The Doctrine of Imminency
The return of Christ has been expected by the Church since the time of Christ. This expectation that His return could happen at any time with no preconditions is known as the Doctrine of Imminency. The Church is told to “watch” and to “look” for his return. In the description of the Rapture of the Church, we see believers going about their daily lives working in the fields and doing other normal activities. Suddenly some are taken while others are left behind. To me this suggests they were not aware the Lord was about to return (other than knowing it could happen at any time. If any of the events described as occurring in the Tribulation had to occur before the Rapture, then Christ’s return would not be imminent. We would have recognizable events we would expect to see first. This contradicts all the Scriptures that depict His return as imminent and without warning.
The Church in the Tribulation?
In John 14:1-3, in connection with the promise of Christ, “I will come again,” the purpose of His coming is revealed to be to take believers to “my Father’s house,” by which term He describes heaven. After He meets the church in the air, He will take them to the place prepared. In contrast, at His coming to establish the millennial kingdom, all believers remain in the earthly scene. In 1 Thessalonians 5:4-10, believers are assured that they are children of light, not children of darkness. They are comforted with the promise that the day of wrath will not overtake them as a thief, as it will the world. They are promised, “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9). In 1 Thessalonians 1:10 our hope is stated: “To wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” If believers are delivered “from the wrath to come,” why inflict upon them a day of wrath designed for the ungodly? Are not believers assured: “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Rom. 5:9)? In Revelation 3:10 the godly church at Philadelphia is promised: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.” In a word, they are promised that they will be kept “from” the period of tribulation ahead. That is different from being kept “through” this time. (https://bible.org/seriespage/6-will-church-go-through-tribulation)
We see in Scripture two programs of God. First, God established the nation of Israel and revealed Himself to them. There were many faithful Jews who responded to God’s revelation and faith in the future-coming Messiah. Not all did, however. Many strayed and by the time of Christ’s first coming faith among the Jews was waning. They thought themselves righteous by virtue of lineage and thinking they were keeping the law. While much of Jesus’ ministry was to Jews, not all of it was. He spoke of “other children” and in the Book of Acts we see the Gospel going to the Gentiles which had been God’s plan all along. While some Jews came to accept Jesus as their Messiah, the majority have not. In 70 A.D. Roman soldiers sacked the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple putting to an end the sacrificial system of Judaism. Jesus’ death on the cross had already rendered that system of no further value. It was to point to the ultimate sacrifice in Jesus. Once Jesus died, there was no longer a need to sacrifice in the Temple (see Hebrews 10.) Most of the Jews rejected Jesus and continued in their useless ceremonies until the Romans destroyed their Temple and dispersed them.
In the over 2000 years that have followed, we have been in the Church age where God’s focus has turned to the Church though He has not forgotten Israel. The Church age will culminate with the return of Christ and the Rapture where His church will join Him in heaven to dwell with Him forever. That is not the end though. As God always saved a faithful remnant of Jews in the OT, He will also save a remnant during The Tribulation. God’s gaze now returns to Israel and the fulfillment of His plan for them. Some Jews and some Gentiles will come to believe during the Tribulation. They are who are in view in Revelation 13:7. They will suffer for their faith but spend eternity with God. At the end of the seven year Tribulation, Christ will return again with His angels and end the reign of the Antichrist and bound up Satan and the demons and the 1000 year Millennial Kingdom will begin.
An interesting thing has happened in to the church in the last few decades. America is becoming an increasingly unchurched nation. We have the tradition of church attendance largely due to our Judeo-Christian heritage. Our parents and grandparents largely attended church. Increasingly though Americans are eschewing church while “spirituality” is on the rise. Personally this became apparent to me while viewing profiles on mainstream dating sites of all places. More and more people are listing their faith as “spiritual but not religious.” I’ve exchanged messages with several and what they mean by that is all over the map. So we are more “spiritual” than ever but traditional “religion” is on the decline.
So the modern Christian church has tried to adapt to the changing population. Increasingly churches are catering to the unchurched. They feature contemporary style music, light-weight sermons, sermon series focused on “real issues”, and offer attractions like coffee bars and a plethora of children’s programs. Those things are not bad or wrong. However my concern is that in many of these churches their “preachers”, “tickle men’s ears.”
In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 Paul wrote about this very thing:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
I call this the Tony Robbins Church. I am not knocking Tony Robbins. So far as I know he does not represent himself as a pastor, preacher, or theologian. He is a motivational speaker and I don’t think most people feel like they are attending church when going to a Tony Robbins seminar. Yet the church has seen men like Norman Vicent Peale, Robert Schuller, and now Joel Osteen and Jesse Duplantis (to name but a few) who do not preach the Gospel. In their zeal to be every positive they fail to preach the whole Word of God. They purposely skip those verses that deal with sin, damnation, punishment, etc. They preach a “health and wealth” Gospel. After all if they were to preach the whole Gospel of God they would not be able to afford their extensive TV networks! No one wants to hear about their sin! How negative. We would all love to believe that God wants us to be health, wealthy, and wise. He wants us to have that fancy house and luxury car and of course perfect health to go along with it.
Jesse Deplantis put it this way:
“I’ve never had the Lord say, ‘Jesse, I think that car is a little bit too nice.’ I’ve had vehicles and the Lord said, ‘Would you please go park that at your house. Don’t put that in front of my house. I don’t want people to think that I’m a poor God.'” (Jesse Duplantis, “When Will We Yield To The Anointing of Wealth II,” April 10, 2005)
Really Jesse? Where do you find that in Scripture? Did not Jesus and his disciples live often sleep outdoors with little more than the clothes on their back? Which of the apostles was rich? How many died of old age? History is full of the greatest pillars of the faith being martyred for their faith. Was their faith deficient and that is why they suffered thus? No most of the pillars of the faith died terrible deaths and lived very modest lives. Richness is not a sin. Neither though is poverty or poor health. God desires us to be spiritually rich and spiritually healthy. Guess what? We are all going to die and we can’t take anything with us. Do you still think God wants us all to be healthy and wealthy? No God does not want us to be poor or in bad health but He cares more for our spiritual well-being than He does for our material well-being. Those who teach otherwise are NOT teaching the true Gospel.
In Acts 20:24 Luke wrote:
For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.
Yes these men do not proclaim the whole counsel of God. They only preach what they feel are the positive verses. As I wrote in my previous blog article, the Good News is understandable only by knowing the “bad news.”
In a way they are lazy and concerned only with tickling ears and filling seats (oh and raking in donations). You see the truth is when we understand why God allows poverty, poor health, and suffering we see them through wholly new eyes. My dear sister died nearly a year ago from a nine month battle with pancreatic cancer. In the midst of dying her comment was not why God chose to inflict her but “why not” her. She understood that God was good and her cancer, thought fatal, was not a punishment. Her cancer drew her closer to God than anything else in her life ever had. She died in the arms of Jesus. At peace. Did her faith fail her because her health failed or did her faith triumph over her failed health?
Joel Osteen may pack the house and draw millions more via television but are they hearing the whole Gospel? Or are the only hearing those things that make them feel good about themselves?
God does not want us to feel good about ourselves. He wants us to glory in Him. When our will aligns with His will we will have all the desires of our hearts. Someone once wrote that “The purpose of the church gathered is to edify the saints. The purpose of the church scattered is to seek and save the lost.” I believe we have lost our vision. The church is the gathering of God’s people to worship Him and edify one another. It is outside of church, in our everyday lives, that we “seek and save the lost.” In other words, the primary mode of evangelism happens in everyday life. Inviting people to church and entertain or motivating them is not evangelism although God can and does use churches to save people. We must remember that when the church gathers our purpose is to worship God and edify each other. As such we would expect no less than the whole Gospel.
In an interview with Christianity Today, published on Oct. 5, 1984, Robert Schuller was quoted as saying:
“I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality and, hence counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth and unchristian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition.”
My oh my! What Bible was Robert Schuller reading? Let’s contrast this to the very first sermon given by a follower of Jesus. The preacher was the Apostle Peter and the occasion the Day of Pentecost right after the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. Here is the last sentence of Peter’s sermon:
Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ. (emphasis mine)
Not the way to win friends and influence people! No Peter accuses the Jews of crucifying the Lord! Their Messiah. To be guilty of the death of God’s Holy Messiah is about the worst sin imaginable to a Jew. Yet Robert Schuller would say such a thing is “unchristian.”
Once again Romans 3:23 (written by Paul) says:
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God
First Peter now Paul! How can Robert Schuller say such a thing when the very followers of Jesus made clear to men their sinful state?
Joel Osteen was once interviewed by Katie Couric.
Host Katie Couric suggested that the popular minister does not “spend a lot of time in (his) sermons talking about good and evil, sin and redemption. It is a very overall positive message.” She asked, “Why don’t you give people more of a moral template?”
Osteen insisted that he does, but “in a positive way.”
“There’s enough pushing people down in life already,” he added. “When they come to my church, or our meetings, I want them to be lifted up. I want them to know that God’s good, that they can move forward, that they can break an addiction, that they can become who God’s created them to be.”
That sounds good and I don’t doubt Joel’s desire but at the same time what is it he wants them lifted up from? By far the #1 thing God wants them to be lifted up from is their sin! Sure God wants you to overcome your addictions, love your spouse better, etc, but without forgiveness from your sin those things are meaningless. If God is good then even the “negative” things He has to say are for our good.
I know it would seem I am picking on Joel. I am using him as an example just like Robert Schuller though I like Joel far better. Joel considers himself a pastor and the leader of a church. Yet Joel does not preach the whole Bible! He only focuses on those things he believes are uplifting and positive. Yet in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 wrote:
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Not Paul said all Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for training. He did not say “some Scripture” or “only the positive verses.” No he said it was all useful. So why doesn’t Joel, or Rober Schuller, or a host of others preach all of Scripture? One simple reason. Because if they preached all of Scripture they would not fill all those seats and raise all the money. They would not have worldwide TV audiences.
In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul wrote:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
If someone is offended by the message of the cross then that is not our concern so long as we are faithfully preaching the Gospel. For such it is foolishness. That is not our problem. We are to preach the Good News (which includes the Bad News) and leave the rest to God. Whether our church is big or small is up to God. Our job is to faithfully preach the truth.
I had the pleasure once to attend a series of lectures by Paul Matzat author of the book “Christ Esteem: Where the Search for Self-Esteem Ends.” Our generation is obsessed with self-esteem. We are told we have to learn to love ourselves, esteem ourselves. Only allow the positive in our lives so nothing can drag us down. Yet listen to what Paul Matzat wrote:
“The call of the gospel is away from self and unto Jesus, because self is the problem and Jesus is the solution.”
His book is aptly titled “Christ Esteem.” We don’t need self-esteem. Most of us already think to highly of ourselves. What we need is “Christ Esteem.” You see when you lose your life in Jesus Christ and realize who you are in Him then you have something far more valuable than self-esteem. When you realize the God of the Universe took on flesh and blood and died a terrible death on the cross to pay the price for your sin you will realize you are of infinite value to Him! Now what could be more positive than that?
God allows suffering to mold us into the image of His Son Jesus Chirst. Poor health, poverty, lost job, … are sometimes the way God gets our attention and increases our faith. Those things might be our fault but God uses them for good (Romans 8:28).
We don’t need our self-esteem built-up. We need our Christ-esteem built-up. We don’t need to feel good about ourselves. We need to feel good about God! Once we know who we are in Christ we will feel good about ourselves.
The church and many of her leaders are losing their vision, losing their way. The message of the cross and our need for forgiveness from our sin is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. If pastors will not preach on sin who will?
 As an aside I somewhat dislike the term “religion.” Religion is man’s attempt to explain God or some other higher deity. Christianity is God’s revelation to man. For some it may be a religion but what it really is at the core is God sending His Son to make a way for us to have a relationship with Him. Christianity is a relationship not a religion. It is a relationship with Jesus Christ. If it is not that at the core then it is not Christianity. We attend church because we want to be in the company of fellow disciples of Jesus (iron sharpens iron). It is not our church attendance though that makes us Christians. It is our faith.
I’ve been on an online dating site and in filling out your profile you have various choices when it comes to your faith. A common one I see chosen is “spiritual but not religious.” That of course could mean just about anything.
One woman I corresponded with reported one night that she had just returned from a run in the foothills and added “that is my church.”
I get it how being out in the beauty of nature can move you, touch you, and be a spiritual experience. In fact that is very Biblical with the qualification that the “spiritual experience” should be your being moved to praise the Creator for His creation. Nature is God’s creation. When in nature we are in the presence of God but not just when we are in nature.
Even the unbeliever has a soul meant for fellowship with God. What they are feeling in nature is the awe of God’s creation but instead of worshiping the God who created nature they worship the creation. Their “spiritual experience” is not with our Creator. They are not praising Jesus Christ.
Church is the gathering of God’s people to worship Him. Church is a group of believers not a building but experiencing the awe of God’s creation is not church. As a believer you can and certainly should worship God when moved by the awe of His creation but that is still not church.
So sad though that people experience the awe of creation yet do not know the Creator. The handiwork of God lies before them and they do not realize it. Romans 1 says they are without excuse. If they can look at the universe and the vastness of God’s creation and not believe in Him then they are blind.
Usually when people describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” it means they have no concept of a personal God. They feel something spiritual but not toward God. In a few cases it may be believers that have had bad church experiences and for now are not attending church. To me it’s a red flag. Asking what they mean by it is always interesting.