I have always had a gift for discernment. Years ago, I signed up for a Bible study. At the time I didn’t know much about Jesus – I didn’t even know He was Jewish, and I desperately wanted to know why people kept claiming that He was. Each week I received a new lesson in the mail (this was before the internet!). The first few lessons were good, and I was learning a lot (including that Jesus was, in fact, Jewish!). Then I got a lesson that left me feeling troubled. I can’t remember exactly what that lesson was about, but I do remember feeling unsettled – very unsettled! The next week, the lesson was even more troubling. I threw it away and asked the group to stop sending the lessons. I later discovered the study was from a religious group that does not believe all the fundamentals of the Christian faith. At that time in my life, I simply followed the leading of the Holy Spirit. It served me well.
The pre-millennial rapture was something I believed in for many years. Well, I’m not sure that I believed it because I didn’t really understand it. Mostly I wanted to believe I would not be here to experience this Great Tribulation I read about. I never had a real peace about all of this. Whenever it came up, that unsettled feeling came upon me. But I didn’t study Scripture, so I ignored my discomfort. After all, knowledgeable Christian teachers believed it so it must be true. Before I could really deal with it, I made some life choices that distanced me from Jesus, and His return was no longer something I thought much about.
In December 2009, I finally surrendered my life to Jesus and started studying God’s Word regularly but was far from mature in my understanding. When I read about Jesus’s return and eternity, it was straightforward. One day Jesus will return, there will be judgment and those who accepted Jesus’ gift of salvation will spend eternity here on earth that has been restored to its intended glory and beauty. That’s what Jesus taught His disciples and what they passed on to us.
The rapture theory began occupying my mind more and more. I began hearing it preached by the evangelists I listened to on the radio and I became aware of books and movies devoted to the topic. Most of the Christians I knew supported it. Each time I heard something or listened to conversations about it, I had that unsettled feeling. I could only ignore the Holy Spirit’s promptings for so long. God laid on my heart to take the time to study the claims being made.
The information I found was overwhelming and confusing, so I just did a quick, surface study. My simple conclusion was that the theory consists of a mishmash of verses taken out of context. What I was being told the verses meant contradicted what Paul taught the early churches through his letters. But this half-hearted research wasn’t enough. It left me with more questions. After all, people a lot smarter than me believed it. I learned there are names for “people like me.” I learned there is a great deal of anger towards those of us who don’t believe it. We are even accused of not truly being saved. These reactions convinced me that I must be wrong. Surely, I had missed something.
So, I began an intense, comprehensive research. I compared arguments for with arguments against. I read commentaries on the verses used to support it. I read books and articles written by the top supporters of Pre-millennialism rapture, from years ago to the most recent arguments. I mapped out the theory and the things it requires me to believe. The more I learned the more unsettled I became. I concluded that it is not something I can support.
There are consequences of this theory that have caused tremendous pain to large groups of people. Understanding this is discouraging and leaves me with a lot of questions for Christian leaders, most of whom are evangelicals. But I know I must fight the impulse to use this as an excuse to separate myself from Christ’s church. I must still be in fellowship with Christians who believe it, most hold a very strong belief in it. Many go so far as to view those of us who do not believe as traitors to the faith.
After struggling to find a comfortable, sound church home, I found one. I didn’t feel like I was walking into a concert hall when I entered. Old hymns were often sung, there was still an altar call at the end of the sermon, and the sermons always included the good news of the Gospel at some point. I wasn’t anxious or self-conscious about attending services by myself. My husband isn’t a believer and, while my daughter and her family don’t miss very often, they do travel. Very soon, a Sunday came that I had to go alone.
I sat down, feeling welcome and comfortable. I greeted a few people sitting around me and opened the bulletin to see what the message would be that day. The rapture. Oh, my. The rapture. The preacher had alluded to his belief in it before, and I was OK with that. I talked myself into staying to hear the entire sermon to see exactly what he would say, hoping that he would mention how it is one of several theories about Jesus’s return, but he never mentioned that. I tried to stay in my seat. I tried to put it in a right perspective. But eventually I had to leave.
I met with the pastor a couple of weeks after and asked him why he believes this theory to be biblically sound. I wanted him to give me answers that convinced me he had spent time in an objective study of the theory. His answers sounded practiced and “robotic.” They left me with more questions. He never asked me why I had reached my conclusion. I didn’t come to the meeting with the goal of changing his mind, but I had hoped he would listen to a few of my thoughts and help me understand how trained preachers explain away the doctrinal contradictions the theory produces. How we as Christians can accept what is being done around the world as a result of this theory. He seemed unsettled as I tried to talk about some objections I had. He assured me there were many in the church that don’t believe and that we are still welcome. He then moved on to his next topic. I lost my confidence in him that day.
We are supposed to be able to trust that our pastors are speaking Truth from the pulpit. We must be able to trust they interpret scripture wisely and correctly. The pre-millennial rapture theory is just that – a theory. It is divisive and not a foundational truth. There are many Christians who do not believe in it. Discuss it in small groups where questions can be asked and objections raised. But don’t preach it. It undermines a preacher’s credibility with those of us who do not believe it.
In my conversation with this preacher, I hoped he would ask me what my greatest objections were. He didn’t ask. And as I sat and listened to his monologue and thought about it in the following days, I realized I no longer felt I could fully trust his interpretation of scripture. What other scripture that I don’t fully understand is he twisting or taking out of context? The only good that came out of that experience is that I research any sermon or teaching that doesn’t ring true. Unfortunately, most Christians don’t take the time to do this.
Those of us who do not believe this theory can explain why we do not believe it: the theory is worldly-focused; it does not acknowledge the Old Testament nation of Israel as a type pointing to the New Testament Church; it ignores the progressiveness of God’s revelation; instead of Jesus, the nation of Israel becomes the theme of the Old Testament; it renders many New Testament authors’ teachings meaningless, including Paul’s; it requires that God has 2 plans of salvation because He has created 2 separate groups of people. One of the most frustrating issues is the claim that believers must always apply a literal meaning to the Bible, when we clearly cannot (for example, we cannot literally interpret Jesus as bread or water). The theory also collapses when reading the book of Revelation where Old Testament symbolism is used. In order for the pre-millennial rapture theory to work, we must switch to a literal meaning of words in the verses used to support the theory (for example, the number 1,000). Symbolic interpretation is fine elsewhere. There are other reasons. Just ask us. We welcome the chance to discuss it.
Preachers seem hesitant to preach on the power of the Holy Spirit yet think nothing of preaching the pre-millennial rapture of the church. I believe it is having more of a negative impact on the church than many leaders understand. I have no problem with engaging members in a format where an open discussion can happen, but, please, don’t preach it from the pulpit!