A Couple Dispensational Problems

The essence of dispensationalism, then, is the distinction between Israel and the Church. This grows out of the dispensationalists’ consistent employment of normal or plain interpretation, and it reflects an understanding of the basic purpose of God in all His dealings with mankind as that of glorifying Himself through salvation and other purposes as well. —    Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today

In the above quote Charles Ryrie, a leading dispensationalist expresses his view that the key tenant of Dispensational theology is the distinction between Israel and the Church.   What is really interesting about this “distinctive” doctrine, is that prior to the 19th century it was unheard of any where in Church history.

Keith Mathison in his excellent book on Dispensationalism, titled “Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God?” says:`“The early church fathers are almost unanimous in their identification of the church and Israel.   One example will suffice.  Justin Martyr (A.D. 110-165) is often quoted by dispensationalists attempting to prove the history of premillennialism.   He (Martyr) was a premillennialist, but he was certainly not a dispensationalist.   In chapter 135 of his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin writes, “As therefore, Christ is the Israel and the Jacob, even so we, who have been quarried out from the bowels of Christ, are the true Israeliteic race.   Here is Justin, a gentile church leader speaking to Trypho a Jew, and claiming that the church is the true Israel.”

Dispensationalists in their attempt to to defend the historic standing of their position, equate dispensationalism with pre-millennialism.  But the two are not the same, and dispensationalism is definitely the new kid on the block.  I did a paper a few years ago where I listed five specific views that dispensationalists hold that separate them from not only historic premillennialism, but historic Christian teaching in general.   I will discuss a couple of those here.

First,    dispensationalism teaches that God has two distinct programs in history.  One is for Israel and one for the church.   As I mentioned earlier the distinctive doctrine of dispensationalism is the distinction between Israel and the church.  How God deals with these two groups of people in history is a consequence of this distinctive view.

J. Dwight Pentecost, a leading dispensationalist, in his book “Things to Come,”  says that the church is made up of the “heavenly people of God.”   Clarence Larkin, says “The Church is not the old Jewish dispensation in another form.  It is an entirely new thing.   It is not mentioned in the Old Testament, and was unknown by the Old Testament prophets.   It was first revealed by Christ and was future in His day.”  You may be familiar with Clarence Larkin’s as he is one of the first to make all the elaborate end times charts.

Probably the most influential of all the purveyors of dispensationalist doctrine was Cyrus I. Scofield.  In his notes on Romans 11:1 he wrote,“The Christian is of the heavenly seed of Abraham (Gen. 15:5-6; Ga. 3:29), and partakes of the spiritual blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 15:18), but Israel as a nation always has its own place, and is yet to have its greatest exaltation as the earthly people of God.”

Not only is this position that God has different plans for Israel and the Church theologically dangerous it is also deceitful.   If by “Israel,” they mean national, unbelieving, political Israel, and by “the Church,” they are referencing believers, then obviously we are dealing with two distinct groups of people,  But the historic position of the Church of Jesus Christ has always made this distinction.

Both Scripture and the historic Church teach that all believers in all ages have one God, one Savior, and Lord Jesus Christ.   There is only one way of salvation, and only one eternal destiny.   The believers of all ages are one body and not two.   They are one bride not two.

Secondly, dispensationalism teaches that the church and the church age is a “mystery.”  What they mean when they say this is that there were no Old Testament prophecies about the Church.  You can briefly summarize that position by saying that “prophecy is for Israel.”

I mentioned Clarence Larkin earlier as the guy who drew all the prophecy charts.  One of his drawings  is attached here.  The drawing is called “The Mountain Peaks of Prophecy.”  Larkin says of this drawing, “The Old Testament prophets spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19-21).  They did not understand what they prophesied.  (1 Peter 1:10-12.)   They believed that their prophecies as Christ were all to be fulfilled as His first coming.  This accounts for why the people of Christ’s day looked for Him to set up a “temporal kingdom.”  They did not see that this dispensation was to intervene between the cross (The sufferings of Christ), and the crown.  (The Glory that should follow) (1 Peter 1:11).  The prophets saw the events they foretold as separate peaks of one great mountain.”

Notice in the drawing there is a large “Valley of the Church,” which none of the prophetic vision is able to glimpse.  According to Larkin, Pentecost, and dispensational theology the Church  is never spoken of in the Old Testament.   Pentecost says, “It is unrevealed in the Old Testament.”

Let me be clear, like their distinctive teaching about Israel and the Church this teaching too is novel.  Scripture and historic Christian teach both contradict this view.   Dispensationalism, identifies the birth of the church at the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, and yet in Acts 3:24 we read “and all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.”

The idea that the Old Testament prophets foresaw nothing of the Church age is not only preposterous, it has done great damage to the church in terms of her mission, and her calling.  If the Old Testament does not speak to the church, then where, and how does the church understand obedience?  Remember we don’t become a kingdom of priests without obedience, and what exactly is it that we are supposed to obey.  According to the dispensationalist more than three fourths’ of the Bible just does not apply.

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Michael Denna is a reformed pastor and expert on American Dispensationalism. Mike and his wife Michelle lived in California's Sacramento Valley for 24 years and they have recently moved to Grand Junction Colorado where Mike is now the Pastor at Providence Reformed Church.

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3 thoughts on “A Couple Dispensational Problems

  1. Lisa E Givens

    TY Mike this was informative and answered a few questions I just had never bothered to ask. BLessings!

  2. Irv

    / Yo Mike. Discovered your blog. Good stuff. Found this goodie on the net. LB /

    Margaret Macdonald’s Rapture Chart !

    “church” RAPTURE “church”
    (present age) (tribulation)

    In early 1830 Margaret was the very first one to see a pre-Antichrist (pretrib) rapture in the Bible – and John Walvoord and Hal Lindsey lend support for this claim!
    Walvoord’s “Rapture Question” (1979) says her view resembles the “partial-rapture view” and Lindsey’s “The Rapture” (1983) admits that “she definitely teaches a partial rapture.”
    But there’s more. Lindsey (p. 26) says that partial rapturists see only “spiritual” Christians in the rapture and “unspiritual” ones left behind to endure Antichrist’s trial. And Walvoord (p. 97) calls partial rapturists “pretribulationists”!
    Margaret’s pretrib view was a partial rapture form of it since only those “filled with the Spirit” would be raptured before the revealing of the Antichrist. A few critics, who’ve been repeating more than researching, have noted “Church” in the tribulation section of her account. Since they haven’t known that all partial rapturists see “Church” on earth after their pretrib rapture (see above chart), they’ve wrongly assumed that Margaret was a posttrib!
    In Sep. 1830 Edward Irving’s journal “The Morning Watch” (hereafter: TMW) was the first to publicly reflect her novel view when it saw spiritual “Philadelphia” raptured before “the great tribulation” and unspiritual “Laodicea” left on earth.
    In Dec. 1830 John Darby (the so-called “father of dispensationalism” even though he wasn’t first on any crucial aspect of it!) was still defending the historic posttrib rapture view in the “Christian Herald.”
    Pretrib didn’t spring from a “church/Israel” dichotomy, as many have assumed, but sprang from a “church/church” one, as we’ve seen, and was based only on symbols!
    But innate anti-Jewishness soon appeared. (As noted, TMW in Sep. 1830 saw only less worthy church members left behind.) In Sep. 1832 TMW said that less worthy church members and “Jews” would be left behind. But by Mar. 1833 TMW was sure that only “Jews” would face the Antichrist!
    As late as 1837 the non-dichotomous Darby saw the church “going in with Him to the marriage, to wit, with Jerusalem and the Jews.” And he didn’t clearly teach pretrib until 1839. His basis then was the Rev. 12:5 “man child…caught up” symbol he’d “borrowed” (without giving credit) from Irving who had been the first to use it for the same purpose in 1831!
    For related articles Google “X-Raying Margaret,” “Edward Irving is Unnerving,” “Pretrib Rapture’s Missing Lines,” “The Unoriginal John Darby,” “Deceiving and Being Deceived” by D.M., “Pretrib Rapture Pride,” “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” and “Scholars Weigh My Research.” The most documented and accurate book on pretrib rapture history is “The Rapture Plot” (see Armageddon Books online) – a 300-pager that has hundreds of disarming facts (like the ones above) not found in any other source.

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