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An Examination of Dispensationalism by William E. Cox (4)

Part (4) in the series, Examining Dispensationalism by William E. Cox.

See: Part (1) – Part (2) – Part (3)



With reference to the Christian church, dispensationalists believe it came into being as a result of the rejection of the alleged earthly kingdom. They teach that the church was kept hidden in the mind of God until he was ready to establish it. Although Jesus may have hinted at it, they say, it did not actually come into prominence until Paul began to preach “my gospel.” Dispensationalists teach that none of the Old Testament and in fact very little of the New Testament deals with the church.

We need to keep before the reader the dispensational belief that Israel and the church are two distinct bodies, that each has its separate plan in God’s program, and that each has a different destination. Israel is said to be an earthly covenant people while the church is said to be a heavenly body. After the one-thousand years earthly reign (millennium) the church will be returned to heaven (from whence she will have come in order to reign in the millennium, in a lesser position than that held by Israel) while Israel will remain eternally on the earth. Chafer said (Dispensationalism, pp. 40, 41):

It should be observed that though Judaism and Christianity have much in common, they never merge the one into the other. Having each its own eschatology reaching on into eternity … The Word of God distinguishes between earth and heaven, even after they are created new. Similarly and as clearly it distinguishes between God’s consistent and eternal earthly purpose, which is the substance of Judaism; and His consistent and eternal heavenly purpose which is the substance of Christianity, and it is as illogical and fanciful to contend that Judaism and Christianity ever merge as it would be to contend that heaven and earth cease to exist as separate spheres.

How do dispensationalists maintain this distinction between Israel and the Christian church? They maintain it, to their own satisfaction, by holding to many premises never held by historic Christianity. Chafer makes a correct analysis of this fact in one of his books (Dispensationalism, p. 107):

At the beginning of this thesis it was stated that the doctrinal differences herein discussed are due to the fact that the two schools of interpretation involved stand on widely divergent premises. The dispensationalist believes that throughout the ages God is pursuing two distinct purposes: one related to the earth with earthly people and earthly objectives involved, while the other is related to heaven with heavenly people and heavenly objectives involved, which is Christianity.

Dispensationalists teach that the present “church age” was not revealed to the Old Testament writers. Therefore, the prophets saw the two advents of Christ, but saw nothing intervening between these two comings. These two advents appeared to the prophets as mountain peaks. What they were not permitted to see, however, was that God had a valley (the present dispensation) planned in between these two “peaks.” Because this was so, say the dispensationalists, the prophets saw the two comings of our Lord blended together as though they were one. They go on to say that all prophecies which may appear to be referring to the first advent are in reality referring to the second coming. This was one of Darby’s “rediscovered truths” which had remained hidden from the great Reformers and all the great writers of Bible commentaries. Darby’s “rediscovered truths” on this subject is recorded for us in his book (The Hopes of the Church of God, p. 7):

… The greater part of the prophecies, and in a certain sense, we may say all the prophecies, will have their accomplishment at the expiration of the dispensation in which we are.

We have already shown that, according to dispensational teachings, people were offered salvation through the establishment of a millennial kingdom. Had this kingdom been established, the Jewish remnant would have carried out the Great Commission and most of the world’s population would have been converted through obedience to the law. The cross then would not have been necessary, according to this teaching. However, the kingdom was not accepted, and so, teach the dispensationalists, it was postponed until the millennium can be set up at the second coming. That postponement has already lasted nearly two thousand years! Now when the kingdom was postponed, its mode of salvation was of course also postponed. It was necessary for God to institute a temporary mode of salvation to be in effect during this temporary period. We have said that dispensationalism has separate plans for Israel and the church.

Lest this appear to be too sweeping a statement, let us go to the dispensationalists themselves for this teaching.

On page 1011, note 2, of the Scofield Bible the author labels the heading: “The new message of Jesus.” He has said that our Lord began his ministry with a message of the kingdom, at which time he made an offer to Israel of an earthly kingdom along with salvation by legal obedience. This having been rejected, says Scofield, Jesus began to preach a completely different gospel which now for the first time included a reference to the cross of Calvary. Scofield went on to say, concerning “the new message of Jesus,” that our Lord offers “not the kingdom, but rest and service” in his new message.

We have given many quotations to the effect that dispensationalists teach a plan of redemption, other than the cross, offered at the first advent, rejected, and to be renewed during the millennium. If that plan is not in effect today, and if people are being saved, then it stands to reason that they are being saved in some way other than that first offered by Jesus before he began his “new message.” The “new way” is the way of the cross, according to dispensationalists.

We quoted S.D. Gordon (Quiet Talks About Jesus, p. 114) to the effect that the crucifixion of Jesus was not in God’s plan of salvation, but rather that it was “conceived somewhere else,” and then “yielded to by God.” This, we have said, is the only logical conclusion to be drawn from dispensational teachings. Gordon went on to say (p. 118): “There is no cross in God’s plan of atonement.” This ties in logically with Scofield’s teaching concerning the “new message of Jesus.” The first message, they would say, had no cross in it.

This the Bible-believing Christian must brand as heresy of the worst sort. The New Testament teaches that the cross was foretold, and that it was foreordained before the foundation of the world. Our Lord, in predicting his death on the cross, said: “For this cause came I into the world.”

J.C. O’Hair, writing in The Great Blunder of the Church, said, repeatedly, that there was not a thimble-full of grace in the Synoptic Gospels. This was in line with the teaching that these Gospels were not addressed to Christians but are to take effect in the millennium, under Jews. Chafer said: “At this time (millennium) the King will rule with a rod of iron. There is no word of the cross or of grace in the kingdom teachings. (italics mine).

John Nelson Darby is quoted by Oswald T. Allis (Prophecy and the Church, p. 76) as follows: “Supposing for a moment that Christ had not been rejected, the kingdom would have been set up on the earth. It could not be so, no doubt, but it shows the difference between the kingdom and the church” (italics mine).

Darby says plainly here that the difference between the kingdom and the church is that the church needs the cross while the kingdom does not!

Chafer (Dispensationalism, p. 57) again attempts to show a distinction between the church and Israel. In speaking of eschatology he said:

Judaism has its eschatology reaching on into eternity with covenants and promises which are everlasting. On the other hand, Christianity has its eschatology which is different at every point. Some of these contrasts are:

THE FUTURE OF THIS LIFE. In the case of Israel, the thing to be desired was a long life “upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee,” whereas the Christian’s hope is the prospect of the imminent coming of Christ to take away His Church from the earth.

A serious problem arises here, it seems, in the dispensational plan for having Israel spend eternity in an earthly kingdom while Christians spend eternity in heaven. We refer to the dispensational teaching that Jesus will occupy the throne of David “forever”. Now they take this word “forever” always in its most literal sense; this would mean that our Lord could never cease to sit on that throne. Yet the Scriptures teach that a time will come when our Lord will give over the kingdom to the Father and “God will become all in all.” How could this be if Jesus were reigning on the throne of David forever?

Another facet of dispensational teaching concerning the church is that it is parenthetic, and is not the main project at hand. Rather, they say, the church was established by God in order to fill in the parenthesis between the time the kingdom was rejected and the time when it will be reinstituted. After the “parenthetic church age” is finished, then God will return to his first love, the Jewish program.

W.R. Newell, (Romans Verse by Verse, p. 335) gives the dispensational view on this point:

When we reflect that, after He has “caught up in the clouds” His Church saints our Lord is coming back to this earthly people Israel, and will establish them in their land, with a glorious millennial temple and order of worship, to which the Gentile nations must and will submit: then we see that the present time is altogether anomalous! It is a parenthesis, in which God is make a “visit” to the Gentiles, to “take out of them a people for His name”; after which, James tells us, our Lord “will Himself return, and build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen” (Acts 15:16), on Mount Zion, in Jerusalem, where David lived.

Please note that Newell offers no scriptural references for the major portion of this statement; also check the one verse he does use (Acts 15:16) and see that whereas Newell makes it future, James actually said that the scripture had already been fulfilled by the incident at the home of Cornelius.

Dispensationalists consistently quote the words “after this” as being future from James. A more careful reading of the passage, however, will show that James was quoting Amos 9:11 and that the words “after this” are not James’ words at all. Rather they are the words which James quotes from Amos. It was Amos, not James, who actually said that after Amos’ time God would rebuild the tabernacle. James ruled that the account given by Peter (read Acts 15:7-11 for this account) proved that Amos’ prophecy on the rebuilding of the “tabernacle” had been fulfilled in Peter’s presence (Acts 15:14, 15).

This is typical of dispensationalists at this point; rather than producing scriptural proof of their alleged parenthesis, they merely assume it in such a matter-of-fact manner that many people never think of questioning it. Chafer offers another example of this sort of reasoning (Dispensationalism, p. 34). He begins a long paragraph with the words:

“An extensive body of Scripture declares directly or indirectly that the present age is unforeseen and intercalary in its character and in it a new humanity appears on the earth with an incomparable new headship in the resurrected Christ, which company is being formed by the regenerating power of the Spirit.”

We must note here again that, while Chafer refers to an “extensive body of Scripture,” he lists not a single verse. Throughout the long paragraph, however, he mentions scriptures on other subjects being dealt with. The present writer has searched dispensational literature in vain for one verse of conclusive scripture dealing with a gap or parenthesis anywhere in God’s program.

Dispensationalist teaching on the church is one of so many doctrines where the wish is father to the thought; for the Bible simply will not bear out Darby’s “rediscovered truth.” While much of the New Testament could be used to refute this doctrine, one of Paul’s epistles alone will serve to undermine all dispensational teachings concerning the relationship between the church and national Israel.

One might think in terms of dispensationalism versus Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

I. DISPENSATIONAL TEACHING: The church is a parenthesis, i.e., a temporary thing lying between God’s two dealings with national Israel.

PAUL’S EPHESIAN EPISTLE TEACHES: The church is the very body of Christ, and is therefore the fullness of God.

… the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. (Eph. 1:22, 23)

II. DISPENSATIONAL TEACHING: The church is not even mentioned in the Old Testament.

PAUL’S EPHESIAN EPISTLE TEACHES: The church was mentioned in the Old Testament as early as Genesis 2:24. For Paul quotes the passage from Genesis 2:24, and then says that this verse was spoken concerning Christ and the church.

For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.” This is a great mystery, and I take it to mean Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31, 32 RSV).

III. DISPENSATIONAL TEACHING: Israel and the church are separate bodies and are to remain so.

PAUL’S EPHESIAN EPISTLE TEACHES: God took two “men” (Israel’s believing remnant and Christian Gentiles) and made the two of them into one “man.” Now, therefore, there are no long two bodies, but one.

For he is our peace, who made both one, and brake down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby (Ephesians 2:14-16).

IV. DISPENSATIONAL TEACHING: National Israel will carry out God’s main purpose during a future millennial period.

PAUL’S EPHESIAN EPISTLE TEACHES: The church is God’s main instrument for carrying out his plans. This, the plan that the church would be the fullness of God (Eph. 1:23) was according to the eternal purpose of God, and has been realized in Christ Jesus.

To the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ephesians 3:10-11).

Both Darby and Scofield taught that Israel was a type of the church. They went on to teach, however, that the church was not prophesied in the Old Testament, and that the type was never meant to have a fulfillment. This is indeed difficult to reconcile, a type without an antitype. In fact it is the only such type in their entire system. All other types, they say, were fulfilled through Christ.

To say, as dispensationalists do, that the church is parenthetic while national Israel is the eternal “chosen people” of God is to violate an important rule of hermeneutics. This is to make the type more important than its antitype. Someone has well said that a shadow cannot cast a shadow. Israel was the shadow; the church is the substance. Abraham is the father of all the righteous; yet one must never lose sight of the fact that it is not through Abraham that one becomes righteous, but rather it is through Abraham’s Seed “which is Christ” (Galatians 3:16).

So instead of the church being a temporary thing in the plan of God while national Israel is the main piece on the chessboard, actually the opposite is true. National Israel was chosen as a channel for a limited time. In other words, national Israel was the parenthesis which dispensationalists class the church as being. Many scriptures, in the Old Testament as well as in the New, plainly state that Israel’s was a temporary role lasting only until the first coming of Christ. Indications that Messiah was to take over the scepter of Israel are given as early as the book of Genesis:

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the obedience of the peoples be (Genesis 49:10).

The coming of Shiloh (Messiah) was longingly looked for by all the patriarchs and prophets of the Old Testament period. In John 8:56 our Lord reminded the unbelieving Jews that Abraham had prophesied the first advent: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; and he saw it, and was glad.” To apply this verse to the second coming of Christ is to completely ignore the context in which it was spoken.

National Israel was characterized by three things; nationality, law, and circumcision. Again these were for a limited time only. These were shadows or types of our Lord’s earthly ministry and the church. A statement by Phillip Mauro (The Gospel of the Kingdom, p. 81) shed slight on this fact.

It is appropriate here to point out that one of the glaring errors of “dispensational teaching” is the failure to recognize what the New Testament plainly reveals, namely that names which God temporarily gave to the shadowy and typical things on the Old Covenant, belong properly and eternally to the corresponding realities of the New Covenant. Thus we are given the proper meaning of “Jew” (Rom. 2:28, 29); “Israel” (Rom. 9:6; Gal. 6:16); “Jerusalem” (Gal. 4:26); Seed of Abraham” (Gal. 3:29); “Sion” (1 Peter 2:6; Heb. 12:22; Rom. 9:23). Likewise it is made known that according to the New Covenant meaning, “the tribes of Jacob” are those who are Jews inwardly, that is to say, the entire household of faith (James 1:1; Acts 26:7).

Shiloh came nearly two thousand years ago, took over the scepter from national Israel, and began his reign in the hearts of his people. At that time the types faded in the pure light of the Substance to which they had pointed. Although the unbelieving part of Israel still held on to the shadows of nationality, law, and circumcision, the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) condemned their continuance (Romans 6:14; 7:4; 10:4; Galatians 3:23-26; 4:9-11; 5:6). Having become the great Antitype of national Israel, the law, circumcision (Romans 2:28-29; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:11), and the prophets, our Lord formed the believing part of Israel (Romans 11:5) into the Christian church. Nor was this an impulsive innovation; it was fulfillment of that which had been in the eternal plan of God (Compare Gen. 12:3; 22:18; Gal. 3:7-9, 14, 16, 27-29; Eph. 3:4-6).

Next, Conclusion and Summery. 


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