Former Plain Truth writer Keith Stump wrote this article for the original AW site.
Twice during the past month I was asked, in chance meetings around town [Pasadena], about my views on recent events in Europe and the Middle East "in light of Bible prophecy", since I often used to write on these subjects for the Plain Truth magazine and World Tomorrow telecast. Twice I explained, at some length, that the question is meaningless, since the prophecies (as I now believe) were fulfilled nearly two millennia ago. And twice I looked into the face of stark, unreasoning fear, as the questioners--for a brief moment, before composing themselves--entertained the terrifying prospect of not living in the "end times" after all.
I have seen this fear many times in recent years. It is the panic that surfaces when one's defining worldview is challenged and doubt momentarily takes hold.
"Preterism" is the name given to the view that biblical prophecies about the "last days"--including those about the "Beast" and the "Great Tribulation"--were fulfilled in their entirety in the first century, during the lifetimes of Jesus' disciples (the "last days" of the Old Covenant). COG ministers dismiss this view out of hand, believing that they heard and refuted the preterist arguments years ago at Ambassador College--when, in fact, they were never truly exposed to preterism at all. Further, as I've been informed, many of these ministers, through intimidation, insist that their congregations avoid looking into preterist "heresies", lest they fall prey to "deception".
The churches of God profess reverence for truth, yet many seem to go out of their way to suppress members' exposure to viewpoints that potentially threaten the party line. Why? Is not truth invincible? Should not true teachings be able to stand up to close scrutiny? As I asked in a previous letter, how much is a faith worth that fears to take an honest look at itself? Only lies and falsehoods fear examination.
I know, from personal discussions, that some current ministers in the COGs harbor doubts about the "futurist" approach to prophecy, as taught by Herbert Armstrong and others. Yet they remain silent for fear of their jobs and livelihoods. Their fears have grown larger than their faith. Others fear what they might discover if they were to seriously look into preterism, so they simply don't look into it. They realize that if they were to be convinced of its truth, they would face agonizing personal decisions.
As the familiar saying goes, "What is more foolish, the child afraid of the dark, or the man afraid of the light?"
Through conversations with ministers and members, I have learned that few have any real idea of the biblical case for preterism. They think they've heard all the arguments, but are, in fact, largely ignorant of them, as revealed by their naive Spokesman-Club responses. I challenge everyone reading this letter to spend ONE HOUR [researching the Web on this subject.] Many will find themselves compelled to spend far longer, as long-held assumptions are challenged and--for some--light begins to penetrate the dense, tangled layers of fundamentalist jungle that have long suffocated the truth in their minds. Christians must have the courage and humility to reevaluate their views, to test their beliefs, to look at other perspectives, giving them fair and honest consideration. A true man or woman of God follows the path of truth no matter where it leads.
Why does this matter? It matters because fundamentalist prophetic foolishness percolates through the thinking of COG members, producing a warped and distorted spirituality, an obsession with trivialities, a squandering of lives on irrelevancies, a burying of talents and potentials because of a myopic focus on a nonexistent "gun lap."
Experience has shown that deliverance from a "last days" worldview causes many people to focus for the very first time on what a true Christian life really consists of--being agents for good in the world NOW--rather than fixating on a fantasy future that exists only in their imaginations. It often leads them to reevaluate other false beliefs, like the entire mindset of clock-and-calendar-based spirituality, and the abysmal silliness of the so-called "18 restored truths". It's liberating, it's empowering, it's life-affirming.
There is no "tribulation" ahead other than the same types of trials and tribulations that humankind has experienced throughout its history, and that will still be with our great-great-great grandchildren in their "Star Trek" world of the future. Amid these tribulations, we are here to grow and to help others grow--to become stronger, better, wiser--to be agents for good and for God on the earth--not to waste our lives obsessing over the minutiae of dead prophecies and playing at religion in a fundamentalist fantasy world.