There seems to be a law that the church has to be constantly disrupted by a cycle of fad-of-the-days. One of the latest things to challenge Pentecostal/Charismatic circles is an eschatology that tries to stand traditional belief on its head. To some of today’s new-thinkers, the book of Revelation (which has been foundational to explaining prophecy) isn’t even considered to be a prophetic book. Nothing or very little in the book can be taken literally according to these interpreters.
The new thought looks a lot like the old amillennialism rejected by our Pentecostal fathers. Some proponents of this view deny there will be a tribulation. Others say there will be no literal millennial reign. Universally, however, this new eschatology denies a rapture of the church. The traditional view that Jesus will return in the skies and catch away the church is ground zero in this theological war. The idea of a rapture is both blasted and lambasted.
I strongly disagree. I believe in the rapture.
First let me say, I have friends that do not believe in the rapture. They are still my friends. I have friends that believe in eternal security. I could not disagree more, but they are still my friends. Good and sincere people can disagree. I had an aunt that believed the earth was square. You could not convince her otherwise. How else could an angel stand on the four corners of the earth? Those pictures of the earth from space? Fakes, every one. Men on the moon? Never happened. Those men were in the desert somewhere making those pictures.
God bless her, she was so wrong, but I still loved her—and so did the Lord. She is with Him now and I can only hope He finally set her straight on the square earth stuff. The point is we don’t have to agree on everything to be friends—or Christians.
At the same time, we cannot allow friendships to keep us from defending orthodoxy. With that in mind, let me say those who deny the rapture are wrong on several levels.
First, they are wrong theologically. The Bible clearly teaches a rapture. The Apostle Paul showed us this mystery in 1 Corinthians 15. In 1 Thessalonians 4, he gave us a word from the Lord which clearly includes a catching away of the church. A comprehensive theological defense of the rapture is outside the purpose of this short article, but I am convinced that an honest search of the scriptures will confirm that Jesus is coming for the church.
Next, they are wrong when they say there cannot be a rapture because church fathers did not teach a rapture. The rapture has only been taught for slightly more than a century, they argue, so it cannot be theologically sound. The basis of our belief as Pentecostals has never been church tradition, but an honest search of the scriptures. Think about it. If we only believe and teach what Wesley, Luther or others believed and taught we could not believe in the Holy Ghost baptism and evidentiary glossolalia. Despite the fact that some Pentecostal historians have stretched the imagination to make tongue talkers out of the reformers and revivalists, these men did not and probably would not embrace the Pentecostal theology.
I am not saying that the rapture or the Pentecostal baptism is a “new” revelation. We will leave that tomfoolery to Joseph Smith and his fellow cultists. But surely God can restore a biblical truth that has been lost to His church for centuries. He can and He has!
Those who deny the rapture are also wrong in their understanding of this doctrine’s effect on the church. I have heard some ridicule rapturists as pie-in-the-sky believers, sitting around singing “I’ll fly away” while they twiddle their thumbs and wait on the Lord to come. Nothing is further from reality. No doctrine or experience has motivated the church to evangelism and missionary activity more than a belief in the eminent rapture of the church. Nothing has motivated the church to discipline and holy living more than this belief. The early Pentecostal movement spread like wild-fire around the globe as rapture-ready saints tried to bring in the last-days harvest before the coming of the Lord. One could argue, on the other hand, that it is today’s amillennialist that do little or nothing to evangelize the lost.
Finally, they are wrong to think this is a fight that needs to be fought. Crusading against the rapture in today’s church makes no sense. Who believes in it any way? Oh yes, it is part of the doctrine, but is it part of the practice? How many churches sing about the rapture? How many sermons are preached on the rapture? How long has it been since your church heard an interpretation of tongues or prophetic utterance about His coming? Who, today, lives with their eyes on the skies? The Pentecostal movement today is less rapture conscious than any time in our history. Our user-friendly, program-driven churches are too caught up in fa-la-la-feel-good songs and how-to-feel-better-now sermons to worry people with hopes of heaven or (God forbid) fears of hell.
Perhaps, instead of questioning, denying or even ignoring the doctrine of the rapture the church should embrace this long-held biblical truth. Maybe we should sing about it again. Preach about it again. Even make room in our services for spiritual utterances about it. Perhaps the fear of suddenly and unexpectedly facing a Holy God would set a fire under today’s tepid church. Maybe, just maybe, that fire would purify us, convict us and send us into our neighborhoods and even the whole world proclaiming the good news, “Get ready, Jesus is coming soon!”