Strike Three and You’re Out
You may have heard that last week Harold Camping apologized for setting dates for the rapture. His bizarre application of civil engineer math geekiness to biblical hermeneutics misleads him to believe he could calculate the date of the rapture and the final judgment (See Robert Godfrey’s posts on Camping parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5). Strike one was back in 1994—No rapture. Camping discovers his miscalculation, and revises his date to May 21, 2011, which is also to kick off five months of judgment apparently in the form of rolling earthquakes that were to begin at a certain time of day all around the globe. Perhaps you noticed the billboards in some parts of the country, but most of you will recall the media attention given to it in the weeks leading up to Camping’s second date. May 21, 2011 comes and goes: strike two! Upon this failure, he claims that the rapture really did happen, but it was a spiritual rapture, and that a spiritual judgment has begun which will culminate in the complete end of the world all at once on October 21, 2011. Nothing. Strike three and you’re out, Harold Camping! In the stressful aftermath of this publicly humiliating fiasco, which brought much grief, consternation, and in some parts of the world, persecution, Camping suffers a stroke, and he is removed from regular broadcasting on Family Radio. I don’t know if the strike was brought on by the stress of the events, but a stroke he suffered, nonetheless.
Now that he’s had time to recover, this past week, Camping posts a letter on the Family Radio website apologizing for his “sin” of setting dates (read the letter here). In some ways it is an impressive statement. I was particularly moved to see his state in no uncertain terms that those of us who harped on Jesus’ words that “no man will know the day or hour” were right, and that he was wrong:
…we now realize that those people who were calling our attention to the Bible’s statement that “of that day and hour knoweth no man” (Matthew 24:36 & Mark 13:32), were right in their understanding of those verses and Family Radio was wrong. Whether God will ever give us any indication of the date of His return is hidden in God’s divine plan.
But this candid concession and apology was not good enough for Dan Elmendorf, former Family Radio broadcaster and now founder of Redeemer Broadcasting. In his weekly program, “A Plain Answer,” Elmendorf reminds us that the sin of date-setting was the least of Camping’s doctrinal problems. Absent from Camping’s open letter is any expression of repentance for having called on Christians to leave organized churches in which the gospel is preached and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are administered under the oversight by elders with the authority of exercising church discipline on members whose lives are persistently refusing to conform to a biblical standard of holiness and obedience to Scripture. Apparently, Camping still believes, and would have his listeners believe, that “the church age has ended.” So, it’s not that Camping has repented of the more heretical nature of his controversial “ministry.” I recommend that you listen to Elmendorf’s program, the first segment of which addresses Camping’s “weak apology.” The host shares some insight and experience which you can’t get from the Associated Press stories.
The Schuller’s Take Their Ball and Leave
In another recent instance of heresy in the headlines, it is reported that the entire family of positive-thinking televangelist, Robert Schuller, are leaving Crystal Cathedral Ministries. The 85 year-old Schuller, having retired from weekly “ministry” in 2009, was succeeded by his daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman. According to the LA Times, Coleman announced this past Sunday that she will leave the Crystal Cathedral to start a new church citing a “hostile working environment” stemming from a growing divide between the Schuller family and the Crystal Cathedral’s board of directors. Robert Schuller and his wife applaud Coleman’s decision, but announce they will not be joining her at her new church, and that their plans for weekly worship are not yet finally decided. They will not, however, have any further public association with the work of the Crystal Cathedral and it’s broadcast The Hour of Power, started by Robert Schuller back in 1970. It seems that all positive (as opposed to “good”) things must come to an end. In my humble opinion, this end has been long overdue.
Ever watched Adult Swim’s Moral Orel? It’s like a spoof of Davey and Goliath, and serves as a platform for heavy-handed satire of the moralistic idiosyncrasies of some Christians. Most Christians would find it distasteful to watch, although it probably reflects more truth than our kind are willing to admit—when it isn’t’ caricaturing moralistic Christianity.
Upon watching a few clips of this show and seeing just how much they make it look like an edgy version of Davey and Goliath, I was reminded that this show isn’t only a satire of politically Right-wing Christians, but can step on the toes of liberal Christians as well. The fact is that Davey and Goliath was a production of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a theologically liberal denomination of Lutherans despite the presence of the word “Evangelical” in their name. But it is also true that a generation or more of conservative fundamentalists and evangelicals were raised loving Davey and Goliath and being conditioned to liberal forms of moralism. This must be a small reason why moral and social do-good-ism is an example of common ground shared by today’s conservative culture warriors and liberal progressives. The development of the contemporary political spectrum among Western Christians has a long and storied past, involving the influence of eschatology, pietism and revivalism among other things. These influences raise a question, the answer to which we may find instructive.
“On which is it better for the Christian church to focus her efforts:
civic moral activism, or her own doctrine and practice?”
I submit the following:
- Organized religious efforts toward civic moral activism are derived from a fundamentally utopian vision of eschatology and therefore society, and generally tends to minimize doctrine and practice.
- Organized religious efforts to maintain the purity of each denomination’s own doctrine and practice are drawn from a fundamentally realistic vision of eschatology and therefore society, and generally tends to minimize organized religious civic moral activism.
What’s eschatology got to do with it?
- An Augustinian interpretation of the millennium shared in its broadly among Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed branches of Christendom
- The Roman Catholic version promoted medieval Constantinianism (church over state).
- Lutheran and Reformed reformed amillennialism, tended to focus on doctrine and practice (confessionalism), but had little opportunity to engage in organized religious civic moral activism as we know it today.
- Post-Reformation Protestant Europe replaced Constantinism with ecclesiastical establishmentarianism (state over church); Confessional Protestants complied, affirmed the state’s role in defending the church from heresy, and theoretically denied the state’s right to affect church’s doctrine.
- Twentieth/Twenty-first century Reformed Amillennialism of three varieties (at least): Kuyperian, Two-Kingdom and Theonomic (aka, “Dominionist”)
- An “over-realized” (or utopian) form of amillennial eschatology
- Tended to engage in organized religious civic moral activism
- Held by theologically liberal progressives as well as fundamentalists in the early 20th century.
- Twentieth/twenty-first century Reformed Postmillenialists of two varieties (at least): Kuyperian and Theonomic.
- Anabaptist eschatology (Anabaptism a non-Roman Catholic version of medieval monastic mysticism)
- Tended to retreat from society and thus avoided both organized religious and individual civic moral activism.
- Adopted by fundamentalist Protestants during the bulk of the 20th century in reaction against theologically liberal Postmillennialists.
Two religious trends add complexity to the preceding eschatological and social tendencies: Pietism and Revivalism:
- Lutheran deviation
- Focused on personal piety, neglected doctrine and practice
- An essentially Wesleyan trend adapted by Calvinists (Reformed); partly inspired by Pietism.
- Focused on individual conversion and piety and promoted organized religious civic moral activism.
- It is better for the church to focus on maintaining the purity of her own doctrine, piety and practice, and to leave civic activism (moral or otherwise) to the individual.
- Thus, I find that an Amillennial, Confessional Protestantism that is relatively uninfluenced by pietism and revivalism is the ideal approach for the Christian church.
The preceeding is my attempt to organize the many things I’ve been learning over the years regarding the development of modern American Protestant confessionalism, liberalism, fundamentalism and evangelicalism. This being merely a blog post, and not an academic essay, those of you who are more informed on these issues are invited to critique my bullet points for the sake of accuracy. Those readers for whom the above raises questions or critical comments, these are especially welcome. You sharpen my iron, I’ll sharpen yours!
When I was a child, and a member of a Dispensational Premillennial IFB church, I would often hear my pastor commenting on any given Sunday, “It’s cloudy today—this might just be the day the Lord returns.” At other times, he would conclude the opposite: “I didn’t notice any clouds in the sky, so I guess the Lord may not return today. But this is Texas, and the weather could change at any moment.” The literal presence of clouds in the sky was seen as a necessary condition of Christ’s Second Coming. Why is this? It’s because of the Lord’s words in Matthew 24:30.
Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
(Matthew 24:30 ESV)
Was Jesus predicting that on the day of his return, it will literally be cloudy? No, Jesus was alluding to a prophecy by Daniel of the coming of “one like a son of man” who comes “with the clouds of heaven.” What would be the point of predicting whether it would be cloudy on the day of the coming of the Son of Man? Let’s look at Daniel’s prophecy to which Christ alludes (the key phrases will be highlighted):
“I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
(Daniel 7:13-14 ESV)
The first thing to notice is the fact that this prophecy contains poetic language. That’s why the ESV editors (and those of most modern English versions) format the prophecy in a poetic style. Ancient Hebrew poetry does not have the same standards for literalism as historical narrative does. It is true that the Gospel of Matthew is a historical narrative, and so it is literally true that Jesus quoted Daniel’s prophecy, but the prophecy Jesus quoted in this historical narrative Gospel account is still a poetic reference.
If the reference to clouds in association with the coming of the Son of Man bears poetic, symbolic meaning, then what might that meaning be? Let’s look at a few other poetic Old Testament passages that similarly associate clouds with the activity of Yahweh.
He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
he rides on the wings of the wind;
If we are to take Christ’s reference to coming with clouds literally, then are we also to take Psalm 104’s statement that the LORD makes the clouds his chariot literally? Does an infinite, omnipresent Spirit need to stand on a cloud, hold a set of reins and be transported by means of atmospheric water vapor? Well, has he also literally laid giant wooden beams across a body of water and built chambers in which he might dwell? Does wind literally have wings? Of course it doesn’t. This is nothing but poetic imagery. So, what idea does this imagery of clouds convey? Basically, it conveys the idea of God’s terrifying power and authority. Notice how the Egyptians and their idols react to the image of the LORD riding on a cloud in Isaiah 19:
An oracle concerning Egypt.
Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud
and comes to Egypt;
and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence,
and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.
With these things in mind, let’s go back and take another look at Matthew 24:30: “Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30).
I hope we can more clearly see now, that the significance of the coming of the Son of Man “on the clouds of heaven” lies in the fact of his terrifying power and great glory whose appearing will make all the tribes of the earth mourn, and at which time will occur the Last Judgment and the ultimate consummation of his Kingdom. This is just one of many examples of the need to genuinely take into account the literary structure of a passage in order to determine its proper interpretation.
Jesus comes into Jerusalem as king, but in a week’s time he will have been crucified and raised from the dead for sinners like you and me.
Westminster Shorter Catechism 26
Q. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us (Psalm 110:3; Matthew 28:18-20; John 17:2; Colossians 1:13), and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies (Psalm 2:6-9; Psalm 110:1-2; Matthew 12:28; 1 Corinthians 15:24-26; Colossians 2:15).
“The Lord Has Need of Them” (Matthew 21:1-5) Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
- Jesus demonstrates that he is Israel’s Messiah by fulfilling Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9
- Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”(Isaiah 62:11 ESV)
- Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9 ESV)
- What was this need? To show us that “[our] salvation comes” (Is. 62:11)
- “By sending for the donkey and colt, Jesus is giving us what we need to believe in him as our Savior.”
- Our need was for a Passover Lamb—we need Someone to die in our place; to wash us clean; to be protected and redeemed from our captivity to sin.
- To those who need God to show that he is real, he has done so by these prophecies of Israel’s Messiah, and their fulfillment hundreds of years later in Jesus of Nazareth.
- God shows us that he is the true God of Israel: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and that Jesus is the true King of Israel, who subdues sinners to himself, rules and defends us who believe, and restrains and conquers all his and our enemies.
“Hosanna” (Matthew 21:6-9) The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
- Foreshadowed in Jehu’s servants’ response to Jehu’s anointing as King of Israel, and prophecy to defeat the evil king Ahab
- Then in haste every man of them took his garment and put it under him on the bare steps, and they blew the trumpet and proclaimed, “Jehu is king.” (2 Kings 9:13 ESV).
- In crying “Hosanna (Heb. “O Save!” ) to the Son of David!”, the people declare who Jesus is, the rightful King of Israel.
- In crying “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” the people sing a portion of the Hallel (Psalms 113-118)—a portion of which is sung after the drinking of “the Cup of Redemption” during the Passover seder (see Psalm 118:26a). Jesus comes to redeem his people from sin, as God redeemed Israel from Egypt.
- Parallels between Israel’s captivity in Egypt and their present occupation by Rome spark strong Jewish nationalism during the Passover season. Rome watches for seditious behavior. The notion of a pretender to the throne of Israel is the very kind of threat for which they watch, and this makes Christ’s entry into Jerusalem especially dangerous. But notice the humility of this King who enters triumphantly, not on a warhorse, but rather on a lowly donkey.
“The King Enters His City” (Matthew 21:10-11) And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
- Christ enters Jerusalem but is not recognized by her citizens as their long-awaited King.
- The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1:9-11 ESV)
- Foreshadows Christ’s rejection by the people at the end of this Passion Week. Jesus comes to Jerusalem as King, but Jerusalem was not his Kingdom.
- When Jesus walked the earth, his Kingdom was located wherever he went. Jesus wasn’t entering his Kingdom in his Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, he brought his Kingdom with him. Christ’s Kingdom is “not of this world” (see John 18:36).
- The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1:9-11 ESV)
- Christ does triumphantly enter to conquer, but not to conquer the Romans.
- The Triumphal Entry clearly showed that Jesus was Messiah according to Zechariah 9:9.
- The Triumphal Entry set in motion the events that would lead to his crucifixion.
- The Triumphal Entry threatens Rome, but Christ’s act in the following passage will be a threat to the Jewish priests and other religious leaders.
- Christ did not come to overthrow the Romans and reign in Jerusalem, but to die on a cross for the very people who sent him there: sinners like you and me. He went willingly, but it was yours and my sins which drove him to the cross. He went lovingly to suffer and to die for those who will come to believe. In his crucifixion, the King of Israel will conquer by accomplishing the salvation of his people.
- The King came once riding on the foal of a donkey; he went unrecognized by some, met with indifference by others and still others met him with hostility. He was openly rejected and nailed to a cross.
- But the King will come again riding on the clouds with power and glory (Matthew 24:30). The time of his return remains hidden but he will come to judge as the Ruler of the earth.
- At this time, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (see Philippians 2:9-11).
- Those who already believe, trust and love Jesus will rejoice at his coming and will kneel again.
- Those who refuse to humbly submit to the Lord in response to his first coming will be humbled and bowed against their wills when he returns to judge.
Everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will bow his knee willingly, lovingly, obediently and instantly. Repent, believe in him—today—now!—while it’s still called today (see Hebrews 3:13), so that when he comes in glory he will know you as his own and you will rejoice at his coming and not be fearful.
Over the next several weeks, I’m going to attempt to interact with Dr. C. Peter Wagner’s defense of what he has called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). The statement is simply titled, “The New Apostolic Reformation: An Update by C. Peter Wagner, Ph. D.” Wagner taught Church Growth for thirty years at Fuller Theological Seminary (which is no bastion of theological orthodoxy). According to his statement, NAR is simply a label given to trends in rapidly growing sectors of global Christianity. Wagner writes:
The NAR is not an organization. No one can join or carry a card. It has no leader. I have been called the “founder,” but this is not the case. One reason I might be seen as an “intellectual godfather” is that I might have been the first to observe the movement, give a name to it, and describe its characteristics as I saw them. When this began to come together through my research in 1993, I was Professor of Church Growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, where I taught for 30 years. The roots of the NAR go back to the beginning of the African Independent Church Movement in 1900, the Chinese House Church Movement beginning in 1976, the U.S. Independent Charismatic Movement beginning in the 1970s and the Latin American Grassroots Church Movement beginning around the same time. I was neither the founder nor a member of any of these movements. I was simply a professor who observed that they were the fastest growing churches in their respective regions and that they had a number of common characteristics.
The distinctives to which Wagner refers are listed in his statement as “Apostolic Governance,” “The Office of Prophet,” “Dominionism,” “Extra-biblical revelation,” and “Supernatural Signs and Wonders.” These are the elements which are most commonly criticized by theological critics such as myself. The political activism of the movement in America is what is being focused on in media reports, and political water-cooler discussions.
The political Left in the United States is expressing tremendous alarm about the fact that some who have associations with this movement of radical charismatic churches are lending political support to leading conservative Republican candidates. In 2008, they criticized the fact that Sarah Palin had been formally “prayed over” by such figures. When Wisconsin Congresswoman, Michelle Bachmann, began running for the Republican Presidential nomination this year, political opponents began connecting dots between her and the NAR, but it was not until Texas Governor, Rick Perry, entered the same contest that the media hype about certain NAR-aligned figures who joined Perry in organizing a non-denominational, and arguably non-political, prayer rally days prior reached a fever pitch.
In light of this fact, Dr. Wagner stated a position on the concept of theocracy, as it relates to the political activity of NAR personalities:
The usual meaning of theocracy is that a nation is run by authorized representatives of the church or its foundational religious equivalent. Everyone I known in NAR would absolutely reject this idea, thinking back toConstantine’s failed experiment or some of the oppressive Islamic governments today. The way to achieve dominion is not to become “America’s Taliban,” but rather to have kingdom-minded people in every one of the Seven Mountains: Religion, Family, Education, Government, Media, Arts & Entertainment, and Business so that they can use their influence to create an environment in which the blessings and prosperity of the Kingdom of God can permeate all areas of society.
I agree at least to this extent with Wagner. The broad coalition of politically active American evangelicals known popularly as the Religious Right, far from setting their sights on theocracy, grant to the U. S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as they stand written today, for better or worse, a kind of inspiration that arguably rivals that of the Holy Scriptures themselves. In light of the imminently important Establishment and Free Expression Clauses of the First Amendment, it is grossly inaccurate to accuse even NAR figures as theocrats, much less Governor Perry.
One of the concerns of NAR’s political critics is that should America collapse, the danger is that radical fringe elements could take over the Federal Government. In my view, it is more likely that radical Muslim groups would try that to a greater extent than any radical elements associated with Christianity.
John Hendryx at Monergism.com has addressed the issues of theocracy and the proper goals of Christian influence on the government in an article entitled, “Do Christians Want a Theocratic or Secularist State? Or Neither?” This is a well-written article which emphasizes Christians’ recognition of the need for checks and balances and the separation of powers.
Too much power in the hands of anyone, including certain denominations of Christians, is dangerous because man is corruptible. That is why limited government and a balance of power is a reasonable idea, because it understands the sinful limitations of human beings, whether they be secularist, Christian, Muslim or Buddhist.
Even though Christians know the only truth, they also know themselves too well as sinners to be without the restraint of law or a balance of power.
Finally, Hendryx included a note on the issue of theocracy which he points out highlights the importance and impact of biblical eschatology. For it is specifically the Postmillennial factions on both sides of the political aisle (Liberation theology on the Left, Theonomy on the Right) which would promote something that would more accurately be characterized as theocracy. To the extent that NAR draws from the wells of R. J. Rushdoony’s theonomy, criticism is fair. But as Wagner notes, “NAR has no official statements of theology or ecclesiology.” This means not all Christian political activists aligned with the New Apostolic Reformation necessarily have the same eschatological view.
In support of Hendryx’s claim about the “theocratic” Postmillenial views of Liberation theology, consider the controversy in the last presidential election cycle during which then candidate Barack Obama was criticized for his twenty-year membership in Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, pastored by Black Liberation Theologian, Dr. Jeremiah Wright. According to Stanley Kurtz, writing in Radical-In-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism (© 2010, Threshold Editions):
Wright openly denies the distinction between religion and politics, disdaining preachers who refuse to connect Jesus to liberationist militancy. Obama has indeed taken political instruction from Wright, and Wright’s history strongly suggests that this was a common occurrence. Obama’s greatest hope, in fact, was to build a political movement around Wright and preachers like him (p. 327).
I don’t personally believe that the New Apostolic Reformation will be nearly as successful at influencing (read: “taking dominion over”) the so-called “SevenMountains” for Christ as they would desire, nor as much as the political Left fears. I predict they will simply counteract the Light provided by the more traditional, and less cultic, strains of orthodox Christianity before the watching world.