Monday, February 4, 2013

What's Real About the Rapture?

My maternal grandparents lived in a small northeast-Texas town with a communal zeitgeist more aboriginal than modern. Everyone believed. "Is there really a God?" would have been as silly a question as "Is there really air?" While separation of church and state was non-negotiable -- no one would tell them what to believe -- that was not to say that individual or community life should, or even could, be divided between secular and religious spheres. The Psalmist had said it, "Wherever I go, You are there," and even the town's worst sinners knew that God (both a Protestant and a dead ringer for Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel rendition) was watching, listening, judging their every thought and action, that Judgment Day was coming, and that redemption, so long as they could draw a breath, was never more than a prayer away.
Sunday mornings brought Sunday school followed by a church service, about three hours in all. After a quiet afternoon came Training Union followed by another service. Wednesday nights were for Prayer Meeting, a service that, like the first two, came complete with Bible readings and a sermon. Summer revivals meant one or more services per day, these delivered with the revivalist's particular, sometimes peculiar, nuance of evangelical showmanship. More than half of every summer of my childhood was immersed in that river of old-time religion with its certainty that Jesus would come again at the end of time. Yet from all the prayers, all the Bible readings and lessons, all those sermons, and all the hammering about sin, final judgment, and the fires of Hell, I have no memory of anyone mentioning anything called "the Rapture."
In fact, before 1830, no one had heard that "[i]n one cataclysmic moment, millions around the globe disappear," or that "those left behind, terror stricken, are desperate to determine what happened," which is what you'll find on the back cover of Tribulation, volume two of the Left Behind series. Authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, along with the likes of Hal Lindsay, the late Jerry Falwell and others, are proponents of the work of English clergyman John Nelson Darby. It was around 1830 that Darby, having selected scripture passages from Daniel, Revelation, 1 and 2 Thessalonians and elsewhere, pasted them together, called them a whole, and invented the Rapture, a word not found in the Bible.
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