Dec 5, 2008

The Dilemma Of Watchfulness

By Gary Stearman

Addressing his congregation, a minister was recently heard to say, "If I teach you that the Rapture of the church is imminent, you'll become obsessed with the idea. You won't be able to think about anything else. In fact, I believe that the desire for Rapture is an unhealthy preoccupation. It's an event that's been preached for centuries, and Jesus still hasn't come back. Folks, we should really be centered on worship, Christian service and personal spiritual growth. Hoping for an event that may not come is a waste of time."

This admonition came from the pastor of a large evangelical church. Not so long ago, illustrating a theological shift that is becoming all too familiar, this very church proclaimed that latter-day prophecy was being fulfilled, and that Jesus could return at any moment!

This quiet change reflects a phenomenon that has plagued the entire age of the church, which has taken many turns in its position on the doctrine of last things. The last two thousand years have witnessed the first century's Apostolic expectancy of Rapture and Resurrection dissolve into the belief that there would be no Rapture and no millennium at all. Augustine spiritualized the Apocalypse, saying that the Millennium had already begun with Christ's First Coming. He saw only the age of the church, followed by the Second Coming of Christ. Centuries passed, and that teaching was modified into another: The church became "redeemed Israel," and the Kingdom Age was founded under Christ and the Apostles. The Millennium is past; the church will Christianize the world, then Jesus will come to receive His throne. The role of the individual believer is to support the growth of the church, as it becomes increasingly dominant.

Today, many large churches have quietly followed this pattern, returning to the doctrine and the general belief that the church will convert the world, giving rise to a golden age which brings in the Kingdom. It also holds that the church becomes the redeemed Israel, inheritor of the ancient promises. To believe this, one must turn aside from every prophetic Scripture that calls for a latter-day collapse of morality, numerous international wars, natural upheavals, and domination by an evil world order that comes to power after the great world war predicted in Ezekiel 38.