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The Rapture Problem

In this column last week, I stated the salient reasons why pastors will not take a public stand on issues regarded as controversial or political. I believe every point I made are the real reasons pastors refuse to stand for much of anything--or even objectively study anything outside their comfort zone. To read this column, go to: Why Pastors Won’t Take A Stand

To review, most pastors refuse to take a stand because:

1. They are success oriented and have an innate aversion to anything that is considered to be controversial. And, to them, there is nothing more controversial than politics.

2. They are afraid that if they take a controversial stand, they will lose members--and more importantly, tithes and offerings. Most churches are neck-deep in debt and are heavy-laden with staff and overhead. The thought of losing even a few giving families is enough intimidation to make sure that they do nothing to offend the people of the congregation. And since the pastor never addresses controversial issues or preaches “hard” sermons, his congregation is filled with people who harbor myriads of big-government, socialist ideas and would immediately bolt at any mention of Biblical Natural Law principles that ran counter to their leftist ideologies.

3. They have an erroneous interpretation of Romans 13 that civil government must be submitted to regardless of how evil or immoral its laws might be. This fallacious interpretation of Romans 13 (which is taught in practically every Christian school and college in America) has made them de facto slaves and worshippers of the state. As did Germany’s pastors and Christians in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, America’s pastors and Christians suffer from national “exceptionalism.” This fallacy leads them to believe that by serving the state, they are serving God. In their minds, one cannot be “right with God” if they are not totally submissive to the state.

4. The 501c3 non-profit corporation status of the Internal Revenue Code under which the vast majority of churches throughout America operate has intimidated pastors and church leaders to the point that they will do--or not do--almost anything to stay in the good graces of the IRS. To most pastors, this means staying absolutely as far away from political issues as possible--even if those issues were moral and spiritual in nature a long time before they were considered political.

5. Most pastors are ignorant of the Biblical Natural Law principles of liberty. In the same way that many attorneys are completely ignorant of constitutional government, pastors are completely ignorant of Biblical Natural Law principles. Attorneys are not taught constitutional principles in law school, and pastors are not taught Biblical Natural Law principles in Bible school.

But there is one more reason why many pastors will not take a stand that I did not address in the aforementioned column: their belief in a pre-tribulation rapture.

The word “rapture” does not appear in the Bible. The English word “rapture” is taken from the Latin word “rapere” and means to “catch away.” Theologically, it means that Christians will be caught away or taken to Heaven while they are still alive. There are several scriptural passages that Christians believe relate to this event, but the most cited is I Thessalonians 4:16, 17: “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 (Greek word “harpazo”) together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

Of course, Christians throughout the centuries have taught and believed a variety of nuances of eschatology. The various interpretations of The Second Coming of Christ are almost limitless. There are pre-tribulational, pre-millennialists; mid-tribulational, pre-millennialists; post-tribulational, pre-millennialists; partial-rapture, pre-tribulational, pre-millennialists; post-millennialists; pre-wrath, (almost) post-millennialists; amillennialists, etc. And to each of these interpretations there is a plethora of sub-divisions and schisms.

Christians have historically believed that they will be resurrected to be with Christ. However, that conviction--historically and by itself--did not prevent Christians from being engaged in whatever the political, social, or cultural battles of the time might have been. From the earliest days of Christianity, believers were politically and socially engaged in their communities and countries. During the Roman Empire, a baby was not protected by law until the father granted it official human status. Until then, babies could be legally killed or allowed to die. Christians by the thousands would go out into the streets at night and rescue babies that had been “thrown away” and left to die. During the Dark Ages, when the Bible was banned, Christians continued to widely copy and distribute the scriptures. Reformers such as Ulrich Zwingli died defending Switzerland’s Protestant Reformation on the battlefield. Colonial Christians (including pastors) in great numbers participated in America’s War for Independence. The great German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, joined a Nazi resistance movement. Each of these Christian believers held their individual, respective views of the Lord’s coming and personal resurrection, but this did not keep them from being politically, socially, and culturally--and sometimes militarily--involved in their communities and countries.

However, with the broad acceptance of what has become known as Dispensationalism, many pastors and churches in America have almost totally removed themselves from political affairs. Except for voting (which is mostly kept private), pastors avoid politics like the plague. A few will talk in very broad and general terms about America “turning back to God,” etc., but what that means specifically is seldom addressed. And if pressed for an explanation, most pastors will piously say, “God has not called me to get involved in politics.” I’m not sure that God has called them to play golf either, but that doesn’t prevent a host of them from engaging regularly in that worldly activity.

Dispensationalism, as it is called today, was popularized by John Darby, C. I. Scofield, and Lewis Sperry Chafer. In more modern times, John Walvoord, J. Dwight Pentecost, Charles Ryrie, Tim LaHaye, and Hal Lindsey contributed immensely to Dispensationalism’s theological acceptance. The key element of Dispensationalism, as it relates to eschatology, is the doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture of Christians. The idea is that the world is going to continue to get worse and worse until finally the Anti-Christ will arise as a global leader and will usher in seven years of “Great Tribulation,” wherein a sizeable portion of the world’s population will be destroyed. But before “The Great Tribulation” begins, Christian believers will be raptured into Heaven. Dispensationalists further believe that following the seven year Tribulation period, Christ will physically return to Jerusalem and establish a 1,000 year reign (called The Millennium) in which the Davidic Kingdom will be restored to Israel.

Now, let me state plainly that it is not my intention at this point to disparage the sincerity of faith and belief of the vast numbers of pastors and Christians who subscribe to Dispensationalism. Whether the pre-tribulation rapture is a correct Biblical interpretation or not is NOT the focus of this discussion. I find a sizeable number of pastors and Christians who subscribe to post-millennialism and other forms of eschatology to be just as disengaged from speaking out and engaging the political process as pre-tribulationists.

That being said, I believe it is an absolute fact that many pastors and Christians are using the doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture to justify sitting back and doing nothing to actively resist evil and wickedness. In their minds, there is no need to be politically involved because everything is going to get worse anyway--but they are going to be raptured to Heaven before it all falls apart. I have actually had pastors say to me, “Chuck, by resisting evil government, you are fighting against God, because it is God’s will that government gets worse and worse so that Jesus can come back.”

The wretchedness of this kind of thinking should be obvious to any rational person. In the first place, how arrogant are these American Christians to think that they are so special that God would have to rapture them before any real tribulation began? Think of the millions of Christians in oppressed nations throughout history--and even today--who have already been, and continue to be, IN GREAT TRIBULATION. The tribulation of Christian martyrs throughout church history is legendary. Have they never read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs? Do they not know what has taken place in southern Sudan over the last 20 years? Have they not read the history of Christians in Mao’s China, Amin’s Uganda, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, etc. Who do they think they are? Why should Christians in America be spared what Christians throughout the world have endured and are enduring? Even if their interpretation of a pre-tribulation rapture is correct, that doesn’t mean for one moment that Christians in America would not be called on to suffer great tribulation at the hands of a wicked and oppressive government--especially considering that the vast majority of pastors are doing almost nothing to resist our government from becoming wicked and oppressive. For the doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture to be used as some kind of sit-back-and-do-nothing-because-a-divine-Seventh-Cavalry-is-coming-to-rescue-us attitude is the height of absurdity. Dare I say it borders on blasphemy?

Secondly, people who use the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine as an excuse to justify being disconnected from political involvement by saying things like, “Jesus is coming soon, so it doesn’t matter!” are demonstrating either acute cowardice or immeasurable ignorance.”

Christians throughout the millennia have looked for the return of Jesus. The doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ has been held sacred by Christians of every generation for over two thousand years. That Jesus is coming soon doesn’t stop us from going to school and getting an education; it doesn’t stop us from going to work every day to earn a living; it doesn’t stop us from planning our financial futures or saving for retirement; it doesn’t stop us from teaching and training our children; it doesn’t stop us from learning and exercising personal skills; it doesn’t stop us from locking our doors or buying expensive alarm systems to protect us from the bad guys; and it doesn’t stop these disconnected pastors from spending years trying to perfect their golf game. Neither should it stop us from preserving the liberties and freedoms of our nation.

I am reminded of the Old Testament king of Judah, Hezekiah. He was told by the prophet that God was going to judge his country with great oppression, but that it would not happen until after he expired, some 15 years later. Hearing that, Hezekiah said (paraphrase), “Oh goodie! At least it won’t happen while I’m alive.”

I ask you, what kind of father and grandfather would rather see his own children and grandchildren endure persecution and oppression than him do something in his lifetime to prevent it? What kind of uncaring, hard-hearted, pleasure-mad sorry-excuses-for-manhood are we that we would not want to sacrifice our own comfort, our own possessions, our own lives, in order to provide something better for our children and grandchildren?

These stand-for-nothing pastors do NOT know when Jesus is coming. And they do not know what kind of tribulation their children and grandchildren are going to endure at the hands of future tyrants and despots because they refused to do something that could have prevented it.

Our Christian forebears believed in the return of Christ and in personal resurrection. Whether they were pre-millennial, post-millennial, pre-tribulational, mid-tribulational, post-tribulational, etc., they didn’t allow their personal interpretation of Bible prophecy keep them from doing what was the right thing to do when it was in their power to do it. They were statesmen, leaders, and even warriors. They worked; they dug; they studied; they taught; they led; and they fought. And when needed, they risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

Are we really more spiritual than were they? Are we really more studied? More intelligent? More dedicated? More sincere? More courageous? Or more Christ-like?

How dare this generation of spoiled, lazy, comfort-laden, cowardly, sheepish, success-motivated, passive pulpits sit in judgment on the Christian men and women of history who, regardless of their personal interpretation of eschatology, actively engaged in the social, cultural, and, yes, political affairs of their countries--and helped bequeath to us, their posterity, a free and independent land? How dare they use the doctrine of the rapture as an excuse to justify their own indifference? And more importantly, how dare Christians tolerate such cowardice and carnality?

Thirdly, Dispensationalists allow their interpretation of Bible prophecy relating to future Israel to obfuscate the divine principles of liberty as it relates to present America. Preachers such as John Hagee have twisted the scriptures to support almost unlimited wars of aggression against Middle Eastern countries in the name of befriending Israel. In reality, unconstitutional war, nation-building, foreign interventionism, etc., is no friend to Israel, the United States, or any other country.

America’s foreign policy is a global nightmare. It has made enemies where none existed. It has made it increasingly difficult for American missionaries to give the Gospel to people in foreign countries. In many countries, it has inflamed the persecution of Christians. It has greatly contributed to the economic bankruptcy of the United States. It has turned the affections of the world against us. It has turned many American Christians from peacemakers to warmongers. Under the rubric of the “war on terror,” America is being turned into a giant police state. In truth, the Warfare State that has been created in this country is not a blessing to Israel (or any other country), but a curse. But the Dispensationalists’ interpretation of prophecy tends to blind them to these maladies.

Yes, many pastors and Christians have a rapture problem. But the problem is not really the doctrine itself but the way it is misapplied. I know pastors of all theological and eschatological backgrounds who are actively engaged in the freedom fight; and I know pastors of all theological and eschatological backgrounds who are disengaged from the freedom fight. It’s up to the man. If men want to, they can hide behind anything. And when pastors choose to hide behind the rapture, it becomes a problem for all of us.

(c) Chuck Baldwin

ChuckBaldwin4 IMGChuck Baldwin – is a radio broadcaster, syndicated columnist, and pastor dedicated to preserving the historic principles upon which America was founded.

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