Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call featuring T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. We’re glad you could join us. In today’s program, Tom begins a two-part series with guest, Rob Congdon as they address the topic: Can Bad Hermeneutics Lead to Heresy? Here’s TBC Executive Director, Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. My guest for today’s program is Dr. Robert Congdon, and Rob is the founder of Congdon Ministries International, CMI, a ministry that has sought to assist local churches in Great Britain and the US and now has expanded the work to include other countries.
A primary focus of CMI is a defense of dispensationalism and premillennialism and biblical hermeneutics, that is, the literal historical and grammatical interpretation of God’s Word.
Rob, welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Rob: Well, it’s good to be with you, Tom, and to share about our Lord together.
Tom: Amen. Rob’s going to be one of our speakers at this year’s TBC Conference, so this is an opportunity to talk briefly about some of the things he’ll be addressing. Certainly prophecy and eschatology will be addressed, and that’s where I want to start our discussion. Starting with the prophecies of Scripture, Rob, why are they important for the Christian and for those who are sincerely thinking of becoming Christians?
Rob: Well, I’ve always said that prophecy is absolutely vital to having a life-changing Christianity. Wherever you have prophecy taught in the church, when people study prophecy, it brings to their Christianity, truly, a vibrant type of Christianity because it gives them an understanding of God’s plan and purpose in their own life and certainly in our world today. It also really is serving to prepare us for our future life in the Millennium and new heavens and new earth. So it has both a present and future dimension to it.
For many, especially in the world we live, it eliminates fear of the future because they know it’s Lord’s plan. And best of all, it just gives a good understanding of God’s Bible and God’s plan. For the unbeliever, though, I think it’s crucial. It provides the answers to life’s questions. When we’re twenty years old, we have all kinds of questions, and as we’re older we forget them and we sort of put them aside. But prophecy tells you why you’re here, why God even created you, where the world is going, and very importantly, what is the purpose for life – for my life personally? So it gives those answers to that and also gives, certainly, answers to life after that.
Tom: Now, Rob, as you know, prophecy, some have said, it’s “forthtelling,” predictive (although God knows the answer, obviously), but it’s also telling forth what God wants us to know about, and so on. The thing that I love about the predictive aspect of prophecy is that I think it’s the apologetic for proving that God’s Word is just that - because only He knows the future. And the prophecies – what is it, Rob, maybe a third of the Bible…
Rob: Approximately, yeah.
Tom:…is prophetic? And the other aspect of that is God knows what’s going on, and, as you mentioned, it gives us some insights as to what’s ahead. But, again, because, you know, we said if it’s a third of the Bible – if prophecy is a third of the Bible- many prophecies are yet to come. Isn’t that the case?
Rob: Well, that’s absolutely true, and I think that that’s what’s exciting! You look at the ones that have been fulfilled, and it’s undeniable that they’ve been fulfilled literally as the Scripture describes them to be fulfilled, and they have been done. And so then there’s no reason to not move into what’s still to come and be fulfilled – to expect it to really be fulfilled in the same way – in a very literal, visible, clear way, that God is in control. And that’s a vital issue in today’s thinking. We often forget that God is sovereign, yes, but He wants us to grow and mature as Christians and to be ready to serve Him both now and throughout eternity.
Tom: Right. You know, I think the line…well, let me put it this way: All of the prophecies related to the first coming of Christ were fulfilled right to the letter, absolutely perfectly. So if that’s the case, the prophecies related to His second coming, I think we can, as they say, “take it to the bank,” or really depend on it, right?
Rob: Oh, absolutely. And I stress this to people as I teach the Scriptures: You must be consistent in your understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures. Therefore, if the past was exactly as stated, you’d have that for consistency, and if our God is consistent in writing the Bible, then what’s still to come is going to be equally clear and real and literal, as He describes it.
Tom: You know, Rob, there’s another aspect of prophecy. A while back I wrote an article titled “Is Your Eschatology Showing?” Eschatology meaning how things are going to play out in the last days prior to the Lord’s return. But the point of it was that a believer’s conviction about the way things play out as the time of our Lord’s return draws near, such beliefs have practical consequences. I’ll give you an example: if a person believes that it’s the duty of the Christian to help set up the literal kingdom of God by correcting the evils of the world, he could be contributing to the kingdom of the Antichrist, which scripture indicates is chronologically the next kingdom to come. Again, one’s view of biblical eschatology, or an ignorance of it, can have serious consequences. Is that the way you see it?
Rob: Oh, absolutely. One of the areas that most Christians lack - or don’t think about, I think is probably a better way to say it - is that I see this life, based on the Scriptures, as one of, first of all, sharing the gospel, certainly (that’s always a goal we need to do), but also it’s our preparation time for our duties that we’re going to have in the Millennium in the new heaven and new earth with our Lord. I often speak on those subjects and what will you be doing in those times? And my final statement is, “Right now is on-the-job training, so if you don’t understand eschatology, you don’t understand what your future duties will be, if you will. You can’t properly prepare for them, even today, and certainly can’t see the great effect that eschatology has on our lives today.”
Tom: And when ignorance prevails, as I said, practically, functionally, there are going to be problems. Now, I would put, as an example, I would put Rick Warren’s Global P.E.A.C.E. Plan in that category. Now, why is that? Well, I doubt that anyone connected with it would intentionally desire to help build the Antichrist’s kingdom…in other words, if you think you’re going to solve all the problems of the world, and that’s your goal and objective – to bring in the kingdom – you’ve moved, as far as I’m concerned, beyond what the Scriptures teach. Now, is that a reasonable concern?
Rob: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, Warren’s was really just the beginning of this stronger current-day movement. Social justice and everything all comes from, in essence, an eschatological view that is not biblical, and it’s driving politics, it's driving businesses, and general lives in general. And what’s happened today, and I’ll introduce it - It’s the New Calvinist Movement - is really, in their teaching of eternal security, is creating a sense that it’s really what we’ve got to do to accomplish these things, especially the kingdom. And, in doing that, we’re creating this very – I use the term “stage setting” for what the Antichrist kingdom will actually be like.
Now, they’re not doing it consciously. They’re not saying, “We want to help him,” but indirectly, they’re really serving Satan’s purposes in laying some of the groundwork that will be very evident in the Tribulation.
Tom: Right. And that’s not just those who take – for example, you mentioned Calvinism; most of them would be amillennialists - but it’s not just that. In the charismatic-Pentecostal side you have Kingdom Dominionists. They’re trying to set up the kingdom, and some of their teachers believe that Christ is being held in the heavenlies until we bring in the kingdom. That’s a huge problem!
Rob: It really is. In fact, we lived in Britain for many years, and ministered in Britain and Europe. And the whole culture has changed, all because of these fundamental concepts that you’ve mentioned about the Kingdom Now, and “bringing it in,” and Dominion theology, have all driven it to the point where the churches have spiritually died, and the societies have moved in a direction trying to build this “kingdom” but it’s more like Satan’s kingdom.
Tom: Now, Rob, I mentioned a few things regarding your ministry, but give us your perspective of your calling and what you believe the Lord wants CMI to do for the body of Christ and the lost.
Rob: Well, it has been exciting for us. I started out as an engineer – did engineering for ten years – and the Lord called me out. As I said, we’ve lived many places, lived in Europe and all, and now we’ve put together our ministry for, oh, the last ten years here back in the States. Goal first, number one, is “Share the true gospel – the true gospel of the Scriptures.” But we’re also seeing more and more that our role is to help Christians to understand their role of serving the Lord now and how they’ll be serving Him in the future. We’re doing that through our video Bible school, on the Internet, through our literature, through our conference speaking. And, above, all – and this is really a growing aspect of our ministry – we’re helping individuals and churches to do as Jude says: to contend earnestly for the faith. Now that’s contending in a gracious, loving, and caring way, but contending for the true faith, which was once delivered unto the saints.
So, that kind of summarizes our whole ministry. We’re making people aware of what’s happening in the world around them. But in today’s world, Satan is really working heavily within churches by changing doctrine and teaching, and our job is to help those churches and individuals be able to discern what is now coming and trying to direct them away from the true serving of the Lord and the true gospels.
Tom: And, Rob, you know, in that – well, I mentioned it at the opening of this program: hermeneutics. How important is hermeneutics in all of this? And begin with a definition. I mentioned a little bit about it, but give us a definition of hermeneutics for our listeners.
Rob: Okay, hermeneutics is one of these words we don't speak about every day in our life, but actually we experience it. Every time you read a book or read a newspaper, you apply a system of hermeneutics. It’s a method to interpret what you’re reading. You expect certain rules, whether you realize it or not, to be applied to that. So, hermeneutics is really, as we use it, a method of biblical interpretation – a system, if you will.
The Bible you read, it’s written by God, but it must be studied in a systematic way, following literally the rules of grammar, of context - you’ve got to know what the history is or what surrounds what you’re reading, the context of it, how figures of speech fit in, and other aspects. In system, there are two prime systems in churches today. One is called the “literal” or “normal” historical grammatical hermeneutic. This is when you read it like you’re reading a newspaper. If it says, “It’s raining cats and dogs,” you know cats and dogs aren’t falling out of the sky. You know that this is heavy rainfall. That’s a figure of speech. But it’s the normal sense. So you say, “Oh, there’s a figure of speech. It’s a figure of speech.” But when you read the words “a thousand years,” you know that means “one thousand years,” a literal period of time.
You also need to – and people always cringe over this – you need to sometimes let the grammar guide you, and not rewrite the Scriptures in your own words that are not reflecting what God has given. So we follow a very simple system. In the book of Nehemiah, Ezra wrote that he “read the scripture to the people and gave the sense.” That’s the hermeneutics – gives the meaning of what’s the words’ actual meaning to us, and then caused them to understand. That’s hermeneutics - a literal, historical, grammatical hermeneutics.
Another system, and, in my view, a very dangerous system, is called the allegorical system of hermeneutics. That takes any prophecy and says it’s an allegory. It’s not literal, necessarily. If you read “a thousand years,” that’s not what God really meant to us. You think, “Oh, it’s a long period of time.” And allegory allows you to put in any of your own ideas into the Scripture as you read it, whereas with the literal historical, you’re forced to read the Scriptures, interpret what God said, and then teach what He said.
Allegory is very prominent today. It’s an inconsistent method, because the people read Old Testament passages, gospel passages, as literal historical. But when there is prophecy, they shift gears and they go into allegorical and make it say what fits their view, not what the Scripture teaches.
So, it can be very dangerous, and it can cause a lot of confusion.
Tom: And the point you made, Rob, certainly the word “hermeneutics” might be strange to many people, but they’ve been doing it since they could put together sentences, since they’ve had conversations with others. It’s a little bit like those who had trouble with English grammar going through grade school, or whatever – you know, “What’s an adverb? What’s a conjunction?” and all of those things. But the way it usually turns out is they use it anyway, and they use it in a correct context because they’ve learned to do that over the years. So it’s – for those who are maybe new to reading the Bible and so on – we’re not trying to lay out a complex system here. Just the word may seem a little different. But it’s the way we go about, in our normal conversation, or we couldn’t have a conversation that meant anything, right? It couldn’t be objective, and that’s what we want for ourselves, for our listeners, those who are studying the Bible. We want an objective basis so you can decide not just what one man’s opinion is, but what is God saying here? And that’s the best way to go about it.
Rob: Absolutely, and, you know, just as you’ve said, we’ve got to… the Scriptures are not complicated or hard to understand. However, they do take an effort to study them, because the Lord wants you to compare scripture with scripture to be sure that what you’ve read here fits with elsewhere in the Scriptures, so it takes an effort. And typically today most people don’t want to put forth effort with anything. But it does take some effort, but the thing about it, the youngest child can understand the essentials of salvation. And then the rest of the Scriptures, the Lord’s designed it [so that] anybody can understand it by following the proper systematic, consistent interpretation, and the time that they put in to do it.
Tom: Right. Now, we were talking about eschatology. We were talking about views of how things are going to play out. Amillennialism. Premillennialism. Post-millennialism. Perhaps three of the most prevalent eschatological views in the church today, with amillennialism being by far the most dominant. Now, Rob, I know I’ve sort of turned you into the “Bible-terms Definition Man,” but I think definitions are critically important so that those who are unfamiliar with them can track with us here.
But let’s start with amillennialism. And then, by comparison, premillennialism and post-millennialism. Oh, and by the way, you know, when you were talking about allegory, I think we can thank Augustine (no thanks to Augustine). That had become a major perspective, which is erroneous. But let’s start with amillennialism.
Rob: Okay. Amillennialism is simply…anytime you put an “a” in front of a word, it means “not.” So amillennialism basically teaches that there is no future 1000-year reign of Christ on the earth. That’s what amillennialism means – no millennium. Amillennialism is typical of Reformed Theology and, as you mentioned, actually the earliest days of the church – you can see it in the book of Acts (not amillennialism), but you can see in the book of Acts the early church in the first couple of centuries were called “premillennialism” and we’ll explain that in a few seconds here, but amillennialism didn’t even exist in the early church or in the early days the first two centuries of the church. By the third century, some people started coming up with it. By the fourth, fifth, centuries, we have a man named Augustine comes in. What happened was persecution grew heavily against Christians, and the bottom line – this is why I say you can see it in the book of Acts – the book of Acts says that Paul and suddenly the other gentleman (escapes my mind) was arrested for sedition. That meant that they were speaking out against the Roman government, saying that according to the Bible, a kingdom was coming that Jesus Christ would rule and it would overthrow the Roman Empire.
That wasn’t good news to the Romans. That would be rebellion, in their minds, so as I said, in the book of Acts, in two cases men were arrested for teaching [that] the kingdom of Jesus Christ was coming and would overthrow the Roman Empire in the future.
Obviously, there were many Christians who wanted to get along with the Roman government and Roman society, and by the fourth century, a solution was found. That solution redefined the kingdom from a pretty millennial kingdom (which we’ll get to) to the amillennial system. They said to Rome, “Don’t worry. The kingdom’s just in our heart. It’s a spiritual kingdom. It’s not going to be a real physical kingdom that will rule this earth.”
The Romans said, “Oh, that’s different!”
Augustine wrote the book called The City of God, in which he was the first to actually write out this whole concept of amillennialism. It was totally accepted in the empire. Christians suddenly were welcomed because they weren’t against the Roman Empire’s future, if you will. And it was a compromise position. It brought peace to many Christians at a big price.
Now, what is really significant, I have a…several historians got together, looked at the percent of Christians in the Roman Empire, and they say, “It was growing and growing and growing but at reasonable pace.” But right after Augustine’s writings came out and amillennialism became popular, it jumped in just a decade in time, it became…over 50 percent of the Roman Empire claimed to be Christians.
So what we had was a compromise position to minimize, if you will, persecution. It says “The kingdom is really just spiritual. It’s in our heart. There’s not going to be a literal ruling of Christ on the earth as an empire kingdom,” and therefore it was accepted. So, it’s a compromise. It continues to be a compromise and will cause real problems.
Tom: Certainly it expedited the ideas of Constantine. That took him turning…forget his so-called “sign from God” – if he was a Christian, I think we need to rewrite the definition of Christians. Nevertheless, he was a great influence in just what you mentioned: bringing about the rise of Christianity, the acceptance of “Christianity,” within the Roman Empire.
Rob: That’s right. And Augustine is recorded by all secular historians as the founder of the Roman Catholic Church, which was built upon the compromise and the kingdom concept and then took off from there, and we have faced problems with it to this day.
Tom: So, premillennialism and postmillennialism.
Rob: Okay. You have premillennialism that says there is a future 1,000-year reign of Jesus Christ upon this earth. In other words, a physical kingdom that Christ will rule. It will be the entire earth, according to the book of Daniel. It will be the one that will follow the Roman Empire, and that's where early Christians in their teaching were misunderstood, because they clearly taught that until Christ actually returned to the earth that it wouldn’t begin, and so it’s called “premillennialism” because Jesus Christ will come – and actually come back to the earth and then begin the 1000-year reign.
So it’s “pre” meaning “before” the thousand years. His return is before the thousand years.
And amillennialism – they do have Jesus Christ return, but when He returns, that’s the end. Everything goes into the new heavens and the new earth. There is no millennial kingdom on the earth.
So we have premillennialism, no millennialism, and then there’s this thing called “post-millennialism.” And this was very popular up until World War I, and then people became disillusioned. But amazingly, it’s made a major comeback today.
This belief is that the world will get better and better as we make our efforts to share the gospel around the world. We’ll spread it around, it’ll start changing people, governments will change, everything will start looking up, if you will. And there’ll be a growing period of extended righteousness and prosperity, which a lot of people like that idea. They says, “It’s prosperous,” and they misquote Matthew:24:14 saying the gospel will go out across the whole earth at this time when this great state is coming to the world, and everything is lovely and wonderful, that’s when Jesus Christ, they say, will come back, end the world, and a new heaven and a new earth will be created. Therefore, it’s “post.” His coming is after this millennial age, which they believe began at the resurrection of Christ and it’s getting better and better every day.
And I’ve jokingly said, “If we’re in the millennium now, and this is as good as it gets, this is pathetic!” But that is the post-millennial position.
Tom: Right. And it has to incorporate that Satan is bound, okay?
Rob: Oh, that’s right! I remember the first time a man said to me, “Well, Satan’s bound.”
And I said, “Well, how can that be? Look around the world today!”
And he says, “No, he’s bound, but he has a long chain, so he can still do some damage.”
Tom: Oh, brother!
Rob: And I said, “Where’s that in the Scripture?”
Tom: Well, my guest has been Rob Congdon, and, Rob, we’re about out of time for this session, but we’re looking forward to next week, the Lord willing, and we’re going to cover not only some issues related to eschatology but, you know, as I said, Rob’s going to be one of the speakers at our conference coming up in August. And, Rob, we want to touch on what you call the New Calvinism, but we’re going to hold that off until next week. In the meantime, thanks, Rob, for being my guest, and we look forward to next week.
Rob: Well, it’s been great to be with you! The Lord bless!
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 with T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019 Bend, Oregon 97708; call us at 800.937.6638, or visit our website at the bereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in, and we hope you can be here again next week! Until then, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.