It’s been said that Evangelicals are most concerned with orthodoxy (right doctrine) and Mormons are most concerned with orthopraxy (right practice). There are many Biblical reasons to hold strong to sound teaching and to defend good doctrine. But a place I see that the quest for orthodoxy can cause problems is when the bar for orthodoxy gets pushed past essential and core doctrine and well into issues that we are uncertain and unclear about.
A great example of this in the Evangelical world concerns pre-millenial, pre-tribulationism. This is the idea that Christ will return before his 1,000 year reign on earth. Before that happens there will be a 7 year tribulation, where the Anti-Christ will rule the world under one government and the earth will be under great torment. Before any of this begins, God will rapture all true believers and rescue them from this destructive time in human history. This view is most popularly expressed by the “Left Behind” series of books (totally off topic but a terrible excuse for literature and an embarrassment to Evangelical artistic efforts).
There are a great many Evangelicals who agree with the interpretation of the Bible’s description of the end times. I think there are many good reasons to believe this theological position is true and accurate. But there’s also plenty of reasons to conclude that this understanding may be missing the mark. My greater concern is not the belief in pre-tribulationalism, but the utter devotion to it. There are many people who are simply OBSESSED with figuring out how current events fit into the plot of Revelation. There has not been a time in my life when I haven’t heard some one guessing at which of the latest political leaders is the Anti-Christ or which of America’s enemies is the great whore described in Revelation 17.
I have some real concerns when Evangelicals make pre-tribulationalism any sort of benchmark for orthodoxy. I’ve seen too many people switch churches over the issue and far too many missionaries and full time ministers forced to change organizations because they don’t feel they can hold to pre-tribulationalism any longer and the organization is forced to choose their doctrinal statement over their people. This should not be a central and defining issue.
- First off, this view point has only been around for about 100 years. In the scope of Christian history its a minority position. In one discussion, as I was pointing out the problems with this view, I heard some people say “well I’m just going to hold the normal view that everyone else holds.” Most Christians have not held a view anything like modern pre-tribulationalism.
- Second, there is WAAAAY too much about the Book of Revelation that we don’t understand, that should be the first thing we say about that book.
- Third, no where in the Bible does it explicitly express that the rapture will take place before the tribulation. A rapture is definitely stated, but we have no idea when it will happen.
- Fourth, we shouldn’t take any meaning or understanding out of the Book of Revelation that 1st Century Christians didn’t understand. It was written specifically to them, not to us. We just get to learn from what was said to them. If anybody should be more clueless about “what it all means” it should be us, not them. A decent reading of Roman history will show that much of the book would seem quite familiar to the 1st Century persecuted church.
- Fifth and most importantly, if we become too dogmatic about how and when Christ will return we run the risk of making the same mistake the Jews made in the 1st Century. We position ourselves to miss Christ because he doesn’t come the way we think he should return.