The "Latter Rain" Revival Movement<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
by Thomas Ice
In a continuation of the fourth installment of our study of the "latter rain" movement, I will pursue a study begun last month on key theological concepts and passages. Previously I began this section with an investigation of the idea of "restoration" within the "latter rain" tradition. I now turn to an examination of their notion of "spiritual Israel."
Key Theological Concepts and Passages
Another common technique used by Restorationist and "latter rain" advocates is to say that the Church is now spiritual Israel. They believe that they then have the right to take the volumes of passages, often from the prophets, and link them spiritually to the Church. Therefore, Israel is finished in God's plan as a nation, while individual Jews may come to faith in Christ; the Church inherits the promises made to Israel in some spiritual way. Restorationist Rick Godwin is an example of this view.
So we see in Abraham the birthing of two seeds: the nation of Israel physically and the spiritual nation of Israel-the Church. And if I hear one more person say, "Ahhh, there ain't no such thing as the spiritual Israel." I'm going to vomit all over 'em. What are we reading? For God sake, get rid of that Judaistic spirit after the flesh and we'll find out what the real Jew is! You'll find out God has never been and is not now a racist. Ever! The Church is. God isn't. Never has been."[i]
Well, Rick, there is no such thing as spiritual Israel. Watch out below!
Let's look at this matter more closely. The Church IS the spiritual seed of Abraham, but NOT spiritual Israel. The Bible does say that "if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring" (Gal. 3:29). It does not say that New Testament, Church Age believers are spiritual Israel. Was Abraham an Israelite? No, but he was the father of Isaac, who was the father of Jacob or Israel. Abraham became the source of blessing to both Jew and Gentile.
Too often those who want to replace physical Israel with the Church do it by stretching the term "seed of Abraham" to all of a sudden mean "spiritual Israel." Charles Ryrie has noted that those who hold to a spiritual Israel view "often argue that since the Church is the seed of Abraham and Israel is the seed of Abraham, the Church equals Israel."[ii] Ryrie answers that view by clarifying the proper relationship of the Church to the seed of Abraham by saying that "the Church is a seed of Abraham, but this does not mean that the Church is Israel."[iii] Ryrie notes the three ways the Bible uses the term "seed of Abraham:
(1) There is the natural seed, the physical descendants of Abraham- . . . (Isa. 41:8). (2) There is Christ- . . . (Gal. 3:16). (3) Christians are Abraham's seed- . . . (Gal. 3:29).[iv]
Those who believe in a future destiny for physical Israel do not deny that the Church is part of the spiritual blessing flowing out of the Abrahamic Covenant through Christ. However, we do not believe that the Bible teaches that the Church replaces Israel, as do many. In this instance it is a "both/and" situation, not an "either/or" choice.
Paul makes it clear in Romans 15:27 that Gentiles during the Church Age "have shared in their (Israel's) spiritual things." Therefore, as sharers, he does not mean taker-overs. We are not spiritual Israel! Who, then, is spiritual Israel?
I think that the Bible uses the concept of spiritual Israel to refer to physical Israelites or Jews who are regenerate believers in Jesus as the Messiah. In other words, they are spiritual (born again) Jews or Israelites. Just as the term "spiritual Gentile" would refer to a Gentile who has a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Paul is saying in Romans 2:28-29, when he states "he is not a Jew who is one outwardly . . . but he is a Jew who is one inwardly," that just because one is a physical Jew does not mean that He is saved and going to heaven. There are two kinds of Jews, those who do not know God through Christ, but are racial Jews (physical Jews), and those who are physical Jews, as well as spiritual Jews, who know God through Christ.
These spiritual Jews are the ones Paul is greeting as he closes his letter to the Galatians: "peace and mercy be upon them and upon the Israel of God" (6:16). After having been so rough on the Judaizers-Israel after the flesh only-he concludes with a greeting to those within the family of God who are Jews, but are believing Jews; called in this passage by Paul "the Israel of God." S. Lewis Johnson, in an essay where he studies the meaning of the term "Israel of God," concludes:
If there is an interpretation that totters on a tenuous foundation, it is the view that Paul equates the term "the Israel of God" with the believing church of Jews and Gentiles. To support it, the general usage of the term Israel in Paul, in the New Testament, and in the Scriptures as a whole is ignored. . . . If, as LaRondelle asserts, "Paul's benediction in Galatians 6:16 becomes, then, the chief witness in the New Testament in declaring that the universal church of Christ is the Israel of God, the seed of Abraham, the heir to Israel's covenant promise (cf. Gal. 3:29; 6:16)," then the doctrine that the church of Gentiles and Jews is the Israel of God rests on an illusion. It is a classic case of tendentious exegesis."[v]
Apostasy or Revival?
Another important area where Restorationist and "latter rain" advocates have missed the teaching of Scripture is in regard to the state of the Church as this age draws to its end? Will it end in revival or will it sink increasingly into apostasy? They fail to realize that the Church, in its overall posture, cannot be characterized by both revival and apostasy at the same time. This is an "either/or" issue. Rick Godwin has said,
The Lord is going to have a "Glorious Church" before He returns. . . . For years the belief was that we would never have another revival, . . . We utterly reject that line of thinking in light of clear Scripture. The Glorious Church is to be a mighty army of over-comers through whom God reveals and demonstrates Himself to man.[vi]
The Bible does not teach that the Church will be this mighty army of overcomers, in the way Godwin envisions. Once again, his "support" is taken from passages which refer to Israel and not the Church. He misuses verses that refer to believers during the tribulation period, after the Church has been removed.
Let's look at what the words "revival" and "apostasy" mean as used by Christians today. A "revival" includes evangelist success but usually means more than that. It often is used to refer to the stirring up of Christians who rededicate themselves to living a more committed life on behalf of our Lord. Effectiveness of a "revival" is sometimes gauged by the social and political change which results from the impact of those who have be stirred to action. On the other hand, "apostasy" does not refer to whether a small or large numbers of individuals are coming to Christ at a given point in time. Instead, it is concerned with the theological or doctrinal integrity of the Church. This is why a believer can always preach the gospel with confidence during the whole of the Church Age knowing that God is at work bringing sinners to Himself, even until the very end.
The New Testament, especially the Epistles, clearly teach that the whole of the Church Age is a time of increasing apostasy within Christendom . In fact, so much space is spent in the New Testament dealing with the issue of apostasy that it has to be considered one of its major themes. Apostasy constitutes the main theme of entire books and chapters as well as paragraphs and verses in the New Testament. Apostasy and its evil effects provide the main message of such books as First and Second Timothy, Second Peter, and Jude. Apostasy occupies a prominent place in such books as Galatians, Second Thessalonians, Hebrews and Revelation. Apostasy and apostates are set forth with varying degrees of detail as to their character and conduct, influence and teaching. Believers are warned to know how to recognize them and Christian leaders are supposed to protect their flocks from them and their unhealthy doctrine. Apostasy is doctrinal error, not how many will or will not be saved, whether or not the economy will be good or bad, or how moral or immoral society will be. The focus of apostasy is not secular society, but what is going on within the Church itself. When the great amount of New Testament Scripture, dealing with apostasy within the Church, is compared with the absence of language speaking of the victory of the Church, in the sense that restoration and "latter rain" advocates suggest, then there is zero basis for their opinion found in the Word of God. The Bible does speak of individuals who are overcomers, but that proves the point, since they are contrasted with apostates. Victory language in the New Testament applies to individual believers, not the Church as a whole. Notice the chart which lists the references to apostasy in the New Testament.
APOSTASY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Matthew 12:14-37; 13:1-52; 15:12; 23:1-36; 24:10-28
John 6:60-71; 8:31-59; 13:21-30; 15:18-27
Acts 8:8-24; 13:4-12; 20:17-35
Romans 1:18-32; 10; 16:17-18
2 Corinthians 11:1-15; 13:5
Galatians 1:6-9; 5:1-12
Philippians 3:2, 18-19
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
1 Timothy 1:3-7; 4:1-3; 6:3-5
2 Timothy 2:11-26; 3:1-14; 4:1-6
Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:12-6:12; 10:26-31; 12:14-17
1 Peter 3:19-20
2 Peter 2:1-22; 3:3-10
1 John 2:18-23; 3:4-12; 4:1-6
2 John 9
Revelation 2:1-3:22; 4:1-5:14; 6:1-10:11; 11:1-15:8; 16:1-19:24; 19:1-20:15[vii]
* Incomplete listings
I take no pleasure in the apostasy theme of the New Testament, but we all must acknowledge this point in an effort to call the Church away from apostasy. The sobering fact is clear: either the restoration/"latter rain" movement is a heaven sent revival from God or it is part of the end-time apostasy preparing the way for the coming Antichrist. It cannot be both. We all must decide! No one can be neutral on this issue! If it is the great revival supposedly predicted for the end-times, then all true believers must join the band wagon. If it is not, then all true believers should have enough biblical sense to come in out of the latter rain apostasy. These are important issues.
(To Be Continued . . .)
[i] Rick Godwin, "The True Seed of Abraham" Cassette recording, Eagle's Nest Christian Center, San Antonio, TX, Tape GO32788.
[ii] Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), p. 137.
[iii] Ryrie, Dispensationalism, p. 138.
[v] S. Lewis Johnson, "Paul and 'The Israel of God': A Case-Study" in Stanley D. Toussaint & Charles H. Dyer, Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), p. 195
[vi] Rick Godwin, "Vision of the Eagle's Nest Christian Fellowship," in Tape and Book Catalog, July, 1990, p. 6.
[vii] This information was taken from A. Glen Campbell, "The Problem of Apostasy In The Greek New Testament," Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1957, pp. 9, 16, 20, 23.
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