Tolerating Millennial Views

Question
How important should the question of the Millennium (as described in Rev. 20) be for Christian belief? Should the Presbyterian Chruch (USA) strive for uniformity of belief here, or should there be openness to a variety of views?
Answer
Since the PCUSA isn't my denomination, I'm a bit hesitant to comment on what it ought to do internally regarding the millennial question. As I understand it, the PCUSA is no longer confessional in the traditional sense, so that it no longer has any official doctrinal stances (except those litmus tests for ordination such as affirming women's ordination). The PCUSA requires ministers to be guided and informed by its book of confessions, but not that they subscribe to it.

Speaking more broadly, I believe that the entire church (inter-denominationally) ought to strive for doctrinal unity. We ought to seek the truth in all cases, and we ought to seek unity in all cases. At the same time, we ought to tolerate some variety of views in most subjects because: no one's theology is perfect; we must all be teachable; some differences in theology just aren't that signficant. However, our level of tolerance ought to vary with the level of importance of the doctrine in question and with the degree of variance from (what we perceive to be) Scripture's actual teaching on the subject. The more important a doctrine is, the less variance we should tolerate; the more clearly Scripture speaks to a subject, the less variance we should tolerate.

On the millennial question, I think that there is room to tolerate a good variety of views without hindering Christian living and practical application too significantly. Whether one is postmillennial, amillennial or historic premillennial doesn't seem greatly to impact how one applies Scripture to life. While I believe that amillennialism is the correct position and that it is the only one that can be reconciled with a proper prophetic hermeneutic, I don't believe that much real damage is caused by postmillennialism or historic premillennialism.

Dispensational premillennialism, however, is another story. Adherents to that system frequently consider much scriptural teaching irrelevant and inapplicable to Christian life. This is very damaging. In many cases they deny the applicability of all Scripture which does not pertain to the current "dispensation." This includes not only the entire Old Testament (which belongs to prior dispensations, excepting only those principles reiterated in the New Testament), but also those portions of the New Testament which they ascribe to the "future" millennial reign of Christ (which they consider to be a future dispensation). In some cases, these portions of the New Testament include just about everything that speaks of the "kingdom of God/heaven," such as the Sermon on the Mount. Effectively, Dispensational premillennialism denies the authority of much Scripture over the life of the modern believer. I believe this view to be intolerable, though this is a personal judgment call on my part. And of course, there are other forms of Dispensational premillennialism that are not so damaging (Progressive Dispensationalism is certainly the best form of this doctrine).

Of course, the questions of how Christians ought to strive for doctrinal unity and of how Christians ought to show tolerance/intolerance is another problem. For example, while I do not believe the church ought to tolerate Dispensational premillennialism, I also do not believe that we ought to divide over this issue. Rather, I simply believe that the church ought not to endorse this position, and that it ought to correct its people's theology in this area wherever possible. But there will always be those who remain unconvinced, and I don't think they need fall under censure for their convictions unless they are ministers whose teaching on the subject causes problems in the church. Other issues may require more or less severity/aggressiveness of correction/opposition.

Some of my fundamental assumptions behind these ideas are:
  1. The unity of the church is very important (e.g. Ps. 133:1; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:1-16; Col. 3:14). The Bible presents us with one people of God in both the Old and New Testaments (the division of the northern and southern kingdoms in the Old Testament represented a political division, but not a religious division). We have no scriptural basis for perpetuating any form of denominationalism which constitutes a form of division. Therefore, we ought always to seek unity.
  2. Sound doctrine is very important (2 Tim. 2:15; 3:10-4:3), especially from the teachers of the church (Luke 12:48; Jam. 3:1).
  3. Tolerance in non-essential matters is the scriptural example (e.g. Rom. 14:1ff.; 1 Cor. 8:1ff.).

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.