John Darby (1800-1882), Father of Dispensationalism
Why I’m No Longer a Dispensationalist
Disclaimer: There are many dispensational Christians who love Jesus Christ. The sincerity of their faith is unquestionable. One can be a dispensationalist and a child of God.
There are three primary groups of dispensationalists today: progressive, traditional, and ultra (hyper) . Most are progressive. Their theology has shifted significantly from their founder, J. N. Darby (1800-1882). The second group is traditional or classic dispensationalists. The smallest segment is ultra (hyper) dispensationalists. Please read with the understanding that everything written does not apply to every dispensationalist. As a former traditional (classic) dispensationalist, this group will be the focus of this writing.
 The following resources were helpful in creating this writing: Progressive Dispensationalism, by Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock, 2000; Reflections of a Recovering Dispensationalist by S. P. Sammons, 2012; Dispensationalism, Charles C. Ryrie, 2007; and http://dispensationalist.blogspot.com (I benefited greatly from this website and recommend it).
The Primary Feature of Dispensationalism is Unbiblical
In the book Dispensationalism, Charles Ryrie writes, “What marks off a person as a dispensationalist?” (2007, Location 680, Kindle Edition). He answers this question: “A Dispensationalist keeps Israel and the church distinct” (Location 692). For additional clarification, Ryrie quotes Daniel Fuller: “the basic premise of dispensationalism is two purposes God expressed in the formation of two peoples who maintain their distinction throughout eternity” (Location 695). Ryrie further clarifies this distinction by quoting Lewis Chafer: “The dispensationalist believes that throughout the ages God is pursuing two distinct purposes: one related to the earth with earthly people and earthly objectives involved which is Judaism; while the other is related to heaven with heavenly people…” (Location 705).
A central belief of Christianity is that God’s Word is the final authority for faith and practice. This belief in practice forbids any teaching or doctrine from dethroning God’s Word as the absolute, final standard. So does God’s Word teach this dispensationalist doctrine while adhering to sound principles of interpretation? If God’s Word doesn’t, dispensationalists interpret the Bible under a false premise.
Before we examine this doctrine under the searchlight of Scripture, there are two primary methods of biblical interpretation you should know. They are eisegesis and exegesis. The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Grenz, Guretzki & Nordling, 1999, p. 49) defines eisegesis as, “reading meaning into” and exegesis as, “drawing meaning out of.” If further states, “exegesis is the process of seeking to understand what a text means or communicates on its own. Eisegesis is generally a derogatory term used to designate the practice of imposing a preconceived or foreign meaning onto a text, even if that meaning could not have been originally intended at the time of its writing” (p. 50).
In plain English, eisegesis is a method of biblical interpretation where a held doctrine or belief is read into the text, which is contrary to the author’s intended meaning.
Exegesis involves drawing the author’s intended meaning out (objectively, in neutral) while considering the historical context, genre, culture, grammar, etc. For further information on the exegetical method of interpretation, please visit Principles of Biblical Interpretation.
In Location 2500, under the subtitle, “The church is distinct from Israel,” Ryrie defends this dispensational distinction: “In the New Testament, natural Israel and the Gentiles are contrasted.” He continues, “Israel is addressed as a nation in contrast to Gentiles after the church was established at Pentecost (Acts 3:12; 4:8, 10; 5:21, 31, 35; 21:28)” (Location 2500). Please consider that these statements are sideshow arguments. They don’t draw out (exegesis) an eternal distinction between two different groups based on race. If dispensationalism is correct, the burden of proof is on those who teach it to back it up using the exegetical method of interpretation.
Ryrie appeals to verses for support using eisegesis. He provides 1 Corinthians 10:31-33: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved” (Location 2513; Ryrie only provides 1 Corinthinans 10:32; the verse before and after are provided for context).
In this passage, Paul instructs the Corinthians how to conduct themselves among the unsaved (“that of many, that they may be saved;” vs. 33). These believers were to “give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God” (vs. 31). Paul is not contextually teaching here that God forever maintains a distinction into eternity between two groups. So don’t fall for the dispensational misuse of this passage to teach something that the author never intended. It’s wrong to replace the contextual meaning with a counterfeit to prop up dispensational theology. As further refutation, the Apostle Paul taught the opposite: believing Jews and Gentiles have been forever united as one in the body of Christ by His blood (Ephesians 2:16).
Another verse provided: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). In this verse God desires that the Jews be saved. He also desires that Gentiles be saved (Acts 28:28; John 10:16, etc.). God technically desires everyone to be saved. But these facts don’t qualify reading a hard nose eternal distinction between Israel and the church, to include distinct eternal destinies (church = heavenly people; redeemed Jews = earthly people).
Not only is an exegetical justification absent for a Jew/Gentile distinction, the Bible states the exact opposite of what dispensationalists believe. After the cross, Paul, wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:28-29).
Because classic dispensationalists are far removed from an exegetical understanding of how God views Jews and Gentiles in the church, most dispensationalists today are progressive. They have come to realize that redeemed Israel and the church don’t represent two distinct entities, peoples, and plans of God. While the church doesn’t erase God’s unfulfilled promises to redeemed Israel, both groups are included in the covenant promises. The church is the complete body of Christ. Within Christ’s body the Jewish/Gentile distinction has been removed.
Dispensationalism is Incompatible with New Testament Christianity
“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
The early church had the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” This is the faith we are after. This faith is exclusive; it’s only found in the pages of Scripture. A correct understanding of the Bible is compromised when the overlay of dispensationalism is applied. If you read this as a dispensationalist, I pray you begin reading the Bible without a pre-conditioned mindset (Church/Israel distinction) and allow the Holy Spirit free reign in the interpretation process.
Dispensationalism (as a theology) didn’t even exist for nearly 2000 years. This theology is absent within the Nicene Father’s writings (100-450 A.D.).
If we are after “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), we must look no farther than the Bible itself for the truth.
Dispensational Divisions are Unbiblical
Another reason why a dispensational understanding of Scriptures is in error is because the biblical word dispensation as found in the Bible (contextual, historical meaning) is different than the meaning created by dispensational theology. In the book, Dispensationalism, Charles Ryrie writes, “A dispensation is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose” (Location 467). Under this theological definition, dispensationalism divides the Bible into dispensational blocks (usually seven). Not only is this practice unbiblically prescribed, it influences how the Bible is interpreted.
Dispensationalism doesn’t stop there. These dispensational blocks are analyzed and interpreted based on characteristics that dispensational theology has created. Ryrie writes, “Thus, the distinguishing characteristics of a different dispensation are three: (1) a change in God’s governmental relationship with man (though a dispensation does not have to be composed entirely of completely new features); (2) a resultant change in man’s responsibility; and (3) corresponding revelation necessary to effect the change (which is new and is a stage in the progress of revelation through the Bible)” (Location 592).
A dispensational overlay over God’s Word negatively influences how the Bible is interpreted from Genesis to revelation.
Dispensationalism Teaches a Pre-tribulational Rapture
Another significant feature of dispensationalism is the belief in pretribulationism. Up until the time of J.N. Darby (1800-1882), the post-tribulational view of the coming of Christ dominated the landscape. Darby believed that an additional coming would take place before the tribulation. While it’s disputed if Darby was the chief architect of this doctrine, nevertheless, his theology has forever influenced the church.
A significant problem of pretribulationism is the absence of any explicit, emphatic statements from Scripture that Christ comes before the tribulation. Despite this difficulty, Darby’s rapture teaching has remained popular in the church. While most dispensationalists are now progressive, many have retained Darby’s belief in a pre-tribulational rapture.
In 1995, the first Left Behind book was published. The 15 books that followed became best selling novels . These books taught the appealing doctrine that Christ raptures His bride before the coming seven-year tribulation.
Because there are no explicit Scriptures that teach this doctrine, it’s mostly upheld by man-made arguments. Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind book series, wrote the book, A Quick Look At The Rapture And The Second Coming (2013). For example, in this book he argues, “It is good to keep in mind that the book of Revelation mentions the church 17 times in the first three chapters, but does not mention it after John (a member of the church) is taken to heaven in 4:1-2. There is no mention of the church at all during the entire Tribulation in Revelation 6-19. Why? Because the church will not be on the earth during those seven years, but with Christ in heaven” (page 55).
Please notice what LaHaye has done. Since there is no scriptural support for pretribulationism, he provides a convincing argument. Many fall for polished arguments. LaHaye is in error. It’s a known word fallacy to base an argument on silence. Just because the word church is absent, LaHaye wants you to believe it was raptured before the tribulation. An examination of this argument will uncover its weakness.
First, if the church is raptured before the tribulation, God’s Word must state this. Polished, man-made arguments are not suitable for church doctrine. If God wants us to believe in pretribulationism, He would state this in His Word.
Secondly, using LaHaye’s standard, several Epistles don’t contain the word church. Based on his argument of silence, they are not written to the church.
Third, LaHaye can’t provide any biblical reference for the church being in heaven during the tribulation. So the same standard he used refutes his argument.
Finally, LaHaye is playing magician. His quote left out that the word church is found in the end of the book of Revelation; and based on this verse, chapters 6-19 are contextually written to the church! Jesus said, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (Revelation 22:16).
As stated, there are no verses that promise that Christ will whisk away His bride before the tribulation. The following verses are sometimes used with presuppositions to teach this doctrine:
“But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” 1 Thessalonians 5:8-11.
The argument made and read into this verse is usually something like this: the seven-year tribulation is the wrath of God. “God has not destined us” for this “wrath“. Jesus will save us by rapture before the tribulation comes.
But a correct interpretation must consider the context. Paul is describing the spiritual salvation that believers will receive (unlike the unsaved) when Christ comes on the Day of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Christians will be spared the wrath of the unsaved. Believers never experience the wrath of God.
For the sake of argument, if the pre-tribulational argument was true and the seven-year tribulation is the wrath of God, then those believers who are saved during this period will experience the wrath of God. This teaching is contradictory. No believers will ever experience God’s wrath (Matthew 3:7; John 3:36; Romans 1:18, 2:8, 5:9, 9:22, Revelation 11:18, etc.)
During the tribulation the unsaved will experience some wrath. But this is not the wrath of God (judgement) they will receive on the Day of the Lord. The first mention of the word “wrath” in the tribulation is past the midpoint and from the lips of the unsaved: “Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand” (Revelation 6:15-17)?
Here is another verse used for pretribulationism: “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 3:10). The assumption read into this verse is that Christ keeps this church out of the tribulation by rapturing it.
There are serious problems with this view. The other churches are not promised protection from the “hour of trial.” After Jesus addresses each church, He instructs us to hear and consider what He says to each one, (“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”).
The church at Philadelphia is informed why it will be preserved from this hour. It’s not because of a rapture, but because they “kept my word about patient endurance.” Because of their endurance, Christ will reward them with protection (“I will keep you”).
Dispensationalism is New and Learned
Dispensational theology isn’t learned from Scripture, but outside of Scripture (books, sermons, Seminaries, etc.) and subsequently applied to Scripture. No one become a dispensationalist (as found today) by reading and studying the Bible alone.
Dispensational theology is a new phenomenon in biblical interpretation. Because it’s young, dispensational scholars have pushed back the charge of illegitimacy. One strategy is to quote the Church Father’s use of the word dispensation. The argument is simple. The church fathers (and Christian writers before Darby) used the word dispensation because they understood that God administered his rule differently throughout history. Therefore, dispensation theology was born after existing concepts were gathered and further developed into an organized, logical framework (Dispensationalism, Ryrie, Location 1142, 1182 & 1238).
Ryrie’s explanation of why dispensationalism is recent has problems. Earlier we covered the primary characteristic that makes one a dispensationalist (Jew/Gentile distinction). Ryrie doesn’t provide historical evidence that this belief existed because it didn’t before J.N. Darby (1800-1882).
Secondly, the Apostolic Fathers (100-450 A.D.) used the word dispensation (and those who followed) because this word is biblical. This is why many theologians (to include John Calvin) used it to identify how God administered and ordered affairs in the past. The use of the word dispensation was general. They didn’t divide the Bible into hard dispensations with ruling factors and tests by God consistent with today’s dispensationalism. While they used this word, they weren’t dispensational in their theology.
The Dispensational Understanding of the Abrahamic Covenant is in Error
Dispensationalists are in denial of an important fact concerning the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3). The promises to Abraham and his descendants were not limited in scope to Abraham’s Jewish descendants only.
Abraham was given seven promises, which included four blessings. One promise with blessing was for all Gentiles: “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (v. 3). The last clause has an important promise. Because of the Abrahamic covenant, “All the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This promise is to be read and believed literally.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed” (Galatians 3:6-8). God preached the gospel to Abraham in advance and offered him a fuller explanation. The Gentiles would be saved by the same faith and the Abraham covenant promises are applicable to Gentile believers.
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29). There is no longer a Jewish/Gentile distinction in Christ (verse 28). The Abraham Covenant promises apply to Gentile believers who “are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).
You may have heard the argument that there are thirty differences between the church and Israel. This is an unfair argument because it takes the audience back to the Old Testament before the cross where Christ made peace between two groups of redeemed people (Colossians 1:20). A fair comparison between redeemed Israel and the church considers progressive revelation, “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6).
Dispensationalism Doesn't Believe the Church Completes Christ’s Body
The first mention of the word church (Greek: “ecclesia”) in the New Testament is found in Matthew 16:18, “… I will build my church”. If you hear the dispensational teaching that the church was non-existent when Christ quoted this verse (“I will build [future] my church”), this interpretation is in error. The future tense is speaking of building the church. Two chapters later (Matthew 18:17), the church exists. How can this be possible since dispensationalists claim it did not start until Pentecost?
The entire dispensational house collapses when the New Testament promises to Gentile believers are taken literally, making the church a beneficiary of the Abrahamic and New Covenant promises. In Ephesians 2:12, before Christ’s death, Gentiles were “strangers to the covenants of promise.” Dispensationalists have no difficulty believing this, but the same literal hermeneutic is not applied to the church after the cross (2:13-3:13). If they did, the dispensational wall would crumble. In verse 13, Paul states that the exclusions before the cross (vs. 11-12), to include “strangers to the covenants of promise” are no longer true: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (13). Verse 19: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (see also Galatians 3:29).
“And what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:19-23). God put all things under Christ’s feet (v.22). “All” means all! God assigned Christ “as head over all things to the church.” The church is Christ’s body, “the fullness of Him.” So the church has to include redeemed Israel. We just read that we are one with Israel (Ephesians 2:12-14). The church “fills all in all.”
Dispensationalists diminish the “fullness” of Christ by retaining a separate body of redeemed Jews. There is one Savior for all people (John 3:16). There is one cross for the entire world (1 Peter 2:24). There is one resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:22-24; Revelation 20:4-6). “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-5). “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:18-19).
“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:9-11). The verdict is in. God made peace through His Son, Jesus Christ on the cross. He created a new man in place of the two. The Bible should be read with both eyes open in light of progressive revelation. There is one people of God, not two!
Abraham’s Descendants Weren’t Only Ethnic Jews
Many Dispensationalists believe that because God made the Abrahamic covenant with ethnic Jews, the promises are not for the church. They may take their audience to Genesis 12:1-3 and point out that these promises were for ethnic Jews. They may claim this was true of the Davidic, Mosaic, Land and New covenants as well. Were these covenant promises only applicable to ethnic Jews, with no exceptions?
Some Gentiles converted to Judaism in the Old Testament and enjoyed benefits associated with this new citizenship (Exodus 12:48-49). When the Israelites left Egypt many (probably thousands) of Egyptians joined them and became Jews (Exodus 12:38; Numbers 11:4; Exodus 12:19; 12:48-49; 20:10; Leviticus 16:29; 17:12; 18:2). On occasions, foreigners joined the nation of Israel and received the same rights as ethnic Jews: “It shall be that you will divide it by lot as an inheritance for yourselves, and for the strangers who dwell among you and who bear children among you. They shall be to you as native-born among the children of Israel; they shall have an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And it shall be that in whatever tribe the stranger dwells, there you shall give him his inheritance,” says the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 47:22-23). “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:34).
“You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 24:22). “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people” and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:3-7).
Jesus Christ was a Jew, a descendant from David, who was a descendant from Abraham. Matthew’s legal genealogy, inserts four women (Matthew 1:1-17) among the list of men in the ancestral record of Jesus Christ. It’s fascinating that these women were Gentiles and believed the God of Israel. So was Joseph, the husband of Mary, and stepfather of Jesus, 100% Jewish with Gentiles in his family tree? It’s not all about ethnicity as some dispensationalists teach. At times, Gentiles could be saved and share in the covenant promises as the four Gentile women did. It should be stressed that while Joseph was a Jew, he wasn’t the biological father of Jesus.
The physical male descendants of Abraham who refused circumcision were cut off. Therefore, being a physical descendant alone was not sufficient to be a true descendant of Abraham (Genesis 17:14). Slaves who were purchased had to be circumcised. These foreigners became descendants of Abraham without being born into Israel (see Genesis 17:12-13). Through progressive revelation, God revealed that He held a different circumcision in higher regard. This was spiritual circumcision (Jeremiah 4:4; Colossians 2:11, etc.).
It is acknowledged that while some Gentiles becoming Jews in the Old Testament, there was generally a large divide between these two groups. Paul wrote, “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7). Galatians 3:9 states, “So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.”
The Apostle Paul went on to elaborate further after the cross: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly [includes Gentile believers]; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God” (Romans 2:28-29).
If you are told that the only way for a person to enter Israel in the Old Testament was by physical birth, I hope you think again. The case is strong –it was never by race alone, but by faith.
Gentile believers have been temporarily grafted into the Olive Tree (Israel): “For if their being cast away [unbelieving Jews] is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead. For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you [believing Gentiles], being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either” (Romans 11:15-21).
Jewish unbelievers were broken off (v. 17) because of unbelief (v. 20). Believing Gentiles were grafted into the vine (v. 17). We are grafted in the same tree by grace and share in the nourishment of the root (v. 17) and are not to be proud as Gentiles (v. 20). There are not two trees (Israel & Church), but one! While dispensationalists must acknowledge that Gentile believers are grafted into Israel, dispensational theology won’t allow them to participate fully in Israel’s covenants promises. God’s Word should be believed over any dispensational teaching.
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