To answer the question comprehensively, one must first define “mainstream Christian.”
For the sake of the arguments put forth here, it is understood that a mainstream Christian identifies, completely or peripherally, with an orthodox (institutional church) denomination and even more so, subscribes to the eschatological, i.e. end times, teachings of their church.
In brief, today’s conventional Christian end times teachings include the following elements:
- The soon-coming “pre-tribulation rapture” of the church, a mysterious event where all Christians suddenly, inexplicably disappear, ostensibly whisked away to heaven by Jesus Christ
- Seven future years of hell on earth (the Great Tribulation) for those who miss the rapture and are left behind to face wars, famines, plagues, and possibly even nuclear conflagration
- The rise of a one-world charismatic leader commonly referred to as the Antichrist who amongst other things persecutes and even beheads those who become Christians during the tribulation period
- A second return by Christ after the seven years to rule for one thousand years on earth and officiate over reinstituted animals sacrifices in a rebuilt Jerusalem temple, amongst other things
This is of course a gross oversimplification of the views advanced by this eschatology, but for the sake of brevity shall be offered as such.
The problem with these teachings is that they cannot be supported when one considers what the Bible – which is supposed to be what guides believers – actually has to say about the topics. For more on this see this Examiner’s multi-part series Eschatology 101, an ‘end times’ primer.
What has become the accepted last days scenario, as understood by the majority of the faithful, is not only a relative novelty, it is plagued by some of the very same underlying realities that draw folks into doomsday cults. Most remarkably, instigators and leading advocates of the movements are either dubious or charismatic individuals who allegedly receive or have received special revelation from God or whatever higher being/power governs the group.
In the case of pop Christian eschatology, the impetus for the pre-tribulation rapture scenario and all that it encompasses was based upon the visions received by an infirmed Scottish girl named Margaret MacDonald, who in the springtime of 1830 shared them with clergymen, most notably a British preacher of no small influence named Edward Irving.
From there, the misused-scripture-riddled “prophecies” of Ms. MacDonald spread throughout Christendom via men like John Nelson Darby of Plymouth Brethren infamy, down through the decades and have become the sort of tripe that is commonly regurgitated in the pulpit of the local church and on “Christian” T.V.
For more on this, a terrific resource is a book by Dave MacPherson titled “The Rapture Plot,” which American Vision president Gary DeMar dubbed “…the work of a journalistic private investigator to uncover the truth…”
Such is the desire to keep this all a secret that apologists of the rapture view routinely go out of their way to discredit it. One pro-rapture website published an article titled, “Margaret MacDonald is not the mother of the pre-tribulation rapture,” which makes such risible arguments as,
“If MacDonald was the founder of the pretribulation rapture, as most anti-rapture proponents say, then someone needs to explain why rapturists have failed to give her credit.”
Would crediting a sickly (bedridden for almost 18 months), ill-educated teenage…