Saul never quite seems to get it. His compliance with God’s will is always iffy. His defiance is always finding new ways to express itself. This is the end.
This time I’m paraphrasing several comments or questions, so I hope I am being fair to the inquirer. As best as I can tell, there are actually three questions we ought to address.
Q1: Is this one of our “major doctrines” as a church?
A1: Not exactly. It is a doctrine. I don’t know if I’d call it major. I do believe it. We teach it at Horizon Central. I think all Calvary Chapel churches do. There are people here who disagree with me on this point, but I can’t recall it ever becoming divisive. I hope that doesn’t happen now. We don’t include it on the shortest Statement of Faith we hand out because we save that for a relatively few big things.
Document: What We Believe.doc
Q2: This doctrine leads so many into false assurance that they will not have to undergo troubles similar to those experienced by saints throughout the ages, so isn’t it counterproductive to believe it?
A2: This person has probably seen more abuse of the doctrine of the Rapture than I have. I began doing Christian work in Eastern Europe under communism, in an environment that didn’t exactly coddle believers into false hopes for easy times. The present was usually difficult enough. It was shortly after that period that I came to the views of the Rapture that I now have, while working with the Baptists in Catholic Poland, where such topics were more ignored than debated. The inquirer’s experience probably differs considerably and I respect that. We each come to our conclusions from various starting points.
So yes, this is a doctrine that can be abused. It is important to underline that a belief in the Rapture should never allow us to think that we will be spared either persecution as Christians or the normal trials and tribulations of this fallen planet. Both are clearly guaranteed to us as participants in Christ’s church. If we are not experiencing enough of either right now, that can always change. The Rapture only spares us from experiencing the time in which the wrath of God will be poured out on a Christ-rejecting world.
We should also note that it is best never to judge a doctrine by its abusers. For example, if we compare the kindest, most generous atheists we know (and we no doubt know several such) to the most despicable, self-proclaimed Christians (and indeed there are too many), we might be tempted to dump Christianity altogether. If we must compare, it’s better to compare the best with the best and so on.
We should similarly not judge any doctrine by those who fail to understand it, no matter how much they may think they know what they believe. Growing up Catholic, I came to realize that many people thought the Immaculate Conception (of Mary) was talking about the Virginal Conception (of Jesus). They were wrong, probably just poorly informed, and/or not highly motivated to keep their dogma on a tight leash. I now happily disbelieve the first while holding to the second, persuaded in both cases by the Bible. Their lack of understanding need not impact my present beliefs.
Q3: The Bible is so unclear at this point. Can we really be sure – or even expect clarity?
A3: Admittedly, there is not much about biblical eschatology (study of last things) that is simple. The Rapture is no exception. All the same, the Trinity is probably more complex and is far more important, so complexity should not be a deal killer. Sometimes we have to confront doctrinal density head on. If one enjoys thinking about theology in general or eschatology in particular, as I do, then I think a good case can be made for the Rapture. (I might even include it under the heading of ecclesiology, the study of the church, but that’s another matter.) In any event, belief in the Rapture is not unwarranted. A reasonable place to start examining my thoughts on the subject might be the three teachings we did on Sundays when we were going through 1 Thessalonians in May of 2011. That may even encourage further discussion, which I would welcome. If I fail to persuade our inquirer to my own views, I hope he or she will at least admit that, for us, this is not a naïve or hastily accepted belief.
Question: What does it mean to be “put to shame,” as in David’s frequent prayers to not be put to shame? Does it fit into the Christian framework, or was it just important before Christ?
Answer: This is a good question, because the terminology is not something we use in our day or in our culture. In fact, the concept of “shame” is less familiar to us than it was to David and company.
To be put to shame is to be humiliated. It is when people view us with contempt, disrespect or deep disapproval. It is to “lose face,” as when one loses the respect of others or loses a good reputation.
When David prays these prayers, he is pointing out to God that all eyes are upon him and he doesn’t want to be humiliated in front of the nation or general public. He doesn’t want to be an object of their scorn.
Personally, I think it still has some relevance, as long as we understand it rightly. To want to look good in front of people may not be the simple, selfish pride of trying to keep up a good front. It need not be a lack of humility.
We should genuinely want to earn people’s respect, have a good name in our community and succeed at what we do. If we do foul something up, we want people to cut us some slack because they know we really tried, merely failed, and ultimately want to learn from our errors.
Simultaneously it should not be our desire to try to drag people down and make them look foolish. Gossip is often motivated by a desire to do just that. We should remember that others want to be treated respectfully just as we do. We can enhance one another’s respect or reputation by pointing out their strong points to others or to the people themselves.
Question: What is the connection between holiness, righteousness and justice?
Good question, as the three are sort of related, but not the same thing. We’ll take them in reverse order, beginning with
Justice: Put most simply, this is giving someone what they rightly deserve. It can be either reward or punishment, including punishment for sin. It can be giving someone that which is their right, including helping orphans, widows or the poor, who may easily be subject to unfair treatment. Governments are to treat people justly, meaning they have to play fair and not play favorites. As pertaining to God, his justice would of course be perfect, as he sees every infraction but also perfectly understands every genuine mitigating or moderating factor.
Righteousness: This term is based on a concept something like “straightness,” leading to the thought of actions conforming to the norms or standards of right behavior. It is important, however, to view righteousness in light of relationship. We behave righteously toward one another when do what is required of us and promote the community’s peace and well-being. In Romans, Paul contrasts the righteousness obtained by the law (imperfect, for we will never behave perfectly in our relationship to God), and the righteousness obtained by faith (perfect, for divinely given). Thus, by faith we obtain a righteous status before God, something we cannot earn. He then equips us to live righteously before others and in his sight.
Holiness: Fundamentally, to be holy is to be “set apart.” It is an otherness in contrast with that which is common or profane. In the Old Testament, objects were set apart for use in the Temple worship, and were not used for anything else. There was a ritual purity attached to them that made them different. In the New Testament our word saints literally means “holy ones.” In other words, God has set certain people apart, namely, those who have received eternal life by faith. They are now holy because they have been cleansed from their sin and set apart for God’s special purposes. God’s holiness can be thought of as his ultimate and all-encompassing attribute. He is totally other and totally pure without any blemish or defect whatsoever. Thus, his holiness would include both justice and righteousness.
(In answering this, I consulted The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, by Grenz, Guretzki and Nordling, 1999; and New Bible Dictionary, Second Edition, Tyndale, 1982)
One of the deepest encouragements or challenges we get in the Bible comes in the form of final words of great individuals. Today we’re looking at Samuel’s farewell message to the people as he steps down as the Israel’s judge to give way to Saul as the first king.