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Propositions of Preterism
by Samuel Frost
...We do not seek to ostracize, de-fellowship or break any relations with any members who are seekers of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. It is unfortunate, rather, than many of our brothers and sisters have done just that......We do not seek to ostracize, de-fellowship or break any relations with any members who are seekers of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. It is unfortunate, rather, than many of our brothers and sisters have done just that...1. The Scriptures are the guide of the church, as Calvin called them, and are the only infallible rule of faith, life and practice.
2. The Creeds are subordinate “helps” of the Church to show that which, in general, has been agreed upon.
3. Therefore, the creeds are only authoritative in so much as they agree with the Scripture.
A. Since it is so readily seen that the Reformed Standards disagree from the Councils of the Roman Catholic Church, then one must decide, on the basis of Scripture and Scripture alone, analyzing the Creeds, which confession and statement best lines up with the word of God.
2.1. Scriptures do not teach that God would erect Divine Councils that would decide all matters of what to believe and what not to believe.
2.2. Scriptures do not teach that the Church would derive its authority from Councils of men, fallible in authority.
2.3. Scriptures are viewed by the Apostles and Prophets as the very word of God, and no man, no council, no church has given them authority. They contain an innate authority derived from God alone in and of themselves.
2.4. No council “decided” what was and what was not “inspired.” Rather, in the Providence of God, the Scriptures, because of their own intrinsic value contained within themselves, impressed themselves upon the minds of churchmen who merely recognized them as the very words penned by the inspired authors. Were there no council to recognize the general use of the Hebrew (Greek) Bible and the New Testament letters and Gospels, they would have continued to have been read as they were in the first two centuries of the church, when there was no council that decided their inclusion. Whether recognized as inspired or not, they are inspired simply because of the superintendence of God.
3.1 The use of creeds and councils, confessions and dogmatic theology as “helps” are not standards by which any Christian is obliged to blindly follow. Rather, each Christian must make a decision to follow which confession, council and standard he or she may adhere. This person does so by either submitting blindly or by making a decision based on a thoroughgoing study of the statement being propounded (see Calvin’s Inst. 4.9.8).
3.2 Since the Scriptures and the Scriptures alone are infallible and inspired, all statements found in the councils, regardless of their general assent by the majority of the church (ad populum – appeal to the masses, which is a logical fallacy); and regardless of the length of time they may have enjoyed as being “the faith of the church” (appeal to tradition – equally a fallacy), does not make them absolutely guaranteed teachings derived from Scripture.
3.3 However, since it is never wise to throw out that which the majority of the church has believed, when a statement is challenged, the matter must be one in which further insight and development within the church has caused justifiable reason to challenge a given statement of the creeds.
3.4 The church is not given any authority to devise teachings that are not found in the Scriptures and has every right to overturn any proposition that has been received as “dogma” provided that a reasonable and justifiable case from the Scriptures, developed within the ongoing historical insight of her members, can be made.
A. It can be readily shown that the historical foundations of preterism are derived from the early church, and that these, based upon following up further their implications and logical, exegetical ramifications (often left untraced) throughout the development of thought within the church, provided the basis for preterism today (and by the 19th century the case was fully developed because of these earlier insights provided).
3.5 If the case that opposes any proposition found within the Creeds and confessions can be shown, then it must be shown that a) it is in linear development from within the dialogue of the church universal; b) it can maintain the vocabulary of the creeds, even though it may change the wording; c) it rests primarily upon the support of the Scriptures.
A. For example, if one denied Jesus’ “coming a second time” entirely, he would be in danger of denying a doctrine of Scripture. However, the Bible teaches that Jesus came again a second time in that first generation of saints, which immediately places its statements in contradiction to the wording of the creeds. The creeds, post the first century generation, posits a coming again a second time at the end of world history to usher in the “age to come” and “eternal life.” Therefore, those who argue the preterist view do not deny a second coming, but would, rather, have the wording of creeds reflect the more biblical position in light of where the church is now in her understanding of that once and for all delivered truth. That is, “And he would come again” or “and he has come again to judge the living and the dead.” And, rather than “I look forward to life in the age to come” it should be “I enjoy life in the age to come.” Of course, the whole church must come to this conclusion, and eventually will, so that this change of understanding of these great and ancient doctrines occurs universally. It is to this end that few within the body of Christ have already taken up the endeavor to reform the church in this particular doctrine.
3.6 It is a settled matter of logic proper that “Some A is not B” cannot ever imply that “No A is B”. Therefore, it is entirely false to say that if one or some proposition of the Creeds is not true, then no proposition of the Creeds are true. Those who make the case that preterists must abandon the entire historico-theological enterprise of the holy church universal simply because they take issue with the wording of one or some proposition(s) received within the Creeds are guilty of a logical fallacy. The charge can be dismissed easily.
3.7 No man operates in a vacuum. No true Bible-believing Christian operates apart from traditions. However, “An unexamined tradition is not worth following” (Jaroslav Pelikan). Traditions, as such, imply development from within those in dialogue with it. Development seeks two things: continuity and identity within the larger dialogue. Since it is a statement of fact that no man can claim infallibility (only the Bible claims this), the Reformers opted for their slogan semper reformanda. This means always reforming in light of development of thought, yet always with a foot placed in the past. The church has waged theological wars of the past, beginning with the Nature of the Triune God and the Son based upon the revealed word of God. Eschatology never came into the forefront as it did (and now is) since the nineteenth century. The Reformation did not seek to pin down an eschatology, but accepted the traditional outline given in earlier Creeds. However, its exegetical methodology, which sought to interpret Scriptures in light of the time and occasion of their original penning, set the church into motion towards a more rigorous Scriptural hermeneutic. This led to an explosion of commentaries and historical, analytical criticism, both good and bad. The recent light of archeological texts is equally having a profound effect upon biblical studies that have shed light on a great deal of matters. We cannot, then, logically accept that the church had it all figured out by the fourth century. It can be easily seen, if one accepts semper reformanda, that the church has developed her thought in many areas over the centuries. Preterists affirm one principle in which this development must ever be grounded in: sola Scriptura. This is defined as Scripture being the “absolute” and “prior” norm, whereas tradition is important but secondary. The further findings of the former can overturn, therefore, the held positions of the latter provided in what has been outlined here.
Preterism can safely continue its exegetical enterprise based on these principles that clearly place it within what is now called Evangelicalism. It can safely proceed on the principles enumerated by the Reformers. It can, and does, find its base in the historico-theological traditions and exegetical theology of the church as a whole, maintaining a dialogue throughout the centuries with those saints that have given any thought towards these matters. It seeks to correct where many have not seen the problems that are raised and believes that it does so with Scripture interpreting Scripture and logic. It is not a deviation from tradition, but a compliment of the one great tradition handed down by God to the holy authors of Sacred Writ. That once and for all contained tradition within the pages of the Bible has been addressed for 2,000 years and counting, and will continue to be addressed by those who believe that “all Scripture is God-breathed.” The Church must receive what is incontrovertible, but reject what raises serious problems in order to work out a solution within its own traditions that best resolves these problems for the sake of maintaining biblical truth (even if this means eliminating older paradigms which have created the problems in the first place). There will be, and always have been, cries of “heresy” from self-proclaimed “purists” and “keepers of the traditions”. This is to be expected. But, the ever faithful, and, in Luther’s case, the faithful few, keep raising the issues and pointing out the hypocrisy, arbitrariness, and inconsistency until such a voice is raised within the holy church that the “few” become the “many.”
In light of all of this, preterists seek for peace and brotherhood amongst all those who confess the resurrection of the Second Person of the Godhead and His Lordship, the inerrancy of the Divine Word and His commandments. We do not seek to ostracize, de-fellowship or break any relations with any members who are seekers of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. It is unfortunate, rather, than many of our brothers and sisters have done just that. What is equally unfortunate is that they do so not on the basis of the Scriptures, but on the basis of traditional readings of the Scriptures (which they, admittedly, believe “can and may err”). May God continue to give his church light.