Skip to main content

Dispensationalism – A Summary by William E. Cox

By April 9, 2011April 12th, 2016Dispensationalism

Dispensationalists begin by clearing the board of all opinions except their own; they dismiss as useless and false all historic interpretations. Next they divide the human race and the Bible into three distinct groups (this is convenient since any scripture which would otherwise refute their interpretation can be relegated to another ‘division’ of Scripture). They add many arbitrary elements which are not supported by the Scriptures, such as extra captivities, extra kingdoms, extra covenants, extra judgments, extra ages, and so on and on. All of these stand or fall together. To disprove one of these premises is to collapse the entire theory.

Their cardinal teachings could be grouped into two main areas: the area of prophecy and the area of the church. Their major interest in prophetic teachings has to do with the prophecies concerning national Israel; most of these they hold to be yet future. With reference to the church, they make it a separate entity from national Israel and believe there are two separate plans for the two groups. Historic Christian theologians have held – as do the great majority of Christian thinkers today – that the nation of Israel was a type while the church is the antitype. That is to say that, rather than being two separate entities, one is a fulfillment or continuation of the other.

Darbyism (dispensationalism) is an unproved inference, which will not stand up under a close scrutiny of the Scriptures. Like many other movements within the history of Christianity this theory met with a widespread response because it struck out against apostasy. As one studies the history of this movement, one will find that there was a dearth of prophetic teaching when the Brethren movement originated about 1825 A.D. There also seems to have been a modernistic attempt to play down or deny cornpletely the second coming of our Lord. This being the case, devout people grabbed quickly at a movement which filled this gap by emphasizing the second coming and a study of prophecy. This same situation explains the wide acceptance of the Scofield Reference Bible. Scofield, although not a Plymouth Brethren, was a devoted disciple of John Darby.

Like most movements, this one, which was dominated by Darby and later by Scofield, brought with it some unscriptural teachings. When there is a hunger on the part of the constituents for a certain type of legislation, it is all too easy for them to ignore undesirable ‘riders’ attached to the bill, and, in their haste, to support more than they thought. This seems to have been the case with dispensational beliefs. Because of the great natural hunger on the part of many people for a return to prophetic teachings, many fascinating ‘riders’ were attached by men such as Darby, and a ‘package deal’ was subscribed to. Our attempt today is to hold fast to that which is good about the Darbyite teachings but to smooth off the rough unscriptural edges.

Most conservatives today would not subscribe in toto to all the teachings of Luther, Calvin, the Pietists, the Separatists, the Puritans, or any other such individual or group in history. Yet we feel that each of these groups has made contributions and has done much to awaken the church out of lethargy at given times in history.

Our point is that we ought to give the Plymouth Brethren credit where credit is due, but that we ought to be willing to admit they too were men like ourselves. And we ought to be willing to hold their good points without being slaves to every jot and tittle of their doctrine. This will be hard for some to do, because many of these men, especially Scofield, have been almost literally canonized and it is considered by many to be sacrilegious to differ from them on a single point. Scofield’s footnotes have been placed within the canon of the Bible itself and he carries the same weight in the minds of some as does the apostle Paul! Many Protestants have fallen into the practice of the Roman Catholic church by having extra-biblical ‘canonized saints’ who speak ex cathedra and are beyond any court of appeal.

Many men, however, have gone into the dispensational movement only to leave it after further examination because of these extra-biblical teachings which were foisted upon every member of that school of thought. These men are still firm believers in predictive prophecy and look for the literal second coming of Christ. They have not left the Bible; they have simply left Darbyism and Scofieldism. George E. Ladd lists many such men in his book, The Blessed Hope.

We look, longingly, for the Blessed Hope of all believers, i.e., the literal, bodily return of our Lord in glory. At that coming we expect all graves to be opened. All the wicked from every generation, along with the wicked then living, will be judged and cast into eternal torment. Taking part in the judgment will be the saints from all ages; for all believers will have been signalled by the trump of God (1 Thess 4:16,17) to be caught up to meet the Bridegroom in the air. His royal train will not stop in mid-air, but he will ‘bring his (raptured) saints with him’ as he continues on to earth. Immediately after the cleansing judgment of all the earth, every believer, of every generation, will cast his crown at Christ’s feet as all believers enter into the Eternal State with him.

Even so come, Lord Jesus.