Oh joy! Rapture!

Harold Camping’s prediction of “the Rapture” occurring on 21st May has certainly captured plenty of attention. What do I think of his prediction? Well, let’s just say I haven’t changed my plans for next week.

I made a lighthearted comment along similar lines on Twitter earlier today, and received the following in reply:

Which raises the question: do I believe in the Rapture ?

Well, first off, what is “the Rapture”? The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod has a useful FAQ on this (sadly buried in a PDF – what has the LCMS done to its FAQ section?), which summarises it as follows:

Some Christians teach … that the “rapture” will take place not on the last day but in connection with an “invisible” coming of Christ occurring before a seven-year period of “tribulation” on earth, allowing Christians to “escape” this tribulation and then later return to earth for a literal “1,000 year reign of Christ.”

The key point to note here is some Christians. This is not a universal belief, and in its modern form it only really became popular from the early 19th century onwards.

As the LCMS’s FAQ puts it:

Q: Does The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod believe in the rapture?

A: The answer to your question depends on what you mean by “the rapture.” The English word “rapture” is derived from the Latin translation of the verb “caught up” in 1 Thess. 4:17 (rapiemur).

Lutherans certainly believe what Paul teaches in this passage, namely, that those who are still living on earth when Christ returns visibly on the last day “will be caught up” (“raptured”) together with “the dead in Christ” to “meet the Lord in the air.”

(Personally I suspect that there is more of an element of picture language in Paul’s description than that suggests, but that’s not important right now.)

As for the beliefs propounded by believers in the Rapture as described above:

Lutherans do not believe that these teachings are based on a proper understanding of Scripture. Scripture teaches that all Christians will endure varying degrees of “tribulation” until the last day, that Christ will return only once (visibly) to “catch up” (“rapture”) all believers, living and dead, into heaven, and that all believers will reign forever with him in heaven. Lutherans understand the “1000 years” of Rev. 20:11-15 to be a figurative reference to Christ’s reign here and now in the hearts and lives of believers, which will culminate in our reigning with Christ forever in heaven following his return on the last day.

Now there’s plenty in there for Ms Westwind and plenty of others to conclude that Lutherans, myself included, are just another flavour of Froot-Loop. That’s fine: I’m not going to deny that Christians believe some pretty strange-sounding stuff. To quote Dougal in Father Ted, the Rapture is “no more peculiar than all that stuff we learned in the seminary, you know, Heaven and Hell and everlasting life and all that type of thing”.

From a Christian point of view, though, the real objection to Harold Camping is not his beliefs as to the precise order of events at the end of time, but:

  1. The very attempt to set a date like this, which goes expressly against one of Jesus’ most emphatic teachings, is grossly misguided. It seems to reflect a desire to be in control, to be on the inside track.
  2. It exposes the Christian faith to ridicule. And there is plenty enough to ridicule us about already, thanks all the same, Mr Camping.

Edit (20/5/11): As has been discussed in the comments below, there are some pretty serious flaws in that LCMS FAQ. For a much better exposition (as in, involving actual exposition), see this short essay by N.T. Wright: Farewell to the Rapture.

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13 Responses to Oh joy! Rapture!

  1. Vashti Winterburg says:

    As an Episcopalian, I thought I’d withhold my opinion until the 22nd.

  2. Kim Riddlebarger does a “Who said that?” competition with a quote from some moonbat which he’s not going to reveal until the 22nd. Can’t think who it might be.

    Lutherans understand the “1000 years” of Rev. 20:11-15 to be a figurative reference to Christ’s reign here and now in the hearts and lives of believers, which will culminate in our reigning with Christ forever in heaven following his return on the last day.

    Wot, no general resurrection? No renewed earth?

  3. John H says:

    *facepalm*

    Good point, Phil. Bit of a blunder by the LCMS folks, there. I really should have spotted that. They also got the reference wrong: it’s Revelation 20:1-6, of course.

    Actually, reading the PDF, it’s more than just a lapse. That whole document is written from a “going to heaven” perspective. Well, this is what happens when you treat N.T. Wright as a dangerous heretic… :-/

  4. J Random Hermeneut says:

    I looked up “meh” in the dictionary and it cited that lcms article.

  5. John H says:

    JRH: Quite. I was only quoting it to show that the pre-dispy version of “the Rapture” isn’t the only game in town, which is the impression that many seem to be getting from the current fun and games. If I’d had more time/energy, I’d have tried to find something that made the same point but better. Suggestions are warmly invited.

    (Other than “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end”, which I also meant to quote in my post, and forgot. It was late, I was tired… 😉 )

  6. J Random Hermeneut says:

    Oh, I was just going to suggest that one. 🙂 I guess I’m no help at all. How about the Odes of Solomon? Early eucharistic liturgies? Maybe Ignatius? Oh, and definitely this: ISBN: 978-0-8132-1516-7

  7. And how often they must say the Apostles’ Creed? “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins and did you catch the game last night? Amen.”

  8. John H says:

    I’m feeling increasingly less regretful about the LCMS burying their FAQs in PDFs, now. 😉

  9. John H says:

    I’ve just edited the post to add a note linking to an excellent N.T. Wright mini-essay on this subject: Farewell to the Rapture.

  10. Charlie says:

    You people have no idea what literally literally means, and so you cling to it. You could have let go of the “literal interpretation” nonsense (which obviously you have, see “picture language” in your original post) and accepted the fact that people of any kind read their Bible themselves and conclude whatever they want from its insane hodgepodge of contradictory thematics, or also just ignore the thing as well, and still be just as far from whatever it is that the word truth denominates. I might have bothered to stick around your ridiculous church body, but as it is, the LCMS is nothing but an ethnic preservation club, and the pastors that run it nothing but power-happy authoritarians who think that knowing Greek puts them closer to the fount of wisdom. I almost wish the rapture nutcase was right.

  11. J Random Hermeneut says:

    Dear Charlie,

    With respect the word “literal” is literally a metaphor. See Exhibit A, my usage in the previous sentence. And the only thing I’m clinging to today is my underwear.

    Best, J. Random Hermeneut

  12. Michael Snow says:

    The funniest comment that I have seen was ‘Cheer up Mr. Camping. We all make mistakes. It is not the end of the world.”

  13. allan says:

    Once I read the news I used to think it was quite funny. How many times a lot of people will come up with issues concerning rapture. I think we should not think about it now at all

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