Wednesday, February 20, 2008

End Time Hysteria

By The Very Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D.
© 20 February 2008

We have extremes today regarding the Second Coming of our Lord. On the one hand, we have those who are full preterists, virtually denying the Second Coming of Christ altogether, or else saying it happened at AD 70. On the other hand, we have the prophecy buffs who interpret every thing in the news as a sign of the imminent Rapture. I call this “newspaper eisegesis,” reading into the Bible from current events.

I was once invited to an online debate about whether there is a Second Coming, and the person who invited me was of the opinion that it had taken place at AD 70. I sent back an email that I was objectively closed minded since the three creeds of the Church (Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian) stated that there was a Second Coming, that every Reformation doctrinal statement I was aware of stated it, and that it was yet in the future, not at AD 70, as important as that event was. The man wrote back a scathing email saying that he thought I was supposed to be a Reformation man, believing in Sola Scriptura. My response was that that expression did not mean just the Bible and me. The Reformers did not believe that the Bible was the only authority but that it was the ultimate authority, and I am unwilling to interpret the Bible contrary to the history of the Church. I also quoted the great Presbyterian Charles Hodge who taught at Princeton for fifty years:
If the Bible be the only infallible rule of faith and practice; and if . . . the Spirit guides the people of God . . . into the knowledge of the truth, then the presumption is invincible that what all true Christians believe to be the sense of Scripture is its sense.[1]
But this is a small movement, and I surely hope it remains such.

The other movement—the Rapture movement—is much larger. I was reared in it, and there are many fine Christians in what is called dispensationalism. The problem is the inordinate emphasis given to a certain view of the Second Coming. This unhealthy emphasis tends to ignore such creedal doctrines as the Holy Trinity, creation, Incarnation, the Church and sacraments. It is not that all these “weightier” matters of the law are not believed but that they are ignored. We’ve had students here at Cranmer House who came from that background, who had been fired from their churches for not being “pre-trib” but were never asked anything about the Holy Trinity. In the doctrinal statment of Dallas Theological Seminary (the “Mecca” of this view) as of 2003, which remains unchanged from 1972, there was one sentence on the Holy Trinity and four long paragraphs on “The Dispensations.”

This imbalance comes over into one’s theology as “end times” being what is really important, not what the Church hammered out over the centuries in the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. One is subtly trained to treat anyone who is not pro-Israel as suspect, if not outright liberal. This in turn has led to a Christian Zionism that supports Israel back in the land as the fulfillment of prophecy, and back as God’s people. But one can emigrate to Israel today as an atheist but not as a Christian, demonstrating that they are Christ haters, anything but God’s true people. If one were to demonstrate from the Bible that the land promise was fulfilled in Old Testament Israel and that it was upgraded in the New Testament to include the whole world (Rom 4:13; Matt 5:5; 28:18-20), he would be labeled a heretic. Or, as Dss Teresa Johnson has so eloquently put it, we have a kind of Rapture each time we have Holy Communion:
We have a Rapture during every Eucharist service when we are invited to ascend into heaven to commune with our Savior. Everything Satan does is designed to divert our attention from what it needs to be on. If we are thinking about the Rapture, we are not looking for the Real Presence that is available to us now. If we are wondering if the Real Presence turns the bread into a not-bread corpus, we are not looking at the continuing Corpus Christi in the form of the Church, the Body of Christ, the Communion of Saints.
Some may read this and say that we do not believe in a real Second Coming, but that would be false. Jesus will come at the Last Day to judge the living and the dead (John 5:28-29; 11:24; 12:48), and it is my view that there will be a Rapture at that time, as we see in 1 Thessalonians 4:13ff, but the “Rapture” will simply be part of the Second Coming, not a secret coming separated by seven years.

My plea is that we hold tenaciously to the Second Coming, be charitable about various views of it (pre-mill, amill, post-mill), do not become Christian Zionists and support those who hate Jesus and His people but consider them as candidates for evangelism, and especially that we do not label other Christians as false prophets who disagree with our end time scheme. After all, the Church for 2,000 years has not held to such an emphasis, but has ever promoted the belief in the Last Day judgment with Jesus appearing as Lord and Judge. At the Last Day, it is not the Rapture that will deliver us, but that we believe
. . . in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And of all things visible and invisible:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, Begotten, not made, Being of one substance with the Father, By whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man, And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead; Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And so on. Amen.

[1] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:437.