There are many factors that make up the growing apostasy and seduction of the church. One of the most alarming, least understood, and fastest spreading errors is the teaching that earth instead of heaven is the ultimate home for the church, and that her goal is to take over the world and establish the kingdom of God. Only then, it is said, can Christ return—not, however, to take us to His Father's house as He promised His disciples in John 14, but to reign over the Kingdom which we have established for Him. As we mentioned in the last chapter of Seduction, if the real Jesus Christ is going to catch His bride up from earth to meet Him in the air (1 Thes:4:17), then those who work to build a kingdom for a "Christ" whom they will meet with their feet planted on earth have been under heavy delusion indeed! They have been working for the Antichrist!
One hears a great deal about Christ returning only when the church is a unified, vibrant, forceful, spotless, wrinkle-free Bride (Harvest Time, Nov. 1986, etc.). There is no scripture to support such teaching. Nor is it logical that Christians who happen to be alive when Christ returns must attain to perfection in order to join (at that heavenly marriage to the Lamb) millions of Christians from past ages who attained to no such perfection at all.
The only righteousness that any of us has is that of Christ himself. Our works qualify us for rewards but not for heaven. "Absent from the body, present with the Lord" (2 Cor:5:8) is as true of carnal Christians when they die as it is for the most victorious. Christians from all ages "must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ" (2 Cor:5:10), and when our works have been tried with fire (1 Cor:3:13-15) and in shame we have confessed our sins and failures (1 Jn:1:9) and He has wiped "all tears from [our] eyes" (Rev:21:4), then and not until then will His bride be without spot and wrinkle, united before the Father's throne in heaven and ready to join in that great feast above!
We ought to seek to live holy and faithful lives to His glory. His coming, however, is not dependent upon that small fraction of the church alive at the time reaching some perfection which millions and perhaps billions of Christians already in His presence through death have never attained.
This teaching can be traced back several centuries, but its recent explosion dates from the Latter Rain, or Manifest Sons, movement that began in 1948 in Canada in apparent revival. It was declared to be heresy by the Assemblies of God in 1950. Its relationship to the positive-confession (Hagin, Copeland, et al.) and discipleship (Mumford, Simpson, et al.) movements is clearly established. Obviously, if we can get whatever we confess, then we ought to confess healing and immortality and peace and prosperity and salvation for the world. This is in fact where the name "Manifest Sons" comes from: the last-days overcomers must manifest total victory over all foes in these bodies without a resurrection, even over death.
Earl Paulk is a major leader in this movement as are John Giminez of Rock Church and Bob Weiner of Maranatha Ministries, active on college campuses across the country. Pat Robertson at times sounds as though he leans strongly toward this position (for example, his Dec. 9, 1984 talk at Bob Tilton's church), as does James Robison. Hardcore Manifest Sons teachers make such statements as, "You can study books about going to heaven in a so-called 'rapture' if that turns you on. We want to study the Bible to learn to live and to love and to bring heaven to earth." (See Beyond Seduction, p 244.)
Others are more cautious and even devious in their statements. Earl Paulk, for example, claims to believe in the Rapture in spite of the fact that he has written entire books denouncing it. Just as Mormons use words such as salvation, eternal life, God, etc. but have their own meaning, so those in this movement use terminology with accepted meaning for other Christians in order to confuse. It is a mistake to assume that by "Rapture" Paulk means being caught up to meet Christ in the air with the resurrected saints and taken to heaven. Like the "Happy Hunters" (who tell of seeing a huge Christ at a crusade in Fresno—presumably not as tall as Oral Roberts' 900-foot Jesus— and Christians being raptured up into Him and being recycled back to earth) those in this movement use the term "Rapture" to signify reaching a new oneness with Christ that enables them to fully manifest His power and glory.
Prophetic scriptures are either denied, interpreted as having already been fulfilled (much of Revelation happened at A.D. 70, for example) or spiritualized. The church is Israel, which no longer has any place in prophecy as a nation; Armageddon is the ongoing battle between the forces of light and darkness; the Antichrist is a spirit not a person; we are already in the Great Tribulation and the Millennium both, etc. Instead of exegeting the Bible, there are new revelations. For example, the brochure for the Atlanta '86 conference for pastors, held at Paulk's church with speakers such as Oral Roberts, Tommy Reid, et al., declared that Christ's return was being held up by the reluctance to accept new revelation. The latter are presented by a new class of prophets who cannot be judged but must be obeyed.
Closely related in belief are several other groups: reconstructionists such as Gary North, et al., as well as Christian socialists such as Jim Wallis (of Sojourners), Tom Sine, et al., whose major focus is upon cleaning up the earth ecologically, politically, economically, sociologically, etc. They imagine that the main function of the church is to restore the Edenic state—hardly helpful, since Eden is where sin began.
Many groups are beginning to work together who disagree on some points but share with the New Agers a desire to clean up earth and establish the Kingdom. I expect such cooperative efforts to grow, even involving Christian leaders who are not aware of what they are actually promoting. One example is the Coalition on Revival, which includes such evangelical stalwarts as Joseph Aldrich, Bill Bright, Armin Gesswein, Josh McDowell and J.I. Packer, who are not aware that the actual intention of the leaders of COR falls in line with what we are discussing.
I give brief attention to this subject in the last chapter of Beyond Seduction. A more detailed treatment is provided in Whatever Happened to Heaven? Be on your guard. Keep close to our Lord and to His Word. Be Bereans who don't rely upon the interpretation of someone else (be he Dave Hunt, Robert Schuller or anyone) but who know what they believe and why on the basis of God's Word. TBC