Estchatology and Church History Part II -- By: Earle E. Cairns

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 115:459 (Jul 1958)
Article: Estchatology and Church History Part II
Author: Earle E. Cairns


Estchatology and Church History
Part II

Earle E. Cairns

[Earle E. Cairns is Professor of History and Department Chairman at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.]

(Used with permission of Wheaton College Faculty Bulletin, June, 1957)

II. Eschatology in the Era of the Reformation

Historical influences also helped to condition the eschatology of the church during the era of the Reformation. Fanatical excesses in relation to chiliasm helped to discredit some phases of the doctrine in the minds of the reformers. The incident at Munster illustrates this. Melchior Hoffman had come to Strasbourg which he thought was the New Jerusalem. He expected that Christ would return to rule in Strasbourg. Jan Matthys substituted Münster for Strasbourg after Hoffman died because the Lutheran leader Rothmann co-operated with these extremists. Matthys was killed in a siege and John of Leyden was made king. He set up an order in which polygamy and community of goods was practiced until the Roman Catholic bishop regained control of Munster. This and other incidents, such as the expectation of the Fifth Monarchy Men that Christ would soon return to set up Daniel’s fifth kingdom in Stuart England, tended to discredit chiliasm in the minds of the reformers. The idea of an earthly kingdom was characterized as “Jewish dreams” of a golden age on the earth and was ridiculed in the Second Helvetic Confession (Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, III, 852–53), although in other respects the events linked with Christ’s coming were those held by the early church. Premillennial ideas played no part in their thinking.

Persecution of the Protestants by the Roman Catholics, especially by Philip of Spain in Holland and by Mary in England and of the Anabaptists by Protestants as well as Roman Catholics helped to stimulate eschatological thinking. The eschatology of the reformers, who were mainly interested in man’s present salvation, emphasized the hope of the resurrection of the body as the completion of the process of salvation. It also was marked by the identification of the Roman Church with Antichrist in order to explain persecution by that Church. Luther particularly felt that the cataclysmic coming of Christ was very near.

Except for a dismissal of chiliasm with its future millennium, Augustine’s millennium in the church age, and the naming of the Roman Catholic Church or the Pope as Antichrist their eschatology was like that of Augustine.

Some illustration of these emphases from the writings of the leading reformers may be helpful. Luther, who was at first inclined to think of the Turks as well as the Pope as Antichrist, came to the de...

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