That’s a word you’ll hear if you stick around mainstream Christian churches long enough, or at least you’ll be exposed to the teaching of it. Many regular church goers have no idea what it means, but they’ve heard their pastor say things like, “That was the dispensation of Law; we are under the dispensation of Grace”, or something similar, however they just never quite got around to questioning what exactly that means. Well, before we go any further, let’s define the terms, shall we?
“Dispensationalism is a theological system that teaches biblical history is best understood in light of a number of successive administrations of God’s dealings with mankind, which it calls “dispensations.” It maintains fundamental distinctions between God’s plans for national Israel and for the New Testament Church, and emphasizes prophecy of the end-times and a pre-tribulation rapture of the church prior to Christ’s Second Coming. Its beginnings are usually associated with the Plymouth Brethren movement in the UK and the teachings of John Nelson Darby” (source: Theopedia)
Other sources defining dispensationalism: http://answers.org/theology/dispensationalism.html, http://www.ankerberg.com/Articles/biblical-prophecy/BP0301W1.htm
Let’s dig a bit deeper into the history of this doctrine. While many theologians and pastors will present this doctrine as “sound Biblical interpretation” that was accepted as truth even by the apostles themselves, the facts are that this doctrine of dispensations is a very, very recent doctrine that has no such pedigree. The origins of dispensationalism can be found in the mid 1800’s, invented by a man named John Nelson Darby. They were born out of his confusion as to who Israel is in the Scriptures, and thus he decided to divide them into two distinct entities, Israel in the OT and “the church” in the NT. He failed to realize that the same Greek word translated “church” in the New Testament was used of the people of Israel at Mt Sinai in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament). The word is “ekklesia”, and it simply means “assembly” or “congregation”.
Either being ignorant of this simple fact or simply not caring, John Darby created an entire doctrine based on his own opinion during his time at Trinity College in Dublin. Thanks to another man named C.I. Scofield who wrote a very successful reference Bible, this newfound doctrine worked its way into popularity among nearly all Christian denominations. Dispensationalism also caught the attention of D.L. Moody, who took the doctrine and ran with it. Curiously, this was also the same timeframe when the “pre-trib rapture” theory was popularized, which is another church-taught fallacy found nowhere in Scripture. Today, the roots of dispensationalism have taken many strongholds, most notably at Dallas Theological Seminary, which is responsible for churning out thousands of pastors and Bible teachers.
So let’s stop a moment and analyze what we know. Essentially, what you have here is people making things up at Bible college, and running around espousing their pet doctrines. Because these doctrines are published in a popular reference Bible, the average lay person accepts it as “God’s truth”. Nearly two hundred years later, this same pet doctrine is espoused in nearly every major seminary in one form or another, without anybody bothering to question whether this was the “old time religion” that the apostles believed in, or if it was “another gospel”. I believe the historical facts are overwhelmingly in favor of the latter.
Since it is historically proven that this doctrine wasn’t even invented when the apostles were alive, my question is, why would anyone want to believe or preach it? It boils down to one of two answers:
2) an agenda
Those are the only two reasons that present themselves to us. While the first is easily understood, the second may be confusing to some. “Why would anyone have an agenda to push dispensationalism into mainstream Christianity?” you might ask. Quite frankly, it’s because most leaders of today’s denominations want desperately to excuse themselves from having to obey any of God’s commandments in the Old Testament. Dispensationalism, replacement theology, covenant theology, etc. are all merely convenient doctrinal excuses to get out of our responsibility to obey God. These doctrines are used to tell church goers that God deals with mankind differently in different periods of time, but that’s not what I read in my Bible. Malachi 3:6 says “I AM the LORD God; I change not.”
I believe most of the leaders of Christianity today know these facts (in fact, they’d be highly ignorant if they didn’t), but they either suppress the truth or are afraid to preach on it because they will lose their positions.
2 Timothy 4:3-4: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
After our little history lesson, I’d say dispensationalism(and the pretrib rapture, natch) falls squarely into the category of “fables”. There is no Biblical support for such a doctrine, and there never was. Men twist and turn Scripture every which way, but in the end, there is no explaining away “thus saith the LORD” and “I change not!”.
The question now becomes, now that you know dispensationalism is an unBiblical fable designed to lead you away from obeying the Father, what will you do with that information? Will you ignore it? Will you suppress it? Or will you apply it to your life and allow the Truth to change you?
As a friend of mine said to me, if you are seeing something in Scripture that no one has ever seen before, it’s probably not truth. That applies to John Nelson Darby as well as you and I.
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P.S. For more info on this topic, check out the following video...