20. Does it matter?

(The post formerly known as http://oldmaid.jallman.net/entry.php?id=20 )

As The Christian Century editor Jason Byassee concludes his book review of Rapture Culture and The Rapture Exposed, he writes,

Both Frykholm and Rossing raise a key question: To what degree can we call dispensationalism “heresy”? Frykholm suggests parallels to Gnosticism, Rossing to the Manichees. Do mainline Protestants even have heresy anymore? What would such a pronouncement from ecclesial bodies accomplish? It might just reinforce the dispensationalists’ rhetoric and view of themselves as culturally isolated, even as they sell millions of books and elect powerful legislators.

Or it might force mainline pastors like me patiently to explain precisely why this view of the world conflicts with scripture and orthodox teaching in ways that lead to contorted lives and twisted church practice. It might lead us to offer a contrasting vision of a politics informed by a slain lamb whom we claim loves the cosmos, whose rule encourages us to participate in God’s peacemaking … (page 22)

Byassee asks two crucial questions. One, does Left Behind promote false doctrine? Two, if Secret Rapture eschatology is untrue, then why is it popular?

One : If the critics call “Left Behind” and /or specific points in it “untrue,” then what untrue thing are they calling it?

The key points of Gnosticism (literally, “secret knowledge”) include a belief that only a few blessed individuals have received divine truth and that only they can decode symbols of the end times. To this foundation Manichaeanism adds a belief that good and evil are in a sort of balance, therefore the goal of life is to escape this realm into a realm where no evil can follow. Both beliefs were labeled heresies, partly because they assigned evil a level of power comparable to God. Also both originated outside of Christianity and Judaism.

Olson seconds Frykholm and Rossing. Olson states plainly that rapturist teaching “possess[es] a neo-Gnostic theology and a Manichaean world view (page 322). Repeatedly Olson states that

Fundamentalism and dispensationalism share in a potent neo-Gnosticism, the conviction that “true believers” possess secret knowledge (gnosis) attainable only through their system of interpreting Scripture and rightly discerning “the signs of the times.” (page 338)

For Christians trying to make sense of the world in light of Scripture, popular dispensationalism offers a convenient vision and an air-tight solution. Matching up current events to passages of Scripture fulfills both the desire to understand the Bible better and to make sense of what is happening around the globe. It assures people that the Bible is true and historically accurate without any need to grapple with the complex challenges of the Bible. It also frees the reader from any sense of obligation to improve or change significantly the culture, the arts, the political order, or any other aspect of society. The impending end of the world makes such pursuits trivial, even ridiculous—what matters is saving souls from the approaching tribulation.

The ability of popular dispensationalists to frighten people with talk about imminent disaster and to link current events to Scripture is what will determine the longevity of the movement, as Timothy Weber notes: “As long as premillennialists are able to fit current events into their system, there seems little doubt that they will be able to attract significant numbers of adherents.” (page 203)

Olson believes that not only does rapturism meet some of the requirements of gnosticism, but that the rapturist belief (Premillennial Dispensationalism/PMD) is likely to be around in some form or another for a long time.

(Personal aside: In Volume 11 the prisoner Chloe threatens to kill any torturer who enters her jail cell. The rabbi Tsion begs to be taught to use a machine gun. Rayford and Buck kill and cite self-defense. Hard to imagine Jesus or the apostles and martyrs behaving in this manner when their time came and then rationalizing that the movement needed them to stay alive. In the version of Christianity that these heroes of faith tried to teach, Rayford and Chloe and Buck’s behavior is not allowed. The characters respond that “Times are different.”

Recall that Rossing [pages 14-15] complained that “the Left Behind message is that times are no longer normal—in the final days on the cusp of a new era or ‘dispensation’ in God’s prophetic clock, the rules are suspended and ethics shift.” Recall also that Currie [pages 234-5] objects to Left Behind’s assertion that after a convert becomes a “saved and sealed” Christian, that Christian cannot backslide or lose his salvation. This theme is particularly relentless in Volume 8, The Mark, which claims that there are several different “books of life.” Currie cites Rev. 3:5 as proof that sealed-and-saved Christians can and do backslide, until their name is “blotted out of the book of life,” meaning the book of eternal life, the one and only book of life in the Bible.

The argument that a Christian cannot lose his salvation also can be found in Volume 6, page 59, in which a character named Mac McCullum advises a new Christian that it is acceptable to deny Christ before men to get a job working for the villains. Mac assures the new Christian that once one is saved, one can “tell [the Antichrist and his followers] what they want to hear” without consequences. [This stands in contrast to what Daniel, Daniel’s friends, and Peter, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James, and Jude taught, lived, and died.]

Together our critics Currie and Rossing lay the preliminary groundwork for a case that Left Behind promotes Antinomianism—“opposition to moral law.” An Antinomian position twists Romans 5:20b [“where sin increased, grace abounded all the more”] into a proposal or argument that the dispensation of the gospel releases the Christian from any obligation to the moral law. At its extreme application [Rom. 6:1] it earns the nickname the “Let us sin, that grace may abound!” error. Or as the apostle Paul yelped in The Living Bible paraphrase, “If you follow that line of reasoning you come to this: the worse we are, the better God likes it!” For a more detailed discussion see Romans 6:1-2, 15-23). There are elements in Left Behind that could be taken—or mistaken—for antinomianism. Your host hopes the critics will clarify which one it is in any updated editions.)

Two : If “secret rapture” eschatology is untrue, then why is it popular?

Item : Does the hope of a Secret Rapture teach its believers to play the victim card?

Not a flattering question, to be sure. Having said that, four of our five showcased critics grew up in the rapturist movement, and they have a great deal of sympathy for people who remain in it. Actually, they are the ones who suggested the question.

Well, have rapturists an external reason to perceive themselves as victims? A cursory exploration of history would seem to say No. Rapturists have never had their property seized or their families thrown in jail as happened to the Moravians, Quakers or Shakers during the American Revolution. Rapturists have not been denied their right to vote for being rapturist, or chased from state to state for being rapturist, as happened to the Mormons for being Mormon. Rapturists have not been lynched and killed in their jail cells, as happened to the founder of the Mormons who was in “protective custody.” Rapturists were never driven off their lands by broken treaties and herded into reservations, as happened to the Native Americans or First Nations. (Richard Twiss, author of One Church, Many Tribes estimates that only three percent of Native Americans hold formal membership in a church. The way they were treated by white “Christians” almost surely is a factor.) Rapturists did not end up in Nazi concentration camps (as happened to the Jews, the Catholics, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Confessing Church), because rapturists did not live in Europe in World War II. Rapturists who have black skin have had some of these experiences, but the lynch mobs who targeted African-Americans rarely made an effort to learn the religious affiliation of the people they were killing. Rapturists with white skin have never had a political party arise specifically to terrorize them to “Go back to Europe” as the Know-Nothings terrorized American Catholics.

It is true that there was a time when rapturists were considered less than fully respectable—more respectable than the fringe groups of Christianity that incorporate snake charming into the worship service, but not by much. There also was a time when most rapturists were poor families living in rural communities. Those circumstances have changed. All five critics agree that rapturists’ wealth, status artifacts, education and socio-economic-political influence now minimize the odds that rapturists in America will become marginalized, victimized, martyrs.

Yet some rapturists still feel unappreciated and misunderstood. Is feeling misunderstood the same as being mistreated? It depends. In terms of externals, rapturists have to leave the States and go someplace unsafe to experience the kind of persecution that other branches of Christianity endured (and in some countries endure still). In terms of the internal world a kind word, or a cruel one, can have life-changing consequences.

This is why it is advisable to examine the individuals, instead of blithely hearing and dismissing the movement’s message. As the saying goes, “your actual mileage may vary.”

Item: Rapturism may speak to the English-speaking culture, because it dovetails with the “Health and Wealth Gospel.”

Currie quickly admits that not all rapturists believe in the “Health and Wealth gospel.” However he believes that rapturism and the “health and wealth gospel” reinforce each other.

While the hope of a rapture allows rapturists to cope with tragedy, it also saddles them with a non-Christian view of the world. Quite simply, the rapturist system contains no Cross … [Together these ideas argue] that, since Christ suffered on the Cross for us, Christians need never suffer again. These Christians believe that God wants our lives on earth to be free from any hardship and overflowing with material goods. The presence of these material blessings is evidence of one’s high spiritual estate, and the absence of them is evidence of a lack of faith.

While the appeal of this idea is obvious, it is absolutely antithetical to the teaching of our Savior. Jesus never promised us a rose garden because of His suffering. In fact He promised us our own Gethsemane. Jesus taught that any follower of His must “deny himself and take up his cross daily” (Luke 9:23). He called us to His Cross, and then showed us how to carry our own crosses for God.

Jesus further said, “Whoever does not bear his own cross … cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:27). The choice presented by Christ is quite stark. Later in His ministry, Jesus warned His followers that “in the world you [will] have tribulation” (John 16:33).

In Christ’s prayer for His disciples and future Church, Jesus never once prayed that His followers would be exempted from suffering. Even less did He intimate that they would be secretly raptured away from this world’s sufferings. He prayed that His followers would have the strength to endure the trials that He knew would be coming: “I do not pray that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Meditation on this verse undermines the assumptions behind the purpose of a secret rapture. (page 378)

Item : the Secret Rapture may speak to personal needs (emotional, psychological, etc.)

Currie suggests that the Secret Rapture speaks to a hidden loneliness in people. Most rapturists of his acquaintance place the time of the Rapture within their lifetimes, or at latest, within the lifetime of their grandchildren. Currie says almost wistfully that they cannot imagine that the world would go on for so long that they will be forgotten (page 380). Currie thinks they have got it backwards. He says that if the world happens to last beyond the days of “my grandchildren’s grandchildren,” then we who are alive are already the founding fathers and mothers of the world our descendents inherit. “Everything we do now will have repercussions for generations to come” (page xxiv). Currie finds this possibility quite exciting. He thinks Christians should feel honored and humbled to be entrusted by God with this privilege.

Currie adds that Secret-Rapture theory speaks to the same desire for “inside information” that prompts people to visit fortune-tellers. “When world events seem to spin out of control, the rapturist can sit comfortably in the knowledge that he has the inside scoop on the future. This appeals to anyone’s innate sense of curiosity and promotes a sense of security. Unfortunately, pride is a very natural result of this thinking,” as he reluctantly admits from his own experience (page 379).

Finally, Currie believes rapturism speaks to the “comfortable pessimism” of our century. He calls it “a simple, comfortable filter through which to view life.” It comforts people in the face of evil. Evil and assorted disasters become signs that Christ is coming soon. Many rapturists already had their fill of horrors in the Great Depression and World War II. “The idea that they would be the ones to witness the apocalyptic end of this world seems completely in line, on a cosmic level, with their experience of evil … Rapturism is a natural spiritual home for those who think the world is careening out of control. To a large extent, they can keep their basic outlook of despair but remain able to cope on a daily basis” (pages 275-6).

Olson does not see it quite as a loneliness, but he agrees that rapturist teachings fill an emotional need for acknowledgment, a need to feel special.

Hal Lindsey makes the bold claim “that many of you who are reading this will experience this mystery. You will never know what it is to die physically” (Lindsey, Rapture, p. 43). As Abanes notes, “The inescapable theme permeating the messages of the prophecy pundits could not be any clearer: we are a special generation. Hence, we as individuals must also be unique in God’s eyes. Every person alive has the distinction of being picked to see history’s culmination. Such a notion is much more appealing than the thought of having to work a boring job for the next twenty or thirty years, only to die in obscurity as billions of people have previously done. Many cannot resist believing that they stand at the very pinnacle of history” (Abanes, End-Time Visions, p. 316).

(footnote 69 from Olson, page 202)

Olson grew up in the rapturist movement, and he expresses concern that some believers are manipulated by fear. Although he does not compare it to an “addiction,” he found another critic who does.

The acerbic Gary North writes: “Rapture fever is a deliberately induced psychological condition. The number of its victims has escalated rapidly since 1970. Millions of reader repeatedly inject themselves with what can best be described as a psychologically addicting drug: the expectation of the imminent return of Jesus Christ, which will remove them from their troubles by removing them from history. The results of this addiction are predictable: an initial ‘high,’ followed by a debilitating letdown, followed by painful withdrawal symptoms (mentally recentering the hum-drum world), followed by another injection. Again and again, millions of emotionally vulnerable Christians return to their ‘pushers’ for another ‘fix.’” (North, Rapture Fever, p. 2). Although North’s assessment sounds harsh, I can vouch from personal experience that his basic point is accurate—an obsession with the pretribulational Rapture is often a ticket to an emotional and spiritual roller-coaster ride.

(footnote 106 from Olson, page 336)

Rossing, who was never a rapturist, has no difficulty in labeling “rapture fever” as an addiction.

[Former war correspondent Chris] Hedges says that he became addicted to war. He craved the thrill and excitement. War was a drug for him—“the most powerful narcotic invented by humankind.”

Hedges critiques our addiction to the television version of war today—a spectator sport. The “seductiveness of violence, the fascination with the grotesque—what the Bible calls ‘the lust of the eye’—the god-like empowerment over other human lives” becomes almost mythic. In mythic war “we fight absolutes. We must vanquish darkness.” War becomes entertainment.

People love to watch violence. This “lust of the eye” is nothing new. In the early church the theologian Tertullian counseled against Christian attendance at the violent spectacles and gladiatorial games of the Roman world. His extended treatise De Spectaculis points to the dangerous allure of watching violence. Christians need to train themselves not to watch, Tertullian says, not to be entranced by violence. Violence is mythic and seductive. It is a narcotic—like the “poison” or “sorcery” (the Greek word for “drug,” pharmakeia) that Revelation says Rome administered to the world in order to deceive and intimidate people with its violence. Violence draws like an undertow, as Rayford found when he was unable to resist flying over Armageddon to watch the carnage.

“If you spend long enough in war,” Hedges told Bill Moyers, “it’s finally the only place you can feel at home. And that’s of course a sickness. But I had it.”

Today’s Christian fixation on Armageddon and war is also a sickness, even while it may be thrilling and entertaining. The dispensationalist storyline of blood and wrath must not become our home. (pages 139-40)

Olson would step back from the verdict that rapturist teaching appeals to the worst in people. He simply thinks it speaks to the pessimist in all of us, and thus weakens Christian resolve.

David Chilton asks: “How common it is to hear Christians say, when confronted with a problem: ‘I sure hope the Rapture comes soon!”—rather than: ‘Let’s get to work on the solution right now!’ Even worse is the response that is also too common: ‘Who cares? We don’t have to do anything about it, because the Rapture is coming soon anyway!’ And worst of all is the attitude held by some that all work to make this a better world is absolutely wrong, because ‘improving the situation will only delay the Second Coming!’ A good deal of modern rapturism should be recognized for what it is: a dangerous error that teaches God’s people to expect defeat instead of victory.”

(footnote 112 from Olson, page 338)

Surprisingly Frykholm (who usually reports the emotional repercussions of rapturist teachings) thinks the Secret Rapture fills an intellectual need. She also discounts the influence of fear or psychological cravings. Her 35 readers are not “weird,” “strange,” or seeking a psychological pacifier to help them cope with life. With the exception of the readers who discovered that Left Behind created discord in their families, most of Frykholm’s interviewees perceive rapturism only of in terms of the positive.

Belief in the rapture allows readers to imagine an “end” that does not include their own deaths. They can, in a sense, escape death through the rapture … They do not personally wish for the rapture to save them from death. Instead it is a condition of the world, something “pointed to” rather than something they consciously desire …

[snip]

“Jay” points to biblical and historical figures who all thought the end would come in their lifetimes. He does not want to make the same mistake. At the same time, he says with a chuckle, he hopes for it.

“I’d like for it to happen because I wouldn’t like to see some things happen. Having a little girl, I worry about her dating.”

“You want the rapture to happen so you don’t have to see your daughter go on a date?”

He laughs. “One of my friends, he has a little girl and we joke about it. ‘Hopefully the Lord will come back before we have to worry about dating.’”

Jay’s joke about his daughter’s future love life points to the irony and light-heartedness with which many evangelicals approach dispensationalism. While it is a serious business on which human destiny and individual salvation rest, it is also rich ground for humor. Readers frequently make jokes about the rapture—its timing, their desire or lack of desire for it, their own fate. Jay’s particular joke, which also contains an element of seriousness, also points out the intertwining of the rapture with personal history … Jay enfolds the universal story about the rapture into his own particular life circumstances. If the world ends, he reasons, at least he will not have to worry about whom his daughter dates.

Readers’ approach to the timing of the end is a subtle blend of personal desire, evaluation of human history, interpretation of an inherited tradition, and a process of self-instruction. Nearly all believe that the imminent possibility of the rapture gives a special shape to their lives and urges them to live in a particular way, but they resist any simple suggestion that the end is near. Instead they use the rapture as a means of interpretation, a way to read scripture and human destiny. (pages 108-9)

When Rossing steps back from anger, she admits that the Rapture speaks to many reasonable, non-violent, intelligent people who do not have emotional problems.

People are attracted to Darby’s dispensational system with its Rapture theology because it is so comprehensive and rational—almost science-like—a feature that made it especially appealing during battles over evolution in the 1920s and 1930s. With the ascendancy of Darwin and sweeping scientific claims in the Nineteenth Century, many people responded to a biblical “system” that could compete with science in its rationality and approach to history. (page 24)

One of Frykholm’s final interviews was with “Ann Marie,” an exceptionally intelligent reader who is “well read and well studied in biblical texts” (page 135). Ann Marie had put off the interview for some weeks, uncertain how to respond to this visitor.

Ann Marie came to the interview with some hostility toward me as an academic interested in Left Behind. She was not at all sure I would be able to understand her powerful appreciation of the books and hesitated to share the spiritual, almost mystical, response she had to them. She had prayed for me before I arrived for the interview, asking God to help her with whatever challenges I might present to her faith. While she had, after much nagging on my part, consented to the interview, she remained hesitant to share with me some of the more powerful spiritual experiences of her life, afraid that I might use them to mock or belittle her.

As she tells me about her experience of reading Left Behind, she tentatively raises the connection between spiritual authority and the authority of the fiction. “There have been a couple of times where I … and I don’t know how you feel about this … where I really felt the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart. And I would feel what I think God wanted me to feel from reading the book.” I ask her to clarify. Are there specific moments that conjure up this reaction?

Ann Marie’s answer invokes and dismisses the writers of the series, so that she can focus specifically on God’s message, “Just one-on-one with understanding what God was saying, inspiring through this writer. Again, he wanted to speak to my heart.” The writer was inspired, but Ann Marie’s experience of reading is a “one on one” with God.

[snip]

Ann Marie reads with Left Behind in one hand and the Bible in the other, moving back and forth between the biblical text and the story, sometimes drawing on more than one translation of the Bible. Despite her insistence that “they are totally fiction books,” she uses them as a study guide and road map to the biblical texts. She both claims this authority for the books and denies it. “I knew that what he was proposing in this book might not be the way that it is, but it helped me to see it. Before I had tried to picture it, it just wouldn’t come clear to me.” This struggle to “see” the biblical images and the relief that Left Behind offers have become a spiritual experience for Ann Marie; she feels mystically touched by the Spirit through the act of reading. “It just took me into … a cross-spiritual realm where I was like, ‘God, maybe this is the way it is and here I am seeing it for the first time. I am just glad I am understanding a little bit better, because You have spoken to my heart.” (pages 134-136)

Nonrapturists may express concern over the ascendancy of rapturist denominations and the “mission” of Left Behind to promote rapturist beliefs. At the same time nonrapturists need to respect the needs, hopes, intellects and feelings of Left Behind’s readers. For in the end, all five critics admit that most rapturists expect the Secret Rapture simply because they believe that the Bible teaches it.

Frykholm gives us a nice closer:

If we think of Left Behind as a monolithic force and its readers as merely deceived, then we ourselves can have no response to the series but fear. We fall easily into the very apocalyptic rhetoric that we condemn in the books by creating a black and white division between the “we” who have escaped the domination of this form of popular culture and the “they” who remain helpless in the face of it. If, on the other hand, we see the series as the multiple dynamic, contradictory system that I have argued it is, then there are cracks and fissures, places to enter and cultivate the imaginative desires that some readers express as a part of their reading. As imaginative engagement, Left Behind has the potential to open doors as well as to close them. (page 183)

Section Summary

So, does it matter?

Paul once said, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and will wander into myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4). Both rapturists and nonrapturists have directed those verses at each other to reject the other’s position.

Paul also said, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” ( Rom. 1:22). Rapturists and nonrapturists hurl this one at each other as well.

Why do people switch denominations? Your host hoped to find answers from our five critics. For some reason, the three male critics (all of them former rapturists) started with an intellectual hunger for doctrine and worked their way over to discussing what a change in doctrine does to change one’s life choices. As a convert absorbs new doctrine, it changes one’s feelings, attitudes, and behavior.

The two female critics started with the emotions that drive life choices and worked their way over to doctrine. They argued that some people have an unmet need for good things (such as for community, constancy, and moral certainty) or a high tolerance for bad things (like violence or sexism), so they go looking for a doctrine that makes it acceptable to express those behaviors, attitudes, and feelings.

Did these critics start from one place because their brains were wired a certain way, each according to gender? Or did the male critics begin with intellect and the female critics begin with emotion because they had been socialized to think of themselves as rational versus emotional beings? Is it experiential? (For example, did the female critics begin with emotion because women are more likely to be victims of sexism and violence?) Your host is not going to venture a guess. One can only acknowledge that we needed to consider authors from both sides of the aisle to get all of the story. Each side has a perspective and a journey that really could not be found anywhere else. It’s like trying to see with your eyes. You can limp along with one, but you need both eyes to have real depth perception.

Sounds like real life, come to think of it.

Understand that if we try to explain denomination-shopping merely along gender lines, we leave no room for fully-human readers like Ann Marie. Both her emotions and her intellect are involved—because her heart’s desire is to learn the truth.

But if Left Behind is not that truth, then what is it?

We mentioned at the beginning of this project that we would spend varying amounts of time with the critics, to group their interests together. We then proceeded through history, framework, translation, interpretation, and application. Gender happens to be the last of the applications. It also happens to be a useful metaphor for the obstacles we faced during this project.

Science-fiction writer Ursula K. LeGuin explained her novel The Left Hand of Darkness as “a thought experiment that removed gender to see what was left.” We do not realize how much we allow gender to influence our lives until we notice, as the novel notices, What is the first question we ask about a newborn baby? As soon as we have that answer, we make assumptions about that child’s entire life: from their career to their haircut. A child who does not yet have a name already has a burden—a type of a foreknowledge very different from the hessed lovingkindess of God’s foreknowledge (Psa. 139:16). We even make assumptions about that child’s afterlife. In Augustine’s day, Christians honestly believed that women would be turned into men in Heaven. This, then, was why there would be no sex or marriage in Heaven: no women. Augustine patiently explained that being a woman is not a sin. Therefore women would not have to be cleansed of being a woman to enter the sinless Heaven. (Apparently in his day this was a big problem.)

Rapturism is like that. The majority of Christians are not rapturist, and they know what their faith looks like without the Rapture. What does it look like when we add it?

The Left Behind series appears to ask only a simple question: Do you believe in the Rapture? Circle answer: yes/no. But it doesn’t stop there. The series expands to 16 general-audience volumes and 40 volumes written for children. Those 56 books bring with them a comprehensive system of tenets and expectations that may influence everything the adherent perceives, receives, and believes. And one of the tenets and expectations the novels would try to lead a reader to believe is that the novels teach Biblical truth.

But if Left Behind is not that truth, then what is it?

The Harper Study Bible (RSV) footnote to 2 Tim. 2:18 states,

Several kinds of error are distinguished in Scripture. Since all believers are imperfect and know only in part, it is impossible for any one individual to grasp all the truth or to be free from all error. There is an error which springs from honest ignorance (Acts 19:1-6). As an illustration of this, the Christian church has long been divided on questions of baptism, church government, and so forth. Obviously someone must be embracing error. Well-intentioned believers, however, willingly forsake their error when they are properly instructed, and they are not guilty of intentional sin, even though their error may be a grave one.

But Paul is not speaking of the error of ignorance in 2 Tim. 2:17-18. Rather he is denouncing those who by their peculiar views relative to the resurrection “are upsetting the faith of some.” Probably Paul does not mean to suggest here the idea of apostasy, which is something entirely different from errors of ignorance, or even of peculiar doctrinal views which, while incorrect, do not necessarily separate one from the household of faith.

The Greek word for “apostasy” occurs in Acts 21:21 and 2 Thess. 2:3-4. To be an apostate is to enter into unbelief and to dissolve any union one might have had with God in Jesus Christ. The normal mark of a genuine apostate is his denial that Christ is very God or his repudiation of Christ’s atoning work on the cross (Phil. 3:18 ; 2 Pet. 2:1 ; 1 John 4:1-3).

There has always been apostasy in the church, but the end of this age will be characterized by widespread departure from the faith (2 Tim. 3:1-13).

Rapturism and its advertisement Left Behind may qualify as “peculiarities,” because the effects are more widespread than “walking in ignorance.” Left Behind can and does “upset the faith of some.” Do the novels make your brother stumble? In some cases, no. In other cases, well, yes, they do.

Our showcased critics allege that Left Behind promotes elements of at least two belief systems that have been officially examined and declared to be heresies (Gnosticism, Manichaeanism). To these elements Left Behind and rapturist teaching add a few questionable proposals that may not, or may, qualify as heresies:

• A belief that the Christians will meet their risen Lord on a day other than Judgment Day—the dead resurrected, the living glorified on this alternate day—thus avoiding the final tribulation (the “Beam-me-up” belief).

• A belief that the “saved and sealed” Christian cannot backslide or lose his salvation—in effect, a belief that might not be, or might be, Antinomianism; also, in effect, an argument that there is no such thing as apostasy.

• A belief that only some individuals will face Judgment Day whereas others will be exempt.

• A belief that Christ will rule an earthly Israel as an earthly king.

• A belief that either the Holy Spirit will depart the earth or radically alter his behavior.

• A belief that God never intended to create the Christian church.

• And a belief that God will remove the Christian church because it is in the way of God’s real plan.

Perhaps the next ecumenical council (whenever that happens) can address these matters.

Until then both rapturists and nonrapturists are out of line (i.e., wrong) to speak of each other as “not Christian.” Neither side has denied the deity of Christ, and neither side has denied Christ’s atoning work upon the cross. That is, sincere Christians have been known to walk in ignorance, to follow “peculiarities,” even to follow error, without ever going near apostasy.

Now actions … actions are another thing entirely. It is perfectly acceptable for Christians to consider whether an action is Christ-like. If the Left Behind books spur people to action (or dissipate their belief in works), then that is a valid topic of discussion … within the limits of kindness, of course.

What is the Christ-like way to treat God?

What is the Christ-like way to treat ourselves?

What is the Christ-like way to treat our families?

What is the Christ-like way to treat our community: the friend, the enemy, the neighbor, the stranger?

What is the Christ-like way to treat our world?

{Almost} the end.

Before we go, let us end things on a lighter note, as we all need to laugh at ourselves now and then. I bring you … Christian light-bulb jokes.

How many Catholics does it take to change a light bulb?

None. They just sit in the dark and wonder what they did wrong.

How many Eastern Orthodox does it take to change a light bulb?

Just one, but it gets done 12 days later.

How many historicists does it take to change a light bulb?

Actually our light bulbs are the restoration of the original true light bulb, and we’d like to leave you some literature that explains why we change them.

How many rapturists does it take to change a light bulb?

None. Why would you change a light bulb on a sinking ship?

How many mainline Protestants does it take to change a light bulb?

Thirty-seven: One to change the light bulb ; one to hang the dedication plaque ; one to opine, “We should build a new church while we’re at it” ; two to debate whether the plaque is crooked ; two to debate whether now the light fixture is crooked ; twenty-five to organize the chicken-dinner fundraiser ; and five to bake for the women’s auxiliary bake sale.

This is your host signing off (or passing out from sheer exhaustion).

{The End.}

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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'").