30 Dec

Grow Love

Do you ever find yourself faking kindness or love to somebody?  Maybe it’s that person that sort of gets under your skin.  Maybe it’s that person who hurt you in the past.  Maybe it’s that person that you just don’t like or have a bad feeling about.  What if that person is in your church?  Should you just continue to fake it?

Well, Scripture clearly says that you should stop faking it.  Listen to Romans 12:9, Let love be without hypocrisy. Without a doubt, your “faking it” is hypocrisy, and hypocrisy is terribly woeful in God’s eyes.  Just read Matthew 23:13-33 if you don’t believe me.  Hypocrisy happens when your actions don’t match your words or your true feelings.  In this instance, you are acting kindly and lovingly when you’d really rather not because you really don’t love them.  That’s hypocrisy, and God says to stop it!

But why are you faking kindness or love to that person in the first place?  Obviously, the fact that you are faking it means that you know you should love them and that others expect you to as well.  You know that loving others is the 2nd great commandment (Matthew 22:39).  Your neighbor, as you well know, is humanity in general evidenced by the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).  You’re to love all people.

More importantly though, God calls us to an even greater love for those within the church.  God tells us through Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:9, Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.  God’s indwelling Holy Spirit exclaims in our hearts, “Love your brothers and sisters in the church!”  Galatians 6:10 demonstrates that we should do good and be loving to all people, but our priority is with those in our church family.  You know all of these expectations.  The Holy Spirit and your teachers have taught you these things.  That’s why you are outwardly conforming to God’s expectations while inwardly rebelling.  You are carrying on with your hypocrisy by faking your love to them when you don’t really love them, and God says to stop being a hypocrite.

The question is how you should go about stopping the hypocrisy.  You have two options:

  1. Stop acting like you love them because you don’t anyway so that your actions will match your attitude.
  2. Start actually loving them because you should so that your actions will match your attitude.

Which option operates under the authority of the flesh, and which one operates under the authority of the Spirit?  In other words, which one is the biblical option?  In all honesty, option 1 is very attractive because that would be easiest and most satisfying to our flesh.  We would love to just blow them off or tell them off and be done with them, but you know that’s not right.  Haven’t you found that the biblical thing to do is often the harder of the two and causes our flesh to shriek in opposition?  Obviously, option 2 is the biblical one.  In order to erase our hypocrisy, we must bring our attitude in line with our actions.  Our acts of love must be done out of genuine feelings of love.  Then and only then will our love be without hypocrisy.

You might be saying, “I know I should show love and feel love for that person, but it’s so hard.  How do I do it?”  Let me give you five ways to increase your feelings of brotherly love for that hard to love person.

1)  Get the right perspective.
Your hypocrisy is a sin against God.  God said to show love and to feel love for that person.  You must get your relationship with God right before you can ever get your heart right with that person.  The 1st and 2nd greatest commandments are connected (Matthew 22:36-40).  You cannot rightly love God if you do not rightly love man.  Get the right perspective on your lack of love as an offense to God, and come to God repenting of your sin.

2)  Pray for yourself.
What you are actually engaged in is spiritual warfare.  Therefore, you must fight spiritual conditions with spiritual weapons.  Beg God to fill you with the Holy Spirit so that love may grow in your heart for the person you are struggling to feel love for.  Ask God to keep empowering you to win against your flesh.  Seek God’s leadership in how to go forward with this person.  Commit yourself to follow Jesus in all things, especially in loving this person.

3)  Pray for them.
Undoubtedly, certain people are harder to love.  They have certain temperaments, besetting sins, mannerisms, or opinions that can be difficult to handle and may be unChristlike.  However, you cannot change them.  Only God can.  Therefore, you must pray to God that He would change them, conforming them to Jesus Christ.  Again, this battle is of a spiritual nature.  Therefore, wage war with spiritual weapons.  Furthermore, it’s just a spiritual law:  your love grows for those for whom you pray.  Get on your knees, and intercede for them so that you’re love may grow!

4)  If they have hurt you in the past, deal with that past.
It really doesn’t matter if you were the perpetrator or the victim.  Either way, you have an obligiation to the other person to make things right between you.  Yes, whatever happened is in the past, but undoubtedly the past is still causing problems in the present.  Therefore, it must be dealt with.  Yes, this is incredibly hard, especially for those like me who tend to want to sweep things under the rug to keep down conflict, but it must be dealt with.

Listen to what Jesus teaches us in the book of Matthew.  First, listen in Matthew 5:23-24, Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. This text is speaking to the perpetrator.  If you know that you have offended or hurt somebody, you are obligated by God to go and reconcile with that person.  Second, listen in Matthew 18:15, If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. This text is speaking to the victim.  If somebody has offended or hurt you, you are obligated by God to go and reconcile with that person.  The past must be dealt with so that you can rightly love the other person and stop just acting like you do.

5)  Increase your kind and loving acts toward them.
Probably, if you are having trouble actually loving somebody, you are doing the bare minimum to get by in your actions.  Therefore, if you desire to grow your feelings of love for that person, intentionally increase the amount of acts of kindness and love directed toward them.  In doing so, your heart will hopefully follow your actions.

May Paul’s command come to pass in your life:  Let love be without hypocrisy.  May your hypocrisy cease as your feelings of love are brought into line with your acts of love.  May you show love and actually feel love for people, especially that brother or sister in Christ!

21 Dec

One Messed Up Family!

Well, the Christmas season is finally fully upon us.  Indeed, it is the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also one of the most stressful times of the year.  Can I get a witness?!  Do you ever walk away from a holiday family get-together saying, “Man, I’ve got one messed up family,”?  I mean, everybody has that Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation in their family tree that you sort of want to just choke a little bit.  Ya know what I’m saying?  In fact, you might even be the Cousin Eddie!  Sometimes it all can be just a bit much.

Take heart, my friend, because you are in good company.  One of the things that gives me encouragement when I look at my own family is the reality of Jesus’ family.  Have you ever thought about the sort of people there are in Jesus’ family tree?  Although He himself was perfect and sinless, His earthly lineage was far from it.  He had one messed up family!

We find the genealogy of Jesus in the opening book of the New Testament, Matthew 1:1-17, which breaks the family tree into three stages:

  • v1-6a, The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. Jesse was the father of David the king.
  • v6b-11, David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. Solomon was the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asa. Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah. Uzziah was the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amon, and Amon the father of Josiah. Josiah became the father of Jeconiah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
  • v12-17, After the deportation to Babylon: Jeconiah became the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel. Zerubbabel was the father of Abihud, Abihud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor. Azor was the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud. Eliud was the father of Eleazar, Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob. Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about the last third of Jesus’ family tree, but we know a lot about the first two-thirds.  Many of them are heroes of the faith, but even these heroes of the faith were serious sinners:

  • Abraham was a liar and a polygamist (Genesis 20:1-3; Genesis 16:1-4).
  • Isaac was a liar also and showed favoritism in his children (Genesis 26:6-9; Genesis 25:28).
  • Jacob was an extortionist and a swindler (Genesis 25:29-34; Genesis 27:1-27).
  • Tamar, who is the mother of Perez, was a fornicator and a deceiver (Genesis 38:6-26).
  • Rahab, the mother of Boaz, was a pagan prostitute (Joshua 2:1).
  • Ruth once worshipped false gods (Ruth 1:4).
  • David was a polygamist, adulterer, murderer, and poor father (1 Samuel 25:39-44; 1 Chronicles 14:3; 2 Samuel 11:1-3; 2 Samuel 11:14-17; 2 Samuel 13:1-39).
  • Solomon was a polygamist and was drawn away from God by his many pagan wives (1 Kings 11:4).
  • Rehoboam foolishly split the kingdom of Israel and led Judah to sin (1 Kings 12:1-24; 1 Kings 14:21-31).
  • Abijah walked in the sins of his father and was not devoted to God (1 Kings 15:1-3).
  • Uzziah disobeyed the worship regulations of God and was struck with leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:16-21).
  • Ahaz was very wicked, even leading Israel to sacrifice children (2 Chronicles 28:1-4).

Just a quick glance at the ancestry of Jesus makes Romans 3:23 that much more gripping!  The shear universality of all sinning and falling short of the glory of God is astounding, but even more shocking is the nature in which these in Jesus’ family sinned.  Many of them are very grievous sins.  Humanity is sinful and depraved, indeed.  Jesus’ family sorely needed a savior.

As I reflect on this family history, it causes me to wonder what would have been recorded of me if I had been born in the lineage of Jesus.  I’ve got all of these terribly shameful things flashing through my mind, and it’s painfully clear to me that I would be terribly embarrassed if an author had written them down.  But even more than embarrassment flooding my mind is the stark reality that I sorely need a savior.  I know that I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and that I cannot be good enough to enter into Heaven.  I’m one messed up dude!

But in light of all of this, praise God that the Father sent His only-begotten Son to take on flesh to live the life of sinless perfection that we cannot live and to die the excruciating wrathful death that we deserve!  Praise God for a Holy Substitue!

This Christmas season may we celebrate the fact that Jesus came on a mission to save sinners like those in His own family and like me!  No matter what you have done, you are not out of the reach of God’s mercy and grace found in Christ Jesus if you will turn from your sin and trust in Jesus.  May the truth of Romans 5:8 be our joy, But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!  May we receive and rejoice in the grace that is provided to all who will believe on Jesus Christ!  May we hunger for the day when our one messed up family is one Christ-like family!  It’s coming.  That’s why Christ was born.

Merry Christmas!

13 Dec

When Will the Rapture Happen?

One of the most fascinating doctrines of the Bible is the doctrine of end times, properly called eschatology.  If you were to ask the average person, particularly in the Southern Baptist Convention, what’s going to happen in the end, they would certainly affirm that Jesus Christ is coming back, but they’d also likely say that Jesus’ return will be in two stages.  They would say that first, Jesus is going to return partially to earth to “rapture” the Church.  Second will be a period of intense tribulation on the earth for seven years, and then Jesus will fully return to the earth at the end of those seven years.  This viewpoint is properly called the pretribulational rapture view and is by far the majority view in American Evangelicalism.

While I certainly cannot wonder at its popularity, I do wonder if this doctrine is fully biblical.  I’ll explore this question in this article.

A Call for Grace
Before I begin, I must say that we should come at the doctrines of the end times with great charity for one another.  We must see that the primary doctrine that is clearly taught in the Scripture is that Jesus Christ is coming back and that God is going restore the universe to perfection.  Everybody should affirm this truth without leeway.

But when it comes to the timing and nature of His return, there is leeway in the scope Christian orthodoxy.  Will the rapture happen before, in the middle of, or after the Tribulation?  Will Christ return before or after the millennium?  Is the millennial reign of Christ physical or spiritual or both?  The answers to these questions have been debated for years by Christians and will continue to be debated.  Therefore, while I can be dogmatic about my stance, I must be dogmatic with grace because people who equally love God and love the Bible and are thorough-going Christians disagree.

The doctrine of the rapture is not a primary doctrine that defines Christianity and sets it apart from other religions.  It’s not even a secondary doctrine that should divide churches and denominations.  The doctrine of the rapture is a tertiary, or a third order, doctrine that shouldn’t divide anybody.  Christians in the same church should be able to lovingly agree to disagree.

I’m not saying it’s not important.  I’m just saying it shouldn’t be divisive.  However, if you agree to disagree, you’re disagreement had better be founded on the rock solid teaching of God’s Word and not on notions and teachings picked up from the popular Christian media.  So, the question remains:  is the doctrine of a pretribulational rapture fully biblical?  We’ll get at this question by answering four other questions

What is the rapture?
If you turn to your Bible concordance and look for the word rapture, you won’t find it.  The word rapture is not a Bible word, but that’s okay because the idea is biblical.  The word trinity is not in the Bible either, but again, the idea is biblical.

We get our word rapture from the Latin translation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17, Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up [rapturō in the Latin] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. The words caught up (rapturō) translate from the Greek word harpadzō, which means “to snatch up, to seize suddenly, or to transport to another place.”  So, a basic definition of the rapture is “the moment when those who believe on Jesus Christ are snatched up to meet Jesus in the air.”

There are three basic views as to when this event is going to take place, and each view is thought of in connection to the Tribulation, which is the time on the earth when the Anti-Christ will wreak havoc.  The three basic views are as follows:

  1. Pretribulational Rapture:  followers of Jesus Christ will be raptured just before the beginning of the Tribulation so that God can deal with the nation of Israel; they remain in Heaven with Jesus for 7 years and enjoy the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and return with Jesus at the 2nd coming
  2. Midtribulational Rapture:  followers of Jesus Christ will be raptured just before the Tribulation gets really bad so that God can deal with the nation of Israel; they will remain in Heaven with Jesus for approximately 3.5 years and enjoy the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and return with Jesus at the 2nd coming
  3. Postribulational Rapture:  followers of Jesus Christ will be raptured at the end of the Tribulation as Jesus is returning to earth so that Jesus can set up His Kingdom and enjoy the Marriage Supper of the Lamb

Again, of these three views, the most popularly held view, at least here in America for the last 100 years, particularly in the Southern Baptist Convention, is the pretribulational rapture view.  It has really become the default position, but this reality has only been the case for the last 100 years.  Another popular doctrine has arisen that brought the pretrib understanding of the rapture to the forefront.

What is the doctrine behind the doctrine of the pretrib rapture?
All Bible doctrine is like a spider web in that the individual doctrines are linked together to form a complete understanding of the Bible.  We believe there is no error in the Bible, that the Bible doesn’t contradict itself.  Therefore, the doctrines of the Bible fit together and are interlinked.

So, what is the doctrine behind the doctrine of the pretrib rapture?  It’s the doctrine of Dispensationalism.  The primary teaching of Dispensationalism is that God has two peoples and has different programs for these two peoples.  One of God’s peoples is named Israel, and the other is named the Church.  Israel is God’s earthly people, and the church is God’s heavenly people.  The Church is the bride of Christ, and Israel is not.  So, Dispensationalism maintains that there is a fundamental distinction between God’s plans for national Israel and for the New Testament Church.

An important part of this understanding is that while God has two peoples, He chooses to deal with them only one at a time.  They see it this way:

  • God dealt with the nation of Israel until they rejected the Messiah
  • God then turned His intentions toward the Church program and put the program with national Israel on pause
  • God will someday finish the Church program by rapturing out the Church and begin again His program with Israel

This is where the idea of a pretrib rapture was brought into being.  It’s a dispensational teaching.  The church must be taken out of the way so that God can continue His plan with Israel.  Therefore, Jesus basically has to come twice.  Do you see the connection?  How many peoples does God have according to Dispensationalism?  Two peoples.  From a pretrib view, how many times does Christ come near the end of time?  Twice.  He comes part way at the rapture and then all the way at the judgment.  Dispensationalists see two returns because God has two peoples.

For those of you who have done the Beth Moore study on the book Daniel, let me quote her from page 151 of the student book, “Dispensational premillennialism is the view we are following in our Bible study.  Dispensationalists understand Israel to be a people distinct from the Church.”  Let me quote her again from page 169, “A variety of premillennialism has gained increasing popularity since the 19th century.  It is called pretribulational premillennialism or dispensationalism.  Note that I will use these terms interchangeably.”

She makes two important statements here.  First, she states that the pretrib rapture doctrine is a dispensational doctrine.  I’ve labored fairly hard over the past year to try to convince you that the Scripture does not teach that God has two peoples, but rather only one.  For help in this particular area, I refer to my blog The Israel of God.  So, I’m only going to say this about the subject:  God’s people from the garden of Eden to Jesus’ 2nd coming is made up all Jews and Gentiles who put their hope in the Messiah Christ.  The church is part of true Israel.  Those who came before the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus looked forward in faith to His day, and those like us who have come after the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus look backward in faith to His day.  Jesus Christ and the cross is the centerpiece of all human history and always has been the only way to the Father.  You see, the Bible is Jesus-centered, not Israel-centered.  On this point, Dispensationalism falls flat on its face

Second, Moore states that this view has gained popularity since the 19th century.  This statement is important to note because the doctrine of Dispensationalism along with its pretrib rapture teaching didn’t exist before the 19th century.  Friends, it’s not enough to simply be a student of the Bible!  You must be a student of history as well!

It was around the year 1830 when John Nelson Darby of the Plymouth Brethren in Great Britain first gave birth to this teaching.  Church history before that time knows nothing of Dispensationalism or the Pretrib rapture.  Darby then brought this teaching to America where it was further spread by C. I. Scofield, the Moody Bible Institute, and Dallas Theological Seminary.  So, historically speaking, the pretrib rapture is a new doctrine.

While that last statement is certainly true, I must be careful to say that history is not our authority.  Perhaps the whole of Christendom had been wrong until 1830.  So, the ultimate question is:  does the Bible teach a pretrib rapture?

Do the texts used to teach a pretrib rapture actually teach it?
There are certain proof texts that people usually turn to say that the Bible teaches a pretrib rapture.  Probably the most vivid is the found in the parallel passages of Matthew 24 and Luke 17.  The popular song “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” summarized these passages this way: A man and wife asleep in bed; She hears a noise, turns her head; he’s gone. I wish we’d all been ready. Two men walking up a hill; one disappears, and one’s left standing still. I wish we’d all been ready.

Look at Matthew 24:40-41 speaking about the 2nd coming of Jesus, Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left.

Luke 17:34-36 essentially says the same thing, I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.

Those who believe the Bible teaches a pretrib rapture say, “See there, there’s the rapture.  Jesus has come and snatched up his church and left behind the nonbelievers,” but as you know, context is everything!

When we look at the broader context of Matthew 24:36-42, we find that this is not a rapture passage, but a judgment passage:

  • But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.

It’s going to be just like the days of Noah.  Unbelievers weren’t ready for the judgment that was coming.  They were going about life as usual and did not understand until the flood came and took them away to destruction in the floodwaters.  So it will be when Jesus returns.  Unbelievers will not be ready for the judgment to come.  They’ll be going about life as usual and won’t understand until Jesus comes and takes them away to destruction.  One will be taken to destruction and the other will be left behind.  When we look at the context here, you actually want to be the one left behind because that means that you’ve not been destroyed by the judgment of Jesus.

The context of Luke 17:34-37 further confirms this understanding:

  • “I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken and the other will be left. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.” And answering they said to Him, “Where, Lord?” And He said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.”

When the disciples Jesus, “Where, Lord?” they mean, “Where are those being taken taken to?”  Jesus’ answer is that those who are taken are being taken to death—where the body is, there also the vultures will be gathered.  It’s the Christians who are left behind!  The entire “left behind” scenario of the pretrib rapture is not taught in the Bible.

To make my case even stronger, if you look at the even wider teaching of Matthew 24, you will see that followers of Jesus will endure the tribulation and then be raptured.  I would like to touch on the whole of Matthew 24, but we’ll look only at Matthew 24:29-31:

  • But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

If you’re looking for the rapture in Matthew 24, it’s right there in v31, and Jesus clearly says that this comes after the tribulation.

1 Thessalonians 5:9 is also a favorite passage used to argue for a pretrib rapture, For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.  They’ll say, “See there, God’s not destined us to wrath.  He’s going to rapture us before the tribulation,”  But clearly that’s reading into the text what’s not there.  Wrath is being compared to salvation not the rapture.  God is saying, “You’re going to heaven instead of hell.  Be of good courage!”

Revelation 3:10 is another favorite, Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. They’ll say, “See there, God’s going keep us from the hour of testing, which is the Great Tribulation, by rupturing us out.”  First off, I could say that this is a letter written to a specific church and is a specific promise to the church of Philadelphia, but I think it would be more helpful to look at the verb “will keep from.”

The Greek word for “keep” in this verse is tāreō, which means “to watch over, to guard.”  The word for “from” is ek.  The only other passage in the New Testament that combines these two terms appears in another book that John wrote, the gospel of John 17:15.  On the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, He prayed for his disciples, I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from (tāreō ek) the evil one. I believe this sheds strong light onto Revelation 3:10.  In John 17:15, Jesus is praying for protection from something harmful while Jesus’ disciples remain on the earth.  I believe that in Revelation 3:10, Jesus is promising the same.  He’s not going to take us out of the world.  He’s going to protect us and guard us in the day of trial and tribulation.

Let’s look at two logical arguments the pretrib rapture.  First, you might hear somebody say that proof of a pretrib rapture is found in the fact that the word “church” isn’t used after Revelation 3.  They’ll say, “See there, the church isn’t there anymore.”  The statement about the word “church” is basically true, but you also have to say that the only way the word “church” is used in Revelation 1-3 is in relation to the seven local churches of Asia minor.  The word “church” is never used to mean the church universal until Revelation 22.

But the absence of the word “church” in chapters 4-21 of Revelation proves nothing about the timing of the rapture.  While the word “church” might not be in chapters 4-21, the word “saints” certainly is, which refers to the redeemed in Jesus Christ.

Second, you also might hear somebody say that they believe in a pretrib rapture because they just believe God’s not going to beat up on Jesus’ bride.  I would begin to respond to this argument by saying that the Bride is not just the New Testament church.  The Bride is all believing Jews and Gentiles from the Garden of Eden to Jesus’ 2nd coming.  The bride will include those who come to faith during the tribulation.  The Bride is all of mankind who are redeemed by the blood of Jesus.  Have the Old Testament saints been redeemed by the blood of Jesus?  Absolutely!  Will the tribulation converts be redeemed by the blood of Jesus?  Most certainly!  Then they are the bride of Christ too.

To that statement I would also say that when God pours out His judgments on the earth during the tribulation, I believe that the saints will be protected.  We’ve already been promised in Revelation 3:10 that God will protect his saints in the tribulation.  Furthermore, we have an example of God doing this very thing in the book of Exodus.  Was Israel in the land when God poured out judgment on Egypt?  Most certainly, but they were protected.  I believe it will be the same for the church during the tribulation.  God loves His Son’s bride and will protect her through the tribulation.  In fact, Matthew 24:22 tells us that the days of the great tribulation are cut short for the sake of the elect, for the sake of Christ’s bride.

So, do the texts used to teach a pretrib rapture actually teach it?  Unequivocally, I believe they do not.

When then should we expect the rapture?
The answer is that the rapture will occur simultaneously with the 2nd coming of Jesus, postribulationally.  We’ve already looked at Matthew 24:29-31, which clearly teaches that the rapture happens after the tribulation at the time of Jesus’ 2nd coming.  Remember also that that passage tells us that Jesus is going to return with the sound of a trumpet.

This trumpet shows up again in 1 Corinthians 15:50-53:

  • Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.

Paul is saying that some of us will be alive when Jesus comes back.  That’s what he means when he says we will not all sleep in v51.  Some up us will alive and transformed into our glorified body.  When does this happen?  At the last trumpet.  Surely the trumpet in Matthew 24 is the last trumpet since this last trumpet announces that Jesus is returning.  So, once again, this passage clearly teaches that the rapture happens at the time of Jesus’ 2nd coming.

But we find the same thing in the Bible’s primary rapture passage, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

  • But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will 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. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

First, v15 says that some of us will remain until the coming of the Lord.  The word “coming” is the Greek word parousia, which is a technical term for the personal, bodily return of Jesus to the earth.  This is not a partial return.  This is the whole shebang when Jesus is coming all the way down.  The rapture happens at the same time that Jesus returns to the earth.

Second, there is no secret rapture in this passage.  Verse 16 tells us that there’ll be a shout from heaven, the archangel will be blowing the trumpet of God, and graves all over the world will be blown open as the dead saints are resurrected.  No way that this is a secret rapture!  In fact, this event might be the loudest one ever known to man.  A Metallica concert wouldn’t even compare!  You couldn’t miss this happening if you tried!

Finally, we are raptured up to meet the Lord in the air and then finish His descent with Him to the earth.  We know this from v17.  We are raptured or caught up to meet the Lord in the air.  The verb “to meet” here is our clue.  This is the Greek word apantāsis, which is regularly used to refer to a welcoming party.  In ancient days, people would leave their city or their home to go out to meet the honored guest, the visiting dignitary, or the triumphant military leader and then accompany them back to the city or house.  So they would go out to meet them and then come back with them from where they came.  That’s apantāsis.

This Greek word for “to meet” (apantāsis) is used only 2 other times in the New Testament, and both times a welcoming party is the picture.  Matthew 25:5-10 tells us:

  • Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him. (apantāsis him)” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the prudent answered, “No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.

The virgins were in the house waiting for the bridegroom, and when it was announced that he was coming, they got up and went out to meet him in the street to return to the house with him.

We see the same thing in the other apantāsis passage, Acts 28:14-16:

  • There we found some brethren, and were invited to stay with them for seven days; and thus we came to Rome. 15 And the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet us (ajpavnthsis us); and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage. When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.

Notice what happens:  Paul is coming to Rome, people come out to meet him outside of Rome, and then they return to Rome together.  This is the very same thing that will happen when Jesus Christ returns.  We will be raptured and rise to meet Him in the air, and once we meet Him in the air, we will return back to the earth with Him in triumph.  And so we shall always be with the Lord!

So, to answer the big question of this article:  is the doctrine of a pretribulational rapture fully biblical?  No, as best as I can understand the Scripture, it is not.  Now, I’ll be glad to change my opinion in the air, but in all seriousness, don’t be afraid of being left behind.  Be afraid of being found without Jesus as your Savior and Lord when He returns.  You’d better be ready because Jesus has told us in Matthew 24:27, For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Based upon the Scripture, don’t put your hope in a pretribulational rapture.  Put your hope in the 2nd coming of Jesus who is your Great Protector and Deliverer.  May you be found in Jesus when He comes again and rejoice in the rapture and the return!

13 Dec

The Problem of Rebaptism in SBC Churches

I absolutely love a baptism service!  Some might imagine a quiet version of “Holy, Holy, Holy” as the soundtrack to baptism, but I hear rousing, triumphant versions of “How Great Is Our God” or “Crown Him with Many Crowns” in the background.  I get a little excited!  Just ask my church.  They have laughingly said, “Bro. Ben doesn’t immerse.  He body slams people in the water!”  One time I even sloshed water out of the baptistery onto the top choir pew.  I can’t help it.  I’m overcome with enthusiasm by the reality that the person standing in the water with me is announcing to the entire world that Jesus is their new Savior and Lord.  They’ve just been brought from death to life, and they’re unashamedly making their profession public through the ordinance of baptism.  Yeah, we should get excited!

However, there is a troubling baptism trend that has recently come to my attention.  Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has stated here and here that he believes as many as 50% of baptisms in our Southern Baptist churches are rebaptisms.  Although his figures are based on anecdotal evidence and informal polling, even if the rebaptism rate is more like 30% or 40%, rebaptism is a serious problem any way you look at it.  We’re already seeing baptisms declining across our convention, but given the insight from this statistic, the reality is probably even bleaker.

Why are so many rebaptisms happening?  By rebaptisms, we mean the act of being biblically baptized more than once.  A biblical baptism has these three criteria:

  • Baptized by immersion
  • Baptized after a profession of faith in Jesus
  • Baptized as a symbol and not as a requirement of salvation

So, what we’re seeing is people doing this more than once, and we want to know why.  I believe the blame can be laid on these four things:

1)  Landmarkism
Many churches operate under Landmark doctrine and probably don’t realize it.  That’s the way it was when I came to West Main Baptist.  Here’s the test:  does your church make somebody from another denomination get rebaptized in order to join your church, regardless of the nature of their first baptism?  If so, your church is most likely practicing Landmark doctrine.  This idea is to not accept what is called alien immersion (ie, being baptized under a denomination other than Baptist) and stems from the belief that only baptisms done in a Baptist church are valid because the Baptist church is the only valid church.  Therefore, many Baptist churches are rebaptizing people.  They might not realize the theology behind the practice but continue it out of tradition.  Again, this is the way West Main Baptist was when I first arrived, but I have since led them away from this practice.

Landmarkism arose in our Baptist churches here in the South around the 1850s through the leadership of James Robinson Graves, James Madison Pendleton, and Amos Cooper Dayton.  In this time of great spiritual growth and frontier spirit following the Second Great Awakening, there arose a strand of Christianity led by Alexander Campbell that we know as the Church of Christ.  Campbell and his Churches of Christ began to teach that their churches were the only true churches.  In fact, they went as far as to teach that salvation was only possible through the Church of Christ.

Baptists desired to not be outdone, so they developed the Landmark doctrines, one of which is that Baptist churches are the only true churches.  Basically, they told the Campbellites, “Nuh-uh, we’re the only true church!”  To add weight to their claim, Landmarkers began to trace the history of the Baptist church all the way back through the centuries to John the Baptist himself.  This idea, called “Baptist successionism,” has been explained famously in a booklet called “The Trail of Blood” by James Milton Carroll but is pseudo-history at best.  Nevertheless, those who hold these doctrines are convinced of their teaching.  Therefore, they make all who desire to join the Baptist church from another denomination be rebaptized.

The residue of Landmark teaching is still prevalent in Tennessee and Kentucky, probably due to the fact that these two states were ground-zero for the Landmark controversy.  The headquarters of Landmark teaching was Nashville, TN.  Bad habits die hard!  Therefore, many churches in my home state and my current state add to the problem of rebaptism in our convention due to their Landmark practices.

2)  A low view of conversion
People with the right heart have undoubtedly led many to believe that they are saved when in fact they are not, particularly with children.  They use methods based on or similar to Charles Finney’s “new measures,” which sought to manipulate people into making a “decision” for God or to, at least, make it as easy as possible.  Methods like “every head bowed and every eye closed,” “just repeat this prayer and you’re saved,” and “ask Jesus into your heart” invitations are good examples.  Conversion becomes less about repentance and faith and more about praying a prayer and walking an aisle.  Many invitations and evangelistic efforts are prone to false conversion.  I would encourage you to read my blog called 10 Surefire Ways to Fill Your Churches with False Converts for further insight into what I’m talking about.

I recently witnessed a very good example of what I’m talking about at the 2010 Hearts on Fire conference.  The speaker told a heartbreaking story about how he’d been abused and mistreated as a child.  Admittedly, it was a very sad story.  He told us how Jesus had healed his hurts and how Jesus wants to heal our hurts.  He said that Jesus would heal our hurts if we would simply pray a prayer to get saved.  He then led the entire assembly—about 4,000 people in our session—to repeat a prayer salvation after him and invited all of those who prayed that prayer and meant it to come forward.  Honestly, he never touched the gospel, but many young people left their thinking they had responded to the gospel and had been saved.  I’m not saying that nobody was genuinely saved.  I’m just saying that this moment was pregnant with the opportunity for false conversion.

Undoubtedly, those who prayed that prayer and went forward that evening have been baptized by now in their respective churches.  But I’m guessing that many of them will be baptized again somewhere down the road when they hear the true gospel, and God begins to deal with them.  A low view of conversion, which systematically leads to false conversion, is undoubtedly raising our rebaptism rate in the SBC.

So, what’s the answer?  We cannot deviate from the biblical gospel call.  The gospel calls us to understand that we are sinners.  The gospel doesn’t say, “You’re a victim.  Come to Jesus for healing.”  The gospel says, “You’re a perpetrator.  Come to Jesus for forgiveness.”  In fact, I fully believe that a person cannot be saved unless they understand that they are a sinner deserving Hell.  The gospel calls us to repent of our sin, which means to hate and turn from that sin.  The gospel calls us to place our faith in Christ alone, which means that we set our hope for Heaven only on what Jesus did at the cross.  The gospel must have the cross and the reason for the cross in it!  The gospel calls us to a lifetime of faith evidenced by obedience.  In other words, Jesus is your Savior only if Jesus is your Lord.  We must rid ourselves of a low view of conversion.  Otherwise we will continue to bring into the water those who are not really saved.

3)  Baptizing children at very young ages
It’s clear that we as Baptists are not for the baptism of infants, but in many instances, we’re not too far away from baptizing toddlers.  Many children from godly homes make professions of faith at a very early age, and they follow this profession up with baptism.  However, we are finding that as these children grow older, we are seeing a couple of things happen.  One is that sometimes they desire to be baptized again because they don’t really remember their baptism.  They were so young and didn’t have the fullness of understanding that they now possess.  They desire for the occasion to be memorable and meaningful.  Hence, they seek to enter the water again.

Two is that sometimes as they get older, children who made professions of faith when they were younger come to realize through the preaching of the Word and the conviction of the Holy Spirit that they are not actually saved.  At that younger age, they had no conviction of sin.  They had no moment when they really actively wanted to follow Jesus.  And now the Holy Spirit is dealing with them and calling them to salvation.  After they truly repent and trust Christ, they want to get back into the waters of baptism and rightly so.  This testimony is shared by many Christians I know.

The baptism of young children is always tough for pastors because we know the Scripture teaches that we should baptize only those who are converted, but it’s so hard to discern true conversion in children.  It’s for this reason that some congregations have a policy of putting off baptism of children until they are older.  Perhaps the most famous example of this policy comes from First Baptist Dallas under the leadership of W. A. Criswell, who would not baptize a child under the age of 10.  I have to admit that I’m uncomfortable setting an age but see great wisdom in putting off baptism for young children, especially given our Baptist belief that baptism is not necessary for salvation.  By putting off their baptism until they can further mature will certainly cut down the number who would desire or need to be rebaptized.

4)  Biblical ignorance
Unfortunately, many simply do not understand what baptism is.  Therefore, they get into the water repeatedly.  We especially see rebaptism happening when a person backslides for a period and then repents and returns to the Lord.  Baptist churches usually call this “rededication.”  I personally don’t like that word and simply prefer the biblical word “repentance,” but whatever you call it, people sometimes feel like they need to get into the water again and be rebaptized.  Unfortunately, churches are allowing them to be baptized again, which totally confuses New Testament baptism.

We as Baptists are really good at arguing about the mode of baptism, but we’re poor at teaching what baptism really is.  Baptism is a symbol and proclamation of salvation, and that’s it.  Biblically speaking, baptism is the Christian’s public profession of faith.  Therefore, you should be baptized only as many times as you get saved, which is once.  One salvation equals one baptism.  It’s just not a symbol of ongoing repentance or “rededication” as some try to use it.  If we will properly teach what baptism is, I believe our rates of rebaptism will decrease.

I pray that pastors and churches everywhere will think seriously about the problem of rebaptism.  First, I pray that they would agree that it’s indeed a problem.  Second, I pray that they’ll take steps to be as biblical as possible and thus honor the Lord Jesus Christ in baptism.  May our rebaptism rates rapidly decrease and our true baptism rates explode in increase!