Recently, some protestants and Catholics have been outraged by a fake news story that appeared on the satirical Waterford Whisper News (WWN) site about a month ago. The Onion-style article asserted that a Vatican spokesman named Cardinal Giorgio Salvadore said the Roman Catholic Church has decided to stop waiting for the second coming of Christ. Salvadore supposedly went on to say that Jesus didn't really mean it when He promised to return during the Last Supper (as recorded in John chapter 14), because he was probably drinking wine at the time and, "“[w]e all make promises we can’t keep when we’re drunk."
The WWN disclaimer would have cleared things up, but apparently the writing in the article made it seem enough like a real news story that many Christians took it at face value. Recently, writers for several Christian-themed blogs and news sites have offered rebuttals to the fictional cardinal's alleged claims.
Dayo Emmanuel of Daily News Watch expressed some doubts about the WWN article being a legitimate news story, but remained open to the possibility that it might be real. Emmanuel then went on to compile the responses of several Nigerian Christians from all walks of faith to the fake cardinal's comments.
According to Emmanuel, "Spokesperson of the Roman Catholic Church in Nigeria, Rev. Father Ralph, is obviously unaware of the controversial issue. When Sunday Newswatch asked about the stand of the Nigerian Roman Catholic Church on the issue, Father Ralph said, 'I will ask my secretary to find out.'
"He however commented that the coming of Jesus may not come as expected because people may have various views about the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. 'But if anyone says Jesus will not come as expected, the person may not be far from the truth because people have their different expectations,' he said.
"[The] spokesman for the over 19 million Roman Catholic faithful in Nigeria seemed not to be happy with the assumption that Jesus, who turned water into wine, may have promised a return after drinking wine. 'But for someone to say Jesus said that after drinking wine is making a stupid statement and must be out of his senses, I will ask my secretary to check it out,' he said."
Protestants in Nigeria seemed quite willing to believe the story was true because it was consistent with their perceptions of Catholic dogma. Several people who were quoted in the article did not pull their punches as they criticized the Roman Catholic Church.
According to Emmanuel, "Whether the report was from the Vatican or a doctored one from mischievous quarters, non-Catholics in Nigeria already drew their swords, not in defense of Jesus of course, but to vent their concern about the Roman Catholic Church whose doctrines many are not comfortable with.
"When Sunday Newswatch went to town to sample opinion of Nigerian Christians spread across different denominations, most respondents, however did not hide their displeasures about Salvadore’s comments.
"'My husband just told me about the report from the Vatican about Jesus’ second coming and it is not a surprise they made that statement because Catholics were never Christians,' says a Pentecostal, Mrs. Edema. Another Christian and gospel artist, Timi Adegoke, said: 'I expect it, Roman Catholics were never serving Jesus Christ, Catholicism is not Christianity, the entire world stands for Satan and religious leaders are responsible for major evils around the world, they are mere religionists not followers of Jesus, a lot of them did well for Satan and lost their souls,' he said, adding that 'Peter actually established the church like they claim him to be their first Pope but he did not tell them to run the church the way they are doing, anything Catholic is controlled by Vatican, I will never agree with Christians who are far from the word of God, they do not read their Bibles, and God will reveal them before His return. Most people still celebrate them but they are betraying such trust now and we are not surprised.'
"Another Pentecostal, Pastor Tobi Alli, in his response said, 'I have read the report online, God is beginning to expose false churches, we with the real message must also step up our game, there are over a billion Catholics worldwide and this confirms Jesus’ words that broad is the way that leads to destruction.'"
Prophecies of the End Times, a Bible prophecy website, recently featured an article that offered several arguments for why the fictional cardinal's claims were theologically correct. An editor's note in red strongly disagrees with the unnamed author of the piece. However, the entry is interesting because it represents the views of a growing number of Christians.
According to the unnamed author, "Let’s focus for a moment on the Lord’s promise in John. 14:1-3. Jesus promised to go away and to return. The problem with most who read the Bible is that they never establish the full context of a statement. Yes, Yashua promised to return. God cannot lie, Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18.
"Reading further, we find the 'time' context for text. Jesus spoke additional words of his return in John 16:16-19, saying he would return in “a little while”. This corresponds with Hebrews 10:37, and other imminent statements in the New Testament. The promised coming of the Lord must align with this 'little while' concept.
"When we consider Jesus’ statements in the Synoptic gospels, we understand his promise that he would return within his generation, Matthew 16:28, 34:34. The problem is that many people have their vision for Christ’s return fixated on the future, when it should be turned in the direction of the first century.
"...When Jesus told his apostles he would return in 'a little while' that statement must be understood from the perspective of those who first heard it. They lived almost 2000 years ago. Does it seem reasonable they would interpret or understand 'a little while' to mean the year 2014?
"... An event which would occur in their lifetime would qualify as 'a little while.' It would happen before all who stood in Jesus’ presence died. He emphatically stated his coming would occur before the generation then living passed, (Matt. 24:30-34). Are they yet alive today?"
Evangelical Christians who interpret at least some parts of the Bible literally tend to be at odds with Christians from more liberal denominations and others who believe that Christ's return will be different somehow from what conservative Christian leaders have been teaching for the past 100 years or so. Evangelicals tend to agree that Christ's return as described in the Revelation of John will happen at some unknown point in the future and that it will be consistent with the imagery described in that book. Opinions differ over whether that will happen before, during or after a seven-year period commonly known as the Tribulation, but it used to be taken pretty much as a given by many believers that Jesus would literally return in triumph to create a new heaven and a new earth.
Now, opinions are a lot more mixed. Some people don't think the rapture will happen at all. Some people believe that Christ can only return when Christians fulfill certain requirements based on their interpretations of the New Testament. Some people believe that Christ already returned in 70 A.D. when Jerusalem was conquered and Herod's temple was destroyed. Some people believe that Revelation is merely a commentary on the state of the Christian church at the time the book was written and all the passages that seem similar to Old Testament prophecies from books such as Daniel and Ezekiel were simply a creative way of encouraging first century believers to repent and change some of their behaviors, or in some cases carefully veiled criticisms of the Roman empire.
What the good folks at WWN may not have realized is that they attributed views that are really held by some professing christians to their fictional character. This made it easy for Christians who are more conservative in their beliefs to take the article at face value because real people have been saying similar things over the past few years. Someone with a sufficient amount of patience could probably find religion articles over at the Huffington Post by their featured contributors expressing the same basic ideas.
In a day and age when some Christian writers are encouraging people to ignore the parts of the Bible they don't like since nobody follows the whole thing anyway and people are increasingly being told they should treat the Bible as being mostly allegorical, it doesn't take much to see why so many people were fooled by the article. Some Catholic theologians say things that make it seem like they don't think any parts of the Bible are literally true, or that we can trust any sayings ascribed to Christ in the Gospels so the first instinct of a fairly conservative protestant would be to assume somebody at the Vatican really said those things--especially if that person didn't take time to read WWN's disclaimer.
Some of the comments being made about the Catholic Church may be taking things too far. However, the reactions of some people on the Internet may be comforting to conservative Christians who are increasingly becoming a minority. Several subgroups within the Christian faith are encouraging people to ignore most of the content in the Bible and focus more on things such as social justice and political causes.
The reminder that some people still interpret at least some parts of the Gospels literally may be reassuring in an era when everybody is supposed to do whatever they can to make church more appealing to people in the coveted 18-29 demographic--even if that means avoiding fairly basic Christian concepts such as the doctrine of original sin, the existence of hell, or Jesus returning. Considering how many professing Christians don't even believe that the Holy Spirit communicates directly with individuals, like evangelical protestants have taught for decades, it may be nice for people to see that others still interpret John chapter 14 in more or less the same way they do.