By Charles E. Hill
Modern Reformation, Jan/Feb 1996, p. 16
Chiliasm is the ancient name for what today is known as premillennialism, the belief that when Jesus Christ returns he will not execute the last judgment at once, but will first set up on earth a temporary kingdom, where resurrected saints will rule with him over non-resurrected subjects for a thousand years of peace and righteousness.1 To say that the Church “rejected chiliasm” may sound bizarre today, when premillennialism is the best known eschatology in Evangelicalism. Having attached itself to funda-mentalism, chiliasm in its dispensationalist form has been vigorously preached in pulpits, taught in Bible colleges and seminaries, and successfully promoted to the masses through study Bibles, books, pamphlets, charts, and a host of radio and television ministries. To many Christians today, premillennialism is the very mark of Christian orthodoxy. But there was a period of well over a “millennium” (over half of the Church’s history), from at least the early fifth century until the sixteenth, when chiliasm was dormant and practically non-existent. Even through the Reformation and much of the post-Refor-mation period, advocates of chiliasm were usually found among fringe groups like the Münsterites. The Augsburg Confession went out of its way to condemn chiliasm (Art. XVII, “Of Christ’s Return to Judgment”), and John Calvin criticized “the chiliasts, who limited the reign of Christ to a thousand years” (Institutes 3.25.5). It was not until the nineteenth century that chiliasm made a respectable comeback, as a favorite doctrine of Christian teachers who were promoting revival in the face of the deadening effects of encroaching liberalism.