Mission and Eschatology (2)
When I started working on my thesis somewhere in the 80s, I was really surprised to find the number of different eschatological models that people followed. Unless if you had done a doctorate in missiology or dogmatics, there is hardly any way in which you would find this interesting, so I’m going to skip all of this and come to the stuff that more people would be interested in and where we also find the greatest differences amongst Christians today, and this is how they understand the so-called millennium or thousand years of peace of which we read in Revelations 20:1-6. Here we could distinguish mainly between three models, namely pre-millennialism, post-millennialism and a-millennialism. Although it is a bit more complex than this, the place where you find yourself within these models will, to a great extent, determine how you see your missionary task. Or at least, that’s what I concluded after writing my thesis.
I’ll have to spread this over a few days, so for today I’ll concentrate on the main points of pre-millennialism. This group can roughly be defined as people who believe in an actual time of one thousand years of peace during which Christ, together with the church, will reign over the world and the nations. He will come before the start of the thousand years, hence pre-millennialism. Pre-millennialists also believe that the second coming is close at hand but that the second coming will be preceded by certain signs such as the evangelisation of all nations, the repentance of Israel, the great tribulation and the coming of the antichrist. Amongst the pre-millennialists there is a difference of opinion whether the world will be evangelised before the thousand years of before the great tribulation. Many evangelicals believe that the second coming of Christ cannot take place before the gospel had not been proclaimed to every single nation – one of those being Oswald Smith, to whom I referred earlier.
Two things stand out when speaking of pre-millennialism:
- Our life in this age is restricted
- The task which we have (to evangelise the world) is urgent
Especially the second point is important. One would therefore find that most pre-millennialists see evangelism as something of great urgency, emphasising the saving of people’s souls so that they will be ready when Jesus comes again. Although they are not opposed to social reform, they feel that the present age belongs to Satan and that no true reform can take place before Jesus had come to bind Satan.
Obviously I am fully aware that I am oversimplifying the topic, but in general a great number of traditional evangelicals fall into this category. And the danger in this is clear: If we only focus on the salvation of the soul, what is going to happen to the body? Or as someone once said: Some people are so focussed on heaven that they are of no earthly good!
On a next occasion I would like to describe in a nutshell what post-millennialism is about. But I think that I first want to write about something else tomorrow.
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This is a blog where I would like to share some of my ideas about contemporary mission. I have more than 25 years experience as a full-time missionary in Swaziland, have done a PhD on the theology of mission – specifically on the relationship between mission and eschatology – and am presently specialising in the problem of HIV/AIDS and how the church should approach this problem. You are welcome to respond and share your ideas on this blog.
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