Autumn Ritual

In years past, last Tuesday night’s gathering would have filled a large-capacity auditorium, or even a civic center, like the Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia. They would have sat in dozens of rows on the floor, up risers, into the balcony area, and walking into the arena that first night would have produced an excitement in everyone that was audible.

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Thousands of people, gathering for eight days, in locations all over the world. It would look something like this, except for more formal attire.

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Part of my past that I haven’t experienced in almost twenty years as best I can remember. Ninety-five was the last time, I think. Those gatherings have continued through those years, but my trajectory has gone in the opposite direction before veering back to something more like an eighty-degree angle: not quite the same beliefs, but certainly not a denial of all the beliefs.

Those gatherings have continued for the last twenty years, though the single, monolithic church organization that originally held it has splintered into almost countless pieces, with the organization itself changing its name and completely reversing most of its old doctrines — like the required eight-day Old Testament festival observance — so that it is indistinguishable from other mainline Protestant groups. The splinters that fell away have been keeping up the tradition, though, and last Tuesday night, in Bend, Oregon, a pastor opened the gathering with a message that has been repeated every fall with the regularity of the changing leaves.

They’ve been starting like that for decades now — I still wonder every autumn how many more decades it will continue. When will a group that proclaims definitive prophetic events within our generation and has been proclaiming it in vain for something like seventy years (Germany will rise again, don’t you know?) — when will such a group (or in this case, groups) disappear for good? For how long can someone declare that “time is short” and warn people that a great confederation of European nations with Germany and the Vatican at the head will rise up and utterly decimate the United States? At which point does the hypothesis — no, the sure prophecy — become just too ridiculously and obviously wrong for anyone to take seriously?

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