Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Is the end nigh?

In common with all of orthodox Christianity, I affirm that the Lord Jesus Christ will return in glory, visibly and bodily, to judge the world at the end of the present age. Some of my brethren, though, go a lot further than this, and teach that the "signs of the times" show that that coming is practically upon us now - in other words, that the approximately 2000 years of the church age is basically much the running of the church age from its beginning to its end.

That teaching, though (that the coming is probably/certainly in our generation), has been around for quite a long time. Several generations in fact! It's always had its adherents at different times since Christ first went into heaven. But it has especially flourished and become quite mainstream in Western Christendom, and then been exported from there to the world in the missionary movement, since the 1830s. Which is more than one generation away. (It gained a good hold from that time because of firstly the decline of Reformational Christianity, and because of the rise of liberalism eroding "Christendom", which was too closely identified with God's kingdom in the world).

The fact that this teaching has succeeded for so long ought to give its proponents pause for thought. It's too easy simple to assure oneself that one has at last arrived at an age of superior wisdom, and whilst all the people who lived before were deluded and didn't realise that WE were the people and THIS was the hour, we have now got it. That's a classic modernist error (paralleled in the secular world by the belief that "contemporary scientists have said" is synonymous with "the following is definite truth" - we laugh at those foolish scientists of previous generations who spoke in exactly the same way, but rarely pause to wonder what those of future years might think about us). Isn't it time to wake up? Communism was supposed the fulfilment of passages of Revelation presaging Armageddon... until 1989, when it collapsed and we didn't hear much about that theory again. The rise of the EU was supposedly the manifestation of a new Holy Roman Empire... until the secularist wing started defeating to the Catholic wing in direction so consistently it wasn't funny any more. Now all the would-be prophets claim that the rise of militant Islam is right there on the pages of the prophets... but if they sold us a dud the first time, shouldn't we ask some more critical questions the second time? Is the purpose of prophetic revelation really to give us a road map of the issues facing 20th and 21st century Western powers? (Hint: No.)

The problem, in my opinion, though is that the very traits which lead people into readily accepting this idea also manifest themselves to insulate them against questioning it. Most moderns are fantastically ignorant of history, so don't know that this doctrine has been around so long. We think that the decade we draw breath in is uniquely significant above all others. In the same way, we think that the part of the world we live in is uniquely significant above all others. The collapse of Western civilisation becomes the collapse of the world, because the West - well, if it's not the world, then it's as good as. The rest's just a tin-pot junkyard of darkness and insignificance! Ha! Well, no. That's not in the Bible either. The British and/or Americans really aren't the lost 10 tribes of Israel or something equally eccentric. Not even the Royal Family.

The West may have led world Christianity for a long time, but whether it does or not in the future has no theological significance. Today, the light is dawning in many parts of the world in a way that it never has before. Those parts of the world may not be on your televisions or in your newspapers; the kingdom doesn't work that way. The "it's the final rebellion against the rule of Christ!" teaching doesn't provide such a neat fit if you live where the initial, preliminary dawning of the light of Christ is still taking place. Christ is still being preached in places where he hadn't as yet been scarcely named. The West may be jumping off a cliff; large parts of the rest of the world though are still in the darkness the West was in before it ever received the blessings of the gospel. "The end is nigh" teaching is a manifestation of the unfortunate tendency of Christians to remain shackled by their cultural assumptions instead of developing a truly Biblical view of the world.

1 comment:

Ned Kelly said...

I must agree with you, after spending considerable time studying the pre-, a-, and post- millenial positions, trying to understand their development down through the ages, realising that not all can be correct, and quite probably none are in totality. I am often concerned at the harm that some pastors may be causing. One pastor at a church I attended regularly stated that the Rapture (if there is to be such an event) would occur in his lifetime. I asked him if perhaps his teachings might unsettle the faith of some if it did not occur as predicted, but he said that was not a problem because he was confident of his theology. Strangely, few of the "Rapture is about to occur" proponents seem to understand that such predictions require not only an inspired understanding of Scripture, but an equally inspired understanding of world events. Even given the possibility of the former, there is no evidence of the latter if history is any guide. I suspect that the rise in popularity of this theology has more to do with the culture and psyche of the citizens of the country (the USA) championing the cause than any great theological insights.