Conducting research on kingdom exclusion, I’ve been listening to some of A. Edwin Wilson’s sermons, which I obtained through various online sources. Wilson, along with Watchman Nee, may well be among the earliest proponents of millennial exclusion, the idea that salvation is not strictly by grace, but by striving for the kingdom. What I’ve noticed is that he systematically recasts scripture to fit his theological supposition. His analysis of the Golden Rule is one such case.
In an undated sermon (audio link), Wilson says, “The Golden Rule is only for saved people… [it] has nothing to do with the lost.” What follows are a series of examples to demonstrate the point. He notes that you would not give a con man your choice business leads. A judge would not free a condemned man simply because he would want to be freed himself. But this is a red herring: Jesus’s audience would not have understood the Golden Rule this way.
So Wilson’s analysis is based on a false supposition. What follows is an astonishing misinterpretation of the Rule.
This is how he interprets it: “As one Christian, you treat another Christian like you would want to be treated.” That Jesus thought only of Christians — a class of people that did not properly exist until after the resurrection — is extraordinary. Jesus was instructing Jews; he was teaching the law of Moses; his words applied to all who were present.
Wilson’s motivation is clear. He restricts the Golden Rule so that he can apply the succeeding “judgment” passages (Matt. 7:13-23) to the body of Christ. Thus revised, scripture now says that Christians will be punished in the millennial kingdom, a thing not depicted in Rev. 20 or elsewhere, except through creative reinterpretation.
“When we come to these next few verses,” he explains, “they are like so many passages of scripture in the Bible just grabbed immediately and applied to lost people. Consequently [they] have no meaning or significance whatever, because a lost person cannot be involved in these.”
That is not fundamentally true. The crowds that followed Jesus were not Christian, but Jewish, so his words did indeed apply to the lost, “for the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10, ESV). Restricting the Golden Rule to the body of Christ is confounding, for it limits the ministry of Jesus to a people who did not yet exist.
There is also a sense of vulgarity in Wilson’s analysis. At one point, he (jokingly?) says he does not share fellowship with just anyone, but only specially selected individuals. “I guess I have a peculiar mind or thoughts. There are a lot of places I don’t want to go; there are a lot of places I don’t care to attend [long pause]. One reason I don’t go to lots of places is because I don’t want them returning the visit [chuckling].”
He adds: “The Golden Rule should occasion no difficulty for the Christian, just treat the other Christians like you want to be treated yourself.”
Apparently, practicing the Golden Rule is an exercise in determining who is a Christian and who is not, for otherwise why would Wilson avoid the company of certain persons? We find the exclusionary principle of his doctrine extends beyond the millennial kingdom to the present age.
To restrict this portion of scripture to Christians is profane. It’s also novel. We do not find this understanding in the New Testament or in the writings of the early church fathers or even in the work of the reformers. Nor is Wilson consistent in his views. At one point, he affirms that the Golden Rule is quite universal, saying it is a concept found even in other religions. He answers stating that the lost cannot fulfill the Golden Rule and therefore it is “meaningless” to them. But why then did Jesus teach it? Why did he tell the Jews that treating others as you would have them treat you is “the law and the prophets”? It must have meant something to that audience.
Wilson’s principal concern, however, is not the Golden Rule, but the judgment passages that follow. Lacking explicit references to millennial exclusion, he must reinterpret scripture to say this other thing. The consequences are frightening, and this is no more obvious than in his interpretation of the Golden Rule.
© 2008, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.