I’d like to summarize that Forum for those of you who couldn’t attend, and offer some further thoughts.
The first thing to remember whenever someone says, “The Bible says ________” about anything (the use of wealth, homosexuality, the role of women in leadership positions, who Jesus is and how we are saved, etc.) is that “the” Bible is not “a” singular book, but a library of books: 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament.
Ask yourself: how would you react if someone walked up to you and said, “You know, the library says that________”?
You’d think that’s a crazy thing to say. And you’d be right.
There were many different apocalyptic theories that were out there before Jesus’ time, and even in the New Testament, there is not one or two, but three or four different takes on the Second Coming.
In other words, in scripture, there is no single perspective on the issue. As the theologian and Biblical scholar William Placher writes, “Some Christians in the New Testament period thought that Christ was about to return, others did not. Christians ever since have held both views -- and all can find New Testament support for their positions.”
Even more interesting to me is Placher’s point that the apostle Paul and many other early Christians began with a conviction Jesus was about to return, gradually realized they’d been wrong, but that realization never shook their faith.
It’s fascinating to me to see that a tenet of faith in Christ that was important early on turned out to be not so essential to that faith.
Resist the temptation of rigid thinkers to convince you that there has been “a historic faith” since the days of Jesus, which (conveniently) they happen to be the ones protecting, and which we modern people are someone unique in “tampering with.”
Recall that major, traumatic theological changes (the Second Coming not coming, the inclusion of Gentiles without requiring circumcision and observance of dietary laws, the split between Eastern and Western Christendom, Protestant Reformation’s suggestion that scripture should be accessible in one’s own language, and that people can have direct access to God, etc.) have always happened throughout Christian history -- at least when the church did not have the power to suppress those ideas before they could take root.
Finally, a word about the absurdity of predicting any Biblical prophecy with any certainty about dates: it would be next to impossible to predict precisely when something could happen in the future, based on Jesus’ life.
What day and year is it today?
We’d say May 19, 2011. But “2011” is based on the year of Jesus’ birth. When did that happen? Biblical scholars put it anywhere between what we’d call A.D. (the abbreviation for the Latin term for “the year of the Lord”) 1 or 3. Accuracy in calendars (what day, or month, or even year it is) is a relatively recent phenomenon.
We’d call this month “May.” But there was a great change in the calendar (we lost 13 days) when we switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendars.
If I were writing this e-Pistle prior to that change, “today” would actually be May 6.
So you see the absurdity of predicting things down to the year, or even the day.
Bottom line: Jesus himself, who we believe was God incarnate, said even he didn’t know the day or hour when human history would culminate. Just be ready, he said -- if not for “the” end, at least for “your” end, because you don’t know the day or time.
That’s not supposed to make us anxious. It’s supposed to make us embrace every hour of every day of every year.
Of which, I pray, we’ll have many, many more!
See you Sunday!