Monthly Archives: April 2012

A Brief Critique of Dispensationalism

This short article by Richard Jones reviews the historical connection between the Plymouth Brethren denomination and dispensationalism and of the strong influence on both by J. N. Darby. The joint errors of both theories in eschatology and of the place of God’s moral/civil law in the lives of individuals, in the Church and in culture have had serious negative societal consequences in the20th and this century. It’s posted to further equip the saints in their labors to advance Christ’s Kingdom. Deo Vindice!

Christians should be re-thinking the troubling theory of dispensationalism.  From its beginning in 1830, to the Scofield Bible in 1909, to the present – the belief in the coming defeat of the Church in history has been a thorn in the flesh to the Church in its duty to be an obedient source of salt and light, and to “teach the people to obey all things I have commanded,” Mt 28:20. U.S. meltdown in culture has not stemmed from an evil federal government, from the God-denying, govt.-imposed public schools, from liberal media or from immoral mind infestation by Hollywood and TV. These and more took root and flourished because the 19th century Church in America began to minimize God’s moral and civic laws as well as becoming fatally attracted to a fatal theory of eschatology. Though perhaps personally comforting, this pessimism-driven end times expectancy of Church retreat amid a spiritual battle of global proportions needs to be replaced with the Bible’s vibrant message of victory in history and culture. A look at Plymouth Brethrenism is necessary in order to better grasp dispensationalism’s foundations.

Facts about Plymouth Brethrenism:  

1. The U.K’s John Nelson Darby and several friends launched the Plymouth Brethren movement in 1820 – 1830. Aspects of Brethrenism clearly appear to have eventually found their way into Darby’s novel dispensational theory.

2. French Enlightenment spiritual-moral rebellion was still in full force in Darby’s day. God was in the hostile crosshairs of a materialistic, man-centered adversary dedicated to relegating Christianity to myth and superstition status. When deceptive enlightenment substitutes of reason, logic and science began supplanting God as the font of human thinking and morality – major Christian denominations retreated into pietistic hands-off mode relative to previous, customary triumphs in culture.

3. Such disorder opened the door for titillating new sects, eager to offset mainline church failure to counter enlightenment heresy.  The sect craze brought with it Plymouth Brethrenism along with revolutionary “gospels” of Adventism, Mormonism and others. The U.S. Civil War loaded an additional burden of long-range consequence on the tragedy of church weakness when 600,000 of its best men and Christian leaders-to-be were killed. Even more ended up crippled for life. It’s not unreasonable to ponder to what extent, or even if, the Union was truly “saved.”

4. Some of the early Plymouth Brethren heresies include: 1) Denial of the existence of the Church in the Old Testament even though the O.T. of Christ’s day, the Septuagint, translates the Hebrew qahal (assembly or congregation) into Greek 137 times as ecclesia (the “called out ones,” i.e., the church. ) Nor are the 15 O.T. heroes and prophets of Hebrews 11 considered to be of the Church. 2) God’s moral and civil laws are no longer valid for Christians for personal conduct in spite of Matthew 5:18-20; Romans 7:12, 14, 22; 13: 8-10 and many others. 3) There are no assigned positions of minister-leader. Adult male Brethren members speak with equal authority in spite of ordination commands in Timothy and Titus for bishops, presbyters and deacons.

Darby’s major dispensational theories:

1. There are seven separate ages or dispensations:  The ages of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the New Testament or Church Age and then a final restoration of the chosen people, the Jews, to the land.

2. God deals with His people differently in each dispensation regarding covenants. After Adam’s fall, man came under a “covenant of works” whereby hard work was to be his lot. Old Testament Israelites were under the full law (moral, civil, dietary, sacrificial and ceremonial) for personal conduct (and, some imply, for salvation as well.) However, in the New Testament or Church Age, Christians, being under grace for salvation not law (no dispute there) are supposedly not under law for personal conduct either. But, this raises the question of what man-made alternative moral standard now governs sinners instead? Dispensationalism’s answers tend to be vague and unhelpful.

3. For 1800 years prior to Darby, and contra dispensationalism, there was agreement that the Church existed in the Old Testament. After all, the main and unifying theme from Genesis to Revelation is Christ’s repentance-inducing, obedience-inducing and worship-inducing sacrifice for redemption and the advancement of His bride, the Church prior to His final return. Some AD century ancients believed in a literal return and earthly reign and some didn’t, but the Church was always the focus, not national Israel. In dispensationalism this all changes: Darby goes beyond the centrality of redemption and elevates his novel preoccupation with national physical Israel, past and future, to nearly equal status. The Church is “not present” in the O.T., appearing instead for the first time in Acts 2:4 as temporary only and sandwiched between dispensations number 5 and 7. “Raptured to heaven” as the result of some potential global crisis (stretching now, in potential, even into the 21st century) the Church gives way to national Israel, restored to the land and again under some or all of the O.T. law.

4. Some dispensationalists believe when Christ returns to reign from a rebuilt temple that animal sacrifices will be reinstated “as memorials.”

5. Five major pillars of dispensationalism are: A conjoint tribulation-rapture event. A rebuilt temple. (Actually, two temples; the 3rd, destroyed in “the tribulation” and the 4th, built to replace it.) Christ’s literal return to rule on earth. Appearance of an “antichrist” in Revelation, and, number 5, the return of the Jewish people to the land. “Pillars” as theoretically and prophetically important as these should appear in the New Testament in great abundance, yet they are not found there at all, including any literal return of Christ to rule and reign physically on earth. As best we know, His final return will duplicate his combined literal/figurative AD70 return in Mt 24:30, and be as described in Paul’s lengthy discourse in 1 Corinthians 15. Christ reigns now, has always reigned, and will continue to reign eternally from heaven.

Just as evolution, self-servingly, needs the earth to be millions of years old for “fish to evolve into monkeys and men,” so, too, does Darby’s theory demand that Revelation be written after AD70’s apocalyptic events in Israel and Jerusalem. This is in order to make John’s book not only future for his day but still future for us in AD2012 (!) This necessitates a complicatedly-devised, post-AD70 date of around AD95. But, for centuries prior to 1830, Church consensus was that Revelation was written before AD70. That same consensus also held that election by a sovereign God was basic to salvation, but, in Darby, Arminianism rules. This view rejects the “L” in TULIP (of Calvinistic-Covenantal import) where atonement is “L-imited” to the elect. Instead, dispensationalism says that (what must be a saddened) Christ died for every person ever born, not just the elect.

Dispensationalists tend to relish, privately, the sense of relief and escapism offered by the “soon end” of the political, social and economic chaos of “this present evil age.” This, in dramatic contrast to eras when Christians shone as inspirers and leaders in dealing with the tough challenges continually faced by any culture. As related to the “soon coming apocalypse,” it’s now stated that culture has to deteriorate in order to be on schedule for God’s plan to work. This mindset of resignation has led to weak sermons and to the absence of difference-making leaders needed in a salvageable culture.

Two parallels between Darby’s dispensationalism and his Plymouth Brethrenism.

1. That members are independent of duly chosen and sworn authority figures in the church leads directly to the inroads made by enlightenment man-centeredness. This is seen in the thousands of needless Protestant denominations (and church splits) over the past 150 years, and the person-centeredness within independent house churches. It’s also noted in the “it’s all about me” attitudes in Western culture; even inside the Church.

2. That the Church was “not present” in the Old Testament is ill-advised support for the notion that God’s O.T. moral laws are unimportant or canceled outright in the “Church Age” for personal, church and community moral conduct. 21st century moral collapse may be largely attributed to this moral ambiguity and to the weakened spiritual fiber of a Church that “knows,” per Darby, that “it’s on its last legs.” Institutionalized pessimism and a strategy of retreat have not helped Christians to stay steadfast in the knowledge that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. Satanic humanism’s 150 year old occupation of culture has done a very effective job of exposing this tacit surrender.

21st century Christians should carefully re-think dispensationalism especially as to humanism’s supposed “inevitable” takeover of culture. Outstanding openings for kingdom advancement have been needlessly frittered away because of an unwarranted end times theory. Accordingly, less time is now available to restore a God-honoring culture and to build that fabled shining city on a hill that remains  eminently buildable. It’s not too late for the awakened to act, but only if Darby’s notion is swiftly consigned to the graveyard of all well-intentioned but mistaken theories.

For Further Study:


A Letter to Clare: Apologetics 101 Part 5

In this five-part series on apologetics, Dr. Dick Jones provides a number of useful insights via a letter to Clare, a real person. Beyond its hoped-for impact on her life, this offering from the  Truth of God’s word was written so as to be equally useful for today’s Christian adults, the majority of whom have been philosophically enslaved to a faulty belief system. (This is part Five of a five part series.)

Dear Clare,

Review of 4: Evolutionists believe they have their own ways to account for morality without   God. But, they don’t. They must borrow or piggy-back on the Christian worldview in order to say meaningful things and to have useful thoughts; they just don’t want to admit it. Just as borrowing is true for knowing about right and wrong, it’s also true for how we know what we know and how it is that we’re able to know – that is, for epistemology. 

Fourth Problem: Just because evolutionists might sound oh-so-impressive on TV or wear fancy white lab coats doesn’t make evolution true. Besides, it can’t be proven anyway. It will never be seen in a lab anymore than it’s seen in nature which is never. It’s not science and evolutionists are not actual scientists. Even so, they keep on trying to trick us into believing that there’s an    authentic link between evolution and true science because if there is then God and Christianity must be false. This lets them think that their belief about epistemology and morality are just as good as Christian beliefs. But, it won’t work. How can they account for anything, whether out loud or privately to themselves, if they’re just animals by their own definition? They can’t.

Fifth Problem: The Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule and other outstanding Bible advice has been used to good advantage for centuries by millions worldwide. It’s a beautiful fact and parents and teachers should remind us to be thankful for it. But, these days it’s sad that our national heritage (social habit) of good behavior and the Bible’s good foundation for knowing about right and wrong is slipping away. But, even though it’s slipping, so much of this good advice has been “built into us” over the decades that Americans – even though they don’t know anymore where the good rules came from in the first place – still at least use part of them part of the time. Our concern is that even the memory of the good rules’ origins may soon be gone.

The summary of the five problems is this: Since they’re not evolved animals, evolutionists have to borrow from God for everything. They borrow their bodies from Him and do the same for their ability to think and know and to know right from wrong.

Some summary points:   

* Epistemology in summary: God creates life and gives us purpose. He and His Bible have the only explanation for how to account for (how to explain about) knowledge and thinking and for knowing about knowing and thinking. The pretend-science of evolution gives us “accidental animal” people no foundation for anything except hopelessness, depression and despair.

* Pro-evolution atheists probably shouldn’t debate Christians about God. Most debates (except a lot of courtroom jury trials) are about finding truth, and one side is finally judged right and the other wrong. Since atheists can’t properly account for epistemology, they can’t account for an ultimate standard for truth, right and wrong either. But, by debating, they silently agree that such a standard has to exist, meaning they lose the “God debate”  before the debate even starts.

* God in heaven is the God of the family, marriage, sports, talking, fun, school, piano, jobs, money, cars, homes, pets, antibiotics, water, vegetables and otters. All of it is His and it’s all about Him. We use all of His stuff all the time and it’s good to use it in ways that please Him.

* Everything has a cause except God. He always was, is, and always will be because of the impossibility that He doesn’t. He didn’t need to use evolution as a way to create. It was enough for Him simply to speak the universe into existence as He did, 6,000 years ago.

* Just a very few mind-programmers in the movies, schools, magazines, TV etc. have tricked millions of everyday people into rejecting God. Sadly, many such victims eventually go on to become substitute helpers for the mind-programmers themselves. When God is rejected then cities, states and whole nations go downhill morally and everyone is worse off.

* Anti-God people think of their own pleasure first and Satan happily encourages them. They tell everyone that God is a fairy tale invented by weak people who need a psychological crutch.

The “borrowing” story is a big part of this letter because it tells why even non-Christians have a “legal” or “official” reason for being able to think straight. (That is, when they do!) God gives us our brains so it’s wise to follow Him, obey His rules and make Him the most important part of your day starting each morning. This also means reading the Bible for all that’s in there for you. It was God, through the pen of Solomon, who wrote Proverbs, a book which has the power to help even those people who don’t believe in Him. You might read chapter one and Psalm 1 and 2. You can also join a church for the benefit you get from older Christians. You can lend a hand there, too, by helping others, including those younger than you as you move up the ladder.

Getting baptized is a good, public way to show that God is the most important thing in what will be your very short, fleeting life. “Short”  means even if you live to be 100 it’s still short compared to eternity which isn’t just a thousand years, it’s forever! Life on earth is like a pre-eternity test laboratory, so when you get married, have children and make new friends, please remember that God’s advice should be applied not just in church on Sundays but also Monday through Saturday in every area of your future life whether it’s in marriage, nursing, journalism, logging, trapping, business, pest control, medicine, banking, politics, agriculture, education, music or science. There’s a big need for more new Christians to be out there making a helpful, useful difference on behalf of the Creator. I hope you and your friends will be those new people.

We’re all sinners, so following God is not always easy. But, when we repent after we sin and ask forgiveness, He will forgive. You can show Him you’re serious about the sin problem by praying and trying hard not to repeat. Doing all these things means that your life will be better, happier and far more satisfying than by any other way. Ask almost any older adult.

Following Him means you’ll be the best mom and wife possible when your time comes in the next few years. And, a good friend to many. In fact, you’ll be one of the most respected and best-liked people in the whole state. The decision is up to you and I hope you make the choice. All these things are what I wish someone had begun telling me when I was 12.

Thanks for reading this, Clare. I believe God will bless you for it.