Early Years of Assembly Teaching
After I was saved, baptised, and received into the fellowship of an assembly of Christians, I received several years of sound Biblical teaching. Subjects included basic instruction concerning the gospel, the Christian life, New Testament assembly principles, studies in Bible books, and prophetic teaching, especially concerning the second coming of Christ and associated events. The assembly sometimes convened special meetings for consecutive teaching, one of which was on prophecy using the late Harry Lacey's chart. One line of interpretation, the premillennial, pretribulational line¹, was followed consistently, and other views were not often considered or mentioned. Doctrine concerning future events was taught as a system, rather than from first principles of sound Bible interpretation. Perhaps this was a weakness, although most of what we young believers were taught has remained with me and been confirmed by later study. I probably went to college with a better understanding of many Scriptural subjects than did most of my contemporaries.
Confusion during College Years
However, I was not prepared for the questioning and critical approach to teaching at university, nor was I able to counter the arguments of other Christians, both from other assemblies and various denominations, particularly concerning prophecy. Some of the latter held amillennial views,² while others seemed to believe that the Church would go through the Tribulation. Direct attacks on my faith from unbelieving tutors did not worry me nearly as much as these various interpretations of Bible prophecy. I became confused about the subject as I read various books by godly conservative evangelical scholars who did not follow the premillennial line of interpretation. They were sound on salvation, the inspiration of Scripture, and the Christian life, but unsound on local church principles and prophecy. My confusion was made worse by traumatic experiences in my late teens which disturbed me more than I, or anyone else, realised at the time. I became mentally ill both before and after gaining my first degree, and needed hospital treatment during my first year of research, which eventually ended unsuccessfully in 1969.
Emerging from the Fog
At that time, I was commended by my home assembly to participate, along with other assembly young men, in a week organised by Gospel Literature Distribution in Southern Ireland, offering Bibles to Catholics and others who were interested. There I met many young men from American assemblies who all held firmly to premillennial, pretribulational views of prophecy. While staying in Merrion Hall, Dublin I bought a copy of the Emmaus Bible School course on Bible prophecy, and read it soon afterwards. The teaching it contained both confirmed the teaching which I had earlier received, and based it on clear Scriptures. Soon afterwards I discovered the writings of the premillennial scholars John F Walvoord, J Dwight Pentecost and Charles C Ryrie. These Bible teachers explained the premillennial view of Scripture on a very sound theological basis, which is what much teaching on prophecy lacks. The premillennial view is the consistently literal interpretation of all Scripture alike, including prophecy, whilst recognising that Scripture is often written in figurative or symbolical language. In this respect the premillennial view differs fundamentally from the increasingly prevalent amillennial view, which treats prophetic Scripture differently, requiring interpretation in only a vague, spiritualised way. The scholars named pointed out that a consistently literal acceptance and interpretation of all Scripture results in the premillennial view of Bible prophecy. Interpretations of the more obscure prophetic passages of Scripture may vary slightly, but the basic structure of God's prophetic programme will be firmly established. In the writings of these sound scholarly Bible teachers I found the beginning of an answer to my previous confusion of mind on the subject.
Books that have Helped
Some of the first books on prophecy that I read were the writings of John F Walvoord, beginning with his college textbook, The Millennial Kingdom, followed by his trilogy, Israel in Prophecy, The Church in Prophecy and The Gentiles in Prophecy. These clearly explained from Scripture the future of the three divisions of mankind, according to 1 Corinthians 10.32. Soon afterwards I bought a copy of Things to Come, a thorough study of Biblical eschatology by J Dwight Pentecost. The more I read these authors' books, the more convinced I became that they were teaching the truth. I read C C Ryrie's books on Dispensationalism and The Basis of the Premillennial Faith in more recent years. There is very little in these authors' books that one could seriously question. Walvoord's classic commentaries on the books of Revelation and Daniel threw a shaft of light on their meaning. Eventually, I found much help from other authors, including E W Rogers, Concerning the Future, Sir Robert Anderson, The Coming Prince, and F A Tatford's commentaries on the Minor Prophets and Thessalonians. In more recent years, I have found help from the writings of Donald C B Cameron and John MacArthur, Paul N Benware's Understanding End Times Prophecy, Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice's Charting the End Times, and Mark Hitchcock's recent study, The End. Also, James Allen has written monumental commentaries on Revelation and Daniel. All of these authors, except Sir Robert Anderson, have written their studies from the premillennial point of view during a half century which has seen a marked increase in the popularity within evangelical circles of the amillennial point of view. However, an honest reading of such helpful books as those listed should enable true believers to counter the errors of the latter view convincingly, as they have in my case.
Present Convictions Outlined
Perhaps, therefore, it will be helpful to readers if I summarise my main present convictions concerning Bible prophecy as follows:
1. All Scripture alike is to be interpreted as literally as possible, always allowing for ordinary figures of speech used in normal human language, and some symbolism in apocalyptic books.
2. The dispensational view of God's revelation is the only one which can satisfactorily and coherently explain every part of the Bible.
3. The nation of Israel is God's chosen earthly people who will one day inherit the whole of the Promised Land and become the chief nation on earth during Christ's millennial Kingdom.
4. The New Testament Church is God's chosen, parallel heavenly people. It was not revealed in Old Testament times, and began at Pentecost.
5. The whole Church will be resurrected and raptured to Heaven by Christ at His return to the air before the beginning of the Tribulation, and will be reviewed there at Christ's Judgment Seat.
6. There will be a literal, cataclysmic seven-year Tribulation period on earth, prior to Christ's coming to earth in glory to end the campaign of Armageddon.
7. Christ must reign over the whole earth from Jerusalem during the millennial Kingdom, in the very place where He was rejected and crucified, to fulfil all God's purposes of grace and judgment.
8. Satan will be bound then to prevent him tempting mankind, but will be released thereafter to initiate his final rebellion against God and Christ.
9. This final rebellion will precipitate the destruction of the present heavens and earth, and lead to the final judgment of all unbelievers at Christ's Great White Throne.
10. God will then create a new heaven and earth in which righteousness dwells eternally.
11. Believers of all previous ages will inhabit this new creation in the new Jerusalem.
12. The New Testament Church is the Bride of Christ, to be united with her Lord at the Marriage of the Lamb, to reign with Him during the millennial Kingdom, and to be nearest to Him throughout eternity.
13. Christians should discuss minor points of prophetic interpretation with grace, love and tolerance.
14. Prophetic teaching, like all doctrine, should inevitably have deep practical effects on our personal lives, and also on our relationships with the world around us.
15. The exaltation of Christ is the chief purpose of all prophetic revelation.
¹ The "pretribulation, premillennial line" teaches the removal from the earth of the entire Church, the body of Christ, prior to the seven-year Tribulation period. The Tribulation terminates with the literal, bodily descent of the Lord Jesus to the earth to establish a literal millennial Kingdom.
² 'Amillennialism' is the view that there will not be a literal 1000-year reign of the Lord Jesus upon earth.