Premillennialism, Passion for Christ, and the C&MA-AWF
Premillennialism in the Statement of Faith
of the Christian and Missionary Alliance
and of the Alliance World Fellowship
Steve M. Irvin
From its inception, the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) has affirmed premillennialism in its foundational documents and in its statement of faith.1 The founders of the C&MA defined the crowning element of the Four-Fold Gospel in terms of the premillennial second coming of the Lord Jesus, our coming King. Rather than a peripheral eschatological doctrine, premillennialism is woven into the fabric of the C&MA and its identity.
The Alliance World Fellowship (AWF), made up of approximately 50 C&MA national churches and organizations throughout the world, includes premillennialism in its Statement of Faith.2 Some C&MA national churches have eliminated any reference to the millennium per se in their statements of faith, effectively striking premillennialism from their respective statements of faith.3 This creates a dilemma for the AWF.
The 2012 AWF Quadrennial Convocation instructed the AWF president “to review the current AWF Statement of Faith and recommend a way of stating our core beliefs that better reflects the diversity of the AWF.” As a result, the AWF International Commission on Theological Issues (ICTE) reviewed the Statement of Faith, and has proposed changes to the AWF Statement of Faith, with the intent of expressing “what [the AWF member churches] believe, not necessarily what our founder experienced. The essence is total surrender to Christ.”4
The AWF Executive Committee subsequently affirmed the proposed changes, and has communicated them to member national churches so that the Quadrennial Convocation in October 2016 may vote upon them. The proposed changes affect Point Seven of the AWF Statement of Faith that deals with the filling of the Holy Spirit, and Point Eleven that deals with the second coming of Christ.
This paper is especially concerned with the proposed changes to Point Eleven. The present AWF Statement of Faith, Point Eleven, reads:
The second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is imminent and will be personal, visible, and premillennial. This is the believer's blessed hope and is a vital truth which is an incentive to holy living and faithful service. [emphasis added]
Point Eleven is now proposed to read:
The second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is imminent and will be personal and visible. This is the believer's blessed hope and is a vital truth which is an incentive to holy faithful service towards the completion of Christ’s commission.
The proposed change removes any reference to the millennium, eliminating premillennialism from the Statement of Faith.
Purpose of this Paper
The purpose of this paper is to make a case for the continuation of premillennialism in the AWF Statement of Faith, and to encourage delegates to the AWF Quadrennial Convocation scheduled for October 2016 to vote against the proposal to strike premillennialism from the AWF Statement of Faith. The paper is written from the perspective that premillennialism is a recognized theological and biblical position that dates from the period of the early church. It does not debate the validity of other positions held by some evangelicals, such as amillennialism and postmillennialism. Rather it focuses on the importance of premillennialism to the identity and mission of the C&MA and the member churches of the AWF.
Millennium refers to the period of 1,000 years found mentioned in Revelation 20:1-10 six times (20: 2,3,4,5,6,7), when Satan is bound “so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended” (20:3, ESV).
Amillennialism believes that the thousand-year period of Revelation 20 is symbolical of this present age that will end with the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of the just and the unjust, the final judgment (20:11-15), and the ushering in of the new heaven and new earth (21:1-22:5).
Postmillennialism holds that the thousand-year period of Revelation 20 symbolizes a long, indefinite period of time in this present age during which the gospel will permeate the nations, causing them to live in peace and justice. They will joyously receive their King, the Lord Jesus, at His second coming. There will, at that time, be a general resurrection of all the dead, the final judgment, and the ushering in of the new heaven and new earth.
Premillennialism believes that Revelation 20 refers to a literal thousand-year (or a long) reign of Christ on the earth, and that He will come before (pre-) the millennium. Satan will be bound during the millennium. There is a “first resurrection” of the blessed and holy in Christ who will reign with Christ for a thousand years (20:6) before He defeats a last rebellion, throwing Satan into the lake of fire (20:7-10) wherein ensues the resurrection of the rest of humanity and the final judgment, followed by the new heaven and new earth.
Historical premillennialism dates from the early history of the church. It is to be distinguished from dispensational premillennialism that gained popularity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and holds that Christ’s coming will be both premillennial and pretribulational (i.e., that He will rapture His church prior to the final period of suffering and persecution on the earth). From its origins, the C&MA has advocated historical premillennialism, but has left open convictions regarding the relation of the Second Coming to the final great tribulation.5
Reasons for maintaining Premillennialism in the Statement of Faith
Because evangelicals hold different views of the Second Coming and its relation to the thousand-year reign of Christ in Revelation 20—with each view presenting biblical evidence for its position— some individuals and national churches in the AWF have chosen to treat premillennialism as a non-essential doctrine in regard to membership in C&MA churches and in regard to granting of credentials to official workers. However, this indifference to the millennial question does not take into account the essential place of premillennialism in the history, the identity, and the very passion of the C&MA.
- Historically, members of the C&MA have been convinced that God raised up the C&MA as a distinct movement with a clear mission of proclaiming Christ as Savior, Sanctifier, Healer, and Coming King; and of taking that message to the nations in completion of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). When this distinction is blurred, there is danger that it will lead to a blurring, or a dulling, of the mission, of our raison d’être. The history of mainline denominations in the West suggests that this blurring of the mission is inevitable when these distinctives are removed. Without these distinctives, the AWF would ultimately be composed of national churches with a shared historical tradition, without the doctrinal basis that motivated their coming into existence as churches of the C&MA.
If God did raise up the C&MA for a specific purpose within the Body of Christ, then it behooves us to remain faithful to the distinctives that gave birth to the C&MA. Part of this faithfulness is the doctrinal emphasis on the premillennial coming of Christ.
- Premillennialism in the C&MA has been inseparable from its passion for missions.6 Matthew 24:14 has perhaps been the key verse in defining this relationship: And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come (ESV). World missions, has been seen in the C&MA as a way to hasten the premillennial Second Coming of Christ.7
The mission of the AWF is to facilitate cooperation amongst its member churches as they work for the fulfilment of the Great Commission.8 The divorce of eschatology and missiology, is not only detrimental to the fulfillment of the Great Commission, it also ignores the foundations of the passion in the C&MA for fulfilling the Great Commission. To argue that the millennial position is irrelevant to the C&MA’s mission simply ignores the doctrinal underpinnings of the C&MA’s calling.
Some other doctrinal positions see the kingdom more in the here and now; confident in the consummation in the eternal state, yet focused on the present. This leads inexorably to an emphasis on manifesting the kingdom through social work, taking away the emphasis on gospel proclamation. The Great Commission can be re-framed in terms of demonstrating love for others through social action, as opposed to demonstrating love through the forthright sharing of the Good News of Christ.
Premillennialism fuels the passion for Christ and His kingdom, longing for a breaking-in of the Kingdom when the King Himself comes to set things straight in a world gone awry. This is not simply a case of maintaining organizational identity and a historical doctrinal position, but of being faithful to Him who called us to world evangelization through the specific truths of the Four-Fold Gospel.
- In response, some might ask, “What difference does one’s eschatological position make in the C&MA? It is a “big tent” movement that was founded to encompass believers of many persuasions. Isn’t this a non-essential where we can give members liberty, and still maintain our passion for the Coming of the Lord Jesus?”
Premillennialism is not essential to being born again. It is not even essential to being evangelical. But it has been essential for the C&MA in its doctrine and mission. It’s part of its DNA. To take it away, to lessen its emphasis, or to make it a non-issue in order to include others who do not consider it of any great importance or who outrightly deny it; is to change the DNA of the C&MA. Premillennialism so permeates the C&MA’s doctrine and passion that to remove it is to change something of its essence, with the corresponding loss of identity and purpose.
There is a “big tent” philosophy in the C&MA; but it is a tent with some distinctives. It has some identity beyond historical evangelical affirmations. While the C&MA has labored with other organizations that do not share all of its doctrinal distinctives in order to advance the gospel among the nations; it has done that best not by compromising its belief in premillennialism, but by remaining faithful to its understanding of the Lord’s return.
The C&MA emerged out of a premillennial doctrinal context. Premillennialism provided the eschatological basis for world missions, and the hastening of Christ’s second coming. The Four-Fold Gospel, crowned by Christ, our Coming King, is theologically based on the premillennial view of the Second Coming. To strike premillennialism from our statements of faith in the C&MA, is to change the essence of the C&MA and to water down one of its driving passions for completing the Great Commission.
Statements of faith do not produce passion; but they do reflect passion. By removing any mention of premillennialism from the AWF Statement of Faith in order to placate member churches who have chosen to remove any reference to the millennium in their respective statements of faith, or in order to maintain organizational unity in the AWF, is both perilous and unnecessary. It is perilous because once one begins to tinker with historical statements of faith, it opens the door for further changes that potentially cause the national churches of the C&MA to move away from both the doctrinal basis and the missionary zeal that is inextricably bound together in the C&MA.
The removal of premillennialism from the AWF Statement of Faith is also unnecessary. The founders of the C&MA understood that some individuals coming into the movement might not initially accept premillennialism. They made provision for such individuals in the Constitution of the Christian Alliance in 1887, offering a principle that can guide the AWF at this time.
Its membership shall consist of all professing Christians who shall subscribe to these principles and enroll their names as regular members, and who are approved by the local Association where they reside. Inasmuch as many persons who desire to become members of this Alliance and are in full accord with its principles in other points, cannot yet fully accept the doctrine of Christ's Pre-millennial Coming [emphasis added], it is agreed that such persons may be received into full membership, provided they receive the first three points of testimony [i.e., the first three points of the Four-Fold Gospel: Christ as Savior, Sanctifier, and Healer], and are willing to give this subject their candid and prayerful consideration.9
What to do concerning national churches in the C&MA who have moved to eliminate premillennialism from their respective statements of faith? Historically, the founders were willing to labor together with such individuals, but they did not change their statement of faith to accommodate them. Rather, they embraced those individuals, asking them to willingly give the subject of premillennialism their prayerful consideration. In the present case, national churches should be encouraged to revisit their positions without those churches influencing the AWF to change its Statement of Faith in order to reflect the doctrinal diversity of the national churches.
This issue, however, is not simply about a doctrine enshrined in the Statement of Faith. The central issue, as always in the C&MA, is Christ Himself. Are AWF member churches and individuals in danger of growing cold in their passion for Christ Himself and His glorious appearing? For even the most studied doctrinal position, premillennial or otherwise, can mask an indifference regarding Christ’s coming; an indifference that is inconsistent with a movement that claims to hasten His coming through proclaiming the gospel to all nations.
In 1891, our founder expressed his passion for Christ’s return in such a way as to be a challenge that should be taken into account in every meeting of the C&MA, in every national church, and in every gathering of the AWF. In the context of his testimony of his conviction regarding the personal and premillennial Second Coming of Christ, he declared, “I am sure the Master would be disappointed in this convention if it did not send up a deep cry for His coming.”10
Have we ever heard such a prayer in our recent gatherings? Will such a prayer be offered at this year’s AWF Convocation? At next year's US Council? “‘Surely, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Even so come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).
Steve M. Irvin, Ph.D.
C&MA-US International Worker
1Constitution of the Christian Alliance (1887) and The Story of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (1900), are examples of these documents. They are available at http://cmalliance.or...nding-documents
2AWF Statement of Faith, http://www.awf.nu/ab...ement-of-faith/
3An example is the C&MA in Canada, http://www.cmacan.or...tement-of-faith
4Letter from AWF president, Arie Verduijn to AWF members, October 14, 2015; and Alliance World Fellowship (AWF) Proposed Changes to the Constitution and By-Laws Date of Notice: October 1, 2015.
5”Liberty is accorded to our teachers in connection with the various opinions held about Anti-Christ, The Tribulation, the Last Week of Daniel, Rapture, etc., but with the understanding that any spirit of antagonism and strife toward those who may hold different opinions is discountenanced.” Conference For Prayer And Counsel: Respecting Uniformity in the Testimony and Teaching of The Alliance (May 25-28, 1906). Found in Charles Nienkirchen (1987), The Man, the Movement, & the Mission: A Documentary of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, p. 159, available at http://cmalliance.or...ent-mission.pdf
6 In 1893, speaking before ministers in New York City to describe the work of The Christian Alliance, Dr. A.B. Simpson stated, “We acknowledge that the personal, premillennial coming of Christ [emphasis added] is one of the great motives of our work, and it will bring a sovereign remedy for all the evils, wrongs, and sorrows of earth. And if in any way we can hasten this great event and this glorious hope, we shall do more for our own land and people, as well as for heathen lands, than we can do by any other efforts. If Christ’s words were true, we can hasten the end by sending the Gospel to all nations.” A.B. Simpson, “The Work of the Christian and Missionary Alliance”, The Alliance Weekly, 46 (May 13, 1916), pp. 107-109. Found in Charles Nienkirchen (1987), The Man, the Movement, & the Mission: A Documentary of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, p. 119.
7“The work is projected from the pre-millennial standpoint [emphasis added]. We believe in the personal return of the Lord Jesus Christ and that the evangelization of the world is the best way to hasten His coming. According to the program so clearly marked out in the 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, the Lord is visiting the Gentiles in this dispensation to take out of them a people for His name and when this shall have been accomplished, we may expect the Lord's immediate return, the restoration of Israel and the opening of the millennial age. We believe that the Gospel is to be preached ‘in all the world as a witness unto all nations and then shall the end come.’ So far from paralyzing missionary effort this blessed hope has been found to be a most powerful and practical incentive to it.” The Story of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (1900), p. 10. Available at, http://cmalliance.or...-of-the-cma.pdf
9Constitution of the Christian Alliance (1887) available at http://cmalliance.or...nding-documents
10A.B. Simpson (1891), “How I Was Led to Believe in Premillenarianism,” The Christian Alliance and Missionary Weekly, 7 (Nov. 13, 1891). Found in Nienkirchen (1987), The Man, the Movement, & the Mission: A Documentary of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, p. 89, available at http://cmalliance.or...ent-mission.pdf