HOW DID WE GET THE IDEA OF
THE PRE-TRIB RAPTURE?

By Sandy Fiedler

 

How did we get the idea that a secret, imminent, pre-tribulation rapture will save the church from this evil world? Despite being reared in southern fundamentalist churches that taught this doctrine, I never could fully grasp it, although I tried.

While reading THE RAPTURE CULT by Robert L. Pierce (Signal Point Press, 138 Cunningham Lane, Signal Mountain TN 37377; $3.00ea), I found missing pieces of this puzzling doctrine.

Following is a brief explanation, summarized from the book, describing how we got the doctrine.

To understand, we must return to the 19th century British Isles. In 1830 in Port Glasgow, Scotland, Margaret Macdonald expressed her belief that scripture taught that Christians would be raptured, or translated, from the earth before the Great Tribulation. This is the first time that anyone in Christian history had distinguished two stages of the Second Coming: the first stage, in which Christians are taken out, and the second stage, in which Jesus returns to earth.

Two religious sects in Britain took up Margaret’s idea. One was the Catholic Apostolic Church headed by Edward Irving (1792-1834). This sect believed that because the Second Coming was imminent, they had the gifts of the spirit, such as prophecy and speaking in tongues, as the apostles did.

The other group that adopted Margaret Macdonald’s idea was the Brethren or Plymouth Brethren organized by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). Darby was educated as a lawyer, became an Anglican priest in 1826, but went on to found the Brethren in 1830. Darby visited the Macdonald home in 1830 and first presented the new pre-tribulation rapture doctrine soon thereafter. The new doctrine was not received unanimously.

"The Roots of Fundamentalism," by Ernest R. Sandeen, in discussing the history of the Brethren, says that Darby introduced the idea of a secret rapture of the church and a gap in prophetic fulfillment between the 69th and 70th weeks of Daniel. These beliefs became basic to the system of theology known as dispensationalism.

From 1862 to 1877, Darby lived in and traveled throughout the United States and Canada, spreading his message. He was a very appealing speaker and also intolerant to criticism. At first he tried to win members of existing Protestant congregations to his sect, but met with little success. He then spread his end-times message to influential clergymen and laymen in churches in major cities without insisting they leave their denominations.

Two of his converts were James Hall Brookes, pastor of the Walnut Street Presbyterian Church in St. Louis and Adoniram Judson Gordon, pastor of Clarendon St. Baptist Church in Boston. These two men became leaders of the movement which spread the doctrine throughout the northeast and Midwest during the last quarter of the 19th century. Dwight L. Moody also accepted the doctrine.

From 1883-1897, each summer at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, James H. Brookes led conferences which spread the doctrine very successfully to conservative church leaders of America who were concerned about the liberal influence of "higher criticism" that was making inroads into churches. The new message spread from the leaders down to the local congregations.

In 1897 there was a split of conference participants into two groups: a pro-Darby faction led by Arno C. Gaebelein and Cyrus I. Scofield, and an anti-Darby faction led by Robert Cameron. A five-year "paper war," in which each side wrote articles blasting the other side, ended in a win by the pro-Darby forces.

Many of the anti-Darby forces simply retired from the scene to avoid controversy or died of old age without a new line of advocates to replace them.

The pro-Darby force was aggressive at organizing new conferences and publicizing their message, which appealed to the wishful thinking of the masses. The foundation of the Darbyite message was that when evil is seen in society, Christians are to rejoice because that is a sign of the imminent return of Christ. To illustrate, there was even some concern that at the outset of the United States’ involvement in WWI that Americans would not respond because they might think they were fighting against the evil which was needed to bring Jesus back. A paralyzing religious neutralism had set in.

Contrary to the time of the Revolutionary War when pastors strongly preached that citizens should battle the evil British oppression, 19th century pastors refrained from preaching topics drawn from current events and ceased to teach their flocks to be the light of the world. Rather, Christians withdrew into the four walls of the church building and let society and government run its godless course.

The Darby doctrine can be seen, for example, in a 1933 issue of the fundamentalist Moody Monthly, which said that Christians did not need to take a stand on a hot topic at the time, whether or not to recognize atheistic Communist USSR, because the Second Coming might quickly solve the problem.

Religious neutralism became the norm for Christian churches until the late 20th century when many Christians began taking a stand against evils in society like abortion and immorality in government leaders.

The pre-trib rapture doctrine was further spread by Cyrus Scofield’s Reference Bible. Began in 1903 with unusually generous funding from wealthy businessmen, it was completed in 1909 and published and promoted by the very prestigious Oxford University Press. It is basically a King James Version with extensive footnote commentaries by Cyrus Scofield and consulting editors.

In every passage that could possibly to related to end-times, the pre-trib rapture doctrine is espoused. Many readers throughout the years have been unaware of the difference between words of scriptura and opinions of Scofield. This version of the Bible has been so promoted that its views have affected every church and town in America.

Geographically, the doctrine moved from its original foothold in the large cities of New York, Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis to the northeast and Midwest. Later it spread to the West and South, where it is very strong still. The doctrine is not taught in the liberal Protestant denominations but is taught in independent nondenominational and full-gospel churches and in some evangelical churches. Fundamentalist churches do not realize how relatively new the doctrines are.

The Scofieldian doctrine is promoted unceasingly in the print media, radio, and TV, while more traditional views are hard to find. These media present the doctrine with a mindset that takes for granted that the entire audience believes it unquestioningly.

In addition, Christian and secular bookstores have carried many titles promoting this view, an early example of which is Hal Lindsay’s Late Great Planet Earth, first published in 1970, tying in the Second Coming with the formation of the state of Israel. As the millennium nears, hundreds of nonfiction and fiction end-times books appear. In fact, most national fundamental Christian leaders have a book or tape series on the Scofieldian view of the end-times.

Also, most Christian TV and radio programs are produced by those with this point of view. Any given program is peppered with catch-phrases about the impending rapture and the Second Coming.

Parallels are drawn between biblical prophecy of end-times and current events. However, this kind of thinking is not new. Repeatedly throughout world history, people have looked about them at conditions far worse than what we see today and have thought the end must surely be near. But it wasn’t. Incidentally, those who read the Bible in one hand and the Newsweek in the other should know that historically, many have believed that the book of Revelation was John’s message of warning to the Christians of his day of horrible impending persecution from Nero (whose name in Hebrew is 666) and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70A.D. and has therefore largely been fulfilled.

There are more than two sides to a question. If one side says that the Bible is myth and the second side says that the Bible is the Word of God that teaches that the Second Coming is imminent, is there no other point of view possible?

There is at least one more side.

Millions of Christians in America and the world historically and presently believe a third view  — that the Bible is the Word of God which teaches that only God knows when the Second Coming will occur. Meanwhile, Christians are to carry on with joy in the real world, living lives that glorify God. This encompasses the crux of Protestant beliefs prior to 1830.

The truth sets us free.

 

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