The following letter speaks for itself. It was written to S. R. Shearer, who has a fine web site encouraging Believers to recognize denominationalism for what it is and to step out of the confines of the Institutional Church.
In chapter three of section two of his book, “The Antipas Papers,” Shearer states a “commitment to literalism,” which is, of course, a commitment to Dispensationalism. Shearer states as much, citing the classic Dispensationalism of the likes of Harry Ironside, C. I. Scofield, Charles Ryrie, and Lewis Sperry Chafer.
In the following chapter, Shearer attempts to remove the Rapture from the classic Dispensational end-time scenario. In order to do so, he violates nearly every principle of Bible interpretation established in chapter two. It was this glaring inconsistency that prompted the writing of this letter.
From time to time, Shearer posts messages from visitors to his site, along with his response. Our message was not posted. We received a reply, not from S. R. Shearer, but from a coworker of Shearer’s named Sean. His response is posted following the original message.
Dear S. R.,
I just downloaded your site (www.endtimesnetwork.com) and began reading the Antipas papers. I was very impressed with your chapter on Dispensationalism. It has been my experience that dispensationalism has fallen out of favor with a great many Christians. Your piece is a great defense of these great truths.
However, I was rather disappointed in your chapter on the so-called “secret” rapture; not necessarily because I hold a different view, but because I found your reasoning to be totally inconsistent with the principles of scriptural interpretation you established in your chapter on dispensational truth.
To start, you state that if we accept the teaching of a secret rapture, “…we must throw out as unimportant to us a great portion of this book; that portion which deals with the Last Days [more than one-half of the prophetic Scriptures – almost one-fourth of the entire Bible] if we accept the argument of those who say we will not go through the Tribulation.”
This is a commonly heard argument used “against” the truth of the “Rapture.” More than interestingly, it is the same argument commonly used against dispensationalism in general — that it (Dispensationalism) makes much of the Bible of no importance, or that dispensationalists don’t believe more than half of the Bible is important.
I have never heard one proponent of the Rapture ever suggest that because of this coming event, the study of prophetic topics was irrelevant. In fact, my own experience has been that the most fervent students of eschatology are indeed those who believe the Lord will take His own to be with Him before the final terrible judgments fall. I have learned more about the end-time prophecies of Daniel, Ezekiel, the minor prophets, and the book of Revelation itself, from five men who believe in the Rapture than the next 100 who deny it.
Perhaps you can cite an example of the teaching you are referring to. I have never sensed from the teaching of Tim LeHaye, Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe, Clarence Larkin, Harry Ironside or even C.I. Schofield that these were men who felt that large segments of scripture were valueless to church-age saints and not worth studying. These men SPECIALIZE in “last days” teaching. They do not disregard or dismiss it as you suggest. Perhaps you have some other pre-trib teacher in mind. At any rate, this argument is NOT valid and so is dismissed. But more importantly, it is unwittingly aiding and abetting the Covenant theologians, as it validates their MAIN argument by using it en toto against an undesirable doctrine.
Next, you quote John Walvoord as saying that the “modern” teaching of the rapture is not found in the writings of the “church fathers.” To that I would respond that the “theory” WAS taught by Jesus (Matthew 24, Luke 17) and the Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 15:52 with I Thessalonians 4:17.) The church fathers did not teach that the nation of Israel would be restored or that the church and Israel should be seen as two distinct entities. Should we throw that “theory” out as well? You see what I mean about inconsistency?
In the same vein, you state “Both Martin Luther and John Calvin believed the church would go through the Tribulation. More recently, such Christians as Charles Finney, George Whitefield, D.L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, Matthew Henry, B. B. Warfield, Robert Gundry, Carl Henry, and Walter Martin [to name but a few] could not bring themselves to believe that the church would escape the Tribulation.” Would you like to tell me which of these men was a premillennial dispensationalist? As far as I know, every one of them was an amillennialist. None of them believed in a restoration of national Israel. Again, your teaching in this chapter is totally inconsistent with your splendid defense of dispensational truth in the previous chapter. I’m surprised you could believe in dispensationalism since Luther, Calvin, Warfield, Gundry, both Henrys and Walter Martin were Covenant theology adherents to a man! But now I’m supposed to turn around and say, “Hmmm, Luther couldn’t find the rapture in the Bible, so maybe I should stop believing it…”
You state “For those, however, who are serious about these matters, they need to make their minds up one way or the other (i.e., whether or not the church will go through the Tribulation), because if the church is not destined to go through the Tribulation, why should Christians take the Prophetic Scriptures seriously? – again, why prepare for something that’s not going to affect us personally?” This will get really old after a while, but I’m going to continue to ask you to cite an example of a pre-trib teacher who does NOT advocate taking the prophetic scriptures seriously. This is a baseless charge in addition to being a poor argument. (If you can cite an example of the teaching you are condemning, I will rescind the “baseless charge” comment, although the “poor argument” statement will still stand).
As far as the rapture being “silent” or “loud,” this is the first time I have been introduced to the issue, so I have no strong feelings on the decibel level of the event. I believe the timing is of much more significance than the volume. It should be noted however that the Lord said in Matthew 24 and Luke 17, which you have not discussed, that one man is taken out of his bed and one is left in bed. Must not be that noisy if someone can sleep through it.
Regarding the “thief” passages, Revelation 3:3 is spoken to an amillennial church (the Reformation church typified by Sardis). Jesus speaks as coming as a thief in the night to those who are not watching for (expecting) Him to return. The next church age is the age that recovers pre-millennial dispensational church (Philadelphia). It is to THIS church that the Lord says He will “keep them from” or out of, the tribulation that is coming.
When you say you have “examined the rapture passage (I Thess. 4) and all of the ‘thief’ passages,” this was NOT a complete examination of these passages. For example, I Thessalonians 5:1-2 is cited as saying “The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” But in verse 4 he says, “But that day should not overtake YOU as a thief.” That is a message to the church. Why should it overtake SOME as a thief in the night and not others?
I must say, the most compelling argument you made for rethinking the rapture question was in your treatment of the “kingdom parables.” But even then, they are only compelling if you interpret them as referring to the church, which any good dispensationalist knows cannot be taken for granted. One could easily equate the gathering of the wheat with gathering the surviving nations that are going to “shine” forth in the millennium rather than the church being gathered at the rapture.
It is interesting that in Revelation 14:14-17, the order is reversed and the “good vine” is harvested first, and then the sickle is put in to reap the vine that is going into the winepress of the judgment of God.
Given that, this is a novel but unconvincing argument.
At the same time, your insistence on making “until the end” mean until the last final minute on the clock is also inconsistent with your teaching on dispensationalism. The “End” of the Age is not one day, or one hour. There are several stages (the beginning of sorrows, tribulation, the great tribulation) and different roles for the church (which you have already established), for Israel, and for the unbelieving nations. Any interpretation that attempts to thrust the church onto center stage whenever Jesus is speaking a parable is based on the kind of thinking that resulted in Covenant theology.
In regards to “as it was in the days of Lot” and in the days of Noah, you seem to see great significance in the fact that “this passage does NOT say that Lot went out of Sodom and then, seven years later, fiery destruction fell upon them. No, it says that all these things happened the SAME DAY.” We also know that a “day” with the Lord can be a thousand years.
Peter refers to this saying of Jesus, but emphasizes the fact that no judgment could fall in either Noah’s or Lot’s case until “the righteous” had been delivered and taken safely out of the way. Only then could the judgments fall. The angel said to Lot, “We can do NOTHING until you are safely out of here.” The judgments in Noah’s case began on the same day and lasted for much longer than 24 hours. Who is to say that the prophesied judgments of God will not begin to fall in earnest ON THE VERY DAY the church is taken out of the way and continue for the next 3 1/2 years! In fact, the LOUD rapture event could be one of the earthquakes mentioned in Revelation, could it not?
Speaking of Peter, I really don’t understand what you are saying about the heavens and earth passing away on the same day as the rapture. You seem to be saying that not only are we looking for the Lord’s return, but we are looking for the total destruction of the universe to happen at the same moment. This is NOT what premillennial dispensationalism teaches. More importantly, it is not what the Bible teaches, or even what Peter is teaching. According to Revelation 21, the present heavens and earth do not “pass away” until AFTER a thousand years (a day) has elapsed following the Lord’s return (the DAY of the LORD). So, you see how the term “DAY” can be misleading? It is not necessarily a 24-hour period of time. The Day of the Lord, then is NOT NECESSARILY a 24-hour period of time. The DAY of the LORD could also be a reference to the thousand year period that the Lord is personally reigning on David’s’ throne in Jerusalem. If that is true, or even if it is only possibly true, much if not all of your arguments above fall apart, since much of your thinking seems to based on the idea that all of these events must occur at exactly the same time, or at least on the same “day.”
You state, “A study of II peter 3 and I Thessalonians 4-5 plainly reveals that the “day of the Lord that cometh as a thief in the night” is the time when Christ will descend from heaven with a shout, believers will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, destruction will fall upon the unbelievers and the present heavens and earth shall pass away with a great noise.” Again, are you saying this all occurs within a single 24-hour period called the Day of the Lord? Or is it a thousand-year Day of the Lord… The scriptures, taken together, teach that this entire process is a one thousand year process. What is seven years in light of that? Let alone 3 1/2 years on one side or the other? The annihilation of the universe at the point the Lord returns is what I was taught growing up as an amillennial Lutheran. No Israel, no kingdom, no reign. Just the Lord returns and everything is gone. Call it amillennialism, or post-millennialism, it all boils down to no-millennialism. Again, this displays a lack of consistency with your supposed dispensational hermeneutic.
You state, “These things indicate that the Rapture will be at the END of the age; at the LAST DAY, at the LAST TRUMP. But according to the Pre-Tribulationalists, the Rapture would have to take place at the time of the FIRST trumpet or EVEN BEFORE, since – according to this interpretation – the Church will be gone when the trumpets of Revelation sound. Revelation 11:18 says that the sounding of the seventh trumpet – the LAST trumpet – will be the time of the dead to be resurrected. God will then “give reward unto … the saints.” Where, then, is there any room for the idea that before any of these trumpets sound the saints will have already been raptured to heaven to be rewarded?”
I’ll grant you that the traditional “pre-trib” position doesn’t allow for the trumpets of Revelation to sound. But the last trumpet doesn’t mark the end of the tribulation!!! The fact of the matter is, the “last trump” in the Book of Revelation signals the “third woe.” At this point there are still seven final judgments of God to be poured out upon the inhabitants of the earth. If the saints are “raptured” at the “last trumpet” in the Book of Revelation, they are with the Lord in heaven while more judgments are being poured out on the people who remain on the earth. There just simply is no way around, over, or under this fact. Read your statement above again. You insist the rapture will occur as the “last trumpet” is sounded. In that case you admit there are more judgments to fall SUBSEQUENT to the rapture of church-age saints.
If that wasn’t bad enough, at the end of Revelation 19, the heavens open and the Lord descends on a white horse to destroy the enemies of God who are still on the earth, and to save the people of God (Israel), and the CHURCH is WITH HIM, riding out of heaven!! How anyone who claims to take the scripture literally (see your statements in chapter 4 on dispensational truth and the literal interpretation of scripture!) can deny that the Bride of Christ is with Lord in heaven as judgments continue to be poured out on the earth, or that the Bride is accompanying the Lord as He returns “as a thief in the night” to bring the final, sudden destruction of the enemies of God, I simply don’t understand.
I am going to pass over the section on “False arguments” and the Greek derivation of terms for now. Suffice it to say, and to borrow a phrase I learned from you, if you are going to split hairs to this degree, we ought to just shave your whole head!
“Ah, but those who believe that the Rapture is pictured in Revelation 4:1, commonly teach that the SAINTS in these chapters are not CHURCH SAINTS, but TRIBULATION SAINTS – people that are not part of the Church whatsoever! Yet, when we find the word SAINTS in connection with the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation 19, then we are told that this refers to the CHURCH SAINTS. Notice the passage: “The marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of the SAINTS.” The Scofield footnote says: “The Lamb’s wife here is the Bride, the Church.” So, it is agreed the saints here are CHURCH SAINTS. How can some rightly argue that the saints mentioned in the chapter before (Revelation 18), the chapter before that (Revelation 17), the chapter before that (Revelation 16), and Revelation 13 are different kinds of saints? By such arbitrary methods of interpretation, ANYTHING could be proved from the Bible.”
I have cited this entire passage because I find it one of the most exasperating and one of the lines of reasoning most out of sync with your profession to be a “dispensationalist” and a “literalist.” The term “saints” is used in the Old Testament speaking of Israel! (See Deuteronomy 33:2,3; I Samuel 2:9; II Chronicles 6:41, Job 5:1! pre-dating Moses and Israel! and about 30 other references.) I thought you were a dispensationalist! The term “saint” refers to God’s elect in ANY AGE. Church age saints are the Bride of Christ, or God’s elect during the church age. Tribulation saints are saved during the tribulation, just as Old Testament saints lived PRIOR to the New Testament dispensation. Why can’t there be saints subsequent to the church age?!
THIS IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE. This is Dispensationalism 101.
If you are going to call yourself a dispensationalist, you are going to have to be consistent. Consistency in interpretation is the hallmark of dispensationalism. Consistency in interpretation is the pillar and ground, the root and branch of dispensationalism. And consistent dispensationalism sees room for an age to come where the church is not center stage, or even on the earth.
When Jesus said “I will be with you to the end of the age,” you make that a statement to the CHURCH, even though Pentecost was five weeks away. You claim to be a dispensationalist, but when it comes to interpreting “rapture” passages, you handle scripture EXACTLY as a covenant theologian would handle scriptures related to a future restoration of Israel, by inserting the church into every verse, whether there is any justification or not!
This letter is getting quite long, and it is obvious that I can turn the dispensational light on nearly every paragraph of your article and come up with an alternate interpretation that is literal, that is consistent with dispensational truth, not to mention consistent with the rest of scripture, and which supports a rapture of church age saints PRIOR to the Lord’s return in Revelation 19. But to make things easier on both of us, I want to skip to near the end of the article because you made a statement that really struck me as being “condescending” of lay people, which again, seems to be inconsistent with your position on the church and the clergy.
You say “Still, most evangelical “lay-people” – in contrast to their leaders – continue to embrace the theory of the Secret Pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church. What then gives this theory such “staying-power,” even in the face of all the evidence to the contrary? – well, it’s not that difficult to understand, and to this extent there is very little room for evangelical lay people to blame their leaders; they have only themselves to blame if they get caught some day by the events of the “end of days.”
To this I must say that in spite of your statements against the institutional church and the professional clergy system, you continue to view the “laity” not as Holy Spirit empowered priests and kings of the Lord, but as sheep who are following some prestigious leader. It is not conceivable in your thinking that the Holy Spirit is leading the great mass of believers IN SPITE of what the “teachers” are teaching. Is it possible that the reason this interpretation is so pervasive and so tenacious is that it is TRUE? It is the simple believers who believe it. It is the educated and sophisticated who do not. Should that be any kind of a clue?
And finally I have to ask… What is your evidence that the majority of “lay people” who believe in a pre-judgment rapture (be it pre-trib or mid-trib) do not expect to suffer persecution? At the end of the day, the main objection to the teaching of a pre-Armageddon rapture seems to be that Christians won’t be prepared for what is about to happen because they think they are exempted from suffering persecution. But isn’t it really the “dominionists” who are totally unprepared? Isn’t it THEIR hopes and dreams that are going to be smashed on the jagged rocks of the tribulation, and NOT the mid-trib rapture believers, who expect to see the man of sin revealed, the second holocaust begin, and the mark to be implemented either after or JUST BEFORE the Lord takes the Bride to prepare her for her soon return to the earth at His side?
That is to say, are you not overstating the “dangers” of believing what the scriptures teach about the Lord delivering “the godly out of temptations (tribulation),” and reserving the unjust “unto the day of judgment to be punished?”
I did not mean this to get so long, and I have not touched on all the points, but I hope you will consider what I say about being consistent in the approach to your hermeneutic. I believe I have demonstrated that you use the same “tactics” to get rid of the rapture as the Covenant theology boys use to get rid of Israel.
Something to pray about… no?
P.S. I loved the article on dominionism. Amen, brother…
And the reply:
“Thanks for taking the time to craft such a long letter. I hope you understand that those of us at Antipas Ministries completely reject any timing for the rapture other than at the end of the 70th week… i.e. the End of the Age. I will not go deeper into things, since you have access to all of S.R.’s writings on the subject, but I will say that if you are right then all we will be guilty of is being prepared to witness for and serve the Lord until the Last Day. However, if you are wrong on this matter and Christ doesn’t come for His Church until the Last Trump, then I pray you and others of like mind are not found unprepared as the 5 foolish virgins were.
“There are perilous times ahead. Make sure and have enough oil for your lamp.