Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
NUMBER 12, PAGE 38-40a

Millennial Dispensationalism

William E. Wallace

Millennial dispensationalism is well defined in the following selections: "The careful student of Scripture...finds dispensation succeeds dispensation in human history, all marked by seven features essentially the same. First, an advance in fullness and clearness of revelation; then a gigantic civilization, brilliant but Godless; then parallel development of evil and good, then an apostasy, and finally a catastrophe." 1

Dispensationalism is a philosophy of history. It is a systematized theological approach or method of interpretation in which numerous time periods are marked off by distinguishing features, these periods or dispensations representing distinct stages in God's progressive order of ages, consummating at the end of an earthly and millennial reign of Christ over the Davidic kingdom of Bible prophecy.

Dispensationalism in its various forms is represented in many fundamental evangelical churches but its primary sources include the Plymouth Brethren, the Dallas Theological Seminary, Grace Gospel Fellowship churches, Grece Bible College and especially the Schofield Reference Bible.

"Dispensationalism, like other forms of premillennialism, teaches that Christ will return to earth and reign for a thousand years, but if differs from other forms of premillennialism in dividing up sacred history into a number of dispensations — usually seven — in each of which God deals with man on a different basis."2

The premillennial characteristics of dispensationalism are listed by Oswald T. Allis in the book "Prophecy and The Church': (1) The millennium is that future period of human history during which Christ will reign personally and visibly with his saints on and over the earth for a thousand years. (2) A visible coming of Christ will precede it. (3) This coming will be in two stages, the rapture and the appearing with a considerable interval of time in between them, in which important events will take place. (See article by Kent Ellis in this issue for a consideration of the millennial ideas about the 'rapture' and the 'appearing'). (4) The rapture may take place at "any moment," and will certainly precede the great tribulation. (5) The rapture is the "blessed hope" of the church. (6) The church is composed of those, and those only, who are saved between Pentecost and the rapture. (7) The church age is mystery period (a parenthesis dispensation unknown to prophecy) laying between the 69th and 70th weeks of the prophecy of Daniel 9. (8) Between the rapture and the appearing, the events of the last week of the prophecy of Daniel 9, of Matthew 24 and of Revelation 4-19 are to take place. (9) After the rapture a Jewish remnant will take the place of the church as God's agent on earth for the conversion of Israel and the Gentiles.

Ryrie states, "The dispensational premillennialists says that the Church is in no way fulfilling these prophecies (Old Testament prophecies — wew) but that their fulfillment is reserved for the millennium and is one of the principal features of it."4 Distinction between the church and the kingdom of Old Testament prophecy is basic to dispensational theology. They admit to the church being a kingdom, but not the kingdom of prophecy. "He (the dispensationalist — wew) does not say that there is no kingdom today, but insists that it is not the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies."5 Finding no literal fulfillment of the golden age of prophecy, the dispensationalist comes up with the answer that the church is a substitute for the Davidic kingdom. The Davidic kingdom was offered to the Jews they assert, the Jews rejected it (a preplanned rejection as in the case of Christ's preplanned crucifixion and the prophesied treachery involved in Judas' betrayal). The church was then established as the mystery body of which Ephesians 3 speaks.

Dispensationalists have important theological or doctrinal differences.6 The movement is divided somewhat and is in a state of refinement and adjustment of some concepts while solidifying in others. As a movement, dispensationalism arose out of a pessimism about chaotic world conditions. The divided condition of apostate Christendom is a factor leading to the reactionary escapism of dispensational theology. Dispensationalists were not satisfied with the usual pre-millennial interpretations, and thus in a search for more satisfying solutions the dispensational movement developed. The Schofield Bible is the chief textbook of the movement.

One of the major tenets of the dispensational system is the 'two-gospel' theory in which they have Paul and Peter preaching different gospels. They admit that Peter preached baptism for the remission of sins, but contend that Paul ushered in another dispensation and preached salvation by grace without baptism. Thus dispensationalism may be described as a means to get water baptism out of the plan of salvation and the millennium into God's eternal scheme of redemption. It is not within our present purpose to consider the "two-gospel" theory of dispensationalism and so we return to the subject at hand — dispensational millennialism. But in passing we suggest that the key to refuting the two-gospel theory is in equating or identifying what Paul preached after his conversion with what he had persecuted before his conversion, thus showing that the gospel preached by others before Paul's conversion was exactly what Paul continually preached after his conversion (Acts 22:4; 26:20-22,23).

Evaluation And Refutation

In refuting dispensationalism one might well begin with an analysis of the Greek word oikonoma from which we have the English dispensation. The word as used in the Bible involves a stewardship or economy (See Luke 16:3,4; I Cor. 9:17; Eph. 3:2; Col. 1:25; I Tim. 1:4; Eph. 1:10). The central idea in the word dispensation being that of managing or administering, it is supposed by dispensationalists that God has arranged the distinguishable economies of dispensational theology in which his world-household has been managed through the ages. They empahsize a time element, but the word involves emphasis on a system. The Bible does indeed clearly outline three' periods of time in which God deals with man with different systems. There were the patriarchal and the Jewish ages, then the present Christian age. The Bible clearly reveals a time when God worked with mankind without a written law. With the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai a new method of dealing with man was introduced. Then with the beginning of the church still another system of dealing with man was employed. But dispensationalists find reasons for dividing the ages into seven or more time periods. Refutation of their theological divisions comes in showing how arbitrary their divisions are, and further, by showing how one may, by using their principles of time-period divisions, create many other arbitrary time divisions not normally considered by dispensational theology. One might well add to their number of dispensations by marking off the period of the Babylonian captivity as a dispensation, the inter-testament period or the time of Maccabean rule. When emphasis is put on the time element rather than on the system factor there can be no end to the arbitrary classification of time periods suggested by Bible events. Jesus did not recognize the dispensational time divisions nor is there any evidence that early Christians were taught anything like what is seen on dispensational charts.

Refutation of dispensational millennialism is in the area of proper application of Old and New Testament prophecies. It is essential to show the validity of spiritual typical and symbolic interpretation of prophecy and apocalyptic scripture.7 It is essential to show the impossibility or absurdity of a "consistent literal interpretation" of Bible prophecies, symbols and figures.8 Most of the arguments exposing premillennial application of Bible passages will refute dispensational eschatology.

Dispensationalist Ryrie9 states that "If it (the Davidic Kingdom) is the Church, then dispensationalism is unwarranted." Thus to show the present reality of the kingdom of Old Testament prophecy as it identifies with the church is to refute dispensationalism. Further, to equate spiritual Israel with the church according to New Testament teaching serves as a refutation of the doctrine. (See Robert Welch's article elsewhere in this issue). Proper exegesis of the "mystery" of Ephesians 3:1-6 and related passages serves to show the fallacy of dispensational theology about the church.

Allis points out that "Dispensationalism has its source in a faulty and unscriptural literalism, which, in the important field of prophecy, ignores the typical and preparatory character of the Old Testament dispensation." 10 He sets forth the following arbitrary assumptions of dispensationalists: (1) Israel always means the Old Testament fleshly Israel. (2) The kingdom which John preached was an earthly, political or national kingdom of the Jews. (3) Jesus and his apostles made no effort to introduce such a kingdom because it was rejected by Jews and postponed by God. (4) Postponement made possible the Church — the mystery. (5) The church is to expect the "any moment rapture" — Jesus coming for the saints. (6) Between coming FOR the saints and coming WITH saints, the great tribulation period and the millennium which follows will witness the "restoration of Judaism," reestablishment of Mosiac Law and Levitical sacrifices. (7) After the rapture a Jewish remnant will preach the gospel of the Kingdom. It is not difficult to show the fallacy of these contentions, and such refutation appears in other articles in this special issue.

In II Peter 3:17-18 the apostle Peter warns the early Christians not to be shaken from their "stedfastness," (foundation beliefs), by such systematic perversions of scripture as that represented by dispensationalism. The dispensational system was not part of the foundation beliefs, the "stedfastness" of early Christians. When those early Christians grew in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ they did so without the dispensational philosophy. It was essential to their welfare, and it is necessary for ours, that such perverted systems of interpretation of prophecy as that represented in the dispensational movement be refuted and opposed.

Your attention is called to other articles in this special issue which set forth what Christians should believe about the end of time and the second coming of Christ.

1. A. J. Frost, "Condition of The Church and World At Christ's Second Advent..." Prophetic Studies of the International Prophetic Conference (1886), edited by Geo. Needham, Fleming H. Revel Co., 1886, pages 166-168.

2. C. Norman Kraus, "Dispensationalism In America" John Knox Press, 1958, pg. 7 3. Presbyterian and Reformed Pub., 1945

4. Op. cit. pg. 159 5. Ryrle op. cit. pg. 174

6. See "A New Look at Dispensationalism" by Roy L. Aldrich, Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 120, Jan. — Mar., 1963, Nu. 477, pgs. 4249.

7. One of the best works In this field is James Bales' "New Testament Interpretation of Old Testament Prophecies Of The Kingdom" Harding College Press, 1950.

8. See "God's Prophetic Word" by Foy E. Wallace, Jr., FEW Publications 9. op. cit. pg. 171

10. op. cit. pg. 256f