On the Newness of the Rapture Doctrine

Several wise Christians have advocated an argument against the rapture doctrine that goes something like this: Ever since St. Augustine, the church has been generally post-millennial or even amillennial. It is only since the 1830s that the idea of a rapture has been introduced. Therefore, since the idea of the rapture is “new,” it cannot be true. This idea was postulated by a reader of my blog recently when I discussed the parable of the ten virgins. Not one shred of evidence has been brought forth to suggest that any of the church fathers thought that the rapture was imminent, and as such, it is highly unlikely that the doctrine was ever a serious thought of either our Lord or his immediate followers who wrote the scriptures.

I grant that this is a good objection to the doctrine of the rapture. Considering the fact that doctrines such as the Trinity, salvation, etc, were all decided a long time ago, it would be problematic to suddenly come up with a new idea.

In order to present a sort of defense on this issue, I offer the following thoughts:

1. The concept of Sola Scriptura would allow for a new concept to become doctrine regardless of when it came to be. While sola scriptura mostly surrounds the issue of salvation, it can also infer any doctrine we discuss. If we are to assume the tradition alone dictates whether we believe something in the Bible are not, then we have missed the point of sola scriptura. Besides, if a person requires that a doctrine be around for a significant period of time before is acceptable, then he or she must decide what the line of demarcation. Furthermore, should the Lord tarry for another thousand years, would that suddenly make the doctrine of the rapture more relevant? If 200 years is not long enough for doctrine to be acceptable, how about 1200 years? As you can see, establishing a line in the sand regarding church tradition as it relates to the Bible doctrines is a tricky business indeed.

2. If the doctrine of the rapture is completely baseless, I submit that it would never have become popular in the first place. Are we to assume that God is so powerless that he cannot prevent bad doctrines from coming into form? I would only assume that it would be a case of cultic activity that the doctrine of the rapture would've come into being outside of God's will. Doing so would equate the doctrine of the rapture with cultic device. Do we really want to equate believers in the rapture with Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.? I certainly hope not!

As you can see, the relative youth of the doctrine of the rapture is not necessarily enough to force it's rejection. That must be done through Scripture interpretation and common sense alone in accordance with the concept of sola scriptura. I believe that there's evidence in the Bible of a rapture event, and believe that I can prove it as time goes on.


Anonymous said...

You had to go there didn't you? :-)

To your two points here are my thoughts.

Number 1 is well put. Technically, saying the rapture is wrong *merely* because of its novelty is a logical fallacy. It does not prove it wrong, only suspect (very suspect imo). However it *does* prove that belief in the rapture is *not* a "conservative" interpretation of scripture by any reasonable standard.

Number 2 I can't concede specifically the point if baseless "It would never become popular in the first place." For two reasons. First it's not a majority opinion. It *might* be a majority opinion in United States, but I don't even concede that. Second, the popularity of the idea has nothing to do with its veracity. Second, there can be plenty of reasons besides "cultic activity" that could cause some idea to grow. No matter what we say about God's will, we both agree that there is plenty of "bad doctrine" that has come up.

All that said, it is true that the original rapturites were congregationalist low-churchers, who grew up in a revivalist/restorationist spiritual environment, had (at best) a distrust or (at worst) a disdain for church intellectuals. Some of them even made a few false prophecies. They also began in the 19th century in the fertile cultural soil of 'merica.

All of these things they have in common with Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.

I am not saying that belief in the rapture is on par with adherence to the book of Mormon. I am saying that cultural context of the interpreter has plenty of influence on what constitutes "common sense" and than culture helped lead at least two groups of people off into realm of heterodoxy.

The Navy Christian said...

Yes, I had to go there! I'm so tired of hearing people say that, because it supposedly came from the 1800s, then it isn't viable. That's just silly. If it's in the Bible, and can support itself, then good. If not, then not good. I know that you would say that it is "not good" but that's ok. In the end, God is going to do what he has already planned. I think, based on the issues regarding point 1 above, as well as other posts I've written here, that it is viable.

I grant that it is difficult to defend the rapture based on point 2. This was a way to test my ideas. I'm grateful for your assistance. I think you're right about that.

Anonymous said...

My issue wouldn't be with people believing in rapture, but how that affects their actions. If people use the idea of rapture to disregard the current evils of the world then it is a bad thing.

Then there's the issue of claiming when the rapture would occur, not only makes it the person look like a fool when the date passes without anything happening, but it also contradicts Mark 13:32 and Matthew 24:36.

Chris Sanchez said...

In order for one to believe in the doctrine of the Rapture, one must first come to a premillennial view of eschatology. From the point of view of the premillennialist, the millennium is seen as still to come sometime in the future. Further, Premillennialism also teaches that the visions in the book of Revelation must be interpreted sequentially and that this sequence of events demands that the millennial reign of Christ be understood as a real and future event following Christ’s return.

The Postmillennial view believes that Christ will return after the millennium and sees the progress of the gospel as the means producing the millennium. In this view, evil will not be totally eliminated from the world but will be reduced to a minimum as the spiritual and moral influence of Christianity grows. The millennium as mentioned in Revelation is not to be taken literally but rather will be a prolonged period where Christ, though not physically present, will reign over the earth. One key feature of the postmillennial viewpoint is the belief that conditions on earth will gradually improve rather than become worse resulting in a millennial age of peace and righteousness prior to the return of Christ. Postmillennialism is a decidedly optimistic view of the power of the preaching of the gospel.

The Amillennial view shares a number of characteristics with postmillennialism. Both believe that the millennium as mentioned in Revelation is not to be taken literally. Both views also hold that the millennium is the church age. The amillennialist believes that Satan is now bound or greatly reduced and the church is currently in the midst of the millennium. Amillennialists believe that Revelation 20:1-10 is a description of the present church age. Of the views discussed, Amillennialism is the simplest of the three millennial views to grasp because it holds that all of the end time events will happen all at once upon the return of Christ.[3] Amillennialism is characterized by the belief that there will be no earthly reign of Jesus Christ.[4] There is also no belief in rapture.

In my opinion, any discussion of the Rapture should begin with a discussion of millennial views. It is pointless to discuss the Rapture with those who adhere to amillennial or post-millennial views. It is kind of an apples and oranges discussion.

The Navy Christian said...

First, I grant that predictors of the rapture make all Christians look silly. Most mainline adherents to the doctrine understand that we can't know the day or hour of his appearing, and we don't try to figure it out. We simply watch and prepare, as we are told to do.

As to the evils of the world, I agree. Knowing that the rapture is coming should spur me to good works, as long as the gospel is also an option. The argument about post-millenial and amillennial belief is that for those groups, the gospel is secondary to social justice. I don't mean to level too heavy a charge, but I think it warrants discussion. Too many Christians who disregard the rapture focus on the social needs at the expense of the Gospel. Neither are sound. We must be balanced in our approach to unbelievers and within our own spiritual communities.

In the end, though, your arguments had nothing to do with the subject of this post. Not sure if you're a troll or not, but I've enjoyed rebutting you. Please visit again.

The Navy Christian said...

Good thoughts, Chris. I've never focused on that for this blog as I write assuming that most people who read my blog either accept the rapture as truth or who at least understand that. I might tackle that in the future though. Thanks!

boilt frog said...

Chris is correct that millennial views need to be discussed first. The rapture should be defined as to its sequence in eschatology. I assumed that you were holding pre-trib. view.

Irv said...

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