TF: Best-kept secrets

TF: Best-kept secrets October 17, 2011

Tribulation Force, pp. 425-426

The double ceremony in Bruce’s office two weeks later was the most private wedding anyone could imagine.

If you’re getting married and your dad is getting married at the same time in the same room by the same preacher, then I can actually imagine a much more private wedding ceremony.

Only the five of them were in the room. Bruce Barnes concluded by thanking God for all the smiles, the embraces, the kisses and the prayer.

And that’s it for the wedding. Three sentences.

I’m all for small, understated weddings, but this one doesn’t strike me as private as much as it is exclusive. Bruce conducted this ceremony the same way he has done everything else at New Hope Village Church — with all of his attention focused on his “inner circle” and the rest of the congregation ignored, excluded and literally shut out.

This is another place where these books accurately, if accidentally, portray an unattractive aspect of life in too many local churches. Many churches — particularly nondenominational, independent churches like NHVC — are like this, with a small, exclusive clique at the core and everyone else treated as a nameless, faceless periphery.

Bruce is a terrible pastor. He has failed as a leader to train other leaders (usually a sign of a desire to acquire and cling to power) and he has failed as a pastor, as a “shepherd,” to learn about any of his parishioners beside his three favorites.

This seems to still be the case, even after those favorites have moved out of state and no longer even attend the church. When was the last time anyone other than his “inner circle” was welcomed in his study? When has he ever celebrated a wedding or a baptism with any other member of his congregation?

Nondenominational churches like New Hope tend to be vaguely Baptist, so baptisms for infants wouldn’t likely be part of their congregational life. But Baptists still conduct infant “dedications,” and there’s no hint that Bruce has performed any such blessings, even during the post-Rapture baby boom that would likely have followed after the disappearance of every child on Earth (the authors never mention such a thing — in the first two books we’re told of one and only one post-Rapture pregnancy).

We’re actually given a rather strong hint that Bruce has never performed such a ceremony or in any other way discussed the matter of children born during this final brief era of the Great Tribulation. This would certainly be an urgent and anxious topic for many of the newly childless families in his congregation, but the way Chloe and Buck talk about this, it’s clear that Bruce hasn’t provided any guidance on the topic.

Instead of such practical and pastoral matters, Bruce seems to have interacted with his congregation only by lecturing them on the End Times prophecies he sees in the book of Revelation. This is, apparently, the only thing he has preached on for the past year and a half. Granted, this is an important subject for a congregation living in the Great Tribulation, but Revelation is only 22 short chapters long — about 400 verses. That works out to about 15 pages in my Bible — so even a slow reading would take at most a couple of hours. After a year and a half, they should have the entire book memorized. Bruce has had more than enough time to fully acquaint his congregation with all the prophecy they need to know and still also be their pastor, bearing their burdens and attending to their spiritual and emotional needs.

I think Bruce’s cliquish exclusiveness and his utter disregard for the daily lives and spiritual state of most of his congregation was something he learned from his old boss. I think the Rev. Vernon Billings was like this — which is probably at least partly why Bruce wound up getting left behind.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Rev. Tim LaHaye was like this when he was senior pastor at Scott Memorial Baptist Church, but Billings is rather explicitly modeled after LaHaye.

So after “the most private wedding,” what’s next? Do they reserve a corner booth somewhere so the five of them can celebrate the most private wedding reception? Not quite:

Buck asked if he could see the underground shelter Bruce had constructed. “It was barely under way when I moved to New York,” he said.

“It’s the best-kept secret in the church,” Bruce said as they made their way down past the furnace room and through a secret doorway.

“You don’t want church members to use it?” Buck asked.

“You’ll see how small it is,” Bruce said. “I’m encouraging families to build their own. It would be chaos if the church body showed up here in a time of danger.”

It’s for their own good, really — their own safety. The best way for Bruce to look after his flock — the kindest, most caring thing — was for him to use their tithes and offerings to build a shelter for his personal benefit and that of his select inner circle. Should the nameless families of his congregation have any left over money after those tithes and offerings, Bruce encouraged them to build their own personal shelters too. That would ensure that he and his inner circle are spared the chaos of being faced with others in need.

Buck was astounded at how small the shelter was, but it seemed to have everything they would need to survive for a few weeks. The Tribulation Force was not made up of people who would hide out for long.

We’ve already seen that this is no hollow boast. Buck himself was forced to go into hiding back in the first book of the series. He had learned too much about the secret machinations of the conspiracy of international Jewish bankers led by Stonagal and they were trying to have him killed. He went into hiding, but he wasn’t the kind of person who would hide out for long. Instead of cowering in the shadows, he ran directly to the Antichrist himself, to cower openly, face to face, begging for protection and ultimately agreeing to a deal in which he buried the story, helping to preserve the conspiracy’s secrets, in exchange for his own safety.

The five huddled to compare schedules and discuss when they might see each other again.

Kiss the bride, tour the secret apocalypse shelter, then get out your calendars to plan a time for the next meeting. This is the worst wedding reception I’ve ever heard of, and I grew up among fundamentalist Baptists who regarded dancing and drinking as sins.

A page later they settle on a time:

They set the date, four in the afternoon, six weeks later. They would have a two-hour intensive Bible study in Bruce’s office and then enjoy a nice dinner somewhere.

That “two-hour intensive Bible study” will, yet again, be focused on the End Times timeline and sequence of judgments, likely covering such topics as “Why it’s really foolish to try to plan six weeks ahead during the Great Tribulation.”

Before they parted, they held hands in a circle and prayed yet again. “Father,” Bruce whispered, “for this brief flash of joy in a world on the brink of disaster, we thank you and pray your blessing and protection on us all until we meet back here again.”

Bruce’s prayer for divine protection is — like his shelter and his work as a pastor — focused exclusively on himself and his inner circle. That callously dim, dimly callous self-centeredness, coupled with the smug confidence he and Buck both express in their exclusive little shelter, calls to mind one of Jesus’ parables:

The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.

That parable, as it turns out, tracks pretty closely with Bruce’s own destiny in the few pages that remain of this chapter and this book. And yet I don’t think this was the lesson the authors intended to teach us by telling us about Bruce and his exclusive little shelter.

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