Monthly Archives: August 2008

Reply to Rob Matlack on “Word of the Kingdom”

Note: Pastor Rob Matlack published a response to my critique on the “Word of the Kingdom.” I had not planned to respond, but as I have been asked about it by more than one person, I offer the following—

Rob Matlack is profoundly ignorant of the issues surrounding the “Word of the Kingdom,” as propagated by Arlen L. Chitwood, a noted author, and John Herbert, pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Jacksonville, Florida. In his paper, A Response to “A Critique of the Word of the Kingdom Teaching,” he states that he “would reject” the idea that carnal Christians will spend 1,000 years in the lake of fire, yet that is precisely the view of Chitwood and Herbert.

Chitwood: “Revelation 2:11 is dealing with Christians, relative to overcoming or being overcome. And in the light of Rev. 20:4-6; 21:7, 8, which deals with the same subject, Rev. 2:11 can mean only one thing: Nonovercoming Christians are going to be ‘hurt of the second death,’ defined in Scripture as having ‘their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone (Rev. 21:8b)’” (source).

Herbert: “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” (source).

Matlack states that while he is “unclear on many points of Word of the Kingdom teaching,” he is comfortable distributing Chitwood’s work, apparently unconcerned that Chitwood propounds a doctrine he emphatically rejects. I do not understand this confidence. Further, I do not understand his writing on a subject that he is, admittedly, uninformed. In his introduction, he writes, “It is difficult to evaluate the validity of Mr. Adams’ concern because I could find no copy of the document referenced.” Yet, an exhaustive bibliography and endnotes are provided in the critique, and note: there is not one document, butseveral. He continues, “Again my purpose is not to confirm or defend any position held by any individual or organization, but to address the point of doctrine in question.” But what is the question? If he could not find the “document,” how does he know what it says or that I misrepresent its points? I believe that he either knows more than he admits, or that he has rashly undertaken to defend a thing he is ignorant of.

Throughout Matlack’s reply there is an overwhelming sense of feigned objectivity. “This response will not attempt to support or defend any individual or organization, but it will attempt to evaluate what the Bible says in these areas. It is often noted that the Jews of Berea were more fair-minded than those who drove Paul out of Thessalonica because they were willing to evaluate what Paul said by the Scriptures rather than their traditions. May we also avoid the prejudices of tradition?” Of course, Matlack cannot answer this question, for he does not apprehend the teaching in question.

His analysis of scripture and the critique is incomplete in several ways:

1. He never establishes that there is a separate work of salvation for the soul (one of three aspects of salvation in the “Word of the Kingdom” teaching).

2. He suggests that in my critique the term, save, is always understood to mean eternal salvation. That is not the case, yet he predicates much of his criticism on that belief.

3. He apologizes for several of Chitwood and Herbert’s statements, though he has not consulted either man as to their actual views. (Perhaps Matlack knows better what Chitwood and Herbert meant than those men themselves!) He writes, “The problem is that the two paragraphs of Herbert’s sermon could easily be understood, and probably should be understood…” (emphasis mine). How does he know this?

4. He dismisses out-of-hand the third point of my critique, offering no explanation other than that I’m “guilty” of doing the things I argue Chitwood and Herbert have done. Again, if he could not find the “document,” how does he know what was in view?

Without a point of reference, Matlack’s objectivity is in question. When he writes, “Again not having the tract that Adams was concerned about it is difficult to clearly evaluate his paper,” one wonders whether he is defending Chitwood and Herbert’s view of scripture (the subject of my critique) or his own. I suggest that Matlack read the numerous works cited in the bibliography before attempting an analysis of my critique.

Postscript: Matlack has not given me permission to redistribute his paper, and, in view of his professed ignorance on the subject, I am disinclined to share it. Also, please note that I have communicated these concerns directly to Matlack via e-mail.

Why I research Kingdom Exclusion

“First of all, you must understand this: No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever originated through a human decision. Instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21, ISV).

In November 2007, I published a critique of the teaching commonly known as the “Word of the Kingdom.” The occasion was a circumstance that had arisen at Mountain Bible Church, where I am youth pastor. The teaching had been introduced by members two years earlier, and was the source of some alarm. After a period of extensive review, the eldership concluded that the teaching “clearly adds to the Gospel message and leads to a very specific point of view that departs from traditional evangelical Christianity.” Officially, the eldership decided that they would not “support” or “recommend” the teaching nor would they permit the “Word of the Kingdom” to be taught at church-sponsored events. Subsequently, my critique, which was intended as a personal response to the teaching, was endorsed by the eldership (many of whom edited and commented on the working drafts). Simultaneously, I published the critique at Agabus.com, my personal blog, to initiate a period of public comment on three critical objections raised in my paper. A number of people responded, and I am actively corresponding with those who are interested in this topic.

Admittedly, the critique reflects a local concern, and that is problematic, as a few points require “inside” knowledge. I choose to publish it on the world-wide web because I felt the paper could nevertheless be useful to others in similar circumstances.

I am currently working on a second critiquea, and I have expanded the focus to include the doctrine of “kingdom exclusion” or “millennial exclusion,” a school of thought promoting the idea of a “temporary punishment of unfaithful Christians at the judgment seat and during the millennial kingdom” (J.D. Faust, The Rod, Will God Spare It?). This doctrine is relatively obscure, and, as such, has not been examined by the Christian community at large. Much of what has been published about millennial exclusion originates from proponents of the doctrine. The second critique will more generally address the topic.

In accordance with the scripture quoted above, I believe this teaching should be reviewed by a body of competent scholars and lay people. I am issuing such a call.

Anecdotal observations:

1. Millennial exclusion is a form of dispensationalism. Its advocates are predominantly pre-millennialists.

2. ME is a relatively new doctrine, originating perhaps in the early- to mid-20th century. As such, it is not commonly known. For reference, consider Cornerstone Christian Fellowship’s assertion that “most churches today emphasize the gospel of grace, but do not teach the gospel of the glories of Christ” (link). Cornerstone is a “kingdom” or “exclusionist” congregation.

3. In some manner, ME is a reworking of the Catholic notion of purgatory (proponents of ME categorically reject this point).

4. There is a tendency toward modalism, i.e. God switching between Father, Son and Spirit (this observation bears some threshing out—it has been observed elsewhere).

5. ME is maintained by a diverse—and sometimes divergent—body of believers, including Watchman Nee, Arlen L. Chitwood, A. Edwin Wilson, and J.D. Faust.

6. ME employs an allegorical hermeneutical method based on types and antitypes.

7. ME has not been codified systematically; there are divergent strains.

8. Advocates of ME typically avoid naming this doctrine, insisting that what they teach is simply what one finds in scripture. They generally avoid appellation. (I have adopted the term, millennial exclusion, on two grounds: it is an apt descriptor and it has been applied by some advocates of the doctrine of “temporary punishment.”)

9. ME is not promoted as a new teaching. Its advocates often claim they are simply “going deeper” into scripture or are “studying the full counsel of scripture.” They also suggest that all they are doing is letting the “scripture speak for itself.” Implied in this view is the idea that ME is not an interpretation of scripture.

10. ME attempts to reconcile the doctrines of eternal security to warnings in the New Testament against immoral conduct and also exhortations to finish well.

11. ME promotes three modes of salvation, viewing man as a tripartite or triune being. The spirit is saved by grace. The salvation of the soul emanates from grace but is “determined by works” (see Cornerstone’s statement of faith, for example). The salvation of the body is realized at the resurrection, and its state is determined by the condition of the soul.

12. MEists tend toward King-James-onlyism, i.e. the preference of the King James Bible over modern translations, typically rooted in theological concerns.

These anecdotal observations (some of which are documented in my critique) require further research and critical analysis.

My aim is to research these points objectively, and thus I submit them to the Christian community at large. Public comment is welcome.

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.