For some reason End Times discussions invariably attract passion and division. Why is this so?
Months ago I watched a video by an amillennial pastor complaining how he was trolled by a few loud premillennial advocates. For the most part he was irenic. But he still felt the need to push back against some bad examples of populist premillennialism. In fact I’ll also be indulging in some pushing back further on.
Later I watched a conference video where friends chewed the cud on millennial differences. One was premil, while others were amil. They were congenial, agreeing that eschatology shouldn’t divide. Yet there were barbs thrown at the postmillennial system. Even the word “heresy” came up.
I’ve followed comments at The Cripplegate Blog. Though conversations are generally irenic, there’s tension when End Times topics come up. I appreciate those who foster peace by avoiding confrontation on these issues. Of note are people like Alistair Begg, Sinclair Ferguson, Steve Lawson, John MacArthur, Paul Henebury and Michael Vlach etc.
During a group Q & A conference session (dispensationalist John MacArthur and preterist R. C. Sproul were present) amillennialist Sinclair Ferguson diplomatically deflected a question on the millennium by noting that there were others present who were better informed. On that occasion Ferguson generously avoided division.
Unfortunately he also co-authored a book on Jesus (Icthus) which superficially criticized the pretrib rapture, in one chapter. Ridiculing the disappearance of plane pilots and someone’s “populist” view of Revelation is a copout considering the authors’ millennial views are dependant on extensive re-interpretation of prophetic texts.
While he’s entitled to his opinion on secondary issues, the book would have been better served by being fair in the treatment of the subject. That said; Ferguson is a great pastor-theologian who generally avoids division.
I attend a church which isn’t dispensational. I’m comfortable there because its focus is on Christ. The pastor avoids eschatology knowing its potential for division. But I wouldn’t attend a midweek Bible study on Revelation. They’d have to gag me. Interestingly, its bookshop sells dispensational materials and a pretrib rapture book.
Eschatology is important to God. A large portion of Scripture is devoted to God’s future Kingdom Plan. Yet some theologians generally avoid it unless the intention is to throw a metaphorical punch at dispensationalism. It’s a shame that these men, who do great work in bringing people to God, allegorize so much of prophetic revelation.
When I first got back to my Bible, I had a hierarchy of values regarding prophecy. These were Christ’s Second Advent, Israel’s distinction from the church and a future millennium. The Bible seemed pretty straightforward on those issues.
Rapture timing wasn’t crucial to me, my default position being posttribulationism. To be honest, I thought the pretrib view was too optimistic. I noted that pretribulationism was constantly attacked by just about everyone who didn’t hold to the view.
The zealous claims of prewrath advocates challenged me to re-think rapture timing. It’s ironic that I’ve read many testimonies of ex-pretribbers who had read this or that book, learned the Prewrath Catechism, and became enlightened. For me it worked the other way round. Pretribulationism won me over when I examined prewrath rapturism – as happened to Eric Douma and Bob Dewaay.
Almost nothing inflames passion as rapture debates.
I’m aware of at least two pretrib ministries who received continuous behind-the-scenes (often mean-spirited) barrages from zealous prewrath proponents. Both eventually decided to publicly respond. Sensitive folk subsequently got their noses out of joint. Now it was the pretribbers who were attacking because, allegedly, pretribulationism was threatened.
No, it was because one can only ignore so many diatribes in silence. There comes a time when response is appropriate. In most cases the criticism was fair and accurate, but I can’t say the same thing for various counter-offensives.
Time and time again I’ve seen pretribulationism attacked in forums. Outspoken critics suddenly become defensive when they’re challenged back. This was the case with the four-and-a-half hour anti-pretrib documentary “Left Behind or Led Astray?” When Paul Wilkinson responded, the producers “circled their wagons.”
The documentary was a hit-piece against Darby and pretribulationism. For example, Wilkinson’s pastor was interviewed and asked if there was one verse supporting pretribulationism. He answered in the negative but that the teaching was derived from many texts considered together. They cut that part of his response from the interview, and filled in the gaps themselves. It was set up.
In fact many orthodox doctrines can’t be supported by “a single verse.” Sadly, the producers of the film went down that divisive track. For those interested, Once Lost Ministries commented on the film HERE, as did The Berean Call. See also Wilkinson’s video (especially comments around the 1hr 9min mark).
One film participant stated that the subject of the pretrib v posttrib rapture is “one of the premiere pastoral issues of our day.” He believes that any pastor, not preparing his people to potentially face the Antichrist in the tribulation, is failing in his role as shepherd.
A posttrib associate of the documentary solicited me for financial support for his NoPretrib Ministry. He wants to warn the world about the dangerous pretribulational teaching. Another missionary from the prewrath camp started a business supplying materials about how to prepare the church to face the Antichrist. People are invited to send him money so he can continue to do so.
A lot of proverbial ink has already been spilt on this subject – and will continue to be. I’m going to offend some people, but this behavior has a cultic air to it.
Who spends that much time attacking a rapture timing view, or creating a ministry of it, when there are far more important concerns to address in this dying world? Should preparing the flock for the Antichrist really be “a premier issue” for a pastor? Amil-postmil pastors don’t prepare their flocks for The Beast either. Yet I see no hand-wringing missionary outreaches or four-hour documentaries directed at them.
No one knows when the 70th week will begin. Death could come first. As pretribulationist John MacArthur soberly observed:
Whether by death or by rapture, every believer will one day report to the heavenly Master for evaluation and reward. ~Slave (p 184)
For many, tribulations are already present. Our comfort and strength is in Christ, not self-reliance (Rom 8:38-39). Among numerous other responsibilities, Pastors are tasked to make sure their flocks abide in Christ and obey His Word, not guard against a particular end time viewpoint.
Another pastoral role is to correct the apostate teachings aimed at Christians and this world. There’s a flood of Free Thinking Pastors and churches who’ve embraced other faiths as valid (syncretism). Others deny the cross as atonement for sins. The acceptance of practicing homosexuality is widespread, as is post-modernism and the rejection of God’s Word.
Finally, what about getting the gospel out to the unsaved? You know – those people who are destined for hell. Is that not the over-arching, premier issue?
Charles Spurgeon was no friend of Darby or dispensationalism – he misunderstood both. Yet take a wild guess at where he focused his energies till the day he went to be with the Lord. He was a Soul Winner. So are men like MacArthur, Ferguson and Begg. They’re careful to not allow eschatological differences be an obstacle to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I love the idea that Christ can return for us at any time. Hopefully, He finds me busy. Time may be running out. Let’s run our races and finish well.