even more fear… (seals, plagues, trumpets, the harlot, hiding in caves, judgments, the dragon, 1/3 of mankind being wiped off the face of the earth, destruction of the earth, etc…..)   An eschatology which creates a net effect of more faith and confidence to face the future is hard to come by.  Now I’m not saying that there aren’t some teachers of eschatology who have a faith-filled sense of the future, what I’m saying is that average John Q. Public who listens to eschatology is already fearful and ends up more fearful.  I say this as a result of my observations over the last 50 years… and if it is true, then I feel my ambition and commission is to try to find a way to create faith to face the future based in a relationship with a very good God who will not only just sustain the average believer but will help them to actually walk in kingship and rulership on this earth… even in the midst of troubled times. (see Isa 60)

This is my preferred message and dialog and approach over most of the common eschatology messages.   How can I instill faith, security and genuine devotion to Jesus in the hearts of His dear people… the ones whom He’d love to be single minded in their love for Him… even becoming as a little child in their devotion and walk with Him?

I find contending (not to mention wrangling) over doctrines of eschatology to be very taxing on my emotional capacity to love Jesus purely… especially if someone has an axe to grind about their favorite end time doctrine.  It leaves me not just weary, but my heart is somewhat bruised by the contention in the ‘air’ and knowing that someone has now pigeon-holed me in their ‘he-doesn’t-believe-like-me’ category.  There is now a weight on our relationship which clouds free flow of love and encouragement of the really important things (see points 1 and 2 below).  I believe that eschatology is NOT an ‘issue of salvation’… and so, I’d like to keep eschatology in the category of ‘subjects-talked-about-in-such-a-way-that-we-won’t-bruise-our-relationship’… and in the category of ‘it’s-not-important-that-we-agree-on-this’… and in the category of ‘I-know-these-issues-have-been-debated-by-the-very-best-theologians-for-millennia-and-it-is-still-a-hot-topic-that-changes-frequently’.  And anytime we talk about eschatology, I believe copious expressions of grace, kindness, gentleness and love must outweigh the weightiness of the end-times debate.

When the Jehovah Witnesses come to my door and want to talk eschatology (BTW – most people are more passionate over their eschatology than their own devotion to Jesus), I interrupt them and ask if they can help me in two very important areas today… and if so, I would LOVE to talk to them.  The questions are:

1. Can you help me fall more in love with Jesus today?
2. Can you help me have more consistent victory over sin today?

Of course they’re not prepared to help me in either department, so I tell them good-bye.

You see, both of these questions are to me, the bottom-line of our relationship with Jesus… and they sum up the First Commandment.  And yet at these very points is where most people experience failure… and need help!!  In my mind, these are MOST needed by all of humanity and I want to get good at helping them at this poignant need.  I believe Jesus is extremely grateful if I can help His bride fall in love with Him even more.  But if I forcefully impose the much debated and heated topic of eschatology on people and require them to agree with me, then the free-flow life-flow of our relationship is very quickly dampened.  And I doubt if we have to wonder what Jesus thinks of this, especially since this is not an issue central to salvation.

So what I’m looking for in any person or group or movement is not their eschatology (that would be near the last), it’s how much they’re genuinely in love with Jesus and whether they’re doing the works of Jesus and whether they are making disciples who think, walk and talk like Jesus and whether they are setting bound-up humanity free…. (in healings, miracles, etc) and whether they are set free with ‘Jesus-life’ being evidenced through their lives… OR whether their heads are top-heavy with doctrine.

As much as eschatology IS real and WILL happen in our lives… and as much as God knows exactly what we will experience in the ‘end-times’… the doctrines of eschatology have become a very unnecessary dividing issue for thousands of years.  How many innocent believers would have loved Jesus well, if it hadn’t been for someone’s overly-zealous dogmatic human interpretation of end-time scriptures?  Rather, those potential lovers of Jesus became collateral damage from the eschatology wars.  Now, they are sidelined into a life where their opinions and doctrines are more important than their devotion.  I wonder what Jesus thinks of that?

Now I’m not saying that you (or any leader that you or I may know) are gripped in any of the above hurtful mindsets or scenarios, but it is inarguable that the above problems associated with the preaching of hard-line eschatological views has been a sad reality since Jesus’ day (and even before).  I also believe that it is quite likely that most people listening to the dogmatic eschatological preaching from current leaders we know, very quickly adopt a position of compliant belief in order to conform to and thus be accepted by their leaders.  Either that or they will assume a hardened battle posture to defend their position… and distance themselves.  Neither is OK in my opinion.

It is my hope that anyone (myself included) who presents views of the end-times will also present a real and big and loving God in such an effective manner that it causes the hearers to voluntarily fall in love with Him and find Him as their Supreme obsession (over all other possible passions) and empowers them into relevant ways to overcome and walk above sin.

Here’s a great analogy I once heard which relates how we humans wrangle over non-salvation doctrines and experiences.  It’s like a bunch of pygmies arguing over which one of them is taller… when in the end they’re all still midgets.  You see, I truly doubt if anyone has totally correct theology and eschatology and when we draw lines over issues that are ‘non-salvation’ and difficult-if-not-impossible-to-be-completely-accurate doctrines, then we might want to just realize that we’re still ‘midgets’ and we only see in part.  This posture will reduce potential doctrinal contentions and will likely allow us to better love those around us.

I believe Mike and Bill have been EXTREMELY noble in NOT needlessly highlighting the differences between the two movements.  I TRULY appreciate this. It shows maturity and perspective… it also manifests their love for the body of Christ that is greater than for their doctrines.  Mike and Bill have been VERY honoring of each other.  I’ve heard Bill say several times, “Mike and Lou are the two most spiritual people in the world”.  I believe Bill is committed to walking in honor about any differences he may have with IHOP’s eschatology.  Again, I appreciate this very much… especially in a day when overt negative global events are so prevalent.  If we ‘feast’ on the news and media sources we could easily get sucked into a voluminous discourse of doom and gloom.  I believe Bill has chosen to believe the Word of God which says (despite what any negative world events might want us to believe) that the “increase of His kingdom and of His peace shall know no end”.  I love that view!!!  From God’s vantage point, the Kingdom is more powerful and real and available and effective NOW, than at any time in history.  That’s His word and it doesn’t lie.  I want to live more in this reality than in what my natural eyes see.  If someone is being accused, “You’re just turning a blind eye to the obvious woes of the world” then thank God maybe that person is becoming more conscious of the Kingdom realm than of this fallen realm.

Now all of that being said, Bethel has deep passion for Israel and for the Jewish people.  At the same time, they are committed to not let any passage of Scripture or promise of God not have a personal relevance in this current day in which we live.  As we know, the Holy Writ can have many levels of meaning and application.  That is the mystical and miraculous power and nature of the Word of God.  Bethel leaders are committed to live above the mousy Christianity that much of the Church experiences.  If someone calls this ‘Kingdom now’ theology, then so be it.  I believe that is how Jesus taught us to pray… Thy Kingdom come (now)… on earth…

The good part is that Bethel is experiencing a life-flow of God that is unusual and especially noteworthy… enough so, that some of our children are there and we’re very happy to see the life of God arising in their lives and being expressed through their lives.

I remember my father-in-law preaching on the seven ‘ones’ found in Eph 4:1-6.  It says,

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is 1)one body and 2)one Spirit, just as you were called in 3)one hope of your calling; 4)one Lord, 5)one faith, 6)one baptism; 7)one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

First, I like the “gentleness” and “lowliness” and “longsuffering” and “bearing with one another” part.  This will keep us from being overbearing or pressuring others with our views.

Second, I like “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.  Unless we’ve been convinced that the people who believe different than us are outside of the body of Christ, then we’re commanded to strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace / being peaceable / making peace.  (And even if they are not in the body of Christ, we’ll probably not win them by wrangling over doctrine.  We’ll most likely need to ask God for an entrance into their heart.)

Third, there are seven ‘ones’ which we seem to be commanded to rally around.  It also implies that it will require great effort: strive to maintain unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  And so contrary to our normal tendency to major on our differences (which is unprofitable or worse yet, divisive) rather, those seven ‘ones’ should be our rally points.

For those who must press their points and draw lines of division in the body of Christ regarding non-salvation issues, Titus 3:9-11 has something to say about it,

“But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.”

Wow, there is even a church discipline for those people… even alluding to the possibility that their zeal may be an evidence of deeper sins issues… (possibly to cover sin, failure, inner pain or discomfort with themselves – just my commentary here).

Far from end time theology not being relevant to Bethel, I believe they have chosen to walk out their theology much more than they talk their theology… showing their “faith (beliefs) by their works” (Jms 2:18).  I think this posturing is less troublesome and more respectful to the Body of Christ.  And bottom-line, what if it’s discovered that Bethel doesn’t believe like IHOP?  What now?  Have we created greater unity in the Spirit?  Have we maintained the bond of peace?  Have we rallied around the seven ‘ones’?  Or have we drawn lines which separate?  And have we pressured all of our friends to choose sides now?

In summation: I think that as much gravitational pull as hard line eschatology has, it is extremely fraught with potential harm to the body of Christ.  As I’ve mentioned, historically most forceful voices are more concerned with their views than with respecting the Body of Christ.  Since most eschatology doctrine is not necessary to ‘get us to Heaven’, maybe you can see why I have the concerns expressed above.

So, I do not want to imply that you have to adopt my views… or even agree with them.  Our friendship will still be safe and secure.  But since you specifically asked, I have responded and hopefully given some profitable food for thought.

Love and blessing!!
Mark

— MLH 

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6 Responses to “Dangers of ‘Hard-line’ Eschatology”

  1. Esther August 1, 2013 at 2:34 PM #

    appreciate these thoughts on this issue- good to the core:)

    • Barry August 1, 2013 at 6:04 PM #

      Mark – a great response as usual from you. Love it!

  2. melwild August 5, 2013 at 1:49 PM #

    Really good stuff here, Mark. Spot-on! Way to go on tackling a doctrinal minefield with such grace and honor. 🙂 I see this issue really summarized when you said…

    “BTW – most people are more passionate over their eschatology than their own devotion to Jesus.”

    I have run into the same contentious battlefield many times as a pastor. I love ’em but I think they forget that the last book of the Bible is called, “The Revelation of JESUS CHRIST.” Let’s get that part first! As Mike Bickle has wisely pointed out, eschatology is more about a Person than a plan. I love you, brother!

  3. Ben Kilen August 5, 2013 at 4:42 PM #

    Reblogged this on Kilen's Spot and commented:
    Mark Hendrickson is a long time friend and apparently he is wise too.

  4. gahigi November 12, 2014 at 2:09 AM #

    I appreciate this. As you pointed out it goes way beyond even eschatology to any doctrine not essential to salvation. Even among non believers is proving them wrong in such matters the way Jesus would handle it. I’ll be finding other ways to connect instead of arguing to help people fall more in love with Him probably not perfectly but better than I have in the past.

    Peace

    • Mark Hendrickson November 12, 2014 at 9:55 AM #

      Yes, “Blessed are the peace makers.” Couple thoughts:

      First, we are all God’s creation and if we diminish another one of God’s creation, what does that make God feel like? What are we saying about His craftsmanship and handiwork?

      Second, what does it say when we diminish, marginalize or divide Jesus’ bride. What does it make His heart feel?

      We’re learning how to disagree without diminishing or dividing, hopefully… especially when it has nothing to do with the central tenets of our salvation.

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