What Has Happened to Christian Watchfulness?
“WHAT I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” Those words of Jesus Christ have been ringing in the ears of sincere Christians down through the centuries. But how many members of the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or mainstream Protestant Churches still have that galvanizing warning ringing in their ears?—Mark 13:37, King James Version.
Why were Christians to keep on the watch? Jesus had just stated: “Keep on the watch, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, . . . in order that when he arrives suddenly, he does not find you sleeping.” (Mark 13:35, 36) So Jesus’ disciples were to keep on the watch for their Master’s coming, that is, Christ’s coming.
What was to be the purpose of Jesus’ coming? His order for watchfulness was given as part of his answer to this pointed question put to him by his disciples: “What will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things [“end of the world,” KJ]?” (Matthew 24:3) According to a parallel account, after giving a many-featured sign, Christ stated: “Then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But as these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near. . . . When you see these things occurring, know that the kingdom of God is near.”—Luke 21:27-31.
Good Reasons for Watchfulness
Thus, Jesus Christ gave his disciples good reasons for keeping spiritually alert to watch for the fulfillment of “the sign.” This would mean that their Master was invisibly ‘present,’ for no sign would be necessary if his presence was to be physical, visible. But his spiritual presence would also mean that this wicked “world,” or “system of things,” had entered its “conclusion,” or time of the end. And for Christians, it would mean that their ‘deliverance was getting near.’ Yes, it would mean that “the kingdom of God is near.”
Is this not the very essence of the Christian’s hope? Is it not the very thing for which all Christians were taught to pray, namely: “Our Father in heaven, may your name be held holy, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven”? (Matthew 6:9, 10, The Jerusalem Bible) To be logical, should not Catholics who repeat their Paternoster or members of other churches who say the Lord’s Prayer be watchful to see that their prayers are fulfilled? Or could it be that the teachings of their churches have taken most of the meaning out of that prayer, so that there is little left for them to watch for?
Why Many Are No Longer Watchful
Christians were to watch for the sign of Christ’s presence (Greek, pa·rou·siʹa, translated “coming” in many versions of the Bible). Why? Because this would mean that the Kingdom of God, their own deliverance and the end of “the world,” or present wicked “system of things,” would be near. The various churches of Christendom should have helped their members to keep spiritually alert so that they might not be found sleeping when the Master arrived. Have the churches fulfilled their mission in this regard?
A scholarly reference work states: “As time went by without the parousia taking place it moved further and further into the future as far as the church was concerned, and eventually ran the risk of being abandoned altogether as an article of faith.”—The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology.
This, in fact, is what has occurred. Christendom’s churches have abandoned the Christian watchfulness that Jesus ordered his disciples never to neglect. They are no longer on the alert for Christ’s presence and the coming of God’s Kingdom. They have rationalized away expectation of “the conclusion of the system of things,” or “the end of the world.”
The French one-volume encyclopedia QUID 1984 gives an up-to-date definition of religious belief regarding the world’s end. Under “Characteristics of the Catholic Religion,” it says: “The Church currently appears to define the end of the World as being the individual test each person faces when he dies.” Widening out the problem, The New Encyclopædia Britannica states: “The more established Christian churches excluded eschatology [the teaching on the “Last Things”] as meaningless or as an insignificant myth.”
So, what is the surprising but inescapable answer to the question “What has happened to Christian watchfulness?” It has been killed by “the more established Christian churches,” that is, the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and mainstream Protestant churches. Though the members of these churches are not to blame, many of them may wonder how and why their church rationalized away Christian expectation of Christ’s presence, the coming of God’s Kingdom and the end of the present wicked system of things. The historical facts that led to this will be examined in the following article.