Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Rapture Theology, Our Greatest Heresy

Through the years, the church, of which I am a part, has faced many heresies, not the least of which was its support of racism.  The old Southern Presbyterian Church, called the Confederate Church, was born on December 6, 1861 in Augusta, Georgia.  The biggest issue facing the nation at that time was slavery. What should be the role of the church?  James H. Thornwell, one of the forefathers of my denomination, sidestepped the whole problem when he addressed the first meeting of the General Assembly by declaring slavery beyond the authority of the church:

In the first place, we would have it distinctly understood that, in our ecclesiastical capacity, we are neither the friends nor the foes of slavery; that is to say, we have no commission either to propagate or abolish it. The policy of its existence is a question which exclusively belongs to the state. We have no right, as a church to enjoin it as a duty, or condemn it as a sin…The social, civil, political problems connected with this subject transcend our sphere, as God has not entrusted to his Church the organization of society, nor the allotment of individuals to their various stations.[1]

Refusal to address that heresy is an embarrassment which continues until this day.

Also, I think of the heresy of nationalism.  I have never been comfortable with putting the American flag in the sanctuary because it seems almost inevitable for the average member of my congregations to identify the mission of the church with the success of America.  They quote, ”My country, right or wrong.” However, they seldom quote the rest of it,  “My country, right or wrong. When right, to be kept right, when wrong, to be made right”  The failure of the church to address the unchristian actions of the United States has allowed such ungodly policies as condoning torture, tolerating poverty and polluting the atmosphere.  Not only will the church’s silence on these matters lead to the downfall of America, it will eventually corrode the soul of the church.

Heresies abound, and the church has survived them. However, it is painful to see the church so anemic when facing the heresy of Zionism. I am not thinking of the five million Jewish Zionists.  That is a Jewish heresy, but that is a problem to be addressed by the Jewish community.   I have in mind the fifty million so called Christian Zionists, the CZs, who are far more Z then C.,  those who support the state of Israel, right or wrong. More specifically, they promote the idea that God gave  Palestine to the Jews, therefore anything Israel does to claim that divine donation is of God, including the theft of land and water, robbing Palestinians of their livelihood and dignity, and the indiscriminate bombing of unarmed civilian men, women and children.  I fear that after the Palestinians have been wiped out, all the church will have left is a guilty conscience and our children asking us, “How could you have let it happen?” It will not do to simply say, “We did not know.”

Stephen Sizar, author of several books on Christian Zionism says:

It is my conclusion after more than 10 years of postgraduate research that Christian Zionism is the largest, most controversial and most destructive lobby within Christianity. It bears primary responsibility for perpetuating tensions in the Middle East, justifying Israel’s apartheid colonialist agenda and for undermining the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.[2]

And it is all based on the heresy of Rapture Theology. So:


I start by confessing that I am neither a Biblical scholar nor a church historian. But, one does not have to be an expert to recognize the danger of the Rapture Theology promoted by the Christian Zionists.

Most Christians had never heard of Rapture Theology until very recently. Suddenly, it seems that the mega-television churches have become afflicted with a terminal case of “end of the world” madness.  

According to the CZs,  (Christian Zionists)  seven weeks before the second coming and final judgment, true Christians will be “raptured up to heaven.”  From there, they will watch those left behind suffer “tribulation” and war as the tribulation army will fight against the anti-Christ, usually defined as Obama, Khrushchev, the  United Nations or more recently, Islam.   After seven years, Jesus will return to Jerusalem to fight the great battle of Armageddon. Of course,  Jesus wins and rules for a thousand years from his throne in Jerusalem, at which time, every person gets judged. Most of “them” will go to hell.


In 1882, a man named John Nelson Darby, after finding little success in Britain, came to America during the time of the “Great Awakening.” He preached that God has two people, Jews and Christians, but only one, the Jews, has an everlasting covenant with God.  That in itself would have been harmless enough, but Darby goes on to proclaim that Jesus will return twice, first to rapture his true believers to safety and then to war with the anti-Christ. After his victory, Jesus will rule from Jerusalem for a thousand years before the final judgment.   I hasten to point out that no where do our Christian creeds or the  Bible describe Jesus as returning twice. So, where did Darby get his information?

He claims that it came from I Thessalonians 4:16-17.

 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.

The believers of Thessalonica were concerned about their loved ones who were already dead and what will happen to them when Jesus returns?  Paul says, Not to worry. Then like declaring a doxology, he explains, They will rise first, to meet Jesus in the air, then it will be our turn.

What the CZs fail to point out is that there is no suggestion in this, or any other Biblical text, that Jesus gathers a crowd unto himself and reverses direction. It was the custom in those days to go out and meet a king, a dignitary, or bridegroom (Mt. 25:6, Acts 28)  and escort him into the city. But, they never changed directions and go off with their king.  

Most significantly, Darby’s goal is for Christians to escape the world and its problems, not to redeem it.  To him, the role of Jesus is to judge sinners, not forgive them.  For 1800  years, no Christian theologian ever saw this “coming in two stages.”

In 1909, Cyrus Scofield came out with his Bible, complete with footnotes supporting  Rapture Theology. Scofield saw the Bible as composed of seven water tight eras which he called dispensations.  We are now living in the sixth department. In fact, the church, according to Scofield’s footnotes, is but a parenthesis, no longer relevant when the rapture occurs.

Then, in 1970, Hal Lindsey shocked the Christian world with his book, The  Late Great Planet Earth. Lindsey was absolutely certain that the rapture was just around the corner and that Israel was its focus. How did he know?  He took three verses out of Matthew.

From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branches becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (24: 32-35).

Wow!, said Lindsey. The fig tree must mean Israel, and by tender branches, Matthew must be referring to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. Thus, Israel is the fulfillment of Biblical prophesy. If a generation can be thought of as 40 years, that means that the rapture, with Jesus coming to Jerusalem, will take place in 1988.  He sold millions of copies.   When 1988 passed without the rapture, he simply revised his timetable and sold more books identifying Russia as the anti-Christ.  Today, he says the anti-Christ is an Arab and that the rapture is "coming soon".

More recently, in the 1990s, the Left Behind, series by Tim LaHaye, hit the market
selling 64 million copies.  You can still go into any book store and ask for Left Behind
The sales person will say, “Of course, we have them. The fiction department is right over
there.”  Not only is LaHaye’s book fiction, his theology is also fiction.  The word rapture
is found no where in the Old or New Testaments.  Look to the signs, he says; wars,
tsunami, Katrina, militarism and Israel’s expansionism. It’s all God’s will. It all leads to
the Rapture. 

John Hagee, is quoted as saying, “God’s plan is to destroy the earth and there is nothing we can do to stop it”
Hal Lindsey, “I grieve over the lost world. Our hope is in the Rapture”“
Jack Van Impe, “Armageddon cannot be avoided.”

Rapture Theology does not make the world better. It seeks to save a chosen few out of the world.  Look at all of the above and you will find little concern for the poor. Some even oppose welfare ministries as being contrary to God’s plan. 

Matthew tells of two men working in the field, suddenly one is taken and the other is left behind.  But what the CZs fail to acknowledge is that the one taken was taken in judgment. (14:39-42)  Being “left behind” is actually the desired fate. Being “taken” would mean being carried off by dark forces like a death squad.

There is no Biblical teaching that the church will be raptured off the earth before Jesus comes to Israel.  Tim LaHaye,  points out that the last time the church is mentioned in the Book of Revelation is in chapter 4, verse 1.  Therefore he concludes that the church must have been raptured.  However, “saints” are very much present throughout the entire book.

In fact, the basic message of the Book of Revelation is that God hears the cry of the “saints,” and will come to them. 

The entire Bible is about justice, not about stealing land and water from Palestinians.  The Book of Revelation pulls back the curtain on Roman power and attacks Roman oppression. It was written for the little people and it warns us of the consequences of failing to feed the hungry and defend the oppressed. The prophets condemned injustice and greed. They advocated for the poor and widows. They did not proclaim a play by play of the future judgments of God.

Many point out that the Book of Revelation is about a Lamb who conquered by shedding his own blood, not shedding the blood of others, it’s about terror defeated, not terror inflicted.

While dispensationalists make the claim that raptured saints are part of the “army of heaven” that returns to earth with Jesus to fight in Revelation 19:14 in what they call the “Glorious Appearing,” this claim is not substantiated in Revelation… and amazingly, no actual attack or war is ever pictured.[3] 

Daniel 9:25-27 says that when the anointed one comes, “sacrifices shall cease.”  Again, the CZs reason that for sacrifices to cease, they must, in fact, be taking place. They declare that everyone knows that the only proper place for a Jew to make a sacrifice is in the temple in Jerusalem.  But, the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70CE.  Thus, for Jesus to come again, the temple must be rebuilt and it must be rebuilt on the temple mount on the exact spot where Muslims now worship in the Al-Aqsa Mosque.  So, we hear conversations about destroying the Dome of the Rock and building another temple so Jesus will have a landing place in Jerusalem. Some CZ churches actually send money to a group called the “Temple Mount Faithful,” who are committed to doing exactly that, to blowing up the Islamic Mosque in Jerusalem, even at the risk of a Third World War.  We also hear our politicians declaring that Jerusalem must never be divided and let’s move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.  It’s OK to keep three million Palestinians under brutal occupation, create the largest refugee population on earth, steal land and water, kill and drive out native Palestinians, it’s all a matter of prophesy. (or campaign contributions).       

Christian Zionists make numerous tours to the “Holy land” every year and never talk to a Palestinian, not even to a fellow Christian. 


Why? Because this heresy is driving our U.S. foreign policy

Yet, Fifty million CZs claim to be speaking for real Christianity as they promote Rapture Theology.  The question is, can the church survive 50 million heretics?  Probably, but the Palestinians certainly will not. And what will we be worth, if we do and they don’t?

                                                                                                Thomas L. Are
                                                                                                October 24, 2013

[1] Maurice W. Armstrong, Lefferts A. Loetcher, and Charles A. Anderson, ed., The Presbyterian Enterprise: Source of American Presbyterian History, (Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1961) p. 215
[2] Stephen Sizar, Christan Zionism: The New Heresy that Undermines Middle East peace.  (See
[3] See Barbara Rossing, The Rapture Exposed. (Basic Books, 2004) p.  p. 121.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Some Things to Think About

Benjamin Netanyahu seems panic-stricken over Iran. 

Sunday’s newspapers report:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved quickly to block even tentative steps by Iran and the United States to ease tensions and move toward  negotiations to end the nuclear crisis, signaling what is likely to be a sustained campaign by Israel to head off any deal…”The test is not in what Rouhani says, but in the deeds of the Iranian regime.”[1]

Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and former Netanyahu aide, adds “Israel is clearly focused on Iranian action.” 

How in heavens name can he make such a statement and keep a straight face?  Without question, Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons.  However, it seems that our political position is that if Israel drops bombs on unarmed civilians, explodes chemical weapons on children and stockpiles an arsenal of nuclear weapons, it is a legitimate act of security. If Iran even thinks of doing such things, it’s a crime that must be punished.

While Iran has invaded no one, or even threatened to invade anyone, Israel has attacked Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.  Israel has pulled off numerous “assassinations” of Iran’s leading scientists, while drawing red lines on maps to threaten the use of WMDs.  So, who is the neighborhood bully?

Netanyahu cries “security,” but it may not be for the reasons he wants us to believe. It could be that security is the last thing he wants.  Why? For at least two reasons:

First – The belief that Israel is being threatened keeps Israel’s economy thriving. When my friend Chris Weaver said that 40% of Israel’s economy depends upon military and security operations, he was challenged. Ilise Cohen, scholar and activist member of Jewish Voice for Peace, said that his figure was actually too conservative.  Regardless, without an enemy out there to fear, Israel’s economy would collapse, even with huge parts of it financed by the U.S. taxpayer.

Second – Keeping Iran on the hot plate, which does nothing for the US and our relations with the rest of the world, serves another important strategy of Netanyahu. It keeps our focus off of his continued building of Jewish only settlements in Palestine, the construction of his apartheid wall, the theft of Palestinian water, the humiliation of check points and road blocks, and the destruction of olive trees, none of which has anything to do with security.

In the midst of Netanyahu’s cry of, “they are out to get us” several questions about Iran’s nuclear program begin to surface.   

In spite of all the sympathy Netanyahu gets from quoting Ahmadinejad as saying Iran wants to “wipe Israel off the map,” The Washington Post, The New York Times and other news organizations including, contradict his translation of Ahmadinejad’s speech in October, 2005. What Ahmadinejad actually said in Farsi was, “this regime occupying Jerusalem must disappear from the page of time.”[2]  He proclaimed a moral condemnation,  not a physical threat.  He anticipated the fall of Israel’s apartheid political structure, not the annihilation of the Jewish people.

Why should anyone give Iran the benefit of the doubt?  Because in 1982, when Iraq attacked Iran which began an eight year war, Iraq dropped poison gas on the cities of Iran. Yet, in spite of the fact that more than 10,000 Iranians were killed by the use of mustard and nerve gas, from which 90,000 still suffer to this day, and in spite of the fact the Iran had the capacity to produce such weapons, Iran refused to retaliate in like manner.  Their ultra conservative interpretation of the Koran which still governs the Islamic Republic of Iran views Weapons of Mass Destruction as a violation of Islamic morality.  For what its worth, there has never been an Iranian suicide bomber.  If Iran’s religion prohibits the use of chemical weapons because it is immoral to kill innocent people, surely, and here is the point, Iran’s fundamental commitment to Islam would not allow the use of a nuclear bomb. To do so is “forbidden by God.”

Are not all the reasons we are given as to why we must invade Iran; WMDs, violations of human rights and sponsoring terrorism not the same reason we heard ten years ago as reasons why we must invade Iraq?  Israel has been declaring for the last 20 years that Iran is only a year or two from acquiring nuclear weapons and that it is an unbelievably horrible place to live.

Then why, in spite of diaspora groups offering $30,000 per family on top of Israel’s governmental incentives, Iran’s Jewish community, the largest in the Middle East outside Israel, refuse to leave Iran to emigrate to Israel?

Today, Jews in the Islamic Republic vote like other Iranians for president and for deputies to represent their cities and towns in parliament. But the Jewish community is also constitutionally guaranteed a seat of it own in the Majles, (Parliament), even though it is much smaller than a normal parliamentary district. There are at least two dozen functioning synagogues (some with Hebrew schools), 21 kosher restaurants, and a Jewish newspaper in Tehran, there is a 20,000 volume Jewish library, a Jewish hospital and Jews serve in the Iranian army.[3]

The question is, why don’t we try doing things to remove from Iran the motives for wanting war, such as:  lifting sanctions, curtailing Israel’s assassination of Iran’s young scientists and why don’t we muzzle Netanyahu?

Of course, our economy, especially for the wealthiest of the wealthy,  also depends upon having enemies out there. But have we not created enough enemies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Libya, Egypt and Palestine to satisfy the hunger of our own military industrial complex?  Do we really want a war with Iran too?

Just something to think about.

                                                                                    Thomas L Are
                                                                                    October 11, 2013

[1] The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sept. 21, 2013. p. A-3
[2] See Going to Tehran, By Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett,   (Metropolittan Books, 2013.) p.19. Washington Post, October 5, 2011;  The New York Times, June 11, 2006;, May 26, 2007
[3] Going to Tehran, By Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett,   (Metropolittan Books, 2013.) p 93..