Thursday, May 31, 2012

I Confess...I'm a "Birther"

We’ve all heard about the “Birthers”, a group of people so coined because they don’t believe Barack Obama is a natural-born citizen.  Although documents show Obama’s birthplace as Hawaii, birthers claim these are forged to cover up the fact that he was really born in Kenya, which makes him ineligible to hold the office of the President of the United States.

However, on this day, The Feast of the Visitation, I’ve been thinking about a very different set of “birthers”.

Our story begins with Elizabeth-- well-stricken in age, as the Bible notes--who became pregnant with a child prophesied to be the forerunner for the Messiah.

When she was six months into her pregnancy, her teenage cousin Mary arrives for a visit. She, too, was pregnant—pregnant with the Messiah! The extended visit between these two extraordinary “birthers” is recorded in Luke 1:39-56.

I like to be around “birthers”. Not the political, conspiracy-minded kind, but believers who are pregnant with the plans of God.  I’m a birther, too. We’ll quickly tell you that what we carry is of God; otherwise, our age, health, finances, lack of education, and a host of other natural obstacles would normally prevent conception.

Whatever the reason, Kingdom birthers all agree on one thing:  It’s the same phrase the angel Gabriel used when he appeared to Mary and announced that she, a teenage virgin, would be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit with a “holy thing”: (KJV)

“For with God nothing shall be impossible”. (Luke 1:37)

Are you incubating a “holy thing”? An immense vision, a dream or a daring assignment from God that is maturing inside of you?

You don’t have all the answers. You may not be sure of the exact season when you’ll go into labor. And you certainly don’t know how you will be able to properly care for this new arrival.
You just know that God chose you. He overshadowed you. Despite the difficulties ahead—including misunderstandings from family and friends—you said “yes” to God. Suddenly, your inner man became a womb.

Let me advise you to do exactly what Mary did—seek out “with haste” another “birther”! That which was placed on the inside of you will always jump for joy in the presence of another believer who carries a living word, a promise, and a plan from God.

Only in the presence of birthers--not the spiritually barren--will you receive a blessing (Luke 1: 42, 25). The spirit of prophecy can well up inside of you to speak forth His goodness and grace to the nations. You will wax strong and be able to bring to full term that which is on the inside of you:

“Now Elizabeth’s
full time came that she should be delivered, and she brought forth a son.” (Luke 1:57)

“…the days
were accomplished that she (Mary) should be delivered.” (Luke 2:6)

Sadly, not all assignments from God come to birth at their appointed time. A discouraging spirit can show up during a birther’s most vulnerable moments. It can be sent from Satan; but honestly, my worst adversary is myself. It animates out of my own deep, lingering fears.

Regardless of its origin, the adversary’s purpose is to get me (and you) to exchange the truth for a lie--the lie that says we have deceived ourselves by thinking we are chosen by God for great things—a lie that, if believed, expels (uproots) the seed within us.

Godly reforms were taking place under Hezekiah’s leadership, but there was much more that needed to be done. Then a powerful enemy came to lay siege against Jerusalem. His clever, deceitful words made King Hezekiah cower in fear and cry, “This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the point of birth and there is no strength to deliver them.” (Isaiah 37:3)

His name was Rabshakeh —Sennacherib’s silver-tongued general. The Assyrian forces had never been defeated. Hezekiah’s people were outnumbered and outclassed by a ruthless army. (Rabshekeh’s name, by the way, means “Chief of the Princes.”)

He met with Hezekiah’s representatives outside the city wall. They asked him to converse in the Syrian tongue so as not to panic the people watching from the wall, but Rabshakeh arrogantly refused. He threatened them in perfect Hebrew, mocking God and Hezekiah’s claim that God would prevail on their behalf.

Don’t be surprised if a Rabshakeh of some sort shows up to mock you. Don’t be surprised if he makes his threats public for everyone around you to hear, particularly those who have supported you through rough times and may now be prone to criticize.

This I know: if a Rabshakeh shows up, it can only mean one thing--you’ve come to full term and your days are about to be accomplished! Don’t give up!

Hezekiah rent his clothes in despair, but instead of letting Rabshakeh frighten him
from God, Hezekiah ran to God. He called upon a friend who knew how to incubate and protect a word from God during difficult times--the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah returned God’s words to ascendancy over Rabshakeh’s. Hezekiah regained his confidence and strength, and God won the day!

Don’t go it alone in isolation. Don’t hang around with spiritually barren people. With haste, seek out other believers who are pregnant with the seed of great things for God and stay a while.  If you do, you will be blessed…and “there shall be a performance of those things which were told to you from the Lord.” (Luke 1: 45)

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Israel of God: A Matter of Faith or Family?

John Hagee, founder and pastor
of Cornerstone Church, San Antonio,
Texas, and leader of the Christian
Zionist movement in the U.S.

I want to stress again that what you believe about HOW Jesus will return to earth is secondary to the knowledge that one day, He will return to set up His Kingdom.

That indisputable truth compels us to share the Second Coming of Christ with the people around us, and allows us to work together in unity and love despite our differing opinions.

However, some "end times" beliefs are troubling, particularly when they endorse systematic persecution of people groups--even other Christians--in the name of God.

Such opinions grievously misrepresent the message of Jesus Christ and paint yet another portrait of the Christianity that is mean-spirited and hypocritical. It is this belief system, not my brothers and sisters in Christ, that I am confronting.

Christian Zionism is at an all-time fervor. It's adherents are mostly American evangelicals who embrace the dispensationalist message and its core-teaching of an any-minute Rapture. What makes it so dangerous is that its leaders wield a two-edged sword of Christianized politics and political Christianity; a bullying, war-mongering blade of church and state that is neither biblical nor constitutional.

Contrary to Christ's proclamation of THE Kingdom of God, Christian Zionists proclaim there are actually two Kingdoms – an earthly, material Kingdom promised to the Jewish people and a spiritual Kingdom promised to Gentile believers in Jesus Christ. (This theme was made popular in the Scofield Reference Bible.)

Therefore, they claim many of the Old Testament Scriptures have yet to be fulfilled to the Jews in the modern state of Israel. Because God has a continuing special relationship with and for the Jewish people that stands apart from the Church, Jews have a divine right to possess the land of Palestine. (John Hagee: Christian Zionism's Cause or Effect?)

I want to point out two Scripture themes Dispensationalists use to defend their position: the Abrahamic Covenant and The Vine and its branches. Gary M. Burge, Ph.D., Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College & Graduate School, addresses these in an An Alternative Evangelical Reading of Scripture:
In Genesis 12, 15 and 17 God promises the Holy Land to Abraham and his descendants. To Christian Zionists this promise of land inheritance was permanent and unconditional. And it is as true in Biblical times as it is today.

This means that for Christian Zionists, the covenant of Abraham continues to be in play today . And as Christians, this forces them to have what we call a "two covenant" theology: one covenant for the Jews and one for the Gentile church.

Reformed theologians (like myself) believe that something decisive happened in Christ. His covenant affected not simply the covenant of Moses – making a new and timeless form of salvation – but it also affected every Jewish covenant, including Abraham's covenant. Christ fulfills the expectations of Jewish covenant life and renews the people of God rooted in the OT and Judaism. Thus Jesus is a new temple, the new Israel , there are 12 tribes/apostles, etc.

When it comes to the land promises to Abraham – a crux for dispensationalists – I open immediately to Galatians 3:16. The Apostle Paul wrote: "Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say 'And to his offsprings,' referring to many; but referring to one, 'And to his offspring,' which is Christ."

Remarkably Paul argues from the singular noun in Genesis to show that the promises to Abraham – and this means land – point to Christ! Christ is the locus of the promise of land! The promises to Abraham have been realized in Christ – he holds everything Judaism desired – and knowing him gains access to such promises.

Jesus' splendid homily in John 15 does the same. This is the great vine and branches sermon Jesus told in the upper room. The Old Testament image of Israel is that of a vineyard filled with many vines rooted in the soil of the Holy Land. You can see this outlined beautifully in Isaiah 5. But Jesus upends this. We see a vineyard again but now we learn that there is one vine – Christ – and the only question turns not on gaining access to the land but being attached to him.

To think Christianly about land and promise is to think differently than Judaism. In short, the NT changes the spiritual geography of God's people. The Kingdom of God is tied neither to an ethnicity nor to a place. And because the early Christians understood this, they carried their missionary efforts to the entire world. At a time when Jews were debating the meaning of Holy Land , Jesus' prescription was quite remarkable: "the meek will inherit the land" (Mt 5:5), not the aggressor or the conqueror.

The work of Christ is definitive. There is one covenant. And it is with Christ.
I am not a member of a reformed church, but like Mr. Burge, I think Christianly, not Judaically. I think in covenant terms, and how all covenants made between God and man in the Bible were fulfilled in Christ. I do not believe that God deals differently with mankind in dispensations of time.

Bible teacher and author Gary DeMar gives us further insight from his article "Prophetic Speculation Under the Microscope":
Tim LaHaye and many popular prophecy writers see Matthew 24:32 as the key New Testament prophetic passage: “when a fig tree is used symbolically in Scripture, it usually refers to the nation Israel. If that is a valid assumption (and we believe it is), then when Israel officially became a nation in 1948, that was the ‘sign’ of Matthew 24:1-8, the beginning ‘birth pangs’—it meant that the ‘end of the age’ is ‘near.’

If Israel is the fig tree in Matthew 24:32, then Israel is the fig tree in Matthew 21:18–20 where Jesus says, “‘No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.’ And at once the fig tree withered.” The fig tree of Matthew 24 was a leaves-only tree. There is no fruit on the tree. A fruitless tree is to be cut down (Luke 13:6-9). The tree was fruitless for three years. The land owner wanted to cut it down. The vineyard-keeper asked for one more year. If it did not produce fruit the next year, it was to be cut down.

The tree that represents Israel is the olive tree. The olive tree sunk its roots in the first pages of Genesis and continued throughout the Old Testament period and into the New Testament where Gentiles were grafted in. That’s the tree that we should focus on.
True indeed; and a careful, contextual understanding of the Scriptures reveals that the Vine is and always has been Christ, and the natural branches are those Old Testament Jews who believed by faith; therefore, it was accounted unto them as righteousness. Gentiles who are saved by grace through faith in Christ are grafted into the Vine.

And when all have come in--Jew and Gentile (a number chosen and known only to God)--He  will then consider "all (meaning here the sum total) of Israel saved". (Romans 11: 13-26)

I appreciate the clarity that blogger/author Derek Ouelette brings to this issue:
The story of the scriptures, of Creation-Fall-Redemption, is a story of a God who has chosen to make things right through covenants. He has chosen Abraham and established an unconditional covenant with him (Gen 15) in which God in essence says, “if what I promise does not come to pass, may what happened to these slaughtered animals happen to me”.

But only two chapters later (Gen 17) conditions are added to the covenant; so that while God will unconditionally keep his promise to Abraham and his descendants the question becomes, who are Abraham's descendants?

And as Paul would later put it, “not all Israel are Israel” (Rom 9); because Abraham’s descendants prove to be unfaithful and end up exiled from the presence of God (cf. Adam’s exile from the garden). What is God to do? He must find a “true Israelite indeed” with whom he can keep his unconditional promise.

This is the principle of representation: enters the Messiah. The Messiah is the true Israelite whose mission embodies the role of Israel, so that through His faithfulness God fulfills his part of the covenant. The question again becomes, who is “in” Israel or who are the children of Abraham? The answer is: those who are of faith and are in the Messiah.
Hebrews 11: 39-40: "And these all (Old Testament saints), having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." (The word for perfect is Telelioo; and in this passage it specifically refers to completion only in the sense of reaching one's prescribed goal).

In other words, God's singular purpose all along was for the Salvation of mankind--Jew and Gentile---to be saved by faith alone in His One Son, One Plan, Jesus Christ!

Prior to the spread of dispensationalism, this is exactly what most of the Church-at-large believed: Israel as a nation-state had served Her prophetic purpose in redemptive history. The Israel of God, with no natural distinctions, no physical or ethnic borders, was and would remain preeminent---made up of believers from all nations, tribes, and tongues. The Israel of God includes individual Jews who come to Christ by faith--not relying upon the works of the Mosaic Law, their genealogy, or Israeli citizenship.

But let's turn our attention to the modern state of Israel and its citizenry:

Zionists claim modern-day Israelis have a God-given right to the land, yet only a small percentage (a little over 8%) embrace the Mosaic Law as a personal rule for life. 17% are secularists that publicly participate in the religious customs and traditions, but keep the separation between church and state; they also separate personal devotion (or lack of it) from outward ceremonies. As they see it, participation in a time-honored ritual makes one a good Jew.

55% are a diverse group of modernists. They will participate in religious customs that they agree with or find attractive, or "reform" them to suit their particular ideology. In other words, the participation is more cultural than religious. Most modernists drive on Saturdays, cook, and do other things traditionally forbidden. They consider that nationalism (national identity and pride) IS Judaism. A remaining 20% are a mix of atheists or other religions.

As you can see, the modern--day Israeli is NOT the covenantal Jew of the Old Testament!

Today, only 63% of Jews in Israel believe completely in the existence of God. The percentages drop when you ask if they: believe the Torah was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai (55%); the Torah is God's command for living (47%); in the coming of the Messiah (39%), there is a next world (35%), and that those who don't adhere to the Mosaic Law will be punished (27%).

Ultra-Orthodox Jews worldwide, those who still faithfully abide by the Torah as a rule for life and redemption, have always been against the establishment of a modern Israeli state. They emphatically state that Jews were scattered off the land due to disobedience to God's Word!

They insist the Torah teaches that only at the coming of the Messiah will they be ingathered through REPENTANCE from the four corners of the earth--by a divine act of God (not man's political expediency). Indeed, they believe what took place in 1948 was man's striving to make an Ishmael, rather than waiting for God to bring forth an Isaac!

We mentioned earlier that evangelicals embrace the Rapture teaching, but have no idea how it came about or how its origin defies many of their current doctrines. Similarly, the majority of conservative evangelical, Christian Zionists believe the most reliable text for translating Old Testament Scriptures is the Masoretic Text.

Although the Septuagint version in Greek was widely distributed by Jesus' time and even quoted by Him, as well as being used in the early Church, the Jews took issue over this hi-jacked "Christianized" version. Consequently, the Masoretic scribes brought forth what was to eventually become the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible.

Isn't it interesting...on one hand, Evangelicals insist on using only a version of the Old Testament that was preserved by orthodox men faithful to the Torah, but on the other hand summarily reject the orthodox interpretation from the same Scriptures as to how Israel will be genuinely restored!

If you want to know more about these Jews who still believe in God and His commands as a standard for faith and morals; as well as what they believe about the illegitimate Israeli state, I recommend these two sites:

Jews Against Zionism
(articles by Rabbis)

The Jews Not Zionists site is engaging and features an excellent article, "The Difference between Zionism and Judaism", which every Christian should read.

Another eye-opening article is "Judaism is a Religion--Not a Race" by Rabbi Moses Jakubowicz:
Judaism is a religion, not a race. Throughout history, whoever joined the Jewish religion was called a Jew, no matter what his race, and whoever abandoned the Holy Torah was not considered a Jew.

The proponents of Zionism, for their own political and financial advantage, have transformed the Jewish religion into a race. Similarly, they have taken the Torah, a book of Divine law which teaches fairness, peace and piety, and transformed it into a vehicle for their political goals, a source for their claims to a piece of land.
Gary Demar once again adds additional insight into the dangers of Rapturist/Zionistic thinking from his article Why Some Dispensationalists are Like Evolutionists:
One of the biggest problems that even some dispensationalists take note of is the spiritual condition of Jews living in Israel since their return. Stanley A. Ellisen, who earned a Th.D. in Bible exposition from Dallas Theological Seminary, makes some significant points on this topic:
It remains to put the divine plumbline to the house of Israel claiming Palestine today. Has she met the biblical conditions for restoration?

To put it bluntly, she has no biblical right to the covenant land. She has never recognized the Messiah God sent, let alone mourned over his wounding. Though many in Israel admit to Jesus’ greatness as a Jewish teacher, they adamantly reject him as Messiah. They see him as but one of several prominent pseudo-messiahs.
Ellisen’s book includes an endorsement by John F. Walvoord who describes it as “must reading.”
If Israel’s entry into the land (Num. 13–14) and stay in the land were based on faithfulness to the covenant, and exile from the land was based on the rejection of covenant obligations, then how is it possible that the return to the land would not be based on the same standards?

The condition for returning to the land was a repentant heart and obedience to God’s commandments (Deut. 30), something that happened after Israel’s return from exile (see Ezra 9). To argue that the spiritual condition of modern-day Jews living in Israel is of little or no consequence and is somehow a fulfillment of Bible prophecy goes against what the Bible teaches.

Ellisen: "The State of Israel will allow nearly every deviation from Jewish orthodoxy in its policy of toleration and pluralism. Even Jewish atheists are welcomed as citizens—but not believers in Jesus.

Though the Law of Return of 1950 granted citizenship to anyone born Jewish, it was amended in 1970 to apply to anyone who is “born of a Jewish mother or has been converted and is not a member of another religion.”

(Note: That amendment has been clarified to state that..."The rights of a Jew under this Law and the rights of an
oleh (one who returns) under the Nationality Law... are also vested in a child and a grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew". Missing in this update was any mention of conversion to Judaism.)

Ellisen concludes: "Judged on biblical grounds, the nation of Israel today does not pass divine muster. The promise of the land is directly tied to the nation’s response to Messiah.

God’s chosen people are those who enter into a covenant with Him through Jesus Christ—a covenant the Jewish people of old rejected nationally; but a covenant that is still offered to every Jewish person around the world and to everyone living in Israel today.

The kingdom that shall reign on earth when Christ returns is not restored Judaism, but a new spiritual race:
But you are a chosen race, A royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9).

And He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father-- to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” ( Rev. 1:6).

And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. (Rev. 5:9,10).
I highly recommend the ministry of Dr. Stephen Sizer, vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water, southwest of London. He has been in ministry for over thirty years, and is a respected expert on Israeli-Palestinian issues and Christian Zionism.

If you only read one book on Christian Zionism, I recommend Dr. Sizer's groundbreaking classic, Zion's Christian Soldiers? This link not only introduces the book, but features audio presentations from each chapter to acquaint you thoroughly with this important work.

A notable article by Dr. Sizer for a quick read is The Historical Origins of Christian Zionism. It documents what the Church believed about Christianity's relationship with Israel, when the shift toward dispensationalism began.

I also recommend the Challenging Christian Zionism site for a wealth of resources on the subject by noted Christians.

In our next post in this series, I will tell how the modern state of Israel came into being--a history very few American Christians know. I will also acquaint readers with their suffering brethren--the Palestinian Christians--and address misconceptions that are difficult to correct because of Zionist propaganda.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Rapture and Its Dirty, Little Secret

Please read the Introduction.

I grew up attending an evangelical church. I was taught early on that Jesus will be coming back any minute to secretly snatch all Christians from the earth to be with Him in Heaven.

While we enjoy a meal with Jesus above, the earth below will be full of terrible wars, famines, and plagues. Then at some point, we will return with Jesus on horses and triumph over the Anti-Christ and his followers.

Like clockwork, our church scheduled two revivals a year. I was sixteen-years-old when we had a fireball of a guest speaker for our spring services--a sweaty, finger-pointing preacher who kept you on the edge of your seat. I can still hear that Southern drawl, "Are you REALLY saved, my friend? Jesus may come any minute and it will be too late for you. Did you hear me? Too, too late!"

He'd then vividly describe the hell on earth for those left behind. He lifted both hands to Heaven and cried,"Why, Jesus may come before this service is over tonight. So, I'll only ask one more time. ARE YOU SAVED? Will you be raptured to Heavenly bliss or left behind to suffer woes unspeakable?"

I was in distress. Two weeks earlier, I had just started another one of my diet fads. When he said that Jesus could come before the service was over, the first thought that popped in my head was that I would never taste a piece of chocolate cake again. Then, I thought about missing out on getting married (honestly, it was more about sex), having kids, and the dream of going into theatre as an actress.

His booming voice shook me out of my thoughts. "Come now, " he pleaded,  "Come NOW to the altar before the trumpet sounds!"

I felt like a cad. An unsaved, low-life, sinning cad. Jesus is coming back tonight and all I can think about is missing out on chocolate and sex. I must not be a real Christian.

Just to make sure, I went to the altar--every night. I realize today that all my trips to the altar back then were out of fear. But we were taught to fear everything--bar codes, microchips, and two Anti-Christ possibilities at the time: Henry Kissinger and Mikhail Gorbachev (We didn't trust that odd birthmark on his head. Surely it had a secret meaning!)

Although apocalyptic fears no longer drive my faith, I STILL don't want the Lord to come back "any minute". No, it's not so much about chocolate; and at age fifty-seven, missing out on sex is no longer a big deal. It's about loving people and reconciling them to Christ. I want to be alive and smack dab in the middle of what God's doing on earth as long as possible.

Before I go any further, let me tell you one of my favorite anecdotes:

A newlywed couple was preparing their first Thanksgiving dinner. The wife took the frozen turkey to the bathtub to thaw out.  Curious, the husband wanted to know why she put the turkey in the tub. "Oh, Mother always did it that way, "she replied.

"But what is the purpose?" he asked. She thought for a few seconds and said, "I guess it thaws out quicker that way."

Later on when the in-laws arrived for dinner, the man quizzed his mother-in-law. "Why do you thaw out your turkey in the bathtub?"

"Uh, well...that's the way my Mother did it," she replied, When asked why, she was clueless. "I never asked why," she said sheepishly.

When the husband had the opportunity to meet his wife's grandmother months later, he asked why all the women in the family thaw out their turkeys in the bathtub. "What's the secret?" he asked.

The old lady laughed. "Secret! What secret? "

With a chuckle she explained, "Honey, when I first got married we lived in a tiny efficiency apartment. There wasn't enough room in my kitchen to hardly turn around. I thawed out that big 'ol Thanksgiving turkey in the bathtub. It was just a habit that stuck all these years!"

Why do we believe what we believe? Is it simply because that's what our family has always believed or our church has always taught?

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I began an independent study of church history, throwing aside all my preconceived notions of what was wrong or right. Regardless of what I found, I made a commitment to follow the truth. I had always believed in the Rapture because that's what my church and denomination taught. Thirty-five years later, I found this shocking fact.

The two-stage return of Christ, with the first part being a secret removal of Christians from the earth, was a "prophetic" vision given by fifteen-year-old Margaret MacDonald in a home bible study in Fort Glasgow, Scotland in 1830. Until then, the 1,800-year-old Church had preached the one visible, triumphant return of Christ.

All of this is documented first-hand in the book (now out of print) The Restoration of Apostles and Prophets: In the Catholic Apostolic Church by Robert M. Norton (1861).

Margaret scribbled her prophetic ramblings and sent them to Edward Irving, a disillusioned, defrocked Presbyterian minister who preached throughout Scotland and England.

John Darby, another man frustrated with the State-Church (Anglican), regularly visited the MacDonald home, where Margaret would intermingle prophesying with visions for several hours. Darby eventually became known as the Father of Dispensationalism, although some church historians accuse him of clever plagiarism.

I'm puzzled as to why Evangelical leaders give credence to the Rapture doctrine; it is an out-of-the-blue "prophecy" from an unchurched teenager--and a woman at that! Most Protestant, Evangelical churches do not believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit genuinely operate in this age, nor do they allow women to "instruct" the Church on doctrine. But then I realized that most church-goers, just like the newlyweds, thaw out turkeys in tubs without asking "why". I know I did for thirty-five years.

Here's something else I discovered: Look at other questionable belief systems that arose within a clustered period in the 1800s. I don't think this is coincidental:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints  (MORMONS) 1830--the same year as the Rapture Doctrine

Spiritism 1855 (communicating with the dead in order to receive guidance)

Jehovah's Witnesses 1872

The Church of Christ Scientist 1879

After my discovery, I began to ask my fellow Evangelical and Charismatic friends and pastors about the Rapture. They had never heard about Margaret MacDonald's vision--even in seminary. Their answer was usually "but it's in the Bible anyhow" and pointed me to 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 as a proof text.

"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 [harpazo] together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord".

Again, I researched church history regarding
eschatology (the study of last things). Prior to the 1830s, the church-at-large had always placed these passages at the final judgment.

The word "Harpazo" does means “to grab or seize by force, with the purpose of removing and/or controlling". However, let's look at the context of what Paul is saying:

The new believers at Thessalonica were worried that their loved ones who had died would somehow miss out on the Coming of the Lord. Paul was assuring them that the dead in Christ would rise first, then we would be immediately taken up to join them.

Verse 18 is the confirmation: "Wherefore, comfort one another with these words."

So, what is the purpose for joining our loved ones in the air?

The phrase to meet the Lord is the key, and we can unlock the full meaning with a little understanding of the culture of the times, which is imperative for skillful hermeneutics (interpreting the Bible).

The late noted Bible Scholar F. F. Bruce stated in his New Bible Commentary:
"When a dignitary paid an official visit or parousia to a city in Hellenistic times, the action of the leading citizens in going out to meet him and escorting him on the final stage of his journey was called the apantesis; it is similarly used in Mt. 25:6; Acts 28:15. So the Lord is pictured as escorted to the earth by His people —those newly raised from death and those who have remained alive.
"The Greek word for “meet” (apantesis) is used this way twice in the New Testament. Luke used the word this way in Acts 28:14-16, “There we found some brethren, and were invited to stay with them for seven days; and thus we came to Rome. And the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet (from the word apantesis) us; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage. When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.” The people went out to meet Paul only to return right back to Rome with him."
The Rapture is couched within what is known as Dispensationalism, a doctrine attributed to John Darby and codified in the United States by C.I. Scofield. The Scofield Reference Bible became so popular that people have memorized and quoted the footnotes, often putting them on the same par with Scripture. I know. For the first thirty-five years of my life, all of my Bibles were Scofields. I taught many an adult Sunday School class and Bible Study from well-marked pages.

For the purpose of this post, I'll focus on the part of Dispensationalism that teaches Israel is distinct from the Church, and  God has yet to fulfill His promises to national Israel. When the Jews rejected their Messiah, God stopped the prophetic time clock, so its adherents claim, to allow a period for Gentiles to be saved (the Church). Right after the Rapture, however, the clock will start ticking again in Israel's favor. After the Great Tribulation, a remnant of Israel will be saved and Temple worship, as well as animal sacrifices, will be restored in Jerusalem under the reign of Jesus.

Dispensationalism sees the Jewish people as the true people of God, and sees the modern State of Israel as identical to the Israel of the Bible.

William E. Cox presents a clear outline of what Dispensationalists believe:

Main Points of Dispensationalist Teaching
  1. God has two bodies (peoples) -- Israel, and the church.
  2. God's promises to Israel were unconditional, and therefore are still binding.
  3. God's promises concerning the return to the land, rebuilding the temple, etc., were never fulfilled. They are therefore still future.
  4. Although Israel was a type of the church, they will always remain separate.
  5. Christ instituted the church as a "parenthesis."
  6. Christ came the first time to establish an earthly millennial kingdom with Israel.
  7. Israel rejected him, then God postponed this plan until the second advent.
  8. Christ instituted a Gentile church.
  9. Israel is God's earthly people; the church is God's heavenly people.
  10. Israel's destiny is to remain on earth forever; the destiny of the church is to spend eternity in heaven.

I believe--as most of Christendom has and still does today all over the world--that Jesus Christ will return in one visible, glorious event to reign on earth with all believers. (But you wouldn't know it by the boisterous voices booming from TV pulpits all across America!)

The geographical, natural nation of Israel is no longer a key player in end-time events. God wisely birthed the seed message of reconciliation into the earth empirically--into a particular time, place, and people--by sending His Son, Jesus.

However, the ever-expanding spiritual cannot be contained by the natural; neither can it return to its rudimentary elements once released. When the veil of the Temple was torn in two on the day Jesus was Crucified, that wonderful message shot out of its narrowly defined walls, destroying any and all barriers on its way to human hearts everywhere--Jewish, Arab, black, white--ALL tribes and tongues!

From Scripture, I am convinced that God deals with mankind exclusively through His new, covenantal nation of priests and kings--the Church, the Body of Christ. (Rev. 5:9,10)

We shout the good news that Jesus removed every natural distinction found in earthly Adam--race, color, gender, status--in order to make reconciliation with God a matter of receiving a right heart, not having the right genealogy. (1 Peter 2:9)

To relegate God's preference and favor to the physical, national, and racial borders His Son surpassed in resurrected glory is heresy!

I believe the Jewish people can be saved through a personal confession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord--just like everybody else. God does not have one plan for the Church and another for natural Israel. His plan is Jesus--plain and simple. He recognizes only two distinctions of people in the earth: those who abide in the life of His Son and those who are without.
I do not believe the Bible supports a preceding secret evacuation of the Church at the expense of the Jews!

So, why are Christian Zionists so vehemently defending the modern state of Israel? Could it be that the dispensational teaching on "end times" requires an intact, UNCONVERTED Israel to support an any-minute Rapture?

What if there were mass conversions of Israelis to Christ BEFORE the Rapture? Would it sabotage this questionable doctrine?

Absolutely...for here's the Rapture's dirty, little secret:
"In order for most of today’s Christians to escape physical death, two-thirds of the Jews in Israel must perish.

In our next post in this series, we'll look more closely into the movement known as Christian Zionism, and examine if the modern state of Israel is indeed the Israel of the Bible.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Why I Ended My Belief in the "End Times"

As Christians, we should refrain from using non-Salvific doctrines or disciplines as litmus tests for fellowship.

Whether it’s by immersion or pouring for baptism, the use of grape juice or wine in communion, ways to keep the Sabbath, external gauges of holiness, or how the Lord will return--such differences should not stop the Body of Christ from working and witnessing together.

Jesus made it very clear in John 17:21: The world will not believe the message of God’s Son until they see its messengers—you and me—loving each other and living as diverse, but synergistic parts of Christ, the whole.

Nevertheless, even the minor teachings we embrace often have consequences; and no other sub-doctrine impacts a Christian’s witness in the here and now than what he or she believes about the “end times”. 

As the 64th anniversary of the modern state of Israel approaches (May 14th), I’m re-posting portions of an article I wrote several years ago about the American Church’s growing love affair with Israel. I attempted to answer questions that should be of concern to all Christians:

Is the modern State of Israel the Israel of the Bible?

Were there any covenantal conditions for the Jews in regards to keeping the land?

How did the modern state of Israel come into being, and is it really a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy?

What is Christian Zionism?

The lynch pin doctrine of Christian Zionists is belief in a “Rapture”. What did the Church-at-large believe about the future of Israel and the return of Christ prior to the emergence of this doctrine in the 19th century?  Who came forth with the initial “revelation”, and how did it spread?

Why do Christian Zionists in the United States enthusiastically embrace the Rapture teaching when it requires the destruction of two-thirds of the Jews in Israel…the very people they claim to love and support?

Why do American Christians continue to support a government that unapologetically persecutes people—including Christians-- and uses its religion as an excuse?

Who are the Palestinian Christians—questionable converts from Islam or the faithful descendants of the earliest believers in Christ? Do they feel abandoned by American Christians?

Please understand. My intent  is not to stir up controversy or invite pointless debate, but to lay a sober challenge before all good Bereans to search and see if “these things be true” (Acts 17:10-12).

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Behind Closed Doors

In an earlier post, I wrote that the season between Christ’s Resurrection and His Ascension was an extraordinary time of personal encounters with the Risen Lord.  He appears to weary travelers on their journey of faith, to sincere doubters behind closed doors, and to those who linger at tombs. People get heartburn, have their vision fine tuned, and break bread in true friendship with someone they once admired only from afar.

If you packed away Easter after the April 8th morning service, then you’re missing out on a wonderful season for you and your loved ones! Invitations are going out for breakfast by the sea. Betrayers who feel all is lost are getting calls they never expected. The outdoor seminary at the feet of Jesus will soon begin.

A while back, we looked at Jesus joining Cleopas and his companion on their wayto Emmaus. If you’re trying to put some distance between yourself and a frustrating, unexplainable set of events, then ask for a fellow traveler to come alongside.  He’ll bring not only better understanding, but the opportunity to become better acquainted with the One who is the Lord over those circumstances.

Today in my devotions, I read about Jesus appearing behind closed doors to His disciples (In Luke 24, beginning with verse 36).

Closed doors. They keep us safe from intruders and the harsh elements. We hide behind them in order to do things we don’t want others to see.

We lock out rude and abrasive people from our lives. We “shut the door” and refuse to do business with companies who have short-changed us in some way. We put the dead bolt on churches, preachers, and Christians that we consider abusive. And many have slammed the door shut on God in an effort to end what they believe to be the source of their pain and disappointments.

I think we all close doors out of fear. Some of the time it is out of a healthy, natural fear, as in locking the doors to your house against criminals; but we mostly go behind “closed doors” in desperate moves toward self-protection.

The disciples had closed the doors because they feared retribution from the Jewish leaders. They huddled together, confused and distraught over shocking events that turned a promising triumphant over Roman oppression into a tragedy of misguided belief. All of the disciples, that is, except John. The Scriptures record that John went to the tomb and “saw and believed” (John 20:8). Oh, and the two followers from Emmaus were there who just had a meal with Jesus.

Peter was there, but only because the messenger at the tomb specifically instructed Mary to include him in this gathering ((Mark 16:7). Although he had seen the empty tomb with John, Peter’s faith had run aground. He was sure that God had marked him for damnation due to his public, curse-filled denial of Jesus-not once, but three times. He remained uncertain of what to believe, what to expect. But we’ll talk about Peter in a later post.

Here’s what struck me from today’s reading in Luke and the additional account in John 20: 19-29:

Despite the closed doors, Jesus appeared in their midst. He didn’t call them out; He showed up in the very place where they were hiding. And when He did so, it was not to chide, but to comfort and assure them that their purpose lay not in one room, but the entire world.

Their portion was not cringing fear, but power and peace. Their partnership with Jesus would require them to face the source of their fears, not run from them. Although rejection, hurt, misunderstandings, and hatred waited for them on the other side, He daringly called them to remain steadfast in love rather than leave. And Jesus promised He would always be with them, never abandoning them to the will of their enemies or to their own devices.

Jesus spoke to me this morning. I have closed doors. Religion tells me that I have to bravely unlock the doors in my own strength and if I fail, well—shame on me for being such a lousy Christian.

Jesus has no problem coming to where I am hiding. The difference between a religion about Jesus and a relationship with Him is that HE always takes the initiative.

As we walk through every room, Jesus lovingly, but firmly challenges me to name each one aloud. That way, I can finally see them for what they really are; and talk honestly with Him about why they exist in the first place. I'm to no longer retreat, but engage the world.

I’ve looked ahead to tomorrow’s devotion, and found something utterly astounding Jesus told His disciples to do. He wants to speak the same to me; but for now, I’m taking inventory of my prisons--one by one--and getting ready to courageously engage the world. That’s where disciples belong.