First published on Christian Controverser
Parts beyond the first three weren’t originally planned, but have been added because we realised there is a whole lot more to the dispensational theology than purported predictions of future events, the part that people most often remark about. We are indebted to Alistair Donaldson for his in depth analysis of the topic, which you can read more about in his book (see at end for details). At this point, on digging into the depths of dispensationalism and becoming more familiar with some of its more extreme propositions, a reader may well ask the question, is it possible to dispense with some parts and keep only the parts that are useful for a specific purpose? The answer, clearly, is no. All of the components and beliefs of dispensationalism come down to a set of core assumptions, and one of those is that Israelis and Gentiles are different and are treated differently in the New Testament era, which is contrary to Scripture. This knowledge allows us to assert that dispensationalism is more than a differing of doctrinal viewpoints such as are common within different churches or denominations, and is starting to resemble a serious heresy or false teaching. The basis of the differing treatment of Israelis and Gentiles inherent in dispensationalism is what gives rise to the teachings regarding, for example, the restoration of the Jewish temple and animal-based sacrificial atonement system. That alone is contrary to all conventional teaching about the sacrificial atonement of Jesus having superseded the old temple-based system (clearly taught in Scripture). Since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the core dogma of the Christian faith, dispensationalism can thereby be considered heretical to this core teaching.
It also becomes clear what one of the possible motivations for teaching dispensationalism is. If a doctrine is shown to be anathema to key beliefs of the Christian faith, why would churches persist in proclaiming its particular message? The answer seems quite plain: these churches gain purported extra spiritual favour with God, and undoubtedly real material favour with the present government of Israel for the support they have given to it. Thus, these churches are getting some kind of spiritual “brownie points” for their activities. Dispensationalist churches and ministries are prominent features of the church landscape in Israel. It is notable that dispensationalism is well and almost primarily established in Pentecostal churches, as these institutions are well known for flaky theology, due to the tendency of Pentecostals to elevate the superiority of the charismatic experience of the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit over the bedrock grounding of all knowledge and experience of personal faith in theological truth, something that is essential to developing spiritual maturity for all believers.
Now to resume our theological discussion of this matter regarding key dispensationalist heresy. A key belief of dispensationalists is that the primary reason for Jesus’ first coming was to help bring about the restoration of the Davidic kingdom of Israel. This was clearly a key assumption of sections of the Jewish community of the era, and one of the beliefs some of the disciples put onto him in their discussions, as recorded in the Gospels. The teaching then asserts that because Jesus was rejected by Israel, the restoration of the kingdom would be deferred until his second coming. From that, we get the inference of what is known as the “church age” – the period between the first and second comings of Jesus in which the New Testament church has been established. The big problem, however, is that the assumption that it was intended that Jesus become the king of Israel in the Gospel era rules out the real reason that he came, which was to become the perpetual atoning sacrifice for the sins of all humanity, and superseding the animal-based temporary system of sacrificial atonement practiced through the Jewish Temple rites. The latter contention is well supported by scripture, whilst the former enjoys none. We have to come to a realisation that nowhere in the Bible is it stated that God has two forms of salvational intent: one for the people of Israel through the Temple system, and one for the Gentiles through Jesus Christ. (And as we have just seen, the dispensationalists essentially deny that Jesus should have ever gone to the Cross, anyway.) It has always been God’s intention that the coming of Jesus and his crucifixion would supersede the Jewish temple system of temporary atonement. He would become the one lasting antoning sacrifice for all, clearly taught in Scripture.
So, with the realisation of the different treatments of two groups of God’s people under the theology of dispensationalism, we come to the understanding that dispensationalism has crossed over from merely being some teachings about the second coming of Christ, a tribulation period, a rapture and a time of millenial rule, into the realms of serious anathema to core dogma of Christianity. (Dogma is a term that refers to principles of Christian faith that are shared by all major churches and are core beliefs that can not be altered or changed in any way. So for example, the Roman Catholic Church shares with Protestant churches a number of key dogma.) The parts of Christian theology that are negotiable between different churches and ministry are called doctrine. If this were just a doctrine it would not be such a serious issue, since differences like this are common and accepted as being inherent to the separation of different denominations of churches. However, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the most fundamental beliefs that the Christian church is founded upon and as such, any compromise or alteration of this basis is heresy.
In Part 5 of this series we’ll take a look more closely into the futurist timeline proposed as a sequence of events by dispensationalists. Part 6 will sum up everything to date and Part 7 is a personal acknowledgement (originally published as Part 4 and subsequently pulled). We acknowledge the work of Donaldson (2011) as providing the key framework and inspiration for this series and recommend it to all students of serious theology.
Bibliography: “The Last Days of Dispensationalism” by Alistair W Donaldson. Wipf & Stock, Eugene, Oregon, US – 2011.