A warning to those who teach on " End times " Issues and their hearers by G.Thomas Windsor
(Why dogmatism can be dangerous )
Anyone who has ventured into the study of the "End Times, " (eschatology,) can see that there is a wide variety of views and opinions on this sometimes complex subject: ( the timing of the Rapture, the Millennium, the Antichrist, the Apostasy and the rebuilt temple question. There is also much heated debate over these topics. In our day of information, ideas are disseminated rapidly in real time versus the years it took in times past. Ideas can take on a life of their own.
So why is our view of what we expect to happen so important? Teaching concerning a future event has a special dimension, unlike other things in Scripture. We aren't debating the past. What is being commented on is potentially the greatest, cataclysmic event in the history of mankind (Mt. 24.) There is a "such as never has been" dynamic to all of this that our Lord warned us about. He said "If those days were not shortened, no human being would be saved." Our generation may see "those days."
The lesson of the first coming !
Before Christ came the first time, there were various views of the prophecies foretelling His coming and just about everyone missed recognizing Him based on those interpretations when He came into the world. There were very serious consequences to those who misunderstood the prophecies concerning the first coming. It can seem obvious to us because they (the prophecies) have been clearly explained by the Apostles after the event. However, this was not so clear to them. Some prophecies weren't fulfilled at the first coming or were only partly fulfilled.
For instance: In the first century many were sure the Messiah would come and deliver them from their enemies (the Romans) and then sit on the throne in Jerusalem. Christ did deliver people and was enthroned, but in a very different way than was expected.
Issues of the heart aside, their misunderstanding contributed to the rejection of the promised Christ. They did not "recognize the time of God's appearing among them" (Lk:18 and 19.) We should appreciate the challenge of those who lived in the time preceding the birth of the Messiah for are we not now in a similar situation? We've known and been aware of the 2nd advent prophecies and they've been examined for the last two thousand years. The stakes are very high in this debate .
Let's consider certain popular beliefs regarding eschatology and try to see what the consequences are? (I won't go into much detail concerning these views as there is much information available. I will review them in a very general way.)
They are as follows:
1- Those who teach and follow Preterism essentially are saying everything, or that just about everything, was fulfilled in the (MT.24, Lk.21, Mk.13 ) discourse and the worst (tribulation, persecution, apostasy, etc.) has already happened;
2- Those who have taught the Post-Millennial views also believe the worst is over and that the world will get better and better before the return of Christ and that we will see a great conversion of this world;
3- Other schools of thought (sometimes held by Pre-millennialists ) they hold the above mentioned events are to take place in the future, however they say the Apostasy (2 Thess. 2) and the Lawless one (Antichrist, the Beast ) won't come until a temple is rebuilt in the literal Jerusalem:
4- Finally, there are those who teach and embrace Pre-tribulational views (perhaps the dominant view in Christendom,) that the rapture will occur and the church is taken out before the great Tribulation;
5 Aside from the already mentioned issues, there are other beliefs and positions, I.E.: The " mark of the beast "(Rev.13) has to be a physical mark, or that the Antichrist will set up his rule in a physical temple (as opposed to entering the spiritual temple, the church.)
What is the net affect of all these positions and many others?
Whether everyone is expecting various things to happen first, or for things to gradually get better, or that the worst is behind us, it amounts to the same net affect. All these presuppositions affect the preparedness of the believers if in fact they are wrong and actually the worst is yet to come and the church will go through though the most difficult time it has ever experienced.
The great catastrophes
If we examine the great catastrophes that have afflicted mankind throughout history, we see that one key ingredient is a gross lack of preparation, and an almost nonchalant and self confident attitude that things were sufficient.
Much of what is written on eschatology has a "We-are-sure-it-won't-happen-this-way" or "This-Is-the-way-it-will-be" dogmatic tone. Certainly the truth must be stated boldly, but we must be very careful for if one errs and boldly asserts erroneous views, there are serious consequences.
Imagine being in a war and everyone assumes the enemy won't or can't mount another major assault, or that it will only come from a certain direction or only at a certain time. From the Trojan horse to the events at Pearl Harbor and 9-11 we know that being taken by complete surprise is fatal. Is this not a setup for a spiritual calamity? It is written of in Daniel relating to the one who brings in "The Abomination of Desolation," that "When they feel secure he will destroy many-" the Saints, (Dan 8.25) and "He will invade the kingdom when its people feel secure" (Dan. 11.)
Consider for a moment that the Enemy of the faith wants the church in the final days who are going into THE most difficult time "since the beginning ... and never to be equaled again" (Mt .24, Dan.12,) to be ill prepared and or expecting it in a totally different way to unfold. Or worse yet not expecting what is to come AT ALL .
"Judged with greater strictness "
With dozens of conflicting scenarios and interpretations set forth or propagated, logic tells us most are already wrong ( though some may not be mutually exclusive.)
By the way we aren't talking about the cultist doctrines or those outside of essential Christianity (Mormons, JWs, etc.) We are referencing those in the sphere of believers, within the church.
This matter is made worse given the degree of assertions and the way they are presented. Millions follow and ultimately have their trust in them. The greater the consequences of the ideas set forth, the greater the responsibility of those who advance them . People are drawn to those who speak authoritatively. The stronger the tone, the more persuasive, yet for those who carelessly assert things a greater judgment awaits them if they be found in error.
There seems to be general agreement on the "essentials " , ( Christ shall return , there shall be a bodily resurrection and judgment ,etc ) and that these should be presented with boldness and certainty . Yet the challenge is finding the absolute truth concerning specifics within the myriad of views relating to definitions of End Times " terms , translations , etc.. and presenting them in the best way.
Often times things are presented as "the Word of God says " when it is not a direct quote of the text of Scripture , but a presenting of a teaching or an interpretation . If it is found to be error than it seems they will also be guilty of misrepresenting God . There is a far greater degree of responsibility when it is set forth in this way rather than " I believe the evidence of Scriptures points to ..."
The question also has to be asked concerning some, whether their teaching is for the sake of selling books, tapes, etc. Bold and sensational eschatology sells and it can be a lucrative business. This provides another reason why business has no place in these debates, when eternal rewards and perhaps people's salvation are at stake. Also a "This-won't-affect-us" ideology appeals to our human nature.
Pride resides in men's hearts. Many will be shown on that day to have been careless or prideful in their opinions. James chapter 3 tells us that "those who teach will be judged with greater strictness " and that we can all err. That should instill a healthy fear in anyone of us who venture to expound (this author included) lest we labor in vain.
Inadvertently taking part in the deception ?
Christ and the Apostles warned us to "take heed that no one leads you astray " , that a great deception (believing the lie ) will come and "many will fall away ", and that there would be "'every sort of evil that decieves " (Matt. 24 , 2Thess 2, 1 Tim4 .)
If most "End Times" teachings turn out to be error , then those who advanced them may have inadvertently participated in the very deception of the end. The great irony is that many teachers of eschatology may actually be setting up the very conditions by which many can be deceived and fall away for the faith : that which they attempted to warn others about.
Let's continue to search out the Scriptures on these matters , but let our thoughts be presented in a careful way realizing "we only see in part ". Humility would dictate that we take a position of "this is what we've come to understand," rather than "This has to be the way" or a "This can't happen until that " type of position. We need to be open to understanding more clearly if we are shown a more accurate view of Scripture. "The wisdom that comes down from above is open to reason "(James 3.) The people of God would also benefit much by this approach.
May God's Spirit lead us and guided us into all the truth.
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