The School of Hard Knox: Further Reflections on My Time at KTS (Part III)

Today's post represents the third in a series of posts about my time as a student at Knox Theological Seminary (KTS) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I originally wrote about KTS and the controversy concerning Warren Gage in a 2008 book published by the Trinity Foundation titled Imagining a Vain Thing: The Decline and Fall of Knox Seminary.

In the ten years that have elapsed since I wrote the book under the guidance of the late Dr. John W. Robbins, my conviction that what I wrote was correct remains unchanged. I stand by the book, all of it.

That said, ten years is time enough for further reflection, and it seemed good to me to write a series of posts to share with readers some of the big-picture lessons that can be taken from the disaster that overtook KTS in the fall of 2007.

A Danger of Unsound Eschatology

There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ; nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God.

- Westminster Confession of Faith, 25.6

One of the myths advanced by Dr. Gage during my time at KTS was the idea that the Reformation had little to say about eschatology. In the Introduction to the John-Revelation Project (JRP) Gage makes the following claim, "It is instructive that Martin Luther questioned the canonicity of Revelation, lamenting that a "Revelation" should reveal, and John Calvin, who commented on every other book of the Bible, glaringly omitted commentary on the Apocalypse. The children of the Reformers have fared little better. And it is time to ask why?"

This is statement is propaganda in at least three ways. In the first place, although Luther did question the canonicity of Revelation, in the end he did accept it. Second, Revelation is not the only book John Calvin omitted from his commentary on the Bible. There were a number of books on which Calvin did not comment such as Judges, Ruth, and 1&2 Samuel. Third, there have been numerous commentaries written on Revelation by Protestants. For example, Isaac Newton (yes, that Isaac Newton), John Gill, E.B. Elliott to name just a few. In fact, it probably would shock most early 21st century Protestants just how much has been written by earlier generations of Protestants on Revelation in general and the identification of the papacy as the Antichrist in particular.

For example, the statement above is the original wording of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) when it was published in 1648, but was excised in a 1903 revision of the WCF by the PCUSA - the PCUSA was and is the mainline Presbyterian denomination is the United States - and today it is a rare thing indeed for a Presbyterian church to use a version of the Confession with this language.

In the 1903 revision, the PCUSA replaced the historic language of the Confession with the following, "The Lord Jesus Christ is the only head of the Church, and the claim of nay man to be the vicar of Christ and the head of the Church, is unscriptural, without warrant in fact, and is a usurpation dishonoring the Lord Jesus Christ.

Many years ago when I first began to get serious about studying Reformed theology, I purchased a version of the WCF published by the PCA, a more theologically conservative organization than the PCUSA. The language of 25.6 in their version runs thus, "There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof."

The most obvious difference between the original version and its newer counterparts is the identification of the Pope or Rome as "Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition."

Today it's considered bad manners and theologically incorrect to call the Pope of Rome Antichrist. But our Protestant forebears were no so ashamed. Consider the following quotes:

  • This teaching shows very forcefully that the pope is the very Antichrist. He exalts himself above Christ and opposes Him, because he will not allow Christians to be saved without his power, which nevertheless is nothing and is neither ordained nor commanded by God...Just as we cannot worship the devil himself as Lord and God, so we cannot put up with his apostle, the pope, or Antichrist, in his regime as head or lord (Martin Luther, What Luther Says, 34).
  • Daniel (Dan. 9:27] and Paul [II Thess. 2:4] foretold that Antichrist would sit in the Temple of God. With us, it is the Roman pontiff we make the leader and standard bearer of that wicked and abominable kingdom (John Calvin, Institutes, 4.2.12).
  • Yea, we doubt not to prove the kingdom of the Pope to be the kingdom and power of Antichrist (John Knox).
  • This chapter [Revelation 15] is a preparation to the pouring out of the seven vials...and of the destruction of antichrist; and it is said to be a sign "in heaven", where John was called up, and where he had his visions; and it was "another", a different one from that in (Revelation 12:1) which represented the downfall of Paganism, but this the downfall of Popery; and it is a very "great" one, it is expressive of great things, as the fall of Babylon the great, or the judgment of the great whore... (John Gill, Commentary on Revelation)
  • [S]o the antichrist here mentioned is some usurper of God's authority in the Christian church, who claims divine honours; and to whom can this better apply than to the bishops of Rome, to whom the most blasphemous titles have been given, ad Dominus Deus noster papa - Our Lord God the pope; Deus alter in terra - Another God on earth; Idem est dominium Dei et papae - The dominion of God and the pope is the same?
  • It is the bounden duty of every Christian to pray against Antichrist, and as to what Antichrist is no same man ought to raise a question. If it be not the popery in the Church of Rome there is nothing in the world that can be called by that name (Charles Spurgeon).

One could multiply such quotes as the sand of the sea, but the sample above should serve to convince the reader that the conviction that the office of the papacy was the Antichrist of the Apostle John was widespread from the dawn of the Reformation until the end of the 19th century.

Today, such convictions is almost never heard. And if it is spoken, it's done so in a hushed whisper so as not to attract any attention.

One reason for the decline in understanding of the office of the papacy as Antichrist is the success the Jesuit eschatological schemes of preterism and futurism have had in supplanting the source eschatology of the Reformation.

Preterism is the view that the Bible teaches Antichrist came and went in the past and that there is today no Antichrist on earth. It was developed during the Counter-Reformation by Jesuit Luis de Alcazar.

Futurism, on the other hand, holds that Antichrist is yet to come. This program was developed by Jesuit Francisco Ribera and is the majority report among America's Dispensationalists.

But the historical stance of the Reformation on Antichrist is Historicism. Historicism holds, among other things, that Antichrist has been with us in the past, currently is at work, will be destroyed in the future.

Unsound Eschatology can be just as dangerous as any other unsound doctrine. To the degree Protestants have allowed the Jesuits to do their thinking for them, to the extent Protestants have absorbed the end times theories of the Babylonian Harlot, to that degree they have rendered themselves ineffective soldiers of Christ and set themselves up to be duped by hucksters such as Warren Gage.

(To be continued...)