A ChristianPost.com article reports that two large and influential Baptist churches have special sermons planned for September 11th, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. “One sermon promises to discuss America’s ‘inevitable collapse’ while the other is to be delivered by Dr. Tim LaHaye, known for his popular end-times book series [Left Behind]. . . . First Baptist Church of Dallas has released a video [‘Twilight’s Last Gleaming’] promoting a new sermon series beginning Sept. 11 that discusses America’s ‘inevitable collapse.’”
Take note of the phrase “inevitable collapse.” For years I have been arguing that prophetic beliefs, good and bad, have consequences. I pointed this out to Brannon Howse of Worldview Weekend. Here’s some of what I wrote to him because of his preoccupation with end-time speculative prophecy while claiming to teach young people about a Christian worldview:
Are you going to be a worldview ministry or an end-time ministry? You criticized John MacArthur about not caring about the election, and here you go dealing with end-time nonsense. You’re creating doublemindedness with your WV attendees. What are you training them for if it’s all a prophetic inevitability?
You can read my full response to Brannon in “A ‘Howse’ Built on Prophetic Sand.” Also see the article I wrote that is a detailed response to his very poorly argued and immature response: “The Moral Basis of How to Argue: Tell the Truth!” Also see my article “Why Creation and Prophecy Can’t be Separated.”
Then there’s Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of American Christian evangelist Dr. Billy Graham. “In her new book, Expecting to See Jesus: A Wake-Up Call for God’s People, Lotz outlines the signs of Jesus’ return step by step and explains that He could return at any moment. . . . The signs that Jesus gave us in the Bible and the headlines in the news are coming together in a dramatically sobering way. . . . [S]he profoundly believes that if she lives out her natural life, she will live to see the physical return of Jesus to earth. . . . ‘Our nation is seeing wars, unprecedented weather events, starvation, and other signs that depict the end of the world as we know it,’ Lotz says.” In 1983, her father said in his book Approaching Hoofbeats that the end was “near.” He published a revised edition in 1992 with the title Storm Warning.
Prophetic speculation has a dismal track record. For centuries prophecy writers have predicted the near end of all things. The 20th century alone brought out the speculators in droves. Two world wars, Adolf Hitler, genocide, the rise of Communism, and the development of nuclear weapons led many prominent doomsayers to argue that the end was near. The Bible passages that were used to make these predictions are the same ones being used today, only the names, events, and dates have changed. These prophetic speculators are counting on the short-term memories of their receptive audiences or their general ignorance of how failed date setting has infected and immobilized the church.
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Not too long ago I wrote an article on why Harold Camping is not as dangerous as more well-known prophecy writers with large followings. Camping’s career was over on May 22, 2011 when his prediction did not come to pass. Prophecy writers like Tim LaHaye and newcomer Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church of Dallas, are like the Energizer Bunny. They keep going, and going, and going with their prophecy tales that lead millions of Christians astray and consequently give cover to a pagan worldview with no moral, cultural, or legal competition.
Of course, these guys know not to set an exact date, so they entice people with the belief that Jesus is definitely coming soon we just don’t know the exact day. They are careful, however, to add a caveat, like this one by Pastor Jeffress: “Now, I am not Harold Camping trying to predict when the end is going to come. I have no idea when Christ is coming, but one thing I do know for sure is that in the next 50 years, either Christ is coming or I’m going to see him [because I’ll be dead].” Few people would be interested in a sermon series with these titles:
“I Have No Idea When Christ is Coming.”
“Jesus’ Coming Could Be 50 Years Away.”
“You and I Will Be Dead Before Jesus Comes.”
People are going to flock to his church and buy the video series and companion book because they are expecting to hear a message on how America’s downfall is near and how they don’t have to worry or do anything about it (except maybe to “delay” it) since Jesus is going to “rapture” them before all hell really breaks loose. Jeffress may say that Jesus’ coming could be 50 years out, but I bet he doesn’t really believe it.
In an earlier CNN article about Harold Camping’s specific date setting, Jeffress wrote:
[P]redictions about the end of the world always lead some people to make foolish decisions. When a self-professed prophet named Edgar Whisenant predicted that the Rapture would occur in 1988, a couple I know responded by charging their Visa card to the limit with a trip to Disney World, believing the bank would be left with the bill once they had left the Magic Kingdom for God’s kingdom.
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How is Jeffress’ claim that “America’s collapse is inevitable” any different? Why bother working to change the political landscape to lessen the power of government if America’s end is inevitable? Could America’s demise be just around the corner because tens of millions of Christians have been told that (1) politics is not the business of Christians, (2) the antichrist is going to be a political figure, (3) the Bible does not apply to the so-called kingdom of man, and (4) the “rapture” is near? Why bother building Christian schools and developing curriculum with a solid biblical worldview if the end is near? Why bother studying law, starting a business, or developing alternative energy sources if the end is near? Pick any cultural endeavor and ask similar questions.
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Like Brannon Howse, Jeffress is schizophrenic.1 On the one hand, he argues that “America’s days are numbered, because this world’s days are numbered.” On the other hand, he claims that “Christians can be salt and light in a decaying and darkening world.” Who is going to bother being “salt and light” in a lost cause? Consider this from Jeffress:
I think about what Paul [wrote to the] Philippians 2,000 years ago. They were living in a very decadent culture, even more so than ours, an anti-Christian culture. Yet he told them to rejoice in that time, realizing that in that dark and perverse generation, they could be children of light, holding out the word of light. And I believe that should be our response as Christians as well. Instead of hunkering down and buying gold and waiting for the end to come, we ought to see that we have an unprecedented opportunity to share the gospel in these dark times.
Jeffress admits that the early church was living under worse conditions than we are living today. So why didn’t these early followers of Jesus write about the inevitable end to the world? In a sense, they did write about the end of their world. The old covenant world of Judaism was about to come to an end within a generation. Jesus predicted it in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). Those outside the church were threatened by the active expansion of Christianity, so much so that they believed their world was being turned “upside down” (Acts 17:6). Jesus had predicted as much: “the gates of hell shall not prevail” (Matt. 16:18) against the church on the move. I’m sure glad the disciples did not preach a message similar to what Pastor Jefferess is going to preach!
There are tens of thousands of churches in America and tens of millions of Christians. There are 13,000 members in Jeffress’ church – more than a thousand times the number of apostles Jesus had — and he’s telling them that they can only “delay America’s eventual demise” because “this world’s days are numbered.” Jesus told His very few disciples that they were to “make disciples of the nations,” and they did. For Jeffress and others, there is no great commission, only a great omission, the omission of the church to follow in the footsteps of Jesus’ disciples.
Here’s some historical perspective that might help with all this talk about prophetic inevitability. Many people thought the same thing in the 15th century. Read the opening paragraph to the Prologue of Samuel Eliot Morison’s biography on Christopher Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea (1942):
At the end of the year 1492 most men in Western Europe felt exceedingly gloomy about the future. Christian civilization appeared to be shrinking in area and dividing into hostile units as its sphere contracted. For over a century there had been no important advance in natural science, and registration in the universities dwindled as the instruction they offered became increasingly jejune [devoid of significance] and lifeless. Institutions were decaying, well-meaning people were growing cynical or desperate, and many intelligent men, for want of something better to do, were endeavoring to escape the present through the study of the pagan past. Islam was now expanding at the expense of Christendom. . . . The Ottoman Turks, after snuffing out all that remained of the Byzantine Empire, had overrun most of Greece, Albania and Serbia; presently they would be hammering at the gates of Vienna.2
Plug in the year 2011 where 1492 appears in Morison’s quotation, and his description reads like today’s headlines. The world changed in a day when Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and in a quarter century when Martin Luther posted a parchment on a chapel door in 1517 in Wittenberg, Germany. A revival and reformation ensued, the New World was opened, and Western Civilization advanced.
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Jacques Barzun, author of numerous books that trace the history of ideas and culture — his Dawn to Decadence is one of his best (2000) — offers an assessment similar to that of Morison’s of how the future is discounted by the perception that the present is bankrupt, near collapse, and hopelessly lost:
“Sooner or later, the sophisticated person who reads or hears that Western civilization is in decline reminds himself that to the living ‘the times’ always seem bad. In most eras voices cry out against the visible decadence; for every generation — and especially for the aging — the world is going to the dogs. In 1493 — note the date — a learned German named [Hartmann] Schedel [1440–1514] compiled and published with comments the Nuremberg Chronicle. It announced that the sixth of the seven ages was drawing to a close and it supplied several blank pages at the end of the book to record anything of importance that might occur in what was left of history. What was left, hiding around the corner, was the opening up of the New World and a few side effects of that inconsequential event. A glance at history, by showing that life continues and new energies may arise, is bound to inspire skepticism about the recurrent belief in decline.”3
Tom Sine offers a startling example of the effect “prophetic inevitability” can have on some people:
“‘Do you realize if we start feeding hungry people things won’t get worse, and if things don’t get worse, Jesus won’t come?’ interrupted a coed during a Futures Inter-term I recently conducted at a northwest Christian college. Her tone of voice and her serious expression revealed she was utterly sincere. And unfortunately I have discovered the coed’s question doesn’t reflect an isolated viewpoint. Rather, it betrays a widespread misunderstanding of biblical eschatology . . . that seems to permeate much contemporary Christian consciousness. I believe this misunderstanding of God’s intentions for the human future is seriously undermining the effectiveness of the people of God in carrying out his mission in a world of need. . . . The response of the (student) . . . reflects what I call the Great Escape View of the future. So much of the popular prophetic literature has focused our attention morbidly on the dire, the dreadful, and the destruction of all that is.”4
Josef Tson, a Romanian Baptist pastor imprisoned for his faith under the communist regime, stated the following in a Wheaton College Commencement address: “Let me illustrate the importance of understanding the times from my own experience. The communist disaster fell on my country [of Romania] when I was a teenager. For many years after that, my life was a battle for intellectual and spiritual survival under Marxist indoctrination and totalitarian and Christian terror. I struggled to understand the nature of that calamity, and the Lord gave me that understanding. In the forties, I wrote papers on the nature of the failure of communism. One of them, published under the title The Christian Manifesto landed me in six months of house arrest with harsh interrogations by the secret police. But for me the crucial moment came in 1977, when a friend of mine challenged me to set up an organization that would openly expose communism.
“Here is what I told him: ‘Communism is an experiment that has failed. It wasn’t able to fulfill any of its many promises and nobody believes in it any more. Because of this, it will one day collapse on its own. Now, why should I fight something that is finished? I believe that our task is a different one. When communism collapses, somebody has to be there to rebuild society! I believe our job as Christian teachers is to train leaders so that they will be ready and capable to rebuild our society on a Christian basis.’
“To my surprise, here is what my friend said to me: ‘Josef, you are wrong. Communism will triumph all over the world, because this is the movement of the Antichrist. And when the communists take over in the United States, they will have no restraining force left. They will then kill all the Christians. We have only one job to do: to alert the world and make ready to die.’
“A few years later my friend was forced to leave Romania. He came to the U.S. and settled down. Then I was forced into exile, and I moved to the U.S. as well. Since then, my friend has not done anything for Romania. He simply waited for the final triumph of communism and the annihilation of Christianity.
“On the other hand, when I came here in 1981, I started a training program for Christian leaders in Romania. We translated Christian textbooks and smuggled them into Romania. With our partners in the organization, The Biblical Education by Extension (BEE), we trained about 1200 people all over Romania. Today, those people who were trained in that underground operation are the leaders in churches, in evangelical denominations, and in key Christian ministries.
“You see, the way you look to the future determines your planning and your actions. It is the way you understand the times that determines what you are going to do.”5
- So is his publisher. Worthy Publishing is also publishing Charles Colson’s book The Sky is Not Falling: Living Fearlessly in these Turbulent Times. [↩]
- Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co., 1942), 3. [↩]
- Jacques Barzun, “Toward the Twenty-First Century,” The Culture We Deserve (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1989), 161. [↩]
- Tom Sine, The Mustard Seed Conspiracy: You Can Make a Difference in Tomorrow’s Troubled World (Waco, TX: Word, 1981), 69. [↩]
- Josef Tson, “The Cornerstone at the Crossroads,” Wheaton Alumni (August/September 1991). [↩]