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The Forerunner


Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25th?

The date of Christmas was not determined by Church Fathers by copying the date of a pagan Roman winter solstice festival. Instead, the date was calculated from the Jewish calendar using the date of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, September 22nd, 6 BC, when Gabriel appeared to Zecharias in the Temple according to Luke 1:5. The conception of John occurred “immediately after that” when Zecharias returned home to Elizabeth to the hill country of Judea, by calculation on September 24th, 6 BC.

The conception of Jesus was calculated to have occurred when Elizabeth was “in her sixth month” (Luke 1:26,36) on March 25th, 5 BC, which was also the first day of Passover in that year. John’s birth was June 24th, 5 BC, followed by Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem on December 25th, which was also the first day of Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, in that year. The Church Father, Hippolytus of Rome, in his work Chronicon, saw that each date had allegorical significance.

So why is Christmas celebrated on December 25th?

The usual answer to this question is that it was adjusted, like many Church feast days, to coincide with the pagan feast days, this one being the winter solstice. This is a convenient explanation, but the exact date of December 25th is for another reason entirely. It was proposed by several of the Church Fathers at least as early as the second century. Since the “celebration of Christmas” was a custom instituted later, the second century is far too early for the “pagan copycat” thesis to be valid. To explain how the Church Fathers arrived at this date, we need to examine first the date of John the Baptist’s conception as told in Luke.

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zecharias, of the division of Abijah (Luke 1:5).

According to 1 Chronicles 24:7-19, King David had divided the priests into 24 divisions who took turns serving in the Temple. During their service they lived in the Temple and were separated from their wives and children. Each order served for a period of eight days twice a year. The priests of the course of Abijah served during the 10th and 24th weeks of the Jewish year. Luke goes on to recount how the angel Gabriel appeared to Zecharias while he was serving in the Temple.

So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And when Zecharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.

But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zecharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:8-15).

Note here that “the whole multitude of the people” (i.e., the whole nation of Israel) was present outside the Temple. Some have attempted to reconstruct the weeks of service according to Josephus’ account in Antiquities 7:14:7, which relates that the first division, the division of Jehoiarib, was on duty when Jerusalem was destroyed on August 5th, AD 70. Using this date as an anchor, the eighth division of Abijah would serve two times in the year, one of them being in late September. However, it is uncertain if these allotments began on exactly the same day of the year, since there would be four extra weeks to account for at the end of the year. But there were only two times in the year when the “whole multitude of the people” of Israel was required to be in Jerusalem worshiping at the Temple. These were the fall and spring feast days. Zecharias’ vision apparently occurred on one of the high feast days, several of the Church Fathers thought it was the Day of Atonement, and then Zecharias returned to his home immediately after that.

So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house. Now after those days his wife Elizabeth conceived (Luke 1:23,24).

Since “the hill country of Judea,” where Elizabeth lived according to Luke 1:39;65, is no more than a day’s journey from Jerusalem, the conception of John the Baptist must have occurred soon after that. Several of the Church Fathers noticed this correspondence and made the inference that John must have been conceived shortly after the Day of Atonement, which usually falls in September. In fact, the Church Father John Chrysostom thought that Zecharias was actually the Jewish High Priest because he was in the Holy Place on the Day of Atonement, which in 6 BC fell on September 22nd. So September 24th was calculated as the date of John’s conception. The birth of John occurred exactly nine months later on June 24th.

Since Jesus was conceived six months after John (Luke 1:26,36), various dates around this time, December 25th, January 2nd and 6th were given by various Church Fathers and each of these have been celebrated as the Nativity of Jesus. In fact, the Eastern Orthodox Church has always used January 6th or 7th as the date of Christmas.

If John was conceived during one of the spring feasts — Passover or Pentecost, which were the other two times in the year when the “whole multitude of the people” of Israel was required to be in Jerusalem — then we would have a winter birth for John and a summer birth for Jesus.

Notwithstanding, the Day of Atonement fits well as an anchor date because it points to a winter birthday for Christ. Josephus notes that Herod died shortly before the Passover in 4 BC, which began on April 11th of that year. This gives several months for the events surrounding the Nativity and fits the narrative accounts of both Matthew and Luke.

We should not be dogmatic about the exact day. However, we can use December 25th as the anchor date. This date helps explain several events recorded in the Nativity accounts and is important for establishing a timeline that supports the historicity of the Gospels.


Thanksgiving and the Purpose of History

From The Hijacking of American Education

By Ruth Nourse

“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth,” Jennie Brownscombe, 1914. Click to enlarge.

History as Truth

If it is possible in a courtroom to judge a defendant guilty or innocent, or in a laboratory to discover the relationship between physical properties and phenomena, it must be possible to know the truth about history.

The word “history,” according to Webster, is related to the Greek historia, “a learning by inquiry.” The word “skeptic” also comes from the Greek skeptesthai, meaning to examine or consider. A true skeptic is a “considerer” who will not pass judgment before the evidence has been thoughtfully examined.

In a world of sunshine and rain and natural beauty beyond measure, who is so cynical as to refuse to examine available evidence of the work of a Creator God in the history of man? For the open minded scholar the possibility of God’s presence in history is not unthinkable.

Page Smith points out in his book, History and Historians, that the Jews discovered history. For them chronology was transcended by the relation of a people with their God. The meaning, purpose and direction of history was found in God’s will and their Messianic expectation.

According to the Old Testament view, man is able to effect his own destiny in partnership with God. The New Testament demonstrates and affirms the validity of this view. According to the gospels, Messianic hopes of the Hebrew Scriptures were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth; the Abrahamic covenant, according to Paul’s writings, was made universal through faith in Him.

Eusebius, the first important Christian historian, saw history as the unfolding of God’s purpose in the world. The verifiable experience of millions alive today supports this view – a view held since ancient times and, until our century, as the prevalent view of western historians.

Those who have seen God’s plan unfold in their own lives, find no reason to doubt Columbus’ claim that expeditions to undiscovered lands were undertaken as a divine mission. Samuel Eliot writes of Columbus: “His frequent communion with forces unseen was a vital element in his achievement.”

Intelligent purpose gives meaning to history and links believers of all generations in the on-going expansion of God’s kingdom on earth. Understanding this, we can readily accept what early colonists wrote of divine purpose in the settlement of America. In America, a new, and specifically Christian, start was made.

The Founding of America

Generations of English and European peoples were motivated in pursuit of sound government by a Bible based concept of justice. Before the settlement of New England, however, achievement along this line had been both remarkable and disappointing. Success and failure had been their mixed experience. The tyranny of the institutional church had proved as hard to bear as tyranny of kings.

Jamestown, the first colony in the new world, was almost exclusively profit motivated. Thoughtful consideration finds in the Jamestown experience inadequate impetus to explain the settlement of the continent much less the nation that grew here from such small beginnings. That first colony’s inability to cope with famine, sickness, hostile Indians, and chronic infighting among promoters and colonial leaders held no lamp of hope to bring throngs of would-be settlers willing to take the attendant risks.

Schemes to enlist Jamestown emigrants included suppression of facts about what colonists actually suffered in Virginia. Disillusionment provided no emotional stimulus for survival, and the colony struggled for years on the brink of disaster. The Jamestown episode fails to explain the resilience and success of colonial America.

The experience of the Mayflower Pilgrims, who landed at Plymouth in 1620, more adequately accounts for the survival and productivity of early American colonies and for the continual flow of immigrants to these shores. Doubters need only read the first line of the Mayflower Compact to confirm the faith of the Pilgrims.

It was a broad faith demonstrated by 102 hardy souls who knelt with William Bradford to ask journeying mercies before their little ship set sail and, again – as they viewed their new homeland – to thank God for delivering them from the “vast and furious ocean.” Prayer was not their only demonstration of faith. Hardships that broke the spirit of the colonists at Jamestown drew the Pilgrims closer together and caused them to pray more fervently.

Why must we doubt the testimony of the colonists themselves, who believed that God prepared the way before them and sustained them in the new land? Can the sequence of events that accompanied their coming be explained in a better way? Could such a series of enabling circumstances be expected to burst by chance into the stream of history?

Hostile Indians had been removed from Plymouth by a mysterious plague four years before the Mayflower landed. Apart from this “preparation” for their coming, the sea-wary strangers would have landed among unfriendly Native Americans. Nearly half the Pilgrims died the first winter, yet the faith of the survivors was not diminished.

The turning point at Plymouth came when Samoset, an amiable Algonquin chieftain, brought Squanto to the colony. Stolen away from those very forests by English tradesmen before the plague, Squanto gained a knowledge of the English language and lifestyle by the time he found a way back to his childhood home. Finding none of his own people alive, he spent six months with the Algonquins, seeming not to know which way to turn.

Squanto found new purpose in life as he taught the English settlers how to plant crops, harvest fish and otherwise survive in a perilous environment. Without this native guidance, Plymouth might well have suffered losses like those at Jamestown, where the mortality rate the second year was nine out of ten. The Mayflower Pilgrims recognized God’s providence in all this; but the story is seldom told as originally written in William Bradford’s account Of Plimouth Plantation.

Providential reward of faith was claimed in the same way by Puritans who arrived on New England shores ten years later. In 1630, John Winthrop was sent as governor with colonists to reinforce the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s languishing settlement at Salem. Shocked by the appearance of gaunt and ragged survivors who met him at the shore, Winthrop may have considered returning to England had he not remembered the clear purpose with which his band of Puritans had set sail.

They were people of faith, and their purpose would be achieved in spite of distressing circumstances. The governor outlined his plan for overcoming adversity in a bold and noble sermon entitled “A Model of Christian Charity.”

“For this end we must knit together in this work as one man … We must hold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience, and liberality. We must delight in each other, make one another’s condition our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our Commission and Community in this work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace …

“We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when He shall make us a praise and glory, that men of succeeding plantations shall say, ‘The Lord make it like that of New England.’ For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill …”

The Puritan Hope

Pilgrim and Puritan colonists, in the characteristic manner of Christian believers, held to the Hebraic view of history. Experience of other early settlers in America, their compacts, the founding documents of the several Colonies, and of the United States, demonstrate that the character and the faith of her first leaders was like that of the Pilgrims and Puritans.

Such was the faith perpetuated by America’s early literature and the textbooks of her schools. The first book printed by Harvard Press was The Whole Booke of Psalmes “Faithfully translated into English metre.” That the faith of the early colonists reigned well into the 19th century is a fact born out by the universal popularity of Longfellow’s writings and McGuffey’s readers.

It seems evident that devotion and sincerity diminished in proportion to an increase of hypocrisy in life and formalism in worship. Departure from living faith contributed to the instability of the times. Society seemed to depend on enforcement, rather than demonstration, of Christian virtue. Objectivity was forgotten in a subjective purpose to throw off uncomfortable restraints.

Once freedom to do good had been enough, now freedom was granted to do almost anything one wished to attempt. With several generations of results to observe, we may consider more objectively what have been the consequences of rejecting the Bible as the measure of truth. Note that the emphasis here is on the Bible as the basis for faith. Confusion over religious dogma, tradition, ritual has divided Christians for centuries and has undoubtedly discouraged many honest inquirers.

Wisdom in our day is to distinguish between truth and religious verbage in the present as well as in history. Differences over dogma, tradition, and the conduct of people who wear Christian labels confuse the real issue, which is: The Bible either tells the truth about the origin and nature of man, and actual events of history, or it does not. Those who say they have experienced God’s intervention in their lives, just as people did in Bible times, are either telling the truth or they are not.

Probably no other human experience has ever been so commonly reported, and at the same time so flippantly discounted. True historians, according to the etymology of the word, will learn by inquiry what has actually happened, rather than distort the record to accomplish some preconceived purpose.


Postmillennialism: A Brief Exposition of Revelation 20:1-6

At last we will look at Revelation 20 in order to see where the term the “millennium” originated and what is its meaning.

In Revelation 20, we see the phrase “thousand years” mentioned by John six times. The words in the Greek and Latin Bibles, chilias and mille, give us the words “chiliasm” and “millennialism” (or the archaic, “millenarianism”) – a one thousand year reign of Christ. This is the only place in the Bible where the “millennium” is mentioned. There are, of course, other passages in the Bible that speak of a prolonged era of prosperity and peace. But there is only this passage that speaks of the “thousand years.” Therefore, most postmillennialists are not dogmatic about the literal length of time of the “thousand years.” It is interpreted to mean simply a long time.

Postmillennialists view the number “thousand” as a symbolic and not an exact or literal number. This is consistent with other passages in the Bible, such as when God says that He owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalms 50:10). Surely what is meant here is much more than exactly one thousand hills, but all the cattle in the world.

Postmillennialists teach that Jesus will return after the millennium is completed in order to judge the world. Premillennialists teach that Jesus is to return prior to a literal one thousand year reign of Christ on earth. Does Revelation 20 state that Jesus is to return prior to the thousand years? No, neither explicitly nor implicitly does Revelation 20 state that Christ has returned to the earth prior to the millennium. Premillennialists believe that Revelation does imply this because Jesus is on the throne and Satan is bound. However, we know that Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father shortly after His resurrection and ascension (Hebrews 8:1; Revelation 4:2). Christ is already seated on a throne and is even now the ruler over the kings of the earth (Revelation 1:5).

Is Satan really bound now?

Yes, Satan was bound in the first century during the first coming of Jesus. Scripture teaches this.

“But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house” (Matthew 12:28-29).

The New Testament speaks of the binding of Satan in various places. Satan falls from heaven (Luke 10:18); he is cast out of heaven (John 12:31); he was crushed under our feet (Romans 16:20); he was disarmed (Colossians 2:15); he was rendered powerless (Hebrews 2:14); his works were destroyed (1 John 3:8).

Note that John doesn’t say that Satan is bound in every respect. Christ binds Satan for a well-defined purpose: “to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore” (Revelation 20:3b). In the Old Testament only Israel knew the true God. But Christ’s coming changes this as the Gospel is preached to all nations (Isaiah. 2:2,3; 11:10; Matthew 28:19; Luke 2:32; 24:47; Acts 1:8; 13:47).

So if Jesus is on the throne of heaven and if Satan is bound from deceiving the nations, then we are now in the millennium. The “millennium” is a figurative term for the period of time in which the Gospel is being preached and the nations of the world are being converted. We are in the midst of the “millennium” now and have been for about 2000 years.

The Common Church Doctrine is that the millennium is a metaphor for Christ’s kingdom on earth. First, the millennium will be completed. Then simultaneously, the second coming of Christ, the resurrection, and the final judgment will occur.

The General Resurrection

As the Apostle’s Creed suggests and Scripture strongly maintains, three great eschatological events occur one time at the Second Coming of Christ.

  1. The New Heavens and the New Earth (Revelation 21:1,4)
  2. The simultaneous resurrection of living and the dead, redeemed and unredeemed (John 5:28-29)
  3. And the last enemy (death) will be conquered (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Does the resurrection of the righteous and unrighteous occur simultaneously?

Or – does the pretribulational rapture view have the scriptural upper hand in the debate over eschatology?

Again, the method for discerning the truthful answer to this controversy ought to be the historical-grammatical method, scripture interpreting scripture.

In John chapter 5 there appears a passage in which Jesus speaks of the resurrection of the dead:

“Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28,29).

The sense is that there will be a simultaneous resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. How can we reconcile this with the popular belief that the Church will be raptured first, and then the rest of the world at some later point – possibly as much as 1000 years later? Actually, it would be 1007 years to be exact if you accept the dispensationalist premillennial view of the rapture.

Then we should compare this with other Second Coming passages that indicate that when Christ does return, human history as we know it will be over. The earth will be transformed, our works will be judged and time will be subsumed into eternity.

We should also consider the current popular dispensational view did not appear until 1830. Prior to this time, most of the giants of the faith such as Augustine, Athanasius, Calvin, Luther, Knox, Edwards, Wesley, Whitefield and Hodge believed in a simultaneous rapture, general resurrection, judgment and consummation of history. This was the unified, general view of the Church for many centuries.

This certainly doesn’t fit with what many popular evangelicals believe about the end-times – with a dispensationalist scenario that has the Second Coming of Jesus taking place before a future 1000 year reign of Christ from an earthly throne and then a final resurrection that would take place after the millennium is fulfilled.

It has only been since the 1830s that the idea has originated that a small remnant of the Church would escape the growing darkness of this present evil age in a “secret rapture.”

Now it is important to note that even though dispensationalism has only been around since the 1830s, a more orthodox version of the premillennial view has been around since the early centuries of Christianity. Some Church Fathers were premillennialists while others held to the amillennial or postmillennial view.

If they were right, then the prevailing eschatology of our modern era doesn’t just have problems it is a problem.

It is important to remember that the pre-, a- and post- prefixes are fairly modern adaptations to describe millennial thinking. The Common Church Doctrine on the end-times did not distinguish between amillennialism and postmillennialism for over 1500 years.

In fact, until the time of the Protestant Reformation, premillennialism was called either “chiliasm” or “millenarianism.” Both phrases mean literally, “belief in the thousand years” (from the Greek and Latin, chilias and mille). Proponents held that there would be an earthly kingdom of God that would only appear at the Second Coming of Jesus in the future and would last for exactly 1000 years.

Postmillennialism is a phrase that came into being after centuries of Reformation influence in creating a Christian social theory from a biblical perspective. Prior to the 1600s, there was no distinction between postmillennialism and amillennialism. Postmillennialism was first called “progressive millennialism,” to distinguish it from both amillennial and premillennial thinking.

To summarize the postmillennial age that is even now occurring prior to the resurrection, A.A. Hodge wrote:

Christ has in reserve for his Church a period of universal expansion and of preeminent spiritual prosperity, when the spirit and character of the “noble army of martyrs” shall be reproduced again in the great body of God’s people in an unprecedented triumph of their cause, and in the overthrow of that of their enemies, receive judgment over their foes and reign in the earth; while the party of Satan, “the rest of the dead,” shall not flourish again until the thousand years be ended, when it shall prevail again for a little season.

The Three Pillars of Postmillennial Optimism

There are three promises or signs of Christ’s return spoken of in the Bible that are undeniable biblical truths.

Promise #1 – The unity of the faith

Till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure and stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-13).

We are to expect and work for, prior to the coming of Christ, a unity of the faith within the Church throughout the entire world.

How can such unity come to pass?

Only the postmillennial view contains such optimism as to suggest that Church unity within history will occur. All other eschatological views see the Church as a fragmented minority at the time of the second coming of Christ. To the contrary, although we seem at present to be very far from the unity that is foretold in the Scriptures, we have reason to believe, that these things will be fulfilled. As Joshua said to the children of Israel, “that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you” (Joshua 23:14).

We do not know exactly what form this unity will take. Will there still be a division between Protestant, Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches. Will Roman Catholicism be reformed, destroyed or become obsolete? Christians now disagree as to what this unity should be based upon. Yet it will occur in history. The Body of Christ will be built up into a mature man.

Promise #2 – A glorious Church without spot or wrinkle

That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27).

The Apostles made the connection between the glory and holiness of the Church and the Second Coming. “What manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:11,12).

Only the postmillennial viewpoint contains this optimism concerning the holiness of the Church. Nearly all other views emphasize rather the evil state of the world and the final apostasy to come.

While most postmillennialists do not deny that, according to Revelation 20, there will be a final apostasy, we do not think it to be prevalent or long lasting. Nor do we think that it will destroy the holiness of the Bride on earth who is prepared to meet her Bridegroom. In keeping with John’s warning that everyone who hopes to see Christ “purifies himself” (1 John 3:2-3), we also read, “the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7).

Peter and John paint this picture of the Church preparing herself prior to Christ’s return. Therefore, there will be a worldwide revival of holiness in the Church preceding Christ’s return.

Promise #3 – The Gospel will be preached in the uttermost parts of the earth

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen (Matthew 28:18-20).

Almost all Christians believe that the Great Commission will be accomplished at least to some extent in history. However, few place a great stress on discipleship. Yet the instructions our Lord left us were: “Teaching them [the ethnic nations of the whole world] to obey all that I have commanded you.”

Which commandments are we to teach the nations to observe? These are found in the whole Bible. These commandments deal with individuals, families, churches, businesses, schools, arts, sciences, civil governments, and all of society.

Not only do we believe that the Great Commission includes preaching the Gospel of salvation to all creation, but we also include the idea that this Gospel of the kingdom will take root and thrive in the whole world. There will be a resulting kingdom influence in all human institutions. There will be great victory for Christ and the hurch before He comes again.


Postmillennialism: Into the 20th and 21st Centuries

The 20th century has been termed, “The Violent Century,” by some historians, referring to the two great world wars, the holocaust, abortion, Soviet and Chinese communism killing millions of their own people, famines, the AIDS epidemic, etc., all happening on a global scale. Despite all of these obstacles, the Kingdom of God has grown and multiplied.

During the same period, the greatest number of conversions to the Christian faith occurred. Remarkably, this exponential growth has occurred at an even higher rate than the staggering world population explosion. With a tremendous increase in world population has come an even greater increase in the total number of Christians. This great number of conversions has occurred despite great violence and persecutions against the Church.

According to the U.S. Center for World Mission, Christian evangelism in the last 100 years has reached a growth curve which is now increasing exponentially. Comparing the percentage of Christians in the total world population, the following statistics have been noted.

The U.S. Center for World Mission defines a Christian as a person who has had a born-again experience, attends a church service at least twice a week, and prays at least once a month for world evangelization.

In viewing these ratios on the graph above, one can see a rapid increase of Christians toward the year 2020. This dramatic increase shows the impact that the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s, the First and Second Great Awakenings of the following centuries, and the Holiness and Pentecostal Revivals at the turn of the 20th century have had on world evangelization.

While many people might think the United States has the largest population of committed Christians, a study by the Pew Research Institute that found that the world’s most committed Christians live in Africa and Latin America.

By 2060 six of the countries with the top ten largest Christian populations will be in Africa, up from three in 2015, according to a Pew Research Center report in 2019. The projections are in line with the gradual shift that has increasingly seen Christian populations on the rise in the Third World. The size of the Christian population in Nigeria alone – already the largest on the continent – is projected to double by 2060. In addition, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya are projected to join the list of countries with the top ten largest Christian populations, replacing Russia, Germany and China.

In 1976, the U.S. Center for World Mission numbered at least 24,000 distinct ethnic groups that can be viewed in biblical terms as the ethne, “the nations,” or “people groups,” that must be reached with the gospel in order to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). Of these 24,000 people groups, there were 10,000 that had an indigenous witness in the form of churches made up of people from their own culture. This left 14,000 people groups which still must be reached with the Gospel in order for the Great Commission to be fulfilled.

By the year 2001, this number of unreached groups had dropped to 10,000. According to the U.S. Center for World Mission, an “unreached people group” is defined as one having less than two percent of its population as evangelical Christian. By way of disclaimer, various missions organizations number the people groups differently using varied criteria. However, using any criteria we can see a remarkable exponential increase.

With this phenomenal growth, it is possible that these remaining unreached people groups could be reached within 21st century. But we should remember the words of Jesus Christ, which have been borne out in the experience of the last century.

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).

Is the world getting better or worse?

Have these gains resulted in the world becoming a better place? While people might differ in their definition of “better,” there are some real, measurable indicators of material and physical prosperity. Although material wealth is not an indicator of God’s blessing, the Bible teaches that the person who obeys the Law of God will have a longer life and material prosperity.

However, here is the irony. Evangelical Christians have become generally more pessimistic in the last 100 years. There used to be more postmillennialists who thought the world was becoming a better place due to the great missionary thrust of churches in the 1800s. Ironically, now that Christianity is the largest religion in the world, most evangelicals are premillennialists who think the world is predestined to get worse and worse until the end.

Below are some statistics for you to consider from the book by Greg Easterbrook called, The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Note that the book is taking a purely secular perspective on how the world is getting “better.” Nevertheless, the following statistics show that disease, war and poverty are being vanquished by the progress of the Gospel.

Here are 63 indicators that the world is getting better not worse.

Hermeneutics not Zeitgeist!

If you haven’t been steeped in the dispensationalist paradigm and don’t think that the Left Behind Series is an accurate picture of what the Bible teaches about the end times, you may be scratching your head at this point and wondering.

If Postmillennialism has such an illustrious history, then how did dispensationalist premillennialism become so popular?

Some point to the split in the evangelical Church in the late 1800s as giving the impetus for the mass defection from the Puritan Hope. As liberals began to put more and more emphasis on the “social Gospel” – the care of the poor, the sick and righting social evils – they paid less and less attention to the fulcrum of social reform, the Gospel of salvation. Therefore, in a knee-jerk reaction, many well-meaning conservatives who continued to teach the Gospel of salvation and the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, slowly began to grow suspicious of any Christian movement that would champion social concerns – especially those that did it at the expense of the spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God.

Thus an entire generation of Christians threw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Then just a few decades later, they viewed the horrible atrocities committed in the two world wars and under the brutal dictatorships of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and other atheistic communist regimes.

Pretty soon, Zeitgeist (or the “spirit of the age”) began to define theology. Rather than let the Word of Truth itself guide its worldview, the Church began to let the pessimistic worldview of the daily news move its agenda toward cultural retreatism. The great irony here is that in focusing on the bad, much of the evangelical Church has ignored the great victories that have occurred under our very noses.

For the first time in history, the Church has had the opportunity to literally preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Yet at the same time, many disbelieve what has been the amazing result. Why should it be that there are more Christians in the world than ever before in history – and in fact a larger percentage of the world population is truly converted – and yet many expect things to grow worse and worse even as this success continues to grow? As Revival historian Iain Murray put it:

Why should it not be that in this era when the population of the world has reached its height, that God will show on a yet greater scale that truth is more powerful than error, grace is more powerful than sin, and that those given to Christ are indeed “as the sand which is upon the sea-shore” (Iain H. Murray, The Puritan Hope).


Postmillennialism: The Irresistible Power of Christ's Kingdom in History

Here we will briefly survey the power of Christ’s victorious kingdom in history by looking at the faith and teachings of great saints of old, from Athanasius and Augustine to Jonathan Edwards and Charles Hodge, to the revival of the Puritan Hope in our current day. We will see that an optimistic view of what the Holy Spirit can accomplish through the Church is not a strange, new minority belief, but in fact represents what much of the Church has believed throughout history.

At the outset, we should realize that the Word of God is supreme. Our eschatological view should be colored not so much by what is occurring in the present or by what has occurred in history – as by what the scriptures state. On the other hand, if the Word of God is true on the doctrine of the kingdom of God, then we should expect to see the advance of the kingdom in time and history just as Jesus predicted.

Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32).

Why do so many Christian confidently insist that God the Father and God the Son can never fail in their appointed tasks, but seem to suggest that the Holy Spirit will fail in leading the Church to full maturity and in fulfilling the Great Commission?

There are organized Christian churches today in every geopolitical nation on earth – the dream of missionaries in past centuries. Yet this is taken for granted. If the current dispensationalist premillennial viewpoint is correct, then there is nothing left to that needs to happen. There is nothing to stop Jesus from catching us up in the sky, as the song goes, to “fly way” in “the by and by.”

In fact, it is the dispensationalist system – with its belief in the victory of evil over the Church at least until Christ returns – that is the theological novelty. If the historic eschatological viewpoint is correct, then we still have a big job to do. Our task isn’t merely to preach the Gospel to the whole world making some disciples from some nations, but to “make disciples of all nations, teaching them,” in the words of our Lord, “to obey all the things I have commanded you.”

It is also problematic that few modern Christians know much about the history of the Church or western civilization. Or worse, they have been brain-washed by the liberal modernist view that much of Christian history may be characterized as the “Dark Ages” – not understanding that this term was coined by Renaissance humanists to describe Christian civilization – which they hoped would be replaced by a new “enlightened” age in which the pagan culture of the Greeks and Romans would be revived.

Yet even to these humanist thinkers the destruction of pagan idolatry and the victory of Christianity over pagan culture was undeniable. Advances in archaeology in the past 150 years has shed much light on the Ancient Roman period and has offered a greater understanding of its positive developments during the Middle Ages.

What is even more remarkable is to read the accounts of Church Fathers such as Tertullian and Athanasius, who saw the brutal persecution of the Christian Church, and yet remained hopeful about the inevitable advance of the Gospel. They saw Christ conquering all idolatry and pagan error even in their own day.

The Roman Period

According to historian Kenneth Scott Latourette:

One of the most amazing and significant facts of history, is that within five centuries of its birth Christianity won the professed allegiance of the overwhelming majority of the population of the Roman Empire and even the support of the Roman state (Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity).

Latourette goes on to mention the main factors that led to Christian Dominion in the Roman Empire including:

  1. The conversion of Roman senators and emperors
  2. The disintegration of Roman society
  3. The Church’s organizational strength
  4. The adaptability of the Church toward cultural conditions
  5. The emphasis on intimacy with a personal God
  6. The Church’s high moral standards

All these factors led to a piqued interest in the new faith of this small yet growing sect of Christians in the Roman Empire.

Less well known today is that fact that the early Christians publicly demonstrated the ability to cast out demons.

Tertullian

Tertullian of Carthage is one of the many Church Fathers who spoke confidently to his pagan opponents about the spiritual power of Christ through believers to make incursions into the strongholds of demons – to “harrow hell” – as the title of this book maintains. Although premillennialist in his eschatology, Tertullian strongly proclaimed that the Church was destined to overcome every gate of hell.

Were it not for us, who would free you from those hidden foes that are ever making havoc of your health in soul and body – from those raids of the demons, I mean, which we repel from you without reward or hire? (Tertullian, 1 Apology 37).

Tertullian again claims power over the gates of hell in his address to the Roman magistrate Scapula.

We do more than repudiate the demons: we overcome them, we expose then daily to contempt, and exorcise them from their victims, as is well known to many people (Tertullian, Letter to Scapula 2).

Missions expert and Church historian C. Peter Wagner explained the result of such confidence in the power of the Gospel message.

Christian preachers in those days were so sure of the power of God that they did not hesitate to engage in power encounters. They would challenge in public the power of pagan gods with the power of Jesus…. All this involved the manhandling of demons – humiliating them, making them howl, beg for mercy, tell their secrets, and depart in a hurry. By the time the Christian preachers got through, no one would want to worship such nasty, lower powers. The supernatural power of God driving all competition from the field should be seen as the chief instrument of conversion in those first centuries (C. Peter Wagner, The Third Wave of the Holy Spirit).

Chiliasm vs. the Common Church Doctrine

We know there were Christians as early as the second century who rejected the doctrine of the premillennial return of Christ followed by an earthly, physical reign from Jerusalem for a literal one thousand years. This was known as chiliasm or millenarianism.

Justin Martyr of Rome, in his Dialogue with Trypho (chapters 80-81) asserts that that at the Second Coming, there will be a resurrection of the body and that the newly rebuilt and enlarged Jerusalem will last for one thousand years, but he adds “many who belong to the pure and pious faith, and are true Christians, think otherwise.”

The premillennialst view – though nothing like the dispensationalist version of today — was expounded upon by some early Church Fathers and Apologists in the Epistle of Barnabas, the writings of Irenaeus of Lyons, Hippolytus of Rome and Tertullian of Carthage. What we know today as amillennialism or postmillennialism did not yet have a name, but became simply the “Common Church Doctrine” after the time of Augustine.

The chiliast view was rejected partly because it was taught by heretics, such as the Cerinthians, the Ebionites and the Montanists. In fact, the first full exposition of the Book of Revelation was written as a partial futurist/partial preterist work by Victorinius of Pettau in the third century. He concludes his Commentary on the Apocalypse with the following condemnation of chiliasm.

Therefore, they are not to be heard who assure themselves that there is to be an earthly reign of a thousand years; who think, that is to say, with the heretic Cerinthus. For the kingdom of Christ is now eternal in the saints, although the glory of the saints shall be manifested after the resurrection.

This is thought by some to be a later addition, but it was certainly a contemporary idea of Victorinius’ time since Justin Martyr conceded such a view existed at least 100 years earlier.

Clement of Alexandria

Although Clement never stated a clear position on the nature of the millennium, he was probably a premillennialist like many other second century Christian writers. However, the foundation of the shift toward an amillennial/postmillennial view can be seen in his writings. Clement taught the Roman-Jewish War prosecuted by Nero and Vespasian was the fulfillment of the “abomination of desolation” prophesied in Daniel 9, 12 and Matthew 14. Some commentators, such as Victorinius of Pettau in the third century, extended this preterist paradigm to the book of Revelation as well. According to Victorinius’ Commentary on the Apocalypse, the kings of Revelation 17 were the Roman emperors. This led to the inevitable conclusion that the millennium described in Revelation 20-22 is symbolic of the kingdom of God – a time period stretching from the First Advent of Christ to the Second Advent.

Athanasius

We can see a pronounced eschatology of victory in the words of St. Athanasius, the great Church Father of the late third and fourth century whose classic book, On the Incarnation of the Word of God, reveals the Christian worldview of hope. He summarized its thesis:

Since the Savior came to dwell in our midst, not only does idolatry no longer increase, but it is getting less and gradually ceasing to be. Similarly, not only does the wisdom of the Greeks no longer make any progress, but that which used to be is disappearing. And demons, so far from continuing to impose on people by their deceits and oracle-givings and sorceries, are routed by the sign of the cross if they so much as try. On the other hand, while idolatry and everything else that opposes the faith of Christ is daily dwindling and weakening and falling, the Savior’s teaching is increasing everywhere! Worship, then, the Savior “Who is above all” and mighty, even God the Word, and condemn those who are being defeated and made to disappear by Him. When the sun has come, darkness prevails no longer; any of it that may be left anywhere is driven away. So also, now that the Divine epiphany of the Word of God has taken place, the darkness of idols prevails no more, and all parts of the world in every direction are enlightened by His teaching (St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation).

Athanasius himself experienced persecution from pagans and was banished from the Empire three times by the Arian heretics who held sway with civil authorities. The phrase “Athanasius against the world” (Athanasius contra mundum) was coined to describe a person who will stand for the truth no matter the prevailing popular opinion and no matter the cost.

How could Athanasius be so optimistic about the state of affairs in the world?

If he was like many Christians of today, he would have been formulating theories on which Roman authority was the Beast of Revelation and devising complex end-times prophecy charts. Athanasius believed that darkness was being driven from the world by the Light of lights simply because it is the overcoming truth of the Word of God.

Athanasius saw in the Gospel not just the fact that we can be born-again and free from sin, but that all of Creation could be born-again. According to Athanasius creation and salvation were one and the same. He wrote in his preface:

We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it at first (St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation).

Augustine

However, Augustine of Hippo is responsible, more than any other Christian, for establishing the Common Church Doctrine that Christ is presently ruling and reigning over the nations while Satan is bound from deceiving the nations anymore. In his book, The City of God, Augustine viewed the Millennium of Revelation 20 not as a literal one thousand years in the far off future, but as

… the whole time which this book embraces – that is, from the first coming of Christ to the end of the world, when He shall come the second time … which goes by the name of a thousand years [Latin: mille anni or “millennium”]…

Augustine noted that the devil would be bound during this time.

The devil is bound throughout the whole period, from the first coming of Christ to the end of the world, which will be Christ’s second coming.

He noted that the Devil is largely incapable of seducing people away from Christ.

… he is not permitted to exert his whole power of temptation, either by force of by guile to seduce people (Augustine, The City of God).

Augustine is universally considered to be either an amillennialist – or perhaps more accurately, a postmillennialist – because of his understanding of the present reign of Christ in the Church age. But more importantly, Augustine’s eschatology solidified the eschatological Common Doctrine of the Church for over 1500 years afterward. Due to the influence of Augustine and others, such as Jerome, the premillennial view was almost unheard of in the Middle Ages.

The Middle Ages

The progress of kingdom growth was a mixed picture in the Middle Ages, but during a more than thousand year period, Christianity spread throughout much of the known world. British monks such as Saint Patrick (c. 389-461) brought the Gospel to Ireland. As a result, Celtic missionaries, such as Saint Columba, later established the Church in Scotland in the sixth century. By the seventh century, Christianity became the dominant religion in France through Columbanus. In the eighth century, Wilfred and Boniface did missionary work among the Germanic and Scandinavian tribes. In 988, Vladimir of Kiev was baptized and the whole Russian and Slavic world soon followed into membership in the Orthodox faith.

While there was an increasing worldliness noticeable in the Church during this period and Islam became equally widespread during this period, the Church also showed great vitality and remarkable abilities to adapt to the new cultures it encountered as it advanced throughout the western world.

The Age of Exploration, which began in the 1300s, brought Catholic missionaries to the New World and the Far East. Monastic orders, such as the Dominicans, Franciscans and Augustinians arose with the sole purpose of converting the world.

John Calvin

In the 1536 preface to the Institutes of the Christian Religion, the great reformer John Calvin explained to Francis I, king of France, that the Reformation would indeed triumph because it was empowered by Christ the king of the universe.

But our doctrine must stand, exalted above all the glory, and invincible by all the power of the world; because it is not ours, but the doctrine of the living God, and of his Christ, whom the Father hath constituted King, that he may have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth, and that he may rule in such a manner, that the whole earth, with its strength of iron and with its splendor of gold and silver, smitten by the rod of his mouth, may be broken to pieces like a potter’s vessel; for thus do the prophets foretell the magnificence of his kingdom (Daniel 2:34; Isaiah 11:4; Psalm 2:9 conflated) (John Calvin, Preface to the 1536 edition, Institutes of the Christian Religion).

The Puritan Hope

Perhaps no other group expounded on the doctrine of postmillennialism as fully as many of the English and American Puritans and their numerous theological successors. For this reason, author and historian Iain H. Murray has called this phenomenon, “The Puritan Hope.”

Thomas Brightman

In 1609, Thomas Brightman published an optimistic commentary on of the book of Revelation. Even amidst present persecutions of Christians, he claimed that the scriptures promised of an era of triumph for the Church on earth. This era will be characterized by the con version of the Jews and the fullness of the Gentiles, of peace on earth, a revitalized Church, and Christ ruling the nations by His Word. Brightman urged the British people to support and bless the Jews. As a result less than 50 years later, Puritan civil ruler Oliver Cromwell lifted a 100 year banishment of Jews, which had been in effect since the time of Henry VIII, allowing them to return to England.

William Gouge

William Gouge, Presbyterian minister, and one of the leaders of the assembly who produced the Westminster Confession, published and wrote many postmillennial works including his own book, The Progress of Divine Providence in 1645.

There are more particular promises concerning a future glory of the Christian Church, set down by the prophets in the Old Testament, and by Christ and his disciples in the New, especially in the book of the Revelation, then we have either heard of or seen in our days to be ‘accomplished. The glorious city described, Rev. 21:10, is by many judicious divines taken for a type of a spiritual, glorious estate of the Church of Christ under the gospel yet to come, and that before his last coming to judgment…. But this is most certain, that there are yet better things to come than have been since the first calling of the gentiles. Among other better things to come, the recalling of the Jews is most clearly and plentifully foretold by the prophets (William Gouge, The Progress of Divine Providence).

The “glorious estate” of the Church prior to the Day of Judgment – an estate characterized by the calling and conversion of the Jews and the fullness of the Gentiles into one visible Church – is a recurring theme that runs throughout the writings of the Puritans.

The Savoy Declaration

It is significant that, immediately after the adoption of the Westminster Confession by the English Puritans and Scottish Presbyterians, the independents drew up their own confession, called the Savoy Declaration of 1658, in which they explicitly affirmed their postmillennial hope.

… we expect that in the latter days, Antichrist being destroyed, the Jews called, and the adversaries of the kingdom of his dear Son broken, the churches of Christ being enlarged and edified through a free and plentiful communication of light and grace, shall enjoy in this world a more quiet, peaceable, and glorious condition than they have enjoyed (Savoy Declaration, 26.5).

We should note that although this is a historicist view with the papal power depicted as “Antichrist,” the confession falls solidly within the bounds of a postmillennial hope that was prevalent among the Puritans and Separatists.

John Owen

The great Puritan preacher John Owen noted six scriptural promises that would eventually characterize the Church and the world during the present millennial reign of Christ.

God in his appointed time will bring forth the kingdom of the Lord Christ unto more glory and power than in former days, I presume you are persuaded. Whatever will be more, these six things are clearly promised:

  1. Fullness of peace unto the gospel and the professors thereof, Isaiah 11:6,7; 54:13, 33:20,21; Revelation. 21:25.
  2. Purity and beauty of ordinances and gospel worship, Revelation 11:2, 21:3.
  3. Multitudes of converts, many persons, yea, nations, Isaiah 9:7,8; 66:8, 49:18-22; Revelation 7:9.
  4. The full casting out and rejecting of all will-worship, and their attendant abominations, Revelation 11:2.
  5. Professed subjection of the nations throughout the whole world unto the Lord Christ, Dan. 2:44, 7:26,27; Isaiah 60: 6-9 – the kingdoms become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ, Revelation 11:15.
  6. A most glorious and dreadful breaking of all that rise in opposition unto him, Isaiah 60:12.

Now, in order to the bringing in of this his rule and kingdom, with its attendances, the Lord Christ goes forth, in the first place, to cast down the things that stand in his way, dashing his enemies “in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (John Owen, “The Advantage of the Kingdom of Christ in the Shaking of the Kingdoms of the World”).

After the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, there were new significant thrusts of missionary activity into uncharted regions of the world, namely, North and South America, Africa and Asia.

Postmillennialism in America’s history

This victorious view of the Church’s role in history emerged as the common doctrine of eschatology in early America. Many American Puritans can also be described as postmillennialists. In fact, the colonization of America was fueled by this Puritan hope.

In the 1600s, the Pilgrims and Puritans brought the Gospel to America with the stated goal, according to the Mayflower Compact.

For the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith.

William Bradford Governor of Plymouth Colony wrote of the Pilgrims’ purpose in founding a new colony:

A great hope and inward zeal they had of laying some good foundation, or at least to make some way thereunto, for the propagation and advancing the gospel or the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea, though they should be but stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a work …

John Winthrop

John Winthrop, Governor of Massachusetts, wrote of his optimism for the spread of the Gospel in the New World in his famous sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity.” Winthrop penned these words while en route to the New World on board the ship the Arbella. Winthrop outlined the purposes of God for New England. He described a harmonious Christian community whose laws and government would logically proceed from a godly and purposeful arrangement.

We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when He shall make us a praise and glory, that men shall say of succeeding plantations, “the Lord make it like that of New England.” For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and byword throughout the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God and all professors for God’s sake, we shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.

And to shut up this discourse with that exhortation of Moses, that faithful servant of the Lord in His last farewell to Israel (Deut. 30), “Beloved there is now set before us life and good, death and evil, in that we are commanded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His ordinance, and His laws, and the articles of our covenant with Him that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God my bless us in the land whither we go to possess it. But if our hearts shall turn away so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced and worship other Gods, our pleasures, our profits, and serve them, it is propounded unto us this day we shall surely perish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea to possess it. Therefore let us choose life, that we, and our seed, may live, and by obeying His voice, and cleaving to Him, for He is our life and our prosperity” (John Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity).

Here we see that when the Puritans first came to America, they hoped to build a Christian society that would be copied the world over. They were not naive, however, and understood that a lessening of Christian influence over the years could lead them to be cursed rather than blessed of God. If they disobeyed, they would be cut off and God might raise another Christian civilization in their place. Thus they began the Puritan settlement with postmillennial optimism.

John Cotton

The Puritans did not come to New England merely to escape persecution, but to establish the kingdom of God. One of the most beloved churchmen of his day, John Cotton, taught that the “New Jerusalem” was being founded in the America. Cotton’s postmillennialism caused him to expect a transformation of the world before Jesus’ return. God would bring into being a

visible state of a new Jerusalem, which shall flourish many years upon Earth, before the end of the world (John Cotton).

However, by the end of the 17th century, the Puritan hope began to quell. Seeing the trend of a waning Calvinistic influence, some began to foresee a pessimistic end of the world. They saw the antichrist looming on the horizon. Like many of today’s premillennialists, they adopted an end-times view of gloom and doom.

Looking at the writings of the Puritans during this time period we see contrasting views. The “Jeremiad” was a sermon preached to nurture this gloomy view that the “final apostasy” had set in. Often the book of Revelation was cited to foster pessimistic expectations, especially the destruction of Babylon in Revelation 18.

Other Christians dissented and began to work for Revival and Reformation in colonial America. One view was forward-looking seeing a glorious revival of religion on the horizon if the people of God would just pray and obey. The other view was backward-looking lamenting that the glory of God had departed and chastising the sins of the people without giving much hope for redemption.

The optimists were found not just those among the Puritans, but also the Anglican Church, the Scottish Presbyterians, Reformed churches, and later Wesley’s Methodists. The Moravian Society, founded by Count Leopold von Zinzendorf, sent out missionaries who reached Virginia, the Virgin Islands, Greenland, Surinam, Georgia and South Africa.

The Great Awakening of the early 1700s – led by such luminaries as John Wesley, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards – drove forward the Gospel seeing a huge portion of England and America converted. It is estimated that about one-third of Americans professed a conversion to Christ in the years of the Great Awakening in the 1730s and 1740s. These Christians believed that even in the darkest times, God could appear as a great light and restore His glory to both Church and society. The Revival of Christianity that occurred in America and England during the 1700s was fueled by this postmillennial optimism.

John Wesley

Wesley taught that the Revivals that saw millions swept to the kingdom of God in the 1700s, known as the First Great Awakening would transform society as well. Love, honesty, sobriety, chastity, prudence, generosity and health would flow from hearts transformed by the love of God. Changed people would change the world. Scriptural holiness would spread across the land (Mitchell Lewis, Wesley’s Eschatological Optimism).

In “The General Spread of the Gospel,” Wesley wrote:

Is it not then highly probable, that God will carry on his work in the same manner as he has begun? That he will carry it on, I cannot doubt; however Luther may affirm, that a revival of religion never lasts above a generation, — that is, thirty years; (whereas the present revival has already continued above fifty) or however prophets of evil may say, “All will be at an end when the first instruments are removed.” There will then, very probably, be a great shaking; but I cannot induce myself to think that God has wrought so glorious a work, to let it sink and die away in a few years. No: I trust, this is only the beginning of a far greater work; the dawn of “the latter day glory.”

“The latter day glory” spoken of here is the gradual Christianization of the world through these revivals. Wesley’s sermon on “The Sign of the Times.”

Consider, what are the times which we have reason to believe are now at hand? And how is it that all who are called Christians, do not discern the signs of these times? The times which we have reason to believe are at hand, (if they are not already begun) are what many pious men have termed, the time of “the latter-day glory;” — meaning the time wherein God would gloriously display his power and love, in the fulfillment of his gracious promise that “the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea.”

As was the prevailing view of his day, Wesley thought that the “thousand years” referred to a present reality.

What occurs from Revelation 20:11-22:5, manifestly follows the things related in the nineteenth chapter. The thousand years came between; whereas if they were past, neither the beginning nor the end of them would fall within this period. In a short time those who assert that they are now at hand will appear to have spoken the truth. Meantime let every man consider what kind of happiness he expects therein. The danger does not lie in maintaining that the thousand years are yet to come; but in interpreting them, whether past or to come, in a gross and carnal sense (Wesley, Notes on the New Testament).

In The Hope of the Gospel – An Introduction to Wesleyan Eschatology, Dr. Vic Reasoner explains that Wesley taught a relative perfection, not a sinless perfection, which led to Wesley’s concept of the millennium as

that period in human history when the human race reaches a maturity level exhibited by a greater fear of God and his commandments when sinful practices are considered vices and Christian character is a sought virtue. It will be a time when Christian love is demonstrated instead of war, and the worship of God creates an awareness of the holy. But it will not be a time of absolute perfection nor a utopia…. Wesley had views on both subjects which are implicit in his writings. What was implicit in Wesley was developed explicitly by Wesleyan theologians as Postmillennialism. This development was consistent with the foundation laid by Wesley.

George Whitefield

The Scriptures are so far from encouraging us to plead for a diminution of divine influence in these last days of the gospel that on the contrary, we are encouraged to expect, hope, long, and pray for larger and more extensive showers of divine influence than any former age hath ever yet experienced. For are we not therein taught to pray, “That we may be filled with the fulness of God,” and to wait for a glorious epoch, “when the earth shall be filed with the Knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the seas”? Do not all the saints on earth, and all the spirits of just men made perfect in heaven, nay, all the angels and archangels about the throne of the most high God, night and day, join in this united cry, Lord Jesus, thus let thy kingdom come.

The postmillennial hope of 18th century revivalists in England was identical with that of American Calvinists, such as Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennant and Samuel Davies. The two groups corresponded with one another and cooperated in promoting Revival. Yet none was more influential in promoting postmillennial optimism than Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards, considered by many to be America’s greatest theologian, was an ardent postmillennialist. His writings fully developed the implications of a millennial Golden Age. Edwards is best known for his role in the Great Awakening, which began as a revival in several churches along the Connecticut River Valley. Through his preaching, revivalistic fervor spread throughout the colonies. Evangelical zeal and postmillennial hope went hand and hand. Edwards’ preaching that the millennium would be realized in its fullest sense in America fueled societal reformation within the embryonic nation of America.

In his book, On the History of Redemption, Edwards theorized that the advance of the Gospel would someday spread to Africa and Asia. Edwards wrote:

There is a kind of veil now cast over the greater part of the world, which keeps them in darkness. But then this veil shall be destroyed, “And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations” (Isaiah 25:7). And then all countries and nations, even those that are now most ignorant, shall be full of light and knowledge. Great knowledge shall prevail everywhere. It may be hoped, that then many of the Negroes and Indians will be divines, and that excellent books will be published in Africa, in Ethiopia, in Tartary, and other now the most barbarous countries. And not only learned men, but others of more ordinary education, shall then be very knowing in religion, “The eyes of them that see, shall not be dim; and the ears of them that hear, shall hearken. The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge” (Isaiah 32:3,4).

In the first half of the 1700s, when Edwards was writing, the Christian population of Africa and Asia was less than one percent. That Africa would be converted to the Gospel was unbelievably optimistic. I have been associated with successful Christian missions in Africa, India and Tatarstan (now part of Russia) just as Edwards predicted. I have personally encountered many thousands young people from these nations who were converted to Christ. They are entering the ministry, writing books and dedicating their lives to the conversion of the lost.

If Edwards prediction of an unheard-of outpouring of God’s Spirit among these nations is considered so matter-of-factly by us today, then we should also be encouraged to imagine what is yet to come in the future.

In all of Edwards’ writings and sermons, he portrayed all of human history as a progressive march towards victory for the kingdom of God. Edwards believed that revivals in the American colonies and England were but a forerunner of what would commence in centuries to come the ultimate glorious light of a Golden Age. He taught that history moves through a pulsation of seasons of revival and spiritual awakening; that there are times of retreat and advance; that the work of revival is carried out by what he termed “remarkable outpourings of the Spirit.”

Time after time, when religion seemed to be almost gone, and it was come to the last extremity, then God granted a revival, and sent some angel or prophet, or raised up some eminent person, to be an instrument of their reformation.

Edwards was the instrument of New England’s Great Awakening in the 1730s and 1740s. He insisted that there would be times of conflict, remissions and lulls between the sovereign outpourings of the Spirit. A decline in the spiritual and moral character of a Christian nation, according to Edwards, is to be interpreted as a preparation for an even greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Even secular historians agree that the postmillennial optimism of the First Great Awakening gave the American colonies the impetus to seek independence from England. Ingrained in the early American consciousness was the idea that our form of civil government would eventually mirror the Golden Age of Israel.

Hymns of the Church

Perhaps nowhere else is the Puritan Hope so wonderfully expressed as in the numerous hymns of the past, many of which are well known today.

And yet how many have understood the postmillennial theology ingrained in these spiritual songs?

Charles Wesley, the great Methodist hymn writer and brother of John Wesley, wrote in some of his most famous verses.

When He first the work begun,
small and feeble was His day:
Now the Word doth swiftly run,
now it wins its widening way:
More and more it spreads and grows,
ever mighty to prevail,
Sin’s strongholds it now o’erthrows,
shakes the trembling gates of hell.

— Charles Wesley, “See How Great a Flame Aspires”

A similarly optimistic exhortation is contained in many other classic hymns.

Lift high His royal banner,
It must not suffer loss,
From victory unto victory,
His army shall he lead,
Till every foe it vanquished,
And Christ is Lord indeed.
Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
The strife will not be long;
This day the noise of battle,
The next, the victor’s song!

— George Duffield, “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus”

In addition to these well-known hymns, perhaps no other songwriter has made such an impact on the world as Isaac Watts, whose hymnal was one of the most published books of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Jesus shall reign wherever the sun
Does his successive journeys run:
His kingdom spread from shore to shore,
‘Till moon shall wax and wane no more.
To Him shall endless prayer be made
And endless praises crown His head.
People and realms of every tongue,
Dwell on His love with sweetest song,
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessing on His name.

– Isaac Watts, “Jesus Shall Reign”

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found!

– Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World”

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the Age of Gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling
And the whole world send back the song
Which now thee angels sing!”

– Isaac Watts, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”

The Second Great Awakening

John Jefferson Davis noted in this book, Christ’s Victorious Kingdom, that the one factor that has caused so many theologians in our day to reconsider postmillennialism is that it was the dominant millennial understanding of the nineteenth century. Not only did it inform the thinking and interpretative study of the Bible, but it fueled the great social reforms of the 1800s.

This was the vision of the Second Great Awakening. Although this movement did not display the theological rigor and unity of the previous century’s First Great Awakening, some of the most far-reaching social changes that this country has ever experienced – from the abolition of slavery, advances in education and care for the mentally ill – came out of this spiritual awakening. In fact, historians are almost in unanimous agreement that all of the social reform movements of the 1800s had their roots in Christian revivals.

Now the great business of the Church is to reform the world, to put away every kind of sin. The Church of Christ was originally organized to be a body of reformers … the Christian Church was designed to make aggressive movements in every direction – to lift up her voice and put forth her energies against iniquity in high and low places – to reform individuals, communities, and governments, and never rest until the kingdom and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High God – until every form of iniquity be driven from the earth (Charles G. Finney, Systematic Theology).

In the 1800s, most school history textbooks stressed the idea of progress, that the world was improving due to advances in learning. Most Christians believed this was due to the advancement of the Gospel. As more and more people were converted to Christ, individual lives would reform and the world would become a better place.

The Age of Protestant Missions

William Carey founded the Baptist Missionary Society in 1792 with the purpose of bringing the Gospel to India. Carey is remembered for his famous quote regarding missions:

Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God (William Carey, Baptist Missionary Society).

Several other missionary societies were founded in England and America in the early 1800s. J. Hudson Taylor founded the Inland China Mission, the first “faith ministry” independent of denominational control that subsisted entirely on independent donations. The “mustard seed” of the Gospel, so small in the beginning, began to finally come to maturity and truly become a home for all the birds of the air – the Church became a house of prayer for all nations.

As David Livingstone, missionary to Africa preached:

Missionaries do not live before their time. Their great idea of converting the world to Christ is no chimera: it is divine. Christianity will triumph. It is equal to all it has to perform (David Livingstone).

19th Century Reformed Theologians

It is also notable that the greatest theologians of the 19th century were fueled in their study of Scripture by a postmillennial hope. Literally, volumes could be filled with the optimistic quotes of these great men concerning the advancement of the kingdom of God.

C.H. Spurgeon

The “prince of preachers,“ Charles Haddon Spurgeon, was at various times in his ministry, either a classic premillennialist or a postmillennialist. However, Spurgeon always proclaimed an optimistic outlook.

I myself believe that King Jesus will reign, and the idols be utterly abolished: but I expect the same power which once turned the world upside down will still continue to do it. The Holy Ghost would never suffer the imputation to rest upon His holy name that he was not able to convert the world (Charles Spurgeon).

Charles Hodge

As therefore the Scriptures teach that the kingdom of Christ is to extend over all the earth; that all nations are to serve Him; and that all people shall call Him blessed; it is to be inferred that these predictions refer to a state of things which is to exist before the second coming of Christ. This state is described as one of spiritual prosperity; God will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh; knowledge shall everywhere abound; wars shall cease to the ends of the earth … This does not imply that there is to be neither sin nor sorrow in the world during this long period, or that all men are to be true Christians. The tares are to grow together with the wheat until the harvest. The means of grace will still be needed; conversion and sanctification will be then what they ever have been (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology).

B.B. Warfield

Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield stated that the world is indeed getting better, not worse.

… precisely what the risen Lord, who has been made head over all things for his church, is doing through these years that stretch between his first and second comings, is conquering the world to himself; and the world is to be nothing less than a converted world…. All conflict, then, will be over, the conquest of the world will be complete, before Jesus returns to earth.


Why Creeds and Confessions? (Book)

High Quality Paperback — 219 pages

Foundations in Biblical Orthodoxy

Driving down a country road sometime, you might see a church with a sign proudly proclaiming: “No book but the Bible — No creed but Christ.” The problem with this statement is that the word creed (from the Latin: credo) simply means “belief.” All Christians have beliefs, regardless of whether they are written.

Yet a single book containing the actual texts of the most important creeds of the early Church will not often be found. Out of the multitude of works on the evangelical Christian book market today, those dealing with the creeds of the Church are scarce.

Why Creeds and Confessions? provides a foundation of biblical orthodoxy as a defense against the false and truly heretical doctrines advanced by the spirit of this age.

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God's Law and SocietyGod's Law and Society (DVD)

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God’s Law and Society powerfully presents a comprehensive worldview based upon the ethical system found in the Law of God.

Speakers include: R.J. Rushdoony, George Grant, Howard Phillips, R.C. Sproul Jr., Ken Gentry, Gary DeMar, Jay Grimstead, Steven Schlissel, Andrew Sandlin, Eric Holmberg, and more!

Sixteen Christian leaders and scholars answer some of the most common questions and misconceptions related to this volatile issue:

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5. Was America founded as a Christian nation?
6. What about the separation of Church and State?
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Dr. Francis Schaeffer - A Christian Manifesto (DVD)

That Swiss Hermit Strikes Again!

Dr. Schaeffer, who was one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the twentieth century, shows that secular humanism has displaced the Judeo-Christian consensus that once defined our nation’s moral boundaries. Law, education, and medicine have all been reshaped for the worse as a consequence. America’s dominant worldview changed, Schaeffer charges, when Christians weren’t looking.

Schaeffer lists two reasons for evangelical indifference: a false concept of spirituality and fear. He calls on believers to stand against the tyranny and moral chaos that come when humanism reigns-and warns that believers may, at some point, be forced to make the hard choice between obeying God or Caesar. A Christian Manifesto is a thought-provoking and bracing Christian analysis of American culture and the obligation Christians have to engage the culture with the claims of Christ.

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The Abortion Matrix: Defeating Child Sacrifice and the Culture of Death (DVD)

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Is there a connection between pagan religion and the abortion industry?

This powerful presentation traces the biblical roots of child sacrifice and then delves into the social, political and cultural fall-out that this sin against God and crime against humanity has produced in our beleaguered society.

Conceived as a sequel and update to the 1988 classic, The Massacre of Innocence, the new title, The Abortion Matrix, is entirely fitting. It not only references abortion’s specific target – the sacred matrix where human beings are formed in the womb in the very image of God, but it also implies the existence of a conspiracy, a matrix of seemingly disparate forces that are driving this holocaust.

The occult activity surrounding the abortion industry is exposed with numerous examples. But are these just aberrations, bizarre yet anomalous examples of abortionists who just happen to have ties to modern day witchcraft? Or is this representative of something deeper, more sinister and even endemic to the entire abortion movement?

As the allusion to the film of over a decade ago suggests, the viewer may learn that things are not always as they appear to be. The Abortion Matrix reveals the reality of child-killing and strikes the proper moral chord to move hearts to fulfill the biblical responsibility to rescue those unjustly sentenced to death and to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 24:11,12; 31:8,9).

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The Silent Scream (DVD) Eight Languages

“When the lives of the unborn are snuffed out, they often feel pain, pain that is long and agonizing.” – President Ronald Reagan to National Religious Broadcasters Convention, January 1981

Ronald Reagan became convinced of this as a result of watching The Silent Scream – a movie he considered so powerful and convicting that he screened it at the White House.

The modern technology of real-time ultrasound now reveals the actual responses of a 12-week old fetus to being aborted. As the unborn child attempts to escape the abortionist’s suction curette, her motions can be seen to become desperately agitated and her heart rate doubles. Her mouth opens – as if to scream – but no sound can come out. Her scream doesn’t have to remain silent, however … not if you will become her voice. This newly re-mastered version features eight language tracks and two bonus videos.

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Languages: English, Spanish, French, South Korean, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, Japanese

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The Abortion Matrix DVD: Update

The Abortion Matrix:
Defeating Child Sacrifice and the Culture of Death

is a 195-minute presentation that traces the biblical roots of child sacrifice and then delves into the social, political and cultural fall-out that this sin against God has produced. You can order this series on DVD, read the complete script and view clips on-line...
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