First published on Christian Controverser
Anyone who has followed dispensationalism for any length of time soon becomes aware of the many claims made by its proponents that present day and future events are foretold in the Book of Revelation. The key ones, of course, are the rapture, seven year tribulation and millenial reign. However, ardent dispensationalists have brought significant discredit to their cause by creating dates when they supposed the world would end. This foretelling of the Second Coming has been in actuality occurring for thousands of years despite its complete failure in all predictions to date. We also fail to understand why dispensationalists persist with these practices despite the very clear statement in Scripture that no one will know the hour when Jesus will return, “not even the angels in heaven”.
As noted in a previous part, historicist eschatology, which in some ways resembles futurism (dispensationalism), was popular at the time of the European Reformation, as the reformers labelled the Catholic Pope as the antichrist. Such sentiments continue to be expounded to the present day. In research for this part we consulted certain works produced by Barry Smith Family Evangelism, a notable New Zealand based dispensationalist ministry from the 1960s to the early 2000s. The ministry closed down after its founder’s death and has not operated since. Smith’s apparent first book “Warning” (1980) expounded a number of key themes that continually pop up in one form or another in most dispensationalist propaganda. (He went on to write at least another four or five books in the same theme, each one updating the same message, but none achieving any of its core claims. We have retained these books mainly for other useful ministry teachings they contain, rather than the dispensationalist message)
- That a one world government would be established following the formation of the European Economic Community, the ten horns referred to in Daniel being the 10 nations that made up the EEC. As everyone now know, there are much more than 10 nations in the current European Community.
- Henry Kissinger must be considered a key candidate for the one world leader. The numerics of his name add up to 666.
- There would be a major financial crash that would lead to the imposition of a single world currency. EFTPOS and credit cards were the mark of the beast (the symbol for “Bankcard”, a credit card available in Australia and NZ, incorporated three 6’s.)
- A computer called “The Beast” existed in Brussels that would be able to record everyone’s personal information and keep records of all their transactions.
There was quite a lot more detail but we have just illustrated some of the key claims. The pattern followed in each generation by dispensationalist authors has been similar. A supposedly irrefutable and guaranteed set of claims has been made about world events, complete with dates. Inevitably, the outcome over centuries has been the failure of the predictions, but the followers are enjoined to believe the bigger picture is still happening behind the scenes. This is the basic modus operandi that sustains all secular conspiracy theories, which in essence these beliefs are: that the conspiracy will live to fight another day.
But the church is supposed to be different from the world. We are supposed to be the ones with answers that are inviolable truths to resolve common questions about the relevance of faith in our society, rather than providing answers to contrived questions about world events that can’t be sustained. In other words, the ministry that churches have built around dispensationalist teachings are a great distraction from the message of preaching the Gospel. When people live out their personal faith as Christians, they expect to hear messages that uplift them in their faith and show evidence that God is at work in their lives. The problem with dispensationalist teachings is that they don’t produce any such evidence for the people who hear them. Since the events being prophesied don’t occur, it follows that the messages are not fulfilling any kind of exhortational purpose in believer’s lives. Therefore, the ministry purpose being achieved is very questionable. The dispensationalist message encourages people to be fearful about their future life under the possibility of a tribulation and a series of horrific world events resulting in great loss of life and human hardship. That message is not in keeping with an unction to glorious holy daily life of a believer. It has also been suggested that some people have been so devastated by the failure of foretold events to occur that they have abandoned their personal faith. Surely this is counterproductive and the establishment of a shaky theological foundation into the life of a believer will have long term negative consequences such as these.
The core problem for exponents of dispensationalism is their belief that they are shaping destiny and that their cause is just and true. America is a democratic nation as it stands now, yet they are crusading for a cause that will seek to establish a theocratic government, which involves closing down any avenue of competition. In pursuit of this cause, they enjoin the church at large in the US and worldwide to sign up to their cause which is seen as a righteous war between good and evil. But in reality it is a subplot between lesser and greater levels of evil and the subtext that underlines every action of it, the pursuit of political power, is a major corrupting influence. The reality is that the Christian Right in the US has become focused on getting this dispensationalist cause of action pursued by the Government there at all costs, and that involves alliances with secular forces that have not the slightest concern about the church or the cause of the Gospel. In the process the church has become so entrenched in the politics of the side it has chosen (the Republican Party) that it has been wilfully blinded to the hypocrisy of what it has signed up to.
Here’s an example: CBN (Christian Broadcast Network, a major US church backed broadcast TV network) this very afternoon on our local channel Shine TV broadcast a “news exclusive” which was a story that claimed Facebook and Twitter were engaged in censoring an important news item concerning the Democratic Party candidate, Biden, and his family’s business dealings in Eastern Europe. The quest for CBN’s favoured political candidate Trump to win at all costs is so desperate despite Trump’s many failings as a serious leader, which have made him a laughingstock and the butt of many jokes, that they are prepared to broadcast all of this blatantly one sided political propaganda in favour of the Republicans. This latest report was produced by the US Senate, which is currently Republican controlled, and the US political system has become so morally corrupt and self serving that it is a wonder that any Christian leader in that nation can sleep at night backing Trump along with the rest of their rotten government. In other words, the dispensationalist churches have sold out to the pursuit of political power, and the key teachings in this theology are largely tailored to suit a set of political outcomes that have become a huge, unwelcome and rotten distraction from the core purpose of the Gospel message. Now, whilst all that dispensationalist nonsense has been going on, has anyone with an ounce of sense in church leadership in the US noticed that:
- American has become the world’s most unequal developed nation. Financial wealth is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a handful of billionaires and trillionaires, along with the power that comes with it. Meanwhile, poverty, homelessness and other forms of social deprivation are becoming increasingly entrenched. The health system in the US is so unequal that people who are out of work can’t get any affordable health care at all (unless they qualify for Medicare).
- Whilst believers are enjoined by dispensationalist ministers to watch out for a future one world government that will be able to maintain surveillance over all of its citizens, the reality is that private for-profit corporations are able to do this already. Google, Amazon and Facebook already collect so much personal data about everyday US and world citizens who use their services that their potential power over individuals is arguably greater than many governments in less free countries. These companies are able to operate more or less unfettered in their US home because the Republican Party has a vested interest in greasing the wheels for these companies in anticipation of large financial contributions to election campaigns.
- The US political system turns a blind eye to corrupt electoral practices and voter suppression tactics that in any other country would be anathema. As an example, in a Republican state, the governor can decree that only a handful of polling places will be open in geographically large black (Democrat voting) counties where people have to travel long distances and queue for hours to vote. People outside the US were shocked by the outcomes of the 2000 presidential election when the Supreme Court ruled on partisan lines that vote counting would cease. People outside the US are shocked by the amount of power that is concentrated in a body of justices with lifetime appointments who are inevitably acting on the interests of the political party that appointed them.
- We could go on at length but that’s enough for now….
Well, we had no intention of going off on a diatribe about US society and politics but we think this is just a very important problem for the church in the US – they have become too accommodating with secular society in signing up to a common pursuit of political power that they have allowed themselves to be dragged in way over their heads and are now rubberstamping whatever the US president or Republican party decides is good for themselves. A large amount of this is vanity on the part of dispensationalists, that their branch of the church is God’s chosen instrument of righteousness that will usher in the second coming of Christ and the millenial rule. The truth is somewhat less flattering: God is at work around the world, and people are achieving a whole lot more tangible outcomes for the kingdom through traditional forms of evangelism, rather than the distraction of dispensationalism. As we’ve noted, this form of theology is largely unsupported outside the US because its message does not in reality achieve a useful purpose. It only achieves any sort of purpose in the US because they sincerely but mistakenly believe they are a chosen instrument of leading the church in a new direction. Ultimately it is highly questionable that that direction has on the balance of probabilities improved the lives of the majority of the US’s own citizens, let alone the Church worldwide.
The reality is that sooner or later the corrupt US political system will fall, and with it the dispensationalist branch of the church. Then people will be asking how they got entangled with politics in the first place and why all this effort was wasted for no good cause.