Friday, September 26, 2008

"The Lord is Coming. Are You Ready?"

by Shawn Brace

I was talking with a friend of mine recently who told me about a sign he had noticed outside a Seventh-day Adventist church that he just happened to drive by a day earlier. In big, bold letters, the sign read, “The Lord is Coming. Are You Ready?” What would seem like an innocent and oft-asked question to many of us greatly upset my friend. In fact, he was so disturbed by the message the sign bore that he was tempted to pull over right then and there and take the sign down. Fortunately, self-control got the better of him, and he refrained from doing that.

Why do I mention this, and what is it that made my friend so upset? After all, we as Seventh-day Adventists have been proclaiming this urgent message for a long time. We hear it trumpeted from our pulpits on Sabbath mornings around the world. Year after year, it is emphasized at Campmeetings. And certain musical groups have been heralding the sentiment for decades. So, what would get my friend—a faithful and committed Seventh-day Adventist—all up in a tizzy?

Well, truth be told, I happen to agree with my friend’s concerns. And I’d like to share a few reflections with you on the ever-so-subtle dangers that this simple question brings.

To begin with, I’m afraid that such a question elicits an “Uh-oh, I’m in trouble” reaction from the respondent. The underlying idea behind the question is that if a person is not ready when Jesus comes, he or she will not go to heaven. And whenever we approach a concept by placing the consequences at the forefront, we are inherently setting up a legalistic (or, as some would call it, “Old Covenant”) system of behavior and subtly using fear tactics. And such tactics can be extremely destructive and enslaving.

Don’t get me wrong: there are definite consequences when it comes to a person’s readiness. If one does not have a heart experience with Christ when He comes, there will be no heaven for that person. But such a natural consequence should not be emphasized as a motivation for readiness. Instead, we need to lift up the “love of Christ” which “compels” us (see 2 Corinthians 5:14), if we would expect to see permanently changed hearts and lives. Wagging a stick in front of one’s face is a more appropriate tactic for training a dog than for an intelligent human being who is capable of appreciating Christ’s sacrifice and behaving by love.[1]

The other—and perhaps more important—challenge that such a question brings is that it proclaims the inevitability of Christ’s Second Coming, whether or not He has a people who are ready. And such a thought, as we have addressed before in this publication,[2] is not in accordance with the biblical witness. Revelation tells us that Christ will come when His wife has finally “made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7), not in spite of her readiness. When we set up the idea that Christ will come back, regardless of His bride’s readiness, we subtly shift the responsibility off our plates and onto Christ’s.

Similarly, by focusing on our own individual destiny, rather than Christ’s, we are setting up an egocentric message. If we get so caught up in worrying about our own readiness so that we can live forever, it is impossible to turn our attention onto Christ’s plight and to appreciate the fact that He is engaged in a “Great Controversy” in which His eternal reputation is at stake.

Of course, I am not wishing to be critical of anyone who has asked this question—and the underlying attitude that such a question betrays. But I would like to encourage others to be very careful in how they explain things. The way we say things is extremely important. And instead of trying to scare people into the Kingdom, perhaps it would be best to uplift the love of Christ as motivation for readiness and emphasize the fact that Christ will not come until His bride is prepared.[3]

Then, maybe He can actually come.

[1] Notice what Ellen White says in Patriarchs and Prophets (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1890), 523: “Love to God is the very foundation of religion. To engage in His service merely from hope of reward or fear of punishment would avail nothing.”

[2] See Herbert E. Douglass, “What Farmers Tell Us About the End of the World,” New England Pastor, May/June (2008): 6.

[3] For further reflection on this topic, see my book, Waiting at the Altar (Brushton, N.Y.: Teach Services, 2008).

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