It is, frankly, outside the original intent of the blog to devote time to a doctrine like the Rapture. It is certainly not directly related to worship. And, as I note at the end, there are people on both sides of the issue who I feel honored to count as Christian brothers and sisters and dear friends.
Most importantly, when it comes to these kinds of doctrines, those who live consistent with the Lordship of Jesus in within the realm of His grace will not be left out or left behind or left anything when it comes to eternity. Regardless of whether things ultimately unfold as you believe or in ways you either misunderstood or were simply, as part of finite and fallen humanity, to begin to image, it will not matter at the most practical level.
Still, I want to address the doctrine of the rapture. This is part in response to some discussions on Facebook, where the article below first appeared in serial format. It is also because I do believe, even in areas I insist are not central to our faith, doctrine and truth are nonetheless important.
Introduction: What is the Rapture Doctrine? One shall be taken and the other left
In the long history of emerging bizarre teachings that have plagued Christianity, there are few dogmas that can match the strangeness, newness, and lack of biblical support than that of the doctrine of the so-called Rapture. That is, at some point prior to the Second Coming of Christ, the saved will be instantly and miraculously transported out of this current sphere of existence into the presence of Jesus Christ. When this happens, two people might be walking together in a field or in bed together as husband and wife, and one might be taken up in this unexpected Rapture, and the other would then be left behind. Since all this happens without prior notice, it might well mean the driver of a car or the pilot of an airplane could unexpectedly vanish, while the unsaved passengers would find themselves suddenly in a driverless car or pilotless airplane.
To many who identify themselves as Bible-believing Christians, challenging the doctrine of the Rapture is as shockingly heretical as, for example, rejecting belief in the Virgin Birth. In part, this reflects our current age when many cherished doctrines are gleaned from pop culture, best-selling novels, and celebrity preachers. Scholarship is disdained and interest in church history is happily rejected in the comforting myth that the unthinking and uninformed idealized “common man” is the only reliable teacher of scripture. Rapidly growing churches led by men (and a few women) who are far more informed on current models of corporate leadership than ancient systems of theology are not simply tolerated, they are all-but-demanded. The semblances of study and thinking replace its actuality. But, wildly marked-up Bibles, nicely designed presentations, and a full quota of the latest evangelical jargon is a pathetic substitute for genuine scholarship and reflective critical thinking. But, such is the world of popular evangelical culture in the United States.
The reality is that the doctrine of a secret rapture of the saved prior to the Parousia (appearing or Second Coming of Christ) manages to exist with an extraordinary lack of biblical support, unless a handful of scattered phrases and verses are ripped entirely out of context. One telling evidence this is true is no one can be shown to have believed or promoted this supposedly clear and important biblical doctrine prior to the nineteenth century. Even then, its popularity was largely limited to groups of British and American Protestants in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries who aligned themselves with a virtual industry of prophecy meetings, the popular Scofield Reference Bible, and the power of celebrity revivalists like D. L. Moody and Billy Sunday.
This new doctrine, as might be expected, also brought voices of opposition. Those favoring and those opposing the notion of a secret rapture were not, however, divided along established fault-lines like modernist versus fundamentalist or Calvinist versus Arminians. Throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth century, those voicing strong opposition to the doctrine of the Rapture, and its associated eschatological system called “Dispensationalism,” was led by many leading scholars of English-speaking conservative scholarship such as B.B. Warfield, William Hendriksen, R. C. Sproul, J. W. McGarvey, and Anthony Hoekema. Many of the names of those opposing the notion of the so-called secret rapture were also at the forefront of defending biblical inerrancy against the attacks of theological liberals. That is, many of the strongest scholarly voices defending the truth of the Bible were the same voices strongly opposing the doctrine of a secret rapture. So, it cannot be argued that rejecting this doctrine reflects an inadequate understanding of inspiration or a lack of commitment to biblical authority.
I know many evangelicals pay scant attention to church history. In part, this reflects a commitment to maintain the authority of scripture against the competing authorities of traditions, popes, and councils. That is understandable. On the other hand, it contradicts common sense to suppose the entire church greeted the death of the Apostle John with a decision to abandon apostolic truth and set up the Medieval Papacy. It is unconvincing to insist a doctrine is obvious and plainly in scripture that no one seems to have seen or taught before the 1830s. Are we really ready to believe that a few nineteenth century English speaking laypeople, reading the King James Bible, are destined to be the first ones to discover an important doctrine that, according to its advocates, is plainly and obviously taught in the Bible?
At the very least, I would hope you might be willing, in the light of this information, information not disputed even by its strongest advocates, to label the doctrine of the Rapture as at least suspicious. It might seem daring, in light of how often you have heard it referenced in songs, sermons, novels, and movies. But, think about it. There have been many times when widely popular beliefs and doctrines have been weighed in the balance of biblical evidence and common sense and found wanting. A majority vote, even an overwhelming majority, at a particular setting and time, is not a reliable arbiter of truth.