1. Why Argue about Doctrine?
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. -Romans 16:17-18 KJV
Why do so many who call themselves Christian continually argue among themselves and with others about doctrine? Are not all who name Christ united by the Holy Spirit into Christ’s body? Doesn’t every church teach the same basic doctrine? If this were so there would have been no need for Paul to admonish young pastor Timothy’Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine…’, for the Councils of the early church to define the creeds and oppose false teachings, for Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, the Augsburg Confession, nor in fact for the Reformation as a whole.
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, then I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefront besides is merely flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point. -Martin Luther
Since Christian doctrine was first defined there have been continuous assaults, both overt and insidious, to lead astray those whose faith is not firmly grounded in Christ and sound doctrine. The church has attempted to deal with this fact by defining creeds and confessions, teaching catechisms, and requiring pastors to be trained by orthodox institutions.
Unfortunately, most of the American church has been caught up in a form of revivalism that replaces creeds with ‘testimonies’, catechisms with ‘Youth Group Pizza Nite’, and theological training of pastors with church growth seminars. Most laymen, and many preachers, have a difficult time putting into words exactly what they believe, and of the few who can make a statement of doctrine fewer still can cite the scriptural basis, history, or make a logical defense of said doctrine. Such is the curse of a theology based upon feelings and experience rather than Word and Sacrament.
Paul, the apostle, was adamant on the subject of doctrine. His admonition quoted from the Epistle to the Romans was not to avoid the issue of doctrine, but rather to mark those who teach doctrine contrary to that which was once for all delivered to the saints. Jude agrees that Christian doctrine was settled at the time of the writing of his Epistle, but that heresy was creeping into the church.
‘Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.’ -Jude 1:3-4
Are we, as Christians, to divide over any and all issues? The ever increasing number of denominations and sects has been caused primarily by disputes over what was considered by those involved to be doctrinal issues. Many will argue over food or drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, and while such issues may have legitimacy in regard to physical health or preferences in forms, the dividing line should be drawn over much more substantial criteria.
2. What is Dispensationalism?
Dispensationalism is a form of premillennialism originating among the Plymouth Brethren in the early 1830’s. The father of dispensationalism, John Nelson Darby, educated as a lawyer and ordained Anglican priest, was one of the chief founders of the Plymouth Brethren movement, which arose in reaction against the perceived empty formalism of the Church of England. To the Brethren the true ‘invisible’ church was to come out of the apostate ‘visible’ Church, rejecting such forms as priesthood and sacraments.
Dispensational theology centers upon the concept of God’s dealings with mankind being divided into (usually) seven distinct economies or ‘dispensations’, in which man is tested as to his obedience to the will of God as revealed under each dispensation.
Dispensationalists see God as pursuing two distinct purposes throughout history, one related to an earthly goal and an earthly people (the Jews), the other to heavenly goals and a heavenly people (the church).1
Dispensationalists believe that in the Old Testament God promised the Jewish people an earthly kingdom ruled by Messiah ben David, and that when Christ came He offered this prophesied kingdom to the Jews. When the Jews of the time rejected Christ and the earthly kingdom, the promise was postponed, and the ‘mystery form’ of the kingdom – the church – was established.
The church, according to dispensational doctrine, was unforeseen in the Old Testament and constitutes a ‘parenthesis’ in God’s plan for Israel. In the future, the distinction between Jew and Gentile will be reestablished and will continue throughout all eternity. The ‘parenthesis’, or church age, will end at the rapture when Christ comes invisibly to take all believers (excepting OT saints) to heaven to celebrate the ‘marriage feast of the Lamb’ with Christ for a period of seven years.2
God’s program for the Jews then resumes with the tribulation, Antichrist, bowls of wrath, 144,000 Jews preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and Armageddon. Then, the Second (third, if you count the preTrib rapture) Coming, the instantaneous conversion of the entire nation of Israel, the resurrection of the Tribulation and Old Testament saints, and the ‘sheep and goats’ judgment. The ‘goats’ will be cast into hell, the ‘sheep’ and the believing Jews will enter the millennium in natural human bodies, marrying, reproducing, and dying. The ‘mystery church’ and the resurrected Tribulation and Old Testament saints will live in the heavenly Jerusalem suspended above the earthly city. This millennium will be a time of great peace and prosperity, with Christ ruling on David’s throne. After 1,000 yrs. Satan will be released from the chain with which he had been bound at the beginning of the millennium and many of the children born to the ‘sheep’ and the Israelites will follow him in revolt against Christ. The King will again destroy His enemies, followed by another resurrection of the righteous, another resurrection of the unrighteous, a final judgment, and at last the New Heavens and the New Earth.
Although premillennial thought has been recorded in the early church, dispensational theology and its pursuant eschatology are new, as even the father of the system admitted
‘I think we ought to have something more of direct testimony as to the lord’s coming, and its bearing also on the state of the church: ordinarily, it would not be well to have it so clear, as it frightens people. We must pursue it steadily; it works like leaven, and its fruit is by no means seen yet; I do not mean leaven as ill, but the thoughts are new, and people’s minds work on them, and all the old habits are against their feelings – all the gain of situation, and every worldly motive; we must not be surprised at its effect being slow on the mass, the ordinary instruments of acting upon others having been trained in most opposite habits.’ – LETTERS OF J.N.D., vol.1 pg.25-26
The new doctrine was widely accepted in America, due to popular prophetic meetings such as the Niagara Bible Conferences. C.I. Scofield promulgated dispensational thought in his Scofield Reference Bible. Dispensational Bible institutes by the hundreds have sprung up across the continent – notably Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary. Media evangelists such as Jerry Fallwell, Pat Robertson, Jack Van Impe, and Hal Lindsey popularize dispensational eschatology today. Most likely you have heard these doctrines taught over Christian radio programs, and yes, from your own church’s pulpit, though probably no one defined the theological system as dispensationalism nor the origination as Darby circa 1832.
Dispensationalists view the teaching as a return to Biblical theology, after nearly 1,800 years of darkness. But, since the day Darby began to preach the doctrine, Godly men have opposed. Many books have been published exposing the flaws in the intricate system. Most hack away at the branches, arguing peripheral issues. We intend to lay the axe to the root of the tree.
‘My brother, I am a constant reader of my Bible, and I soon found that what I was taught to believe (by Darby’s doctrine) did not always agree with what my Bible said. I came to see that I must either part company with John Darby, or my precious Bible, and I chose to cling to my Bible and part from Mr. Darby.’ – George Müeller, a contemporary and one time supporter of Darby quoted by Robert Cameron in his book SCRIPTURAL TRUTH ABOUT THE LORD’S RETURN, pp.146-7
3. Is Dispensational Premillennialism Different from Historic Premillennialism?
Please understand that Dispensational Premillennialism and classic Historic Premillennialism are two very different systems of eschatology:
From: The Bible and the Future by Dr. Wick Broomall
- Older premillennialism taught that the church was in the forevision of the Old Testament prophecy; Dispensationalism teaches that the church is hardly, if at all, in the Old Testament prophets.
- Older premillennialism taught that the great burden of Old Testament prophecy was the coming of Christ to die (at the First Advent) and the kingdom age (at the Second Advent). Dispensationalism says that the great burden of Old Testament prophecy is the kingdom of the Jews.
- Older premillennialism taught that the First Advent was the specific time for Christ to die for man’s sin; Dispensationalism teaches that the kingdom (earthly) should have been set up at the First Advent for that was the predicted time of its coming.
- Older premillennialism taught that the present age of grace was designed by God and predicted in the Old Testament; Dispensationalism holds that the present age was unforeseen in the Old Testament and thus is a ‘great parenthesis’ introduced because the Jews rejected the kingdom.
- Older premillennialism taught that one may divide time in any way desirable so long as one allows for a millennium after the Second Advent; Dispensationalism maintains that the only allowable way to divide time is in seven dispensations. The present age is the sixth such dispensation; the last one will be the millennial age after the Second Advent. It is from this division of time that Dispensationalism gets its name.
- Older premillennialism taught that the Second Advent was to be one event; Dispensationalism holds that the Second Advent will be in two sections – ‘the Rapture’ and ‘the Revelation.’ Between these two events they put the (to them) unfulfilled seventieth week (seven years) of Daniel 9:23-27, which they call ‘the Great Tribulation.’
- Older premillennialism taught that certain signs must precede the Second Advent; Dispensationalism teaches that no sign precedes the ‘rapture-stage’ of the Second Advent, which may occur ‘at any moment.’ However, there are signs that precede the ‘revelation-stage’ of the Second Advent. The ‘Rapture’ could occur ‘at any moment,’ but the ‘Revelation’ must take place after the seven years of the Great Tribulation. The first stage is undated and unannounced; the second stage is dated and announced.
- Older premillennialism had two resurrections-the righteous before the Millennium; the unrighteous after the Millennium. Dispensationalism has introduced a third resurrection – ‘tribulation-saints’ at the ‘revelation-stage’ of the Second Advent.
- Older premillennialism usually held what is called the ‘historical symbolic’ view of the book of Revelation. This view makes Revelation a picture in symbolic form of the main events in the present age. Dispensationalism holds generally to the ‘futurist’ view of the book of Revelation, which view makes almost the whole book (especially chapters 4 to 19) a literal description of events to take place during ‘the Great Tribulation’ or Daniel’s seventieth week, which Dispensationalism considers as yet unfulfilled.
- The general attitude of older premillennialism was on the whole mild and reverent in its approach to Scripture. There have been some outstanding scholars who have been persuaded that the premillennial is the correct view. In contrast, Dispensationalism has assumed a far more dogmatic attitude. It has introduced a number of novelties in prophetic interpretation that the church never heard of until about a century ago.
Historic Premillennialism is considered to be an orthodox Christian millennial system. Arguments posited against this older form of chiliasm will be in the nature of a disagreement among brethren about non-essentials. The dispensational system, however, differs from orthodox Christian doctrine in many areas. Most of these aberrations will, if seriously considered, end in the denial of the everlasting gospel.