A BRIEF NOTICE OF OUR CONCERNS REGARDING THE WITHDRAWAL BY DR THOMAS ICE FROM HIS CHALLENGE TO DEBATE THE SCRIPTURAL BASIS OF THE PRETRIBULATIONAL RAPTURE TEACHING.
Earlier this year, arising from the 2015 release of the video documentary “Left Behind or Led Astray” which chronicled the history and origin of the Pretribulational Rapture Teaching; Pretrib Research Centre Director Dr Thomas Ice, on the Berean Call radio show, on the basis of his own interpretation of 2 Thess. 2:3, publicly challenged Pastor Joe Schimmel for the $10,000 offered in the documentary to anyone who could find a biblical text clearly supporting a pretribulational timing for the Rapture event. This challenge initiated an informal debate between pastor Joe Schimmel of Blessed Hope Chapel and himself concerning the subject of Dr Ice’s contention that the apostasia in 2 Thess. 2:3 refers not to a departure from the faith, but a spatial departure into Heaven, namely the Rapture.
Subsequent to this, Dr Ice issued a formal challenge to Pastor Schimmel to formally and publicly debate Pretrib history and origins at the upcoming Pretrib Research Group Prophecy Conference in December 2016. Dr Ice had already selected Dr Paul Wilkinson as a debate partner, and Pastor Schimmel chose bible expositor Jacob Prasch, while at the same time issuing a counter challenge that the scriptural basis for the Pretrib Rapture should also be debated as well. After negotiation it was agreed that there should be two debates: one to discuss Pretrib history and origins; and another to deal with the scriptural issues and concerns.
Dr Ice is one of the foremost and most zealous exponents of the Pretribulational Rapture teaching on the prophecy circuit today, he is also Director of the Pretrib Research Centre, an organisation devoted to defending and promoting the Pretribulational Rapture Teaching, so considering that his debate challenge was issued with such an air of confidence we were somewhat saddened and disappointed to receive a communication from Dr Ice shortly afterward stating the following:
“After prayer and consulting with my board of directors, we have decided to withdraw any debate offer and will not participate in any debates at all. We will deal with these issues in a different way.”
Dr Ice’s withdrawal from the very debate he himself proposed, and indeed his subsequent refusal to enter into any future such thing raises questions, but as pastors, bible expositors and concerned believers we see this refusal as part of an ongoing and ever-growing trend of concerns about the teachings and activities of the Pretribulational Rapture Movement and which are generating ever increasing alarm, and we present some of these below for prayerful consideration of the wider body of Christ.
Our Chief Concern: The Lack of Preparation that Pretrib Engenders.
The Pretrib Teaching Leaves Saints Unprepared For What is Coming And Disarms Them In The Face Of The Enemy.
The Lord Jesus and the Apostles warned in the most explicit manner of the distress that would come upon the world, particularly during the latter half of the Seventieth Week of Daniel, and what the ramifications of these things would be for His Church.
However, on the basis of a recent teaching, (that even their foremost scholars acknowledge of their own selves they are not able to find clearly taught anywhere in Scripture) pretribulational teachers seem willing to cast the unambiguous and explicit words of Jesus and the Apostles behind their back and instead proclaim that we should ” . . . . be at peace in the knowledge that the Lord has not destined us to endure any part of the Tribulation.” ii
As concerned believers in the Lord Jesus, in concert with the earliest historical witnesses in direct line from the Apostles, we recognise that these warnings were given as part of the Apostolic deposit of faith to the Church and intended for our instruction and as a most necessary warning from the Lord Himself to prepare His saints for what is to come. Now, especially in light of the ever darkening prophetic scenario, we must state above all our other concerns, that we believe the Pretribulational Rapture Teaching embodies a clear and present danger to the saints, for it sets aside these warnings as irrelevant for the Church and ultimately it will leave believers completely unprepared to face unprecedented spiritual deception, and a level of persecution not previously encountered in the history of the Church.
In the Olivet Discourse Jesus warns repeatedly of massive spiritual deception being perpetrated against the saints during and around the Tribulation period; a deception that will include miraculous signs and wonders, to deceive even the elect if they allow themselves to be vulnerable. This warning is reiterated also in many other places.iii The Pretribulational Rapture Teaching, by deriding any expectation of the saints possibly being present through the Seventieth Week, leaves its adherents ill-equipped to face a veritable avalanche of sign, wonder and miracle-backed spiritual deception and false prophets which will assail believers during that time. Not only so but leading Pretrib voices, Dr Thomas Ice, Dr Paul Wilkinson,iv Wayne House and others are even removing the notion that there will even be an end-time apostasy at all by promoting the idea that the word ἀποστασία in 2 Thess. 2:3, (“Let no man deceive you by any means, that day shall not come except there come the Apostasy first and the Man of Lawless be revealed the son of perdition.”) refers not to a falling away or departing from the faith, but to a departing to heaven.v 2 Thess. 2:3 is a clear corollary to Jesus’ teaching in the Olivet Discourse, particularly vv. 10-13. This notion is a serious false teaching, yet it was aired on Berean Call Radio, vi without any comment or demurring from host T. A. McMahon, either during the broadcast or since and it is now being promoted by Berean Call in their re-publication of Dr Wilkinson’s book.
The 70th Week is also described as a period where the Dragon will make his war on the saints. No soldier would wish to be sent into a combat zone without any training and with no idea of what to expect, yet this is the position in which the Pretrib Rapture teaching will place untold multitudes of God’s people.
Pretrib Engenders a False Hope.
The teaching that the Church will be absent from the Seventieth Week against the overwhelming testimony of Scripture, presents the precious flock of God with a false hope, a delusion that discourages the saints from preparing spiritually and mentally now for what may well come upon us even in our own generation as we accelerate towards the consummation of this age. We believe that in effect it casts a stumblingblock before thesaints of God which may cause many to fall when difficulties arise and this lying hope is shattered by 70th week realities. We are deeply concerned that on this basis the Pretribulational Rapture Teaching will actually be a contributory factor in the prophesied “falling away of many” during the 70th week. Dr Paul Wilkinson complains that non-Pretribulation teaching frightens the flock:
“I just want to bring out. Because the Post-Tribulation belief that Joe Schimmel espouses, Joel Richardson, the Pre-Wrath view that Jacob Prasch espouses, these are heretical views. To teach that the Church is going to go through any part of the Tribulation period is an abominable thing to teach. because it robs believers of the blessedness of the Blessed Hope. It doesn’t fill believers with joy and expectancy and longing, it fills them with fear, it fills them with a kind of militancy that they have to stand against the Antichrist, they have to face the Mark of the Beast. I have spoken at Churches in England where people have been in fear how they are going to get through the Tribulation, how their children are going to get through the Tribulation. Will they be strong enough to resist the Mark of the Beast when it comes. Praise God the Lord uses many of us to bring freedom and release from that kind of teaching..”
Our great concern about this statement, is that this kind of “release” this false hope, is only that of the drunk who uses alcohol to “make it all go away”, but the problems are still there the morning after. The Tribulation is still coming, ready or not. We believe that the only solution for the fear about the days that are coming upon us, is not the hallucinogenic of an escapist teaching, but to preach trust in our wonderful Almighty God whose grace is entirely sufficient and whose strength is made perfect in our weakness, and to preach a discipleship that counts everything loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ, and that exhorts us to seek God for gracenot to love our own lives unto the death, but to forsake all for Him.
The Elevation of the “teaching” and its Contribution to an Environment of Hostility
While there has been a historical tendency in some groups to make Pretrib Rapturism a test of fellowship or membership and incorporate it into doctrinal statements of colleges, churches and some seminaries, despite the fact that it is not clearly taught in Scripture:vii Now however, we note with alarm that some leading figures in the Pretrib Movement are not only elevating the Pretrib Teaching to become part of the fundamentals of the faith once delivered, but allotting it an even more exalted place:
” . . . . . for the believer, the doctrine of the Rapture is the most important, most urgent doctrine. And the enemy knows this; Satan knows this, and so his task is to rob the church, rob believers of the blessedness of the blessed hope by getting them distracted, by telling them that “No, you’ve got to go through the period of the great tribulation that is to come. ” viii
Even clearly stated biblical truths can be over emphasised at the expense of the whole counsel of Scripture and this can produce serious error:, for example, Christ’s humanity over-emphasised to the extent that His divine nature is occluded or vice versa. However what happens when something that can not be found in Scripture is made a cardinal and most important doctrine? Surely, in the end, this can only lead to error of greater magnitude.
A worrying consequence of this elevation of the “teaching” to fundamental status, is that those who do not adhere to this new fundamental and “most important” doctrine are now labelled heretics and evildoers because they have denied the new cardinal doctrine of faith.
“Post-Tribulationism, any form of tribulationism that places the Church in that period of God’s wrath being outpoured on the earth is a terrible heresy in the Church. “ix
“It is evil . . . to tell anyone that Jesus could not come back today.”x
Thus those spiritual leaders who try to prepare their flock for what is coming based on what the Scriptures clearly and unambiguously teach, are now considered pseudo-shepherds.
” . . . . any true pastor will feel that divine jealousy for the flock of Christ, the congregation under their care, because they know Jesus could come back at any time. A true pastor will know that . . “xi
” . . . you will not hear these [non Pretrib] men talk about their love for Jesus. You’ll not see the tears fall down their cheeks. They will speak of the Coming of the Lord, very academically and very intellectually, but where’s the heart? Where’s the love? Where’s the longing? It’s not there: and one of the reasons it’s not there is because they’re not pastors; they’ve not been called to take care of the flock; they’ve not been called to help
prepare the Bride for the Bridegroom.xii
“This promise, however is to the church of Philadelphia: she will be raptured before the Tribulation begins. It seems difficult to understand why some false teachers suggest that the Church must go through the Tribulation in view of this clear-cutxiii statement of our Lord.”xiv
We feel concerned and saddened, that from high up in the Pretrib teaching Movement this kind of personal rancour and ad hominem attack is being utilised and endorsed in order to stifle biblically-based questioning ofthe Pretribulational Rapture Teaching.
The Hermeneutical Downgrade of Core Doctrine
In order to justify the absence of an exegetical basis for the Pretribulational Rapture teaching, and partly arising from its elevation to cardinal status, there have been some recent attempts by senior figures with the Pretrib Movement to hermeneutically downgrade other doctrines such as the Trinity, by claiming that they are arrived at in the same manner as the Pretribulational Rapture teaching, thus attempting to place the Pretrib teaching on the same footing as other major doctrines of the Church. The doctrine of the Trinity can be demonstrated exegetically by the contextual use of numerous passages in their respective contexts, using sound hermeneutical methodology. From our observations, it appears that the Pretribulational Rapture teaching can only be arrived at by collecting together scriptures that have been contextually eviscerated, by reading presuppositions that have no biblical foundation into the texts and by full blown denial of explicit statements by Jesus and the Apostles. We do not believe these methods to be compatible with sound biblical scholarship. We believe that not only is this comparison with the doctrine of the Trinity false, it is actually a direct attack on the faith once delivered to the saints, for it provides a convenient pretext to cult groups and false teachers (who deny fundamentals of the faith) to claim orthodoxy, because they often use the same kind of hermeneutical methodology as Pretrib proponents use to arrive at their teaching. This downgrade is not only being propagated by senior figures within the Pretrib Movement, such as Thomas Ice (Head of the Pretrib Research Centre) and Dr Paul Wilkinson, (a senior figure in PWMI) but it is being promoted and endorsed by T.A. McMahon and Berean Call, both on his radio programme and at the Berean Call Conference in Dr Paul Wilkinson’s presentation.
The Subversion of Gospel Truth
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be anathema. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be anathema.
A serious concern, one which was raised in Left Behind or Led Astray,xv is that the Pretrib teaching provides a platform for a most serious error which undermines the very Gospel itself.
The everlasting Gospel (Rev. xiv. 6). This is to be preached to the earthdwellers at the very end of the great tribulation and immediately preceding the judgement of the nations (Mt. xxv. 31 refs.). It is neither the gospel of the kingdom, nor of grace. Though its burden is judgment, not salvation, it is good news to Israel and to those who, during the tribululation have been saved (Rev. vii. 9-14; Lk xxi. 28; Psa. xvi. 11-13; Isa. xxxv. 4-10).xvi
It [the everlasting Gospel] calls on men to worship God as “CREATOR, ” and not as “Saviour” and so it is called in the Revised version-“THE ETERNAL GOSPEL, ” the Gospel that has been proclaimed from Eden down by Patriarchs and Prophets, and not an “Everlasting Gospel” in the sense that it saves men for all eternity. Its burden is not “Repent, ” or “do this” or “do that, ” but–“FEAR GOD, and give GLORY TO HIM; for the HOUR OF HIS JUDGMENT IS COME; and WORSHIP HIM THAT MADE HEAVEN, AND EARTH, AND THE SEA, AND THE FOUNTAINS OF WATERS.” From this we see how important it is to distinguish between the various Gospels, not only as to their message, but the period to which they apply, otherwise there will be confusion and false teaching.xvii
Clarence Larkin in accordance with Schofield taught that there were multiple Gospels, contrasting this everlasting gospel in Rev. 14:16 with that the gospel of grace which brings salvation and peace between God and Man. We would maintain that a gospel which does not provide these things is actually no gospel at all. The Bibleonly knows of one Gospel, though it is often called by different names which reveal the facets of its nature. The Gospel has always been about God’s grace providing a gift of righteousness and ultimately salvation for those who turn to him in faith. Though not all dispensationalists embrace these multiple and alternative gospels, there are some dispensationalist groups, who on the basis of this very teaching, are advocating a works-based- obedience-to-the-Law gospel that applies during the Seventieth Week. This is an error so serious that it brings God’s anathema upon it.
Some Concluding Thoughts
Dr Ice’s refusal to enter into public moderated debate on the history, origin and biblical basis of his Pretribulational Rapture teaching is reflective of that issued by his proposed debate partner Dr Paul Wilkinson at the latter end of 2015, whose written rebuttal concluded with:
“I want to make it clear that we have no intention of being drawn into a debate on this subject. The Lord always vindicates His Word, and those who faithfully preach the truth have nothing to fear. . . . . I would urge readers to avoid the temptation of taking issue with those who are contending with him. My prayer is that the flock of God, His beautiful flock, will be protected from confusion, fear and doubt, and be at peace in the knowledge that the Lord has not destined us to endure any part of the Tribulation. “xviii
With the sentiment “the Lord always vindicates His word and those who faithfully preach the truth have nothing to fear”, we could not agree more. Those who are indeed faithfully preaching the truth, should not be reluctant but relish the opportunity to publicly air the scriptural basis of their belief, for examination by all in a moderated debate, particularly if the teaching is so important as to warrant the very public charge of “terrible heresy” to its opponents; surely this is something that the accuser should be prepared to present his case for and justify before all, from the Scriptures, or otherwise he must retract it. In like manner we have the same expectations from Pretrib proponents Drs Ice and Wilkinson, that they would also be zealous to present us with the biblical and linguistic basis for equating the apostasia of 2 Thess 2:3 with the Rapture and the hermeneutical basis of the Pretrib Rapture with that of the doctrine of the Trinity.
“he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” (Jn 3:21)
If the Apostle Paul was willing to submit what he called “my gospel” to the critical examination of the Bereans, how much more we who do not claim the same level of inspiration or authority?
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Ti. 2:15)
We believe that the refusal of Drs Ice and Wilkinson to enter into debate is indicative that the leading champions of the Pretribulational Movement, have conceded even among themselves that their teaching is biblically indefensible, but they are unwilling to have this brought into the open for all to see.xix Workmen that are not ashamed of their work in the Gospel and of its biblical foundation, should not be ashamed to publicly defend it in a formal debate.
Our concern is that this refusal to debate is indicative of a pattern, that as the Pretrib Movement seeks to shore up its teaching and preserve its dwindling subscriber base, not only is it drifting ever farther from sound biblical exposition and hermeneutical principles as it seeks to find a pretext to cling to something for which it has no biblical warrant, but it is now also closing its ears to correction from the Scriptures, which is further exacerbating the situation. Wilful adherence to one error, we believe will open the door ever wider to a number of others. We are saddened and concerned by all of this, because it works against the stability of the Body, our common unity as Pre-millennial believers against a host of deceivers who deny a literal millennium and disparage the place of Israel in God’s purposes, and ultimately against the preparation of the Church for what lies ahead.
Signed (in alphabetical order):
John Haller Elder, Fellowship Bible Chapel, Columbus Ohio.
Douglas Krieger, The Tribulation Network.
Elon Moreh, Moriel Israel.
Tony Pallacio, Goodfight Ministries.
James Jacob Prasch Bible Expositor and Director of Moriel Ministries.
Scott Pruitt, http://nopretrib.com/
Pastor Joe Schimmel. Senior Pastor of Blessed Hope Chapel Simi Valley California and Director of Good Fight Ministries.
i That is in Jan 2016.
ii “Left Behind or Led Astray?” – Exposed by Dr Paul Wilkinson. This remark is from the pastoral endorsement at the end.
iii 2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:3-4; Rev. 13, etc.
iv See page 31 of Dr Wilkinson’s first book For Zion’s Sake. See also the section “The Midnight Cry” in the Berean Call re-publication of the same, now renamed Understanding Christian Zionism. Dr Paul Wilkinson is a leading figure in PWMI (Prophetic Witness Movement International), the oldest Pretrib Organisation in the world.
v It scarcely needs to be said that this notion has absolutely no exegetical support within the passage concerned or anywhere else in Scripture, nor for that matter does it possess any linguistic merit within Koine Greek of the period; neither, when the translator’s notes to the older English versions are read, is it revealed to be their understanding of apostasia.
vi Interview with Thomas Ice aired 7th Dec. 2014.
vii ” . . . the doctrine of imminency. . . . has been incorporated into the doctrinal statement of many evangelical churches and missionary agencies. Indeed, it forms part of the basic [i.e. fundamental] doctrine of many excellent Christian colleges and theological seminaries throughout the world. ” The Doctrine of Imminency: Is It Biblical? Dr. Gerald Stanton. http://www.pretrib.org/articles/view/doctrine-of-imminency-is-it-biblical
” . . . Only the Pretribulationist believes in the imminent return of Christ. It is here proposed that this is the true and thoroughly defensible view of the Christian Church. . . ” The Doctrine of Imminency: Is It Biblical? Dr. Gerald Stanton. http://www.pre- trib.org/articles/view/doctrine-of-imminency-is-it-biblical
viii Dr Paul Wilkinson, Berean Call Radio Interview part of a four part series aired between 12th Jul. 2013 to 2nd Aug. 2013.
ix Dr Paul Wilkinson “Israel Betrayed” Part Two The Berean Call Conference 2015
x Dr Paul Wilkinson Left Behind or Led Astray-Exposed.
xi Dr Paul Wilkinson “Israel Betrayed” Part Two The Berean Call Conference 2015
xii Dr Paul Wilkinson “Israel Betrayed” Part Two The Berean Call Conference 2015
xiii LaHaye tries to present Rev. 3:10 as a “rock solid” proof for Pretribulationism here, but he can only do so by making a number of assertions that he can not prove. Exegetically, the letter was written for a particular church with particular issues at a particular point in history, for their encouragement and edification, so in a literal hermeneutic the letter contents about the time of trial in 3:10 were addressed to them alone. LaHaye’s usage of this text depends on a typological application of it, and even though the Seven Churches are often taken as a typology of eras of Church history, those who do this responsibly do not use it to establish biblical doctrine. Secondly, even typologically speaking, LaHaye can not prove that whether the Church immediately prior to the Tribulation is Philadelphia or Laodicea. He is making the unprovable assumption that the church that passes through the Tribulation (in his view) is Laodicea.
Thirdly, he is making the invalid assumption that the Greek word πειρασμός “temptation”, is used as a synonym for θλιψις “tribulation” which it most certainly is not. To this we could also add linguistic questions as to the usage of the Greek preposition “ek”, (why one should never base a doctrine on a preposition alone) and the comparison of this passage with Jn 17:15 where a similar construction occurs. For LaHaye to say that these are “clear-cut” words of Jesus that prove the Church will not endure the Tribulation, is a claim he simply can not substantiate exegetically from this text.
xiv Page 81, Revelation Unveiled Tim LaHaye Zondervan 1999 as also cited here: http://prewrathrapture.com/operation-expose-the-truth/
xv See Chapter 11 after the 18 minute mark.
xvi Schofield Reference Bible. Notes on Rev. chapter 14.
xvii Larkin Dispensational Truth. Larkin never spoke a truer word, “there will be confusion and false teaching”. Unfortunately it comes from Larkin and his Dispensationalism. Larkin contrasts the everlasting Gospel with the “Gospel of the Grace of God” thus: This is the “Good News” that Jesus Christ, the rejected King, died on the Cross for our SALVATION. This form of the Gospel is described in many ways. It is called the “GOSPEL OF GOD” (Rom. 1:1), because it has its source in the LOVE OF GOD. John 3:16. Its Character is GRACE. Acts 20:24. Its Subject is CHRIST (Rom. 1:16; 2Cor. 10:14), and it is the POWER OF GOD UNTO SALVATION. And it is the “GOSPEL OF PEACE, ” because it makes peace between the sinner and God, and brings peace to the soul. Eph. 6; 15.” According to Larkin, the everlasting Gospel is none of these things. It does not bring salvation, it’s character is not grace, it can not make peace between man and God. This then begs the question, “Is this everlasting Gospel any kind of good news at all?”
xviiiDr Paul Wilkinson Left Behind or Led Astray-Exposed.
xix This is starkly illustrated in the video rebuttal against Left Behind or Led Astray, where Dr Wilkinson, who despite repeatedly and vociferously claiming that the Pretrib Rapture is “in the Bible” brought forth not even one clear or explicit scripture passage that would clearly support his assertion.