The Lessons of History

FOR GOODNESS SAKE, READ HISTORY (Part One)

Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning: FURY
Word of the Day prompt: SUSTAIN
Fandango’s One-Word Challenge: EULOGY

Fury, Rage, and Free Press

Sue over at Crooked Creek has done reports on the new books about Donald Trump: TOO MUCH AND NEVER ENOUGH written by his niece, Mary L. Trump, and the other, RAGE, by Bob Woodward. I think Sue has done a great job of introducing the books lightly and fairly, without getting into personal opinions about the contents.

Stickler for accuracy that I am, I do object to the subtitle “…the world’s most dangerous man.” It sounds so sensational. No doubt he is one of the most powerful men on the planet but when I think of some dictators, money men, heads of organized crime and drug lords, I’m not so sure who should receive that title. But I’ll leave that where it is.

When I read these book reviews, my thought was: at least we live in a world of free speech. People have compared Donald Trump to Hitler, but there’s so much difference. Read about that history! If any writer wrote a news story calling Hitler a megalomaniac or tried to publish a book about Adolf Hitler, the most dangerous man on the planet (which he was, in his day) the journalist or author would have disappeared in the night and never been heard from again.

I have a book here written by a woman who was a girl in Nazi Germany. Her father, a loyal army officer who had serious misgivings about the whole regime, quietly got involved in a “Schindler’s List” type arrangement with a factory owner. When this was discovered he was arrested and secretly executed. Trump may not respond well to criticism but I’m not hearing anything about vocal Democrats being rounded up and quietly disposed of.

“The Worst Ever” Usually Means “I Haven’t Heard of Anything Else”

We live in a world of sensational superlatives. The media delights in them. “The worst pandemic in history”; “the biggest, the worse, the most devastating storm” ever. Climatic conditions like fires, droughts, hurricanes, are “the most calamitous,” “unsurvivable” and “portents of much worse to come.” Political races may be called “the most contentious” or “the most fateful decision ever.”

It’s rather thrilling to believe we actually live in an era of the worst ever. These days we seem to be surrounded by news and Facebook and Twitter working to sustain panic and fury. Many people are chanting some eulogy for the West — or America. I can’t predict whether things will get worse or better, but I do believe it would be great if more people were studying history.

Speaking of which, I’ve just started reading PROHIBITION: Thirteen Years that Changed America, by Edward Behr. Fascinating era!

Image by MabelAmber — Pixabay

Planet Earth: Future Haze

As I sat down to write more about the subject of pre-millennialism, I asked my husband how he remembers this and that. So he’s handed me several books on the subject of prophecy. About a weeks’ worth of reading. 🙂 Prophecy is so complex and so much could be written, but I’d really like to keep this simple for those of you who are interested in reading it.
Let’s start in the dim distant past….

The Dormant Pre-millennial Doctrine Starts to Grow

According to Dave MacPherson in his book, The Incredible Cover-Up – © 1975 by Logos International – there was some pre-millennial thinking in the US colonies before 1830. It did rise somewhat during the mid-1800s with currents blowing in from a mini charismatic revival in Scotland and England, together with J N Darby’s teachings. It really began to take hold during the Civil War and by the 1870s folks were starting to say this was the only biblical understanding of the end times.

John Nelson Darby has had a huge impact on evangelical thinking in various ways. Born in 1800, Darby became a priest in the church of England in 1826, but after a time was burdened about the dissatisfaction he felt in his own Christian life. He had an experience where he came to understand that salvation can never be earned; it comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. Feeling like he’d been cleansed and set free, he began an attack on the Church of England for not guiding him aright.

According to Frank’s book, Christians of that era – especially in the US – were upbeat, seeing the Christian church as an army “marching forth triumphantly to spread the gospel and inaugurate the millenium.” As in the song, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” Evangelicals were right ready to trample those grapes of wrath: slavery, booze, and whatever other sins they saw as drawbacks to the coming kingdom.

Jesus said, “…upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matt 16:18

Darby disagreed. “The church is in ruins,” he said. The established church was broken beyond repair and believers who wanted to carry on the true Christian faith should abandon churches and assemble as small groups of believers without a formal organization or title. Calling themselves “Christians gathered in the name of the Lord,” the group has become known as the Plymouth Brethren.

The Church As the Spiritual Successor to Israel

This was a commonly accepted belief prior to Darby’s time. Pre-, Post- and A-millennialists were agreed: Israel ceased to be God’s people when they rejected Christ and the Church became the spiritual successor of Israel. Theologians and preachers taught that all believers are now the people of God, both Jews and gentiles. As the Apostle Paul writes:

“Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” Colossians 3: 11-14

Darby nixed this belief, too. Rather, he claimed that the Christian church is God’s heavenly kingdom and Israel is still God’s earthly people. Even though the Jews were unfaithful in keeping the laws of Moses, Darby said, God will still follow through with his promise to make Israel a great nation. Someday. We just need to understand the time frame for this.

“The Only Credible Explanation of Scripture”

Analyzing and “rightly dividing” he came up with the doctrine of dispensationalism. This doctrine divides history into six different eras, or dispensations. The Bible, to scholars who embraced his ideas, became like a jigsaw puzzle with various verses neatly divided and reconstructed into “easy-to-understand” eras. My grasp is hazy; a real Bible scholar who follows Darby’s thinking wold have this down pat.

The time of Adam & Eve and their descendants is one; the time of Noah and his ark is another; The Israelites of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob’s time is another. When Israel settled in the Promised Land and became a country is another. I think Jesus time on earth is part of that era, but then we have the Gospel era – the time since Christ – which, according to these teachers, is an interruption of God’s plan. The future “Thousand Year Reign of Christ on earth” is counted as another. I may not have these all as they are taught today, but you get the general idea.

Here in North America a theologian, minister, and writer named Cyrus I Scofield caught the vision of dispensationalism. He felt it was the only credible explanation for many Bible passages and set about to publish it. His annotated Scofield Reference Bible, with its explanations and cross references, became a best-seller and dispensationalism was widely accepted by evangelicals in North America.

The Rapture: Secret or Open?

Will cars crash, planes fall from the sky, teachers, workers, students disappear in a poof? According to the “secret rapture” thinking, Yes. According to other interpretations of prophecy, No. When Jesus returns to this earth, everyone will know it.

The a-millennial view has been that when Jesus returns in the clouds, the archangel will sound the trumpet and all Jesus children will be gathered up to glory with him. The Rapture will be a one-time thing, open for all to see. At that time the earth and the sea will give up their dead and those responsible for crucifying him “Will look upon him whom they have pierced.” Those who have rejected him will be so dismayed and afraid, they will, “will cry to the rocks and the hill to cover them” from his face.

As to the “time of great tribulation” foretold by Jesus, that mainly took place at the destruction of Jerusalem. The Christians of that day did forsake the city, as Jesus warned them to, when they saw the Roman army gathering around it. (To some extent this tribulation has been going on since, as Christians have been persecuted and many still are.)

The post-millennial idea is much the same. When Jesus comes back “every eye shall see him.” They understand from various scriptures that he will return to earth at the end of a period of great tribulation (which is going on now) and set up his kingdom, but they say it’s the church herself that will usher in this millennium of peace. As I said in an early post, that theory has about disappeared.

The Pre-Millennial Theory: Four Different Camps

According to Dave MacPherson, there are four positions re: the millennium to come:
— those who espouse the “pretrib” theory say there will be a secret Rapture where all Christians drawn up from the earth to meet Jesus before the time of tribulation comes, so that no Christians need to suffer through the natural disasters and war that will befall this earth.
— those who think “mid-trib” see the Rapture coming somewhere in the middle of these seven years of tribulation.
— Those who espouse the “post-trib” theory sees the Rapture as coming at the end of the seven years of tribulation
— partial rapturists who believe there will be more than one Rapture, which may occur at several points before/during/after the time of tribulation.

“Pre-trib rapture” was unheard of before Darby visited a fifteen-year old Scottish girl who, in 1830, had a vision about Jesus’ return. From her vision of a select group of Christians being carried away secretly, Darby built his “pretrib” teaching. According to Douglas Frank, Darby came to North American seven times between 1862 and 1877 to share his doctrinal system with evangelicals and it caught on. Christians were glad to hear that they’d be removed before the coming woes.

Back home in England, any of his fellow Plymouth Brethren who didn’t agree with him over these doctrines were threatened with excommunication and eternal punishment. For all that, over the years the Plymouth Brethren have had various schisms resulting in PB 2, PB 3, PB 4, etc. We once met a couple from Plymouth Brethren Four, and that was a very strict group. For one thing, services every evening — and you’d better be there!

Dave MacPherson, a preacher’s kid and preacher’s grandkid, grew up hearing prophecy discussed. However, he found that Bible teachers weren’t very open to viewpoints other than their own:
“In my Bible institute days I learned the hard way that there are sharply disagreeing schools of prophetic interpretation. I would discuss prophecy at various times with other students and bring up viewpoints differing in detail from the school’s official position.
This finally resulted in my dismissal.”

Did Jesus Fail to Establish the Kingdom God Intended?

Some of this premillennial thinking is built on the idea that Jesus planned to set up the kingdom, but when he was rejected, that plan was scrapped.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” applied to Jesus first visit to Earth.
But… “He came unto his own, and his own received him not…”

So, according to pre-millennial thinking, when the Jewish nation rejected Jesus and had him done away with, he went back up to heaven and Plan B kicked in. Or was Plan B always the real plan because God knew Jesus would be rejected? Depends on the Bible scholar that’s teaching this.

Plan B – which again varies according to who’s explaining it – is that Jesus will return twice – or maybe three times before his work on earth is finished. He’ll come for his church (secretly or not, once or twice.) Seven years of severe tribulation will befall the earth. Then he will come again openly, bringing all the saints with him, and set up his headquarters in Jerusalem. He and his saints will rule over all the earth. Israel will be a great nation again. All the people of earth will obey him.

In 1919 J.C. Masee wrote:
“I am not looking for an immediate residence in Heaven. I expect to be there only a little time and then I am coming back with him to live in a redeemed earth, and rule here with him in the earth. I would regret to believe that I would have to spend my thousand years in heaven. The reward of the saints is to have the privilege of coming back with Jesus to reign here over the nations with him.
(Philadelphia School of the Bible)

At the end of the thousand-year reign (the Millenium), there will be a major satanic-led rebellion and Jesus will totally crush this. Then will come the great Judgment Day. This present earth and heaven will pass away; in a new heaven and earth Jesus will take his rightful throne and “the government will be on his shoulders and his kingdom will be an everlasting one.”

For Lo! The Kingdom of God is Within You.

As you can guess, I don’t accept the pre-millennial thinking of our day, nor do I put a lot of faith in prophetic speculation as a whole. I’m far more concerned with TODAY. What will come, will come. I believe many Christians feel somewhat the same: it’s interesting to speculate, but so many verses can be understood in different ways, literal or figurative. The most important thing is, “What do I need to know to live my Christian life today?

And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. – Ezekiel 36: 27

Religion and Politics: A Curious Home Brew

In this post I’m going to deviate somewhat from my discussion of prophecy and give you a glimpse of my own upbringing. Maybe you’ll understand more clearly where I’m coming from as I post these thoughts.

My Religious Instruction

When I was a girl, Mom F told me, “If you ever have to go to the hospital, or any other time someone asks you your religion, say United.”

Because this is what we were. Period. Not that we ever attended church. I can recall going to a couple of services with my Mom F, and once, when I was in my late twenties, my Dad actually came with us to an evangelical church service for some special day. Dad & Mom Vance (my birth parents) never attended church as adults, to my knowledge.

The United Church of Canada would be about like the United Methodist Church in the US. In 1925 the Canadian Methodists, most Presbyterians, and the Congregationalists merged to form the United Church. This was the predominant church here in the West, with congregations in almost every town and city.

“The Social Gospel” teaching – “We need to fix this world!” – was spreading through evangelical circles at the end of the 1800s and the Methodists definitely picked up on it. In time the social gospel became the United Church’s main religious teaching, leading them to get involved in agitating for human rights, universal suffrage, fair labor laws, etc.
One time a cartoonist spoofed a United Church message board this way:
Sunday morning service. 10 am. Message: The Hell of High-Cost Housing
Evening service 7:30 pm. Message: God and the Minimum Wage
His “nail-on-the-head” humor makes me chuckle.

By the time I was an adult, United Church members needn’t accept the authority of Jesus or the Bible – or even believe in God, we discovered – but they HAD to be pro civil rights and against all discrimination, inequality in wages, etc. Attendance has dwindled, but this is still the position of the United Church.

As soon as I was old enough, and for half a dozen summers, Mom sent me to a week of Baptist Bible camp. So I did get some exposure to evangelical thinking and did call myself a Christian, but attending church services wasn’t for us. Only after I was married to I start.

The Politics of My Parents

(The other topic you’re not supposed to discuss.)
“We vote Conservative.” End of subject.

Informed voters? Not really. They knew who the Liberal, Conservative, and NDP candidates were, but at the polls there was only one party to support: the Conservatives. Because the Liberals were for the East, for the big cities, for the French. The New Democrats were for labor. Folks from a rural prairie background were dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives. I remember an election when I was twelve where every seat in our province – most of the prairie seats – went Conservative.

When I was a girl Mom told me about an old farmer here in the West who was watching a political broadcast on his television. He got so angry about the things Liberal Prime Minister Lester Pearson was saying that he got his shotgun and blasted the tv. Not a very well thought-out response. But perhaps it was for the best. Someone with that kind of a fuse is probably better off not listening to political speeches.

Politics Generates More Heat Than Good Sense

Actually, I suspect most people would be better off not listening to political speeches. It’s so easy to be swayed by charisma, promises, and wishful thinking — or the lack thereof. Not to mention the biased, sensationalist reporting of what was said and done, such as we get these days. Accusations fly freely, pro and con this or that, until no one actually sees clearly anymore.

My folks didn’t have enough concern about religion for it to have much impact on their politics. They knew they hated Liberals; otherwise politics wasn’t a topic often discussed. In the United States, on the other hand – according to Douglas Frank’s book* – religious views and prophetic theories often motivated Protestant Evangelical Christians in their political choices. The unique blend of religion and politics we see in the States seems to the rest of us like a curious home brew. Sadly, non-evangelicals are finding it – maybe have always found it – bitter.

Did evangelicals in the past simply ignore the complaints until they got too loud to ignore? But then Prohibition was a major disaster; divorce laws were challenged; Roe versus Wade cracked the abortion laws open, the LGBT community pushed for acceptance. Like the veil in the temple, the US status quo was rent from top to bottom.

Reading various comments these days, I get the impression that – in spite of current religious stats – evangelicals still hope they can bring America back to the Christian nation they believe they once had. I often see PEC’s quote these verses God spoke in reference to Israel:

“And the LORD appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice. If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”

It seems to me that PEC’s, like all of us during this pandemic, are wishing for a return to “the good old days.” They’re saying America could be fixed if everyone would turn back to God – but people aren’t listening. Perhaps they wish for an Enforcer, a Messiah of sorts with the political clout to bring back all those sensible rules that once held the country together as a Christian nation? (While it appears non-Christians, led by the media, are fighting tooth-and-nail to ensure that doesn’t happen!)

And now, here comes Donald Trump. Fixer? Enforcer? Nightmare? Disaster? Wildly varying opinions are being expounded – and, oh, the animosity!

You could say I’m a bipolar observer here: I tremble to think what may happen if he wins, and I tremble to think what may happen if he loses. 🙂

*LESS THAN CONQUERORS
How Evangelicals Entered the Twentieth Century by Douglas W Frank.
© 1986 by William B Eerdmans Publishing Company

The Kingdom of Jesus Christ

For the most part I like to keep my writing brief and easy to read, but now I feel the urge to do a few posts on a subject thoroughly hashed over by Christians for ages:
What is – and where is – the Kingdom of Jesus Christ?

This topic may not interest a lot of my readers, but I’ll tag these posts Prophecy so you can follow them if you’re interested in what I have to say on this subject. I want to look at some of the prophesies and the theological potpourri we’ve waded through in our day, hoping to shed some light and not spark too much heat. But before I start, I’ll give you some of our background so you’ll know…

Where I’m Coming From

Outside of weddings and funerals, my family rarely darkened a church door. Mom F was a believer and packed me and my siblings off to Baptist summer camp for a week every year, so I went through the “getting saved” bit and leaned some things. I recall Mom going to church a time or two, but earning the daily bread was demanding for her. My Dad F had no use for religion.

One I hit my teen years, as a nominal Christian, I started asking the same questions many others were asking. Like:
Why does God allow evil to win? Why didn’t Hitler and Stalin die young from cancer or a heart attack, when so many good people do?

— Seeing the news from Northern Ireland, I asked, “How can people who both claim to be Christians kill each other?”

— Abortion was a hot topic in the late ’60s. Reading US news, I wondered, “How can Christians who say it’s wrong to kill unborn babies threaten people’s lives and even bomb an abortion clinic, targeting doctors and nurses?”

— And later, “How can Christians insist the State should have no part in the affairs of the Church, then turn around and lobby the government for laws outlawing moral issues like divorce and same-sex marriage?”

We asked these questions mainly because cynical was cool. It showed intelligence and open-mindedness to contest traditional beliefs. We said we were seeking for truth, but really, we liked our questions; we weren’t necessarily interested in hearing any convincing answers. Nevertheless, these questions are valid. People who sincerely seek for truth deserve a more in-depth answer than, “Because we’re right and they’re wrong.”

My husband’s parents were both raised in religious homes and joined the Anglican (the Church of England in Canada) when he was eleven; he was confirmed at the same time. But over time he, too, started to question, and had all but abandoned religion by the time we met. Still, he had a longing to know the truth, which led him to read the Bible with an open mind. Its truth convicted him. After a personal crisis he gave his life over to God about a month before we were married.

Some months after we were married we decided to start attending some church and picked one where other folks we knew also attended. Four years and several different churches after we were married, I began to realize I was following rules, but not Jesus. I had a serious debate with God one evening and he won. I totally committed my life to him at that point.

Evangelicals and Prophecy

Needless to say, being quite untaught in Evangelical thinking, we had a lot to work through. One thing we gathered fairly quickly: theories on “The Kingdom of Jesus Christ” and how it appears – or will someday appear – on earth, have bemused a lot of religious people. In the past two centuries especially, oodles of prognosticators have explained how it’s all going to play out – and it hasn’t.

David Wilkerson’s The Vision: A Terrifying Prophecy of Doomsday that is Starting to Happen Now! (1974) and Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), were popular when we first became Christians, but my studious husband read a number of books on prophecy, hoping to get a handle on the coming kingdom we were hearing about. I feel for anyone who’s mired in an eschatological slough, studying book after book on prophecy, because we’ve been there ourselves.

There are so many different ideas about what, when, and where the Kingdom can be found. I think this confusion affects believers today, just as it affected us in our “new-born” days. Christians’ concepts of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, right and wrong, have even motivated political decisions in the past and likely will in the future — especially in America. Douglas Frank, in his book, Less Than Conquerors, does an accurate analysis of shifting evangelical doctrines and political views in the late 1800’s.

Which leads to the question: If Christians are citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom, what is our role in the country where we live physically? How do we handle our “Permanent Resident Alien” status?

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. — Colossians 3:1-2

Book: Beachworth Bakery Bears

A Beechworth Bakery Bears e-book by Frank Prem

This is a delightful and easy way to step back into childhood, when teddy bears could talk and move about. These bears are supposed to sit on shelves at the Beachworth Bakery and coffee shop, politely waiting for someone to come along and adopt them, but they’d rather be exploring and having fun — as revealed in Frank’s clever rhymes.

I bought a copy a few days ago and enjoyed it myself. Now I’d like to read this e-book to my grandchildren and hope it will be coming out in a paperback before long. The photos are excellent and it would be fun to sit down and go through the book with young children and grandchildren.

Currently Reading…

WHY JESUS by Ravi Zacharias

I’m finding this book an intriguing commentary on the mixed bag of truths being offered to seekers in our day. In the first part of the book the author discusses the electronic media, its effect on society, how it’s altered society’s acceptance of truth. The media we view in our own homes has subtly exchanged the “old values” for a new truth — one that we want to believe. None of us can escape the effect of this change, he points out, because even if we aren’t viewers ourselves, we’re surrounded by others who are.

Then he examines the illusive nature of New Age Spirituality circulating in North America today. The West, because of the basic principles of freedom we subscribe to, is so willing to cast of the old and accept new religions. He notes that, in the countries where these religions have been established for centuries, nothing new or different is tolerated. New Age gurus may attack the Judo-Christian foundation of North America and people will hear them gladly, but go to one of those countries and you risk reputation or even life for even suggesting a different religion — as many Christian missionaries have discovered.

Peeking at the coming chapters, I see that he predictably concludes with “the message of Jesus Christ…both timely and timeless.” A message he himself embraced as a young intellectual, recovering in the hospital after attempting suicide. Though he knew very little of Christianity, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, if you are who you claim to be, reveal yourself to me and take me out of my desperate situation and I will leave not stone unturned in my pursuit of truth.”