The Preterist and the Institutional Church

So in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:5)

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Most preterists have felt a measure of alienation from the institutional church. Some have left the church; indeed, some have been asked to leave. This article is an appeal to preterists to come back to church with a spirit of unity, patience, and love. I too have wrestled with feelings of alienation. But there are good reasons to get over it and participate in the life of a Christian community. Here are some considerations:

  • The church is the bride of Christ. That should be enough in itself to keep us in it. The institutional church may be badly bent, but it’s not broken. It may be imperfect, but so are we.
  • It is good for the people whom the preterist can touch within a Christian fellowship. There are people who are hurting in many ways, and we have an obligation to serve. To think otherwise is selfish, it seems to me.
  • It is good, if not critically important, for the preterist himself to be a member of a fellowship. Historical Christianity is intrinsically and biblically a community of believers. Remember, too, that “iron sharpens iron.” To think that you can be a “Lone Ranger Christian” is the archway right out of the faith.
  • It is a positive example and an encouragement in faith for your family members.
  • The best way to spread the hope of the preterist message is as a participant in a Christian fellowship, rather than as an outside antagonist.

I have made my share of mistakes in dealing with people over disagreements about eschatology. But I have a few thoughts, having had some experience with this, that might help others avoid some of my mistakes. First, I see two goals in working into a healthy fellowship with other Christians:

  • Have a true desire to help others in their Christian walk. In other words, understand that you are not going into a church for what you can get out of it, but how you can assist others.
  • Develop the respect of others in the group. This is important in order to earn the right to share the preterist message with them.

You can’t just barge into the group and declare that Jesus has already returned. Tact is critical. It will take time to earn the right to share your views on eschatology in a meaningful way.

We should understand that the opportunity to serve in a leadership capacity is unlikely in most churches as a full preterist. However, most churches have a much simpler entrance exam for membership than for leadership. You may only need to be willing to confess your belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and acknowledge that you have repented of your sins to be accepted as a member. But, indeed, you may not even want to join the church at all. One can be a participant in most fellowships without being a member. Certainly, you should wait for the pastor to invite you into membership—and then only after you have discussed your views with him.

Get involved in the life of the church by attending church regularly and joining Bible study and service groups. You will have to decide whether to approach your pastor right away, to see if you are wasting your time there. You may want to hold off in order to prove yourself a valued participant in the life of the church. In most cases, the pastor will contact you as a prospective new member. In the meantime, try to earn the respect of the group: (a) Dress conservatively, (b) Show your willingness to function harmoniously within the group. (c) Try hard to get to know the people in the church (take them out to lunch, coffee, etc.), and (d) Speak out in study groups when you know what you are talking about. Don’t always try to come across as the expert on everything, even though you probably know MUCH more than the pastor on eschatology.

It is always better to ask questions rather than to make declaratory statements. Lawyers draw out truth by asking questions to which they already know the answer. For example, it is better to ask, “When do you think this passage was fulfilled?” rather than to say, “Obviously this passage was fulfilled in AD 70.” It is important to show both your knowledge and your willingness to learn from others.

When offering your opinions in Bible class, use such phraseology as, “I could be mistaken on this, but after studying this passage, I am convinced that the minority view in the church is the preferred one. . . .” Because of your knowledge and humble approach, you may very well have people asking YOU questions.

Laboriously compliment the pastor and the Bible study leaders on their excellent teaching when you can do so in good conscience. Bite your tongue when hear futurist interpretations in the sermons. Resist firing off an email to the pastor!

Sooner or later, the pastor will call you in for a discussion about possible membership. Be sure to emphasize the doctrines of the group with which you can agree. Speak of the positive reasons that you have chosen this church. When the time is right, say something like this:

“There is one area of doctrine that I hold a minority view. I am persuaded that Jesus was telling the truth when He said that all last-things events would be fulfilled in his generation. I know this will keep me from serving in a leadership capacity in this church. But I am open to learning more.” You might add, “Do you allow minority views here, if they can be backed up by the Bible? What statement of faith is required to attend this church?”

            Depending on how the conversation goes from there, this could be a good time to give the pastor an article or book on eschatology, and ask him to get back to you about it. Say something like this, “I value your opinion. Would you be willing to read this carefully and offer your rebuttal?” Then set a date to meet again.

            If the subject of the creeds comes up, you could say that you accept the creeds with the exception of the tense of one verb. Instead of “will come again (to judge the living and the dead),” you see it is simply as “came (to judge the living and the dead).” Or, you could say that you believe that the creeds are correct from the perspective of the writers of the New Testament in the first century.

            I will get resistance to this from preterists. But I think that some preterists, after seeing the errors of the church on eschatology, have incorrectly taken license to throw out other doctrines. Remember, the church has never had a serious discussion on eschatology. But the basic First Things doctrines have undergone thousand of years of discussion, and should be given the benefit of any doubt. If you want to study why the church believes, for example, in the Trinity, see my “Christian Cram Course” in the Bible 101 section of my website

            I do have some suggestions concerning which churches to consider in your search for a church home. In my own opinion, I would fellowship with any church that holds to these four fundamental “First Things” doctrines of the Christian faith:

  1. The nature of God—a holy Trinity
  2. The nature of Man—sinful
  3. How sinful man is reconciled to a holy God—the gospel
  4. The Bible—inspired by God in its entirety

First Things doctrines are more important than Last Things. Soteriology (how we are saved) is more important than eschatology, though of course they are related in some ways. In my view, we should unite and fellowship with other Christians on the above First Things doctrines. As I discuss in my book, preterism affirms and strengthens the basic doctrines of the church. It does not do violence to them.

A further thought about which churches to consider. Amillennialist churches may be more willing to tolerate someone with a preterist viewpoint, compared to premillennialist churches. Especially in Reformed circles, there is a pretty big movement toward partial preterism. Lutheran churches, from my experience, are an open book on eschatology. They seldom talk about it and may be open to instruction. (Stick with the conservative denominations.) Another possibility is conservative Episcopal or Methodist congregations (yes, there are some). I know full preterists who are functioning well in them.

Independent Bible churches are all over the map on theology, but most tend to be premillennial. Check out their website. Finally, a house church is another possibility. But, this is not an easy route. In most cases, the convenience of an organized church is more practical.

Here are some tips about getting plugged in at a new church:

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