Chapter 2. The Beginning of Wisdom
Proverbs 4:7 “The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom;
And with all your acquiring, get understanding.”
A large part of my “salvation” experience was connected with political thought. My family was concerned about the world going to hell. Not individuals, but just civilization in general. Political turmoil, threats of communism, fears of a world government. The European Union was getting a start. It had grown to 10 countries by this time, and preachers were equating the situation to Daniel’s end-time prophesy. The new “World Government” was supposed to be this 10-nation confederacy predicted by Daniel as the toes of iron and clay he saw in his dream of the future.
The two big radio influences were Carl McIntyre’s The Old-Time Gospel Hour and Billy James Hargis’ Christian Crusade. Both emphasized the Christian roots of the United States as a nation. Both denounced Communists in government. Both used events of the world as indications that prophesy was being fulfilled and Jesus Christ was about to Return.
As I said earlier, it was this vision of Bible Prophesy that convinced my family to turn from the gospel vision of the Church of Christ, with its message of salvation by works, to the gospel message of salvation by grace. The furor over the expected return of Christ was not a Baptist phenomenon, and certainly was not limited to the Plymouth Brethren group my family had become associated with. Carl McIntyre’s association with the Bible Presbyterian Church and Hargis’ less apparent denominationalism made the similarity of their messages all the more impressive.
One big wave of Second Coming excitement was in 1976. Somehow that this was the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence had captured the imaginations of Christians following this anti-communist fundamentalism.
And I was in the middle of this exuberance and expectation. Christ was coming again!
Cornelius Vanderbreggen happened to be at our church. Vanderbreggen had been an American soldier in Vietnam. His family was Dutch, and he returned to Holland as a missionary, eventually taking on Dutch citizenship so that he would have more freedom in his ministry.
I remember him as a very personable man. He paid attention to me, which made me look up to him even more. I still have many of his books in my library.
I know he preached that service, but I don’t remember the sermon. I do know that the general atmosphere was full of talk of the Lord’s return. And after the service he took me aside to talk. He reminded me that the Scripture warns us against thinking we know when the Lord would return. Yes, people were calculating how long it had been since Israel had become a nation. People were looking at other events. People were saying that prophesy was being fulfilled, or was being readied to be fulfilled.
But Paul had expected the Lord’s return. “Then WE who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we always be with the Lord” (I Thes. 4:17).
Vanderbreggen reminded me that it was 1900 years after Paul, but Jesus hadn’t come yet. Why did Jesus *have* to come this year? Maybe it would be this year (1976), or maybe next year, or maybe 40 years, or maybe another 2000. He told me that no matter when the Lord came, I should live so that I was ready for Him to come.
Vanderbreggan’s words went to my heart. I saw 1976 pass, and no Second Coming. We also did not go communist, as Hargis and McIntyre were predicting. The Illuminati, the Big Bankers (the Rockefellers), the Council on Foreign Relations — all wrapped up in a package called the “Conspiracy” — were supposed to have this immense wealth and power and were just aching to turn Americans into godless slaves. But it did not happen.
Second Coming fever continued to rebound every few years with political events surrounding Israel. And afterward, they would recede. But the same people who had gotten excited about them before continued to get excited afterward. Books were continually rewritten to include the latest events and latest scholarship about Bible Prophesy.
One major Second Coming excitement was around the year 1984. And yes, somehow it all tied in with George Orwell’s book of the same name! Another was tied around the year 2000 because of the second millennium. Of course, someone noted that since Christ was actually born in 4 BC, that maybe it should have happened in 1996!
In the IFB church I used to attend, a very nice older gentleman was always getting excited about the Lord’s Return, and stirred up the congregation with news articles and clippings from newsletters he would get from ministries that focused on Bible Prophesy.
But since that talk with Cornelius Vanderbreggen, I somehow escaped the ups and downs, the rising hopes and disappointments, the emotional exhaustion of the Return of the Lord. I had learned not to share Vanderbreggen’s message with others because they just did not want to hear it. To the Faithful it sounded like unbelief. But for all the faith that people poured into their hopes, for all the prayers they prayed, the Lord Jesus hasn’t come yet.
It is now 2014. That talk was 38 years ago. I do not expect the Lord to return any time soon. He can if He wants to, of course. That is His business. I won’t be disappointed if He does.
But over the years, seeing “Bible Prophesy” ministries go at it over and over again and always get it wrong, it has made me rethink the whole notion of Bible Prophesy. I will talk more about it later, I promise.