The 'Left Behind' doctrine relaunched
With a fanfare of publicity the 'mega best-selling' Left Behind series of books is being re-launched.The question is whether today's Christians are taking their doctrine from their Bibles or from popular fiction.
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
LEFT BEHIND is a New York Times best-selling title: it is also the generic name of a series of 16 books; the theme of a series of action-thriller films, the basis of a computer game and also a comprehensive website in its own right.
However it is also a doctrine. First published in 1995 the series is based on end-time issues or – to use the fancier term – eschatology.
End-time issues have a reputation for being very difficult. In this context it is perhaps a tempting option for Christian believers to pick up a well-written fast-paced novel which claims to give a biblical view of current events – and how these relate to the coming again of Christ.
An extract from the opening chapter in the first book of the series sets the scene:
An airborne Boeing 747 is headed to London when, without any warning, passengers mysteriously disappear from their seats. Terror and chaos slowly spread not only through the plane but also worldwide as unusual events continue to unfold. For those who have been left behind, the apocalypse has just begun.
The scenario being depicted here is based on the doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture which teaches that prior to the 'big trouble' which will come upon the earth (Matt 24 et al.) Gentile believers will be snatched from the earth without prior warning. (Note 1.)
Whilst there are millions who would agree with the premise of the pre-trib rapture, there are many millions who don't.
The pressing need to 'be Bereans'
So a big problem arises if followers of Christ fail to 'be Bereans' and check everything out from the Word of God.
Accordingly the issue here for the church in a 'sound-bite fast-food age', is that believers could be taking their beliefs and biblical interpretations from well-meaning fiction.
Indeed many preachers are now saying that church members are no longer taking their Bibles to church; and even those who do are relying on screen projections rather than paging up the references for themselves.
A dangerous trend?
If this is indeed a trend then believers will be coming less and less familiar with the pages of their own personal Bibles, and accordingly (albeit perhaps sub-conciously) less incline to turn to the unadulterated and trustworthy Word of God.
Even within our Bibles there can be a problem. Whilst study Bibles can be a very useful there are inherent dangers in using them. In fact the whole 'Rapture' teaching was first encapsulated in the Scofield Study Bible as 'notes'.
Relying on sermon-tasting, the reading of novels (and even notes in Bibles) can lead us into deep deception. The most dangerous form of deception is found in situations where (some) Truth is mixed in with error.
When asked by his followers concerning the signs of his coming again, the very first thing which Jesus said was 'take care lest anyone decieve you'. As we get ever closer to His glorious return we need to cling ever-tighter to the Word of God. Mining its treasures for ourselves rather than relying on the thoughts (and writings) of others.
Let us all BEWARE.
A central plank of pre-tribulation rapture teaching comes from a verse in Paul's second letter to the church in Thessalonica:
For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. (2 Thessalonians 2:7).
In pre-trib rapture circles this verse is commonly interpreted to mean:
For the secret power of the Devil is already at work, but this power is restricted by God until He removes believers (and the Holy Spirit within them) from the earth.
Much of the above hinges on the translation of the Greek word ('ek') which has been rendered by the translators as 'taken out of the way'. In common parlance this conveys the impression of hindrance being removed from the scene. However the word 'ek' denotes 'point of origin' which in turn suggests a quite different interpretation of the 2 Thess 2:7 verse i.e. -
For the secret power of the Devil is already at work; but this power will be restricted until he (the Devil) is revealed in the midst.
So rather than the Holy Spirit being removed from the picture we have the Devil become manifest in the midst.
As an illustration, it is common in award ceremonies for the winner to be anonymous until his or her name is declared. At this point he/she is 'revealed' and comes 'on stage' rather than being taken out of the room.
Given that many scholars come to different opinions on the Rapture and when/if it will occur it is surely a mistake to teach any one view as dogma while dismissing all others. And it is surely a mistake to trust one's understanding to a work of fiction rather than the unadulterated Word of God.