The heresies (among other things) that prompted the convening of counsels throughout Church History, in a manner of speaking, brought about maturing thoughts to the Creeds and Confessions. One such example might be the addition, at Constantinople, of the words, “whose kingdom shall have no end.”
The intent of the Counsel of course goes without saying, but it is interesting to me how simplistic the Ante-Nicene thought on eschatology was, as compared with the massive interpretations and theories available today.
Basically, the Nicene Creed states that Jesus will return in His glory to judge the living and the dead and, at Constantinople added, that His kingdom will be eternal.
The majority of Church History found itself content with this blessed hope of Jesus’ return, and refrained from speculative specifics as to just how God would enact the end times.
After the Reformation, not from Luther and Calvin mind you, Protestant theories began to populate theological discussions and eventually birthed the popular theory known as Dispensationalism. Numerous men became solely renowned for their contributions to this train of thought, which literalizes most of the difficult imagery found in the apocalyptic writings.
It would seem though that this type of interpretation goes against every founded principle the Church has historically accepted for rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
Here is why. Many modern day methods of interpreting the eschatological teachings of Scripture ignore a basic and necessary principle.
These letters were written to living and real people.
First and foremost, the letter’s message had to have applicable meaning to its original audience. We open the door to arrive at erroneous conclusions when we try to interpret the Scriptures as though they just arrived on the scene yesterday.
As an example, the recent phenom “Left Behind” series may make great fictional fodder for Christian entertainment, but I wonder what would be the response of the church at Philippi if we could send a copy back for their reading?
This isn’t meant to demean futurist’s efforts, as many believe and hold to their teachings, but to question the possibility of whether we’re allowed to interpret Scripture in light of the modern world, or are we better to retain the simple understanding of old that our Lord is one day returning in all of His glory to judge every person and to usher in His eternal Kingdom.
Maturing thoughts are one thing, but to say that we’re allowed to progressively adjust the Bible’s revelation of Jesus’ return is to admit that Scripture can say one thing in one generation and something totally different in another. It is this, by the way, that partially led Luther to declare the wrongness of Indulgences, which were introduced by name around the eleventh century. The Church argued against his conclusion by claiming Indulgences were always practiced, just done so unnamed, a thought pattern known as progressive revelation.
For Protestants, to succumb to a progressive revelation theory on any doctrine, means the necessary revisiting of Luther’s Thesis.
In conclusion, it is obvious that everything outside of the Creed’s simplistic proclamation is theoretical at best, heretical in some instances. I’m convinced an accurate understanding of last things is rightly applied when it leads us to live everyday as though Jesus may return before these words are typed (or read), but also as if He may not return for a million years. That way, we’re not only responsible for our own lives and our generation’s, but for countless generations to come to ensure they also hear the message of the glorious gospel; Jesus saves sinners, and He’s coming back to get us.