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.
This is not to say it is entirely unknown. Chitwood’s writings pop up everywhere, largely as he allows free distribution of his work. Nee is quite well-known and perhaps the most prominent figure. Further, the basic concept of exclusion — judgment of the believer after death — is commonplace. Catholics maintain the doctrine of purgatory, which in many ways, despite claims to the contrary by Faust and others, parallels kingdom exclusion. More generally, many Christians suspect that some form of negative judgment will befall them for unfaithfulness.
The most popular form of “exclusion” is the belief that Christians will occupy positions or experience rewards commensurate with their faithfulness. This form is mild, though so mild that it is hardly emphasized, thus constituting a mere sentiment.
Scriptures do speak of judgment. “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pet. 4:17). “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:14-15). Contextually, though, these and other passages do not imply exclusion (defined as the temporary punishment of carnal Christians in the millennial kingdom). Peter speaks of the judgment of the “household” of God, not individuals. Paul speaks of the testing of works in the context of ministry, not the punishment of believers.
The overriding concern is grace, the defining aspect of our faith. The radical forms of exclusion deal with this concern in so complex a manner that it becomes nearly intelligible. The doctrine of exclusion, they say, is not taught in any one place in scripture, but all over. One must intertwine various passages and verses to arrive at the correct doctrine of exclusion. Problematically, the leading figures of exclusion believe radically different things about it. These two factors probably account for its failure to take hold. It is complex and contradictory, and there is no one version of it. That exponents of exclusion claim it’s what the scriptures really say complicates matters further, for they simply do not say the same things.
For these reasons, kingdom exclusion probably won’t become any more common tomorrow than it is today.
© 2009, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.