Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rapture Time

Apparently, no one made the cut.

Harold Camping, the elderly radio personality who predicted The Rapture for today, believes in an extreme version of sola scriptura, "the doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness." However, both Methodism & Roman Catholicism, two practices of understanding that influenced me when I was young, qualify this. Catholicism adds sacred tradition & the episcopacy. Methodism, following the teaching of John Wesley (himself an Anglo-Catholic), adds tradition, reason & experience as important for understanding scripture. I also picked up, from mainstream protestantism, a belief that the Bible can be understood "by ordinary means." This doesn't mean that anyone can just pick up The Bible & understand everything in it without help (although the absolute essentials are pretty clear); it means that The Bible is not an impenetrably arcane document for ordinary people, with secret knowledge to be revealed, deciphered  & explained only by "experts" like Harold Camping with their own complicated interpretive methods. So I reject outright Camping's assertion that there's a hidden numerological code in The Bible of grand divine design & great complexity, & which he has managed to crack. This is  bizarre ultra-literalism.

Whatever one might think of the efforts of early Christian leaders to assemble an official canon of writings & suppress non-canonical writings & alternative interpretations of the Gospels (I  think including The Book of Revelation was a mistake, & many at the time argued against including it), they correctly fought against those  turning the Jesus Movement into cults with secret knowledge made available only to initiates. Jesus sometimes had difficulty making himself understood even to his closest followers, & some of his actions, statements, & parables are baffling, but it's clear that he wanted to be understood by the common people he favored.  The central expression of Jesus' ethical teaching, The Sermon on the Mount, was delivered to  a large crowd. He welcomed children.

The central meaning of his life & purpose was demonstrated not by words but by an extraordinary supernatural act; overcoming death. The first person to proclaim  the Resurrection was a woman (or women), the most courageous of his friends when the Disciples (with the possible exception of his Beloved Disciple - we're not certain who this was) had fled from the scene.

Whatever occurred on Easter & during the following weeks, The Disciples & intimate followers changed from a group of uncertain, anxious people into a brave, cohesive collective with Peter (he who denied knowing Jesus three times) as the appointed leader.

 The first generations of Christians believed Jesus' return was imminent in their lifetimes, which made it easier to give up or share their possessions & form communities.  The movement slowly settled in for the long-run. All Christians are urged to live in anticipation of Christ's return, but not to expect it at any particular given moment. Those who predict exact dates are false prophets.  Elaborate doctrines of The Rapture itself, as we know them today,  are only a few hundred years old at most. In 8 years of Methodist Sunday school I never heard the word, much less introduced to competing end times scenarios that evangelicals fight over.

It angers me that a Harold Camping can work so many people into a tizzy, prey upon natural human anxieties, & open up Christianity to ridicule because he has an aptitude  & obsession for playing games with numbers,

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