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Church-State Relations and the Book of Revelation
An Introduction to The Parousia: A Careful Look at the New Testament Doctrine of the Lord's Second Coming
by James Stuart Russell (1878) // Written by
Todd Dennis, Curator

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"Thy Kingdom Come"
Apocalypticism in American Culture

By Randall Balmer

From Blessed Assurance : A History of Evangelicalism in America (1999)

     ON THE EVENING OF GOOD FRIDAY, 1878, Charles Taze Russell1 and a handful of followers, all clad in white robes, gathered at the Sixth Street Bridge in Pittsburgh to await the Millennial Dawn, their translation into heaven. His study of the Scriptures had convinced Russell, a haberdasher from Allegheny, Pennsylvania, that Christ had returned invisibly in 1874 and that now, three-and-a-half years later, the Kingdom of God would begin and the faithful would be summoned to heaven. Russell later denied the incident—Pittsburgh newspapers insisted otherwise—and he revised his theology to accommodate this disappointment. The Kingdom of Jehovah, he said, would begin in 1914, whereupon God and Satan would rule the world jointly until the Battle of Armageddon vanquished the forces of evil and inaugurated a theocratic millennium.2

Almost half a century earlier, another self-educated student of the Bible named William Miller, formerly a farmer in Low Hampton, New York, calculated the date of Christ's return on the basis of the apocalyptic writings in the Bible, particularly the New Testament book of Revelation and the prophecies of Daniel in the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament). The 2,300 days until the cleansing of the temple, spoken of in Daniel 8:14, Miller insisted, should actually be taken as 2,300 years, beginning with the decree of Artaxerxes in 457 B.C.E. to rebuild Jerusalem. Simple arithmetic led him to pinpoint the year 1843 as the time of Christ's advent. In 1831, Miller began touring the Northeast with news of his discovery.

By Miller's own reckoning, he preached about 4,500 lectures to half a million people between 1831 and 1844.3 Second Advent associations sprouted up in small towns all over the Northeast. In March 1840, the movement began publishing Signs of the Times, a monthly newspaper that eventually became a weekly. The organization also added a daily newspaper, Midnight Cry, a penny paper called the Trumpet of Alarm, another weekly called Second Advent Harbinger, and the Voice of Elijah, published by sympathizers in Montreal. A woman in Boston, Clarinda S. Minor, presided as editor of the Agent Message to the Daughters of Zion. In the West, the Western Midnight Cry emanated briefly from Cincinnati and Glad Tidings of the Kingdom to Come from Rochester. In 1842, Millerites published their own hymnal, Millennial Harp and Millennial Musings.4

William Miller's followers did not rely on literature alone to disseminate their message. Prophetic charts proliferated, detailing Miller's calculations, illustrated with time lines, church ages, and the various beasts of Daniel and Revelation. Armed with these three-by-six-foot banners, itinerant lecturers fanned out across the new nation to apprise audiences of the impending conclusion of human history and inform them of their peril unless they repent. Miller even took a page from the Methodists, the acknowledged masters at popular communication in the nineteenth century, and purchased what was reputedly the largest tent in America (120 yards in circumference with a 55-foot center pole).5

As 1843 approached, anticipation and enthusiasm among Miller's fifty thousand followers reached a fever pitch. Preparations for the apocalypse had grown so pervasive that Horace Greeley published an "extra" edition of the New-York Tribune on March 2, 1843, to refute William Miller's calculations. Pressed by his followers for a more precise date, Miller declared that the advent would occur sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844 (the Jewish year 1843). By May 2, 1844, Miller acknowledged his error, but urged his followers to remain vigilant. An associate later convinced him that he had failed to account for a "tarrying time," so Miller returned to his calculations and emerged with a new date for Christ's return, October 22, 1844.

The preparations for Christ's return resumed. While their crops remained unharvested and their stores shuttered, Millerites gave away their possessions and settled their accounts, both spiritual and temporal. Banks, financial agencies, even the United States Treasury, according to contemporary newspaper accounts, recorded large influxes of money to satisfy outstanding obligations. As October 22 dawned, Millerites gathered in their societies to await their elevation to glory; according to some accounts (hotly denied by Adventists) Millerites dressed in white muslin "ascension robes" waited in cemeteries. But on October 23 they returned home, bitter and disappointed, and succumbed to the mockery of their neighbors.6 William Miller himself died lonely and forgotten in 1849, but the movement he inspired eventually regrouped after the Great Dis appointment of 1844 and became known as the Seventh-day Adventists. Today, Miller's theological descendants claim a worldwide following well in excess of three million.7

Americans have long evinced a fascination with the end of time and the role that they would play in such an apocalypse. Even Christopher Columbus invested the discovery of the New World with millennial significance. "God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth of which he spoke in the Apocalypse of St. John after having spoke of it through the mouth of Isaiah," Columbus wrote in 1500, "and he showed me the spot where to find it."8

More often, millennial ideas have issued in the expectation that human history might screech to a halt at any moment and dissolve into some kind of apocalyptic judgment. These chiliastic notions, grounded in a literalistic interpretation of biblical prophecies, admit of many different constructions, and evangelicals who agree on such issues as biblical inerrancy (that divine inspiration rendered the Scriptures without error in the original autographs) and church polity will argue bitterly over whether or not God's elect will go through the tribulation—seven years of rule by the antichrist—predicted in Revelation. Will the rapture—Christ's return to summon the faithful, predicted in 1 Thessalonians 4—occur before, during, or after the tribulation?9 Who is the whore of Babylon described in Revelation 17? American Protestants have generally settled on the Roman Catholic church as the only logical choice, but they disagree more often on the identity of the antichrist. Napoleon? The pope? Adolph Hitler? Benito Mussolini? John Kennedy? Henry Kissinger? Mikhail Gorbachev? Saddam Hussein?10 Will the millennium, one thousand years of godly rule on earth, take place before or after the rapture? The possibilities admit of many combinations: pre-trib postmillennialists, mid-trib premillennialists, post-trib postmillennialists, pre-trib premillennialists, and so on.11 For three centuries now, columns of the faithful have mustered to wage these theological battles and to propagate what is certainly, they contend, the only possible construction of these recondite passages.

Throughout American history, evangelicals have vacillated between pre- and postmillennialism. While the Puritans were decidedly premillennial in their views—that is, they knew that Christ's return could take place at any moment—the revivals of the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s promoted a sense that God was even now working on earth to establish the millennial kingdom. No less a figure than Jonathan Edwards, regarded by many as America's premier thinker, believed that the millennium would begin in America.12 The Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, better known as the Shakers, held that Christ had returned in the person of Mother Ann Lee and that they were busy establishing the millennial kingdom. "The gospel of Christ's Second Appearing," according to the Shakers' Millennial Laws, "strictly forbids all private union between the two sexes, in any case, place, or under any circumstances, in doors or out." John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Oneida Community in western New York, also believed that Christ had returned (in A.D. 70), but for him the millennium provided sexual license in the form of "complex marriage."13

Various historical events of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries stirred apocalyptic sentiments and raised postmillennial aspirations. Many of the Patriots in the eighteenth century fused millennial expectations with radical whig ideology and greeted the American Revolution as "the sacred cause of liberty."14 While wandering through western Pennsylvania in 1779, Hermon Husband, a New Light evangelical, former North Carolina Regulator, and ardent antifederalist, came upon the eastern corner of the New Jerusalem. "I saw therein the Sea of Glass, the Situation of the Throne; which Sea was as clear as crystal Glass," Husband recalled. "I also saw the Trees of Life, yielding their monthly Fruit; and the Leaves of the Trees healing the Nations; one of which leaves I got hold of, and felt its healing Virtue to remove the Curse and Calamities of Mankind in this World."15

Amid the Second Great Awakening, with all of America intoxicated with Armiman self-determinism, an air of optimism about the perfectibility both of humanity and society prevailed; postmillennialism, the doctrine of Christ's triumphal reign on earth, suited the mood, and it complemented nicely the Enlightenment's sanguine appraisal of human potential.16 This spirit of optimism unleashed all manner of reform efforts—temperance, abolitionism, prison and educational reform, missions—consonant with the assurance that Christ was even then vanquishing the powers of evil and establishing the divine kingdom.17

Julia Ward Howe's "Battle Hymn of the Republic" popularized this triumphalism— the kingdom of God as a juggernaut—during the Civil War.

Mine eyes have seen the glory

of the coming of the Lord:

He is trampling out the vintage

where the grapes of wrath are stored;

He hath loosed the fateful lightning

of his terrible swift sword:

His truth is marching on.18

In only slightly more prosaic terms the Reverend William Gaylord of Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, echoed this sentiment. "Oh! what a day will that be for our beloved land, when carried through a baptism of fire and blood, struggling through a birth-night of terror and darkness, it shall experience a resurrection to a new life, and to a future whose coming glory already gilds the mountain tops," the Congregationalist minister said. "The day of the Lord is at hand!"19

Yet even in the heady days of evangelical reform and utopian idealism in the first half of the nineteenth century postmillennialism could not claim a monopoly on evangelical eschatology. Sobered by the excesses of the French Revolution, many evangelicals had tempered their optimism about the perfectibility of humanity and society and reverted to premillennialism. William Miller's adventist sentiments were unmistakably premillennial. Joseph Smith's apocalyptic notions led him in a slightly different direction. Convinced that the New Jerusalem would center in Jackson County, Missouri, Smith led a surveying party there, and on May 19, 1838, he staked out the holy city of Adam-ondi-Ahman. Persecution from neighbors and Smith's assassination in 1844 interrupted the preparations for the coming kingdom, but in recent years a small band of Mormons has returned to resume the task, to await the resurrection of Adam, the prophets, and church leaders, and the onset of the millennium.20

Among antebellum blacks, mired in slavery, apocalypticism took yet another form, a conviction that God sanctioned rebellion against white slaveholders, whose oppressions marked them for divine judgment. On May 12, 1828, God appeared to a slave preacher in Southampton County, Virginia, and, according to Nat Turner, "I heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first." Thus emboldened, Nat Turner unleashed his own apocalypse on August 21, 183l, a rebellion that claimed the lives of fifty-five whites and two hundred blacks.21 David Walker, a free black, tried to sear the conscience of slaveholders with predictions of impending judgment: "O Americans! Americans!! I call God—I call angels—I call men, to witness, that your DESTRUCTION is at hand, and will be speedily consummated unless you REPENT."22

So pervasive were millennial notions in the nineteenth century that even Reform Jews caught the spirit. As part of their assimilation and Protestantization efforts—mixed-gender seating, sermons, worship on Sundays—some Reform Jews were even prepared to recognize America as the New Zion and Washington as the New Jerusalem.

With some important exceptions, postmillennialism generally prevailed among American evangelicals until the latter half of the nineteenth century. In the decades following the Civil War, however, much of the optimism about society's perfectibility began to dissipate.23 As the nation urbanized and industrialized, as waves of European immigrants, most of them Catholic, reached American shores, evangelicals lost their hegemony. Teeming, squalid cities and rapacious industrialists hardly looked like fixtures of a millennial kingdom. Society was not improving, becoming more Christian; it was degenerating, falling into enemy hands. America, moreover, began importing alien notions: Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, which, pressed to its logical conclusions, undermined literal understandings of Scripture; and the German discipline of higher criticism, which attacked the integrity of the Bible itself.

In the face of such degeneration, evangelicals began to revise their eschatology. Postmillennialism, with its optimism about the perfectibility of culture before the apocalypse, no longer fit, so American evangelicals cast about for an alternative, which they found in John Nelson Darby's dispensational premillennialism.24 Darby, a member of the Plymouth Brethren in England, believed that all of history could be divided into seven dispensations and that the present age, "the age of the church," immediately preceded the rapture of the church, the seven-year tribulation, and the coming kingdom of God.25

Darby's novel ideas, grounded in typology, numerology, and literalistic interpretations of the Bible, perfectly suited the temper of evangelicals in the late nineteenth century. Instead of a society on a steady course of amelioration, they saw a society careening toward judgment. Increasingly pushed to the margins of American culture, evangelicals—many of whom became fundamentalists after the turn of the century—began to espouse a theology that looked toward the imminent return of Christ to claim His followers and prosecute His judgment against a sinful nation.

More often than not, this conviction prompted evangelicals to separate themselves from the corruption they saw everywhere around them. "I don't find any place where God says the world is to grow better and better, and that Christ is to have a spiritual reign on earth of a thousand years," the popular evangelist Dwight L. Moody declared confidently in 1877. "I find that the earth is to grow worse and worse, and that at length there is going to be a separation."26 At the turn of the century John Alexander Dowie, a pentecostal faith healer, attracted 7,500 followers to live in his utopian community, Zion City, Illinois, which he believed was the New Zion predicted in the book of Revelation and whose official incorporation in 1902 marked the beginning of the millennial drama.27 In some cases, especially early in the twentieth century, the rhetoric of evangelicals betrayed a thinly veiled contempt for the culture that had spurned them. "It is a great thing to know that everything is going on according to God's schedule," William Pettingill smugly told an audience of premillennialists in 1919. "We are not surprised at the present collapse of civilization; the Word of God told us all about it. "28

As American culture and modernity itself turned increasingly hostile in the early decades of the twentieth century, evangelicals continued their turn inward. Reeling from the ignominy of the Scopes Trial in 1925, they immersed themselves in dispensational ideology, with its implicit condemnation of American culture. The Scofield Reference Bible, compiled by Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, provided a dispensational template through which evangelicals read the Scriptures. This Bible, first published by Oxford University Press in 1909, became enormously popular among evangelicals and fundamentalists and remains a strong seller, even though supplanted in some ways by an updated version, the Ryrie Study Bible, published in 1978.29

Premillennial sentiments and apocalyptic prophecies continue to inform evangelical views of the world. Sometimes they have political implications, such as the unconditional evangelical support for Israel, which, evangelicals believe, enjoys God's blessing and will play a critical role in the apocalypse.30 In other instances premillennialism has implications for national security: "I have read the book of Revelation and yes, I believe the world is going to end," said Caspar Weinberger, Ronald Reagan's secretary of defense, "by an act of God, I hope—but every day I think that time is running out."31 Or consider the remark made before the House Interior Committee by James Watt, U.S. secretary of the interior from 1981 to 1983: "I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns," he said, an apparent refutation to arguments for conserving natural resources.32

But more often, at least until recently, apocalyptic convictions form the core of personal piety. Absorbed in the prophetic writings of the Bible, evangelical and fundamentalist preachers regularly exhort their congregations to prepare for the end, to repent and bring their neighbors to Christ. For most, it is not a matter of if Christ will return, but when. This "blessed hope" provides strength and succor while setting the believers apart from a world that awaits judgment. The words of an evangelical hymn, "this world is not my home, I'm just a-passing through," express both a discomfiture with the dominant culture and an expectation of a superior reward in the hereafter.33

How pervasive are these sentiments in American culture? Several indices, some of them admittedly impressionistic and anecdotal, hint at the popularity of these ideas. In his excellent survey of millennial beliefs, Paul Boyer cites a 1983 Gallup poll in which sixty percent of Americans expressed "no doubts" that Jesus would return to earth.34 In the late sixties and early seventies, Herbert W. Armstrong convinced many of his followers to surrender their assets to his Worldwide Church of God in anticipation of Christ's return in 1972. First published in 1970, The Late Great Planet Earth, which posits the imminent collapse of the world in apocalyptic judgment, has sold over twenty-eight million copies. The New York Times named its author, Hal Lindsey, the best-selling author of the 1970s, and the book also inspired a movie by the same title, released in 1977 and narrated by Orson Welles, and several sequels.35 Billy Graham, the renowned evangelist, shares similar premillennial views, a preoccupation suggested by the titles of two books: Till Armageddon and Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.36

More recently, a Korean-based group of evangelicals, Mission for the Coming Days, predicted Christ's return on October 28, 1992, at ten o'clock in the morning. October 28 came and went uneventfully, but the Branch Davidians, followers of the self-styled prophet David Koresh, were not so fortunate. They met their own apocalyptic conflagration at the hands of federal agents, although some of his more devoted followers now insist that Koresh himself will return "in great majesty and glory," they predict, "like the ghost rider in the sky."37

These examples only hint at the popular hold of millennial notions in American culture; surely the twenty-eight million buyers of The Late Great Planet Earth included a generous sprinkling of the curious among the faithful. Yet for many in the evangelical subculture, apocalyptic imagery functions as a kind of vernacular, a common language of discourse. The books of Daniel and Revelation provide a lodestar to navigate an increasingly perilous world. They provide somehow for the ordering—even the redemption—of time and space.

Apocalypticism in particular also functions as a vehicle of protest against established institutions, as a call for religious revitalization. Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses, identified those in league with Satan against Jesus and the 144,000 of the "heavenly class": the wealthy, the educated, philosophers, churches, scientists, hypnotists, and historians, among many others.38 "We have done our work in warning sinners," William Miller wrote after the Great Disappointment of 1844, "and in trying to awake a formal church."39 Even from the beginning, Miller had not envisioned a separate denomination growing out of his ideas, but rather a movement working within the churches to awaken them to apocalyptic prophecies. Dwight L. Moody excoriated the "intellectual preachers" who proffered a "cold and formal" religion. "May God wake us up!" Moody said. "And I know of no better way to do it than to set the Church to looking for the return of our Lord."40

Dispensational premillennialism was an enormously useful doctrine for evangelicals at the turn of the century. It provided a template for understanding the recondite passages of scripture and also for understanding the swirl of history. It placed dispossessed evangelicals at the center of the divine economy. It allowed them to assert that they understood the mind of God. It allowed them to claim that they, God's righ teous and chosen people, would triumph over their enemies.

This triumphalist theme is pervasive in apocalyptic literature— triumph over sin, over death, over enemies—and it often assumes militaristic overtones, just as it did during the Civil War or in the rhetoric of oppressed slaves. "Death is our enemy, but our Lord hath the keys of death," Moody preached, "he has conquered death." Moody goes on to say that "at any moment he [Jesus] may come to set us free from death, and destroy our last enemy for us."41 Within this dualistic ideology—the possessors of the truth about theology and Christ's second coming allied against the infidels—there lies a tinge of judgment, even violence directed against the enemy. Moody embroiders this theme in his comments about 1 Thessalonians 4:16, where the Lord descends from heaven "with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God." Moody declares that the "innocent man" has nothing to fear, but for the "poor wretch waiting his trial" the trumpets "are a knell of despair" because "he will stand at the bar of justice, and hear witness after witness telling the story of his misdeeds." Once the verdict is rendered—and Moody entertains little doubt about the verdict itself—"there will remain nothing for him but punishment and disgrace."42 Spurgeon, the British premillennialist, looked forward to the day when "the weapons of our enemies, when taken from them, shall serve as monuments to the praise of God." Evangelicals, God's chosen people, would enjoy sweet revenge over their enemies, according to Spurgeon. "O Christian, fear not the foe! Remember, the harder his blows, the sweeter thy song," Spurgeon wrote, "the greater his wrath, the more splendid thy triumph."43

The premillennialism espoused by American evangelicals—the expectation of an imminent, apocalyptic end to human history—continues to shape American evangelicalism in the twentieth century. In contrast to the generally redemptive character of postmillennial views, premillennialism stands in judgment of American culture and awaits—indeed looks forward to—its purgation. With the political successes of the religious right since the mid-seventies, however, some evangelicals have tempered their rhetoric. Although remaining avowedly premillennial in their expectation of the imminent collapse of human civilization in apocalyptic judgment, their political agenda bespeaks a certain optimism about the possibility of making America into an outpost of the millennium. Evangelical and fundamentalist spokesmen still sound like premillennialists, although they are acting more and more like postmillennialists.

This should not be surprising. There is an unmistakably cyclical stamp to millennial notions throughout American history. By their very nature, apocalyptic prophecies are protean; they invite constant re appraisal in the light of cultural configurations and historical circumstances. Millennial militarism, to take one example, was not confined to the nineteenth century. Comparing the present "culture war" to the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, Charles Colson warns evangelicals that they "are still on the beaches." "The enemy has not yet been vanquished, and the fighting is still ugly," Colson writes. "Christ's invasion has assured the ultimate outcome, however—victory for God and His people at some future date."44

And who is the enemy? Who sits on the other side of the fence, this dualistic divide? Late in the nineteenth century Moody offered his own ideas: "But in certain wealthy and fashionable Churches, where they have the form of godliness but deny the power thereof—just the state of things which Paul declares shall be in the last days—this doctrine is not preached or believed."45 What is the problem with these enemies of evangelicalism? Moody, speaking for those who perceived themselves as cultural outcasts, understood the problem very well: "They want intellectual preachers, who will cultivate their taste; brilliant preachers, who will please their imagination; but they don't want the preaching that has in it the power of the Holy Ghost."46 More recently Jack Van Impe warned that "our seminaries are filled with apostates," those who ignore the prophetic writings.47

If the genius of millennialism lies in its dualism, the beauty of apocalyptic rhetoric lies in its malleability. Late in the nineteenth century the enemies of righteousness were the "cultured despisers of religion," but the twentieth century offered new enemies. Liberals or, in the argot of the day, "modernists," served as enemies in the early decades of the century, and the Scopes Trial in 1925 added Darwin and the Eastern media elite to the pantheon of the godless. Sometime in the 1970s the Religious Right began to target something they called "secular humanism," which Tim LaHaye insisted was based on "amorality, evolution, and atheism."

Throughout American history there has always been a symbiotic relationship between apocalypticism and popular culture. In the nineteenth century, as Americans sought to define their place in the world, apocalyptic visionaries asserted that the United States stood at the center of the world, at least in God's eyes. In the twentieth century apocalyptic dualism and militarism—this adversarial, bomb-shelter mentality—meshed nicely with the titanic struggle between the superpowers, a struggle defined by Americans—preachers and politicians alike—as a showdown between good and evil.

The most durable enemy for evangelicals in the twentieth century, at least since 1917, has been Bolshevism or Communism. "Seventy-five years ago a plague descended upon the world and covered the nations of Eastern Europe like a dark cloud," Pat Robertson intoned at the Republican National Convention in 1992. "Slowly but surely, this dreaded menace grew and spread until it threatened the freedom of the entire world."48

The forces of righteousness prevailed over what Ronald Reagan referred to (before a group of religious conservatives, by the way) as the "evil empire," of course, and this vindicated the United States, God's chosen nation. But the collapse of the Soviet Union has robbed Americans—and evangelicals in particular—of their most durable enemy. The convulsions we are now experiencing as a culture, it seems to me, have a great deal to do with the fact that we have not as yet located a new enemy. As Moody, Spurgeon, Robertson, and Reagan all recognized, we need enemies because we define ourselves in contradistinction to them, whether they be the cultured laity and the intellectual preachers or the godless Communists. Since the end of the Cold War we Americans have been adrift, searching for a new enemy to satisfy our dualistic world view. We tried the Japanese for a while, but it is a bit difficult to rail against the Japanese after driving to work in your Toyota. The Arabs are always good enemies, but we continue to be a bit flummoxed by the notion that there might indeed be good Arabs (the ones who sell us oil). Hillary Rodham Clinton serves as a useful enemy, especially to many evangelicals, because of her refusal to fit into nineteenth-century gender roles. But the most promising enemy for evangelicals and the Religious Right is right here among us—gays and lesbians. In the words of the famous cartoon, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." If only gays and lesbians would get back in the closet, then America would be great again."

We are venturing now into troubled waters as the twenty-first century approaches. Because Gog and Magog are no longer indisputably the Soviet Union and "Red" China, as evangelical preachers have been declaring for decades, the apocalyptic preachers are free now to shape the categories, to tap into the culture's free-floating anxieties about pluralism, for instance, about the future, about America's place in the world. There is, I fear, potential for a great deal of mischief in this reconfiguration of apocalyptic prophecies, especially in the hands of demagogues, political or religious (the distinctions are not always clear).

The abiding belief in the apocalypse, however, demands a reconfiguration in the post–cold war era, and apocalyptic beliefs are malleable enough to allow it. Evangelicals (and others) who have sifted through the tea leaves of Daniel and Revelation have rarely done so wearing blinders, but rather with an acute awareness of the circumstances surrounding them. Throughout American history the admonition "thy kingdom come" has been fraught with judgment against those deemed as the enemies of righteousness. As they go about this reconfiguration, this redemption of time and space, however, these apocalyptic prophets, who claim to be the champions of biblical literalism, need to be reminded of another passage from the Scriptures: "Judge not, that ye be not judged."


1. Russell, founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses, insisted that a spiritual translation had indeed occurred in 1878. At that moment those among the elect who had died were raised into heaven, and thereafter anyone of the elect still living in 1878 would be translated immediately upon death into Christ's presence; they would not linger in the grave.

2. See Alan Rogerson, Millions Now Living Will Never Die: A Study of Jehovah's Witnesses (London: Constable, 1969); Albert V. Vandenberg, "Charles Taze Russell: Pittsburgh Prophet, 1879–1909," Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 69 (January 1986), 3–20; Edwin Scott Gaustad, Dissent in American Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973), pp. 114–116. On the Good Friday vigil, see Barbara Grizzuti Harrison, Visions of Glory: A History and a Memory of Jehovah's Witnesses (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978), p. 51; Rogerson, Millions Now Living, p. 9.

3. Signs of the Times, April 15, 1840, p. 14. Much of Miller's biographical details are taken from Everett N. Dick, "The Millerite Movement, 1830–1845," chap. 1, in Gary Land, ed., Adventism in America (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986).

4. Dick, "Millerite Movement," pp. 9, 13–15.

5. Ibid., p. 18.

6. Ibid., pp. 29–30; on the "ascension robes," see pp. 21–22.

7. On this rather tortuous transition, see Jonathan Butler, "From Millerism to Seventh-Day Adventism: `Boundlessness to Consolidation,'" Church History 55 (March 1986), 50–64. On Seventh-Day Adventist membership statistics, see Land, ed., Adventism in America, appendix 2.

8. See Pauline Moffitt Watts, "Prophecy and Discovery: On the Spiritual Origins of Christopher Columbus's 'Enterprise of the Indies,'" American Historical Review, XC (February 1985), 73–102. Moffitt argues that, although the historiography (especially Samuel Eliot Morison's The Admiral of the Ocean Sea) has portrayed Columbus as a man of science and rationality, Columbus was increasingly consumed by apocalyptic ideology and his own destiny.

9. Carl Whorley, who describes himself as pastor/teacher at the Tanglewood Baptist Church, Roanoke, Va., offers a fairly standard evangelical definition for rapture. He defines it as a "special event when the Lord Jesus Christ Himself will come down from heaven and hover over the earth. He will call the dead, born-again Christians out of the grave, and then after that the saints who are alive and still on this earth at this event. He will then take them off of the earth as well and take them back to heaven to be with Him." (transcription taken from cassette tape entitled "The Rapture of the Church," distributed by Tanglewood Baptist Church, Roanoke, Va.).

10. Some evangelicals have even suggested Ronald Wilson Reagan as the antichrist, in part because there are six letters in each of his names, corresponding to the mark of the beast, 666, foretold in Revelation 13:18.

11. For a survey of various views, see Robert G. Clouse, ed., The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1977). Timothy P. Weber has diagrammed some of the various possibilities; see Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming: American Premillennialism 1875–1982, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), p. 10.

12. For Edwards's apocalyptic views, see The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol 5: Apocalyptic Writings, edited by Stephen J. Stein (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), esp. pp. 27–29.

13. Quoted in Robert S. Fogarty, ed., American Utopianism (Itasca, Ill.: F. E. Peacock Publishers, 1972), p. 18. For an explication of complex marriage and its millennial justification, see Constance Noyes Robertson, Oneida Community: An Autobiography, 1851–1876 (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1970), chap. 9.

14. Nathan O. Hatch, The Sacred Cause of Liberty:Republication Thought and the Millennium in Revolutionary New England (New Haven:Yale University Press, 1977); Ruch Bloch, Visionary Republic: Millennial Themes in American Thought, 1756–1800 (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1985), chaps. 2–4. On the connection between New Light evangelicalism and patriotism, see also Alan Heimert, Religion and the American Mind from the Great Awakening to the Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966). Melvin B. Endy, Jr., takes issue with interpretations of the American Revolution that posit strong undercurrents of millennialism in the Patriot rhetoric. Endy insists that evangelicals more often cast their rationalizations for Revolution in the language of just war theory. See "Just War, Holy War, and Millennialism in Revolutionary America," William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., XLII(January 1985), 3–25.

15. Quoted in Peter N. Moore, "Westward the Course of Empire:Hermon Husband and the Frontier Millennium,"typescript of a paper lent by the author. On Husband, see also Bloch, Visionary Republic, pp. 72–74, 113–114, 182–184.

16. This latter point is made by Douglas W. Frank, Less Than Conquerors: How Evangelicals Entered the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986), p. 67. Nathan O. Hatch touches on this as well in "Millennialism and Popular Religion in the Early Republic,"in Leonard I. Sweet, ed., The Evangelical Tradition in America, pp. 113–130 (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1984).

17. On millennial themes in early American history, see James West Davidson, The Logic of Millennial Thought:Eighteenth-Century New England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977); Hatch, Sacred Cause of Liberty; Bloch, Visionary Republic; James H. Moorhead, "Between Progress and Apocalypse: A Reassessment of Millennialism in American Religious thought, 1800–1880," Journal of American History, 71 (December, 1984), 524–542; Ernest Lee Tuveson, Redeemer Nation: The Idea of America's Millennial Role (Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 1968). Regarding the various social-reform movements arising out of the second Great Awakening, see Timothy L. Smith, Revivalism and Social Reform in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America (Nashville:Abingdon Press, 1967); Charles I. Foster, An Errand of Mercy: The Evangelical United Front, 1790–1837 (Chapel Hill:University of North Carolina Press, 1960); Anne M. Boylan, "Women in Groups:An Analysis of Women's Benevolent Organizations in New York and Boston, 1797–1840," Journal of American History, LXXI (December 1984), 497–523.

18. William G. McLoughlin says that the message of this song is "one of millennial faith and optimistic conviction that God has chosen the United States of America to lead the way to the redemption of the world for Christian freedom" (idem, ed., The American Evangelicals, 1800–1900: An Anthology [New York:Harper &Row, 1968], p. 28; "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is reproduced on pp. 28–29).

19. Quoted in James H. Moorhead, American Apocalypse: Yankee Protestants and the Civil War, 1860–1869 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978), p. ix. Moorhead's book is an excellent, extended study of the millennial views of northern Protestants during the Civil War.

20. William Robbins, "Mormons Go Back to a Sacred Valley in Missouri," New York Times, Aug. 14, 1985. On Mormon millennialism, see Klaus Hansen, Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty (East Lan sing, Mich.: Michigan State University Press, 1967); Grant Underwood, "Early Mormon Millenarianism: Another Look," Church History, 54 (June 1985), 215–229.

21. Quoted in Eric Foner, ed., Great Lives Observed:Nat Turner (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.:Prentice-Hall, 1971), p. 45.

22. Quoted in Milton C. Sernett, ed., Afro-American Religious History:A Documentary Witness (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1985), p. 95.

23. On the eclipse of postmillenialism in the late-19th century, see Weber, Living in the Shadow, chap. 2; James H. Moorehead, "The Erosion of Postmillennialism in American Religious Thought, 1865–1925," Church History, 53 (March 1984), 61–77. Moorhead argues that postmillennialism collapsed, in effect, beneath its own weight, that it could be sustained only in a culture dominated by evangelical values.

24. For a discussion of Darby's views and their implications, see Weber, Living in the Shadow, chap. 1.

25. On the transition from postmillennialism to premillennialism and its importance to American evangelicals, see George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870–1925 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 48–55; Moorehead, "Erosion of Postmillennialism"; Frank, Less Than Conquerors, chap. 3. Frank sees the evangelical shift to premillennialism as an attempt to "recapture their control of history" (ibid., p. 67). On the influence of British millennial ideas in 19th-century America, see Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800–1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).

26. Quoted in McLoughlin, ed., American Evangelicals, 1800–1900, p. 184.

27 Grant Wacker, "Marching to Zion: Religion in a Modem Utopian Community," Church History, LIV (December 1985), 496–511, esp. 505.

28. Quoted in Weber, Living in the Shadow, p. 88.

29. The Scofield Reference Bible remains popular. Oxford, according to Cynthia Read, religion editor, has sold over 2 million copies since 1967, 85% of them leatherbound (an indication that the overwhelming majority of copies sold are for personal, devotional use, rather than for use in libraries).

30. Quoted in Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More:Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 141.

31. Evangelicals see the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 as the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Jeremiah 29:14: "I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile" (RSV).

32. Quoted in William Martin, "Waiting for the End: The Growing Interest in Apocalyptic Prophecy," Atlantic Monthly, June 1982, p. 35; cf. George Marsden, "Lord of the Interior," Reformed Journal, XXXI (June 1981), 2–3.

33. Evangelical hymns are replete with references to the coming millennium. Fanny Crosby's hymn, "Will Jesus Find Us Watching?" provides one example: When Jesus comes to reward His servants Whether it be noon or night, Faithful to Him will He find us watching With our lamps all trimmed and bright?

Blessed are those whom the Lord finds watching In His glory they shall share; He shall come at dawn or midnight, Will He find us watching there?

(Quoted in Weber, Living in the Shadow, p. 60.) Another, more recent song written by Andre Crouch, reads in part:

It won't be long till we'll be leaving here. It won't be long. We'll be going home.

34. Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 2.

35. Martin, "Waiting for the End, " p. 31.

36. As in the nineteenth century, twentieth-century black visions of the apocalypse take a slightly different form. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught that after six thousand years of white dominance, the "spook civilization" would come to an end about the year 2000. For the most compelling exposition of these ideas, see Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York: Grove Press, 1964), chaps. 10–11.

37. From National & International Religion Report, March 7,1994, p. 3.

38. Vandenberg, "Charles Taze Russell," pp. 7, 8.

39. Quoted in Dick, "Millerite Movement," p. 31.

40. Quoted in McLoughlin, ed., American Evangelicals, 1800–1900, pp. 184, 185.

41. Quoted in McLoughlin, American Evangelicals, p. 182.

42. D. L. Moody, Notes from My Bible and One Thousand and One Thoughts from My Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), p. 326.

43. Quoted in ibid., pp. 341, 342.

44. Charles Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict (New York: HarperCollins, 1987), p. 123.

45. McLoughlin, American Evangelicalism, p. 184.

46. Ibid., pp. 184–185.

47. Quoted in Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More, p. 306.

48. "Address by the Reverend Pat Robertson, Virginia Beach, Virginia," Official Report of the Proceedings of the Thirty-fifth Republican National Convention held in Houston, Texas, August 17, 18, 19, 20, 1992 (Republican National Committee, 1992), p. 501.

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Date: 02 Mar 2009
Time: 15:40:21

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What begins as a well-researched study degenerates into a cynic's rant. The author's venom comes out as soon as the footnotes stop. It is all too easy to say what someone does not believe in. The coward then, having poisoned the water, dares not put forth what he or she believes in.
That the Creator of this world is not content to have fading chaos of this world have the last word is a blessed hope for many.



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