David Lipscomb believed that eventually the “earth itself will become heaven” (Gospel Advocate, 1903, p. 328).
I recently noticed that someone will be speaking at the Freed-Hardeman lectures on the topic “heaven on earth.” I do not know what he will say, but I think it is at least helpful to know that many of our Stone-Campbell forebearers believed that God would ultimately dwell on earth with the redeemed. Right or wrong, this view is not dependent upon Jehovah’s Witnesses (which I hear a lot–indeed, it predates JWs) and is not some kind of weird, cultish ideology.
That perspective is often radically different from many hopeful expectations among members of Churches of Christ who believe that God is preparing a home in some kind of celestial (immaterial) reality beyond the Hubble telescope. I understand that view and its rationale as I once held it myself. Now I think some of our eminent forebearers had a better understanding of the biblical story than I once did.
Here are just three examples. First, David Lipscomb in his Salvation from Sin (pp. 35-36):
God is holy. As a pure and holy being, he cannot tolerate guilt and sin. The two cannot permanently dwell together in the universe. When sin came into the world, God left this world as a dwelling place. He cannot dwell in a defiled and sin-polluted temple. He has since dwelt on this earth only in sanctified altars and temples separated from the world and consecrated to his service. He will again make this earth his dwelling place, but it will be only when sin has been purged out and it has been consecrated anew as the new heaven and new earth in which dwelleth righteousness. [Quotes Rev. 21:3-4.]
Second, James A. Harding (“What Are We Here For?” The Way 5 [3 December 1903], 1041):
…the earth is God’s nursery, his training grounds, made primarily for the occupancy of his children, for their education, development and training until they shall have reached their majority, until the end of the Messianic age has come; then it is to be purified a second time by a great washing, a mighty flood, but this time in a sea of fire. Then God will take up his abode himself with his great family upon this new, this renovated and purified earth.
Third, Alexander Campbell (Christian System, p. 257):
The Bible begins with the generations of the heavens and the earth; but the Christian revelation ends with the regenerations or new creation of the heavens and the earth. This [is] the ancient promise of God confirmed to us by the Christian Apostles. The present elements are to be changed by fire. The old or antediluvian earth was purified by water; bu the present earth is reserved for fire, with all the works of man that are upon it. It shall be converted into a lake of liquid fire. But the dead in Christ will have been regenerated in body before the old earth is regenerated by fire. The bodies of the saints will be as homogeneous with the new earth and heavens as their present bodies are with the present heavens and earth. God re-creates, regenerates, but annihilates nothing; and, therefore, the present earth is not to be annihilated. The best description we can give of this regeneration is in the words of one who had a vision of it on the island of Patmos. He describes it as far as it is connected with the New Jerusalem, which is to stand upon the new earth, under the canopy of the new heaven:–[quoting Rev. 21:1-4].
This is not premillennialism; it is new creation theology. Rather, it affirms that God will renovate this present earth. Heaven does not yet fully dwell upon this earth although there are many tastes of it and we continually pray that the reign of heaven will break into the reality of this earth…and it does at times. Our hope is that God’s reign will fully come to this earth. Our hope is that heaven will come to this earth. And when it does, it will be a fully renewed and renovated reality. This is no mere return to the a past Eden but a glorified regeneration of the earth itself where the redeemed will live in God’s good creation with God. There will be no need for a temple since the whole earth will be “holy to the Lord.”