Part Two

A Dialogue between

Chalcedon (Brian Abshire & Andrew Sandlin)

Vine & Fig Tree (Kevin Craig)

Part one is here.

Date:    2/15/99 10:26:19 AM Pacific Standard Time
From: (Rev. Brian M. Abshire)

Date:    2/15/99

Thanks for writing, Brian. I really do appreciate it. I'll be brief. No quibbling. No debates on eschatology. My point concerns your pastoral ministry and your reputation. [] writes:

>To say that someone is not a Christian
>because of their eschatology is, IMHO, dangerous.

That is NOT the issue Kevin, and you know it.

Honestly, I don't know it.
It is a matter of someone denying a cardinal doctrine of the Faith. Yes, but the doctrine is eschatology. Declaring the doctrine "cardinal" does not change the issue: excommunication based on eschatology.
I think it's dangerous. Especially if there are no properly-exegeted texts undergirding that doctrine.
I gave up on spending hours swapping proof texts with JW's years ago when they came to my door. They are heretics. They do not want the truth, but only a platform to spread their pernicious errors. Time is limited, the one commodity that can never be replaced. If any man decides he would rather not waste his time debating those who twist and distort the historic Faith, that is a perfectly legitimate position. Some men may be called to do so (i.e., Walter Martin, etc.) but it is not my calling. Some are that way, to be sure. Arguing with them is sinful.
But a few can be converted. We should test the waters, see if they're open.
A couple of minutes' time is outweighed by their eternal state.

I find preterists like Ed Stevens (and before his death, David Chilton) to be sincere and open-minded. I think it's wrong to say they're not Christians and should not even be given respectful answers.

> Ed Stevens has made a valuable point. If Sandlin ever hopes to stop the Full Prets, he has got to be willing to get down in the trenches and show them FROM CORRECTLY EXEGETED SCRIPTURE (not creeds) where they are at variance. He has not done that. Christ did not tell us to "Go into all the world and anathematize all the unbelievers  into submission." He said to "teach (or make disciples out of) them." Paul reasoned and debated with unbelievers in the marketplaces of the Greco-Roman world. That's why the Preterist movement is growing so fast. Most of them are "teaching" people what Scripture says, instead of running around spouting creeds and anathematizing anyone who won't worship them.   <<

"Spouting Creeds?" "Worshipping them?" By your pejorative language you reveal your own attitude towards the historic, received Faith.

Your pastoral judgment is mistaken on this point.
Ed's words reflect on his attitude toward an apologetic or disciplinary technique (excommunicating based on fallible creeds, rather than infallible Scripture) not a lack of respect for the "historic Faith." I have a great deal of respect for the "historic Faith," and I hesitate to criticize the creeds (more, it appears to me, than you hesitate to condemn me). But not all that is historical is Scriptural.
> What the Church catholic needs in the area of eschatology is DEBATE,
> not excommunications.

If a member of your church (oh, sorry, you don't have a church do you?). Well, if someone who pretends to be a Christian suddenly starts endorsing Arianism, do you debate him? Or do you remove him from your fellowship? 

I'm sure you know this depends on the person. "Test the waters," as I said.
There are teachable Arians. Maybe they don't call themselves "Arians," but they are, and they are winnable.
The issue of the Deity of Christ is settled. Those who deny it are outside the Faith. In our contentious, individualistic American culture, bombastic denials often come from insecurity attempting to establish its own importance. They may still be teachable.

Brian, you're supposed to be "The Pastor of the Reconstructionist Movement," remember? What about leaving the 99 and going after the lost sheep?
Sure, that'll take some time. . . .

Why are you and Sandlin so eager to excommunicate? Why is excommunication and reprobation becoming a more pronounced theme than sacrificial outreach and restoration? Will not the truth prevail?

The bodily return of Christ, the final judgment, a literal resurrection, etc., are all part of the historic Christian Faith. But what if there are no properly-exegeted texts to support one of these beliefs? What if it has no more Biblical basis than the doctrine that the Papacy is the anti-Christ? (Also part of the "historic Christian faith.")
If someone denies them, they are outside the Faith, pure and simple. No debate, no argument, no compromises. No restoration. No progress.
Once you agree with that point, that such a person is outside the Faith, then we can talk. Just like talking with a Muslim BEGINS with recognizing that we serve two different Gods. But does your dialogue with a Muslim depend on him first agreeing that he serves a FALSE god? Suppose I said that I agreed that I am outside your faith. Would you then be willing to dialogue as to whether your faith has any properly-exegeted Scriptural support?
>The creeds teach error.   <<

That is an assumption not proven and one I will not grant for a moment.

I *did* prove it. It is not a mere assumption. You "snipped" my whole discussion of this. The creeds teach that Matt 24 / Luke 21 prophesy a future second coming. Chalcedon publications affirm a contrary exegesis.
As a man UNDER authority (i.e., lawfully submitted to a Presbytery and appointed as an elder OVER a church) I took certain oaths and solemn vows regarding my beliefs. I vowed that the Apostles' Creed and the Westminster Standards were adequate and accurate representations of truths contained in Scripture. While my vows do not require me to say that either creed or confession is EXHAUSTIVE in truth, I do believe they are adequate. Are you saying that not all truth is infallibly taught in the creeds, but all that is taught therein is infallibly taught?

The creeds teach that Matt 24 is speaking of a future second coming.This is an exegetical error. It must not be taught or believed.

An oath to teach erroneous exegesis is not a lawful, binding oath.

>Maybe the "hyper- preterists" teach error as well, but it is a matter of inescapable fact that it is *the creeds*, in their affirmations of premillennialism, which are in hermeneutical error.
> Proof of this controversial assertion is easy, a piece of cake. Observe:


This was the part where I proved that the Creeds taught erroneous exegesis. SNIPped.
> If the presbyterian church wants to say I'm not a Christian because I don't accept their interpretation of Matt 24:30 and Luke 21:27, too bad for the presbyterian church.
> I reject their entire premillennial hermeneutical presupposition.
> Sola Scriptura!   <<

You are in great company here. Charles Taze Russell did exactly the same thing to the Presbyterian Church in the 19th century.

The creeds are correct on the doctrine of Christ.
The exegesis of Matt 24 and Luke 21 contained in the creeds is WRONG.
You're skipping over that point. Can a person be excommunicated for saying the creeds are mistaken?

I think I have a legitimate point here. I think it will appear legitimate to many people who have been schooled by Chalcedon publications.
You insult ("ChasTazeRussell") at the peril of your own ministry.

> Chalcedon should be sponsoring a debate, not decreeing excommunications. <<

Since the Chalcedon Foundation is NOT a church they cannot and do not excommunicate anyone. However, Reformed Heritage IS a church, and we will if this pernicious error shows up in any of our churches.

Based on your letter, I can't help wondering how you would do this. Imagine a new convert who first asks you what Matthew 24 teaches. You give the standard post-mil partial preterist exegesis. Then in New Members' class, as you're going through the Creed, the new convert asks for the Scriptural support for a future bodily advent. The creeds say Matthew 24. The new convert balks. He refuses to believe any doctrine that has no Scriptural support. Would you simply tell him that he's "outside the faith, repent or else?"
> "He . . . sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
> Suppose I taught that Jesus was here with us. Have I denied the creed?
> Abshire and Sandlin both believe He is *with us* "til the end of the world" (Matt 28:20). Is He with us, or is He at the right hand of God? On the other hand, are we here, or have we been resurrected, and are we now seated with Him in the heavenlies? (Eph 2:6)
> In other words, Scriptural truth is broader than the creed. It would be wrong to condemn someone on the basis of the words of the creed because he believed something more than is taught in the Creeds (e.g., Eph 2:6).

The issue is NOT whether statements of the historic, orthodox Faith are exhausitve, but whether they are true. Hence you pose a false dichotomy here and demonstrate a basic inability to reason properly from basic premises.

I think your pastoral judgment is without warrant here. I do have a "basic ability to reason properly," but you're jumping ahead of me. This was merely one step in my argument.
> Even more dangerous is condemning someone who refuses to believe something taught in the creed when that teaching has no Scriptural support:

> > From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. . .

> Sandlin and Abshire both believe the Scripture when it teaches that Jesus "came" in 70AD to judge Israel. But this was not physical.   (Was it?) Non-bodily "comings" are therefore possible.
> Jesus clearly and undeniably "came" with His angels in AD 70.
> Is there a verse which says Jesus will "come" again in the future (a verse which is unmistakably NOT speaking about AD70)?
> Which verse proves that this yet-future second coming must be bodily, and *cannot* be like His coming in AD70?    <<

For someone who is not a "Full Preterist" you certainly talk like one.
The difference between a heretic, and someone simply confused is the issue of authority and submission. The heretic does not ask sincere questions, wanting to understand how the answers fit into the orthodox Faith, but instead wants to undermine and destroy the Faith.  

I adamantly refuse to fit the exegesis of Matthew 24 which all the best teachers of the faith tell me is correct "into" the "orthodox Faith." My purpose is not to "undermine" the faith, but to purify it by examining it in terms of properly-exegeted texts.
His mind is already made up because he is blinded by his own arrogance and sin. I am sure that in many ways I am blinded by sin and arrogance. Perhaps we both are.
> How can we condemn to hell someone who asks these questions?
> (Especially when their questions are prompted by patent error in the creeds?) <<

You continue to harp on "patent errors in the Creeds." Since I recognize no such errors your questions appear not to be sincere attempts to be taught, but attacks against the integrity of the Faith. Therefore, you are an enemy of the Faith.

When you say you "recognize" no such errors, is this a statement of authority, as in, "The gentleman has not been recognized by the Chair"?
Or need I merely point out that the Creeds have mis-exegeted Matt 24 and Luke 21? Please return to my original letter and look at these texts.

Let me put it another way. On the one hand you teach that the first half of Matt 24 does NOT teach a future second coming, but refers to AD70.
The creeds teach that this text is speaking of a future second coming.
The creeds are wrong. Your own words condemn them. Your students will listen to your exegesis and then throw out the creeds -- possibly all of the teachings of the creeds -- unless you admit to them that the creeds are wrong on eschatology.

> > I believe in the resurrection of the body [flesh]. . ."

> I believe there was a resurrection of the body (Matt 27:52-53). I don't spiritualize this verse. But I can't find the Scripture which says the particular phenomenon experienced by these saints in "the last days" and by others like Lazarus is to be experienced by all believers, and that the event spoken of by Sandlin and the creed did NOT take place in 70AD.    <<

Again, you do not have a sincere question, but a theological agenda you wish to pursue. Why should the historic, orthodox, church give you a position from whence to spout your heresies?

Because the entire staff of Chalcedon teaches an exegesis of Matthew 24 which is contradicted by the "historic, orthodox church."
>> Question 87 of the Larger Catechism tells what we are to believe concerning the resurrection. The chief texts are 1 Cor 15, 1 Thes 4, and John 5:27-29. I think it possible that John 5, if not speaking of a spiritual resurrection (Eph 2:6) is speaking of the resurrection in Matt 27. That means that a person can be said to be an unbeliever (i.e., "not a brother") based on his interpretation of two admittedly mysterious texts. (It should be noted that such a hermeneutical excommunication in the past would have been based on many more texts, such as Matthew 24, but all these other texts have been shown by preterist exegesis to have been fulfilled in AD70, and Sandlin and Abshire admit this, because they too hold that these verses were fulfilled in AD70. These two texts (1 Cor 15, 1 Thes 4) are the only plausible texts left in the non-preterist arsenal.
> And upon his agreement with a certain interpretation of these verses, we will declare a person to be saved or unsaved, believer or unbeliever, brother or outsider?    <<

Whether or not a person agrees, affirms and accepts the historic, orthodox Christian Faith. It appears you do not.

You keep saying a Preterist is one who denies "the historic, orthodox Christian Faith." But he doesn't deny the entire faith, only one doctrine (eschatology).
> The WHOLE CREED is "the Catholic Faith," not just the part about eschatology.    <<

You cannot use a summary to deny one of the things summarized. You have to believe the WHOLE creed or nothing. Deny just ONE element, and you deny the whole. Hence deny the future second coming and you are, by the words of your own mouth, condemned as a heretic.

You are saying a preterist has denied the entire Christian Faith because he believes that the Creeds mis-exegete Matthew 24?

Isn't it sinful to excommunicate someone over a doctrine which has no properly-exegeted Scripture undergirding it?

> Regrettably, there has never been a similar council to resolve preterism vs. premillennialism.

That's because they were agreed. Jesus is coming again. Future tense. If you don't believe that, you are a heretic. Pure and simple. No debate, no discussion. Until you recognize and admit you are outside the historic Christian Faith, then there is nothing more to be done.

OK, I admit that I am "outside the historic Christian Faith"'s interpretation of Matthew 24. And for that I'm going to hell?

I also admit that I am outside the historic protestant teaching on the papacy being the anti-Christ. 

> With all due respect to Sandlin and the Creeds, I must follow the Scriptures over both the Mormon church and the Presbyterian church where either are in error.    <<

Sure, Kevin, you do that. You are again in great company. Every heretic since Marcion appeals to Scripture to justify their error.

And they are proven wrong by Scripture, not by edict.
>I would be hard-pressed to imagine a more frightening decision: anathematizing someone for rejecting a clearly-erroneous interpretation. It is only a little less frightening to pronounce such heavy-handed judgment on someone for disagreeing with (or questioning) the interpretation of passages which must be admitted to be quite mysterious (cf. 1 Cor 15:51).   <<.

It is not over any particular interpretation of any particular passage, but the conclusion reached that leads to heresy.

The historic doctrine of Christ's bodily yet-future return is based on mis-exegeted texts, such as Matthew 24. I will not believe any doctrine which has no properly-exegeted Scriptural support. Even the once-universally-held belief that the papacy is the anti-Christ. Since there are no such texts supporting a yet-future bodily return of Christ, I do not affirm that belief. In the end, I am being excommunicated for my exegesis (following the entire staff of Chalcedon) of Matthew 24.
> The appropriate response is dialogue, not decrees.  <<

We don't dialogue with heretics. We expose them, and reject them.
Titus 3:10

Titus 3:10   A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition [nouthesian] reject;

What, exactly, are you admonishing me to do? Change my understanding of Matthew 24 based on the creeds? Reject your own preaching when you proffer a preterist interpretation of that passage?

I have never heard any "nouthetic counseling" from Sandlin and Abshire to any preterists. I have never received any. Only insults and blanket condemnation.

> The Westminster Standards teach error.
> Error MUST be debated. It MUST NOT be taught.

And so I reject you. As have other orthodox churches.

If you know of any orthodox church with which I am not reconciled, please bring that to my attention as quickly as possible.
> *Abshire's claim is a complete non sequitur.* This kind of fallacious
> reasoning is usually due to a spiritual malady.

Just one question. What orthodox church receives you as a member? Oh? Really? You are not a member of an orthodox church?

Why, that certainly places things in perspective, does it not?

I don't believe the Bible requires me to "attend church." I believe that I am obedient to Biblical commands, a rough parallel to my belief that I interpret Matthew 24 correctly, notwithstanding the judgment of certain ecclesiastical forces. I have often thought about joining a church just so this kind of patently ad hominem argument could be pre-empted. Judging from the character of the personal assaults against me, however, nothing would be "pre-empted" by my doing so.

Even if I believed in traditional Sunday-only ecclesiocentric life, this would be a most remarkable criticism of me. You said above that you would excommunicate me because I don't believe the creed has any Biblical support for its doctrine of a second bodily advent. Your open letter to Ligonier (and, I suspect, other communication on Presbyterian-polity and other lists) is intended to convince other pastors to exclude preterists like me from their ranks. Then you criticize me for not being a member of a church.

Brian A Thanks for writing and thanks for listening.

Cordially in Christ,

Kevin Craig

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and sit under their Vine & Fig Tree.
Micah 4:1-7

For further reading:

Response to Ken Gentry

Response to Gary North

Is Preterism a Denial of the Gospel?

Can an Individual Believer Critique the Creeds?

The Christmas Conspiracy


Vine & Fig Tree

Paradigm Shift


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