Rapture or Rupture?

A year after Rev Harold Camping’s followers messed up on doomsday and the rapture didn’t happen Patrick Archbold links to a sympathetic article on the followers who were “left behind” when Jesus didn’t turn up in glory. They didn’t experience the rapture, but they did experience a rupture–in their belief system. Matt notices that this article observes that “most mainstream Christians” believe in the rapture, and he goes on to point out that this just ain’t so. Read his post here.

I was brought up in a fundamentalist church that followed dispensationalist theology. This is a theological system devised by a Protestant Bible scholar called C.I. Schofield. His basic thesis is that God’s work in the world occurs in different time periods or “dispensations”. God’s message to humanity and work within history happens different ways in different times. This dispensationalist theology is the foundational system for all the “end times” prophecies that abound in this sort of Protestantism. It involves a the “rapture” in which Jesus returns supernaturally and takes all believers to heaven–leaving the wicked behind to suffer seven years of tribulation before the final return of Christ and the Last Battle of Armageddon. The writer of the article Matt quotes can be forgiven for saying that this “end times” stuff is “mainstream” because it is mainstream within American Evangelicalism. This reveals the incredible ignorance of the typical American about historic Christianity. The writer clearly has a blind spot and can only call this form of American Evangelicalism “mainstream” because he doesn’t even see Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Anglicanism and the other Christian groups.

However, this is not the core problem. The main difficulty is with Dispensationalism itself. Some time ago I wrote this article about the whole “Left Behind” phenomenon. Check out that article, but also stop to consider the problems with Dispensationalism itself. The fact that this kind of religion is considered “mainstream” in America says an awful lot that is disturbing about American religion and stuff that is even more disturbing about the American Evangelical mainstream. Read more.

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  • Amy

    Thank you so much for this thread of articles, especially the two you wrote on dispensationalism. I just returned to the Catholic Chirch after a twenty-year trip through various Protestantant denominations, one of which was hyper-dispensational. I gotta tell you, it made SO much sense at the time; I felt like the Scriptures opened up to me in a whole new, logical way, and I must confess, it has been the hardest line of thinking to shed. How ironic that I find so much more depth and fullness of faith in the Catholic Church than in the hyper-dispensational church where, I now see, intellectualism and dispensationalism were gods.

  • Paul Rodden

    Great article!

    But I don’t think you’re describing Dispensationalism as much as a psyche of which Dispensationalism is only one manifestation (others being exemplified in those who think The Vicar, Caitlin O’Rourke, Duane Mandible, and Orson Welles’ 1938 production of War of the Worlds, are real).

  • David

    Thank you for being so eloquent in your writing. You have said in this short article what I have been stumbling over in my dialogues with a fundementalist for some time.

  • Paul Rodden

    Hi, Amy.
    I’ll agree it is a great thread, Fr L’s got a great way of expressing things.
    If you’re interested in the subject, Carl Olson’s book, Will Catholics Be Left Behind? (Ignatius Press), is a great read – very scriptural, and probably not too technical as you’ll have grasped the basics, from which he builds, during your pre-Catholic journey…

  • Jack

    I pointed out to Patrick Archibald that the pre-trib rapture is NOT a mainstream Christian doctrine. It’s just the loudest view in the USA.

  • Tracy

    I think what this article had done most for me is help me to recognize and define Dispensationalism. I grew up being taught this theology (as an Evangelical Mennonite) and sometimes when you’re accustomed to something, it’s hard to actually get a handle on it. Now I can see the lines and how it works. Understanding something goes a great way to being able to refute it. Thanks, Father.

  • MJ

    You hit the nail on the head with this article. One more unfortunate affect of this type of heresy is that it has influenced American foreign policy for over one hundred years. With it, colonialism, economic and military oppression have been sanctioned. The indiscriminate killing of the ‘other’ has been ignored and put out of mind and out sight. You are right, much of this is fueled by ignorance, but unfortunately ignorance is not non-lethal. Just ask any Palestinian living in the West Bank and Gaza. Who is it in America that condones acts of violence against people that have no power, by people who exert power over weapons created for the sole purpose of destroying human beings? Well, you just wrote a whole article about them. They are a minority, but they scream the loudest. Catholics and other sane groups need to speak up, but many of us are maybe too afraid. Afraid that their “christian” friends will label them satanic or in collusion with the devil, for speaking the truth. I hate to got there and say satanic, but anyone that questions this line of thinking is automatically suspect to being under the influence of the “enemy.” That’s what passes for Christianity today. St. Irenaeus would have been greatly disappointed :)
    Yes ignorance, a lack of education, the media and the government are all culprits. There are many things that one can say about these groups, but what perturbs me the most is how they condone and even root for the spread of violence in the Middle East and against Muslims, all to fulfill their eschatological pipe-dreams. Ignorance, like heresy, kills and it does so this very day. The question is whether we will stand up and speak out. Or will we allow these groups of ignorant hysterics to plunge us and this world into another conflict that inevitably kill innocent people. And why you might ask? Because Ezekiel 37 told them so. Wow, May God have mercy on us.


  • Ikilope

    Thank you Father, for the I sight into this neo-theological movement. I propose for your next article you address the ways in which this peculiar brand of American Christianity has influenced even the most conservative of Catholics. Sadly American Catholics — from the Knights of Columbus to the Charismatic movement — are often more Dispensationalist than Catholic in their worldview and rhetoric.

  • http://www.mailinator.com David

    > “It’s just the loudest”
    Absolutely agree!
    The Church, including (eventually those who became) Roman Catholics and finally most Protestants, have viewed redemptive history as a semi-steady progression to the reign of the Christ for oh, almost 2,000 years– Remember, the gates of hell shall not stand against the Bride of the Christ!
    Somebody needs to oil this squeaky wheel and its defeatist and unscriptural theology!