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.
The pastor did not elaborate on the teaching, and I did not question him about it — it was not the main part of his sermon. Years later, I encountered the teaching again, this time at the church where I am youth pastor. The elders at my church rejected exclusion, determining it “added” to the gospel; they forbade it to be taught at church-sponsored studies. (I should note that the form of exclusion we encountered is a radicalized form, which asserts that carnal Christians will suffer in the lake of fire for 1,000 years at the end of the age.) Thus, I began my research here at Agabus.com to examine, and ultimately refute, the teaching.
I am unapologictic in my assertion that exclusion is heretical.
To believe in exclusion — either the moderate or extreme forms — one must accept, uncritically, a number of suppositions:
1. The terms, “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven,” almost always refer to the millennial kingdom, mentioned in Rev. 20.
2. There are two types of Christians: overcomers and nonovercomers (or carnal believers).
3. Dozens of passages previously understood to involve the unrighteouness or unsaved (e.g. Rev. 21:8, in the extreme), apply to carnal Christians.
4. The punishment or exclusion of carnal Christians will be realized in the millennial kingdom, despite that Revelation never mentions it.
My chief complaint is that none of this is represented in scripture. The terms, “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven,” do not mean exclusively the millennial kingdom. In fact, Rev. 20, the one place where the thousand-year rule of Christ is described, never uses the expression “Kingdom of God” — that term is last mentioned in chapter 12, long before the appearence of the millennial kingdom. Further, no where in scripture is the “Kingdom of God” defined as a thousand-year period.
That there are types of Christians is unfounded. Certainly, Christians can live carnal lives (they should not), but that does not make them a type, as distinguishable as saved and unsaved.
The “warnings” passages, e.g. Matt. 25, used to support exclusion do not describe temporary punishment. This is an important point. Exclusionists adhere to “once saved, always saved,” so they do not claim exclusion is unending. Yet the passages they rely upon never mention a thousand-year period of exclusion or temporary punishment.
Lastly, in the one place wherein the millennial rule of Christ is found (Rev. 20), no mention is made of the temporary exclusion of so-called carnal Christians. Neither is it mentioned in any part of the Revelation. That none of exponents of exclusion find this problematic is extraordinary.
So, in the end, they propose something that is never mentioned in Revelation (the temporary exclusion of carnal Christians) and something that is never conceived of in the rest of the New Testament (that judgment is restricted to a thousand-year period). A few exclusionists acknowledge this point (see here), yet persist in their belief. What’s more extraodinary is that advocates of exclusion accuse the rest of the church of not teaching the full gospel. “Most churches today emphasize the gospel of grace, but do not teach the gospel of the glories of Christ,” asserts Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Jacksonville, Florida. I suggest there are other reasons why most churches do not teach the so-called “gospel of the glories,” chief among them being that such a thing is never contemplated in scripture.
© 2009, Mark Adams. All rights reserved.