(The post formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net/entry.php?id=4 )
Terminology: Eschatological camps (in two posts)In this section we will define Christian belief according to 1) eschatology, 2) behavioral schools, 3) interdenominational cooperation, and 4) commonalities.
“Eschatology” is usually defined as “the study of the end times or last things.” Our amplified definition would include “the study of how people respond to prophecies of the end times or last things.”
Why do we need to narrow down our terminology? Here’s a good reason. Your host once heard a Catholic apologist insist that there are 30,000 denominations. (This seems a little high; is he including the disheveled man on the street corner shouting, “The end is near”?)
A stanza of the song “Hymn of Promise” begins, “In our end is our beginning.” (This is a funeral hymn!) In many cases new denominations arose because they anticipated the End Times in ways incompatible with the beliefs of the parent church. They decided this was a good enough reason to break away from the parent church. So indeed, in their End (Times) was their beginning (as a denomination).
Therefore we will group the denominations according to their interpretation of the End Times. There is some overlap, which has a technical term that your host is blanking on right now. Not syncretism … let’s just call it “bleedover.” A person throws a load of white clothes into the clothes washer and the laundry comes out with pink streaks because someone left a red sweater in the tub—that’s “bleedover.” This often happens with end-of-the-world theories.
First let us rule out the Terms we will not use.
We will not use the term fundamentalist, except when the word is specifically used by one of the sources. True “fundamentalists” claim the 1905 book The Fundamentals of Christianity as one of their documents of doctrine and discipline (or at least as part of their inheritance). Many individuals and denominations agree with specific points in this book (such as rapturism), but there the appropriateness of the word ends. We are exploring only one point that is found in The Fundamentals. (Well, maybe two. Rapturism is one, the literal interpretation of the Bible is the other. See “commonalities” below.) Anyhow, the word fundamentalist has come to have additional connotations in the outside world.
We will not use the term evangelical, except when the word is specifically used by one of the sources. The root word for evangelical refers to missionary preaching and teaching. In reality almost every Christian denomination and congregation has an evangelical goal or focus. (One of the few exceptions are the Anabaptists. These groups rarely seek out potential converts. However the Anabaptists, the Mennonites in particular, have a strong “disaster-relief outreach” that prompts them to send money and manpower into devastated communities. They do it to help. The media advertises for them, after a fashion, by reporting on the Mennonite outreach.)
For most Christians, “evangelical work” (as in, the congregational support of missionaries and the preparation of the individual to defend, explain, and advance one’s faith) has simply been considered part of being Christian. Some mainline Protestant denominations have sub-branches named Evangelical. (The Evangelical Lutherans, among Lutherans; among the United Methodists it is called the Stephen Ministry.) However in the States people often use the term evangelical to mean, “We care more about the Great Commission to preach. Also, we preach truth, which means that you … do not.” One can see how this term can be divisive.
Additionally, by strict definitions the greatest evangelicals would be the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. A Mormon man is expected to give two years of his life to missionary work. Moreover most Mormon missionaries are sent away at or around college age. If that is not possible, he might go (to put it in mercenary terms) during his “formational income-earning years.” This is a major sacrifice, one that few other denominations expect their members to make. As for the Witnesses, those who spend 15 hours a week going door-to-door are called “regular pioneers” of faith, whereas those who do more than 15 hours a week are “special pioneers.” It is said that “In 2002 the Jehovah’s Witnesses collectively recorded over one billion hours of service.” (Source, The Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd ed. , Macmillan, c2004.) So, if Witnesses and Mormons are the great evangelicals, what would that make everybody else? (Besides, this is another term that has acquired certain connotations in the world.)
We are already using the term religions to refer to people who profess a belief they themselves consider different from Christianity. Therefore we will not use the term religions to describe the disunity between people who believe they follow Jesus Christ but who are not in accord with each other. It is very common among (Western/Latin) Catholics to say that non-Catholic denominations are “other religions.”
(Personal aside: Your host is reminded of a guest host on a Catholic live call-in show who praised C.S. Lewis to the skies, then added in genuine puzzlement, “I don’t know why he never became a Christian.” Lewis left atheism to become Anglican Christian, and his Roman Catholic buddy J.R.R. Tolkien helped him.)
Interestingly it also has become common among rapturists to speak of nonrapturists as being “cultural Christians” or “not real Christians.” Frykholm’s encounter with Tyndale House (Left Behind’s publisher) seems to verify this reputation.
Tyndale House routinely claims that Left Behind has brought thousands, perhaps millions, of people into the Christian faith. Their evidence is the letters, e-mail, and postings to the Left Behind message board from readers who have “accepted Jesus Christ as their savior” through the reading of the novels and written to testify about it. Jerry Jenkins expresses feeling “overwhelmed” by the success of the series. “What’s gratifying are the letters we’ve received. Christians have said the message in the books has helped them be more aggressive in their faith. And about 2,000 people have written to say they’ve accepted Christ because of the books.”
As I conducted my research, I searched in vain for a person who could testify to a life changed through the reading of Left Behind. Surely, if Christian conversion is an important outcome of reading the books, as producers claim, I would be able to find someone who could physically embody this process for me and teach me about the relationship between reading fiction and seeking religious truth in the form of conversion. While many readers are strongly influenced by the series, none rest their religious faith or the transformation of being “born again” on the reading of the novels. Furthermore, no one knew of anyone personally who had become a Christian because of reading. Some had heard of these conversions, but none had been personally connected to one. Frustrated at being unable to find an embodied reader, I turned to other sources. I asked Tyndale House if they would be willing to share some of their letters on salvation and I received a packet of seven such letters. Of these, four are letters reporting the conversion of others: “Praise God! Because of your wonderful novels, my daughter-in-law has become a Christian.” Three actually tell their own stories.
With such a weak body of evidence from which to draw conclusions, I wonder why the connection between reading Left Behind and conversion to evangelical Christianity is so elusive. What is conversion? How do we know it when we see it? How does it take place? (pages 164-165)
What exactly transpired between the reading of the book and [one’s] salvation? In the accounts offered by Tyndale House, conversion is ephermal. Acts of conversion are asserted and then retreat between the lines of the letters. Obviously, Tyndale House has no reason or means to inquire into the validity or meaning of the thousands of letters they receive. They have created only one category—salvation—in which to put all of these accounts.
The stories that readers tell about their own lives, however, involve processes of conversion so intricate and extending over so many months and even years that it calls into question the direct relationship that producers assert. While they maintain a “before and after” structure to tell their stories, readers talk about a series of events (emphasis added, not Frykholm’s) that lead to a life transformed. (page 169)
Frykholm interviews some individuals who were brought up in a Christian environment and who sometime later embraced rapturism, during which time they also read the Left Behind novels. But is this conversion or is it a revival? Frykholm also interviews individuals who formerly affiliated with another denomination and who sometime later embraced rapturism, during which time they also read the novels. But is this conversion or is it inter-denominational poaching? As we see, there may be no way (that does not sound combative) even to ask the question. To Frykholm the number of conversions sounds inflated, padded. Frykholm’s research confirms that some rapturists maintain that any “Christian” who is not rapturist was never a Christian at all. Thus there is no appreciable difference between the “conversion” of one of these people as opposed to, say, the conversion of an atheist or a polytheist.
In other words, we will not use the Catholic term “other religions” or rapturist terms like “not Christian” or “cultural Christian” or similar terms to describe the disunity between people who claim to follow Jesus as their Christ. We will make an exception for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who voluntarily reject the term “Christian” as others use it.
(Personal aside: Although it is common for First-century churches and also for rapturists and/or their fraternal twins the Revived Historicists to use the terms listed, it is less common for mainline Protestants to do so. One who does has probably been exposed to one or more of the above combatants. Mainliners are discouraged from using such phrases; about the worst they are allowed to say is, “Well, they understand the Bible in their own way” and nod significantly. If a mainliner is heard to use terms like “other/different religion” or its equivalents, the hearer should know that the brother may have been “seared” or “burned over” and pray for him.)
Instead we will use the term religion to refer to non-Christian belief systems; the term denomination to refer to all the members and houses of worship that follow a specific named sub-branch of Christianity; and the term congregation to refer to a specific building/house of worship with specific members.
Finally, we will not use terms like partial preterism, moderate preterism, or full preterism because, well, they are just plain confusing. (Consider the definition/s of “pregnant” and “partly pregnant.”) Instead, we will use the terms preterism and hyperpreterism. (To extend the metaphor, consider the difference between “pregnant” and “post-partum.”) We will explore the meaning of preterism later, but for now it is enough to know that “preterists” believe that most of the events in Revelation of the Apocalypse took place by the year 70, whereas “hyperpreterist” refers to anyone who thinks that the Second Coming of Christ already has happened.
Now, here are some terms we will use. We will explain the major eschatological groupings, the behavioral groupings, and the general groupings that we will use from that point onward.
Christian eschatology has a reputation for being a hard study. It is and it isn’t. It isn’t and it is. For our purpose we can make it easier by simply asking two questions.
Question one: “When do you think that the events in The Book of Revelation take place?”
Question two: “Then what era are we living in right now?”
That is not all there is to it, but it helps. It helps a lot.
Let us take one denomination, congregation, or individual.
We ask a hypothetical interviewee The Two Questions.
Question one is, “When do the events in Revelation take place?” This interviewee answers, “The book of Revelation is a poetic or literal description of events that will happen in the near future when the Roman pope destroys the world.”
For question two (“What era are we living in right now?”) the same interviewee answers, “We are living in the era before the pope destroys the world.”
These are very distinctive answers. They make plain that our random person is a historicist. Historicism is a belief system that can be introduced in one sentence.
Historicists believe that since the book of Revelation is written to Christians—
Which is true—
Then all the characters in the book have to be Christians (with the exceptions of God, Satan, and the angels).
This is a problem, since Revelation has a lot of villains. Where do we look for the most powerful Christian on earth? Isn’t it the Roman Catholic Pope? It is a foundational point of doctrine for historicists to perceive the pope as the Antichrist, the Roman Catholic Church as the Whore of Babylon, and the papacy as “the beast” that the Whore rides. Historicists are aided in this belief by the prophecies of the (mythical or real) 11th-Century Celtic monk named Malachy who said similar things.
Almost all other Protestants (rapturist and nonrapturist alike) have had some exposure to historicist beliefs, a sort of lingering miasma of distrust or indefinable dread. It dates from two eras. In the first, European Protestants recalled the fate of previous historicist “protestors” who were put to death. The Reformers had to stir up strong anger before the common people could overcome their fear of new Inquisitions. Secondly, the Revived Historicists and the pre-Darbyist proto-dispensationalists were fraternal twins born in the American camp meetings, eating the same food, drinking the same drink, but separated when their parents “divorced.” When the Greatly Disappointed left the camps in 1844, they took their dread of “popery” into the house with them. (There it reconnected with the dread of “Romanism” brought into the house by the extinct Puritans.) This is one of the best examples of “bleedover” to be found in Christian eschatology.
(Revived) historicists have four major memberships. These are the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (a.k.a. the Mormons); the 7th Day Adventists; the Jehovah’s Witnesses; and a latecomer to the field the Christian Scientists.
The Latter-Day Saints (or Mormons, as they are called by outsiders) trace their origin to Joseph Smith, who grew up in the Seared/Burned Over district of New York. In 1821 the angel Moroni led him to Golden Plates that were said to contain restorative truth. Smith finished translating the plates in 1830. They told of Jesus’ visit to North America after Jesus left Judaea. The Golden Plates said that some of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel fled to North America, therefore Jesus had to go to them as well. Some time after Jesus left them, the Plates said that fallen natives annihilated the Israelites. However a word that sounds something like “Hallelujah” survived in the Plains Indian tongues, and most Native Americans believed in one Great Spirit. This, said the Mormons, was all that was left of a once-great nation of God. The Plates remained hidden for safe-keeping until Joseph Smith was permitted to fetch them and to restore true doctrine.
From the first the Mormons were persecuted and lived in fear of their lives. They believed Jesus died to redeem Adam. With this done, Adam could go on to be a god (as could other humans). Moreover, God was once like Adam, although without sin. Outsiders reacted explosively to such ideas. On top of the beliefs that the Mormons professed, almost every heresy, calumny and insult has been ascribed to them by outsiders at some time or another (even more so than such are ascribed to other historicists, that is). The Mormons moved frequently and left the early United States in 1848, setting in what is now Salt Lake City, Utah. Today Mormons live safely and respectably and are famous for their door-to-door ministry. They have five or six sub-branches, of which only the original church and the Reorganized church are numerous.
Mormon writers include S.O. Bennion, Apostle Parley P. Pratt, E.F. Parry, Joseph Fielding Smith, Lorenzo Snow, Apostle Orson Pratt, Bruce McConkie, and John A. Widtsoe. In addition to the Bible (“insofar as it is translated correctly”) their doctrinal sources are the Book of Mormon, the Doctrines and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price.
The second historicist group is the Seventh (7th) Day Adventists. Adventists believe that worship on Sunday is “the mark of the Beast” mentioned in Rev. 13. Adventist apologist Ellen G. White writes,
The spirit of concession to paganism opened the way for a still further disregard of heaven’s authority. Satan tampered with the fourth commandment also, and essayed to set aside the ancient Sabbath, the day which God had blessed and sanctified, and in its stead to exalt the festival observed by the heathen as ‘the venerable day of the sun’ … The great apostate [Satan] had succeeded in exalting himself ‘above all that is called God, or that is worshipped.’ He had dared to change the only precept of the divine law that unmistakably points all mankind to the true and living God.
(from The Great Controversy, pp. 49-51, as quoted in footnote 27 of Olson’s book, page 80)
(Aside: reprinted from Meet our five critics: Catholic author David Currie seems to have had a few encounters with the 7th Day Adventists and takes some pages to address their concerns. Adventists strenuously reject the first-century decision to worship on Sundays instead of on the Jewish Shabbat as required by the Ten Commandments. In response Currie produces a prophecy in Zechariah 14 that, he says, authorizes this change. According to Currie’s interpretation of Zech. 14, after Messiah comes most of the Jewish holidays will cease to be observed as they have served their purpose. However Zech. 14:16-19 prophesies that the Festival of Booths (sometimes translated the Festival of Tabernacles) will continue to be celebrated. What day does Torah declare to be the day of rest during the Feast of Booths? It is on the first day of the week, on Sunday. (See Lev. 23:33-36.) Therefore according to Currie, Jews worship on Shabbat as a testimony that they are waiting for Messiah. Christians worship on Sunday as a testimony that they believe Jesus is that Messiah. Your host does not know if Adventists have heard this response, and if so, what their response may be. /end reprint.)
Seventh-Day Adventists believe that the end-times will begin with a Rapture of the faithful. The Adventist scenario is the earliest and simplest interpretation of these events. Unlike other rapture-believing denominations and non-denominationals, Adventists do not share the framework or understanding of Darby’s “dispensations.” Many of Left Behind’s most vocal critics are Adventist. They object to the non-Adventist portrayal of the rapture and tribulation, and to the widespread salvation found in the novels. Left Behind portrays thousands, perhaps millions, of Gentiles being saved after the rapture. Adventists believe that essentially no Gentiles will be saved after the rapture. The number of saved Gentiles will not be truly zero, but it will be so infinitesimal as to look like zero. Adventists believe that the Great Tribulation that follows this rapture is a time to look for the salvation of only Jews, and a sharply limited number of Jews at that. So the Adventist interpretation of the end-times is quite strict.
Therefore, in our notes we will refer to Adventists as simply Adventists. We will use the term “rapturist” to refer to everybody else who believes in a rapture-and-great-tribulation scenario but adds dispensations and other elements not found in the Adventist model.
Adventists had been around a decade or two before the Great Disappointment and officially took a distinct identity in 1848. (The finalized name was adopted in 1861.) Adventist apologists and authors include Ellen G. White and Steve Wohlberg.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a daughter-belief of the Adventists who broke away in 1878. (Their legal parent-corporation name, The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, was taken in 1881. The “street name” Jehovah’s Witnesses was adopted in 1931.) The Witnesses dispute the lines from the Nicene Creed that call Jesus “God from God / Light from Light / very God from very God / Begotten, not made / Of one being [homoousion] with the Father.” Witnesses believe that Jesus is not God, not homoousion, though they accept that the angels are commanded to worship Jesus. All Witnesses are consistent on the point that no human is allowed to worship creatures, which is why many say they cannot worship Jesus. Witnesses reject organized religion, whether Christianity or otherwise. They believe Satan was cast out of heaven and Christ enthroned in 1914 or 1917. The most famous Witness apologists and authors are founder Charles Taze Russell and his successor Joseph Franklin Rutherford. Their publications include a Bible translation called The New World Bible, the better-known The Watchtower and a related magazine called Awake!
(Personal aside #1: Your host is not 100% clear on what Witnesses teach about Jesus. Something about Jesus being Michael the archangel before and after the Incarnation. In Daniel 12:1 Michael is called “the great prince who has charge of Israel.”)
(Personal aside #2: Rutherford wrote that the League of Nations was “Babylon the Great” of Revelation, and that Roman Catholicism was its ally. Modern non-Catholic/Orthodox, non-mainline Protestants sometimes express anxiety over the United Nations. This may be another example of “bleedover,” but it is not known who originated it and passed it on to whom. That is, who thought of it first?)
(Personal aside #3: Both the Witnesses and the Mormons send pairs of freshly scrubbed, wholesome-looking young men to neighborhood doorsteps. Although not a rule, the Mormon missionaries tend to be the younger ones, since they tour at college age.)
The Mormons, the Adventists, and the Witnesses say that they have restored true doctrine, and that the Catholics have both preached a mutated doctrine and refused the true doctrine when it was reintroduced. Historicists focus on teaching and preaching as the major charisms, partly to undo the teaching and preaching of Roman Catholicism. Although historicists do not dislike Protestants as intensely as they dislike Catholics, they see Protestants as pawns or followers of the Catholic position. (More on this later.)
The fourth historicist group, the Christian Scientists, was organized in 1879 and reorganized in 1895. Their argument with the Catholics (and by extension their Protestant associates) regards the charism of faith healing. Christian Science teaches that this charism, or gift of the Holy Spirit, remains a major one and mostly accessible except when weak faith blocks it. They avoid secular medicine and are frequently in the news for this reason.
Christian Scientists are pietists; that is, they have no clergy or hierarchy and congregations are self-ruled. (They do have some administration through the Board of the Mother Church in Boston.) Communion services are held, but they do not include the gifts or elements of bread and wine. Local services are conducted by elected individuals called “readers.” Worldwide, about 2,750 individuals called “practitioners” presently serve as full time healers.
Christian Science teaches that God is good and therefore His creation is also real and good. That which is unlike God (sickness, evil, injustice, etc.) is in a sense “unreal,” or at least is not real in the sense that we use the term. “Reality” encompasses that which derives from God and is eternal and spiritual. Whatever is unlike God has no true foundation but is a distortion of the real. Christian Scientists do not ignore evil and sickness so much as they seek to eliminate them through prayer and spiritual understanding. As a believer prays and learns more about God, he or she can see and experience the divine reality in the present. Christian Scientists reject any comparison with self-hypnosis, spontaneous remission, positive thinking, or New Age practices, arguing that since “error” arises from distortions in the human mind, error cannot be corrected by these methods of action upon the human mind. Rather, the mind must become open to spiritual truth, which leads to healing.
Outsiders sometimes confuse Christian Scientists with Jehovah’s Witnesses because the Witnesses do not accept blood transfusions. Witnesses do not even allow their own blood to be stored. After blood is removed from the body they believe it should be disposed of as required by Deuteronomy 12:16. Witnesses believe “the life is in the blood” as recorded in Gen. 9:4, Lev. 17:11, and Acts 15:20. Witnesses will permit kidney dialysis under carefully controlled conditions. In contrast Christian Scientists avoid secular medicine as a whole.
Although all Christians believe in miracles (including miraculous healing), the belief that faith-healing charisms are common/accessible to all, is another topic that often “bleeds over” into other denominations. The televangelist Benny Hinn is a non-historicist proponent of faith healing.
(Personal aside: A heart-breaking example of a failed “bleedover” happened to Betsy Burnham, the late author of When Your Friend Is Dying. As so often happens with cancer, the author experienced a remission, a window of hope before the disease rebounded to claim her life. Her friends, apparently non-historicist, prayed for her healing and took the remission as an answered prayer—but when Burnham relapsed her friends angrily abandoned her as a phony. Her only remaining friend had not been in the prayer circle. He stood by her for the rest of her life, becoming a living answer to a different prayer.)
Christian Science uses a novel technique of public witness: the “Reading Room.” By purchasing space in storefronts, the denomination brings seekers to them by offering a small library (including books that promote Scientist belief). An open Bible in the shop window welcomes anyone to walk in the door and browse. The denomination is best known for a daily newspaper The Christian Science Monitor.
Christian Scientists are not as deathly allergic to Catholicism as are the Mormons, the Adventists, or the Witnesses, but the two parties are not friendly. The most famous Scientist apologist and author is founder Mary Baker Eddy. Their documents of doctrine—they have no documents of discipline, as such—are the KJV translation of the Bible and Eddy’s book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.
These four groups are called the Four Great Sects—but only by outsiders and not to their face.
Let us return to random sampling of individuals on the street and ask two new people our “two questions of eschatology.”
Question one is, “When do the events in Revelation take place?” This interviewee answers, “The book of Revelation is a poetic or literal description of events that will happen after one thousand years of peace on earth, when the Great Tribulation comes and Jesus ends it with the Second Coming.”
For question two (“What era are we living in right now?”) the same interviewee answers, “We are living in the era before the thousand years of peace.” Some will add, “We remain open to the question of whether the thousand years of peace will be inaugurated in a single and recognizable event, or whether it will begin with a transitional period, recognizable as the beginning after the fact.”
This person is a futurist. This person probably is also much older than any other interviewee, because he talks like a postmillennialist. Most of them have passed from old age. Some postmillennial authors include a cluster nicknamed the “Old Princetonians”: Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, and B.B. Warfield. An author of the classical (“Puritan”) model is John Jefferson Davis. Some crossover writers (that is, post-Mill with added elements) include Keith A. Mathison and Kenneth L. Gentry Jr.
We ask the second new person the “two questions.”
Question one is, “When do the events in Revelation take place?” This interviewee answers, “The book of Revelation is a literal description of events that will happen in the near future, after Jesus takes true Christians to heaven and the Antichrist claims the earth for seven years. Then Jesus will end the reign of evildoers with the Second Coming, ushering in a thousand years of peace on earth.”
For question two (“What era are we living in right now?”) the same interviewee answers, “We are living in the era before Jesus takes true Christians to heaven, clearing the way for the Antichrist to claim the earth.”
This person is also a futurist. Specifically, this person is a rapturist (“legal” name, Premillennial Dispensationalist or PMD, the daughter-belief and inheritor of Classic Dispensationalism).
Actually there are six schools of Christian futurism. Four are so obscure as to not be a factor in this discussion. The remaining two schools of thought (Classic Dispensationalism and Postmillennialism) have fought for control of the Christian futurist movement for hundreds of years. Most futurists trace their heritage with pride to St. Irenaus, a futurist of the 150s. He was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John the Evangelist. Irenaus rebuked a heresy called Gnosticism, but he got so involved in the debate that the early church said he overstepped the boundaries of doctrine. He apologized and recanted. Futurists believe the church should not have made Irenaus recant and that he got it right the first time.
For many centuries, the majority of Christians have been non-futurist, with the leading school of futurism (whatever that was) being at get-the-binoculars distance.
Among futurists themselves, post-Mills were long in first place, with PMD in get-the binoculars second place, and the “missing four” schools at get-a-telescope third place. Nowadays rapturism is in first place, with post-Mill at get-the binoculars distance and the “missing four” at get-a-telescope distance.
As mentioned, some better-known rapturist denominations include the Assemblies of God, most Pentecostals, half the Baptists (some are nonrapturist), and certain Holiness denominations (not to be confused with Holiness denominations descended from the Wesleyans). Most rapturists strongly believe in local control. They reserve the right to hire and fire pastors at will. Many rapturists do not use denominational names at all, saying that “there is no such thing as a hyphenated Christian.”
For clarity we will restate the genealogy. Rapturism (“legal” name, PMD or Premillennial Dispensationalism) is the daughter-belief and inheritor of Classic Dispensationalism, which in turn is today’s dominant form of Christian futurism. We will use the term rapturist to avoid confusion between PMD and a possible rising star of futurism, a seventh school called Progressive Dispensationalism, or P/d. (More on this in post 18.)
Let us recap the rapturist position. The “church era” is the sixth of seven dispensations. In the sixth dispensation the earth must experience the “birth pangs” of a great labor. The transition between the sixth and seventh dispensation would be made plain by wars and natural disasters. These phenomena would be God’s way of “trying to get our attention.” The day will come when Jesus will secretly seize all true Christians in the blink of an eye and take them to the shelter of heaven. On earth the combined fury of God and Satan (the adversary, the devil) almost obliterates the earth in seven years of Great Tribulation. The Antichrist (an “anti messiah”) arises in the form of an evil human perversely “anointed” by the evil supernatural. This man serves as counterpart to the Jesus who was anointed by God. The Antichrist seizes power and most humans follow him. A few earth-bound humans reject him (that is, those Jews and fashionably-late Christians who converted after missing the express elevator). When the seven years of tribulation end, Jesus will return with visible armies and might to claim the earth for God. Jesus will sit upon King David’s throne for one thousand years, ruling a reconstituted Israel. Christians will be officials in the holy government. After the thousand years of peace there will be a brief rebellion and the final Judgment Day. This is the rapturist lesson. Left Behind promotes this belief system.
In addition to Cyrus Scofield and John Nelson Darby, some rapturist apologists and authors include Ernest Angley, C.C. Carlson, Howard C. Estep, Charles Feinberg, Norman Geisler, Dave Hunt, Harry Ironside, Grant R. Jeffrey, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, Peter and Patti LaLonde, Hal Lindsey, Chuck Missler, J. Dwight Pentecost, Frank Peretti, Charles C. Ryrie, Jack and Rexella Van Impe, John Walvoord, and David Wilkerson.
Technically historicists are futurists in the sense that they also believe that the events described in Revelation will happen in the near future. In fact, Seventh-Day Adventists believe in “The Rapture” and the ensuing Great Tribulation as strongly as do many nondenominational Christians. However it is inappropriate to classify historicists with other futurists. Keeping in mind that “In our end is our beginning,” historicists expect evil popes. The doctrines historicists adopt and advance are in reaction to this expectation. Although rapturists do not rule out the possibility of an evil pope becoming Antichrist, rapturists believe that the villains of Revelation are as likely to be secular figures, such as non-Christians.
Moreover, the Adventists, who are historicists, believe that essentially no Gentiles will be saved after the rapture. The Left Behind novels directly challenge this assertion. (Firstly, in the original novel a character named Bruce Barnes says, “There is no doubt in my mind that we have witnessed the Rapture. My biggest fear, once I realized the truth, was that there was no more hope for me”. Barnes then explicitly states that his fear is unfounded, and that he can be saved [Volume 1, page 198]. Secondly, the novels names dozens of Gentiles who become saved. The novels assert that mighty throngs are saved whom the audience never meets or knows by name. Thirdly, the novels do not “save” a “remnant” of Jews, or even a total of 144,000 Jews. Rather, the novels describe 144,000 Jews—mostly diaspora—becoming Christian missionaries and converting many, many Jews and Gentiles. This is about as far as one can depart from Adventist teaching and still believe in the rapture.)
Therefore to classify historicists as futurists (the category) is akin to classifying Orthodox Jews together with Orthodox Christians. Both groups are orthodox, but the belief systems in which they declare themselves to be the correct standard are too different. In like manner a school or office building may host a dozen individuals named “Bill” but the “Bills” are not interchangeable.
Since the non-Adventist interpretation of the Rapture/Great Tribulation scenario is the interpretation that is dominant in Western countries, this website will use the term “rapturist” to refer to rapture-believers who are non-Adventists.
Next stop: Teminology (b): Idealists, preterists, and amillennialists