Armageddon Anxiety and Satan’s
A Pastoral Response
Journey with me back in time
to the early 1900s. Our destination is a farmyard somewhere in northwestOhio.
It is early morning. The farmer and his team of horses are plowingin the
field. The farmer’s wife has finished the morning wash and hungthe
clothes out to dry. The chickens can be seen wandering in the barnyard,while
the sheep and pigs are going about their business in their separatepens.
The goose and her goslings are enjoying a refreshing swim in thepond and
the cows are lying in the pasture, chewing their cud and quietlylooking on.
Up in the loft of the barn, the wise old owl sleeps the dayaway, patiently
waiting for the night.
The barnyard is a picture of tranquility. But then it happens. One of the neurotic—or shall we say, overly anxious and poorly differentiated—roosters spies somemovement in a bush. Assuming the movement to be public enemy number one, the local fox, this rooster immediately sounds the alarm. Within secondsall of the roosters and chickens in the barnyard are running to and fro,crowing—most of them without a clue as to why. The ripple effect of therooster’s anxiety quickly spreads to the other animals.
Meanwhile,high up in the loft of the barn, the barnyard chaos has awaken the wiseold owl. Curious about the cause of such a commotion, she ruffles her feathers,squints her eyes, and steps out of the loft into the light. She is a creatureof the night. She dislikes both light and noise, and desires greatly toquiet the animals. So she listens to the rooster’s prediction of impendingdoom, then swoops down to survey the bushes. After careful analysis ofthe situation at hand, she returns to the loft, clears her throat, andsays in a deep, wise voice, "Quiet! There is no fox in the bushes. It isnothing more than the master’s shorts!"
This imaginary tale is meant, of course, to cast a humorous mirror on our own reality.There is a significant amount of Armageddon or apocalyptic anxiety aroundtoday. A vocal minority have been predicting that the end is at hand froma number of different, but related perspectives.
A numberof the essays in this book give us excellent reviews and critiques of thesemovements. My purpose is not to critique their findings, but to build ontheir findings to help pastors and leaders in our churches respond to thepresent anxiety in society with regard to millennialism and apocalypticismin shaping a believers church eschatology. I will begin by appealing topastors to enter the millennial barnyard. Second, I will make a few suggestionson how pastors can effectively and faithfully shape a believers churcheschatology in our congregations. Finally, I will suggest that the bookof Revelation provides pastors with an excellent model for managing thepastoral/prophetic polarity we experience in the ministry.
An Appeal for Pastorsto
Enter the Millennial Barnyard
My firstgoal is to join with several others in encouraging pastors and lay leadersto enter into the millennial barnyard. This unique opportunity will beprotracted in nature because the wonder of entering the new millenniumwill both precede and follow the actual event, giving the pastor a protractedperiod of time to explore millennial issues. At Grace Mennonite Churchin Pandora, Ohio, where I pastor, we have planned a fall series focusedon shaping a believers church eschatology, a winter series on living faithfullyin the third millennium, and a Millennium Eve Service complete with theplayful suggestion that kerosene lanterns are optional!
In my church, and I am sure in many other churches, our members are listening to thecrowing of many roosters. Whether we like it or not, their theology isbeing formed by what they hear on Christian radio and television, whatthey read in Christian bookstores, what they find on millennial web sites,and through conversations with dispensational premillennialist neighbors.I am suggesting that it is necessary for pastors to differentiate themselvesfrom the roosters who influence our people. And what better time to doit than when people’s interest in millennial matters is piqued as it isnow? Secondly, I would like to suggest ways pastors can effectively andfaithfully shape a believers church eschatology in their local congregations.
Shaping a Believer’s
First, Iwould suggest that the deconstructive and constructive task of a sermonbe done simultaneously. Thus, rather than having several sermons that arefocused on the desconstructive task of identifying false prophecies andthe misconceptions of other systems, and then constructing a believerschurch eschatology through several sermons, I would suggest that the deconstructiveand constructive task be woven together in each sermon. For example, ifI were addressing the tension between the already and the not yet as theframework for a believers church eschatology (the constructive task), Icould easily differentiate this perspective from dispensational premillennialism(the deconstructive task).
Second,I would encourage pastors not to underestimate the degree to which yourcongregation has been influenced by dispensational premillennialism. Whenpreaching a sermon series on such a topic, it would be wise for pastorsto identify the various streams of thought present in their congregationand make pastoral contact with those streams of thought that will be atvariance with your presentation. In my own church, I intend to make personalvisits with people I know are dispensational premillennialists. The purposeof such visits will not be to begin the process of converting them to myperspective. Rather, the purpose of those personal visits will be to assurethem both that my sermon series is not a personal attack and that I willnot cease to be their pastor in spite of our differences. Open communicationin advance of a potentially controversial sermon series generally diffusesany consequent controversy.
Third, inthe process of exploring millennial themes, pastors should choose textsfrom the gospels and Paul, not just from Revelation, to challenge the presumptionthat Revelation is just a book about the future. Thus, when describingthe nature of God’s reign in the kingdom, I would use one of the parablesthat depict God as a forgiving parent and build on the lamb motif in Revelation.
Fourth,in the process of preaching on millennial issues, pastors should not developcharts depicting a timeline, manipulate people’s emotions through "prophecy," set dates, or assert dogmatically how time will end or what the futurewill be like specifically. By avoiding such pitfalls, we can model humilityand resist the idolatry of certitude.
Preparing for Christ’s Advent: A Sermon Series
With these suggestions in mind, I would like to suggest a menu of sermons intended to help pastors shapea believers church eschatology in their own congregations. While this series may have a particular relevance in 1999, it is appropriate in the fallof any year as a preparation for Advent. These titles, texts, and descriptions are meant to be suggestive rather than descriptive. Many combinations and permutations of this menu will serve well to prepare a congregation forChrist’s advent.
Heavenly Gazing and Earthly
Goals: Acts 1:1-11
This sermonconnects the series to the story of Jesus while establishing the frameworkof the series. On the one hand, we look forward to something great thatis yet to come. On the other hand, we should have our eyes open to whatGod is doing right now to make God’s reign a present reality. Clarityabout both our future hope and our present calling is the focus of theseries.
The Kingdom is Good News:
This sermonhighlights that the kingdom of God is not a gloom-and-doom reality to befeared, but rather is good news about God’s love and salvation breakinginto the world in the present to bring healing and hope to the lost andsuffering. The presence of God’s Reign is nothing short of wonderful newsfor God’s creation.
The Reign of God: Luke
15; Revelation 7:13-17
This sermonemphasizes that God’s reign in the kingdom is characterized by grace, love,and forgiveness, rather than anger and judgment. Joy over recovering whatwas lost propels the characters in these parables.
The Disappearing Lionand
the Ever-Present Lamb: Revelation 5:1-11; Mark 10:35-45
This sermonshows that the role of Christ in the "end times" will continue to be thatof the suffering servant. Mark 10 depicts Christ as the suffering servant.The controlling metaphor for Christ in Revelation is the lamb, not thelion. This sermon contrasts the suffering servant motif with the conceptionof Christ as a warrior found in dispensational premillennialism.
Living in the KingdomTension:
Romans 8; Revelation 1:9
This sermonclarifies that a believers church eschatology reflects the tension betweenthe already and the not yet. On the one hand, the kingdom of God is presentand we are called to live faithfully as stewards of that kingdom. On theother hand, we wait with all of creation for the consummation, the fullrevelation of the kingdom that is yet to come.
Lord of the Waves: Psalm
93:1-4; Matthew 14:22-33; Revelation 2:8-11
This sermonhighlights the sovereignty of God in the face of crisis and change. Psalm93 and Matthew 14 both emphasize that our God is Lord even over the perilof waves and water (an ancient idiom for Satan’s domain). In the Revelationpassage, Smyrna is encouraged to remain faithful despite persecution. Inbringing these passages together, this sermon develops the call for disciplesto suffer patiently and nonviolently as an expression of modeling the lifeof the Lamb.
Worship as Kingdom Formation:
The goalof worship in Revelation is to build up the community of faith as an expressionof God’s reign on earth. In worship, the people of God confess their sinof "missing the mark" with regard to kingdom-building. They renounce thefalse allegiances of this world and unite in reaffirming their allegianceto the God whose Reign is known to use through the ministry of Jesus Christ.
A Free Church for a New
Millennium: Matthew 5:13-16; Revelation 3:14-22; 12–13
This sermonhighlights the New Testament appeal for the church to be a "called-outcommunity of faith." The temptation for the church to be identified withthe surrounding culture and state will be addressed, paying close attentionto the loss of witness that results when the church becomes enmeshed withculture and state.
The Peaceable Kingdom:
An Apocalyptic of Hope: Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 21–22:5
What isthe future hope that inspires lives of faithfulness in the present? Thefuture hope we anticipate is the "not yet" universal peaceable kingdom.Although we cannot speak with certitude about the timing of the futurekingdom, we rest in the hope that God’s promise of a future, peaceablekingdom will be fulfilled.
The Return of Christ:Isaiah
64:1-9 Psalm 80; 1 Corinthians 1:4-9; Mark 13:26-31
This sermonpresents the blessed hope of Christ’s return, focusing on the renewal ofthe earth and restoration of God’s people, rather than on judgment. Although the biblical evidence does sometimes speak of Christ’s judging role, thatis not its focus.
Managing the Pastoral/Prophetic Polarity:Revelation as Model
Revelation suggests that mypastoral
task is twofold: First, I must unmask the beasts of the dominationsystem.
This became particularly important when one of the wives askedme if this
could be God’s judgment. I know that all have struggled withidentifying
the source of their unjust suffering. So by naming the beast,much like John
does, we identify the source of their suffering.
Second,my pastoral task is to highlight the sovereignty of our gracious and lovingGod and to hold out the promise of a new heaven and new earth. In particular,I might utilize the apocalyptic imagery of Micah 4 and the promise thatone day we will all sit under our own fig tree and experience peace andprosperity. The prophetic task in such a situation would be to encouragethem not to be controlled by hatred and vengeance, but rather to sufferwith grace and love as Christ.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my earlier encouragement for pastors to enterthe millennial barnyard, if not through the medium of sermon, than throughyour approach to ministry. Turn to Revelation and other apocalyptic sourcesto shape a believers church eschatology and to manage the pastoral/prophetic polarity.
is but a summary of this essay. To read the entire essay,
clickhere to purchase the book,
Apocalypticismand Millennialism: Shaping a Believers Church Eschatology for
the Twenty-FirstCentury, edited by Loren L. Johns, published by
PandoraPress of Kitchener, Ontario.]