What does Mennonite Brethren theology have in common with that of other Christian denominations? And what are the distinctive emphases of Mennonite Brethren theology? Informed by Scripture, our Confession of Faith names the perspectives through which we read God’s Word in order to live as Christ’s followers. This series by the Board of Faith and Life explores the 18 articles of this formative document.
Christ’s Final Triumph
“Plan as though Christ might not come for some time. Work as though Christ might come tomorrow. Live as though Christ might come today.”
As I reflect on my 25 years of preaching, I wish I would have shared more sermons on the end times.
I surmise that saints could use ongoing reminders that all of creation is heading somewhere and to take stock of how we are living in light of that reality. Indeed, we can become complacent, if not indifferent, in living holy lives and pressing in on the urgency of our mission to proclaim the gospel without the call to heed the prophetic revelation of Christ’s return.
Article 18 of the MB Confession of Faith looks at Christ’s Final Triumph. This item of the Confession bears witness to both hope and warning: hope for the believer looking forward to being with Jesus in glory and warning for all others that life apart from Jesus awaits.
My first significant encounter with anything about the end times occurred in 1988 when my wife and I were literally on the road to seminary in Virginia.
At that time, Edgar C. Whisenant, a former NASA engineer turned prophet, published the booklet 88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be In 1988. The 4.5 million copies that circulated the USA at the time profoundly stirred up the evangelical Christian community. It was reported that some people quit their jobs while others started to faithfully attend church after reading the booklet. Unsubstantiated accounts of 100,000 conversions became part of the pulpit commentary.
Whisenant’s work was quite thought provoking, though obviously flawed. He created a detailed timeline from creation (4005 BC) to the birth of Jesus (September 29, 4 BC) to the rapture (between September 11 and 13, 1988). Interestingly, he also predicted WWIII on October 3, 1988!
Trinity Broadcast Network (California), the world’s largest evangelical religious radio platform at the time, propagated counsel on preparing Christians for the rapture! Suffice it to say, September 1988 came and went without any rapture. Whisenant then re-configured his prophecy for a 1989, then 1993 and finally a 1994 supernatural event. All his eschatological calculations proved false.
When challenged about his prophecies, Whisenant retorted, “Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong.”
In the pastoral application of Article 18, the writer counsels us on the pitfalls of excessive rumination about the end times. He says it can result in believers who are “so heavenly minded they are of no earthly good.” I have met several people so steeped in wrestling with eschatological notions that they are literally paralyzed from doing much else.
Over the years of my pastoral ministry, I have heard heartfelt convictions about the end times and how the subject should be articulated to my congregants. However, the best wisdom given to me about Christ’s final triumph came from my father and resonates with me to this day:
- Believe it (2 Corinthians 5:7; 2 Peter 1:19–21)
- Behave like you believe it (1 Peter 1:13; 2 Peter 3:10-12; 1 John 2:28)
Dad told me that what I absolutely needed to know about the eschatology was that Jesus will return at a time which no one can predict and that I need to be ready every day to meet him.
My father’s “stick to the basics” counsel helped me navigate well the real tensions within the church over end times theology.
Consider the Apostles’ Creed: when referring to the end times, it only declares, “…thence [Christ Jesus] shall come to judge the living and the dead.”
Consider my seminary professor, Dr. Paul Spilsbury, who wrote a reader’s guide on the book of Revelation and summarized the end times using two words, Christ wins!
I genuinely appreciate simplicity on matters of faith. Article 18, in my view sticks to the basics as revealed in Scripture, is clear, and has a good balance of good news and warning without leading us down the Whisenant trail.
I thank my dad for his wisdom. My supplement to his counsel is to be discerning about someone’s well-crafted end times blueprint.
Jesus gave a similar warning (Matthew 24:4).
That said, if engaging in eschatological deliberations moves you to be more passionate about the gospel and its proclamation, it has value.
If it deepens your love for Jesus and others, it has value.
If it inspires you to do great works of grace, it has value.
Short of that, perhaps sticking to the basics is the best path to travel. Article 18 is a good guide.
It is not for us to know the times or seasons.
The form of this world is already fading away,
and the Lord is not slow about His promise.
God is patient, not wanting any to perish,
but wanting all to receive eternal life.
Therefore we will watch and pray,
according to His promise,
waiting for the new heavens and the new earth,
where righteousness is at home.
We will gather in worship around God’s throne,
and praise and adore the God of our salvation,
for ever and ever.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!