Sunday, April 08, 2018

Is the Doctrine of Major Doctrines a Major Doctrine? The Rapture as a Case Study

Friends of Israel (FOI), the organization, and Israel My Glory (IMG), its publication, both have talked a lot about the rapture through the years and do again in a recent edition of the latter.  David Levy, the FOI Director of Education and Ministry Relations, writes in "The Rapture":
The Rapture of the church is a major doctrine in Scripture
Now what does IMG mean by "major doctrine"?  If the rapture is a major doctrine, then what is a minor doctrine?  I would agree that using the terminology "major doctrine" should get someone in trouble.  It is en vogue among evangelicals and fundamentalists to refer to a biblical teaching as a major doctrine.  "Major doctrine" itself wasn't used before the twentieth century.  I haven't found it.  I would be surprised if you did.  Now a discussion about whether a doctrine is major or minor has become major.

A doctrine itself today might not be major, while the doctrine of ranking doctrines as major or minor is major.  It seems to be essential to qualify whether a doctrine is major or minor.  You will struggle to find anything of the sort in history and I think it is forced to do so.  If you read here much, you know I think that this is an attack on the truth.  Truth itself has become bifurcated, this the bifurcation of truth that Nancy Pearcey writes about in her Total Truth.  Truth has been marginalized by separating it from the rest of the truth -- this is not how God and the Bible function.

Rapture teaching is unique teaching for sure.  Ecclesiology and eschatology were badly perverted by Roman Catholicism, the state church, and it wasn't reformed with the Protestants.  They kept their state churches and their amillennial eschatology, systematized by covenant theology.  Catholic doctrine arose from mixing the truth with pagan philosophy and allegorical interpretation to justify wrong practice.  To vindicate political domination it invented amillennialism and then defended it with its own concocted system of interpretation.

Rapture doctrine proceeds from a plain reading of scripture.  One attack is the lack of history.  This is often the same attack on biblical church doctrine.  Neither disappeared from history, but they are difficult to defend with history.  You will read a lot of Roman Catholic eschatology and ecclesiology in history.  By the way, you'll also have a hard time defending justification by faith with history.  I'm pretty sure that people won't consider that a "minor doctrine."

A literal interpretation has been called premillennialism.  A pretty good guide to determining a system of interpretation comes down to whether you think the millennium is 1000 years or not, when scripture says it is a thousand years.  Good evidence for the 1000 year reign of Christ is that the Bible says the kingdom of Jesus Christ is 1000 years.  Jesus returns before (previous to, "pre") the kingdom begins, since He sets up the kingdom and so He reigns for a thousand years.  If you say that a thousand year kingdom isn't a thousand years, you aren't taking that literally.

In Acts 1:6, the disciples asked Jesus, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?"  The disciples believed Jesus would restore the kingdom.  He didn't argue with their belief.  He just wouldn't tell them the timing of it (1:7).  However, they were premillennialists.  They expected Jesus would precede His kingdom.

Rapture teaching, like premillennialism, just comes from reading the Bible, and usually the rapture is a sub-category of premillennialism.

I see at least three explicit New Testament passages on the rapture:  John 14:1-6, Philippians 3:14-21, and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.  Those three fit in with everything else that scripture teaches.  They are congruous with everything else.  They teach the rapture itself and they help make sense of, sort of fill in the gap for, other eschatological doctrine in the Bible.  They answer questions one might have when he is considering everything scripture teaches about end times.

Certain phrases or statements in the above three passages on the rapture indicate something different than the second coming, such as:  "shall rise," "caught up," "in the clouds," "meet the Lord in the air," "high calling of God in Christ Jesus," and "come again, and receive you unto myself."  They describe being called up to meet the Lord in the air.  Those fit nicely with what the angels said after Jesus' ascension in Acts 1:11:
Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.
Revelation 1:7 says:
Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.
It's difficult to speak for anyone who overlooked this through church history, but it would be better for us today to stop missing this teaching.  It's there in the Bible.  More could be said as to evidence for it.

It's hot today among evangelicals and fundamentalists to poo-poo the rapture.  It's mocked by reformed types in part over the cheesy rapture films through the years.  One blatant effort, I remember, was the N. D. Wilson parody, Right Behind.  Wilson went on to produce or write his own cheesy movies ripe for satire.

Elijah went up in a chariot in a whirlwind.  Jesus went up through the clouds.  Paul was caught up into the third heaven.  Isaiah while on earth saw the Lord high and lifted up on his throne.  While on earth John saw a glorified Jesus in heaven and fell on his face before Him.

FOI and IMG and David Levy writing that the rapture was a major doctrine drew knee jerk commentarySomeone replied like an E. E. Cummings poem:
The Rapture is when we go up
The Second Coming is when He comes down
if you believe we will go up, you believe in the rapture
if you don't believe we will go up, you don't believe the Bible
Retractions and dodges started.  It's how really easy it is, what he wrote.  No, I didn't mean the rapture wasn't major.  I mean.  Wait a minute.  I meant.

I would agree that Levy should not have called the biblical teaching on the rapture a major doctrine.  It is a doctrine.  A doctrine.  Unless every teaching is major, the rapture teaching isn't major.

I could be walking along the street and as I fly upward, except that it's the twinkling of an eye, I'm thinking very quickly, this isn't major.  Major doctrines are something else besides being snatched out of this world into the presence of God.  Everything about my life changes because of the truth of this event.  It's not major.

The major-doctrine doctrine is what's minor.  It's non existent, which is very minor.  The first time I see "major doctrine" appear in history comes in 1911 on p. 350 of The Bulletin of the American Economic Association:
The Socialist party of America the lineage of which is more clearly German than English attaches importance to the materialistic interpretation of history and to the doctrine of the class war as, jointly, both indicating and justifying the only method by which, they say, socialism can be installed, namely, by the organization of those persons who do not possess property into a political party which acting independently of all other parties, will have as its sole aim the establishment of socialism. Their belief is that persons possessing property will inevitably, with exceptions so few as to be negligible, by their material interests be led to oppose socialism; while the non possessors, also with only few and negligible exceptions, must ultimately, when they understand the case, become class-conscious and approve socialism. This is not the time to discuss the validity of those beliefs, nor the correctness of that simple division of society into two classes. 
I must point out however that this major doctrine of the Socialist political party in America--a doctrine to which applicants for party membership are usually asked to subscribe--has no place in any of the definitions of socialism which I have received.
I don't find "major doctrine" used in a theological sense until 1930.  I don't find it, but my not finding it says that it was at least not in use until at least the 1930s.  How could that be major?

Today, if you want to attack a teaching of scripture, just call it a minor doctrine.  The list of major is shrinking and the list of minor is growing, and the list of disappearing doctrines is even faster growing than the list of minors.


Brendon Dunn said...

Have you noticed the nauseating frequency with which one of the SI regulars flips out an "Essential vs. Peripheral Doctrine" chart (or is it a meme?), with concentric circles labelled ABSOLUTES, CONVICTIONS, OPINIONS, QUESTIONS?

It is trotted out whenever a "non-essential doctrine" surfaces, such as baptism, Lord's Supper, eschatology, creationism, ecclesiology, separation, bibliology, continuationism/cessationism, divorce/remarriage, tithing, modesty/dress standards, music, worship styles, movies/tv, gambling, boozing, etcetera, ad infinitum.

Once the chart comes out with the ex cathedra declaration: "THIS DOCTRINE IS A CONVICTION", then the issue is pretty much settled. I mean, how could you possibly beat a multicoloured chart with labels?

My only suggestion is that the circle for "ABSOLUTES" is far too big. A circle the size of a pinhead would be more appropriate.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I got a huge belly laugh out of that one. Several bouts of laughter. I liked your long list of non-essentials and the pinhead circle of absolutes. Ex cathedra statements and charts. Big laughs.

Lance Ketchum said...

We are rapidly seeing the abdication of dogmatism within Fundamentalism.

weecalvin1509 said...

Hi Kent,

If you have a list of doctrines which are essential to salvation i.e. denial of them would negate any one's claim to be a Christian and then other doctrines where denial does not impact salvation, then you automatically create a list of major and (at least) not so major doctrines. The alternative is that you eventually end up damning every one who died not dotting your i's and stroking your T's.

I know you could ask to see these lists. That would be easier said that done. Is it ultimately the unpardonable sin to die believing (say) in the classic Pre Mill, Post Tribulation rapture but not in the Pre Mill and Pre Wrath Rapture? Some say that there are seven dispensations. Others state that there more or less than seven. David Cloud freely admits that he doesn't know how many there are. Does he get a pass for his ignorance?

As usual, just passing through. Colin Maxwell

Kent Brandenburg said...


It's true.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Thanks for dropping by. I'm going to be in the UK in late May/early June by the way, for the first time.

Is this major doctrine doctrine taught in the Bible? Is it historical? The anecdotal, experiential, or circumstantial is of interest, but it isn't authoritative. What occurs then is you use someone's bad example as a basis for being unscriptural.

The fact that people differ on doctrine is not a good reason to use it to question the certainty of scripture and then devalue its importance. This is happening, and this is the reasoning use to do it.

I'm happy someone believes in the second coming, who doesn't believe in the rapture, but the rapture is still taught in the Bible. I'm not going to attempt to make someone who believes wrong more welcome. Dispensationalism itself, like covenant theology, are both systems of interpretation. I don't know if you have noticed, I don't give David Cloud passes. I've met him one time. He's never been at our church. I defend him where he's biblical, and he is much more than many.


weecalvin1509 said...

Hi Kent,

No one says that there is anything unimportant in the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16 would forbid that. However, my point still holds. We would consider a teacher who denied the Trinity or blood atonement as a damnable heretic. Evidently we see these as very important doctrines, judging from our response to their denial. You would be not be happy (I assume) if someone said that they believed that Jesus was a lesser god, but not the full blown Deity. But still, you declared yourself to be happy enough that a man will go to Heaven, even if he disagrees with the thought of a Pre Mill and Pre Wrath rapture. Once we accept that, we automatically have a two tier system of what is [i]Important and [ii] Vital.

None of this excuses us from studying God's word to get as much light as we can on the various matters, but the distinction is there and cannot be denied.

My reference to Cloud was incidental. He reminds me of the little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very very good. But when she was bad, she was horrid.

On that note...


Kent Brandenburg said...


I don't think your argument for the major doctrine doctrine is a good one. It is not a biblical argument. I've made many biblical arguments against it in several posts here. Your argument, as I read it, is that people can get it wrong and do get it wrong, then you've got to be able to categorize biblical teachings as minor. As more get it wrong, the new wrong doctrines should be thought to be minor. No, they aren't suddenly optional. We have to get it right. People get every doctrine wrong, including the ones people call "major." That's why what some formerly major doctrines are now minor even among those who call themselves conservative, like the inerrancy of scripture, which is below a biblical standard as it is, but it is now acceptable not to believe it, and use "it's not major" as a reason. This is where your thinking goes and it will end up far worse. The Southern Baptist Convention is struggling with what to do with same sex issues, because they already capitulated so much on meaning and on role distinctions.