Should Christians Divide Over the Timing of the Rapture?
I have been teaching on Bible prophecy for several decades now. Going through books like, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and Revelation to name just a few.
I come from a Calvary Chapel background and therefore have recognized the Pretribulational Premillennial understanding of the Rapture. I have taught this position for years. But several years ago, I began to notice a disturbing trend in Rapture-based studies and Rapture-timing positions.
I noticed that many Christians were dividing or disfellowshipping based on their position of something that has yet to happen. I found this to be both dishonoring to God and lacking in grace toward one another.
As a result of this consideration I now hold two views on the Rapture. One view is based on when the rapture will happen. The other view is what I, and others, call the pan-tribulation (it will all pan out) view. In other words, regardless of your position on the rapture I believe that it will all pan out.
- Pre-tribulational rapture
- Mid-tribulational rapture
- Pre-wrath rapture
- Post-tribulational rapture
I suppose, to be infinitely fair, God could rapture Christians based on their belief of when the rapture takes place. Pre-tribbers would go prior to the start of the tribulation. Mid-tribbers in the middle of the tribulation, Post-tribbers after the tribulation and pre-wrathers would go prior to God’s wrath.
As a pastor I have come to the conclusion that Christians should not divide on the rapture.Pastor Stewart White
God could also take another position. If the rapture takes place prior to the tribulation, everyone who is not a pre-tribber would not get to go. Or if the rapture takes place mid-trib, post-trib or pre-wrath, those not holding the proper view of the timing of the rapture would be left behind.
I don’t believe God will take people based on their rapture position; nor do I believe God will leave those behind when the rapture happens, if they do not hold the proper position at the time of this wondrous event.
As a pastor I have come to the conclusion that Christians should not divide on the rapture. I have been repeatedly crucified for taking this position because, as a pastor, I am supposed to teach only the pre-trib rapture instead of giving grace to those who do not hold that position. In essence, because the pre-trib rapture is a Calvary Chapel distinctive, I am not only expected to teach that position, but take the pre-trib rapture position beyond a Calvary Chapel distinctive and make it a Christian essential for fellowship and maybe even salvation.
There is a major difference between a distinctive and an essential. A distinctive is held to be a unique plank in a doctrinal statement. A distinctive is what makes a certain church or denomination distinct. An essential is something that is required for salvation or for us to fellowship with one another.
Take Spiritual gifts for example. I am not a Cessationist as say, John MacArthur and his followers. Because I am not a Cessationist, I believe Spiritual Gifts are still in existence today, to the extent that they meet the usage criteria and purpose described by the apostle Paul. While I believe in Spiritual gifts and at times move in them, I have no trouble having fellowship with a Baptist who does not believe in them. I also have no trouble sharing in fellowship with those who hold any Rapture positions: I can even fellowship with people who have no position on the rapture or do not accept it at all. While a pre-trib rapture is a distinctive for Calvary Chapel it is not an essential for Salvation or fellowship.
There are plenty of things I am willing to divide on. I can’t have fellowship with a “Christian” who does not believe in the life, death and bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. I cannot have spiritual fellowship with a Jehovah’s Witness because of their Gnostic, Aryan views.
I cannot fellowship with “Christians” who support the BSD movement against Israel. I will not fellowship with “Christians” who are antisemitic. I cannot fellowship with Christians who reject the atoning death of Jesus Christ and believe their works are what gets them to eternal life.
But I can fellowship with someone who has a differing view on the rapture. How can I do that? Because I know the difference between a distinctive and an essential. Having this grace gets me into trouble with some Calvary Chapel pastors. Why? Because the Calvary Chapel distinctives have become the new Laws on stone. This is destructive and damaging.
I had this very conversation with pastor Chuck Smith in my talk studio back in the mid-90s’s. Pastor Chuck came up with the Calvary Chapel distinctives. But in my conversations with pastor Chuck, he agreed with me. He saw the distinctives as something that made Calvary Chapel recognizable but as for the pre-trib position that he upheld, he also supported the grace to allow other believers to hold other positions without fear.
Those who know me can attest that when it comes to Scripture, I uphold it, cherish it, believe it and fearfully teach it. I respect the Word of God. But I would caution Calvary Chapel pastors not to make the same mistakes Pharisaical and Rabbinical Judaism made; the introduction of The Oral Law.
With the Oral Law, the rabbis could elevate themselves above all Scripture and declare and define new meanings. The Catholic Church does the same thing. Oral tradition gets passed down as fact and truth. Oral distinctives suddenly become as etched in stone in importance as the Ten Commandments.
I desire to remain in unity with my fellow pastors. elders and parishioners. But we cannot be unified when that unity actually forces me to divide with others over a nonessential. I have had Amos 3:3 thrown at me: “ Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? “ Unfortunately, that passage has nothing to do with a position on the Rapture, but everything to do with Israel sinning against the Lord. But it sure is convenient to throw it out at someone as a veiled threat, even when done so completely out of context. Perhaps it is now a Calvary distinctive as well.
Yes, holding a pre-trib position is a Calvary distinctive but it is not a Biblical essential. Our position on the rapture neither gains nor loses our salvation. Our position on the rapture does not necessarily make us a better Christian or gives us a closer walk with Jesus. But it can make us a less grace-loving Christian.
Some people might consider the “it will all pan out” view to be liberal. So, it might sound strange for me, as a conservative, to hold that position, but I believe it is not only the safest position, it is the least divisive on a matter that is not essential for salvation.
I implore my fellow believers to extend grace to those who don’t hold your view on the rapture. Is it really worth a division, disunity or a split over something that will not gain anyone an entrance into heaven? I do not think it is.
In conclusion, I will not divide with anyone over something that has not happened yet.