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Pre-Tribulation Rapture; Easy Believism or the Truth?

Updated on April 2, 2016

Many fervent Christian believers today support the Pre-tribulation Rapture of the Church doctrine unquestioningly. They accept it as though Moses brought it down from Mt. Sinai etched in stone by the finger of the Lord God Jehovah. I am often surprised by how few of them have the slightest notion about the origins of this teaching so dearly cherished by many. Much has been written on this topic so even a casual survey of the topic would provide much troubling introspection for someone holding such a firm grip on this doctrine. Especially so, I would think, if they intend to leave copies of "Left Behind" around for their lost loved ones to discover during the Great Tribulation.

In 1830 in Glasgow, Scotland, a 15-year-old girl named Margaret MacDonald had a "vision" of a silent Rapture of the Church, followed by seven years of Tribulation, and then the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. She probably had a series of "visions" as indicated by her pastor, Edward Irving in his writings on the subject.

Edward Irving, Presbyterian minister, presented the essence of Margaret's visions at a Bible prophecy conference in London that same year. Edward Irving had become convinced of the near return of the Lord and began teaching/writing that just prior to the Lord's Return, there would be a renewal of "gifts of the spirit" as in the days of the Apostles. This began shortly before Margaret's visions. Irving was apparently anxious to share this girl's experience as a proof of his teaching to colleagues at the Bible Prophecy conference.

A conference attendee, John Nelson Darby, hearing Irving's talk on Margaret's visions, traveled to Glasgow and stayed with Margaret and her family to learn more. Upon his return, Darby began writing about the Pre-tribulation Rapture of the Church and an emerging doctrine which became known as Dispensationalism. For the next few decades he wrote extensively promoting his new doctrine. His ideas were slow to take root in Europe, so in 1862 he traveled to America where he was based until 1877.

His teaching was adopted by J. H. Brookes, a Presbyterian minister in St. Louis, and by A. J. Gordon a Baptist minister in Boston, who spread the new doctrine throughout the Midwest and northeast. Dwight Moody, founder of Moody Bible Institute also became a convert. A Moody colleague, C.E. Schofield became an ardent student of the Dispensational teaching and in his Schofield Reference Bible, published in 1909, footnoted all prophetic passages from a Pre-tribulation Rapture point-of-view.

John Nelson Darby

The Schofield Reference Bible brought credibility and respectability to the teaching, which it had previously lacked, and Pre-tribulation Rapture beliefs quickly spread throughout Bible schools across the country during the 20's and 30's.

The road to respectability for the Pre-tribulation Rapture teaching was a rocky one. Edward Irving left the Presbyterian Church under apparently strained circumstances. He founded the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, the first Pentecostal church in 1832 and is generally considered the Father of Modern Pentacostalism.

John Nelson Darby left the Anglican church and co-founded a Non-Denominational sect known as the Plymouth Brethren in 1830. Rifts developed within the Brethren, primarily due to Darby's teachings, which prompted him to come to America. He died in 1882 before seeing his new doctrine widely accepted. He is the Father of Dispensationalism and its cornerstone teaching of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture.

Today, Pentecostals, charismatics, and non-denominational sects embrace the teaching as a part of their official doctrine. Some mainstream evangelical denominations such as Baptists adopt the teaching as well though it is not a part of their Statement of Faith. Most mainstream denominations retain their historical eschatological roots if prophecy is even a part of their doctrine.

There is honest debate on whether Margaret MacDonald, Edward Irving, or Darby himself, is the true originator of the doctrine. One thing is clear. One of them dreamed this notion up around 1830. It always bothered me that for 1800 years every bible scholar and theologian somehow missed the truth of the Dispensational teaching. This included men such as Luther, Calvin, Knox, Tyndale and every other serious Bible student until it was unveiled in 1830.

And I wonder...what if this teaching is wrong? And what is the danger if it is in fact, wrong? Is the lure of an "easy out" before the great tribulation befalls this world compelling because today's Christian is really severely shallow in their faith?

Dallas Wilkinson is a novelist, satirist, and social commentator. He can be reached at


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