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?

Having asked this question before, I offer a summary of the common replies:

1. The Olivet discourse (Matt. 24-25) — In the time leading up to Christ’s crucifixion, Jesus lays out an apocalyptic vision of things to come. Exclusionists note the hearer is warned to be prepared. Failure to be so results in negative judgment. They claim that the “kingdom of God” in the Olivet discourse is the millennial kingdom (I question this assumption), and they maintain the parables are warnings to Christians, not the general reader. If Christians fail to live up to some (undefined) standard of righteousness, they will be punished in the millennial kingdom.

Though exclusionists affirm that eternal salvation is by grace, they hold that salvation from the coming judgment is by works. This type of salvation, sometimes called soul salvation, will be realized in the millennial kingdom.

Objections:

A. There are too many punishments. If the Olivet discourse describes the temporary punishment of Christians in the millennial kingdom, what is the punishment? Is it being cut up and cast with the hypocrites (Matt. 24:50-51)? Rejected like unprepared virgins (Matt. 25:1-13)? Cast into outer darkness (Matt. 25:30)? Or cast into the fire which is prepared for the devil (Matt. 25:41)? The variety of opinion among exclusionists suggests an answer is not possible. (Chitwood holds that carnal Christians will be cast into the lake of fire[4. “The Second Death” — http://lampbroadcast.org/plets/phtm6/SecondDeath.html]; Faust that carnal Christians will be beaten with a rod of fire coming from Christ’s mouth[5. The Rod: Will God Spare It?, p. 145, which I must quote: “Notice that the sword of the Lord’s mouth is also His punishing rod, which He will yield at the second coming.” — emphasis is Faust’s.]; others, that carnal Christians will be cast into a place of deep regret or outer darkness.)

B. None of the punishments in the Olivet discourse is temporary.

C. The “kingdom of God”/”kingdom of heaven” is no where described as being a thousand-year period. (For that matter, the thousand-year rule of Christ [Rev. 20] is never called the “kingdom of God;” the kingdom of God arrives, in one sense, when Satan is thrown down to Earth [Rev. 12:10], but beyond chapter 12, the term, “kingdom of God,” is not employed. That the millennial kingdom is coextensive of the kingdom of God is unsupportable.)

D. Jesus establishes a context for interpreting the Olivet discourse in Matt. 24:36-44. In that section, the “unprepared” are plainly those who disregard salvation.

2. The parable of the ten minas (Luke 19:11-27) — Exclusionists view this parable as an example of kingdom exclusion. In it, a master returns and judges his servants who were given the management of his finances. Exclusionists maintain that the master is the Lord and that the servants are Christians. Since the faithful servants are given charge of cities, faithful Christians will likewise rule something (I can’t be more specific as exclusionists are vague as to what it is the faithful Christians will rule). The unfaithful servant is the carnal believer who is condemned.

Objections:

1. The unfaithful servant is not punished temporarily. Condemned by his own words (vs. 22), his mina is taken from him and given to another. His mina is never restored.

2. Similarities between this parable and that of the talents suggest Jesus taught on themes, employing allegorical narratives to illustrate ideas. If the details are important, why is there no clear picture of exclusion? The parable of the minas does not clarify the teaching, but rather adds yet more conflicting ideas. In the millennial kingdom, will carnal Christians merely lose something or will they be “cut up” and cast with the hypocrites?

Summary:

Proponents of exclusion acknowledge that the temporary punishment of Christians is never mentioned in Revelation. To say that it is explained elsewhere is problematic. First, reading any doctrine into a text is unsound. Second, reading a doctrine into a text that is not explicitly mentioned in other places is dangerous, for it results in doctrines that contradict biblical truths.

That the thousand-year rule of Christ was hidden from the church until late in the first century should preclude the teaching. How could Paul or Peter or the evangelists have known about the millennial kingdom, if God did not reveal it until around 90 A.D., when John had his revelation? How could they have taught millennial exclusion?

© 2008, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.

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