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“Oh, the Weather Outside is Frightful”: Proclaiming the Dispensation in a Chilly Climate

Does a frosty landscape portend the end of the world as we know it? It could, according to a 1930s editorial in the "Evangelical Visitor."

‘Tis the season for cataclysmic cold and fitful economic rebounds, so it seems only right to offer a post about winter weather and a paltry job market. That such a post should be tied to fundamentalist eschatology and its impact upon turn-of-the-century Brethren in Christ thinking, is merely coincidental.

For some[1] Brethren in Christ of the (very) late 19th and early 20th centuries, just about every cataclysmic (or near-cataclysmic) event was evidence of the impending apocalypse.[2] Such occurrences proved more and more the imminent return of Jesus Christ.

Yet as this 1930 editorial from then-Evangelical Visitor editor Vernon L. Stump shows, major geo-political maladies weren’t the only premillenial potents.

How “an unusual amount of snowfall” heralds the Second Coming, after the jump.

While metaphorically hanging his hat on that oft-mentioned dispensational harbinger called the Great Depression, Stump points out further evidence of the looming End Times: winter weather.

He writes:

It seems that the country everywhere has been in the grip of extreme cold and storms since the early part of the Winter season. Here in the Central States we have had an unusual amount of snowfall and excessive cold weather. These conditions have in no wise improved the financial situation of the working classes [already hurt by the Depression]. . . .

And boom—just like that, Stump switches gears and reiterates a by-then familiar eschatological message: pay attention to the signs, and get your hearts and homes ready for Jesus, because He is coming back soon.

Finally, he closes with a punchy endorsement of social passivity—a familiar trope among fundamentalists with similar eschatological stripes:

There is much said about certain laws and relief measures which are to change these [economic] conditions but we have little hope that such will be the case. At least it will not be so according to the record that God has given us in His Word. He has said that “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse deceiving and being deceived.” This condition . . . makes the Christian whose citizenship is in Heaven, from whence he also looks for the Saviour, to yearn that the day of His coming may speedily arrive.

To be fair, Stump is not nearly as disparaging of Christian social reform—or the social witness of Christ himself—as other premillenialists.[3] But his article nevertheless reflects the extent to which the Brethren in Christ turned sharply toward premillenialist eschatology in the early twentieth century—a turn which gives further evidence of the doctrinal collusion between the separatist Brethren and separatist fundamentalists.

Read Stump’s entire editorial here.

[1] This term is relative. As N. Curtis Byers, “The Impact of Dispensationalism on Brethren in Christ Eschatology,” Brethren in Christ History and Life 3, no. 1 (1980), shows, eschatological views varied among Brethren in these eras. While Evangelical Visitor editors like George Detweiler and Vernon Stump were obvious advocates for dispensational premillenialism, and while high-profile writers like Enos Hess (later president of Messiah College) and A.C. Rosenberger (a popular evangelist) themselves articulated a distinctly Darbyite eschatology, well-respected leaders like John Zook were adamantly postmillenial in their thinking.

[2] For some of the events that elicited apocalypse-themed articles and editorials from Evangelical Visitor writers, see Byers. His article also includes a helpful (albeit brief and condensed) history of dispensational premillenialism in the U.K. and U.S., particularly tailored for those unfamiliar with this area of historical/theological inquiry.

[3] Dispensationalist Cyrus Scofield, for instance, believed that “[t]he true mission of the church is not the reformation of society. What Christ did not do, the Apostles did not do. Not one of them was a reformer.” Quoted in Garry Wills, Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America (New York: Penguin Books, 2007), 369. Interestingly, Byers (see above) notes that in various pieces penned during his 19-year tenure, Evangelical Visitor editor George Detweiler (positively) cited Scofield and his premillenialist views 27 times; Byers concludes that Detweiler was “obviously enamored of Scofield” (48). Stump, Detweiler’s editorial successor, promoted Scofield “more forefully than Detweiler,” according to Byers (52).

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