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.