Category Archives: Kingdom Exclusion

Is it possible to read Revelation literally?

literal (adj.) — in accordance with, involving, or being the primary or strict meaning of the word or words; not figurative or metaphorical: the literal meaning of a word (resource)

When Christians talk about reading Revelation literally, what do they mean? Is John the Revelator literally addressing seven contemporary churches (circa 90 A.D.), or is he addressing the church today? I have always considered that John was speaking to his contemporaries, but I also maintain that Revelation is for the church today. However, I believe it must be read figuratively in many places.

Nearly all kingdom exclusionists hold that Revelation should be interpreted literally, but what is meant by that varies.

Some insist upon a literal reading of all passages. For example, J.D. Faust maintains that a “sharp two-edged sword” actually comes out of the mouth of Jesus (cf. Rev. 1:16 and elsewhere). “After the judgment seat, the fiery sword of the Lord’s mouth will judge Christians that have lived unfaithfully and have not repented in this life.”[1. The Rod: Will God Spare It?, p. 148, emphasis Faust’s)] Should the reader really understand that a “sharp two-edged sword” actually proceeds from Christ’s mouth? Is not that reading forced?

Others indicate that Revelation should be understood literally and figuratively in some places, but figuratively in other places. For example, Arlen L. Chitwood maintains that the church of Laodicea was literally a church in a physical locality, but that we must also accept “the Laodicean Church of today” as a true, spiritual (i.e. figurative?) entity.[2. Judgment Seat of Christ, http://www.lampbroadcast.org/JSOC11.html.] In other places, no literal meaning is to be accepted. For example, Chitwood maintains that Christians will suffer the hurt of the second death, but not literally. In a reply to an e-mail inquiry, Chitwood explains, “Where Scripture uses metaphors, I’ve remained within that framework.” He adds, “Christians being cast into outer darkness, Gehenna, a furnace of fire, or the lake of fire, are simply four different ways Scripture uses to point to the same thing, using four literal things in metaphorical senses.”[3. Between May and June of 2008, I posed several questions to Chitwood by e-mail, and we maintained a brief correspondence on the subject.] Unfortunately, he does not explain what will literally happen to so-called carnal Christians at the judgment seat of Christ. Perhaps, nothing will happen.[4. In his published writings, posted at LampBroadcast.org, he makes no mention of the things he confessed in his e-mail. When I pointed out that most of the followers of his teaching believe Christians will be literally cast into the lake of fire, he discontinued our correspondence. His followers, such as John Herbert, a pastor at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, teaches, “Those Christians denied a position with Christ in His kingdom, because of the choices they will have made during their Christian life, will find themselves outside of the heavenly city, separated from the Light, in the lake of fire for the duration of the Millennial Kingdom” (http://www.cornerstonejacksonville.com/files/messagenotes/2005-11-06_matthew13_12.pdf). A similar view is held by another Cornerstone fellowship in Los Gatos, California. Adapting notes from Herbert’s outlines, Jeanne Alley presents the following: “And if we choose not to heed this warning, the consequence are given in – Revelation 21:8 ‘But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.'” In this instance, she is not speaking of the unsaved, but “ourselves here in the local body” (http://www.cornerstonelosgatos.com/EphesiansPartEight.php — opens as a PDF).]

If anything, Revelation should be read comprehensibly, should it not?

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From whence did it come?

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.

How appealing is kingdom exclusion?

Studied as a social phenomenon, how widespread is kingdom exclusion? Over a year ago, I began my research, but was confronted by a paucity of data on the teaching. Granted, Watchman Nee, Arlen L. Chitwood and J.D. Faust have written exhaustively on the subject, but few others have. It is not studied in universities or seminaries – several calls to professors reveal it is not even known. Few churches teach it. Few websites promote it (a search of key words at Google Trends reveals there is not enough data to establish a trend). Most Christians have never heard of it.

Continue reading How appealing is kingdom exclusion?

Mechanics: How does it all work?

About a year or so ago, I spoke with J.D. Faust about kingdom exclusion as part of my research. Faust is the author of The Rod, Will God Spare It?, a text which purports to recount the history of exclusion theology (it’s decidedly not that, but rather a presentation of his own theology). Within five minutes of the conversation, we were debating the topic. I did not make secret my reservations about KE, and posed several challenging questions. Faust, liking a good argument, posed several challenging questions of his own. Essentially the argument rested on the question of what we are to make of sin committed after ones conversion. Sins committed before conversion are obviously forgiven — a person can do nothing to absolve ones sins except rely on the grace of God. But what are we to make of sins committed after conversion?

Continue reading Mechanics: How does it all work?

Searching for the origins of Kingdom Exclusion

Despite J.D. Faust’s claim that exclusion is represented in the writings of the early church fathers, I have not been able to date KE[1. KE is an abbreviation for “Kingdom Exclusion.”] before the 20th century. (For the purposes of this discussion, it appears I must disregard the Catholic Church’s teaching on purgatory, which Faust and other Protestant exclusionists argue is a corruption of the scriptures. If we include purgatory, exclusion dates very many centuries earlier.) Several figures in the 19th century hint at it, perhaps, but I have not found explicit statements to that effect (particularly ones that can be confirmed by historians).

Continue reading Searching for the origins of Kingdom Exclusion

What is Kingdom Exclusion?

Kingdom exclusion maintains that one class of Christians will be excluded from the millennial kingdom for faithlessness. Called “nonovercomers,” these believers will be excluded from the 1,000-year-rule of Christ (cf. Rev. 20) for chastisement. Some exclusionists believe that nonovercoming Christians will be temporarily cast into the lake of fire; others that they will be excluded to a place of deep regret.

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Kingdom Exclusion is absent in scripture

I first encountered the doctrine of Kingdom Exclusion some 15 years ago, attending a church in Santa Cruz, California. The pastor there asserted, as a parenthesis, that some Christians will dine at the table in the kingdom, while others will serve the table. He explained, briefly, that how we live our lives in the present determines how we will reign in the kingdom.

I recall thinking the idea had merit. Certainly, we are storing up for ourselves treasures in heaven; perhaps, this will be realized as a position we occupy in the kingdom. But I was discomforted by the fact “exclusion” is not explicitly taught in scripture. No matter its appeal to our sensibilities (I recall the pastor was applauded for the statement), if exclusion is not present in scripture, it cannot be asserted doctrinally.

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Kingdom Exclusion: A theological challenge

Those who follow this blog know I have written extensively on Kingdom Exclusion, the belief that “carnal” Christians will be temporarily punished during the thousand-year rule of Christ (Rev. 20). The teaching is not widely known, but where it is taught, controversy ensues. My objection is twofold: first, it promotes salvation by works; second, it is nonexistent in scripture. The latter is the subject of this blog entry.[1. I discuss the first objection in my critique of the Word of the Kingdom, which is a variety of kingdom exclusion.]

The temporary punishment or exclusion of carnal Christians is not mentioned in Rev. 20, the sole reference to the millennial kingdom in scripture. Proponents of this teaching — J.D. Faust and Arlen Chitwood, among others — agree on this point.[2. I spoke with Faust on two occasions by telephone, and maintained a written correspondence through e-mail; for a time, I maintained an e-mail correspondence with Chitwood.] Though chapter 20 speaks of judgment, it does not depict the judgment of carnal Christians, yet this is the very place in which exclusion[3. I use “exclusion” and “kingdom exclusion” interchangeably in this essay.] is to be realized. It’s absence in a key text is fatal. Kingdom exclusion is, in my view, an unsuccessful attempt to reconcile the necessity of good works with free grace.

Proponents of exclusion counter that the doctrine is taught elsewhere, that its absence in a key text does not signify. But, if it is taught in other places, where?

Continue reading Kingdom Exclusion: A theological challenge

In conversation about Kingdom Exclusion

I’ve begun a dialogue with another blogger about Kingdom Exclusion. You can visit Steve Husting’s blog here. The question is whether some Christians will be temporarily excluded during the millennial kingdom. I do not believe there is any such reference; Husting believes there are many. Also, a years-long thread can be found at Theoblogian.org: click here.

Characteristics of Kingdom Exclusion

Kingdom Exclusion, sometimes Millennial Exclusion, is a form of dispensational theology predominant among a set of Baptist-leaning Christians. It assumes a premillennial view of history, but departs from traditional, evangelical Christianity on several points.

Major precepts:

• Millennial exclusion of carnal Christians (these will suffer in the lake of fire for one thousand years or else suffer exclusion from God’s presence during that time); eternal exclusion of non-believers
• Emphasis on assurance
• Emphasis on reward and ruling with Christ
• Emphasis on type and antitype, which effectively allegorizes vast portions of scripture (millennial exclusionists would not use the word “allegorize” though); others read the scripture quite literally.

Precepts of a more radicalized form:

• Tripartite man for the purpose of distinguishing three types/aspects of salvation (accomplished successively, not comprehensively)
• Soul salvation, a works-based mode of redemption—one might say it is merits-based (this conceptualization of salvation contradicts scripture)
• Separatistic—they do not generally accept fellowship with other Christians

This teaching is propagated by Arlen L. Chitwood and J.D. Faust. Other millennial exclusionists include the late Watchman Nee and the late A. Edwin Wilson. One should not conclude, however, that these figures represent a single school of thought, for each differs on key points, agreeing only on the major precepts.

Postscript: The term, Kingdom Exclusion, is employed by Faust in his work, The Rod, Will God Spare It?, and thus it is used here.