Nearly twenty years ago when my husband and I found our church it was in a remote Midwest country area. The chapel’s architecture was traditional, lovely and peaceful. We quickly learned the believers were of strong reformed and Calvinistic traditions. This church was closely knit, loved the Lord Jesus and one another deeply. We were quickly woven into the fabric of this little family, as we were blessed each Lord’s Day with old and classic hymns (no instruments), an hour long sermon, followed with a pot luck meal, while concluding the day with an evening service. We formerly came together for Wednesday extended prayer service followed by Friday Bible study, as we also eagerly sought to serve one another, especially during times of suffering; all of which kept the body unified. My husband and I wouldn’t have traded these beginning years for anything; we were blessed in profound and sustaining ways. It was during those early years that I learned to appreciate the Doctrines of Grace, church history as well as many aspects of reformed Christianity.
However, having been raised in a strict Roman Catholic family I had many deeply embedded traditions and beliefs which I needed to examine. Because my mother encouraged us children to read the Bible (which is rare for a Roman Catholic) and study church history, I had some vestiges of truth to separate from the Romish traditions. As a new believer, I determined to sort out, what theological and historical elements were truths. I believe because I had to wrestle with such a complex thing, it enabled me to later (years later) discern an even more complicated matter as a maturing Christian.
Undoubtedly through God’s sovereign care and blessing He has richly blessed Christians with the work and writings of the church fathers and Reformers. In fact, I strongly believe the study of church history is a needed rudimentary foundation for all Christians to enrich their understanding of the Christian faith. However, I do believe one must be cautious and discerning while reading any extra-biblical source, as these great men (like all men) are flawed and have presuppositions and traditions. The church fathers and Reformers can be a true blessing if read with a solid and complete understanding of Scripture. I advise caution because this is the area in which years later that I discovered I had acquired a “tradition” which needed to be examined.
It was in God’s perfect timing, my attention was brought to a “tradition” I had acquired during my early years as a Reformed Christian. I believed I had vigilantly guarded myself from error, yet through God’s amazing providence, my life was quieted in many ways as my focus was set upon a book given to me by a very special person. Having my full attention, this book challenged my theological and biblical understanding as well and my hermeneutic. I prayerfully committed myself to read every single Scripture citation, while studying this book. This was not an easy time, as I struggled through every single day, being humbled for months.
What I discovered may be well known to many Christians, but I had not yet learned about the hermeneutical issue which exists in many Reformed churches today.
I will only address this in a very brief fashion, but will provide tools at the end, for the Christian who would like to take the next step. First let’s take a look at the historical foundation leading to many of the Reformed position today. The African bishop, Augustine of Hippo, from the 4th century, has had a powerful influence on Christianity. Augustine was (as were many of the early church fathers), educated in Greek and Roman philosophies, namely Platonism, Aristotlism and Stoicism. The Hellenistic or Gnostic philosophical thought was to pursue the higher, transcendent, spiritual meaning, over what they considered the debased physical, material, temporal, evil aspects of life. When Augustine became a Christian, his sensibilities were offended by Scripture’s material and earthly realities, so he began to employ a hermeneutic or interpretation of Scripture employing a philosophical pursuit of spiritual or mystical meaning rather than the literal meaning of the Word of God. Augustine’s writings are fraught with allegorizing or “spiritualizing” Scripture, while rejecting the earthly and physical realities, such as the literal bodily resurrection, the restoration of Israel, the millennial kingdom, Christ’s earthly reign, and so on. What is clearly so dangerous with this interpretation/hermeneutic is that it rejects the original meaning of God’s Word for a subjective and imposed meaning, thus exalting man’s opinions over God’s Word. Furthermore, the Christian who embraces the Augustinian tradition has no consistent hermeneutic to bring them through the entire Bible, hence doctrinal comprehension may be affected.
Scripture readily rejects Gnostic and philosophical imposition upon God’s sacred inerrant Word. The Apostle’ Paul and John sternly warn of these heresies knowing their incalculable damage; Col. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:20-21; 2 Tim. 2:16-18, 4:3-4; 1 Jn. 4:1-5; Rev. 22:18-19.
Men such as Augustine had a significant influence on the Christian faith. As the Roman Catholic church was in its foundational years, it acquired the Augustinian allegorizing tradition, never examining its flaws. Scripture interpreted through the lens of the spiritualized/allegorized hermeneutic was then perpetuated by Rome; their legacy is filled with mysticism, rituals, sacraments, rites, asceticism and the rejection of the authority of Scripture. Not to over simplify, but in short, the Reformers sought to restore the Bible back to the Christian people, with their main focus almost exclusively on soteriological (doctrine of salvation) matters. The modern Christian church would not be where it is, if it were not for these great men. Many of the Reformer’s very lives were at stake as many died for the true faith (see Foxes Book of Martyrs). However, the fierce and deadly battle with Rome left the Platonic/Augustinian tradition largely unaddressed, as many of the Reformation era acquired the Augustinian tradition. This tradition in conjunction with a rich absorption of other men’s opinions is like a 2,000 year long relay race passing along batons filled with tradition.
To be concise, the Augustinian/Rome/Reformed hermeneutical tradition mainly affects the Old Testament prophetic texts and the book of Revelation, which undoubtedly is a large portion of the Bible. The rejection of the plain, literal, historical, grammatical, meaning, within its context, with its authorial intent, has had perilous ramifications for Christianity which includes; ecclesiology, missiology and eschatology. This tradition has no system or systematic study by which to study Scripture and thus is inconsistent with many doctrines affected.
This is where I must interject that once I understood this hermeneutic I had acquired, I began to recognize my own misunderstanding of certain areas of Scripture, (mainly the Old Testament and Revelation). However, once I implemented the literal-historical-grammatical hermeneutic (consistently thorough the entire Bible) Scripture became unified and completely woven together. Progressive revelation has an undeniable clarity and unity with Scripture explaining Scripture. I no longer wondered why certain portions of Scripture (prophetic texts) hadn’t been fulfilled. Scripture utilizes different genres, but always with meaning to the original audience as well as the future generations of readers. The freedom and sheer joy of understanding Scripture with the correct hermeneutic will bring every Christian to a worshipful experience.
Sadly, as if the faulty hermeneutical issue is not a major issue in itself for a Christian to address, there is dark outcome from the Augustinian/Rome/Reformed tradition which has left an undeniable and permanent scar throughout history, which is Anti-Semitism.
Let me explain in brief. Because the Augustinian tradition rejects the literal-historical-grammatical meaning of the Old Testament prophetic texts, one result is that God’s covenants and promises are not upheld. They remove God’s original recipient, Israel and place the church as the recipient of Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants. The rejection of the eternality and unconditional nature of the restoration of God’s chosen people Israel, while ironically claiming all the covenant blessings and none of the covenant curses for the church ignores the authorial intent of Scripture. This imposition of the “church” onto Israel is destructive to the whole of Scripture. Progressive revelation and authorial intent must be heeded.
Another result of the Augustinian tradition is with the Doctrine of Election, as they remove the nation of Israel from God’s electing love. As ardently as Calvinists and those of Covenant Theology hold dear and rigorously defend the Doctrine of Election, they miss the point that if they believe God could deny Israel; God could certainly deny an individual salvation, but God is true. Another doctrine affected is eschatology, as their spiritual/transcendent concept rejects the complete physical and spiritual restoration of Israel which the Apostle Paul ardently argues in Romans chapters 9-11, besides the many books of the Bible which harmoniously come together for God’s future glory. All of the prophets of the Old Testament end with the promise that God will restore Israel.
Additionally, the Doctrine of Holiness, the very character of God, is affected by their tradition, because it makes God a liar and yet Scripture reveals God as a holy, covenant keeping God, who can never lie. (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:13-19; 2 Tim. 2:13). God is faithful, truthful, and holy and His covenant Word will be fulfilled. Some men of the Augustinian/Rome/Reformed tradition deny there is a salvific issue with their tradition but it is easy to see that God’s plan of salvation from Genesis to Revelation is affected by their hermeneutic.
Furthermore, the implementation of this tradition results in Replacement Theology also known as Fulfillment Theology or Supercessionism which as stated before, advocates the notion that the church has replaced God’s covenant nation Israel. Tragically, Replacement Theology and sinful behavior, from the time of Augustine onward reveals a long history of Anti-Semitism. As persecution escalated year by year, perpetuating the idea that God rejected the Jewish people; their rights were stripped away, laws were enacted against them, they were forced to be assimilated, forcibly ostracized from their homes, they lost financial stability, and at certain points in history they were forced to wear badges and identifying clothing long before Hitler’s evil. Thousands upon thousands were humiliated, beaten, mutilated, tortured, and countless murdered, the worse of which culminated in the holocaust or Shoah. And yet tragically, Anti-Judaism and Anti-Zionism is still an issue today, as we mourn the loss of eleven lives from the Pittsburg synagogue shooting. The 2,000 year historical legacy ought to make every Christian feel shame and seek to remedy the root of Anti-Judaism.
What’s even more shocking is that there are men of the Reformed camp who proudly perpetuate Replacement Theology/Supercessionism. What would history look like if each individual Christian were employing the consistent literal-historical-grammatical hermeneutic?
My prayer is that any Christian who has been made aware of this will examine for themselves through the many tools provided below. Clearly this isn’t merely an issue of holding to a Amillennial, Postmillennial or Premillenial position, but it is the most important issue of all, to employ a sound and consistent literal-historical-grammatical hermeneutic which guards against traditions. A Reformed Christian with the correct hermeneutic will bring a complete understanding of God’s Scripture, with great men as these providing examples: C.H. Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, Horatius Bonar, David Baron, John MacArthur, to name a few.
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’ (Matt. 4:4)
*Barry E. Horner “Future Israel- Why Christian Anti-Judaism must be Challenged”
*Dr. Greg Harris “The Bible Expositor’s Handbook, Old Testament and New Testament” and “The Cup and The Glory”, “The Darkness and The Glory”, “The Stone and The Glory” and “The Stone and the Glory of Israel”
*Dr. Charles L. Feinberg “Premillennialism or Amillennialism?”
*Dr. Abner Chou “The Hermeneutics of the Biblical Writers”
*Dr. John MacArthur “The Biblical, Historical, Theological and Pastoral Perspectives, The Inerrant Word”
*Dr. Robert L. Thomas “Revelation An Exegetical Commentary”
*Dr. Michael Vlach, “He Will Reign Forever”, and “Dispensationalism; Essential Beliefs and Common Myths” and “Has the Church Replaced Israel” and “Premillennialism: Why There Must Be a Future Earthly Kingdom of Jesus”
*Matt Waymeyer, “Amillennialism and The Age to Come” and “Revelation 20 and The Millennial Debate”
*“Biblical Doctrine A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth”- John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue
See: The Master’s Seminary sermons;
Dr. Michael J. Vlach “Premillennialism and the Kingdom” https://www.tms.edu/messages/premillennialism-and-the-kingdom/
Dr. Greg Harris “Premillennialism and The New Testament”
Dr. James Mook, “Premillennialism and Theology”
Dr. Nathan Busenitz “Premillennialism and History”
Dr. Michael Grisanti “Premillenialism and the Old Testament”
Dr. Brad Klassen “Premillennialism and Hermeneutics”
Dr. William Barrick’s (T.M.S.) Theological Book recommendations- at
Dr. Matt Waymeyer,(Grace Immanuel Bible Church, Jupiter, Florida)
Recorded sermons such as: A Crash Course on Biblical Hermeneutics Pt. 1, 2, 3 and “Premillennial Seminar Pts. 1-6