7. Terminology (d): Interdenominational groupings & commonalities

(The post formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net/entry.php?id=7 )

Interdenominational groupings

This grouping refers to the denominations’ moves toward reconciliation. As we have seen, there are five branches of Christianity—the Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, the Revived Historicists, the rapturist Protestant, and the nonrapturist Protestant, usually amillennialists. (Terms like fundamentalism are too narrow; evangelicalism is too broad; and both terms carry political connotations.)

The Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox signed documents of accord in 1971, 1984 and 1999. Early negotiations accelerated in the years of John Paul II. The next pope, Benedict XVI, hoped to continue the work of reconciliation. As of this writing, Pope Francis is reaching out to individuals; his attempts with denominations is not yet certain.

Rapturist Protestants deeply admired John Paul II, even loved him. They respected his hard-line stance on many issues, even as they competed for converts in Catholic countries in Latin America. Many rapturists greeted the rise of Benedict XVI with optimism, believing that another purported hard-liner could stand with them against “liberal,” “worldly” or “too nice” Christians from mainline strands. Although rapturists have seen two consecutive popes that they respect, it has not led to “peace talks” in the sense of possible reconciliation.

Surprisingly, although mainline Protestants disagree with Catholics on so many issues—biotechnology, the role of women, and so on—the two branches have made considerable progress in ecumenical relations. This may be a result of their common certainty in amillennial eschatology plus their mutual dedication to Social Gospel behavioral work.

At first the ecumenical movement was composed of non-rapturist Protestants only. The Roman Catholic Church declined to attend on the grounds that Christian unity could only be achieved when Protestants chose to become reconciled to the mother church. In time there was a thaw on both sides. In Una Sancta (promoted by German priest Max Metzger), the Catholics extended a tentative gesture of peace toward Protestants in the post-World War I era. Protestant ecumenical councils began to make regular offers to Catholic authorities to come visit their meetings. Although the Catholics declined to do so, they did issue a 1949 document to their own people outlining possible future ecumenical contacts. Finally in 1961 five Catholic priests attended the Evanston assembly. This opened the door for Pope John XIII to invite Orthodox, Anglican, and mainline Protestant representatives to sit in on the historic Vatican II councils of 1962-1965.

As we mentioned elsewhere, the Roman Catholics and the Anglicans came to a limited understanding of mutuality about the Eucharist/holy feast in the 1990s. Then the Catholics and the Lutherans rescinded the excommunications they had hurled against each other. In 1999 they came to an agreement on the Doctrine of Justification by Faith and hammered out an understanding of mutuality in certain religious rites.

In May 2005 the United Methodists approved a pact with the Episcopalians (what Anglicans are called in the States) and with most Lutherans that would allow the trio of denominations to share the holy feast. The Episcopalians and the Evangelical Lutherans are expected to sign when they meet later in 2005. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) already established full communion with the Episcopalians in 2001, adding to the ELCA’s full communion ties with the Moravian Church (U.S.), the Presbyterian Church (U.S.), the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ. By signing on, the United Methodists intended to have full communion with the Lutherans by 2008 and the Episcopalians by 2012.

These ecumenical gestures tie mainline Protestants together in ways that, if one their members should more fully reconcile with the Catholics, might bring some or all of the others along for the ride. Mainliners are aware of this, and in fact very few seem to have a problem with it. The April and May 2005 issues of The Christian Century have explored the question, “Is the Reformation over?” Some writers argue for the idea, a few against it. Certainly none of them want the mistakes of the past to be forgotten. But the question “Are we still protesting, and if so, against what?” eventually may be considered on a continental scale.

Rapturists are not entirely out of this loop. In May 2005 the Pentecostals were among the founding member denominations of a new ecumenical body called Christian Churches Together. Its members include—and these are publicity names and labels, not mine—“Catholics, evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Orthodox, and Pentecostals.” The body had planned to be formally launched in September 2005. Its present weakness is that it has had difficulty attracting African-American denominations, as the question has been raised what this ecumenical body could do that the National Council of Churches is not already doing.

Section Summary

Although there are exceptions, the individuals, congregations and denominations that embrace rapturist eschatology tend to embrace Sinking Ship behavioral theory. They also tend to admire the two hard-liner popes, but (with the exception of the Pentecostals) not enough to sign on to any “peace talks” type of ecumenicalism.

Although there are exceptions, the individuals, congregations and denominations that embrace amillennialist eschatology tend to embrace Social Gospel behavioral theory. Many denominations have signed documents with each other that bring together Catholicism and branches of Christianity that formerly protested against it.

Historicists embrace historicist eschatology. As for behavioral theory they tend to draw elements from both “Sinking Ship” and “Social Gospel”. Historicists constantly seek converts, and the Seventh-Day Adventists and Mormons especially attract converts through benevolent gestures. Both groups build schools in impoverished corners of the world. Often these schools are the only ones in the region, and the only chance for destitute communities to educate their children. Of course the hope is that the children will think well of the religious group when they are old enough to become members. If all these schools can be considered one school system, then this strategy has made the Adventist school system one of the largest ones on earth.

Bonus round, Commonalities: Things Christians have in common whether they affirm it, deny it, or don’t know it exists

Item: All branches of Christianity believe that other branches add stuff to the Bible that they should not and leave out stuff that should be included. Tends to be self-explanatory, with one variable: material taken in context (as in, “read in context” and “taken out of context”).

Item: All branches of Christianity believe that the Bible came from God (although specific denominations within a branch may argue over what “route” it took). That is, some Christians state that the Bible is the literal word of God. Others say that Jesus is the literal word of God (John 1:1), and that the Bible is given by inspiration of God through God’s Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16) i.e. “God-breathed.” Those people would say, if one wishes to touch Jesus and make him part of oneself, go to the holy feast. If one wishes to touch the Holy Spirit and make him part of oneself, go to the Bible.

Having said that, most Christians still recite the weekly response, “This is the word of God / Thanks be to God” after the Scripture reading at worship service. Now clearly the Bible and Jesus are not the same thing. The Bible did not hunger or thirst; the Bible did not die for the sins of the world. Jesus called the Scriptures “that which testified about” Him (John 5:39). Does it diminish the Bible to call Jesus the Word (singular) of God and the Bible the true words (plural) of God? When we phrase it this way, most Christians would say, well, No. Nevertheless it makes some of them profoundly uncomfortable.

At this point the Eastern Orthodox Church would offer its explanation of why, exactly, other Christians find any exploration of the question unnerving. Other denominations gravitate to the Passion, or the Nativity, or the Resurrection. Of all branches of Christianity, the Eastern Orthodox gravitate most of all to the Baptism of Jesus. This anxiety, they say, is what happens when a Western Christian puts the filioque into the Nicene Creed. For you see, only someone who could consider the Holy Spirit a lesser part of God could possibly consider the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the transmission of the Bible to be a demotion or diminishment of the Bible in any way. Only someone who could consider the Holy Spirit a lesser part of God could possibly consider that the Holy Spirit does lesser work.

Although the above discussion is very important, it usually is a cloak for a different debate: namely, are translations infallible and “God-breathed.” With very few exceptions among Christians, only pastors can read classical Hebrew or koine Greek. Some Christians believe that the original, very first scriptures in classical Hebrew and koine Greek said what God wanted them to say. Others argue that even the inspired writers of the Bible wrote drafts, which is why we find things now and then like the Dead Sea Scrolls, or why there are Septuagints and Tanakhs and Deutero-canons and such. (Your host is old enough to remember when the Dead Sea Scrolls horrified people, because they didn’t match what we had in our pews. So when Cameron “Buck” Williams purchased a cheap replica of the Dead Sea Scrolls to use as a hasty urn for a cremated character in Left Behind, volume 9, “Desecration,” your host twitched in one’s seat. And it wasn’t because of the dead girl.)

Then there are translations. When we ask whether hand copies and/or translations say what God wants them to say, Christians tend to split along denominational lines. Here is another area regarding context. Those who disagree tend to disagree thoroughly, calling the Bible the collected wisdom of the church. This tends to include citing the aforementioned “drafts” of Scripture and how they seem to pre-date the version that survived, and talking about Documentary Hypothesis and Q theory.

Certain world religions other than Christianity do not allow their sacred texts to be translated into other languages. They hope to avoid this sort of debate. How do we have the expression … “It’s the same difference.” After all, if a person wishes to learn the sacred text in its original language, how does one learn what this word or that word means? Doesn’t that information come from a teacher? What happens if the teacher gets it wrong? Maybe the teacher was once a student to another teacher who got it wrong. As we see from looking at world events, the fact that a sacred text is in a uniform language does not necessarily stop the readers from arriving at their own interpretations.

Item: All Christians believe in prophetic perspective. This is the belief that a prophecy can come true more than once. We will spend more time on this later, but for now our critic Riddlebarger (page 56) compares it to a mountain range. From a distance it looks like a single shape on the horizon. A traveler passing through or over the mountains will notice his perspective change—the mountains are distinct, plus some remain in front of him but some are now behind him. Although the mountains might not be identical in height or shape, they are all one mountain range, as a prophecy is all part of one God’s plan. In time the traveler will exit the mountains and continue forward, until the receding range is a single shape in the distance. For example, Christians depend upon prophetic perspective to justify their interpretation of Isaiah 53 (the Suffering Servant as both Israel and Christ) and Isaiah 7:14 (a virgin/maiden who will bear a son, one through conventional means and the other through a miracle).

Item: All Christians believe in second chances. There are multiple interpretations as to what this “second chance” looks like. The Mormons see it one way, the rapturists another, the a-Mills still another.

For the Mormons, the belief in second chances motivates them to build the largest genealogical library system in the world. Mormons believe in sealing and in baptism by proxy, both of which require an organized system of record-keeping to make sure no one is left out and no one is done twice. Sealing refers to a ceremony that allows married couples and families to take vows in this life that will be honored in the afterlife, keeping the family together and family hierarchy intact. Non-Mormon Christians believe that when Jesus said “In the resurrection there will be neither marriage nor giving in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mark 12:25), Jesus meant that marriages cease to exist. Mormons believe that marriages can exist, if they are properly sealed in this life. Families also can be sealed; this can spread as far as one likes if the family knows its dead ancestors’ names.

The other reason the Mormons have built genealogical libraries is to hasten the orderly progression of baptism by proxy. Mormons believe that all who die in good standing with the Mormon church go to heaven. (Well, actually Mormons believe in three distinct heavens.) Those who were never Mormon go to an intermediary place … a holding-facility paradise, not quite a sanctuary, not quite a school gymna-café-torium. There they look around in astonishment and realize yes, they really are dead, there really is an afterlife, and they’re all dressed up with no place to go. But before they can panic, a Mormon missionary—I think he is dead, but I am unclear on that part—enters the room and greets the deceased and comforts them. He preaches to them the gospel according to Mormon. Those who accept—pretty much all of them, except for the really wicked ones—gratefully take the Mormon ticket to heaven. But wait! How can one enter heaven without being baptized into the Mormon church? This is where baptism by proxy comes in. Because Mormons want no one to be lost, they try to identify by name every human who has ever lived. Then Mormon volunteers are baptized in the names of a given list of people. (Thus when a dead person accepts Mormonism in the afterlife, the baptism is waiting to be counted to the person upon conversion.) It takes a long time to get to—what, 37 billion humans in history? Apparently that is the unofficial number scientists are floating around—everyone, so it helps to keep records of who has been done and who is waiting to be done. Indeed, the Gentle Browser either already has been baptized into the Mormon church, or else they are getting to you as soon as they can. The Mormons do this because they believe in second chances.

Rapturists (other than Seventh-Day Adventists) also believe in second chances. They believe this second chance will occur during the Great Tribulation. Rapturists expect that they will be whooshed up to heaven in a sudden and overwhelming miracle. The rest of the world will be forced to face the fact that there really is a supernatural existence, with a God and a heaven—and they missed it! Obviously people would experience this same shock after they are dead, but in rapturist teaching “dead” is too late. So there are two reasons for the miracle of rapturists being whooshed up to heaven. One is for the benefit of the rapturist believers themselves as they are removed from the dangers of the Great Tribulation. The other reason is to give earthbound humans the shock they need before they die. If people receive this shock when they are alive they can still do something about it. They can accept Christ. Up until the Tribulation people were able to “stay on the fence” or decline to commit themselves. In the Tribulation they will have to make a clear choice between God and Satan, each according to their heart’s desire. Rapturists see their public miracle as a second chance for those who repent.

(Note: the Gentle Browser will recall that our notes for this website always use the term “rapturist” to refer to non-Adventists. In the Adventist scenario of the rapture and tribulation, the humans who are “left behind” become hard-hearted and die without remorse. Adventists teach that there is no second chance for Gentiles after the rapture, and only a slim chance for the Jews. Adventists do acknowledge that this slim chance is better than none.)

Amillennialists believe in second chances, but not in a way compatible with the other two definitions above. A-Mills believe that “dead” is too late to change. A-Mills also believe we must operate under the assumption that no public miracles will be displayed either to rescue anyone or to specifically to get our attention. (“An evil and adulterous generation, to seek a sign” says Matt. 12:39 of those who think God is in the entertainment business.) Instead, a-Mills believe in something called “living up to the full measure of grace which is within you”. (Catholics call it “baptism of desire”.) A-Mills believe that apart from Christ no one can be saved. However they believe that some persons are so sincere to please God as they understand God that Jesus would vouch for these people as Jesus vouches for people who do know who He is and have served well. An example is the fictional character Emeth from C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle. Emeth joyfully serves a false god, but he does not know it. He volunteers to march into battle against Narnia because he thinks that he is striking a blow against a false god (who is in fact the real one). The people he came to fight recognize his holiness and murmur, “He is worthy of a better god than Tash.” Upon meeting Aslan (a Christ figure), the man Emeth realizes his error and admits, “The name of Aslan was hateful to me.” Nevertheless Emeth is welcomed into heaven, because “unless thou hadst been seeking Me, thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.” Emeth lived up to the full measure of grace which was within him. (For that matter, so did “one of the dwarves who had helped to shoot the horses”! A-Mills believe in a God who is a lot smarter than we are, so there must have been a reason.)

Amillennalists believe that humans who live up to the full measure of grace which is within them will have it counted in their favor. Having said that, a-Mills believe these people are the exception rather than the rule. A-Mills strongly believe it is easier to live up to that full measure of grace when one is a Christian, being spiritually fed with doctrine, the communion of saints, and the holy feast. Therefore a-Mills do not slacken their missionary efforts to invite non-Christians to the table. (A-Mills also believe that people who claim to be Christian can be a lot less full of grace than some people who have never heard of Christ. One thing the Bible makes clear about the Last Day is that a lot of people are going to be surprised.)

Item: All Christians believe in a “moveable” date for the end of the world.

In modern times the Revived Historicists used to be the date-setters. (The Jehovah’s Witnesses were disappointed no less than nine times between 1878 and 1975.) They have largely gotten out of the date-setting business, preferring to leave that distinction to the rapturists.

Rapturists once believed that the Secret Rapture had to happen 40 years after the rebirth of Israel. This would place the Secret Rapture no later than 1988. When that did not happen, rapturists recalculated. The current target date for the Secret Rapture is 2007, because that is 40 years after Israel conquered the entirety of “ancient Israel” in the 1967 war. Now if 2007 does not happen, rapturists still have one more date called 20XX. 20XX is 40 years after Israel conquers the entirety of land that ancient Israel held at the height of its power under Kings David and Solomon. (Such a conquest would extend Israeli borders north through Lebanon, south to Egypt through the land Israel already gave back, and east to I-forget-the-name-of-the-river, but it is past Jordan [the country, that is].) Obviously peace talks in that region of the world would make Israel less likely to conquer the old imperial land. This is why a handful of zealous rapturists oppose such peace talks.

There are marginal dates that no one will claim if they fail and everyone would claim if they succeed. These are 2012 and 2017. The year 2012 was popular because the Mayan calendar ends at that time, or some such reason. However many Christians, including chronic date-setters, question whether Christians should be looking to extinct Mayans for their theology. Rapturist televangelist Jack Van Impe proposed that 2012 could be a candidate if the Mayan term for “end” is mistranslated as “extinction” rather than “cataclysm.” He suggested that the Mayan calendar refers to multiple (seven?) cataclysms, of which Noah’s Flood was one. Van Impe posited that if we take the genealogy of Jesus Christ as recorded in the gospel of Luke and divide the progenitors by 4000 years from creation to Christ, we arrive with a figure slightly less than 52 years. Van Impe suggests that the genealogy in Matthew also can be divided into an average of slightly less than 52 years. If this is true, then rapturists could redefine the length of the Biblical term “one generation.” In the Torah the Hebrews wandered in the wilderness for 40 years (one generation) until the kvetchers passed away. However if a generation in the Christian era at the end of days can be redefined as 52 years, then the year 2012 can be claimed as a date for the Secret Rapture. That is, the calendar year 1967, combined with “one generation” of 52 years, gives us the calendar year 2019. If the Secret Rapture were to happen seven years before 2019, then that would place the rapture in 2012.

Obviously no Rapture occurred in 2012. A common explanation is that the time is indeed ripe, but the Lord in His mercy “delays” so that more souls may be saved. Verses such as Habbakuk 2:3, Matthew 24:48 and 25:5-6 and Luke 12:42-46 have been offered in support of this theory of delay.

The year 2017 is 40 years after Israel established the first three settlements in occupied land. It also is the year Jimmy Carter first persuaded the leaders of Egypt and Israel to open peace talks. These talks led Israel to give back land—and to Egypt, of all entities! Verses cited in support of this theory include 2 Kings 18:21, Isaiah 30:1, 31:1-3, 36:6, Ezekiel 29:16, and so forth. No other reason is proffered to promote 2017 as a rapturist date.

Catholics believe in a moveable end of the world, though they do not advertise it in those terms. Currie (page 417) points out that faithful celebration of the Eucharist (the holy feast) hastens the second coming. It is in the Catholic catechism. “The Holy Spirit’s transforming power in the Liturgy hastens the coming of the Kingdom and the consummation of the mystery of salvation. While we wait in hope he causes us really to anticipate the fullness of communion with the Holy Trinity (CCC, par. 1107).” Some mainline Protestants believe this as well, though they do not advertise it in those terms either.

Amillennialists used to set dates (the year 1000 was the big one), but they are the most vocal critics of date-setting now. Many a-mills also believe that “the Lord delays His coming, that more souls will be saved.” They do not mean that God cannot make up His mind. Rather, they believe it is a cross between two parables or explanations. The first parable (popular among mainline Protestants) is that of a farmer. On the one hand, no farmer would plant good seed and then harvest the field only moments later. No farmer would go into a field that is ripe for harvest, scatter new seeds upon the ground, and then harvest the field. In both cases the seeds never had a chance. Instead, the grain is given its season to grow before it is harvested. At that time the weak and unproductive stalks of grain will be removed and rejected. We do not know quite how this will work for humans who were not all “planted” on earth at the same time, only that God is smarter than we are and knows when the seed grain has had its fair chance to grow.

The second parable (popular among Catholics) is that of a painter who paints a mural upon the wall. The mural tells a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Since the painter stands outside his creation he can see the whole story. Now at some point this painter brushes up against his creation, leaving a creator-shaped imprint on the wet paint. The painter decides to leave the imprint upon the mural. There now is paint upon the painter. The painter does not stop being his true self simply because he has paint on him. (This is like the way Jesus could be part of our world, could bring part of it back with Him but is still the creator of it.) The painter decides his work is finished. It is finished from his side of things. The mural itself is still drying, and each brush of paint dries according to its nature. One layer of paint will dry more rapidly than two layers of paint; paint in the sunny side of the room dries differently than paint in the shadows; oil paint dries differently than watercolor. When the mural is completely dry, then it is done from the mural’s side of things.

Amillennialists combine these two parables to explain their view of a “moveable” end of the world. We choose how quickly the paint dries. For a God outside of time as we know it, God’s part of things is done. Yet the harvest is waiting for its time. When the day of harvest arrives, the whole field shall be done. This means that, according to some amillennial thinkers, we all get to heaven at the same time.

Next stop: Translations.


Author: The_Old_Maid_of_Potluck

Author of Potluck2point0: The resource formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net (a.k.a. My humongous [technical term] study of "What's behind 'Left Behind'").