Have you ever seen that bumper sticker that says, “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned…”? It’s based on the belief that at some point in the future, before the second coming of Christ, Jesus will stop by for a brief visit, and take all his favorite people back to heaven with him. Rapture theology goes on to say that there will be a lot of people who thought they were Christians, but they will be… “left behind.”
Once I even saw a painting, in which the artist was trying to depict the moment after the rapture, when all these cars and planes were crashing because apparently the drivers and pilots had all been “real” Christians. (If you check google, you can find some interesting images.)
In my book, The Wedding of the Lamb, I go into detail about why the concept of the rapture is not biblical, but for this week’s blog, the point I want to make gets to the heart of the matter behind this concept.
The real issue in rapture theology is that there are at least two classes of Christians (a concept invented by ancient heretics called Gnostics, by the way). There are the real Christians, who pass some test of authenticity so that when Jesus comes by for his pre-parousia pick-up, these folks have a seat on the bus to heaven. But then there are the others – those who thought they were Christians, but were not, presumably because they did not measure up to some standard of commitment. They are the Christians in name only, who never really accepted Christ. They do not have a seat on the bus, and they will have to wait for the next bus to come along, and hope that this other bus isn’t taking them to hell. In the time between the two busses, their task is to try again and get it right.
There are two main problems with rapture theology. The first is that, in terms of the interpretation of Scripture, it creates more problems than it solves. People who believe in the rapture can’t agree on when it will come (before a future tribulation, during this tribulation, after the tribulation, etc.), and while they all agree that Jesus will have to make two trips to accomplish his second coming, they all apparently don’t realize that by inserting this concept into the book of Revelation, they are calling down on themselves the curse of Revelation 22:18, “If anyone adds to [the words of this prophecy] God will add to that person the plagues that are written in this scroll.”
But the second, and perhaps more insidious, problem with rapture theology is that those who believe it presume to know that everyone’s experience of Christianity must be like their own. In other words, if you haven’t had the same kind of conversion experience, in which you have “accepted Jesus as your Savior,” then you will be “left behind.” The truth is, none of us can say that one person’s experience of God in Christ must be same as another’s. To do so is to limit the Holy Spirit.
However, I would not go to the other extreme and say that there is nothing that can be said to be normative for the Christian faith. The Christians of the early centuries worked very hard to define the Church, and Christianity itself, and so I would say that there are some boundaries, outside of which one cannot properly be called a Christian. But the test of authenticity for the Christian faith is not found in experience. In fact, as I said in Spiritual Blueprint, there are no two experiences of God that are the same, because God created us so that there are no two personalities that are the same. No, the test of authenticity is not so much in the individual, but it is more in the community.
What I mean by that is this: If a person was baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and affirms the Nicene Creed, then that person is a Christian. One is initiated into the Body of Christ by water baptism, and then one remains in Christ (John 15:1-8) through the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist (or Holy Communion).
Evangelical Protestants are often heard asking Catholics if they have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. The correct answer is: every week, when Jesus Christ is accepted in the Eucharist. What else is a person doing when he or she receives communion, but receiving Christ, who said, “This is my body…” and “This is my blood…”?
The concept of the rapture is simply not biblical. What is biblical (and what is consistent with two millennia of tradition) is identification with Jesus Christ by baptism in the name of the Trinity. We become Christians through baptism, but while baptism may be a clean slate, it is not a free ride. So we remain Christians by remaining in Christ through the sacrament of the Eucharist.