Even though global events in the Middle East – including the escalation of U.S. tensions with Iran – are believed by many Bible scholars to be ushering in the End Times, a recent survey shows pastors are three times more likely to believe evangelism will quicken the return of Jesus Christ.
The latest study of 1,000 Protestant pastors conducted between Aug. 20 and Sept. 24 last year by LifeWay Research found that they were more confident that Christians reaching out to the lost with the gospel are more instrumental in speeding up the Second Coming than geo-political conflicts mentioned in biblical prophesy.
"While Scripture specifically says we cannot know the day or the hour of Jesus Christ's return, we were interested in pastors' views on whether Christians can play a role in bringing about that return any sooner," LifeWay Research executive director Scott McConnell noted.
But only a small fraction believes spreading the Word of God will have any effect on when Christ will come back.
"Around 1 in 8 Protestant pastors (12%) believe Christians can speed up the Second Coming of Jesus by supporting geo-political changes mentioned in the Bible, with 5% strongly agreeing," LifeWay researchers revealed. "Eight in 10 pastors don't believe their support will have an impact on the timetable of Christ's return – including 61% who strongly disagree."
However, in 2013, when there were escalating conflicts with Syria, a larger percentage of Americans thought this Middle East turmoil was indicative of the Last Days.
"Almost 1 in 3 saw the conflict as part of the Bible's plan for the End Times," the 2013 LifeWay Research study divulged. "One in 4 thought a U.S. military strike in Syria could lead to Armageddon, and 1 in 5 believed the world would end in their lifetime – including 32% of evangelicals."
McConnell pointed out how a small proportion of pastors see man as a determinant of biblical timing.
"A large majority of pastors don't see biblical prophecies about future changes among nations as a roadmap for advocating specific international engagement," McConnell informed.
The difference between mainline and evangelical pastors' take on international political affairs quickening Christ's return was minimal, but race played a larger factor.
"White pastors (11%) are less likely to believe backing geo-political events will hasten Jesus' Second Coming than African American pastors (20%) or pastors of other ethnicities (22%)," the results show. "Pastors 65 and older (16%) are more likely to agree than younger pastors, those 18 to 44 (9%)."
The more education pastors have, the less they believe Christian's support of geo-political events influences Christ's timing.
"Pastors without a college degree are more than twice as likely to agree as those with a bachelor's or master's degree – 22% to 10%," LifeWay indicated.
Overall, a relatively large minority of pastors see a connection between spreading the Word and when Christ will come back.
"Close to 2 in 5 (41%) believe Christians can hasten Jesus' Second Coming through world evangelism, while around half (54%) disagree," the study showed.
Jesus' urging in Matthew 28:8 to spread the Word to the ends of the globe, and man's fulfillment of the directive as being factor of His return, were further discussed from a pastor's perspective.
"The Great Commission was a task Jesus gave his followers to be doing while He is gone," McConnell added. "Four in 10 pastors believe the pace of sharing the message of what Jesus has done will impact the timing of Christ's return. Presumably many of those who disagree would assert exclusively divine control over Christ's return."
Perspectives from various demographic groups were explored.
"Denominationally, Pentecostal pastors (66%) are the most likely to agree Christians can speed up Jesus' return by sharing the gospel with all people groups, [while] those with no college degree (56%) are more likely to agree than those with additional degrees." LifeWay pointed out.
"Pastors 65 and older are the age group most likely to agree (52%). White pastors are more likely than African American pastors to disagree that the Second Coming of Christ can be sped up by global evangelism – 55% to 43%."
Increased immorality is believed to be a sign of the End Times.
"Almost 7 in 10 (68%) of [Protestant pastors] agree 'culture will increasingly get less moral until Jesus Christ returns,' [while] around a quarter (26%) disagree," the study revealed. "Evangelical pastors (80%) are far more likely to agree than mainline pastors (51%). Pastors 45 and older (71%) are more likely to agree than younger pastors (62%). Baptist (86%) and Pentecostal (84%) pastors are more likely to agree than Church of Christ (67%), Lutheran (59%), Methodist (48%), or Presbyterian and Reformed pastors (45%)."
And the more education, the more skeptical …
"Those with no college degree (90%) or a bachelor's degree (81%) are more likely to believe immorality will increase until the return of Jesus than those with a master's degree (61%) or a doctoral degree (63%)," researchers continued.
McConnell gave his final take on the results.
"On the surface, the responses of most pastors could be described as feeling helpless regarding these specific aspects of the future," McConnell concluded. "Yet the persistence of their faith amidst a lack of control points to an even greater level of hope."