The year is 1955. The place is South Bend, Indiana. A bride and groom who live in Elyria, Ohio, married only four months, are traveling by car toward Illinois to spend their first Christmas together with the bride's parents.
Suddenly in the black of night, a car driven at high speed, careens around the corner and slams into a red Studebaker sport car. The drunk driver, coming from a Christmas party, thinks the young couple are "his friends" and accompanies them to the hospital. The bride suffers a broken leg and wrist; the groom receives only minor injuries.
And so I began seventeen weekly trips on the train from Elyria, Ohio to South Bend, Indiana (225 miles each way) to visit my injured bride, confined to her hospital bed with her leg in traction. In spite of the trauma and suffering involved in all of this, those train trips provided a spiritually beneficial time for me to study my Bible and experience the grace and comfort of God. What had started out as a tragedy was somehow becoming a grand opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus, Who was teaching me many new things about His Word and giving me peace.
On the seventeenth train trip, I brought my wife back to Ohio, where we announced to our church congregation that an addition to the family was expected in the near future! Through all the physical hardship that my wife endured came the glorious birth of our first child, a son, not many months after. He was called the "miracle baby" because no one thought that he could be normal with all the pain killers and drugs that his mother had taken during her stay in the South Bend hospital.
A couple years later, with our son and his younger sister now family members, an irresponsible teenage driver came around a curve on a rain-drenched night and crashed into the small foreign car that our family of four was riding in, throwing my wife, who was seven months pregnant, and the two kids onto a lawn beside the road. I was able to get out of the car and tried to help my wife and children. Ambulances came screaming and rushed everyone to the hospital. My wife began to fade in strength as it became clear that she had suffered a ruptured spleen with rapidly diminishing blood pressure and death fast approaching. Our Sovereign God called on an experienced surgeon (noted for his fast operating skills) to come to the rescue, and using metal stitches, managed to perform the operation in record time, saving her life. At the same time I was on another floor of the hospital with cracked ribs, praying that the Lord might spare the life of my wife and mother of our children.
A week later my wife gave birth to a stillborn baby boy in the hospital with the grave side service following, with neither parent attending because of injuries. The Sovereign Lord had spared the lives of the four of us, but chose in His wisdom to call the third child to Heaven.
The Lord did not see fit to send us any more natural born children, but instead opened the way for ten foster children to make their home with us when we were living in the Chicago area. The first children to come were two brothers and a sister, ages 8, 6, and 4. These were kids abandoned by their mother, given their own little suitcases and turned out into the snow on a cold windy day in Chicago. A neighbor called the Cook County Children's Dept. who, in turn, called our newly licensed foster home, and overwhelmed us with three new children, all at once! What an experience that turned out to be!
Other needy children joined the family over the next several years, each bringing with them a story of difficult home conditions. Some children stayed for several years; others came and were gone within a few months. But each child left an impact upon our family who benefitted in many ways from helping these little people. By God's grace, we were permitted to adopt two of these children into our family.
Our family moved to Delaware in December 1968 where, in 1970, our family began a new ministry of discounting Reformed theological books and Bibles. It was named Puritan-Reformed Discount Book Service. This started in our garage and adjoining room in Hockessin, DE with our family doing all the tasks from picking up the mail, entering the receipts and payments, gathering, packing, and shipping the orders, all the same day. Soon the new enterprise outgrew it limited quarters and moved to larger quarters, expanding again in 1983. By this time the book ministry had grown substantially and we were beginning to add a number of new employees to the staff to keep up with the good service that we tried hard to maintain. Our catalogs, with their unique selection of Reformed titles, began to be seen in many overseas locations and seminary students and pastors were telling others about our low prices and fast service.
In 1983, with the help of Ed Stevens and Tim James, two preterist theologians who believed that the Second Coming of Christ had already happened in A.D. 70, I became convinced that they were right and soon persuaded Baker Book House to reprint that wonderful book on Bible prophecy by James Stuart Russell called THE PAROUSIA. For our store it was a major step of faith to "go out on a limb" to the extent of buying 2000 copies, but they sold and we ordered 1500 more. Over the next 15 years this title became the number one best selling prophecy book in our store and the lives of people were changed, sometimes dramatically, as a result.
Many years later in 1979, after my oldest son was married, that dreaded word of diagnosis echoed through the corridors of the medical center announcing that my wife had contracted breast cancer. After over four years of struggling through radiation and chemotherapy, the Lord called her Home to be with Himself in those lovely dwelling places described in John chapter 14. She was faithful to the end, something that she had prayed that the Lord would, in His grace, enable her to be. That day in April 1983 at the grave side service in the cemetery something was going on in both my son's and my mind that brought real peace.
After studying eschatology for over 28 years, I had adopted the 'full preterist view' of Bible prophecy, believing that all of the prophesied events described in the Bible, the Great Tribulation, the Second Coming of Christ, the Resurrection of the Body, and the Last Judgment had already been fulfilled by A.D.70. Our oldest son, sympathetic to this view, was also standing at the grave side with me. As the pastor began to preach on II Cor. 5, taking the traditional Reformed view about "disembodied spirits" awaiting the yet future resurrection of "dead bones in the grave," a strange inner peace consumed the hearts of both my son and me. For both of us knew that our dear wife and mother had ALREADY received her glorious, incorruptible, immortal, imperishable spiritual body as Jesus had called her Home. No waiting for a thousand years or more (like the O.T. saints in Sheol/Hades) in a state of nakedness (II Cor. 5:3). No partial salvation, but a full and complete salvation now! It was thrilling and comforting to behold this in a practical, heart-rending moment of extreme crisis.
The days following her death were lonely and difficult for all of us, but that "fulfilled preterist hope" furnished glad assurance that my wife was safe with Jesus and enjoying eternal fellowship with her Wonderful Lord, having the same kind of body that He presently has, following His victorious resurrection from the grave. The Lord was indeed the firstfruit, the harvest followed in A.D.70, and my dear Christian wife and mother of our children joined the "innumerable throng" in Heaven in 1983.
The mixed emotions of loneliness and yet inner triumph and peace consumed me during those months until the Lord God graciously sent another Christian lady into my life. Having brought this lady through several difficult trials herself, the Lord united us in Christian marriage in 1984, in a double-wedding ceremony with my oldest daughter and her husband, bringing completeness once again to our home.
The Lord blessed our new family with the birth of a baby girl in 1985, the child of her father's older years (like Abraham's Isaac). When this little girl grew to ten years old, once again that dreaded word fell like a sledge hammer on all of us! This time my second wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer which she struggled against for more than a year. In April 1996, the Lord called her Home too. With a prayer of thanksgiving on her lips and pleading to the Lord to care for her family, she was taken into Glory, spirit/soul and resurrected body into the Everlasting Arms of Jesus! She, too, was faithful to the end as she prayed she would be.
Losing two devoted Christian wives from cancer is not an easy thing to face. The loneliness has continued now for the past three years and counting. Both my 13 year old daughter and I know that she is supremely happy in Heaven with Jesus. We thank our Sovereign God often for "taking such good care of Mommy." We know there is nothing incomplete about her salvation! She is with her Lord and all His saints, all of whom have a glorious and full salvation which will never end.
The name of our bookstore was changed to Great Christian Books and by 1987 a large line of home schooling books was added in response to the growing demand for high quality teaching materials at the lowest prices. One of the ideas behind adding the home schooling line was to have opportunity to introduce many people to the doctrinally sound Reformed books, including preterist titles. The growth in sales was immediate, both in home schooling titles and in Reformed books. We were told that our company had become the world's largest dealer in Reformed books and preterist eschatology titles.
By 1994 it became clear that our limited financial resources were not adequate to keep up with the exploding home schooling market. To remedy this situation it seemed best at the time to sell my shares in the company to a man with considerable wealth, who wanted to reach out to the home schoolers in a greater way. My son, then president, was to manage the company, with me holding the honorary title of board chairman, doing book reviews and various clerical tasks.
The decision to sell the company turned out to be a major disaster as the new majority shareholder made many unwise business decisions and, in less than three years later, took full control of the company from my son. In spite of several attempts to sell the store, nothing happened and by the end of 1998 the company was out of business. This brought great financial loss to the book publishers and home school vendors, tens of thousands of customers, and many investors including both my son and me. And in addition, it left multitudes of people with no one-stop, low priced source for the distinctive lines of titles that we had offered for the past 28 years.
It is not clear in my mind just why our Sovereign God permitted these things to happen. He had surely used our book service to turn many pastors to the Reformed faith and a more biblical view of eschatology, as well as to give the home school movement a big boost. But God's appointed role for this company called Great Christian Books came to an end. With Job I can only say, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." (Job 1:21 NKJV)
During these many years of spiritual pilgrimage, I have held almost every eschatological view possible, from my days of studying the old Scofield Reference Bible on the train from Ohio to Indiana and back, to when, as a reconstructionist, postmillennial partial preterist, I was pointed to Chapter 17 of Luke's Gospel by Ed Stevens' book, and became convinced from that time on that there could be no dividing of the Olivet Discourse. It all spoke about events to be fulfilled by A.D.70, and I became, under God's grace, a full preterist -- the only view that withstands exegetical scrutiny because it is anchored in the Bible. After all, didn't Jesus promise that He would return while some, not all, of the people He was speaking to were still alive? (Matt. 16:28) And didn't the Apostle Paul record in I Cor. 15:23 that the Resurrection would take place at the same time as the Second Coming? And didn't our Lord promise that the Judgment was "about to be" (Matt. 16:27) at the same time as the Second Coming and the Resurrection?
You may wonder what has kept this "double widower" going during the time from his quiet conversion from liberalism in 1954 at the age of 28 into Bible-believing Christianity with both blessings and hardships. The answer is the mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in His sustaining power! Indeed, I have found that His strength is completely sufficient for the trials and difficulties that God has chosen to bring into my life, as well as for the mountain top experiences that He has also given. And interestingly enough, it has been the preterist view of eschatology, with its consistency and fulfilled promises that I have leaned on more than anything else, especially during the times of losing my two faithful wives. Surely the Lord God has used those hundreds of Scripture portions to be "verses of blessing" in sustaining our family through those hard times.
But even as some of you folks here today can testify, the preterist view of eschatology can be the occasion for misunderstandings and criticism from other Christians. And my experiences in two churches has focused on the central issue of this whole matter, namely, the question of the AUTHORITY of the Bible as compared to the creeds and confessions. I would like to share with you briefly two of my experiences in this area.
Many sincere Bible-believing Christians, when they learn a little bit about the preterist view of eschatology and become fascinated with it, invariably ask the question, "But what about the Creeds?" When they find that there are some basic differences between what the Scriptures teach and what the historic Christian Creeds teach, some of these folks immediately turn away from the Scripture and its plain teachings in favor of the futurist view held by the Creeds and early Church Fathers.
Back in 1984 when I served as a ruling elder in a fairly large conservative Presbyterian denomination, and again in 1997 when I was a member in a very small Reformed denomination, my views on eschatology came under heavy scrutiny by pastors and elders in these churches.
In the 1984 encounter, since most of the elders in my church had never studied eschatology to any great extent, several professors from Reformed seminaries were called in by my session to respond to papers which I had written to set forth what I believed the Scriptures were teaching. I provided a copy of THE PAROUSIA by James Stuart Russell for each of the professors, asking them to at least scan it before coming to the meeting. One professor promptly announced that he had no intention of reading the Russell book. The others apparently didn't read it either, but avoided the blunt expression of the first gentleman. Two of these professors still held to the easily refuted definition of "generation" (Gk. genea) in Mt. 24:34 as meaning "race." I reminded them that the same Greek word is used twenty-eight other times in the synoptic Gospels where it indisputably means those people living at the same time, not successive generations of Jews living throughout history. (One other professor did agree with me on that point.) A third professor maintained that the promise made by Jesus to Caiaphas in Matt. 26:64 was to be understood in terms of a future fulfillment to someone "covenantally related" to the high priest Caiaphas. This professor apparently lost sight of the fact that Jesus was speaking directly to Caiaphas himself with the words "hereafter YOU will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." Sometime later this same professor suggested that my understanding of the Scriptures had "become clouded" by the death of my wife not long before this, and that I would likely soon be starting a new cult which taught the full preterist view. My own pastor suggested that "Walt believes that he has found a flaw in the Westminster Standards," and followed this up with the comment that "this whole preterist thing is simply incredible that Walt could believe it." While the Holy Scriptures were certainly studied in this encounter, it became clear that violating the Confession was the major issue in this so-called "heresy trial." At this point, I was asked to recant of my theological error, and get on with the work of the church.. Sadly, under extreme pressure from fellow elders, pastors, and seminary professors, I temporarily let go of the full preterist view, opting for a modified preterist view, signed a statement that I agreed with the Westminster Confession of Faith and its futurist understanding of the Second Advent, etc. and have repented of this action ever since. Why did this recantation bother me so much? Simply because I could not live with myself holding the inconsistencies of partial preterism, yet knowing full well the covenantal and completed salvation as taught in the Scriptures and which was embraced in the full preterist position. It was not long after that time that I returned to the full preterist view which I have strongly stood for ever since.
If you ever find yourself in my boots, being pressured to recant on the full preterist view because of the creeds or confessions, DON'T DO IT! DON'T DO IT! You will regret it, like I did, for the rest of your life!
Again, in 1997 when I was a member of a church in a very small Reformed denomination, the pointed investigation of my eschatological views took on a rather different slant in a way that surprised me. Instead of the Scriptures being the main focal point in this discussion, it was the Church Creeds and the writings of the early Church Fathers. My senior pastor stated his position clearly, "When the Creed is challenged, you are trying to change the very foundation that every other generation built upon." He charged that I was trying to re-invent Christianity!! Both the senior and the associate pastors believed that the early Creeds emanated from the "oral tradition" and only much later were the individual apostolic writings gathered together to form what we have today, namely, the Canon of Scripture, which has become our Bible. According to this view, which books of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit was dependent on the early church fathers remembering what the "oral tradition" consisted of. The senior pastor warned me "don't think the early Church studied the Bible and came up with the creedal faith; rather they used this common faith in piecing the Bible together. If a book was not sufficiently quoted by the Church Fathers, it was not included in the Canon."And therefore he would have me believe that there could be no significant difference between the teachings of the Bible and the Creeds since both were supported by the ancient "oral tradition." The earliest Creeds, i.e., the Apostles' Creed, the Anathasius Creed and the Nicene Creed were elevated to a high ecclesiastical level, and while they were always distinguished from the Scriptures, they nevertheless were held in the highest esteem and carried great authority. The senior pastor also stated: "The Church has handed down to us what they believed to be the Word of God and what they believed to be the definitive INTERPRETATION of that Word in its essentials received directly from the Apostles." This view on how we got both our Bible and the Creeds, I discovered, was taken from Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic teaching, enabling both pastors to make the statement that it was "the Church which gave us the Bible." Manifestly, if this is true, then it becomes clear that Church authority transcends God's inspired and inerrant Word. Protestants have always maintained that it was God Himself Who gave the Church the Bible, as "holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." (I Pet. 1:21 NKJV)
Next, a meeting in my home was called to further consider these matters. As the investigation that evening in 1997 began, the senior pastor announced that the discussion would be limited to the Creeds and early Church Fathers. He ruled out any reference to the Holy Scriptures during that meeting. I could not believe what I was hearing! I had come to the meeting prepared to exegete the imminency passages which supported the full preterist view, and I was being denied an appeal to the only inspired writings, the Bible. It was the Creeds and the Confessions, esp. the Creeds, that would be used to determine whether my views were orthodox or not. With the consideration of the Scriptures prohibited, there was no doubt what the outcome of this investigation would be!
Taking his prompting from other pastors in our denominational headquarters, the senior pastor demanded that I answer with a simple "Yes or No" to five basic eschatological questions. Immediately I suspected a trap! I refused to respond in that simplistic manner. The temperature in the room began to rise rapidly and tempers began to flair! At that point the associate pastor protested against the senior pastor's demand for a "Yes or No" answer and called for a recess. Soon afterwards the meeting broke up. But that was not the end of the matter by any means!
Only four days later the senior pastor called a church congregational meeting and RESIGNED. With no warning whatsoever, he announced that he and his family would begin attending the local Greek Orthodox Church the following Sunday. Our congregation was flabbergasted! It later became known that the full preterist thing caused him to re-examine Christianity from the roots up. He said that my full preterist view did not cause him to turn Orthodox (since he had been studying Eastern Orthodoxy for the past 10 or more years); rather it merely hastened what would have happened within a year anyway, after he had gotten our church squarely into a conservative Episcopal denomination. He also admitted that the reason the whole thing got speeded up and the resignation took place so abruptly was that his position as pastor in our Reformed denomination would have forced him to press charges against me (which he could not bring himself to do since he respected me as a 'father') and that if he did bring charges against ME, he would FIRST have to bring charges against HIMSELF, since he admitted that he had strayed farther from the Reformed Faith than I had!! Do you get the picture? Here is a pastor in a small Reformed denomination trying to move his congregation into a conservative Episcopal denomination within the next year, while at the same time planning to take himself and his family into the Eastern Orthodox Church! A tragic turn of events! This action surprised and disappointed the assistant pastor, yet his own views on the Creeds and Confessions were almost identical to those of the senior pastor. Observers later mentioned that from the discussions on the Internet, the associate pastor would have been more likely to go Eastern Orthodox than the senior pastor.
The associate pastor told me that I was not ALLOWED to interpret the Scriptures in a manner different from what was taught in the early Creeds. The senior pastor also had wholeheartedly agreed. Therefore, there remained no question as to which authority took the higher position. I suddenly found myself to be a member of a church which placed the Creeds above the Bible, God's inspired Word. Although both men tried to deny this, it was clear and obvious. It was not long after this that I resigned from this small Reformed church and united with a somewhat larger Presbyterian denomination where the place of the Creeds and Confessions was recognized as only secondary standards, with the inspired and inerrant Holy Scriptures as the supreme and final authority.
Why did I go into all these things? Simply this: I sincerely believe that in many Protestant circles today, the Creeds and Confessions have come to be elevated to a position where they stand above the Holy Scriptures in practical authority. Don't bother to exegete the Scriptures (they seem to be saying), just go to the Creeds or the Confessions.
As Philip Schaff, the great church historian, wrote, "In the Protestant system, the authority of (creeds), as of all human compositions, is relative and limited. It is not coordinate with, but always subordinate to, the Bible, as the only infallible rule of the Christian Faith and practice. The value of creeds depends on the measure of their agreement with the Scriptures. In the best case, a human creed is only an approximate and relatively correct exposition of revealed truth, and may be improved by the progressive knowledge of the Church, while the Bible remains perfect and infallible. The Bible is of God; the Confession is man's answer to God's Word. The Bible has, therefore, a divine and absolute (authority), the Confession only an ecclesiastical and relative authority. Any higher view of the authority of (creeds) is unprotestant and essentially Romanizing. (Creedolatry) is a species of idolatry, and substitutes the tyranny of a printed book for that of a living Pope. It is apt to produce the opposite extreme of a rejection of all creeds, and to promote rationalism and infidelity." -Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, published by Baker Book House.
The current editor of Credenda Agenda, Douglas Wilson, shows us what can happen when the "exalted tradition" folks have their way. "The traditions of men are frankly acclaimed as the requirements of God. This may be held with doctrinal consistency, as the Roman Catholics do, or furtively, as inconsistent 'strict subscriptionists' within the Reformed tradition do. This is the 'tradition as monarch' school. The theory may mouth a high view of Scripture. But practically, whenever the traditions, creeds, and practices of a church cannot be brought before the bar of Scripture, then that tradition has assumed the place of Scripture. Now the church does have authority to point to the Word of God as the Word of God. But it has no authority to lie and elevate the word of man to the same position."
Wilson goes on to state the biblical position in the relation between Scripture and tradition. "The Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura does not mean that Scripture is the only religious authority in the lives of Christians. Rather, sola Scriptura means that Scripture exhibits two characteristics which define its unique place in the rule of the church. The Bible, and only the Bible, is the ultimate authority in the teaching of the church, and the Bible, and only the Bible, is the only inerrant authority in the teaching and practice of the church. These two elements --ultimacy and inerrancy--are unique to Scripture."
Wilson concludes that "A fallible authority is not defined as one that is wrong all the time. This is a good thing, as it turns out, for it is the fallible teaching authority of the historic Church which pointed us to the canon of Scripture.... Just as John the Baptist, a sinful man, pointed to Christ, the sinless One, so the Church, a fallible authority, has accurately pointed to the infallible and ultimate canon of Scripture.... The only tradition which gives that place of honor to sola Scriptura is that of the historic Protestant faith." -Douglas Wilson, Credenda Agenda, Vol. 8, No. 5
Make no mistake, the Word of the Living God, our Bible, stands as the only infallible and completely trustworthy revelation that we have. Let us be determined to stand on the truth of God's Word. May our Sovereign God in His Grace be pleased to empower us to hold forth the Preterist viewpoint, even in the face of contradictory views as found in the Creeds and Confessions, the traditions of men, or other uninspired sources. Our cry must forever be: SOLA SCRIPTURA!
May our Lord grant each one of us the determination to stand for His truth, no matter how much opposition there is or how ferocious it may become! Thank you.