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Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Signs of the Times

Our attention has been called repeatedly to the signs of which Scripture speaks, the signs which precede the return of our Lord. Jesus speaks of them in Matthew 24. The book of Revelation details the increase in signs as the end approaches. The news media report regularly on those things which are very really a fulfillment of the prophecies of Holy Scripture. Some of these articles I have been collecting over the past number of years.

From the Denver Post, September 3, 1998, appears an article titled, “Wedding bells lose appeal.”

She was dealing blackjack when she got pregnant, and Pam Hesse didn’t deal herself a very good hand: Turned out the father was sleeping with the woman who threw her baby shower. But it was hard to let go of the dream she’d had for so long.

“When I was growing up I thought, ‘I’m going to get married by the time I’m 25 and have two kids and my life is going to be wonderful and that’s that,'” said Hesse, who lives in her native Grand Forks, ND.

Five years later, Hesse is 32 and has Cody and Alec, a second son by another man she calls “just incredible.” They share a home and a future, but not a formal vow — just one couple caught up in the seismic shifts taking place in American attitudes toward marriage and child-bearing.

A soon-to-be-released Census Bureau report shows Hesse is far from an exception; in fact, she’s in the majority. The report, the bureau’s first compilation of all its 60 years of data on childbearing and marriage, finds that for the first time, the majority of “first births” — someone’s first child — were either conceived by or born to an unmarried woman. That is up from 18 percent in the 1930’s.

The article continues by giving various explanations for all of this. The facts presented and the explanation of these facts are hardly strange and unexpected. Yet there is no reference to Scripture and the fulfillment of the signs of the end of the ages. Scripture has its explanation: “Lawlessness shall abound.” One recalls the days of the Judges, when every man “did what was right in his own eyes.” The message is loud and clear: the coming of the Lord must be at hand.

And: Changes in the Church World

Churches are “repackaging themselves to attract wider memberships,” according to a Grand Rapids Press article late last year. The article states in part:

When it comes to churches these days, what’s not in a name can be more telling than what is.

Take Kentwood Community Church, for example. From the sign outside, no one would guess this Gaines Township church is Wesleyan.

Fair Haven Ministries is a member of the Reformed Church in America, though it might take a visit or a look at church mailings to know that.

And Sunshine Community Church has gone through several name changes — none, however, including the words “Christian Reformed,” its denomination.

At a time when Americans’ allegiance to long-standing religious institutions is on the wane, a growing number of denominational churches nationwide are repackaging themselves to appeal to a wider audience.

The trend has caught on across many denominations, from the Pentecostal Assemblies of God to the United Methodist Church. Many nondenominational or unaffiliated churches long have embraced more neutral names. The newer trend, however, is largely tied to mainly white, so-called mainline Protestants.

“Everywhere I’ve been, the healthy churches play down their denomination affiliations,” said the Rev. William M. Easum, a Texas-based church consultant….

We have likely all seen these mega-churches. They are located in virtually every major city and in many smaller towns in the country. It is true that normally one cannot detect an affiliation to any denomination in the name. If the mega-church is identified with a denomination, one can find it in the “small print” or perhaps not at all in its promotional literature.

The article makes a valid point when it states, “At a time when Americans’ allegiance to long-standing religious institutions is on the wane….” How true! We have become a nation containing increasing numbers of “revolving-door Christians.” These go out one door of the church in order to enter another. There is little denominational “loyalty.” Nor is it a question of the doctrine taught in a church. Doctrine does not matter much today anymore. The question is: Is it entertaining? Is it stimulating? “What do I get out of it?” It is a question of the number of programs available. One must inquire as to the number and qualifications of the staff. There is often little concern about glorifying God or the maintaining of His Word. The thinking is that whatever is new and big is desirable.

It is strange when churches must “repackage” themselves to appeal to “wider audiences.” What of that “little flock” which Christ states He will find when He returns?

The different religions draw ever closer together as well. There are those who insist that each religion is simply another way to heaven. There are the attempts to join together denominations that differ greatly in doctrinal beliefs. One reads even of the attempts to bring closer ties between Roman Catholic and the Jewish religion. In the Chicago Tribune, April 2, 1999, Cardinal Edward Cassidy, president of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, commented on the attempts to bring these two groups into closer unity. He had some words of criticism, but especially words of promise of closer contact in the future:

“We have seen a revolution, one of the greatest revolutions in the history of religious relations,” Cassidy said. “Now we have to see not only how we can consolidate that but how we can move ahead to form a real partnership.”

And: Growing Corruption on the Media

One would think television, radio, videos, etc. could not get any worse. We are, however, alerted to the fact that the worst has not yet been seen. In reviewing the new television season, Richard Huff, New York Daily News, writes:

Today, amid scenes of partial nudity and violence, viewers are hearing words that would have been unthinkable just a decade ago….

“The boundaries have been changing and continuously evolving,” said Carol Alteri, vice president of program practices for CBS. “People have been desensitized.”

There are several reasons for the increased use of blue language on TV, but the primary one, Alteri and others note, is the increasing competition from other media, especially cable TV….

Also, because so many so-called bad words are now used unblinkingly by many people in everyday conversation, they’ve lost the impact they once had, Thompson said.

“Bad language is like a fossil fuel,” he added. “It takes centuries and centuries to build up impact, but once you start using it, it goes pretty quickly.”

It’s another sign of the nearness of the end of the age. How “desensitized” are we?

And: Check Out the Return on the Web!

In the Wall Street Journal appeared the following:

Cameras broadcasting video live over the Internet have brought Web surfers images of people’s offices, the beach in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and even a coffeepot.

But the Daystar International Ministry, an evangelical Christian group, hopes to use its Webcam to capture something much less mundane: the Second Coming of the Messiah, which many religious groups expect around the turn of the millennium. In preparation, Daystar says it is setting up what it calls a “messiahcam.” It is trained on Jerusalem’s Eastern Gate to capture the Messiah’s entry into the city….

While thousands of the faithful are expected to visit Jerusalem in 2000, Daystar’s Web site….is designed for armchair pilgrims who can’t be there for the real thing….

But can the Second Coming be captured on-camera? And what would it look like on a 15-inch PC screen?

Darg predicts a glorious sound-and-light show, the sky filled with lightning and the shouts of archangels, “The coming of the Messiah is going to be so spectacular that the world will see it without a camera,” she says, though having it right on the screen would allow people to focus their prayers.

Darg says the messiahcam has been set up “in the vicinity of the Mount of Olives,” but she would not disclose the precise location, citing security concerns….

Jesus said that when the end approaches, there will be great deceptions. Strange things are going on now. Many seek to prey upon gullible people. We ought to review again the prophecy of Scripture itself. Jesus reminded His disciples and us that the day and hour of His return no man knoweth. But we are to watch and look up, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. I would dare say that no webcam will capture that return. But every eye shall see Him. That will be the culmination of this age and the ushering in of the heavenly kingdom.