When I was a member of the Evangelical church I was taught that we, and we alone, were a direct descendants of the original 1st century church. You see, the other churches had in some way compromised the original teachings and doctrines through traditions and other accouterments to make people feel better and more comfortable. The original church was militant and counter-cultural. Not like those Romans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. So, we needed to recapture that original zeal and press forward. You know, Onward Christian Soldiers and all of that.
Part of our position was that we were learning the true, original doctrines that built that first Church. While the Roman Church had their ‘direct link’ through the papacy, we had ours through the Word of God! Ha! Our Word trumps your weird hat!
This belief included the so-called truth about what the writers of the Bible called the ‘end of days.’ And, of course we had the true understanding of what Paul and Jesus and Peter and the writer(s) of Daniel meant when they wrote about such things. Oh, and it goes without saying we completely understood what John the Seer meant when he penned his magnum opus, The Revelation.
We knew that they all wrote about events that were absolutely going to happen. There would be a period of time when people would fall away from the true faith. Check. That happened a long time ago. And, things were only getting worse.
Jesus was going to return to judge the world. This was clear from the Scripture. But, before that judgment, Jesus himself was going to gather all of the ‘true believers,’ (re. Everyone who believed just like we did). He was going to “snatch” us up into the clouds and take us to live with him forever in heaven. Wow! How exciting was that!
After the snatch and grab, there would be a 7 year period when a guy called the “anti-Christ” was going to set up shop. Lots of plagues and really bad stuff was going to happen to all of those poor folks who were left behind. At the end of the 7 years there was going to be a big war called Armageddon and Jesus would come back and destroy all of his enemies and establish a 1,000 year reign. During that time there would be blissful peace and a whole lot of Kumbaya.
Hey! Don’t be like that! It’s in the Book. Anyone with any sense can see it. As Larry Norman sang, “How could you have been so blind?”
In the Book?
Exactly what the original Church believed?
It’s time for a brief history lesson.
One source stated “Prior to 1830, no church taught it [the rapture] in their creed, catechism or statement of faith.”
Prior to 1830? What happened to all that stuff about the Original Church believing this? Didn’t they preach about the ‘snatching up’ of the faithful? Hmmm…
More importantly, what happened in 1830?
What changed then to inaugurate this whole rapture thing?
First, I think that it’s important to understand that this particular period of history was one in which there was rapid change in society. These changes were reflected in philosophy, theology, and pretty much every other area of life and culture. This was precipitated by the period known as the Enlightenment. While the actual period of the Enlightenment was in the late 17th through the 18th century, it’s effects were felt well into the 19th. The idea that humanity was on an upward trajectory toward some elusive perfection was one hallmark of this movement. The industrial revolution was in full swing during this period. Darwin published “On the Origin of the Species.” The idea that human reason was the most important resource in the universe was coming to fruition.
The old way of thinking about God and Providence was questioned. And, in many cases, found wanting.
Foundations were shaken. The entire Western worldview was being recast in the image of Humankind.
So, it’s not unreasonable that there were various reactions against this move against the divine. Nor is it surprising that during this time other neo-Christian organizations were born. Joseph Smith and the Mormons: 1830; Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science: 1879; Charles Taze Russel and the Watchtower: 1881.
There was also a less famous movement that began during this period. (At least less famous because it did not result in an entire new belief system.) A man named John Nelson Darby, 1800-1882, formed a group that became known as the Plymouth Brethren. Through this group Darby developed a theological model that he called “dispensationalism.” This idea gave birth to what we now call the “rapture.”
But, how this worked in Darby’s mind is the topic of my next post.