A generation (if not more) ago, the Lord’s church found itself in the middle of an identity crisis, with believers on one side arguing it was wrong to support children’s homes and those on the other side in favor of the practice. Other divisions have occurred over the years as well, with some brethren condemning the idea of drinking the Communion wine out of multiple cups, arguing instead that “everybody should share the same goblet.” Others argue about having separate Bible classes for different ages while the rest shrug their shoulders and not see the harm in it. This division drew a line of fellowship between brethren for years, to the point where we now have so-called “anti” churches that “the rest of us” are told to stay away from and not associate with, because “they don’t like us anyway” (or some nonsense like that).
It’s sad to see the Kingdom of Christ fractured, though I recognize the autonomy of a congregation to decide a lot of these matters: If you want your babies and your grandparents in the same Bible class, more power to you. If you don’t want to give money to an orphanage but instead want to take care of the fatherless directly, that’s fine too. I don’t want there to be a fuss. I don’t want division between my brethren.
What about the future?
It’s a fact of life; the old generation—with its biases, preconceptions, cultural adherences, etc—will die and the next generation will take its place as the decision-makers/movers and shakers of society. The next generation may not have the same prejudices or ideas of the old and thus may not fight over the issues the previous generation fought over…not because the issues aren’t worth debating, but because the next generation largely agrees. A generation ago, the issue of sharing a water fountain with a black man needed to be debated. Today? There’s a pretty good consensus that’s it’s fine (nevermind a few nuts out there).
On the other hand, assuming Christ has not returned, there will be something that divides the next generation. Why? Because Satan is in the world and he works to divide (and he’s very good at what he does). So looking ahead, what might be the issue that divides the next generation of God’s family?
Lately there has been a big debate among Bible students about the issue of eschatology (the study of “the end” to put it simply). In particular is the doctrine of “renewed eschatology.” What is that, you ask?
“Renewed eschatology” is the belief that the return of Christ will be followed by a “refurbished earth” on which the saints will live with Jesus in some sort of spiritual harmony separated permanently from sin and sinners.
In other words, believers in this doctrine say the notion of “die and go to heaven” is not accurate: We won’t “go” to Heaven, Heaven and Earth will come together, like a new Eden, where man walks and talks with God as in the days before Adam and Eve sinned, only instead of a spiritual Eden, it’ll be a renovated earth since, they say, man was made to live on earth, then sin got in the way, so when Jesus comes back, sin will be taken away and all that will be left is an earth with just God’s people and God living together in harmony, etc.
On the other hand are those who say “die and go to Heaven” is a fine—if clunky—phrase. Because when Jesus comes back, the earth will be destroyed (not to be remade, etc) and our physical bodies will rise from the dead and we will meet the Lord in the air to ever be with the Lord. Where? In Heaven. What becomes of our physical bodies? They will be changed in the blink of an eye to a body fit to live in a different place than the earth.
So those are the two sides, and even though much of this is inside baseball to the “regular church-goer,” it is a debate that is bubbling among Bible students (let’s not get pretentious and say “scholars;” we are all “students” till we die). And eventually—as it always happens—the debates in these small circles will spill out into pulpits. And that’s usually around the time my brethren start drawing lines, ala The Simpsons…
Don’t be like Homer.
I sense a lot of tension between the two sides of this issue, having read a lot of long discussions about it with a lot of condescension and casual dismissal on both sides, and though I have my own very clear and (I think) well-formulated opinions on the subject, I recognize the other side does as well. and I don’t want to see the next generation of the church split over it, where we have “anti-heaven” and “pro-heaven”, or “anti-new earth” and “pro-new earth” or whatever the stupid epithets hurled will be.
Too often brethren will hold up their opinion of an interpretation of the Bible (especially concerning an issue that is not a so-called “salvation issue”) and attack those who disagree by saying “if you don’t agree with The Bible then we can’t have fellowship.” But it’s not the Bible we disagree on; it’s your interpretation of something that happens after I’m dead and have already fought the fight, finished the course and kept the faith. When my work is done, what comes next is up to Jesus. If you disagree with me on what Jesus will do at that point…well, at that point we’re just disagreeing over interpretations, not the Bible. So please don’t run around saying “you don’t agree with the Bible!” No. I love the Bible.
It’s you I’m not crazy about!
Now if you have a different “interpretation” about what a person needs to do to (A) be saved, or (B) stay saved, then yeah: A line of fellowship has already been drawn, not by me but by the Apostles (Matthew 16:19). The topic of “renewed eschatology” is not a salvation-issue because it concerns what GOD does after we are saved, and our bodies are dead and buried. I have my ideas about what comes next, based on my reading of Scripture, and so do those on the other side of the issue.
It’s one thing to defend an idea; it’s another to fight over it. Defending means engaging in a discussion, being willing to listen, learn, convince others or change yourself. A fight, on the other hand, is bloody, fruitless and ultimately a waste of time over a non-salvation issue like this.
Having said that…