The Letters of Paul
Paul writes to encourage an exemplary church. Despite their affliction, they need to stand firm and continue waiting for Jesus.
This time I’m paraphrasing several comments or questions, so I hope I am being fair to the inquirer. As best as I can tell, there are actually three questions we ought to address.
Q1: Is this one of our “major doctrines” as a church?
A1: Not exactly. It is a doctrine. I don’t know if I’d call it major. I do believe it. We teach it at Horizon Central. I think all Calvary Chapel churches do. There are people here who disagree with me on this point, but I can’t recall it ever becoming divisive. I hope that doesn’t happen now. We don’t include it on the shortest Statement of Faith we hand out because we save that for a relatively few big things.
Document: What We Believe.doc
Q2: This doctrine leads so many into false assurance that they will not have to undergo troubles similar to those experienced by saints throughout the ages, so isn’t it counterproductive to believe it?
A2: This person has probably seen more abuse of the doctrine of the Rapture than I have. I began doing Christian work in Eastern Europe under communism, in an environment that didn’t exactly coddle believers into false hopes for easy times. The present was usually difficult enough. It was shortly after that period that I came to the views of the Rapture that I now have, while working with the Baptists in Catholic Poland, where such topics were more ignored than debated. The inquirer’s experience probably differs considerably and I respect that. We each come to our conclusions from various starting points.
So yes, this is a doctrine that can be abused. It is important to underline that a belief in the Rapture should never allow us to think that we will be spared either persecution as Christians or the normal trials and tribulations of this fallen planet. Both are clearly guaranteed to us as participants in Christ’s church. If we are not experiencing enough of either right now, that can always change. The Rapture only spares us from experiencing the time in which the wrath of God will be poured out on a Christ-rejecting world.
We should also note that it is best never to judge a doctrine by its abusers. For example, if we compare the kindest, most generous atheists we know (and we no doubt know several such) to the most despicable, self-proclaimed Christians (and indeed there are too many), we might be tempted to dump Christianity altogether. If we must compare, it’s better to compare the best with the best and so on.
We should similarly not judge any doctrine by those who fail to understand it, no matter how much they may think they know what they believe. Growing up Catholic, I came to realize that many people thought the Immaculate Conception (of Mary) was talking about the Virginal Conception (of Jesus). They were wrong, probably just poorly informed, and/or not highly motivated to keep their dogma on a tight leash. I now happily disbelieve the first while holding to the second, persuaded in both cases by the Bible. Their lack of understanding need not impact my present beliefs.
Q3: The Bible is so unclear at this point. Can we really be sure – or even expect clarity?
A3: Admittedly, there is not much about biblical eschatology (study of last things) that is simple. The Rapture is no exception. All the same, the Trinity is probably more complex and is far more important, so complexity should not be a deal killer. Sometimes we have to confront doctrinal density head on. If one enjoys thinking about theology in general or eschatology in particular, as I do, then I think a good case can be made for the Rapture. (I might even include it under the heading of ecclesiology, the study of the church, but that’s another matter.) In any event, belief in the Rapture is not unwarranted. A reasonable place to start examining my thoughts on the subject might be the three teachings we did on Sundays when we were going through 1 Thessalonians in May of 2011. That may even encourage further discussion, which I would welcome. If I fail to persuade our inquirer to my own views, I hope he or she will at least admit that, for us, this is not a naïve or hastily accepted belief.
As we approach the end of the Bible, eschatology or the study of end-times events will become more and more important. It will help us to begin getting a good grasp of the issues now, at this introductory stage. The material we cover today will be foundational to our understanding of all that the Bible says in this area.
The Thessalonian church was eagerly awaiting the return of Jesus Christ, this is evident throughout the letter. But apparently some of their number had now passed away. Did this mean that they would be forever separated from their loved ones if Jesus were to return to set up His kingdom here on earth? Paul writes this section to them to clear things up.
The Thessalonian church was born in an environment of persecution. Moreover the faith of the Thessalonian believers was strong, despite having little early instruction. Many of the key passages in 1 & 2 Thessalonians deal with end times events and prophecies such as the Rapture and the Day of the Lord. Paul wanted them to stay focused on the return of Jesus Christ.
An Optical Illusion, Spiritually Speaking: Some things that seem so important to us now are really minor, fleeting things. Yet heaven, our real home and the place that gives life on earth its meaning, may hardly enter our thoughts. The closer things are much easier for us to focus on. They look bigger, but how important are they in light of eternity? In the section of Philippians, Paul explains how we can avoid falling for this trick that the world plays on our spiritual eyesight.