When I was growing up, no one said a thing to me about the Rapture. I remember hearing it mentioned, occasionally, by my Pentecostal or other Charismatically-minded friends, but I didn’t really know what it was. I think I first started to get an idea of what it is from the Left Behind series (which I neither read nor watched). I never asked my parents, or anyone, about it. The Rapture had this vaguely heretical aura about it, an unseemly vibe that told me it’s completely made up and only fanatics and born-again movie stars from the 80’s believe in it. So I just never really looked into it.
Now that I’m older, I still don’t know all the subtleties of every view concerning eschatology. But I do know that the concept of being taken up to meet Jesus in Heaven is actually in the real Bible, and the true disagreement lies in the order of things, more than the nature of them. The CRC doesn’t have a strict position on the Rapture, except that it absolutely rejects dispensationalism (sorry, you’ll have to look it up; it’s way outside the scope of this blog). So the Rapture, as a general term, is not really as dissentient as it might have seemed. Still, the word stirs up some pretty strong feelings, most of them negative, amongst the Reformed.
So the question I’m posing is this: should we use songs or lines of songs that refer to the Rapture? Does it matter how it’s mentioned, or what the author might have intended? Some of our best-loved, most oft-sung hymns make reference to it; let’s look at a couple examples.
One hymn that I have always loved is “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross.” The original refrain, written by Fanny Crosby in 1869, is this:
“In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever,
‘Till my raptured soul shall find rest beyond the river.”
I’ve sung those lines countless times, and honestly, I never really associated them with the Rapture, as portrayed in modern culture. I just thought of it as Jesus taking us to be with him, however that ends up happening. Evidently, though, not everyone found it innocuous. In the newer editions of the Psalter, the word raptured has been changed to ransomed. Do you think there’s anything wrong with the original version? One could argue our souls have already been ransomed by Christ’s death, and in that sense raptured would be more apt.
Another Rapture-related song, also by Fanny Crosby (her lyrics have had a few run-ins with the editors of the Psalter over the years), that most of us have heard and sung is “Blessed Assurance.” This hymn was not even included in the Psalter until a new second verse had been written for it. Crosby’s second verse:
“Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight:
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.”
I find some poignancy in her choice of words here. Crosby was blind, and spent a great deal of her time and money on missions work for the poor and disabled. In this song, I wonder if she is speaking of the overwhelming joy she took in caring for others and the promise that all the misery and pain in this world will be finally undone through Jesus. But do context or author’s intent have significant bearing on our decision of whether to use words like these in worship?
In those two instances, I don’t think there’s any harm in singing the original lyrics. Of course, there might be other songs that make more concrete references to the Rapture, and clearly advocate a dispensationalist view, which we would certainly reject. That would make the decision easy. Nonetheless, we can’t deny that Christ will return and restore us to him, and if the widely accepted, generic term for that event is rapture, I don’t think we should avoid using it, at least not in all cases.
Are there other examples of songs that mention the Rapture? Have any of you debated this topic with members of your worship team or council? What did you decide? Is this simply a matter of preference in most cases, or does it rise to a doctrinal level? Let’s hear what you have to say