There is considerable interest in knowing the origins of “kingdom exclusion,” the notion that carnal Christians will be excluded/punished in the millennial kingdom. The difficulty in tracing KE is that there is a similar, preexisting doctrine: Catholic purgatory. Advocates of KE reject the idea that exclusion and purgatory are alike, but similarities are too striking. As pointed out in this previous article (see here), both exclusion and purgatory occur at the time of the judgment and both are physical localities, etc. There are significant differences to be sure, but enough similarities to merit comparison. Exclusion is ultimately a reinvention of purgatory.
Exclusionism stems from dispensationalism. Introduced in the early 1800s, dispensationalism holds that all history is divided into several, distinct “administrations” or dispensations. In each period, God dealt differently with man and man’s sin. There are no set number of dispensations, though minimally two are suggested: the dispensation of the old covenant and the dispensation of the new. Most significantly, dispensationalists advanced the idea that the millennial kingdom is the culminating point of human history, as opposed to the eternal kingdom.
Shortly after the introduction of dispensationalism, a number of Protestant theologians began to consider how God would deal with sins committed after ones conversion. What would happen to Christians who lived carnally? What would happen to Christians who failed to walk in the good works God which had created for them since the foundation of the world. Men such as Robert Govett suggested there might be punishment, though they did not commit themselves to the idea.
Exclusion as it is known today emerges in the early 20th century. First, Watchman Nee, a Chinese convert and dispensationalist, advanced the idea that carnal Christians would be purged with fire in the millennial kingdom. If someone held this view earlier, I am not aware. By the mid-20th century, similar teachings were being advanced by the likes of A. Edwin Wilson and numerous others.
Today, exclusion exists in many forms — there is no one theory about exclusion, but several different ones. Some, like Nee, advanced the idea that exclusion purges the carnal believer of his sins; others, like Pastor J.D. Faust, argue that exclusion is punishment (not purgation); others are simply vague: Arlen L. Chitwood holds that carnal Christians will suffer the hurt of the second death, but he does not explain what this means.
Exclusionists ultimately conclude that the blood of Christ is not adequate to fully redeem the believer: some Christians will not be prepared for the judgment; they cannot directly attain the Kingdom of God. Ironically, this is the underlying premise of purgatory. According to the Catholic catechism, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven” (source).
The traditional Protestant objection to purgatory is that there is no intermediate judgment to be found in the scriptures. The blood of Christ wholly cleanses the believer of sin (past, present and future sin). Granted, purgatory is a matter over which Catholics and Protestants might politely disagree. The New Testament does speak of judgment, the scriptures do speak of purification. Fortunately, Catholics and Protestants maintain that believers are “indeed assured of their eternal salvation.” Protestant exclusionists, however, find themselves in a strange situation. They reject purgatory as heresy, yet advance similar ideas. They seem entirely disassociated from historical reality.
I note finally that exclusionism seems to become more radicalized as it develops. While Nee speaks of purification, later exclusionists, such as Chitwood, speak of salvation. Now, exclusion is a type a salvation. In Chitwood’s case, this form is limited to one aspect of a person’s being, the soul, but it is nevertheless a form a salvation. In a breathless swoop, he reconstructs the doctrine of works-salvation, long rejected by Protestants and Catholics.
The apostle Peter warns against works-salvation: “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first” (2 Peter 2:20). My hope is that by researching exclusion, well-meaning Christians might not fall into this theological mire.