Laymen aren’t the only ones going door to door. Some priests have been doing it for years. Proof: Fr. Daniel Johnson of the Diocese of Orange, California.
Ordained in 1954, he became pastor of St. Mary’s by the Sea in Huntington Beach in 1978. Each year the number of parishioners grows, largely because of his door-to-door work. He’s in his fourth circuit of the parish, seeking out fallen-aways, inviting non-Catholics to visit.
He says he’s just following Jesus’ example: "At first I was a little reluctant, but I often reflect that when our Lord walked this Earth and his public life began, he didn’t just set up an office in Jerusalem and wait for people to come. As we read in the Gospels, he went from city to city, up and down the Holy Land. If you’re a parish priest, that’s where you must go."
Johnson estimates that for each Catholic counted in the parish census there are three who don’t attend Mass any longer or who have joined other religions. The problem is particularly acute among Hispanics. "I was out walking and a young Hispanic man opened the door. 'Used to be Catholic, now Mormon,' he said. The leakage is substantial. I’d like to see the 'experts' out on the street to get them to see what is happening to the Church."
Johnson uses a soft-sell approach. "Occasionally I’m invited in by non-Catholics, and I think they’re pleasantly surprised that I’m not looking for money or an argument. My main idea is to find non-practicing Catholics, and I always do."
St. Mary’s is growing--there’s been new construction--and boasts a population of mixed ages and nationalities. When asked his secret, Johnson says, "We don’t have any secret here. We don’t have any gimmicks. We just give people that Old Time Religion."
In a typical week Johnson hits the streets three of four times, taking about three years to walk the entire parish. He distributes each year up to 5,000 cards with his name and number; he leaves the card at unanswered doors so residents know he’s been by.
He notes one advantage he has that lay evangelists don’t: a Roman collar. "I used to walk down to the Huntington Beach Pier, which is closed now, and just look around. I never tried to buttonhole anyone, but you’d be surprised how often a troubled person would seek me out. When you’re in this work, you see the value of the collar. Who knows? It may trigger a thought about God or religion."
Even now, the Messiah may be alive and well in Brooklyn--yes, home of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but also home of Rabbi Menachem Schneerson and his Hasidic sect known as the Lubavitchers. He and his followers have been preparing for the imminent (first) coming of the Messiah, and some of them think he’s it. The 100,000 Lubavitchers in America are going full-throttle.
Rabbi Moseh Schwartz of South Broward, Florida says that on a scale of one to ten, the probability of the Messiah coming soon is a solid ten. Rabbi Faivish Vogel, director of the Lubavitcher Foundation in the United Kingdom, gives talks on "how our lives will change" when the Messiah reveals himself. The Brooklyn headquarters of the movement has distributed more than 1.5 million brochures describing the ideal future world ruled by the Messiah and how readers can perform the good deeds necessary to speed up his coming.
Earlier this year Schneerson was reported as saying the Messiah would come by September 9. He says he was misquoted, but confirms the Messiah will come this year. Like his Fundamentalist Christian counterparts, Schneerson relies on numerology.
According to the Jewish calendar, the year just concluding (at Rosh Hashana in September) is written in letter-numerals which read, "It will be a year that I will show you wonders." Schneerson points to such events as the quick Persian Gulf War, the emigration to Israel of nearly all Ethiopian Jews, and the allegedly-supernatural protection of Israel from Scud missiles. Considerable emphasis is laid on a medieval teaching which says the Messiah will come shortly after Arabs battle one another and one of their number falls in disgrace.
Schneerson is something of a cult figure. On June 10 Lubavitchers celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his arrival in America (born in Russia, he was on the run from the Nazis). His headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn is featured in framed photographs on his followers’ walls. It’s known as the "770 building" and often shares a place of honor with a portrait of Schneerson. The building has been replicated in Israel, at the Lubavitchers’ village, Kfar Chabad.
Schneerson and his followers are in a decided minority, even among the more orthodox Jews. Judaism suffered a series of would-be messiahs. In the second century there was Simeon Bar Kochba, proclaimed Messiah by Rabbi Akiva and leader of a revolt against the Romans; Akiva ended up being flayed alive. In the seventeenth century there was the supposed- Messiah Shabbatai Zvi, who ended his days in a Turkish prison. There have been numerous others.
Speaking of imminent arrivals: A large newspaper ad, taken out by Mission for the Coming Days of Rutherford, New Jersey, proclaims "IN AUTUMN 1992, JESUS IS COMING AGAIN. " The caption to the accompanying graphic says that "biblical prophecy to be fulfilled" and lists this sequence: "Rapture, United Europe (E.E.C.), Antichrist revealed, seven years of Great Tribulation, Jesus’ coming to Earth with saints, thousand years of Jesus’ reign on Earth, Great White Throne Judgment, eternal heaven and hell."
But "no one knows the day or hour," you say? Well, the ad insists, "Some argue that nobody will know the coming of Jesus because the Bible says he will come as a thief. However, be alert, for he will come as a thief only to these who live in darkness." What is the sign of Jesus’ coming? The coming first of the Antichrist. And what is the sign of the Antichrist’s coming? The European Economic Community--specifically, the 1992 economic integration.
It’s simple, really. The beast of Revelation 13 "will be the ruler of the revived Roman Empire, which is a ten-nation confederacy, and that is prophesied as ten toes of the great statue in the dream of the king of Babylon and ten horns of a beast in the dream of Daniel (Dan. 2:41-43, 7:7).
"United Europe will be this ten-nation confederacy, and the Antichrist will appear upon its unification in 1992. He will establish seven years of peace treaty with Israel, but will break it after three and a half years. He will put a stop to their sacrifice and grain offering and force them to worship him. Those who do not will be martyred."
The world’s total time until the millennium is scheduled to be 6,000 years, since the world was created in six days and to God one day is as a thousand years (2 Pet. 3:8). We know the time from Adam to Jesus was exactly 4,000 years, so the end of the 6,000 years will arrive in 1999. If we subtract the seven years of tribulation, we get 1992.
When you read this kind of thing in your hometown paper, remember these points:
(1) The writer misconstrues the ten toes of the statue. The feet and toes were made partly of clay, partly of iron and represent a kingdom which would be split internally, yet would remain partly strong. The imagery doesn’t say anything about ten kingdoms, one from each toe.
(2) The Antichrist, says the ad writer, will put a stop to Israel’s sacrifices and grain offerings--but he would have to rebuild the Temple (no overnight task) and reinstitute sacrifices and offerings before he could do that.
(3) Who says the world existed for exactly 4,000 years until the birth of Jesus? The Bible doesn’t say that. But let’s say the ad writer is right and that Jesus’ birth marks the beginning of a 2,000-year countdown. One thing scholars are able to tell us is that Jesus wasn’t born in A.D. 1. He was born while Herod was alive, and Herod ordered the Christ Child be destroyed when the boy was perhaps as old as two.
Since Herod died in 4 B.C., Jesus probably was born in 6 B.C. Two thousand years from that year is 1994, which should be when the millennium begins, and counting backward seven years from 1994 gives us 1987 as the beginning of the seven years’ tribulation.
Hmmm. Something doesn’t add up here. If the Rapture is supposed to occur at the beginning of the tribulation (which the ad writer, on his own theory, mistakenly calculates as 1992), then the Rapture already should have happened in 1987--which means "true Christians" already have been raptured and the ad writer, still on Earth, wasn’t among them.
We’re not sure how many Christian magazines there are in England. It’s probably a safe bet that the Established Church sports fewer than fifty--which is how many New Age magazines there are in that country. And you think Italy is better off? At least 200 New Age groups have been counted there. Some of the New Age groups in Europe are American transplants, but many are home-grown.
John MacArthur, star of the "Grace to You" radio ministry and prolific Fundamentalist writer, began a recent appeal letter this way: "I once met a minister who never stayed at any church for more than two years. He had 52 sermons, preached each one twice, then left. He said, 'I don’t teach all of God’s Word; I just teach the parts that I think are important.'"
MacArthur goes on to criticize the minister for this attitude, unaware that he operates on the same basis. His own religion is a truncated Christianity. He seems to be constantly at loggerheads with other "Bible Christians"--he emphasizes some things, they emphasize others, and they get close to mutually excommunicating one another.
Each faction’s leader teaches "the parts that I think are important." Other parts are omitted or at least de-emphasized--understandable enough when there is no central teaching authority, when deciding "primary" versus "secondary" doctrines falls to the individual Christian.
According to The Washington Post, practitioners claim the "women’s spirituality movement" has half a million adherents. But every decentralized, ideological movement has a higher opinion of itself and its numbers than facts warrant, so it’s probably more accurate to say the movement has one or two hundred thousand devotees--still a considerable number--and many more interested hangers-on.
For those finding themselves discussing the various inquisitions, here are some numbers taken from William Montes’s Ritual, Myth & Magic in Early Modern Europe, published by Ohio University Press in 1983:
Between 1550 and 1700 the courts of the Spanish Inquisition handled 49,092 cases. "Less than half of them were true heresy trials against Judaisers, Moriscos, Protestants or mystical alumbrados. The majority are a variegated bouquet of incorrect beliefs (proposiciones hereticos), of supersticiones, of lascivious priests trying to seduce their penitents in the confessional, of b.asphemers, bigamists, and assorted morals offenses including (in the Kingdom of Aragon only) sodomy."
Judaisers were converted Jews who secretly continued to practice Judaism. (Remaining a practicing Jew and not pretending to be a Christian was not a crime.) Moriscos were Muslim converts, some of whom secretly continued to practice Islam. (Being a practicing Muslim was no crime either.) The alumbrados were an enthusiast sect. These three groups, plus the few Protestants in Spain, were considered politically unreliable. (Protestants were involved in only seven percent of the trials.)
The author says a "new consensus" is taking shape among historians. "According to a tenacious but unexamined legend, the inquisitions of Mediterranean Europe were bigoted and bloodthirsty, with the Spaniards as the cruelest of all."
The various inquisitions--which, all told, tried about 150,000 people between 1550 and 1800 and sentenced 3,000 (2 percent) to death--were outdone by secular courts, which "had higher ratios during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries." New research demonstrates inquisitors were "more interested in understanding the motives of the accused than in establishing the facts of his crime." Because they "carefully preserved the anonymity of their informers, [they] have always appeared less careful of the rights of the accused than secular courts. But current research suggests that inquisitors were more psychologically astute than the secular judges, better able to make accurate--and frequently lenient--judgments. On the whole, they were far less likely to rely on torture in order to convince themselves of the truth of a suspect’s statements."