The end of the world has become a joke among some people during the upheaval of 2020, but on the West Side of Columbus is a pastor who believes the end is imminent, and even named his church accordingly.
Bishop Derrick Reeves named his West Side church the End Time Apostolic Christian Holiness Church about 10 years ago, in hopes that people would realize how urgent it is that they come to know God and prepare for the Biblical concept of the end of the country, and the world, as we know it.
“These times shouldn’t scare us, they should inform us on what to do,” said Reeves, the church’s senior pastor.
Reeves isn’t alone in his belief that the United States is in the last days of its existence, which is referred to in Revelations, the last book of the Christian Bible.
Almost nine in 10 pastors surveyed see some current events as being in line with what Jesus said would occur before he comes back to Earth in Matthew 24, referred to as the end times, according to a survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research.
The pastors at evangelical and historically black churches surveyed by LifeWay expressed their views in January, before the coronavirus pandemic began.
For Reeves, the pandemic hasn’t changed the way he felt when he named the church.
“The name depicts a sense of urgency, and that urgency is we have to reach people,” he said.
Reeves reaches people with the gospel first and helps to prepare them for Jesus’ return, and he also tries to reach people in need through the church’s food pantry and other outreaches.
At his Bible institute, called Reeverian Ministerial Educational Group, Reeves teaches others to be ministers and do biblical counseling so they can help followers cope with the end times coming.
Kelli Pantoja, 53, of Reynoldsburg, is a student of Reeves and a minister who helps people who are coming to Christ.
“To reach today’s culture you have to be able to engage them, you have to be able to answer every man,” Pantoja said.
She said that’s what Reeves’ teaching allows her to do.
“We do feel like the mission is at hand and we are a church called to the end time,” Pantoja said. “We feel it is inescapable in a way.”
When she sees what’s going on in the world, she sees the prophecies of the Bible happening.
Pantoja pointed to racial tension, the COVID-19 pandemic and nations being against nations.
“In today’s climate we see through a biblical lens, we can see where things may just never go back to the way they were,” Pantoja said.
Reeves said he’s never seen a time like today, where so much is happening in every area of society that it’s hard to point to one thing that shows the end times are near. Every society comes to a point at which it can’t go any further and so it collapses, and he believes America is just about there.
“Political systems are in upheaval,” Reeves said. “It seems like the seams are falling apart everywhere.”
Reeves pointed to increasing natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes.
Bazzana said it’s not surprising that the end time idea is having another resurgence with what’s happening this year.
“The book (of Revelations) is full of references to plagues and natural catastrophes, earthquakes, floods,” Bazzana said. “It’s very easy to connect things one finds in the Bible with things that are happening today.”
While things Jesus said would happen in the Bible are happening today, Bazzana said that, in a sense, they have always been happening.
“Obviously, with climate change right now the situation is much more serious than it was a century ago, but throughout history there have always been earthquakes, there have always been floods, there have always been pandemics,” Bazzana said.
There’s no clear way to tell when the end times are actually near, Bazzana said, in part because the signs laid out in Revelations are murky and easily applied to many times in history.
The LifeWay survey found that more than half of pastors expect Jesus to return in their lifetime.
“If you think about Jesus or the apostle Paul, all these people are believing the end of the world was going to happen in their life,” Bazzana said. “It’s clear that Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet himself.”
Though the idea of the end times coming imminently is as old as Christianity, it ebbs and flows and is sometimes more widespread, Bazzana said.
With evangelicals in the United States, the idea of the end time has been common since the 1970s and 1980s and has even been fictionalized in the Left Behind series, an expansive book series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.
Churches use the idea of the end times to gain followers and bring people to Christ.
“It is exactly the same thing these early Christians, like Paul, would say as a basic message,” Bazzana said. “Paul was communicating to people he converted in the early days of Christianity to tell them, ‘Look, the day of the end is near, this will happen in my lifetime, this is going to be a day of reward for the righteous and punishment for those who aren’t righteous. You should join me.’”
Bazzana said messages like Reeves’ are similar to Paul’s.
“The goal is to reach anybody who’s desperate, anybody who’s lost hope and reach everybody without Christ,” Reeves said.
Evangelicals and Pentecostal churches, such as Reeves’, are more likely to preach on the end times, Bazzana said. Catholics and mainline Protestants likely don’t preach on the end times because, along with apocalyptic movements, that often comes with a strong message of abandoning institutions, such as churches, he said.
“I think the institution doesn’t want to create too much instability that would threaten the structure they have in place,” Bazzana said of the Catholic church not typically preaching on the end times.
Still, the end of the world can be a comfort to some people because of their faith, Bazzana said. It can be a mechanism to cope with change.
“Fantasizing about the end or thinking the end is near is paradoxically the way to make sense of change, to cope with it,” he said, referring to changes people go through like death, unemployment and illness.
“It’s kind of ambivalent because on one side of the coin it is scary, but on the other side it is also comforting,” Bazzana said. “… It is an opportunity for transformation and even liberation.”