Opining carries with it the ever-present danger of being misunderstood, and the even greater danger of being misrepresented.
Yet there are times when, for the sake of truth, critical opining is a necessary practice.
Before I share my opinion regarding the proposed changes to the GARBC's Articles of Faith, let me publicly proclaim my love for our association. I was born into it ... reared in it ... trained in it ... and have pastored in it for the past 13 years. I've attended nearly every Annual Conference since 1985 (with the exceptions of those held in California, and one in Florida). I'm planning to attend this year's conference with my family--even though the subject matter is certain to stir some consternation and controversy (classic, Judeo-centric dispensationalism--and I don't mean that pejoratively). I love our association. I respect its leadership. I eagerly embrace its valuable history--which is why I do not share the same enthusiasm for the proposed changes to the GARBC Articles of Faith.
The GARBC Council of Eighteen (our association's leadership council) has recommended several changes to the eschatology portion of the articles of faith. The association leadership has described these changes as "minor" and "not a revision of our beliefs ... but a clarification in the way we describe long-held views among our churches on the doctrine of eschatology" [entire reasoning for proposed changes available HERE].
I do not question the motives of our association's leadership in proposing the change. But I am perplexed by the stated reasoning for the proposed change. Later in the aforementioned article, the reasoning driving the change becomes even more apparent:
Our Articles of Faith do not live in a vacuum. The theological landscape around us progressively changes in ways that demand our continued clarity. Pastor Tom Alexander, a Council of Eighteen member who serves on the policy committee, described a problem he was having in his new members’ Bible study. “I found myself going over the wording of our doctrinal statement very carefully with the new members because it was hard for them to understand,” Alexander says. “Every time we got to that section, I had to do a lot of explaining. I needed to clarify the difference between the Rapture, which we believe could happen at any time, and the Second Advent, which we believe could not happen at any moment (because it occurs after the Tribulation).”
The reasoning presented in this paragraph is both puzzling and confusing. The GARBC clarified their conviction on the immanency of Christ's return back in 1953. The Articles of Faith have included immanency since the mid-70's--the same period in which the GARBC was unwilling to take a stand on total depravity [see pages 28-31 of THIS DOCUMENT
]. This action and lack of action
speaks volumes when it comes to the emphasis of our association's doctrinal standards. Specific matters of eschatology are important enough to repeatedly clarify, while the seemingly fundamental doctrine of total depravity and human inability is repeatedly (and purposefully, in the name of unity) ignored. When specific matters of the timing and sequence of future events in eschatology trump the condition of unregenerate man and the salvation Christ has secured through His death, something is amiss, and our emphasis is skewed. The total depravity and sinful condition of man is not a tertiary doctrine, while many of our association's founders considered the timing and sequence of eschatological events to be non-essential matters [see page 23 of THIS DOCUMENT
So while I am a premillennialist, and a pretribulationalist, I am concerned over the perceived over-emphasis of eschatology in our association. At our 2008 association conference, the messengers overwhelmingly approved a "birthday congratulations" to the current political state and government of Israel because "God most certainly has not cast [His covenant people] away."
Now we are told that the GARBC Articles of Faith regarding eschatology are "difficult to understand" because they do not adequately clarify the difference between the Rapture and the Second Advent. Perhaps that is not a problem traced to a human-authored statement of faith, but to the fact that Scripture itself never employs the term Rapture. Repeated re-clarifications in our association's eschatological views will not solve this problem of confusion when it comes to teaching eschatology to God's people. One must employ faulty logic to believe that it will.
Times do change; new theological and doctrinal wars appear on the battlefield of truth; sometimes clarifications are necessary (as often is the case on this blog!); but what we as an association emphasize will be what defines us
. I, for one, do not want to be defined by what the future may hold; I want to be defined by what my Savior has done in the past. My qualms are not with the eschatological views of our association, but with the apparent eschatological emphasis it is determined to employ. Such an emphasis did not define our association in its infancy, and it should not define our association today. DISCLAIMER: The picture is provided for comical purposes only!
Labels: Articles of Faith, eschatology, GARBC, GARBC National Conference