The title of this post may seem strange for a blog which promotes the spread of Christianity, but I feel that the explosion of servant evangelism has produced an unintended consequence. I fear that in today’s post modern world with its culture of subjective truth that many Christians present the Gospel as a beneficial practice rather than what it is… namely the TRUTH!
While it is certainly a reality that Christianity has done much good. For example, it was Christians who were in the forefront of providing education to the masses. It was Christianity who built hospitals for the poor. In America, it was Christian’s who were the driving force behind the racial equality movements of the sixties.
However, it is also an equal reality, that Christianity is the impetus of much evil in the world as well. Christianity was behind the crusades. Christianity has been the defense of terrible prejudices towards the LGBT community. Christianity was the used by the K.K.K. to justify lynchings.
As a result, the western Church has responded (and correctly so) by shifting its focus away from forced conversions towards battling the social evils of our day of homelessness, sickness, and hunger. It has, for the betterment, used servant evangelism as way to present Christianity less as a selective club and more a open arms community. However such a shift in focus, in my opinion, has produced a very undesirable effect.
It seems to me as I listen to other Christians present the Gospel the emphasis has shifted from the Gospel being TRUE to its benefits. The Gospel cannot and should not be presented as something that is merely beneficial. It must be presented as something that is a true reality. Christians have become timid in announcing the FACTS of the Gospel.
The facts of Christianity are these:
God created his temple in the form of Heaven and the physical universe
People were created in God’s image to reflect God’s sovereign reign into the temple and the praises of the temple back to God.
People rejected their purpose and worshiped the creation rather than the creator.
Jesus came as God-in-flesh to redeem his creation
Jesus died to bring such redemption
Jesus demonstrated his divinity and right to rule through his resurrection and ascension.
The Church was created to announce that Jesus is Lord.
These facts should produce the servant evangelism, for Jesus’ lordship is for the sole purpose of setting things right. The Gospel is not that Jesus loves you or that Jesus saved you. The Gospel is not that God will see you through your present troubles. While these are all true, they are the consequences of the Gospel. They are not the Gospel, itself. The Gospel is that God is in control and ruling having broken the power of death and instituted justice by inaugurating his Government through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.
As C.S Lewis once wrote,
One of the great difficulties [in sharing the Gospel] is to keep before your audience mind the question of truth. They are always thinking you are recommending Christianity not because it is true, but because it is good.
I had originally intended to post a part 3 to my recent post on Biblical Authority; however, I read a recent blog post in which I felt compelled to respond. In the post the author offered what he thought were 13 common errors found in the beliefs of Christians. While I agree with some of what he suggested, I found myself disagreeing with 3 essential ideas that I felt that an entire post was necessitated in order to properly respond. I will take each point of disagreement one by one in what follows (The numbering will correspond to the numbering found in the original post for ease of comparison).
THAT THERE IS AN IMMORTAL SOUL: Admittedly the scriptures are not clear cut on this issue. However, those who say there is no soul must respond to Ecclesiates 12:7 as well as some very suggestive scientific evidence.
THAT WHEN YOU DIE YOU GO TO HEAVEN OR HELL: I actually believe that all people go to Heaven when they die; and no one goes to what is the popular concept of Hell (meaning a place of fiery torment). Jesus told the brigand that he would see him again in an enclosed park or garden. (Lk 23:43). Now most Bible translations use the word paradise to translate the Greek word However, paradeisos in ancient times were parks or gardens in which weary travelers would rest during a long journey. They acted much like our modern rest stops along freeways. Therefore, Jesus was telling the brigand that he would see him at the garden where the dead await to be resurrected. This is Heaven. I would agree that Heaven is coming to Earth but would suggest the dead wait there until it comes. As N.T. Wright says, Heaven is important but not the end of the world.
THAT THERE WILL BE ANY SECOND CHANCES: I believe that there will be second chances based upon three interconnecting points.
a. Physical matter will be redeemed and integrated with spiritual matter. (Rom 8:20-25). Paul tells us that all of creation is waiting to be redeemed and set free from bondage at the revealing of the sons of God. The picture he paints is that of the expectation of a woman waiting to give birth. Something that will be destroyed does not wait for destruction with hope.
b. We are referred to as a royal priesthood (1Pt 2:9). In both the OT and the NT, royalty and priests are positions of governmental authority. This means that we are people who sit in God’s governmental offices. When the physical is integrated into the spiritual as demonstrated by the resurrection of Jesus. We will sit in seats of authoritative power. There will be people to rule over who do not sit in government positions. Since all who accept Christ now are to be given these positions, then there must be those who accept Christ later who are given life but not seats within God’s government.
c. When Heaven is integrated with Earth there are still nations that need to be healed (Rev 22:1-2). Again, in both the OT and the NT, nations refer to groups of people. When the New City Jerusalem descends there will be a river of life on whose banks grows two trees. Now, it said that the leaves of these trees are to heal the nations. If all that is left are Christians with God, who needs healed? We will have already been changed. Therefore, these must be physical people groups who have life but are not changed.
In conclusion, while I do not agree with some of the “errors” my brother in Christ pointed out. I can agree with him on one thing: It does not really matter whether you side with him or me, the Grace of God wins.
Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. HarperCollins, 2008.
 N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (HarperCollins, 2008).
It is no secret that Christians consider the Bible consisting of the Old and New Testaments to be their holy writings. However, what sway should these ancient writings have over a believer’s daily life? Is the Bible really at odds with modern scientific understandings? Are these sacred written records really the inspired words of God; or are they simply a mixture of ancient philosophy, poetry, history, and myths? In other words, how can the Bible be authoritative?
In speaking on this subject, decorated Biblical scholar, N. T. Wright suggested that this single question is really two. First, how can book be authoritative? Second, in what manner does a book exercise this authority? These two questions will frame our discussion.
In respect to the first question, it must first be clarified what is meant by authority. Many Christians, especially in the reformed traditions, understand authority as the database where a person goes to find the answer for specific questions. In other words, it is a collection of data to which for any question posed will give a positive or negative answer in order to control or manage any given situation. For example, we might turn to a house painter who has years of experience in order to determine the proper technique to achieve a desired result. In many ways, the Bible does function in this compacity. We find such examples in the books Leviticus, Paul’s letters, Deuteronomy, Proverbs etc.…
However, what do we do with such books Ester? What about the Song of Solomon or even the Gospels? These are mostly narrative driven books. This fact makes the view of authority when applied to the problematic. There is the well-known extreme example of the person who is struggling with suicidal ideation. So, the person prays and tells God that they will open the Bible at random and the first verse they read they will do as the will of God. So they open the Bible and read John 13:27 which says, “As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
So Jesus told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly.”” The person then goes and kills themselves.
Now clearly this an extreme example of the data collection perspective of authority that borders on the ridiculous. However, it highlights the problem very effectively. The Bible is a collection of different writings. These collected writings are composed of different authors, styles and genres. They have different authorial intent, and cultural content. Therefore, the Bible is not merely a collection of data upon which some basis for action can be determined. If this is true, perhaps, then, it is a collection of truths which simply stand the test of time. That will be the subject of part 2 of this discussion.
Wright, N. T. “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative? (the Laing Lecture for 1989).” Vox Evangelica 21 (1991): 7.
 N. T. Wright, “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative? (the Laing Lecture for 1989),” Vox Evangelica 21 (1991).
J. Feinberg writes in the introduction to his book, No One Like Him:
But even if all the propositions of a systematic theology are true, that theology would still not be equivalent to biblical revelation! It is still a human conceptualization of God and his relation to the world… But human intellect is finite, and hence there is always room for revision of systematic theology as knowledge increases.
With this premise in mind, I propose to begin a series of posts entitled, Objections to Classic Theology. The purpose of such posts will be two bring out points of disagreements that I perceive within classical theology in the hopes of stimulating discussion. Consequently, I implore all who read these posts to feel free to leave their disagreements with my view in the reply with the expectation that we will have a respectful dialogue. Furthermore, I will not necessarily be publishing these posts in sequential order but as I randomly consider different aspects of classical theology. So, without further ado, let us delve into my first objection:
God is Immutable!
W. Grudem defines the immutability of God as “that perfection of God by which He is devoid of all change, not only in His Being, but also in his perfection and in his purposes and promises… and is free from all accession or diminution and from all growth and decay in His Being or perfections.”
Therefore, immutability is negation of any change in God’s essential being or necessary attributes. God cannot change. This seems to line up with scripture which says God cannot lie (Num 23:19); neither does he shift like sand (Jms 1:17). However, such a view does not completely line up with totality of scripture. In fact, it is an error of logic to say that it does.
First, however, I must lay out one brief presupposition: Scripture is inerrant. My entire argument is based on that one premise. So, if you do not believe in the inerrancy of scripture we can have that discussion another time; but for the present discussion indulge me. Do so, if for no other reason than the majority of those who have taught the immutability of God have done so from the premise of scriptural inerrancy.
My argument is as follows:
God is Spirit (Jn 4:24).
The Word is God (Jn 1:1)
The Word is Spirit (Jn 1:1)
Jesus is the Word (entire Gospel of John)
Jesus was raised to a physical bodily resurrection (Lk 24:39)
Jesus is still God, so God changed from Spirit to physicality.
Therefore, God cannot be immutable.
The immutability of God cannot be upheld by the truth of the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus. Even if one holds to the kenosis of Jesus and the creeds assertion of two natures joined into one without mixture to form the GOD-MAN. Jesus would have had to have been the GOD-MAN from all of eternity past. This is simply not what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches that at ordained period within human history, God broke in and took on flesh in the person of Jesus, who then was the GOD-MAN. This is simply an error of logic.
Nor can one say that Jesus was speaking metaphorically about God being Spirit. As G. Lewis points out concerning John 4:24, “Although some theologies consider “spirit” an attribute, grammatically in Jesus’ statement it is a substantive.” In other words, spirit is the substance (or essential stuff) of God. If the essential stuff of God changes then He cannot be immutable according to the definition of immutability. God has changed within his being. God cannot be immutable.
Feinberg, J.S. and H.O.J. Brown. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. Crossway, 2006.
Grudem, W.A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Zondervan, 2009.
Lewis, G. R. God, Attributes Of. Second ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.
 J.S. Feinberg and H.O.J. Brown, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Crossway, 2006), xxi.
 W.A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan, 2009), 267.
 G. R. Lewis, God, Attributes Of, Second ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 492.
Left Behind is a series of books written by Tim LaHaye and Jim Jenkins which deals with the Christian doctrine of the rapture. This account of faithful Christians simply disappearing shortly before the collapse of human civilization and the impending second coming of Christ is a work of complete fiction along the lines of Dan Brown’s DaVinci’s Code. However, the theological foundation, upon which the series’ concept rest, is indeed one of serious scholarly consideration. Furthermore, this concept is not limited to merely fringe groups and denominations within Christian fundamentalism but has spread into the culture at large. After examining the readership of the Left Behind series, Amy Johnson Frykholm notes that the rapture and dispensational theology which the series is based upon “must be understood as a fluid part of the broader culture, not as the realm of isolated believers.”
Since the doctrine has permeated such a large part of both Christian and popular culture, it is important for the lay-Christian and scholar alike to understand exactly what the doctrine is; whether or not it is biblical; and if so what does the Bible say about it. These are the questions I will attempt to answer by examining the history of the doctrine, the most prevalent of the three views of the doctrine and the biblical basis of the doctrine. Additionally, I will attempt to show that although a concept of the rapture may indeed be Biblical, the popular teaching and presentation of the doctrine as sort of escapism from the corrupt material world is not accurate based upon the witness of the early church fathers and biblical exegesis.
A Survey of the Doctrine of the Rapture
What Is the Rapture?
The term “rapture” is a designation by premillennialists to the talk about the event in which the church will be united with Christ at his second coming. The term comes from the Latin, rapio, meaning to “snatch up.” The major Biblical passage from which this teaching emerges is found in I Thessalonians 4:15-17 which states,
Let me explain. (This is the word of the Lord I’m speaking to you!) We who are alive, who remain until the Lord is present, will not find ourselves ahead of those who fell asleep. The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shouted order, with the voice of an archangel and the sound of God’s trumpet. The Messiah’s dead will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, will be snatched up with them among the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And in this way we shall always be with the Lord.
From the interpretation of this verse, the popular teaching of the rapture is depicted through the image of the sudden disappearance of Christians from the perspective of non-Christians; leaving non-Christians left behind to deal with the aftermath. The only real point of contention with this presentation and interpretation deals with the relationship of this “disappearing event” and the tribulation which is believed to occur at the end of the age prior to the second coming of Christ. Pretribulationlists believe the rapture is to occur before the seven-year tribulation. Mid-tribulationalists believe this event to occur after the rise of the antichrist, but before the judgements that pave the way for Christ’s return. Post-tribulationist teach that church will leave with Christ after the seven-year period. In all three views, the rapture is the escaping of the Church from the corrupt physical realm to the spiritual realm of bliss for all eternity known as Heaven. However, it is important to note as Arthur B. Whiting does, that Paul’s focus is not in the direction or the final location of the “snatching away” but rather that the church will be in the presence of Christ.
The Origins of the Doctrine
Despite attempts to demonstrate otherwise, the modern presentation of the doctrine of the rapture is a relatively new concept. It isn’t until the nineteenth century, that the doctrine of the rapture becomes influential within the world of Christian thought and teaching. This is largely due to the contribution of John Nelson Darby and his pretribulation “secret rapture” teaching.
However, since it’s proposal, Darby’s teaching of the rapture has been broiled in controversy. However, many modern scholars have begun to question its validity. As Michael J. Svigel observes, “The perception among interested exegetes and theologians appears to be that rapture theology rests not on verifiable exegesis but on inferences drawn from ambiguous biblical passages and on peculiar dispensational presuppositions.” In response to this, Svigel argues that Darby’s interpretation of the passage in first 1 Thessalonians 4 rests upon his exegesis of Revelations 12:1-6 as well as other passages. He concludes,
In sum, four elements came together for Darby to construct his Pretribulation rapture teaching. The first was a consistent futurist interpretation of the book of Revelation. Second, he held to a strong doctrine of the mystical union between Christ and the church, found stunningly exemplified in the vision of the male child in Rev 12:5. The third element was an openness to distinguishing OT Israel from the NT Church, found envisioned in the woman (Israel) giving birth to the male child (the church) —two distinct entities with separate, but intertwined, destinies both past and future. The fourth element necessary to exegetically construct toe pretribulation rapture view was a literal understanding of the chronological indicators in Rev 11-13.
Three Views of the Rapture
The pretribulation view of the rapture is the one adhered to buy most of mainstream Christianity. This view holds that the church will be “snatched up” to Heaven before the seven years of tribulation supposedly described in the biblical books of Daniel and Revelations. Clouse notes the spreading of this view through the mainstream scholarship from its origins by John Darby in the nineteenth century. There are several features which are key to this view.
The foremostfeature of the pretribulation view is that of immanency. Holders of this view believe that the rapture is immanent, in so far as there are no prerequisite events which need to occur before the rapture, itself. It can and will occur without warning or notice. The notion of immanency is seen to be evidenced by the repeated biblical refrain of “no one knows the day or the hour.” These words, spoken by Jesus, can be found in three key scriptures. These scriptures are themselves responses to questions asked by Jesus’ disciples on aspects of his teaching. Pretribulationists assert that these questions are referring to the last days, a known point of Jewish emphasis.
The second key feature is the two-stage return of Jesus. The two stages being the coming to “snatch away” the church before seven-year tribulation; the second stage being the coming for the millennial reign. The church, it is believed, will escape the entirety of the tribulation.This feature is a result of the other key features of the view, namely, the literal interpretation of Revelations and Daniel’s prophecies concerning the tribulation and the millennial reign of Christ. Pretribulationalism is the almost uncontested view of those who hold to dispensationalism.
The Midtribulation is very similar to the pretribulation. Both views take a literal view of the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation. Both view see the second coming of Christ as two-stage process. The main difference is that proponents of this view move the timing of the first stage to about halfway through the seven-year tribulation. This means that the Church will experience the beginning of the tribulation but escape the last three and half years of the tribulation.
The proponents of the midtribulation have three main points of disagreements with pretribulationist. First, they disagree with the secret nature of the rapture, the revival to be experienced during the tribulation, and the repeated mention of three and half years in both the books of Daniel and Revelation. These they argue are scriptural inaccuracy which require a reworking of the pretribulationalist’s view. The major critique against this view is that there is very little direct Biblical support.
The final view of posttribulation rapture will not be discussed much in this paper, however it is beneficial to briefly note it. This view came out of the direct response to the problems of the two-stage coming of Christ. The major objection of those who champion this view are the various scriptures which suggest that the rapture will be and subsequently the second coming of Christ will be very public and visible. Additionally, there is a lot of flexibility within this line of thought. Clouse notes there are at least four schools of interpretation that are recognized by scholars within this view.
The Rapture and the Resurrection of the Dead
One of the major problems with the modern presentation of the rapture within evangelical circles is its relationship to another central Christian doctrine, namely, the bodily resurrection of the dead. Michael Williams highlights the issue when he writes, “When we understand the future via the rapture doctrine, we must say that the ultimate purpose of redemption is to take Christians to heaven.” It argues against the idea of a physical, bodily resurrection by suggesting that the “good” of creation declared by God in Genesis 1 has become corrupted to the point that it is now worthless and needs to be escaped. This is made clear from the escapist teaching that heaven is the final goal and destination of the redeemed.
However, the Apostle Paul, seems to be squarely against this idea when writes to the Roman Church, “Creation, you see, was subjected to pointless futility, not of its own volition, but because of the one who placed it in this subjection, in the hope that creation itself would be freed from its slavery to decay, to enjoy the freedom that comes when God’s children are glorified” (Rom 8:20-21). Therefore, according to Paul, the present physical creation which is corrupt will be redeemed. This would seem to indicate then, that our own redemption will include our own physical nature. Indeed, Jesus, speaking of his own resurrection, said to his disciples, ““Why are you so disturbed?” he said. “Why do these questionings come up in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; it really is me, myself. Touch me and see! Ghosts don’t have flesh and bones like you can see I have” (Lk 24:38-39). Furthermore, the Apostle John writes, “Beloved ones, we are now, already, God’s children; it hasn’t yet been revealed what we are going to be. We know that when he is revealed we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). In other words, if Jesus’s resurrection was some sort of physical bodily resurrection then ours will be also. If our redemption is physical and the physical cosmos is to be redeemed as Paul claims, then it seems that the escapism that the modern presentation of the rapture teaches seems to be in error because the corrupt created universe will once again become a “good” creation.
This brings up a very important question: What about the scriptures that seem to indicate that people go to heaven when they die such as Jesus’ statement to the brigand on the cross (Lk 23:43). In his book on the resurrection, noted scholar, N. T. Wright argues for a two-stage post-mortem resurrection. He argues that Jesus and the brigand did go to heaven. Jesus returns to Earth in his new physical body, while the brigand awaits his physical body at the second coming of Christ. Wright suggests that when people die they go to Heaven and await Jesus second coming. It is only at the second coming that the believers receive their resurrection bodies. This then would lend support to the “good” creation argument previously expounded as well as deny Heaven as the final destination. As Wright is fond of saying, “Heaven is important, but not the end of the world.”
The Witness of the Early Fathers
As previously stated, the doctrine of the rapture is a relatively new idea. It isn’t until the Darby’s “secret rapture” teaching of the nineteenth century that any great consideration was given. As Clouse notes, “It is obvious that throughout most of the history of the church those that taught premillennialism did not have such a detailed interpretation of the endtimes.” However, despite this lack of endtime interpretations, there are still clues as to what the early church fathers were thinking concerning the second coming and the events which surround it.
One such clue is to be found in the writing of Tertullian. He states,
He teaches them that they must “not sorrow concerning them that are asleep,” and at the same time explains to them the times of the resurrection, saying, For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus shall God bring with Him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of our Lord, shall not prevent them that are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we be ever with the Lord.”
Tertullian does not seem to think of the second-coming of Christ as two stage process. In the passage quoted above, the church father implies that the resurrection and the being caught up in the air happen simultaneously with Christ’s return to Earth with the saints. In other words, for Tertullian there is not one coming in which Christ gathers the saints to escape and another in which Christ returns to Earth accompanied by the saints. There is simply one second coming in which the saints meet Christ in the air and accompany him to Earth.
Another such clue is given by Cyprian. On first glance it appears that Cyprian advocates an escapist reality of the rapture. Cyprian is, in reality, dealing with his present situation of Roman persecution. He writes,
We who see that terrible things have begun, and know that still more terrible things are imminent, may regard it as the greatest advantage to depart from it as quickly as possible. Do you not give God thanks, do you not congratulate yourself, that by an early departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent? Let us greet the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us hence, and sets us free from the snares of the world and restores us to paradise and the kingdom.
In the last line of the quoted passage Cyprian speaks of a restoration. Certainly, he knows that believers will be “snatched up” as Paul describes. However, his point is not that Christians are snatched away to escape a corrupt physical cosmos, but rather that they are saved from intense persecution. When this salvation occurs, according to Cyprian, the kingdom and paradise of the Garden will be restored. This does not speak of two-stage coming, rather it speaks of a single event. At Christ coming, the paradise and the kingdom of God will be consummated in a very real and physical sense.
The crux of any theological proposition must be that it is supported by scriptural evidence. Does the scriptural evidence support the idea? Svigel argues that Darby’s exegetical treatment, which was the basis of his argument, of Revelations 12:5 and in conjunction with Daniel 7, Revelation 3 and 1 Thessalonians 4 certainly do. However, there are several problems with Darby’s exegesis which need to be addressed.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 states, “The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shouted order, with the voice of an archangel and the sound of God’s trumpet.” The Greek word for “come” is Parousia. Parousia has the meaning of a visit by a royal dignitary. This means that Paul’s intention was not to speak of some escapism from the world, but talk about the escorting of the true king into his sovereignty. St. John Chrysostom confirms this, writing,
If He is about to descend, on what account shall we be caught up? For the sake of honor. For when a king drives into a city, those who are in honor go out to meet him; but the condemned await the judge within. And upon the coming of an affectionate father, his children indeed, and those who are worthy to be his children, are taken out in a chariot, that they may see and kiss him; but those of the domestics who have offended remain within. We are carried upon the chariot of our Father. For He received Him up in the clouds, and we shall be caught up in the clouds. Acts 1:9 Do you see how great is the honor? And as He descends, we go forth to meet Him, and, what is more blessed than all, so we shall be with Him.
This presents serious problems for Darby’s two-stage advent. Chrysostom is saying that the purpose of the “snatching up” is not to escape the tribulation and then return with Christ at some later time, but rather to escort Christ to his sovereign land.
Revelations 3 and 12
The key component to Darby’s “secret rapture” interpretation of scripture is the immanency of the “snatching away.” This comes primarily from the interpretation of Revelations 3:3 which states, “So remember how you received the message, how you heard it and kept it—and repent! So if you don’t keep awake, I will come like a thief, and you won’t know what time I’m coming to you.” Darby and others point to the phrase “like a thief” as support for their immanent rapture. However, this completely ignores the point that the scripture is making by it’s inherent caveat. The church at Sardis is told to repent, then the warning is issued. The implications are if you are not focused on Christ, then he will come unexpectedly. The unexpectedness is for those not focused on Christ; not believers.
This brings the discussion to Revelations 12:5. This is the Crux of Darby’s argument. It is his corporate understanding of the image of the child who is snatched away in this verse. As Svigel explains that Darby understands the verse as the “vision of the woman in heaven refers to the positional reality of the church, whose subject is Jesus Christ, while the later actions of being pursued and fleeing refer to the actual historical experiences of God’s people.” Darby even has support in this view from Methodius in the fourth century
This does not seem to take into account the historical context from which John’s audience would have understood the image. Radamacher et al, understand this verse to be an echo of Psalm 2:9 and therefore the snatching away as they ascension of Christ. This seems to be more in line with historical context. Commenting on this verse, Keener writes,
Virgil and other Roman also extolled the birth of a divine boy who would bring deliverance to the world, glorifying the first emperor, Augustine…In the various forms of the Greco-Roman and Near Eastern myth, the divine child was sheltered until he returned to slay the dragon. Here he is kept at God’s side until he comes to destroy the dragon. In the light of Psalm 2:6-9, Isaiah 9-6-7, and Micah 5:3, the “birth” probably indicates Jesus death, resurrection and messianic enthronement, not his literal birth.
The first century audience to who John was writing would have understood this to represent Jesus. They simply would not have applied it to the corporate church as Darby and his later followers had. This again presents a huge problem as it is this passage which allows Darby to place the timing of the “Secret Rapture” as pretribulation.
Darby’s whole idea of a “secret rapture” hinges on the idea that certain passages within the Gospel accounts are meant for the church and others for the Jews. It has as its foundation the theology of dispensationalism. Darby argues that Matthew 24 is not intended for Christians, rather it is solely addressed to the Jews. In this manner, Darby dismisses passages such as Matthew 24:29-34 which seeming contradict his immanency and secret rapture theories.
However, Brock Bingaman highlights four deficiencies within the concept of dispensationalism. First, it sees scripture as compilation of facts rather than a narrative moving towards a specific conclusion. Wright supports this view insisting that we have misunderstood the Gospel as compilation of facts rather than a narrative and thereby diminished the significance of the resurrection. The second deficiency given by Bingaman is that it is hermeneutically faulty by committing too strongly to literalism. Third, he suggests that by seeing scripture as a compilation of facts, the interpreter does not give proper emphasis to the historical context. Two examples of this is Paul’s reference to the last trump and Jesus’s “no man knows the hour” references. These are probably references to the Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah. This feast is determined by the new moon which in biblical times meant no one knew when it would come. Furthermore, it was celebrated by blowing trumpets and the last blast was known as the last trump. Finally, he states it is deficient in their approach to central tenets and particular texts which are must be imposed upon the text itself.
In sum, the rapture has it has been presented by Darby and most of main stream evangelicalism is simply deficient. The exegesis used to support the claim simply does not pass muster once a close examination of the relevant passages has been completed. Additionally, the underlying dispensational theology which underlies the doctrine is also deficient in several areas. As Benjamin Willis Newton, a contemporary of Darby, pointed out, if one were to accept the Darby’s teaching on the rapture that person would also have to accept that many of the Gospel passages as “not rightfully ours.” This means that many of the promises of hope that Christians cling to do not rightfully apply to us either.
This dilemma begs the question that was asked at the beginning; is the rapture a biblical concept or not? The answer: It certainly is if one means that at the second advent of Christ the church will be “snatched up” to meet Jesus somewhere in the physical atmosphere and escort the King of Kings back to the Earth. However, if you mean the secret rapture of Darby’s imagination then the answer is unequivocally no. Jesus and Paul’s use of Jewish metaphors simply does not allow for the dispensationalism that Darby and others have expressed. There is simply too many deficiencies within the doctrine to conclude that the modern expression of the rapture is biblically valid.
I recently read a post entitled The Necessity of Baptism in which the author argues very convincingly that baptism is a necessary step in the process of salvation. Early on in my faith I, too, questioned whether baptism was necessary or merely optional. At the time, my decision to get baptism was determined less by a conviction of its necessity and more by a desire to follow Jesus’s example. However, for those out there who might be wondering what the scriptures say I feel a response is necessary.
The author cites many examples in the Bible where baptism immediately follows a confession in Christ. He then makes the following statement:
Before I get to the next common argument, let me also suggest to you since we were just looking at Acts, to go observe every instance of salvation in Acts. I’ve read the whole book of Acts very carefully, and I can confidently say that you will not find one instance of salvation, where baptism was not conducted as a part of the process.
However, Acts 10 gives us the story of Cornelius, the first converted Gentile. Verses 44-47 says:
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.Then Peter said,“Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”
Now Paul tells us,
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:13-14).
What does that tell us? It tells us that before the baptism of Cornelius, which does not occur until verse 48 of Acts 10, that he had received the deposit of his salvation. Hence, he was already promised salvation. In fact Peter says the reason for the baptism is because he had been saved. Therefore, salvation cannot be a part of the process of salvation.
In summing up, baptism is not required for salvation. It is the symbolic acceptance of Christ’s death and resurrection. It is the announcement of committed faith. It is the sign of the New Covenant. Just as Abraham’s circumcision was not required his God-given promise to be fulfilled, but was a sign that he believed God would fulfill it. Baptism is not a requirement to be saved, rather it is an outward display that the believer truly believes he is saved.
The historical mythology of the Crusades has fueled the imagination of people in a way quite unlike any other event in history. It has spawned innumerable books, movies, and videogames. Legends have formed around everything from secret organizations like the Templars to monarchs such as Richard the Lionheart. These legends and mythologies have penetrated their way into the scholarship view of the history of the Crusades. The majority of medieval scholars have presented the causation of the crusades “as a series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics.” It is this view which has propagated itself into the mainstream scholarship. Commenting on the error of this view, Lewis states, “We are now expected to believe that the Crusades were an unwarranted act of aggression against a peaceful Muslim world. Hardly.”
If Lewis is correct in his assertion that the Crusades were warranted, two very important questions arise: What was the catalyst which prompted the Crusades? Once begun, were the Crusades consistent with a Christian worldview? It is the goal of this paper to attempt to answer these important questions.
The Catalyst of the Crusades
The idea of a Holy War is a relative late-comer in Christian thought. Indeed, it wasn’t until Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in A.D. 312 that “the religion came into direct contact with statecraft and warfare.” The Christian Church up until Constantine was mostly concerned with self-preservation. They were occupied with religious persecution from the State; while attempting to hold off various heresies from within. Once, however, the Empire accepted the religion, Christian governmental leaders found themselves in a position of dealing with the political landscape of peace and war. Their religion was not equipped to deal with such issues since there had been no necessity to address them. St. Augustine attempted to address the problem by outlining the conditions in which a “just” war could be waged by a Christian ruler. He, however, denounced the use of military action to exterminate pagans, to induce conversion, or eradicate heresies.
Due in large part to the actions of the Bishops of Rome, Christianity did not suffer a decline with the collapse of the Roman Empire. Many of the Germanic tribes, which carved up the western half of the former political power, were themselves Christian. This allowed Christianity to be the dominant religion for most of Europe until the advent of Islam by the Arab merchant, Mohammad. It is with this new monotheistic religion that the story of the Crusades begin.
The rise of Islam is essential to the historiography of the Crusades. According Islamic tradition, the Arabian Peninsula’s pre-Islamic history was a period of great ignorance. During this time, the monotheistic Abrahamic God was perverted by polytheists. It was during this time of ignorance that Muhammad began to receive his revelations from Allah. However, the Qur’an, the Islamic Holy Text which serves as the record of Muhammad’s revelation, seems to identify Christians as an exception to the ignorance, stating:
“And thou wilt find the nearest of them in affection to those who believe (to be) those who say: Lo! We are Christians. That is because there are among them priests and monks, and because they are not proud. When they listen to that which hath been revealed unto the messengers, thou seest their eyes overflow with tears because of their recognition of the Truth. They say: Our Lord, we believe. Inscribe us as among the witnesses.
How should we not believe in Allah and that which hath come unto us of the Truth. And (how should we not) hope that our Lord will bring us in along with righteous folk?
Allah hath rewarded them for that their saying – Gardens underneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever. That is the reward of the good.” (Qur’an 5:82-85).
In the 622 of the Common Era, after preaching in the trade city of Mecca, Muhammad moved to Medina, where he became ruler. This was a pivotal moment in the rise of Islam. Unlike the Christian Church which was attempting to annex secular power from the State; Medina was a theocracy at its core. “Commerce, justice, diplomacy and war were built into the bedrock of religion.”
Since Medina was essentially a theocracy, Muhammed was religiously justified in making war which he inevitably did. He began with the smaller Arab towns before eventually attacking Mecca itself. These wars were called “struggle” (jihad). Soldiers who perished as a result of a jihad were considered martyrs, who immediately rose to a sensual paradise. Yet not every war was considered to be a jihad. The term only applied to war against unbelievers. According to the original view of Islam, a jihad could not be waged against Christians or Jews as they worshiped the one true God, albeit incorrectly. As Madden points out:
Jews and Christians from the Muslim point of view, worshipped the true God, failing only to accept the prophecy of Muhammed. For that reason they were misguided, but not pagans. They were the “People of the Book” who should remain free to retain their religious practices in the lands conquered by Islam.
Still, this freedom was not unrestricted. Should a Christian or Jew attempt to hinder the spread of Islam, then they could be subject to a jihad. It is within this restriction, the two modes of thought concerning the expansion of Islam begins to take form. The “Abode of Islam” referred to the rule of Islamic law in the already occupied territories. The “Abode of War” referred to outside lands in which unbelievers, Christians and Jews included, were targeted for a jihad. In this way, Muhammad envisioned the increase of the “Abode of Islam” as the “Abode of War” shrank in proportion.
The death of Muhammed in 632 brought with it a series of caliphs (successors) who took to the spread of Islam with fervor. By the seventh century, Persia, Syria, and Egypt were under Arab Muslim control. This rapid expansion inevitably resulted in the fracturing of the faith. The most significant of these divisions was the rift between the Sunni and Shia.
The split between two groups stemmed over who should govern the Muslim world in the wake of Muhammad’s death, as well as what or who held the authority for the basis of conduct. The Sunni claimed the “Qur’an, supplemented by the good example of the Prophet was (and is) the guiding principle of conduct.” They considered Abbasid Dynasty as the rightful caliphs and the true leaders of the Muslim community. The Shi’ites, on the other hand, viewed the son-in-law and cousin of Muhammad, `Ali, as the true first caliph. They believed the imams (`Ali’s successors) to be the infallible and God guided leaders. Commenting on the split, Jaspert notes:
The division between the mutually exclusive Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam was of much greater importance within the Islamic world than conflict against Christians. Not only did the two branches refute each other in the pages of Muslim historians (who sometimes engaged in polemics against Muslims in the other camp); they also affected the conduct of Muslims in face of the threat of Christianity.
Despite the rapid of advance of Islam, Christians did not initially take to the idea of a Holy War in response to Muslim aggression. Madden explains:
Christians were too fragmented into opposing sects to organize around such a fundamentally central doctrine. For minority Christian sects in Syria and Egypt, the arrival of Muslims was actually good news. The new Arab leaders allowed them a freedom of worship that the emperor in Constantinople did not. Despite their close proximity to Islamic kingdoms, Byzantine Christians, it appears, never developed a religious rationale for waging or condoning holy war.
While Islamic tolerance and fragmented Christianity partially offer a rationale for the slow development of holy wars within Christian thought; contradictory theology completes the picture. When Constantine converted to Christianity, Christians now found themselves occupying high positions within the State. These positions often involved matters of war which brought them at odds with the so called “charity passages.” As Tyerman expounds:
The Beatitudes had to be reconciled with human civilization, specifically the Graeco-Roman world, or, to put it crudely, ways found around the Sermon on the Mount. Being extravagantly well versed in the highest traditions of classical learning, the Church Fathers did this rather well… The experience of the church over the centuries provided its own corpus of law, tradition, history, legend and saints that reflected neither the idealism nor experience of the first century AD.
Church teaching and exegesis reflected this new reality. The publicans who questioned John the Baptist were said to be soldiers advised to remain in the army and collect their rightful wage. (Luke 3:12-14) The concepts of forgiveness and pacifism were held only to individuals and not to the Church Body or State as an entity. This was reinforced by Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation of the scriptures, which became the standard scripture in the West. Every time the word enemy appeared in the New Testament, Jerome used the personal Latin word inimicus. Not once in the Vulgate New Testament is the word hostis, Latin for public enemy, used.
As the Christian Church developed its theological justification for war, Muslim conquerors continued their jihad expansion. It would be Western Europe who would finally take hold of the idea of a Holy War. By the middle of the seventh century, the Muslims had taken control over all of Christian North Africa, crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, and occupied Spain. In 732, Charles Martel, leader of the Franks, finally slowed down the Islamic expansion with his victory at the Battle of Tours. The defeated Muslims were forced to retreat back to Spain. The battle spawned a Christian Western European unified sentiment of retaliation as most viewed Spain as a part of Christendom. Madden notes, “From their perspective, these lands were consecrated to Christ. It was not right that infidels should dwell there, let alone rule. Was it not self-evident that a Christian who fought to reclaim lands conquered by unbelievers was himself fighting for Christ?” Eventually this feeling of retaliation would result in a series of military campaigns known as Reconquista (Reconquest) as way of dealing with the Muslim occupation of Spain.
The Reconquista were not “holy wars,” per say. They lacked the spiritual benefits, such as plenary indulgence, which typically accompany a holy war. Nevertheless, it was the next step towards such an action, being as it were, the training and proving grounds of the moral and theological justifications of the crusading movement. The church encouraged and condoned the campaigns as an Augustinian “just war.” Being such, Christians soldiers felt secure that their actions were the appropriate response to Muslim aggression.
With the finding of the bones of St. James the Greater at Santiago de Compestello in the ninth century, Soldiers began to use the shrine of St James as rally point. Encouraged by the idea that they were liberating lands that the Apostle had won for Christ, they would continue on their military campaigns. For the first time, a Christian military campaign would be associated with a holy pilgrimage.
In the eleventh century, as the Reconquista campaigns continued to gradually take back Spain from Arab Muslims, a new Islamic threat arose to the Byzantine Empire, the Seljuk Turks. The Seljuk Turks were not Arab, but still they were Muslims. Early in the century, their conquests allowed them to occupy Armenia, Syria and Palestine. Upon entering Jerusalem, the Turks began to kill Christian clergy, ransack churches and capture pilgrims. This did not last long as Jerusalem’s main profitability has always been tied to its religious heritage and the economy that developed around pilgrimages. However, since the Turks were mostly made up by antagonistic sects with a multiplicity of rulers, the near east region was still highly unstable even after the persecutions ended.
By late eleven century, the Byzantine Empire, the last vestige of the old Roman Empire, was in trouble. The Turkish Muslims controlled everything up to the Bosporus. The Normans had taken control of the last Byzantine stronghold in Italy. All the while, the Penchenegs were threatening from the North. Emperor Romanus IV gathered his forces to defend Asia Minor from a Turkish assault in 1071. The Turks decimated Romanus’ forces and captured the Emperor, himself. It seemed the long standing Roman Empire would finally meet its end.
However, in 1081 Alexius I Comnenus took the throne. He was able to raise a powerful mercenary army to successfully hold outside invaders at bay. His military successes helped raise the morale of his citizens who had become hopeless in the wake of what seemed to be inevitable defeat. Alexius, it seems, seriously considered taking the bold and unpopular step of turning to the West as potential allies. Madden notes the political risk such an action would involve:
Byzantines viewed all of Western Europe as Roman territory temporarily occupied by barbarians. Although westerners were Christian, from the Byzantine perspective they were misguided by various liturgical errors and heretical beliefs, chief of which was their insistence on the central authority of the pope over all Christians.
Yet, Alexius needed troops. Western Europe had essentially become a region of armed forces as a result of constant Viking, Hungarian, and Islamic invasions of the ninth and tenth century. Politically, Western Europe had no strong central government. Kings had little or no control over their vassals. Land Barons had large number of trained infantry which they used to attack each other. Even the Papacy had little success in curbing the violence which arose from a proliferation of warriors without a clear directive.
When Pope Gregory VII took over his Pontificate in 1073, he was well aware of both the western European situation and the plight of Byzantine Empire. The next year, Gregory began to make plans to send a military force east with him at its head. This fit in nicely with his Papal reform movement as Gregory subscribed to the ideologies of reformers like Humbert of Candida. These reformers believed that in order to remove clerical abuses from the Church, the Church must first remove itself from the control of laity. A military campaign led by the Bishop of Rome, himself, would go a long way to achieve such an end.
In order to do so, however, Gregory would have needed to leave someone in charge to run and protect the Church. At first, he intended for King Henry IV of Germany to fulfill such a role and the King was all too happy to oblige. Unfortunately, Gregory’s military campaign of mercy and charity towards the estranged Christian brethren to the East never came to fruition. He and King Henry had a falling out over Gregory’s decree against investiture of laity which sparked the Investiture Controversy. The Byzantine problem was moved to the back burner for the time being.
On February 22, 1076 Gregory, through a prayer to St. Peter, successfully excommunicated and deposed the King of Germany and the Bishops who followed him This gave the Papacy a huge upper hand in the controversy. Although on several occasions kings and rulers had been able to depose Popes and Bishops; for the first time in history a Pope was able to depose a king. Soon other European leaders were eager to fall in line with Papal agendas, fearing the same results as King Henry. By the end of the eleventh century, the Papacy had enough authority, both theologically and politically, to answer a request for aid from Alexius I Comnenus. At the Council of Clermont, in 1095, Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade.
It seems Lewis may have been right in suggesting that the Crusades were warranted. Certainly, Muslim jihad aggression was the principal catalyst for the development of the holy war ideology within the Christian Church. Self-preservation presents quite an argument for the case of theocratic military campaigns. Still, the question of consistency within the Christian worldview looms. Is military action an appropriate response for the Church in the face of outside aggression? The rest of this paper will be devoted in an attempt to demonstrate the inconsistency of such an ideology in context of a Christian worldview.
Perhaps the most obvious way Church leaders, both prior to and at the time of the Crusades, showed an inconsistent Christian worldview was in their interpretation and exegesis of scripture. When the Apostle Paul encouraged Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) He was reminding his disciple that a Christian’s ideology should fit into the context of Scripture. It seems plain that early Church teaching does not achieve this. Indeed not, the ecclesiastical leadership of the time seems to attempt fitting Scripture into the context of human ideology. They could not reconcile their desire for retaliation with Scripture. So instead of abandoning the desire, the Church reconciled Scripture to suit their desire.
One of the biggest obstacles Church scholars faced were the passages concerning the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said, “for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9). Augustine understood this to mean that if a military campaign’s purpose was to bring about peace; then the war, itself, may be just. Yet Paul would write to the Church at Rome, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” (Romans 12:19).
To circumvent this apparent contradiction between ideology and Biblical teaching, the Church leaders taught the charitable doctrines of the Scriptures only applied to personal conduct. The doctrines of pacifism, tolerance and mercy did not apply to the State or the Church body as an entity. It was reserved for individual members in their daily lives. Jesus, however, seems to thwart this interpretation in his exchange with Pontus Pilate:
Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. (John 18:33-36)
Pilate did not fear some personal retaliation from Jesus. No, he feared a violent uprising from Jesus’s followers as whole. Pilate was afraid of the entity, not some personal vendetta. Jesus calms Pilate’s fears by telling him that his kingdom was not of this world, and as such his followers would not avenge him through an insurrection of violence. Is it not rational that Jesus’ followers would attempt retaliation? Is it not also self-evident that a person avenging the death of Jesus would be fighting for Christ? How much more was Christ’s life worth than land’s claimed in his name centuries later? Did not Christ tell Peter to put his sword away? (Matthew 26:52).
Although, the Crusades were the result of Islamic aggression, it cannot be argued that military retaliation is appropriate or even justifiable response for the Christian. To do so is a gross imposition on Biblical teaching. Perhaps Runciman was correct when he judged, “the Holy War itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is the sin against the Holy Ghost.” However, to suggest, as Lewis does, the Crusades were warranted; as a Christian, I can only say, hardly!
It is a prevalent idea that there is no second chance for non-believers who die without coming to Christ in this life. In an earlier post, I argued the traditional view of Hell does not stand to logical reasoning and interpretation of Scripture. In this post I would like to challenge readers to answer 3 questions. These questions I believe will challenge the idea that there is no chance at salvation other than accepting Christ in this life.
Revelations clearly states, that the non-believers will be resurrected after 1000 year millennium (Revelation 20:5). Then who are the books opened for to see if their names are in the book of life? For believers have already been changed and given their new bodies (1 Corinthians 15:52). If the believers have already been given their reward, it must be the non-believers that are being searched for in the book of life.
Why the second resurrection at all? If the believers have their reward and non believers are in hell? Why have the second resurrection at all?
If the majority of the people who have ever lived are in hell, then how is God to become “All in all”? (1 Corinthians 15:28).
I believe the only solution to these questions is simply this. Non-believers will be raised and given the opportunity to make one last choice after the millennium.