Not sure if anyone has had a chance to look over or read part (1) but a couple things the author mentions really bears pointing out. The first being the relative newness of the theology known as Dispensationalism and that it’s original promoters never attempted to deny this, but instead attempted to explain this away by claiming Dispensationalism was comprised of “rediscovered truths” which had been lost sight of since the days of the apostles. This claim does not hold water: There is no biblical (or historical) evidence of the Apostles ever holding to the controversial doctrines which comprise Dispensationalism. And obviously, one cannot “rediscover” something which never existed in the first place.
One other thing the author pointed out, I believe is vitally important. That being, the “place” the Church was in at the time dispensationalism was introduced.
Before examining the beliefs of the dispensationalists, which differ so radically from the historic Christian teachings, let us satisfy our curiosity as to how these radical changes in doctrine could gain such wide influence, even breaking across denominational lines and flying in the face of accepted creeds. I believe the answer to this dilemma can be gained by taking the spiritual pulse of Darby’s generation.
A study of the early nineteenth century reveals that doctrinal preaching was all but unheard of, and any emphasis on the second coming of our Lord was held up to ridicule by the clergy. Liberalism was in vogue, and lethargy had crept into the churches. The pulpits were filled with “professional” clergymen, and the people were “like sheep without a shepherd.” Lay-people were being spiritually starved. They longed for some sure word of prophecy, but heard only horns without certain sounds from the pulpit Sunday after Sunday. In a climate such as this a natural by-product would be almost total ignorance with reference to things taught in the Bible.
It is not surprising that into such a spiritual vacuum there should arise, not only Darbyism, but all sorts of innovations.
The Mormons were teaching chiliasm (millennialism) about the (same) time of John Darby. Joseph Smith put out a book (Book of Mormon) in 1830, the same year which is recognized as marking the recognition of Darby as a leader among the Brethren. Smith, like Darby, taught a regathering of Israel. In 1831 William Miller (the founder of Adventism) began proclaiming his “findings.” Miller set 1843 as the time the world would come to an end. Many of his followers sold their possessions and put on their robes to await the Lord’s return. Judge Rutherford wrote a book entitled Comfort for the Jews. Rutherford was the successor to Charles Taze Russell, who founded Millennial Dawnism around 1880. Russell published his works beginning in 1881, the year before Darby’s death. Rutherford’s group has been known as “International Bible Students,” “Russellites,” and is best known to us today as “Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Their fantastic millennial theories are well known and need to elaboration here.
The spiritual climate not only accounts for the ready acceptance of Darbyism, but it also lends insight into the direction taken by these “rediscovered truths.”
The Brethren teachings, with their emphasis on prophecy and the second coming of Christ, met a need in the lives of the spiritually-starved people of that generation. It is not difficult to replace a vacuum! We should not be surprised that Darbyism met with a ready response in such surroundings, neither should we be surprised if the people of that generation, with their lack of biblical teachings, passed all of Darby’s spiritual “legislation” even though many of the bills in his legislation contained “riders” (strange innovations).
This picture of the Church’s condition prior to Darby appearing on the scene with his “rediscovered truths”, should give us all pause. It certainly does me. Can you see any comparison to the spiritual condition of the Church in Darby’s day to the Church today? This picture of the spiritual condition of the Church in “Darby-days” came to mind earlier today when I read this from Timothy Weber,
The Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind series are simply a fictionalized version of Dispensationalism: To read these fictionalized novels is to understand Dispensationalist beliefs and doctrines.
And like the Scofield Bible with personal notes, based upon Darby’s “rediscovered truths”, the novels were eagerly accepted by millions of Christians as a biblically faithful interpretation of Bible prophecy concerning the last days.
The author William Cox, next goes on to explain C. I. Scofield’s role, and as the earlier post (See, Why I Left Scofieldism) covered this extensively, we’ll skip over section III and go to section IV:
IV – DISPENSATIONALIST BELIEFS: SALVATION
Dispensationalists derive their name from their teaching that the entire program of God is divided into seven dispensations. Five of these have passed into history, we are living in the sixth, and the seventh dispensation will be an earthly reign of one thousand years (the millennium) following the rapture of the church. Although the word “dispensational” literally means a stewardship or type of economy, they take it to designate a given period of time during which God works in a distinct manner with mankind.
The Scofield Bible (page 5, notes 4, 5) deals with the seven dispensations of their system. They are innocency, conscience, human government, promise, law, grace, and kingdom. According to Scofield, each of these dispensations begins a new and distinct method of testing mankind and each ends in man’s failure and judgment. One of the main emphases of dispensational thought is that they insist that each of these seven dispensations has its peculiar system of testing; and obedience to the existing method brings the approval of God upon the individual or nation being tested.
Although dispensationalists deny the charge, it has been said that these alleged seven distinct manners of testing create seven different plans of salvation. Certainly Cyrus Ingerson Scofield carried water on both shoulders at this point, saying in some places that all people are saved in the same manner, but indicating in others that salvation was gained in a different manner during each of the seven periods.
An example of his dual plans of salvation is found in the Scofield Bible (page 1115, note 2) where he is contrasting the dispensation of law with that of grace.
“The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ …”
It is difficult to interpret this statement in any other way than that he was saying folk under the law were saved by one “condition” while we under grace are saved by another “condition.” His words, “no longer,” indicate that there was a time when legal obedience was the means of salvation!
Lewis Sperry Chafer (founder of Dallas Theological Seminary), another prominent leader among the dispensationalists, also in his insistence on a complete isolation of the New Testament dispensation from that of the Old Testament, actually teaches two different plans of salvation. Writing in Dispensationalism (. 416), he makes the following statement:
The essential elements of a grace administration – faith as the sole basis of acceptance with God, unmerited acceptance through a perfect standing in Christ, the present possession of eternal life, an absolute security from all condemnation, and the enabling power of the indwelling Spirit are not found in the kingdom administration. On the other hand, it is declared to be the fulfilling of “the law and the prophets” (Matt. 5:17, 18; 7:12), and is seen to be an extension of the Mosaic Law into realms of meritorious obligation …
When this paragraph by Chafer is broken down into its component parts, the following points can be distinguished clearly: (1) he gives the characteristics, including “faith as the sole basis of acceptance with God,” of the present “dispensation”; (2) he says the alleged coming “dispensation” (millennium) will operate under a different plan, since none of the above mentioned characteristics (note that this would include the mode of salvation) ” are to be found in the kingdom administration”: (3) he says that the alleged coming millennial kingdom will be a continuation of the Old Testament plan, i.e., “it is declared to be the fulfilling of the law and the prophets.”
From these three points a syllogism can be formed easily. The syllogism would be as follows:
1. In the present dispensation, we have “faith as the sole basis of acceptance with God …”
2. In the coming kingdom administration, this plan will not be in effect. They “are not found in the kingdom administration.” Since, according to the dispensationalists, people will be saved during the millennium, they must of necessity be saved in some other manner than “faith as the sole basis of acceptance with God.”
3. Therefore, inasmuch as the coming dispensation will be “an extension of the Mosaic Law into realms of meritorious obligation,” the people under the Mosaic Law also were saved in a manner different from the present dispensation.
Chafer’s argument could also be illustrated as:
- Old Testament: Salvation by legal obedience (In effect until the Cross)
- Church age: Salvation by grace alone (Legal obedience postponed)
- Kingdom age: Legal obedience resumed (On a more perfect basis)
In another book (The Kingdom in History and Prophecy, p. 70) Chafer again distinguishes between two different modes of salvation:
In the light of these seven “present truth” realities we are enabled to recognize how great is the effect of the change from “the law which came by Moses” and “grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ.” And when these changed, age-long conditions have run their course we are assured that there will be a return to the legal kingdom grounds and the exaltation of that nation to whom pertain the covenants and promises (italics mine).
It should be noted, in view of the above statement, that if there is to be a return to a certain means of salvation, then another means of salvation must of necessity be in operation at the present time.
In a further effort to portray distinct groups being dealt with in distinct ways in given periods of time, dispensationalists teach that there are four gospels to be preached (some have already been preached, and one is being preached in the present age) according to God’s plan. Each of these is said to be for a given period of time and great pains are taken to establish the fact that each of these gospels is different from the other three.
These four gospels are described on page 1343 of the Scofield Reference Bible. The following is a paraphrased description as given by C.I. Scofield:
1. The gospel of the kingdom. This is the preaching of the good news that God had promised to set up an earthly kingdom. This kingdom was to be political, spiritual, Israelitish, universal; and was to be ruled over by Jesus as the greater Son of David. It was to last one thousand years.
2. The gospel of the grace of God. This is the good news that Jesus died, was buried, and that he rose again. Scofield says that one of the main characteristics of this gospel is that it saved “wholly apart from forms and ordinances,” the plain implication being that this is not true of some of the other three gospels.
3. The everlasting gospel. This is to be preached by Jews after the church is raptured, but before the beginning of the millennium. Scofield says of this gospel that it is neither the gospel of the kingdom, nor of grace. It is the good news that those who were saved during the “great tribulation” will enter the millennial reign.
4. That which Paul calls “my gospel.” This is the gospel of grace, but has a fuller development than that preached by Christ and the apostles! Paul has been given new insight into the “mystery” of the church and this is included in “Paul’s gospel.”
According to this theory of four gospels, the first of them was preached by John the Baptist and by our Lord, until the proffered kingdom was rejected by the Jews and had to be postponed while the church age was ushered in by the death of our Lord on the cross.
After his plan to establish a kingdom was frustrated by the Jews, our Lord changed to the second form of the gospel and began to preach that he would be crucified, buried, and resurrected. This gospel was preached by our Lord during the remainder of his ministry and then by the apostles until the time of Paul.
Upon receiving a fuller revelation concerning the church, which neither Jesus nor any of the other apostles had been permitted to disclose, Paul began to preach number four of the distinctive gospels held by dispensationalism. In other words, what Paul termed “my gospel” was quite an improvement over that preached by our Lord. This is the same gospel, according to this theory, that we are supposed to preach today. *Note, we are not to preach the gospel preached by our Lord, but that which was preached by Paul.
Number three of these gospels will not be preached until after the present “church age” is ended and the church has been taken out of the world. Then, after the “everlasting gospel” has been preached and the millennium established, Jewish converts will begin to preach the “gospel of the kingdom” again. *Note that this gospel of the kingdom is the first gospel preached by our Lord, which gospel was rejected and then postponed. Whereas our Lord failed in his presentation of it, the Jewish nation is going to succeed!
In view of the fact that this theory holds to four distinct gospels, each having its own characteristics differing from the others, and in view of the fact that each one is said to bring about salvation, it is difficult indeed to escape a doctrine of four plans of salvation.
And this, according to the New Testament, amounts to heresy.
V – DISPENSATIONALIST BELIEFS: THE SCRIPTURES (LITERALISM)
In keeping with dispensationalist views on the completely separate dispensations, the Scriptures are said to have been given dispensationally, i.e., different passages of the Bible are directed to different dispensations. Unless one interprets each passage of Scripture dispensationally, one is in a hopeless quandary and can never expect to understand the Bible. Scofield (What Do the Prophets Say?, p. 9) offered II Peter 1:20 as a proof-text for this method of interpretation. Having quoted the verse, Scofield went on to say,
“That is, no prophecy is to be interpreted by itself, but in harmony with the whole body of prediction on any given subject.”
An examination of the verse in question will reveal that the interpretation placed on it by Scofield is equally as arbitrary as his so-called dispensations.
“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (11 Peter 1:20-21).
When the verse is examined in its setting it is soon discovered that Peter was not even speaking of how Scripture should be interpreted, but rather he was speaking of how prophecy was given. Whereas Scofield has Peter saying that “no prophecy is to be interpreted privately,” what Peter actually said was that “no prophet wrote down his own private interpretations, but that he (the prophet) spoke only what the Holy Spirit moved him to write.” Peter said this to indicate the authority of the Bible, not its interpretation.
Dispensationalists not only divide the Scriptures into seven compartments with relation to time, they also divide them according to the people being dealt with.
They say that the Bible itself divides mankind into three distinct groups and then proceeds to address these groups separately. This theory is based on 1 Corinthians 10:32 alone. One verse of scripture, they say, may be addressed by the Holy Spirit to Gentiles, while the very next verse may be addressing Jews. It can readily be seen how difficult it is to “rightly divide the Word of Truth” dispensationally. In order to gain a correct understanding one would need to take all the individual verses of the Bible and assign each verse to one of three categories; Jew, Gentile, or Christian. If this be the correct method of dividing the Word, then someone could perform a genuine service by publishing the Bible in three separate sections! Dispensationalists, in effect, do so divide the Bible.
Chafer (Dispensationalism, p. 34) teaches that the only scriptures addressed specifically to Christians are the Gospel of John (especially the upper room discourse), the book of Acts, and the Epistles!
Obviously, this arbitrary and reckless division of the Bible into three compartments is an attempt to minimize the place of the church and to elevate the place of national Israel in the Bible. One example of how they take passages historically attributed to the church and assign them to Israel can be seen in a statement by William L. Pettingill (Bible Questions Answered, p. 112)
I have long been convinced, and have taught that the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19, 20 is primarily applicable to the Kingdom rather than to the Church … The Matthew commission will come into force for the Jewish Remnant after the Church is caught away.
Pettingill was an ardent defender of the Scofield Bible, and served as dean of the Bible school in Philadelphia, which was founded and presided over by C.I. Scofield himself. This group also taught that Christians ought not pray the Lord’s Prayer, since it was a Jewish prayer and was to be prayed by Jews in a later age.
Dispensationalists boast of literal interpretation of Scripture, and cast aspersions at those who “spiritualize” some passages of the Bible. Charles C. Ryrie, President of The Philadelphia College of the Bible, says: (Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 114, July 1957, p. 254), “… only dispensationalism provides the key to consistent literalism”.
In the Old Testament, where they spend most of their time, the Darbyites cannot arbitrarily say: “Oh, but that passage was to the church, while this other one is to the Israelites.” They can do this arbitrary maneuvering in the New Testament, but they have narrowed their own field in the Old Testament by insisting that the Christian church is not alluded to therein.
Isaiah prophesied that the mountains shall sing and the trees clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12). Is this to be taken literally? In Micah 6:1 God invites his people to carry on a conversation with a mountain. Literally? In Joel 3:18 a prophecy is recorded in which God states that “the mountains shall drop down sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk.” Must this be taken literally, or was the Lord speaking figuratively? In Hosea 2:18 God says that he will some day make a covenant for his people between the beasts of the fields, with the fowl of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground. Will this literally happen?
Daniel predicted that the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 would be accomplished by a flood (Daniel 9:26). This did not happen literally. Was Daniel mistaken? Or did he not rather speak spiritually or figuratively and mean that the city would be flooded with the soldiers of Titus? This latter alternative did happen. The literal interpretation insisted upon would make the biblical account untrue!
Coming to the New Testament the strict dispensationalist still insists upon literal interpretations for each and every passage concerning Israel. Zechariah prophesied that Christ would stand on two mountains (Mount Olivet being divided in two).
And his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be cleft in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north and half of it toward the south (Zechariah 14:4).
Surely this could not be the “same Jesus” who was seen ascending up to heaven as recorded in Acts 1:11 and of whom it was said that “this same Jesus” would come in like manner as he was seen to go away. The body that our Lord had then would not be large enough to span two mountains. Now this is not an attempt to be facetious, and it is agreed by all that God is capable of giving Christ a body large enough to span two mountains with one foot resting on each mountain. Yes, this is possible, but it does not seem likely that God will make such a drastic change. And if the dispensationalist hastens to say that these passages are speaking of spiritual things, then he destroys his own argument.
A thoroughly literal (only) interpretation of Scripture is impossible. To quote Dr. Allis:
The language of the Bible often contains figures of speech. This is especially true of poetry. In Exodus XIV: 21 Moses declares that the Lord caused the sea to go back by reason of a “strong east wind.” In his song of triumph Moses exultantly declares: “and with the blast of they nostrils the waters were gathered together” (XV:8). In XIX:4, on the other hand, the Lord reminds Israel through Moses: “I bare you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.” No one with any real reverence for Scripture or adequate understanding of its teachings as a whole, would dream of taking either of the last two statements literally. In the poetry of Psalms in the elevated style of prophecy, and evening simple historical narration, figures of speech appear which obviously are not meant to be and cannot be understood literally.
The great theme of the Bible is God, and His redemptive dealings with mankind. God is a spirit; and these spiritual and heavenly realities are often set forth under the form of earthly objects and human relationships. When Jesus said, “Ye must be born again,” He was not referring to a physical bur a spiritual birth. When He said, “Destroy this temple,” He meant His body. When He said, “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath everlasting life,” He was speaking of a spiritual relationship in terms of the Old Testament type. Jesus’ Jewish hearers, being literalists, either failed to understand or misunderstood His words. Whether the figurative or “spiritual” interpretation of a given passage is justified or not depends solely upon whether it gives the true meaning. If it is used to empty words of their plain and obvious meaning, to read out of them what is clearly intended by them, then allegorizing or spiritualizing is a term of reproach which is well merited. On the other hand, we should remember the saying of the apostle, that spiritual things are “spiritually discerned.” And spiritual things are more real and more precious then visible, tangible, ephemeral things. (Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church, pp. 17, 18)
and as Barrows has well said:
The youthful student of Scripture should be reminded, first of all, that its figurative language is no less certain and truthful than its plain and literal declarations. The figures of the Bible are employed not simply to please the imagination and excite the feelings, but to teach eternal verities (E.P. Barrows, Companion to the Bible, p. 557).
As one studies the Scriptures and tries to “rightly divide the Word of Truth,” it seems evident that the following conclusions must be arrived at concerning the covenants and prophecies of God with his people:
Some were meant to be literal, others were meant to be spiritual; some were meant to be historical, others to be eschatological; some were addressed to natural descendants (national Israel), others were addressed to spiritual descendants (all believers; compare Gal. 6:16). Our difficulties arise when students of the Bible attempt to force a literal meaning into a spiritual prophecy, or an eschatological interpretation into a prediction which has been historically fulfilled already, or when they try to apply spiritual promises to natural Israelites to the exclusion of other nations.
It is theological pandemonium to attempt to take an “either-or” approach to all scriptures. One must recognize both literal and spiritual descendants. Only then will one “rightly divide the Word of Truth.” To be sure, this requires intellectual honesty; and all of us should admit that we are not unequivocally certain on every point as to which is meant.
Although hyperliteralism is one of the basic teachings of dispensationalists, they by no means hold a monopoly on it. Many groups within the Christian faith have resorted to a hyperliteral interpretation of Scripture in order to gain their point.
We can best criticize the literalists by saying that none really exist! Their greatest inconsistency lies in the fact that all of them at one time or another interpret some passages of the Bible in a figurative or spiritual manner. Let us begin with the leader himself, John Nelson Darby, who founded modern dispensationalism upon a so-called literal interpretation of the Bible, who has left us the following statement, made while he was at the height of his popularity as one who interpreted the Scriptures (especially prophecy) literally;
The resurrection (in Daniel 12:2) applies to the Jews … It is a figurative resurrection of the people, buried as a nation among the Gentiles. In this revival it is said of those who rise: “Some to shame and everlasting contempt.” This is what will happen to the Jews. Of those brought out from among the nations, some will enjoy eternal life, but some shall be subject to shame and everlasting contempt
Charles C. Ryrie is another dispensationalist who castigates other Christians for “spiritualizing” Scripture, but then takes the same liberties himself as the occasion arises. He says, (The Basis of the Premillennial Faith, p. 35):
“The system of spiritualizing Scripture is a tacit denial of the doctrine of the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures which this author holds.”
Note that this blanket statement demands literal interpretation of all Scripture. Ryrie shows his inconsistencies on this dictum of literalism at many points in this same book. In chapter 3, on his rules of hermeneutics, he says: “The figures for which figurative language stand have a literal fulfillment.” He speaks also of the special principles of interpretation used by premillennialists in interpreting prophecy. In speaking of interpretation versus application, he says (page 42) “Literal interpretation allows wide latitude in making spiritual applications from all passages …”
On this same page this avowed “literalist” says: “Although much of prophecy is given in plain terms, much of it is in figurative language, and constitutes a problem of interpretation.” He goes on to say that there are different ways to apply this figurative language:
“The use of types (by premillennialists) is perfectly legitimate as illustration of the truth though they should not be used to teach doctrine” (p. 43). Then, on page 44, Ryrie says: “In conclusion it may be stated that in connection with the use of figurative language, the interpreter should not look for the literal sense of the words employed in the figure, but for the literal sense intended by the use of the figure” .
It is amusing indeed to have read, just a few pages before, that this man called any and all “spiritualizing” a tacit denial of the Bible. Then he goes on to say that it is necessary for his school of thought to devise “special principals of interpretation,” to determine when a doctrine is involved in a given passage, and even to decide what was ‘intended” by each given writer’s language. This is literalism?
Examples could be heaped upon one another showing outstanding dispensationalists, like those mentioned above, who violate their own dictum of literalism. However, one last example must suffice at this time. On page 1009 of the Scofield Bible (note 1) we have a glaring example of the liberties taken in interpretation. The footnote has to do with chapter 10 of Matthew’s Gospel. That this entire chapter was addressed specifically to the twelve disciples there can be no argument. Chapter 10 begins with these words:
“And when he had called unto him is twelve disciples …” Having called these disciples unto himself, our Lord gave them instructions for their personal ministry. Then, to prove to ourselves that the entire chapter was addressed to these twelve, chapter 11 begins with the words: “And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding his twelve disciples …” So that, throughout chapter 10, Jesus is addressing his remarks to his twelve disciples.
Scofield, however, as is typical of his entire collection of footnotes, looks into the mind of Jesus and sees there many meanings which were not recorded anywhere in the Bible! For Scofield tells his readers that verses 16-23 of this tenth chapter of Matthew reaches far beyond the personal ministry of the twelve disciples, covering the sphere of our present age. And whereas Jesus, in verse 23, said specifically to his twelve apostles “when they persecute you … Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel until I shall join you …,” Scofield says of this verse that Jesus really had in view the preaching ministry of a remnant of Jews who would be preaching during a time of tribulation after the church is raptured.
And whereas the average reader would gain the impression that Jesus was saying (in Matthew 10:23) that he would join his twelve apostles before their ministry had covered all the cities of Israel, Scofield informs his readers that this did not even refer to the ministry of those twelve – whom a literal reading would have Jesus addressing: but that it really refers to a group of Jews who will be preaching a different gospel after this present gospel period has closed.
And all of this is by the pen of a man who has done more, perhaps, than any other individual, to impress upon people that the Bible should be taken literally, “just as it reads”.
*To be continued with Part (3) – Dispensationalist Beliefs – Israel and The Kingdom of God