by Roger Oakland
Understand the Times
If you haven’t already noticed, anti-Christian sentiment is growing toward those who believe in a biblical last days/Book of Revelation scenario prior to Christ’s return. A 2005 article titled “Lutheran leader calls for an ecumenical council to address growing biblical fundamentalism” should help convince you. The article shows not only this growing resentment towards Bible-believing Christians but also the interspiritual path this change in attitude is taking:
The leader of the nation’s largest Lutheran has called for a global Christian council to address an “identity crisis” on how churches interpret and understand the Bible. Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America … called for Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches to come together to combat a fundamentalist-millenialist-apocalypticist reading of Scripture.1
Hanson’s request for a group to monitor and expose anti-ecumenists who take the Bible literally carries some weight! His message contains other statements showing his concern about Bible literalists—particularly those who take Bible prophecy seriously and see Israel and the Middle East crisis as an end-times sign post. The article continues:
[M]ainline churches traditionally are uneasy with literal readings of Scripture, particularly in fundamentalist churches, regarding the end of the world and political unrest in the Middle East. In addition, mainline churches have been divided over what the Bible says about hot-button issues such as homosexuality and women’s ordination.2
Bishop Hanson believes that a global ecumenical group made up of Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, and Lutherans is the answer to the crisis he sees. Hanson calls this effort a “ministry of reconciliation,” that will “result of Christ breaking down the dividing walls,” and “reconcil[ing] the whole creation to God’s self.”3 But Hanson says that those who believe in a biblical end times and a literal Bible interpretation are counterproductive to and holding back the cause of Christ, which he suggests is to unite all of creation and produce a planetary utopia.
Incredibly, Hanson would like to reverse the outcome of the first reformation, join hands with the Catholic Church, and embrace the Eucharistic Jesus in order to bring about an ecumenical unity and the kingdom of God here on earth. He explains:
How do we as LWF [Lutheran World Federation] member churches continue to express our commitment to Eucharistic hospitality and sharing with the Roman Catholic Church without minimizing the theological issues that remain? Will 2017 and the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation provide an opportunity for shared reflection with the Roman Catholics on our contributions and commitment to the unity of Christ’s church and to the work for justice and peace in all the earth.4
In this goal to bring about the kingdom of God on earth through an ecumenical, inter-faith movement, Reverend Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jerusalem, believes that those who adhere to an apocalyptic end-time scenario (with a focus on Israel) are spreading “heresy.” He says they “pretend to love the Jewish people” but are “actually anti-Jewish” with teachings that are “racist.” He has requested that Lutherans “alert all Christians everywhere to its dangers and false teachings.”5
As I mentioned earlier in the book [Faith Undone], Rick Warren tells his followers that the details of Christ’s return are none of our business. Tony Campolo says Christians that focus on end-time scenarios have been the cause of “extremely detrimental” consequences (see chapter 9). One thing you will notice in the writings of most emerging church leaders is an absence of discussion on a catastrophic apocalyptic atmosphere before Christ’s literal return to earth. What you will see though is lots of discussion about establishing the kingdom now and never mind thinking about life after our earthly deaths. Brian McLaren gives an example:
The church has been preoccupied with the question, “What happens to your soul after you die?” As if the reason for Jesus coming can be summed up in, “Jesus is trying to help get more souls into heaven, as opposed to hell, after they die.” I just think a fair reading of the Gospels blows that out of the water. I don’t think that the entire message and life of Jesus can be boiled down to that bottom line.6
In an interview on Planet Preterist website, McLaren discusses his dilemma over eschatological-thinking believers:
I didn’t start with any interest in rethinking eschatology … I think many of us are in this kind of rethinking process—some starting from the beginning part by rethinking, perhaps, the relation of faith and science in relation to evolution and young-earth creationism … some starting from the middle, as they re-examine what the gospel of the kingdom of God is supposed to mean, or the idea of integral or holistic mission … and some starting from the end, re-examining eschatology.…
Sometimes I think that people who are thoroughly indoctrinated and habituated into this kind of system will not be able to break free from it without experiencing both psychological and social dislocation and disorientation. (emphasis added)7
McLaren also says that such Christians are really going to hurt our world. He continues:
An eschatology of abandonment, which is how I would characterize certain streams of the left-behind approach, has disastrous social consequences.… Any project geared toward improving the world long term is seen as unfaithful, since we’re supposed to assume that the world is getting worse and worse.8
In the interview, McLaren is asked what he thinks about a “preterist book”* that was being released. McLaren states:
A lot is at stake in these conversations—and very literally, the lives of thousands of people hang in the balance because if the dominant religious group in the country with the most weapons of mass destruction embraces an eschatology that legitimates escalating violence … well, I hate to think about it.9
In essence, McLaren is saying if you believe the Book of Revelation and Matthew 24 are yet to take place, you are a dangerous psychological misfit and are assumed to have no compassion for the suffering, no concerns for the environment or the world in which we live, and have the potential to blow up the world with “weapons of mass destruction.” If McLaren was talking about big governments and political parties, that would be one thing, but he is clear—he is referring to Christians who believe what the Bible says about the last days. (from Faith Undone, chapter 12, “A New Reformation”)
*Preterism: The belief that biblical prophecies, such as in Matthew 24, took place before 70 AD, thus preterists do not wait for a second coming of Christ.
1. Kevin Eckstrom, “Lutheran leader calls for an ecumenical council to address growing biblical fundamentalism” (Religious News Service, August 11, 2005).
3. Bishop Mark S. Hanson, Lutheran World Federation President and presiding Bishop of the ELCA, “The Church: Called to a Ministry of Reconciliation,” Address to the LWF Council in Jerusalem (Lutheran World, September 2005, http://www.lutheranworld.org/LWF_Documents/2005-Council/President_Address-2005_EN.pdf), p. 1.
4. Ibid., p. 8.
5. “Younan: Christian Zionism is heresy” (The Lutheran, March 2003, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3942/is_200303/ai_n9221870). Note: According to one online encyclopedia, Christian Zionism is defined as: a belief among some Christians that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is in accordance with Biblical prophecy, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Zionism).
6. Brian McLaren cited on “PBS Special on the Emerging Church” (Religion and Ethics Weekly, July 15, 2005, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/week846/cover.html), part 2.
7. Interview by Planet Preterist with Brian McLaren (http://planetpreterist.com/news-2774.html).