Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Rapture Theology: The Arrogance of the West

by Jerry Johnson, President, NiceneCouncil.com

'Since its inception the Christian Church has suffered numerous tribulations, beginning with Jesus Himself who suffered the trials of the cross. Jesus declared “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you”. (John 15:18) After the death of Christ, the persecution of the Christian Church became even more intense. Saul, one of the first “ordained” persecutors sought out these Christian renegades and had them imprisoned or murdered. (Acts 8:1) Stephen, who was the first to suffer for the faith, was stoned to death by an angry mob. (Acts 11:19) Paul tells Timothy in his second letter, “…[A]ll who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”. (II Timothy 3:12)

The first century Christians new well that a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ meant certain death. Up until 70 A.D. most of the persecution was done at the hands of the Jews. Just prior to the destruction of the temple, Nero Caesar instituted a reign of terror against the benevolent followers of Christ. Many were slain. Children of the believers were thrown into the Roman Arena to be torn apart by wild beasts as onlookers cheered, while their parents were made to watch!

In fact, it was not until the reign of Constantine (almost three centuries after the death of Christ) that the Christians were finally allowed to openly worship their Savior without the fear of reprisal. But this was soon short lived. Arianism soon became the belief of most governments and the persecution was re-instituted against the orthodox party. After Arianism was defeated Rome again took control of the Empire, but this time under the auspices of orthodox Christianity. For the next 1000 years terror fell upon all those who would disagree with the Roman Catholic Religion. One only needs to casually glance at any work on Church history to see the tyranny and murderous ways the Rome Pontiff dealt with nonconformists. A short list speaks of the Hussites, the Waldesians, the Hugenots, or men like William Tyndle and Martin Luther, (though not killed, Martin Luther did have a price on his head).

In modern times the persecution has not ended. Various dictators and governments have made the Christian Church the focal point of their hatred. Thousands have died in the concentration camps of Eastern Europe. In the Former Soviet Empire, professing Christians were sent to Siberia never to be heard from again. In Communist China, females who profess Christ are treated like animals, fulfilling the sexual desires of the ruling regime. The Middle East has also had its share of horror stories that would give Stephen King himself many a sleepless night.

In the midst of all of these tribulations the Church has endured. Western Christians, specifically those in the Untied States of America, have escaped any real threat to their existence. There could be numerous reasons for this. Two possibilities that come to mind 1) God has protected the Church in the West so we can give aid and comfort to those who suffer these persecutions OR 2) we (those in the West) really do not have any strong convictions about our faith and therefore our enemies are not threatened by our presence.

Whatever the reason may be, after two hundred years of being somewhat free to worship without fear from our government, many Christians believe, to one degree or another, that the United States of America will one day face a persecution under the hands of the “anti-Christ.” They teach that Christians currently living now will be raptured out of this world so as not to have to endure the “wrath to come”. Numerous advocates of this doctrine even refer to it as “the great escape”.

In recent years, books on “the great escape” have filled the Christian bookstore shelves. Who can forget “88 Reason Why The Rapture Will Happen in 1988”? Or Hal Lindsey, the leading spokesmen for the movement throughout the 70’s and 80’s, and his “textbook” on the rapture entitled “The Late Great Planet Earth” and the latest craze "Left Behind." Rapture theology has so become entwined with American Christianity that anytime an international crisis occurs, especially one in which the United States is involved, videos, books and pamphlets by the thousands hit Christian bookstores declaring that the end is near, again!

But think about it! Does it really seem plausible that Christians in the United States will some how avoid these “great tribulations”? Without saying it directly, many paperback theologians conclude that the United States is the focal point of Biblical eschatology, and that the Beast of Revelation cannot be revealed until we are “out of here.” Is it not possible that rapture theology is based upon an arrogant Western presumption, that God MUST first rapture the American Church before persecution comes, even though he never did it for Christians in the Middle East or Communist Block countries? Are American Christians more important to God than Chinese Christians? Many pews sitters seem to think so. Though they do not say it in proper words, it is a fair inference to make.

Those who hold to the view of modern rapture theology see things worked out this way: The Church will be raptured (caught up) and taken into heaven. This event will precede the second coming of Christ by either seven years or three and a half years, depending on your view of pre-trib or mid-trib. Then the anti-Christ will take over and rule. During this time the “great tribulation” will be waging on planet earth. This event, the “great tribulation”, is what American Christians must escape.

What most do not know is that “rapture theology” of the pre-tribulation variety is a recent doctrinal concoction. The historic church never taught this view. That’s right! No one taught the pre-millennial pre-tribulation view until the early the nineteenth century. This teaching made its appearance with dispensationalism in circa 1830. One is hard pressed to think that all of the great minds from St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin and Charles Haddon Spurgeon, that though they had read I Thessalonians 4 failed to understand the important teaching of a pre-millennial, pre-tribulation rapture.

Pre-tribulation rapture theology is at its foundation conceited! It trivializes the sufferings of the early church, as well as the church in third world countries that are currently being told they cannot “buy, sell or trade” or have any freedoms and are imprisoned because of their faith in the Lord Jesus.

Besides its sheer arrogance rapture theology fails to see Christians as salt and light in the world and may ultimately lead to the total surrender of western civilization. What if Christ does not return for another 200 hundred years? How will future generations remember those who did not carry out the command to bring "every thought captive to the word of God"? How will they remember those of us who allowed the blood bought treasures of western freedom to die out one by one in the name of this aberrant theology?


Anonymous said...

Your blog is informative and much needed. Dispensationalism, as I see it, is a sick joke that has gone on much too long. What's amusing (and actually disturbing) is the amount of time and energy spent by diehards such as Thomas Ice to shore up their pillar of sand. I only wish that certain web articles had been written many decades ago. I have in mind Google items such as "Pretrib Rapture Diehards," "Walvoord's Posttrib Varieties - Plus," "Thomas Ice (Bloopers)," "Thomas Ice (Hired Gun)," "Wily Jeffrey," "The Rapture Index (Mad Theology)," "Appendix F: Thou Shalt Not Steal," "Pretrib Hypocrisy," "Boiling it Down," "Revisers of Pretrib Rapture History," "Famous Rapture Watchers," and "Deceiving and Being Deceived" - all by the author of the bestselling book "The Rapture Plot" (the never-before-told plot by a small British sect to steal credit for pretrib away from another small sect which resulted in John Darby being falsely credited as the pretrib originator - the 19th century plot which escaped the attention of all other writers before 1995). As has happened to
dispensationalism, history has a way of coming back to haunt the present! Troy

Anonymous said...

Brother Jerry, Awesome article. I've never thought of that. Most dispensationalists appear to believe that we are entitled to escape the great tribulation when others are not. Go figure!

Your Brother in Christ

Pastor Bob

Anonymous said...

Jerry & Ken, Thanks for the articles. They give me a lot to think about. You are slowly, but surely, whittling away my once proud dispensational beliefs.

Brother Steve Johnson

Chris said...

So do you guys not believe in the rapture? How do you explain I. Thes. 4?

NiceneCouncil.com said...

Properly interpreted, we believe in the Rapture. But if you read 1 Thess 4 closely you will notice two important differences between the text and dispensationalism: (1) The Rapture will be known by all, because it is with the sound of trumpet, shout, and archangel – not secret. (2) It is at the very end of history, for we will ever be with the Lord in heaven. We will not return to a millennial reign on earth.

Thanks for your comment and question!

Ken Gentry

Anonymous said...

It is nice to hear somebody who is against Dispensationalism. Those who claim the first resurrection is yet to come undermine Christian teaching that we were once dead in trespasses and sins and then made alive unto God. Dead souls resurrected to spiritual life is clearly the first resurrection and after it the scripture declares we are blessed and holy (Re.20.5)and so we are if we have been resurrected from the dead. Dispensationalism if of the devil who would have believers fix their eyes not on what they have inheritted but on things to come, that they do not live in the kingdom of God, that is yet to come, and so still remain in the kingdom of darkness. They are not given to see two worlds, that the devil's kingdom and world is dark and lifeless whereastheir kingdom and world is all new and bright for the Lamb is the light of their kingdom (Rev.21.23) just as the devil is the darkness of his. At present I am writing a work that will, Lord willing, set things ablaze and expect to be turned out of my assembly. Keep up the good work. The Lord continue to povide strength in this battle. Amen

Anonymous said...

Dispensationism is of satan and is there in opposition to God and his people who are by this teaching turned from viewing their inheritance. They are informed that their kingdom is to come when it is already here and that they dwell within it. If they did not do so they would still be dwelling in the kingdom of the devil. Kings and priests we are, offering up spiritual sacrifices to God and reign over our spirits and have authority, as kings, to issue the royal law of our soveriegn (James.2.8). Once we walked in the wilderness of this worl, with a heaven of brass above us, now we have a new heaven and a new earth (Rev.21.1). Some do not accept this as they are pointed to some place in the future. So what heaven do we come under and what earth do we now stand on? I ask them to point this out in scripture. They cannot as all is future. According to Dispos. there are three Jerusalems. One earthly, one spiritual, one to come, yes, and Bobs my uncle. Keep up the good work.

Alan said...

By the way, if you read carefully Rev.7.14 both washing and tribulation go together. We know that we are washed in the blood, which comes after "great tribulation". So we have been partakers in the tribulation spoken of there, but how? Man under conviction for sin stands beneath the mount, burning with fire and cries "What must I do to be saved? The anguish of soul that he is going through having met Moses and the broken law, sends him into great tribulation, and the tears of conscience weep for he is overcome with it all. Christ appears and stretches out his hand and with an effectual call the man comes to Christ and God washes away all his penitential tears, because God is truly good and merciful to this sinner, and he plants his spirit into a garden and feeds him and gives him drink there, because he cares for this lost soul that is now found.

Anonymous said...

"pre-tribulation variety is a recent doctrinal concoction."

The doctrine of salvation by grace was lost for hundreds of years until the reformation. Even then they didn't get it right.

"The historic church never taught this view. That’s right! No one taught the pre-millennial pre-tribulation view until the early the nineteenth century. This teaching made its appearance with dispensationalism in circa 1830."

Aside from Paul teaching it, John Bunyon in his wonderful book titled "The Pilgrims Progess" taught the current rapture theory...a few hundred years before 1830. I don't think you are deliberatly lying, but from this point forward to say the pre-trip rapture was not taught prior to 1830 will make you a deliberate lier. No, Bunyon was not a church leader but his teaching was clear and hundreds of years prior to the 1830 date. You can find the book online and confirm it.

"One is hard pressed to think that all of the great minds from St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin"

Are these are the same folks that say a little 4 year old boy who is raped with a broomstick is predestined to go through such torment...ofcourse all for the glory of God because evil and good flows from the mind of God just the same? Yes they failed to see many things.

NiceneCouncil.com said...

The individual who wrote this has a very skewed view of church history and theology. First, the gospel was not LOST! Jesus Himself said "the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church." And we take Him at his Word. Reformed theology does maintain that the Gospel, as far as the Roman religion was concerned had muddy the gospel - even added to it. However, many champions of the faith such as Hus, Tyndale, Peter Waldo and others fought for the purity of the gospel long before Luther.

Second, "Anonymous" needs to become familiar with John Bunyan. I have no idea who "Bunyon" is. Not to mention John Bunyan was a Calvinist who held to a covenantal view of theology. Further, since I have read Bunyan's original work - when and where did he teach a pre-mil rapture in Pilgrim's Progress?

And to the last note about Augustine, Luther & Calvin - I am sure this illustration is a concoction of "anonymous' mind. But I encourage everyone to get a copy of Dr. Gordon H. Clark's book God & Evil: The Problem Solved from our bookstore www.NiceneCuncil.com.

NiceneCouncil.com said...


Thanks for your comments on “Rapture Theology: The Arrogance of the West.” We appreciate your interaction.

I would just briefly mention that though your salvation theology is basically on target (we are washed in the blood, we have broken the law of God). Yet your comments are not relevant to the story line in Revelation. Revelation is speaking about things to “shortly take place” in the “near” term (Rev 1:1, 3). Revelation 7 is showing that within racial Israel of the first century there was an elect remnant (the 144,000) who would be spared through Israel’s judgment in AD 70 (see Matt 24:1-2, 16-18, 34).

This story line continues throughout the book, and includes exodus imagery (which shows the Christian Jews leaving apostate, old covenant Israel behind). The message of Revelation is very similar to that of Hebrews: Old covenant Israel is about to fade away (Heb 8:13) and Christianity will remain as the people of God (Heb. 12). John focuses particularly on her judgment and the saving of the elect from within her; Hebrews focuses on the dangers of professing Jewish Christians returning to old covenant Israel.

I hope this is helpful.

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D.
Director, NiceneCouncil.Com

A Sane Christian said...

I just read your page on tribulation theology and have to thank you
for you thoughtful essay. I first heard of this type of teaching when
I was 18 and though I didn't believe it there were many people in the
pentecostal church I attended who did. No one questioned the validity
of this or brought up any of the historical points about early
Christians or modern Christians who suffer so much for their beliefs.
Such a view would probably have been brushed off or considered
America, with its ignorance of history, secular, religious and
biblical, is the perfect breeding ground for such tribulation fantasy
especially since it focuses so much on America as the 'star' player in
the narrative. America has enjoyed its place of domination in world
economics and affairs for so long that Americans have completely
bought the idea that they really are superior, especially in the eyes
of 'their' God.
Again, thank you for publishing your views on this. It is truly a
breath of fresh air.

Anonymous said...

On this Thanksgiving Day evening I'd like to draw attention to something I spied on the "Powered by Christ Ministries" site for which diehard dispies will undoubtedly not want to give thanks - a short item entitled AMERICA'S PRETRIB RAPTURE TRAFFICKERS. "Doctor" Thomas Ice will definitely not approve of it, and a quick glance will reveal why!

Anonymous said...

Can you please explain this, especially verse 20 which says until the indignation be overpast. Thanks (",)

Isa 26:18 We have been with child, we have been in pain, we have as it were brought forth wind; we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth; neither have the inhabitants of the world fallen.
Isa 26:19 Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.
Isa 26:20 Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.
Isa 26:21 For, behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity: the earth also shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.

NiceneCouncil.com said...

Thanks for commenting on our blog!

In this section Isaiah is prophesying about Israel's exile and future return to the Land from it.

In Isa 26:18 he (poetically) declares that Israel cannot bring about her deliverance through her own effort ("we have not wrought any deliverance in the earth"). But in v. 19 he promises she will "awake and sing," when the nation is "resurrected" (cp. Eze 37) to new vigor in their Land.

But v. 20 warns that this will not be soon. The people are exhorted (poetically, again!) to hide themselves behind closed doors "for a moment." Then eventually God's indignation and wrath will be "overpast," that is, God's wrath will eventually run its course and be over.

This is a prophecy of hope for a return to the Land after exile, as well as a warning that their return will not be soon.

Ken Gentry

chris van allsburg said...

Dear Dr. Gentry,
I just moved from Michigan to North Carolina, where rapture theology seems to be an orthodoxy test. Do you think rapture theology is as big a threat to the church as say, naturalism, postmodernism, and radical islam?

NiceneCouncil.com said...

Welcome to the South! I would not go that far, at least directly. I believe that dispensationalism is a great problem: it robs the church of a correct understanding of Scripture and a correct recognition of the Christian calling in the world. These two “crimes” therefore undermine her capacity to confront naturalism, postmodernism, and Islam.

Anonymous said...

I have to wonder..if the Church is going to go through the Tribulation then how can 1st Thessalonians 4 be anything but a lie? No Christian will survive the Tribulation but we will all likely be killed so there would be no one left alive to be caught up together with the dead in Christ since we would all be 'dead in Christ'. If Scripture teaches these things you post I would like to believe them but it seems it deprives Christians of any reason to believe what the Apostle Paul wrote 'that we would not all sleep' since there's no reasonable chance of any of us making it out of the Tribulation alive. My first instinct would be to prefer to hide and not come out until Christ has returned.

NiceneCouncil.com said...

The last blogger is confused on two points regarding the Tribulation. (1) Even on the Dispensational analysis, people DO live through the Tribulation. These are the mortals who will inhabit the Millennium. Besides Jesus expressly promises that he will cut the tribulation short so that his people may live (Matt. 24:22). (2) Jesus also clearly notes that the "great tribulation" (Matt. 24:21) is associated with the first century destruction of the temple (Matt. 24;2), revolves only around Judea (not the world, see: Matt. 24:16), and was coming in his first century generation (Matt. 24:34). This blogger illustrates the unrelenting problem that dispensationalists face: They have a system in their mind that does not comport with the biblical text. The Bible continually trips them up.

Anonymous said...

Good analysis. I grew up in an ultradispensational church, where staggering number of hours were spent discussing whether so-and-so was "an Acts 9 brother" or "an Acts 13 brother" and slicing tiny verses into individual words to clarify a point.

Paul's baptism of the Philipians jailor was waved off as being a sort of 'experimental error'.

I love the church experience but felt we wasted huge amounts of time on tiny arcane points of division. Now I have joined a mainstream church and am much happier. Any discussion like your blog that dissuades a Christian from wasting time on cutting-and-pasting fragments of Paul's comments into a doctrinal statement is helpfull to Christian progress, in my opinion.