All Israel Shall Be Saved - Part IV
Soon after Christ’s ascension and the death of the apostles, the early church was confronted with a multiplicity of errors and false teachings. In this series, we will continue to look at some of the major heresies that not only developed back then but continue to affect the church today. Many of these false teachings, as we have previously addressed, arose out of new methods of interpretation. The mixture of Greek philosophical thought, Gnosticism and the allegorization of Scriptures all made a toxic theological poison.
He has been called the “doctor of grace” and “the great teacher of the church” because of his influence on the doctrine of the church. Augustine still remains the theologian of theologians. His voice is so inflectional that a simple “Augustine says,” settled arguments. Augustine, to a large extent, laid the foundation for both Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrine. Sadly, much of what he taught was error.
Augustine is the greatest landmark in early church history of amillennialism. Prior to him, amillennialism was associated with the heresies that sprung out of the Alexandrian school of theology. As discussed in previous articles, they allegorized and spiritualized the Bible thereby producing an improper interpretation of God’s Word. Amillennialism simply means from the Greek “no-millennialism.” In Christian eschatology, it involves the rejection of the belief that Jesus will have a literal, thousand-year-long reign on earth. Although there were others before him, Augustine became the first theologian of influence and reputation who adopted amillennialism. As a result of his popularity and influence, his viewpoint became the prevailing doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, and later of the Reformers.
To Augustine, the present age was viewed as a conflict between the city of God and the city of Satan—the conflict between the church and the world. However, he believed that the present age of conflict is the millennium. He predicted that the end of the conflict would be in or around AD 650. He further believed that the binding of Satan began when the church began to spread from Jerusalem into other regions.
His interpretation of this chapter is evasive and not specific. He dismisses any literal view without argument. The reason he avoids embracing a literal view is based on the fact that some during his time viewed the millennium as a time of carnal enjoyment, which Augustine opposed, and said:
“This opinion (a future literal millennium after the resurrection) might be allowed, if it proposed only spiritual delight unto the saints during this space (and were once of the same opinion ourselves); but seeing the vouchers hereof affirm that the saints after this resurrection shall do nothing but revel in fleshly banquets, where the cheer shall exceed both modesty and measure, this is gross and fit for none but carnal men to believe.”
His theological interpretation was based on observation and personal discontentment with his failures to overcome the sinful nature. He did not realize that he could abandon this false teaching without abandoning the doctrine of the “literal” millennial reign of Christ on the earth. Surprisingly, he holds onto the literal time of 1,000 years. Instead of a future millennial time, he viewed it as the present age in which he lived. To him, the present age is the millennium promised in Revelation 20. Furthermore, he held to a future millennium to accommodate a total of seven millenniums, beginning from Adam. To Augustine, there is no future millennium—the present age is the millennium—Satan is bound, and then Jesus Christ returns, the present millennium will end and eternity will begin.
I do not believe we can find anything more clear in Scripture, the history of the church, and to all believer’s, that Satan is not bound but is doing his best to tempt, and to destroy the church, even unto today. He is an active foe. He is “as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Pet. 5:8). We are warned by the apostle Paul: “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (II Cor. 2:11). In dealing with married couples, Paul would recommend they do not separate sexually too long while seeking God, “that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency” (I Cor. 7:5).
When unrepentant misconduct was done by a church member at Corinth, Paul recommended, “to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (I Cor. 5:5).
Paul would speak of his own personal example of being buffeted by a messenger of Satan to keep him humble as a result of the revelations he received of God. The list goes on and on. James says we are to, “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
The very idea that Satan is bound in this present age clearly shows that Satan himself had tried to distort and distract the church from gaining the necessary weapons of our warfare to fight against him. No wonder that the Roman Catholic Church was—and is—so doctrinally polluted. Notwithstanding, much in the Protestant world as well.
The early Reformers could all be classified as amillennialists. Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk who often subscribed to Augustinian theology to affirm his beliefs. John Calvin was also recognized as a follower of Augustine and often quoted him as the authority of his doctrinal views.
In future articles, I will address some of the other errors and false teachings that began in the early church. Next month, I will deal with predestination.