Inclusion of a resource/presentation does not indicate endorsement of the contents. Provided for educational purposes regarding perspectives in the fields of theology and religious studies. Issachar Bible Church is conservative Trinitarian not affiliated with any organized denomination at this time.

Wednesday, December 21

The Study Of The History Of The End Of The World, Part 8

 Though history is linear in that it is moving towards an ultimate destination rather than circular in the sense of rigid absolute recurrence, it cannot be denied that the dynamics of human development and unfolding events do often follow a cyclical path over time. For example, eventually the sects of the nineteenth century that began with considerable apocalyptic and utopian fervor such as the Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses tempered these impulses to an extent in favor of the stabilization brought about by leadership focusing more upon continuity of organization rather than the cessation of human affairs as presently known. The cultural change of the nineteenth century continued onward well into the twentieth. As such, it was to be expected that fringe movements outside the mainstream of conventional American religious life would continue to increase. But given the exaggerated pace of contemporary life, a number of these would prove to be far deadlier than their counterparts originating in what might be considered more tranquil bygone eras. In his analysis of the fringe groups embracing a form of apocalypticism arising from the tumult of the counterculture, Richard Kyle categorizes these as Western, occult, or racist.

The groups described as Western would be those that would be described as cults deriving inspiration from Christian theological terminology even if these sects no longer imbued the words with their original meanings. A number of these ended tragically in episodes of dramatic violence. Foremost among these ranked Jonestown in the jungles of Guyana and the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas.

In the early days of his ministry, one would not have necessarily thought that the name Jim Jones would become synonymous with cultic violence and abuse. Jones began his ministry loosely affiliated with the Disciples of Christ with a concern regarding what he perceived as the racism of his day. Eventually, Jones' apocalyptic views focused more upon pending disaster rather than Christ's actual return. Initially, this prompted Jones to uproot his congregation from Indiana to settle in California where Jones thought it would be more likely to survive an inevitable nuclear catastrophe. However, it was this desire to protect his flock from the perils of the world through the fanatical withdrawal from society without relying on the power of Christ that would ultimately doom this experiment in integrated communal living.

As a result of increasing allegations of abuse within the People's Temple and out of a fear that even California would not prove to be a refuge from the pending tribulation, Jones relocated to the sect's compound in the Guyanese wilderness known as Jonestown where he descended into deeper levels of insanity and evil. The straw that broke the camel's back occurred when Senator Leo Ryan and an NBC news crew arrived to investigate claims of abuse alleged by families of group members as well as those residing at the compound. The desperate there reached out to the legislator after an initial meeting actually seemed to go well. These souls confided that they had not found a sanctuary from the hardships of the world but had actually become trapped in a Hell on earth.

Fearing retaliation on the part of authorities for assassinating the Senator along with others at the remote jungle airstrip, Jones attempted to convince his followers to commit what he categorized as an act of revolutionary suicide. It is often assumed that the residents of Jonestown embraced death in this manner willingly as it is what comes to mind when admonishing someone not to drink the Kool Aid, a reference to the toxic potion concocted to bring about this disturbing end. However, many only relented at gunpoint and others were actually shot. And though Jonestown no doubt stands as perhaps the most infamous example of the tragedy likely to result when people surrender good judgment and discernment for promises of a blissful tomorrow if all they do is surrender in total to a leader claiming direct revelation from or a unique understanding of God to which other believers are not privy, it would certainly not be the last.

Another example of such a group meeting a tragic demise as a result of an out of control belief in the Apocalypse was the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas. The Branch Davidians were themselves derived from Seventh Adventism, which adherents of this splinter group believed had grown lax in doctrine over the years as the emphasis of the mother movement switched from eagerly awaiting the pending Advent to organizational expansion. Deadbeat Vernon Howell was able to smooth talk his way into the sect's leadership by pitching woo at the elderly matriarch. With his knack for quoting Scripture (even if pulling it out of context), Howell was able to rebrand himself as David Koresh, claiming that he was the Lamb referenced in the Book of Revelation who would open the seven seals described in that prophetic text. As a result of a series of tactical blunders on the part of both Koresh and the government, eighty-eight Branch Davidians died in this attempt at actualized eschatology when the compound caught fire after a siege lasting well over a month.

Another form of fringe eschatology to gain a foothold towards the close of the twentieth century was noticeably racialist in nature. One of the early forms of what might be categorized as genetic apocalypticism could be found in the Worldwide Church of God as established by Herbert W. Armstrong. Central to the teaching of Armstrongism was the doctrine of Anglo-Israelism, the belief that the Anglo peoples of the world such as Great Britain and the United States were the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. As such, these nations were as every bit as eligible for the promises made to the Chosen People as were the Jews. Like the Jews that Armstrong hoped to mimic, his sect also held to Old Testament dietary laws, Sabbatarianism, and the rejection of the Trinity. In terms of his eschatology, Armstrong was influenced by dispensationalist notions of history spanning roughly for six thousand years with Christ returning at the Second Advent to establish the Millennial Kingdom which would follow the Tribulation during which the Antichrist would rule the world from his power base of a European confederacy consisting of ten nations.

But whereas Armstrong's form of ethnic millennialism might have admired the Jews a little too enthusiastically to the point of wanting to be part of a pan-Israelite family, the other forms of End Times speculation focused upon ethnicity actually went to the other extreme of explicit hostility towards the Jews and the exclusion of those not belonging to a preferred racial group. These movements were Christian Identity and the Black Muslims.

Christian Identity was similar to Anglo-Israelism in that both believed that the Caucasians of northern Europe were the true Chosen People of God. However, Christian Identity parted ways with the Worldwide Church of God in insisting that those now categorizing themselves as Jews in fact had no connection to Biblical Israel genetically. Instead, the vast majority now identified as part of that nation or ethnicity are actually descendants of a group known as the Khazars that converted to Judaism in the seventh century (Kyle, 160). Unlike traditionalist Christians who (despite instances of racial animosity or misgivings) admit that all humanity shares a common ancestry back to Adam and Eve and most directly from Noah following the Deluge, Christian Identity believed that non-Whites are not fully human in that such groups are the result of carnal relations between Satan and Eve in the case of the Jews or the result of a creation prior to the divine intervention resulting in Adam and Eve.

Interestingly, the tyrannical government known as the New World Order warned of by adherents of Christian Identity sounds quite similar to that of the Tribulation period under the Antichrist probably described in the greatest detail by dispensationalist scholars. However, beyond that, the two schools of eschatological interpretation have little else in common. For example, Christian Identity rejects the Pretribulational Rapture outright. Perhaps most disturbingly, in order to being about the Kingdom of God the faithful will be required to wage a race war, a prospect most often eagerly anticipated rather than dreaded by those mired in this spiritual delusion. The hope of the practitioner of Christian Identity is not that the Jew will be brought to Christ during the time of upheaval but will instead be eliminated so that the Earth and the surviving bloodlines might be spared genetic contamination or purified.

At the other end of the spectrum of racialist Armageddon could be found the Black Muslim movement. Despite being called the Nation of Islam, the sect was rather more of a cult than an expression of of orthodox or mainstream Islam. The Nation of Islam was founded in the 1920's by Wallace Farad, a mysterious figure many within the sect believed to be a theophany or God manifested in human form. His chief prophet and successor as leader was Elijah Muhammad.

In terms of eschatology and doctrine, the Nation of Islam advocated a militant anti-Caucasian Afrosupremacism. Whites are believed to be a genetically engineered inferior subspecies that will be obliterated when pious Blacks are taken up in a Rapture-like event to the Motherwheel --- a craft reminiscent of a UFO inspired in part by the Book of Ezekiel --- which will rain nuclear annihilation down upon those remaining upon the Earth at that time. Unlike orthodox Islam, the Nation of Islam held that there was no life after death and thus no literal Heaven or Hell. The religion's golden age would consist of the Black subjugation of the planet Earth.

The third variety of apocalyptic group to arise in the contemporary world could be categorized as New Age or occult. The groups, sects, and teachers falling into this particular category foretold of a pending golden age often proceeded by cataclysmic upheaval. However, unlike those drawing their prophetic inspiration from Christian sources, the primary focus of those in the occult or New Age was not so much the Second Coming of Christ but rather more about communal or personal transformation. Richard Kyle writes, “The coming New Age will be based not on some doomsday scenario but on a paradigm shift (154).” Through this paradigm shift, humanity will actualize the deity within. The result will be a new order characterized by equality, ecological restoration, international cooperation and galactic harmony.

Unlike strict Marxist Communism with its absolutist materialism, the New Age movement allowed for the existence of higher order intelligences or spirit beings it believed would guide humanity along the path to cosmic awareness. Most often now such entities are depicted as extraterrestrials like those their proponents believe responsible for UFO phenomena. The movement that developed surrounding the study of encounters began to take on characteristics noticeably beyond that of mere scientific curiosity and more like those of a religion or form of spirituality following George Adamski's claim in 1952 that he had met and talked with an extraterrestrial (Kyle, 157). Soon a sort of gospel affirmed by a number of others also claiming to be contactees developed professing for the need of our species to move beyond crass materialism and hostility into a more comprehensive awareness of reality if we wanted to avoid widespread destruction such as that embodied by nuclear weapons the recent development of which on Earth brought the planet to the attention of interstellar authorities.

At this point, Christian and New Age eschatology seem to parallel one another but diverge in distinct interpretative directions. In Dispensationalism, prior to the Tribulation, Christ catches His saints both the living and the dead into the air so that they might escape the judgments about to be poured out upon the Earth. In the spin placed on events by adherents of the New Age, Christians are still the the ones removed from the Earth at that time. However, that action on the part of extraterrestrials is not seen as a reward for dedication to Christ but rather as punishment. For it is the tendency of the true Christian to stick to morality as described in the pages of the Bible and that belief in Jesus Christ is the only way to gain access to Heaven. These notions are perceived as a profound impediment to the kinds of changes that need to take place in order for this utopian golden age to be actualized. Likewise, the cataclysms described in passages such as the Book of Revelation will not so much be viewed as God deliberately instigating the judgments. Instead, these disasters will be viewed as the Earth repairing itself after centuries of neglect at the hands of a culture based on Judeo-Christian principles rather than the balance claimed to be found in pantheism.

by Frederick Meekins


Bibibliography

Abanes, Richard. End-Times Visions: The Doomsday Obsession. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1988.

Kirsch, Jonathan. A History Of The End Of The World: How The Most Controversial Book In The Bible Changed The Course Of Western Civilization. San Francisco, California: Harper Collins Publishers, 2006.

Kagan, Donald, Ozment, Steven and Turner, Frank. The Western Heritage Since 1789 (Fourth Edition). New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991.

Kyle, Richard. The Last Days Are Here Again: A History Of The End Times. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1988. Hanover, New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 1996.

Ladd, George. The Blessed Hope: A Biblical Study of The Second Advent and The Rapture. Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1956.

Thompson, Damian. The End Of Time: Faith and Fear in the Shadow of the Millennium.

Tuesday, December 6

Does Disputatious Nature Of Fundamentalist Movement Leave Vacant Pulpits Empty?

 In a sermon, an independent fundamentalist Baptist pastor lamented that he heard more than 75 churches needed pastors. 

Even more troubling to the pastor was that, when a class was asked who among the assembled was ready to fill these vacancies, only two raised their hands. 

But isn’t the nature of the independent fundamentalist Baptist movement in part at fault? 

For often if a potential applicant disagreed with a congregation or more likely a pastoral search committee over a minor peculiarity or secondary doctrine, the individual often ends up being viewed as little better than an outright unbeliever. 

As to the class where most did not respond in the affirmative, they probably figured if they had, they were likely to get a verbal reaming about the sins of presumption, pride, how no one is really good enough, and how the truly pious wait upon the moving of the Lord but to claim you hear from Him would then disqualify you as a crypto-Charismatic.

By Frederick Meekins