world views. While the Bible addresses only "spiritual" issues such as prayer and Bible reading,29 we are told that it has little if anything to say about "secular" matters such as economics and politics, unless we're dealing with the tithe and church government. Sin and the power of the devil make it nearly impossible for Christians to effect any real and permanent societal changes, we are assured. The church's only recourse is to retreat to the "spiritual" dimension. R. J. Rushdoony has called this the "The Heresy of the Faithful":
Many people excuse the extensive apostasy in the Church by pointing to original sin. Man is so great a sinner, we are told, that we should not be surprised at the extensive sway of unbelief in the very hearts of the faithful, let alone the world. We are reminded that the heart of man "is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer. 17:9). This is true, but the Scripture is not a Manichaean document. It does not assert that Satan and sin have a power equal to or greater than God and His grace. On the contrary, 'God is greater than our hearts" (I John spiritual and material, and seeks salvation by denying his material nature. Mani's principal ideas are found in many Christian groups, who teach that the only significant part of man is his soul. As a result, political and social concerns are not considered to be significant for the Christian.
28. Neoplatonism was a modification of Plato's philosophy that was first systematized by Plotinus in the 4th century a.d. Like Manichaeanism, Neo-Platonism often involves a low view of the material world. For the Neo-Platonist, the world of sense objects- the world that can be seen and felt-is a dim reflection of the true world of ideas. The world of sense is therefore less real and less important than the realm of ideas. Neo-Platonic thought has deeply influenced the church. See R.J. Rushdoony, The Flight From Humanity (Tyler, TX: Thoburn Press, 1973).
29. Prayer and Bible reading are foundational to any real reformation. Prayer and Bible reading are not ends in themselves but are means for the greater work of the kingdom. When thirty-six men were killed in the battle with the men of Ai, Joshua and the elders prayed to the Lord. But that was not the end of things: "So the LORD said to Joshua, 'Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them"' (Joshua 7). For a full discussion of the "privatization" of prayer and Bible read ing see R. J. Rushdoony, "Sanctification and Hi story," inLaw and Society (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1982), pp. 227-30.
3:20), and "greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world" (I John 4:4). Great and almighty is our sovereign and triune God, and we cannot limit His power without sinning, nor can we ascribe the helplessness of the church to the greater power of sin and Satan. Rather, we must ascribe it to the heresy and laziness of believers, who limit God in their unbelief.
Related to this acceptance of apostasy, which is an implicit acceptance of the superiority of Satan, is the surrender of this world to Satan and to unbelievers.30
For those who see no hope for this world this side of heaven, God is seen as orchestrating the events of history for the imminent "rapture" of the saints, to deliver them from the mess of history. At the same time, the devil is marshaling his forces of evil against the people of God. This is an old, old story, repeated century after century when external events begin to press in on Christians.31 These two events are necessary and inevitable, say the proponents of earthly defeat, just prior to the rapture of the saints. We supposedly should expect the advance of evil and the decline of those things explicitly Christian. One author goes so far as to say that America will be 'destroyed by fire! Sudden destruction is coming and few will escape. Unexpectedly, and in one hour, a hydrogen holocaust will engulf America-and this nation will be no more."32
30. R.J. Rushdoony, The Biblical Philosophy ofMstary (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1969), p. 139.
31. *[A]ll the scripture texts claimed as proof that the coming of Jesus Christ must now be close at hand have also been confidently so used in former generations. Not a few Christians in the past have been erroneously convinced that their age must wimess the end. When the Teutonic barbarians overturned Rome and reduced a stable world to chaos in the fifth century a. d., many in the Church despairingly drew the wrong conclusion that the world could have no future. Even larger numbers did so at the approach of the year 1000, believing that the closing millennium would end the world. In the gloom of the fourteenth century such tracts appeared as The Lust Age of the Church, and in terms very similar to that old title a great number have written since." Iain Murray, The PuritanHope (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1971), p. xix.
32. David Wilkes-son, Set the Trumpet to Thy Mouth (Lindale, I X: World Challenge, Inc., 1985), p. 1. Wilkerson's assessment of the current state of the Church is correct, but his conclusions in our opinion, are flawed. For decades the Church has taught that the world must get worse and worse. "One common reason
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), the great Baptist preacher and evangelist of the 19th century, shows how pessimism robs the church of its vitality and stunts its growth.
David was not a believer in the theory that the world will grow worse and worse, and that the dispensation will wind up with general darkness, and idolatry. Earth's sun is to go down amid tenfold night if some of our prophetic brethren are to be believed. Not so do we expect, but we look for a day when the dwellers in all lands shall learn righteousness, shall trust in the Saviour, shall worship thee alone, 0 God, 'and shall glorify thy name," The modem notion has greatly damped the zeal of the church for missions, and the sooner it is shown to be unscriptural the better for the cause of God. It neither consorts with prophecy, honours God, nor inspires the church with ardour. Far hence be it driven,31
For nearly a hundred years, Christians have been in retreat,3* Through the adoption of pagan ideas about the world, some Christians have concluded that matter (this world) is of little value while spiritual things (heaven) are the only real focus of a Christian's attention. While Christianity became more and more pietistic35
for believing that the world must grow worse and worse has always been the evidence of abounding moral decay. Confronted by this evidence it has too often been supposed that the only work left for God is judgment. Yet the history of revivals should teach us that even in the midst of prevailing evil it is possible to form precisely the opposite conviction. For example, when John Wesley arrived in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in May, 1742, he wrote these memorable words: 1 was surprised; so much drunkenness, cursing and swearing (even from the mouths of little children) do I never remember to have seen and heard before in so small a compass of time. Surely this place is ripe for Him who "came not to calf the righteous, but sinners to repentance".'" Mm-ray, The Puritan Hope, pp. xix-xx.
33. The Treasury of David: AnExpository and Devotional Commentary on the Psalms, 7 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Guardian Press, [1870.1885] 1976), vol. 4, p. 102.
34. Douglas W. Frank, Less Than Conquerors: HowEvongelicals Entered theTwen-tictk Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986).
35. We must distinguish between "piety* and "pietism.* Originally, a "pious* person was one whose whole life was ordered by his relationship to God. Today, piety is generally used to describe one's personal devotional life, such as prayer, Bible study, fellowship with the Lord, and so forth. In both these senses, piety is essential to Christian living. By contrast, we are using the term "pietism" to describe the belief that there is nothing to the Christian life except personal piety. A "pietistic* Christian says that Christians should not become involved with political and social issues, but should devote themselves entirely to personal devotional practices.
and retreatist, secularism became (because of little opposition from dominion-oriented Christians) aggressive and dominating.% At last, Christians are beginning to fight back. This is why Hunt and man y others are upset, This confident and optimistic vision of the future, according to Hunt, indicates that we are in the final apostasy. The idea of cultural victory by Christians is anathema to Dave Hunt. The idea of cultural defeat is pure orthodoxy - the "old time religion" of 1830.
Is This Really the End?
Hunt concludes that 1 Timothy 4:1 addresses this very situation: "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith The advocates of the near-end-of-the-world scenario of future events want to project Paul's warning into what would have been the distant future when Paul wrote his epistle. Little thought is given to the possibility that the "later times" that Paul had in mind were in the early church's near future, the end of the Jewish age just prior to a,d. 70. We use similar language with little if any confusion. A politician might remark that he will announce his candidacy at a "later time." The audience understands this as "in the near future." He is biding his time, but not for nineteen hundred years.
In fact, there have always been Christians who have been preoccupied with the end of the world and the return of Christ. The sack of Rome by the Vandals (A. D. 410) was supposed to bring on the end; the birth of the Inquisition (1209-1244) prompted many well-meaning saints to conclude that it was the beginning of the end; the Black Death that killed millions was viewed as the
36. "At the turn of the century, political and conspiratorial elites began a long-term program to 'capture the robes' of American culture. They recognized the importance ofjudges, professors, and ministers. I remember hearing a speech by a former Communist, Karl Prussion, in 1964, in which he told of the assignment he received from the Party. He became a theology student at Union Theological Seminary in New York. The Party knew what it was doing." Gary North, Backward, Christian Soldiers? (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), p. 60.
prelude to the demise of the world (1347-1350).37 Martin Luther "frequently expressed the opinion that the End was very near, though he felt it was unwise to predict an exact date. Christians, he said, no more know the exact time of Christ's return than little babies in their mothers' bodies know about their arrival.' "38 This, however, did not stop him from concluding that the end was not too far off. In January 1532, he wrote, "The last day is at hand. My calendar has run out. I know nothing more in my Scriptures."39 As it turned out, there was a lot more time to go after 1532. Many other disasters, natural and political, gave rise to the same speculation, century after century. Disasters on the front page of their newspapers send far too many Christians scurrying to the back pages of their Bibles. Such fears and delusions become grist for the humanist historians' mill:
Contemporary events like the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 were interpreted as evidence of the fulfillment of biblical prophecies. Above all, the French Revolution excited a spate of interpretations on both sides of the Atlantic designed to show that the world was entering upon the last days. Millennialism was widely espoused by leading scholars and divines. In America the names of Timothy Dwight (President of Yale), John H. Livingston
37. The plague disrupted society at all levels. Giovanni Boccaccio wrote a vivid description of how some people responded. Much of it reads like the prelude to the end: For some "debauchery was the road to salvation, or, if there was to be no salvation [from the plague], to happiness in the few days that remained. These profligates abandoned all work and drifted from house to house, drinking, stealing, fornicating. 'People behaved as though their days were num-bered,'Boccaccio wrote, 'and treated their belongings and their own persons with equal abandon. Hence most houses had become common property, and any passing stranger could make himself at home. ... In the face of so much affliction and misery, all respect for the laws of God and man had virtually broken down. . . . Those ministers and executors of the laws who were not either dead or ill were left with so few subordinates that they were unable to discharge any of their duties. Hence everyone was free to behave as he pleased." Quoted in Otto Friedrich, The End of the World: A History (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1982), p. 116.
38. Mark Nell, "Misreading the Signs of the Times,"Christianity Today (February 6, 1987), p. 10-1.
(President of Rutgers) and Joseph Priestly come to mind: in Britain, George Stanley Faber, Edward King, and Edward Irving. A spate of pamphlets and sermons by Church of England clergy and orthodox American ministers poured forth from the 1790s; and there was constant reference back to the prophetical studies of Sir Isaac Newton, Joseph Mede, and William Whiston. The usual method of interpretation was some variant of the year-day theory, by which days mentioned in the prophecies were counted as years, weeks as seven-year periods, and months as thirty years. There was general agreement in the late eighteenth century that the 1,260 days mentioned in Revelation 12:6 were to be interpreted as 1,260 years, and that this period was now ended. An alternative theory, which became increasingly popular after 1800, emphasized the importance of the 2,300-year period of Daniel 8:14 and the 'cleansing of the sanctuary' which would fall due some time in the 1840s. The fulfillment of the time prophecies meant that mankind was living in the last days, that the 'midnight cry' might soon be heard, and that the coming of the messiah might be expected shortly. Such beliefs had an influence far beyond the members of explicitly adventist sects. They were part and parcel of everyday evangelical religion.40
In the 20th century, there has been wild speculation that the end of the world is just around the next world disaster. The onslaught of World War I led many to conclude that Armageddon was at hand: "We are not yet in the Armageddon struggle proper, but at its commencement, and it may be, if students of prophecy read the signs aright, that Christ will come before the present war closes, and before Armageddon. . . . The war preliminary to Armageddon, it seems, has commenced.''41 The war he is talking about is World War I,
40. J. E. C. Harrison, The Second Coming: Popular Millennarianism, 1780-1850 (TVewBrunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1979), p. 5.
41. The Weekly Evangel (April 10, 1917), p. 3. Quoted in Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now!: The Premillenarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917(Grand
Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977), pp. 37-38. Emphasis added. This book is "must"read-ding by anyone who believes that today's front page headline is proof of Christ's imminent return. What about front page headlines two generations ago? Apocalyptic dispensational expectations have made public fools in retrospect out of generations of Bible expositors.
Benito Mussolini,42 Adolf Hitler, Henry Kissinger, and the Papacy43 have been mistakenly identified as the "Antichrist? In Scripture, the word "Antichrist" is often plural, and it refers to anyone who denies that Christ came in the flesh to save His peo-pie (see 1 John 2:18, 22). Taken out of its historical context, almost anyone can be the Antichrist. Hal Lindsey is correct: 'However, we must not indulge in speculation about whether any of the current figures is the Antichrist."H
Predictions of the near end of the world have been a prominent feature of recent evangelical thought. Looking back, we can say with confidence that they were wrong. Of course, this does not mean that current predictions are automatically wrong because they have been wrong in the past, It does mean, however, that we should be careful when it comes to analyzing the Bible in terms of contemporary events, in what one writer has described as "newspaper exegesis ,"45 Historian Mark Nell again writes: "The verdict of history seems clear. Great spiritual gain comes from living under the expectation of Christ's return. But wisdom and restraint are also in order. At the very least, it would be well for those in our age who predict details and dates for the End to re
42. "Many will reca77widespread preaching during the World War II era that Mussolini or Hitfer was the Antichrist. Since the slogan W IL DUCE was widely used by Mussolini, and because the Roman numeraf value of the slogan/ title is 666, many were sure of positive identification." David A. Lewis, "The Antichrist: Number, number, who's got the number?" (no publishing information).
In a popular tract that was circulated during World War II, Mussolini was supposed to be the Antichrist: "Someone has to be the Anti-Christ. Why not Mussolini? In his life, death, and his exhumation he has fulfilled 49 prophesies. Why not consider him?" From the pamphlet Mussolini. . . The Antichrist by McBimie.
43. Samuel J. Cassels, Christ and Antichrist or Jesus of Nazareth Proved to be the Messiah and the Papacy Proved to be the Antichrist (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1846); Ralph Woodrow, Great Prophecies of the Bible (Riverside, CA: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, 1971), pp. 148-200.
44. Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan,  1973), p. 113.
45. Greg L. Bahnsen, "The Prima Facie Acceptability of Postmillennial.sm~ pp. 53-55.
member how many before them have misread the signs of the times."*
The historical landscape is filled with the failed prophetic pronouncements by some of the best-intentioned biblical expositors. It seems that every disaster and every deviation from orthodox doctrine is heaped upon piles of wild prophetic speculation to prepare (and culturally paralyze) another generation of anxious Christians to meet Jesus in the air.
The back cover of David Hunt's The Seduction of Christianity notes that the adoption of "fashionable philosophies" by prominent Christian leaders and their loyal following is symptomatic of a "great Apostasy [that] must occur before Christ's Second Coming." Notice two things. First, Hunt has now placed the "great Apostasy* before the rapture, a major departure from traditional dispensational theology. Second, the church has been seduced before. Rampant immorality stalked the church prior to the reformational awakening of the 15 th and 16th centuries. Doctrinal error overshadowed even the most basic message of the gospel. Was that the end of the world? In a way it was. The end of the Renaissance world came, and a powerful gospel message emerged from the struggles of the Reformation. Was the church seduced prior to Luther and Calvin? Most certainly. Were these great Christian leaders able "to choose between the Original and the counterfeit"?47 Did they and millions more "escape the Seduction of Christianity"?48 Yes. Is it possible that the present heresies are not a sign of the end but a sign of a new reformation?49
But there is even more at stake here. For decades, the preoccupation with speculative prophecy has embarrassed and immobilized the church. As children we learned Aesop's fable of the "Shepherd Boy and the Wolf":
46. Nell, 'Misreading the Signs of the Times," p. 10-1.
47. Back cover of The Seduction of Christianity.
49. We do not mean Robert Schuller's 'New Reformation of "self-esteem." See Jay E. Adams, The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love,& Self-image (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1986).
A mischievous lad was set to mind some sheep, used, in jest, to cry "Wolf! Wolf," When the people at work in the neighboring fields came running to the spot, he would laugh at them for their pains. One day the wolf came ill reality, and the boy this time called Wolf! Wolf!" in earnest; but the men, having been so often deceived, disregarded his cries, and the sheep were left at the mercy of the wolf.
Of course, if you cry long enough, you just might be the one to get it right, but by then there might not be anyone listening. Preaching about the end of the world has long been used by religious groups as a way of pleading with the lost to commit themselves to Jesus Christ before He returns. Such a motivating device can backfire on even the most well-intentioned evangelist. What happens if a listener shouts out, "Preachers like you have been telling us for decades that the world is coming to an end. Why should we believe you now?"50
Those who are sure that the end is near should heed the warning from someone who does believe that Jesus is returning soon:
The date-setters will have a heyday as the year 2000 approaches. It will be a fever. It will sell pamphlets and books by the millions. But if Jesus does not come back by the year 2000, it is hard to imagine any credibility being left for the Bible prophecy message unless we begin a strong program right now to offset the heresy of date-setting.
Ignoring it will not make it go away. Only by preaching the true and dignified message of the Lord's return and by strongly denouncing date-setting can we hope to maintain confidence in the Bible message of Jesus' return,51
50. The New Testament does use the imminent coming of Jesus in judgment as a way of spurring the church on to greater works. But the imminent judgment spoken of in Scripture is the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70. Peter writes: "The end of all things is ai hand; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer* (1 Peter 4:7). In Luke's gospel we read these words of Jesus: "But keep on the alert atall times, praying in order that_>'ou may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take piact, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:36). John writes in his first epistle: "Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is thelast hour " (1 John 2:18).
51. David Lewis, 'The Dating Game," The Pentecostal Evangel, no page or month, 1975.
In the past decade, Christians have begun to fight back against the humanistic establishment. Many also have rediscovered the hope that the visible church ofjesus Christ will be victorious on earth because Christians in every area of life will be victorious. Many people, both Christians and non-Christians, are troubled by this resurgence. Dave Hunt and others see it as a sign of impending judgment, a fulfillment of biblical prophesies about the last days. We believe, on the contrary, that it may be a sign of an impending reformation. But keep in mind that even reformation takes time. It does not come "ill an instant."
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Preparing for Armageddon, Natural Disasters, Nuclear Strikes, the Zombie Apocalypse, and Every Other Threat to Human Life on Earth. Most of us have thought about how we would handle various types of scenarios that could signal the end of the world. There are plenty of movies on the subject, psychological papers, and even survivalists that are part of reality TV shows. Perhaps you have had dreams about being one of the few left and what you would do in order to survive.