The Three Destination Doctrine
By J.R. Ensey
This soteriological/eschatological theory has been propagated within the ranks of the Apostolic movement for decades by a few prominent teachers, and a significant number of ministers have been influenced by it, perhaps making them more open to similar concepts like the “light doctrine.” Both doctrines integrate the idea that in this dispensation God had made allowances for particular individuals who did not follow the biblical plan of salvation. Some of them are among the unreached and others are those who lived “good Christian lives” but were ignorant of the Apostolic gospel. The latter group is said to be set to inherit the new earth—the theory we are addressing in this article.
The doctrine seeks to make a distinction between “the righteous” and “the holy” in II Peter 3:12-14—“Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” The righteous are deemed to be “Christian believers through the ages,” or the “good person in the ______ Church up the street,” or “my loving and sweet old grandmother,” none of whom were born again according to John 3:5 and Acts 2:38. These “righteous” folk will inherit the new earth. The holy are those who possess full salvation according to Acts 2:38 who will inherit the new heavens. This draws a line where God did not draw one. To say that any individuals in this dispensation are saved even they were not born again is to oppose the clear teaching of Scripture and set ourselves up as judges of the souls of men.
With all due respect to those who initiated or introduced the 3-D doctrine within Apostolic ranks and those who have kept it alive, there is no scriptural evidence that such will be the case. First, it is obvious that “wherein dwelleth righteousness” refers to both “new heavens and a new earth.” No respected commentator or translator I know of makes the distinction in the new heavens and the new earth as far as where righteousness dwells. This verse cannot be used as a proof-text for the three destinations doctrine. For instance, Wuest translates the verse thusly, “But new heavens and a new earth according to His promise we are looking for, in which righteousness is permanently at home.”1
Another verse commonly appealed to by adherents of the 3-D doctrine is Revelation 22:10-12: “And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” An effort is made to suggest that the angel speaking with John makes the distinction between the righteous and the holy. Again, it is obvious to objective scholars that this is basically a repeat of the same pronouncement—“unjust” and “filthy,” subjectively designated categories, are not meant to advance the idea that they will be sentenced to different abodes in eternity.
As Dustin Abbott explains: “The theme of this series of verses is that time is running out. The call of this verse is that one must make up their minds now [in this present life]. If they do not quickly become righteous, then they will soon have no choice but to remain unrighteous forever…and face the consequences. Furthermore, like the warning given to Philadelphia, the righteous are told to remain so in order that they might be counted among the eternal righteous.”2
Some adherents appeal to Matthew 25:31-46 as a possible plan of salvation circumventing Acts 2:38 if one has done particular “good works.” But that is the account of the future judgment of nations based on their treatment of the Jews, or Christ’s “brethren.” Also, some mention the judgment seat of Christ is pointed to as folks being saved yet without works of “gold, silver and precious stones.”
If we embraced this theory, we would not be able to tell our friends and family who have not been born again that they would be lost unless they enter the kingdom in the Bible way. We would be duty bound to tell them they might need to obey the gospel, although we are not sure. Paul told the Galatians that no one, not even an angel, had the divine authority to declare any other gospel that what he had preached (Galatians 1:8,9). I wonder if there would not be a lot of people would say, “I would just as soon live on the new earth. I will just be a good person and plan to join my friends there. That way I won’t have to be a part of the Apostolic church and believe and live like the Bible teaches.”
This doctrine, if it continues to be spread, could do great harm to our missions programs. We could only say that “perhaps” we “might” need to go into all the world and preach. And we would need to strike Mark 16:16 out of our Bibles: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
This is not an attempt to stir up unnecessary controversy or to put any honest-hearted persons in a bad light. I count those 3-D adherents that I know personally among my friends. However, we are given a biblical mandate to confront false teaching and expose it. Jesus did it. The apostles did it. If we expect the modern Apostolic movement to stay on a biblical track, it is also incumbent upon us to confront it also.
1. Kenneth Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament Vol. II [p. 74 of section In These Last Days] (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s; 1954).
2. Dustin L. Abbott, Revelation Unveiled (Belleville, Ont. Canada; Guardian Books, 2007), p. 361