Many premillennial dispensational pastors teach that during the time of the great tribulation, the Holy Spirit leaves earth along with the church. Now consider this. As God is a spirit (John 4:24), the Holy Spirit is the presence of God. For God’s presence to be removed from the earth during the great tribulation or at any other times causes real problems, because God sustains and directs creation, which cannot operate without God’s presence and involvement. (The idea that God accomplished creation and left it to itself without His needing to operate, sustain, or otherwise be involved in it is theological liberalism at best and deism at worst.)
But apart from the larger question of precisely how creation will be sustained and operated for seven long years with God’s presence absent from it, there is the issue of salvation. Can anyone name a premillennial dispensationalist who denies that people will be saved during the tribulation? That would be very difficult, because Revelation does make reference to Christians that will be martyred after the time that according to this doctrine the church will have been raptured, and this is so for both the pre-tribulation and mid-tribulation rapture believers. First off, for this to even happen will mean that Jesus Christ’s promise concerning the Holy Spirit of John 14:16-18, that He will not leave us comfortless (meaning that the presence of God will never leave the church) would be broken. So … if John 14:16-18 can be violated, even for a time, then what secures John 3:16 and the other promises of God to the church?
But again, back to salvation. The Bible explicitly teaches that the Holy Spirit is what accomplishes salvation. The Holy Spirit not only draws the sinner and convicts the sinner of unrighteousness, but the Holy Spirit actually accomplishes rebirth. This must be the case, for salvation is quite literally a miracle, and all miracles are the work of the Holy Spirit. No miracles cannot occur without the presence, moving and working of God. But if the Holy Spirit is removed from the earth, how can salvation occur? Who will draw sinners? Who will convict sinners of unrighteousness? Most important: who will perform the miraculous work of regeneration, of new birth?
Recall what Jesus Christ told Nicodemus in John 3:5-8, which is that salvation, new birth, is impossible unless someone is born again, and born again can only occur by water and spirit, which is the Holy Spirit. But to repeat, if the Holy Spirit has been taken from the earth, how can the rebirth, the salvation that can only occur by the Holy Spirit occur?
There is only one explanation. It is the doctrine that salvation is not the work of the Holy Spirit, but rather of human decision, of free will. Now claiming that it is totally or completely free will is Pelagianism, or shall we say hyperArminianism. The mainstream orthodox free will doctrine is that the work of the Holy Spirit empowers a free will decision to accept or reject Jesus Christ. An extension of this is foreknowledge, which states that God from His timeless perspective knows in advance who will accept and reject Him, so He elects those who will – or in truth have already – elected Him, and places them in human history in situations where they will hear the gospel. (In other words, God loves us because we first loved Him.)
Now the free will doctrine which states that the job of the Holy Spirit is to empower human decision is necessary to reconcile decision soteriology with what the Bible actually says. However, we see that this really is merely a cover, an exterior. At the heart of this doctrine is that salvation is completely the work of human decision, and that the Holy Spirit is not necessary at all. That is why it is so easy for the very same free will Christians to declare that salvation is made possible by the Holy Spirit’s overcoming the effects of the fall long enough to empower man to make a free will choice to immediately turn around and assert that during the tribulation, the Holy Spirit is gone and yet people will still be saved!
This makes the work of the Holy Spirit to draw, convict, and actually accomplish new birth a mere technicality to free will salvation, an accessory if you will, that while very useful can be discarded if need be, such as during a crisis. And during the great crisis for humanity and creation that is the great tribulation, the presence of the Holy Spirit for those being saved is no more necessary than is the presence of a second lung or kidney. It is nice to have, but ultimately you can get along without it. After all, you still have the other lung or kidney, right? Well, it appears that with free will doctrine, one lung or kidney is God (the Holy Spirit) and the other lung or kidney is human initiative, human decision, human righteousness and self – worth, human works. It is interesting that in a crisis, God is the one which is declared to be superfluous, not truly necessary for life, and therefore sacrificed, while our human freedom, what is truly valued and important above all else, are the horns of the altar to which we hold fast to (see 1 Kings 2:27-34). Perhaps, then, life as a slave or in an authoritarian culture (please recall that Christianity was birthed in the authoritarian, fascist Roman Empire which had no respect for individual rights or freedoms except for that of a privileged few, and most early converts to the religion were noncitizens and slaves!) is better suited to creating a mindset conducive to Christianity than previously thought. After all, the Declaration of Independence was written by a deist, not a Christ.
According to all Biblical evidence including the words of Jesus Christ Himself, the idea that salvation can occur without the Holy Spirit is severe error, a rejection of a truth plainly taught in scripture, and also attributing the work of the Holy Spirit (salvation) to another, giving another credit for what God does. (However, it is not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin, which Jesus Christ states is attributing the works of the Holy Spirit to Satan. Giving the glory for the work of the Holy Spirit to man is a sin, but quite different than attributing salvation to being the work of Beelzebub.) So is the idea that the church will be left without its Comforter, the Holy Spirit. So, what does that mean for this doctrine?
I suppose that the rapture doctrine itself can be salvaged for those who choose to adhere to it. However, one simply cannot claim that there will be no Christians afterwards, as the Bible clearly contradicts it … saints will be martyred during the tribulation according to Revelation and the Olivet discourses. One also cannot claim that the “tribulation church” or the “tribulation saints” will be there without the Holy Spirit, as Jesus Christ said that such a thing would never happen. And one cannot claim that the “tribulation saints” will consist of a single person born again while the Holy Spirit is removed.
So, the only way to salvage the rapture doctrine is to abandon the claim that the Holy Spirit will be taken from the Earth during the great tribulation, or at any other time that the church will be on the earth or that people will be added to the church. While this is certainly possible, the question must be asked A) where this “the Holy Spirit will be removed from the earth during the tribulation” doctrine came from and B) why it was embraced. Why did not these people, these great pastors, theologians, and eminent Bible scholars, simply ask: without the Holy Spirit how can anyone be saved and “how can any Christian endure daily life, let alone tribulation and martyrdom, without the ministry of the Comforter?”
Now the doctrines of God are supposed to be the head of all doctrines of Christianity and the focus of our faith. We are supposed to look at every doctrine and ask “How is God working in this? How does this glorify God? How does this accomplish God’s purposes? Where is God in this story”? That this “the Holy Spirit will be removed from the tribulation church” doctrine has been able to gain such unqualified support in huge swaths of evangelical Christianity shows that this is not the case. In it, God and His workings are not necessary to bring about conversion, to seal believers, to preserve them in the faith. Man is able to accomplish these things, to save himself, minister to himself, and persevere in the faith himself, without God’s help. Oh what a great, glorious, marvelous, fantastic, mighty to contemplate and behold, inherently virtuous thing this man must be! But if this was the case, then why did Adam, who knew not original sin, fall?
Instead, this shows that for so many premillennial dispensational Christians, the head of their doctrines are not the doctrines of God, but rather the doctrine of the rapture and the doctrine of human decision. Now the Gospel of John depicts the sin sacrifice of God’s own Word on the cross as the climaxing event of human history, the ultimate act of revelation and self – disclosure to creation. Premillennial dispensationalism, on the other hand, places the rapture of the church as the climax of human history, and the cross as merely being an event that leads to it. Why? Because the cross was about God, Jesus Christ. The rapture, meanwhile, us about the church. The cross is about people. Saved people, yes, but still people. The rapture is about US.
Which means, of course, that Christianity basically becomes about the desire to be raptured. Being raptured becomes our hope, our motivation, the main priority. And that explains so many of the strange actions in these last days. For example: our relationship with the Jews and Israel. The ingathering of Jews to Israel and the rebuilding of the temple is the main priority because of its importance to the rapture. So, Christians are required to deny the fact that Jesus Christ replaced Israel and fulfilled Israel’s mission in salvation and world events within Himself. Even further, Christians are required to pretend that modern Judaism is just another godless religion, no different from Islam, and pretend that there is any precious difference between a government and society based around modern Judaism – a theocracy – and a similar Hindu or Muslim nation like India or Turkey. It has even reached the point where leading pastors can openly advocate dual covenant theology, that there a superior path to salvation for Christians and an inferior, harder, but still attainable and valid path of salvation for Jews, without causing a ripple of controversy. And it has reached the point where investing an incredible amount of resources to lending political and financial support to a theocracy who denies Christ and works to continue and further the denial of Christ by as many people as possible has taken priority over actually doing what Jesus Christ told us to do, which was the Great Commission. Again, where not one scripture can be honestly interpreted in a way that would command Christians to support the modern political state of Israel, the primary thing that Jesus Christ told us to do, evangelize, gets neglected. Why? Because evangelizing the world – the one thing that Jesus Christ actually said would bring about His return – is not as important as ingathering and protecting Jews in Israel, because obeying the commands of Jesus Christ has to take a backseat to getting raptured as soon as possible. So, given the choice between giving money to Israeli causes knowing full well that the Israeli charities forbid evangelizing Jews and also helping to rebuild the temple takes priority over obeying the commands of Jesus Christ by, say, making a concerted effort to evangelize the Palestinians. Why? Because though obeying God by evangelizing the Palestinians is nice and all, I would rather support the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (which adamantly opposes converting Jews to Christianity) and help breed heifers for the new temple (never mind that Hebrews stated that burnt offerings went away with Jesus Christ). Why? Because while obeying God is a good thing and all, supporting anti-missionary organizations and building a temple that rejects the work of Jesus Christ helps me by speeding up the rapture and getting me out of here faster, and pursuing my own interests takes priority over the commandments of God!
So, it is apparent: doctrines of man, and particularly of man’s inherent righteousness and ability to do good works apart from God, including pursue his own interests, and of the rapture, which provides a doctrinal construct to pursue these things, are at the head of this particular strand of premillennial dispensationalism, and not the doctrines of God. So the question is: does this go as far as being another gospel? Is it another gospel?
This is a question that we must ask Reformed pastors who believe in the rapture as do Albert Pendarvis and John MacArthur. Such people state that salvation and perseverance of the saints are impossible without the Holy Spirit, that free will, human initiative, is impossible in these matters. If that is the case now, how can it be the case after the rapture? Reformed evangelical pastors emphasize grace. But how can the grace of God by which salvation and perseverance is only possible through the ministry of the Holy Spirit no longer be necessary after the rapture? Reformed evangelicals also assert sola scriptura. Well, can any sola scriptura Reformed evangelical who believes that the Holy Spirit will be removed from the earth and the tribulation church following the rapture show where it states or even implies in scripture where it is so? I dare say that the scriptures that Reformed evangelicals use to support cessationism, a doctrine about which I am very doubtful, make a much stronger case.
Now my position is that the position that the church will be raptured, whether pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, or post-tribulation (before the final bowl judgments) by itself is not. However, the position that the Holy Spirit will be removed from the earth during the great tribulation is another gospel, because it teaches that man can save himself and can persevere in the faith by himself without needing God to perform – or so much as even aid – either. That is a strong delusion, and from such a false gospel, I urgently beg, entreat, plead, and in the Name of Jesus Christ pray that you will turn away.