I often get asked what denomination I belong too once people find out that I like to talk Bible. It is a natural shortcut question, as we are more comfortable putting people into niches rather than trying to spend an hour guessing what their views on various topics are. Now, a Christian is a Christian first, and usually when you’re talking to one, you can get that vibe fairly easily. But once you’ve established that they are a Christian (or a good-faker), you then want to either drill down on what someone believes on a particular topic, either out of curiosity or as to know what topics to avoid. That’s when I tell them I’m a Church of Christ-Baptist, with a little non-denominational thrown in, but really I’m a Pre-Millennial, Pre-Tribulational Dispensationalist. The most common response I get is, “A dispy what?”
I’ve studied the different hermeneutical views, as well as other views on pretty much all the major topics, and I keep coming back to dispensationalism. To me, it is the most common sense, straightforward, approach to taking your Bible as a whole and being able to decipher it with zero contradictions. You realize that the whole Bible is written for you, but it’s not all written to you. The apostle Paul instructs Timothy, and us be extensions too…
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (1 Timothy 2:15, emphasis added).
Covenant and Reformed theologians hate that we keep trumping this verse out anytime dispensationalism is mentioned, but it’s right there in black and white. If the Word of truth didn’t need to be divided rightly, it wouldn’t be there…but it does, because if you try and take the Bible as a whole, it’s a hot mess.
§ Whether you are still supposed to sacrifice, or not.
§ Whether you are still under the Mosaic Law, or not.
§ Whether salvation comes by faith, or by faith plus works.
§ Whether as a Christian you are now Israel, or you aren’t.
§ Etc. etc. ad nauseam.
It is in understanding that God revealed Himself in progressive revelations to man going from Adam (Genesis 3:15) all the way to the apostle John with the Revelation of Jesus Christ. God did not reveal His plan all at once, but broke it up and spread it out over 1,600 years through the writers of Scripture, and then encoded it in such a way, that it took the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the Believer to be able to understand it.
Some sections are very simple and straightforward (e.g. salvation, John 3:16). Others are more difficult to grasp in their complexity, such as with the Trinity and prophecy. God gives each person a certain level of understanding that they can reasonably understand, but a deeper understanding is available to all who seek God out. Literally, there are hundreds of variables you could throw in, and adding to the confusion of it all is the seven eschatological views that muddy the water:
§ Pre-Wrath Rapture
§ Mid-Tribulation Rapture
§ Pre-Tribulation Rapture (ßthe correct one in my own opinion).
Eschatology is often toted by those who either disregard it or apply liberal doses of allegory to it, as a secondary and thus issue-non-grata. But how you view the ending, will largely shape how you view the here and now. So how do you know what to make of all this? I guess the place to start, is at the beginning.
Caveat Emptor: I’m largely taking the chronology of this and the key points from Clarence Larkin’s book, The Greatest Book of Dispensational Truth in the World over the next four articles, because he did all the heavy lifting, and I really enjoy how he ties it all together.
In the beginning, there was one race of Man. From Adam and Eve, up until the time of Abraham, there was only one race of Man because Abraham was the first to be called-out by God to leave his familial homelands in the Chaldees, and head west to the place God told him to go. Abraham was the first person to be identified as a Hebrew, and so the first delineation of this called-out race is identified. God promised Abraham a son, an heir, and that through his son, his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. Abraham’s son with Sarah is named Isaac. From Isaac, he and his wife Rebekah had the twins, Esau and Jacob. Esau sells Jacob his birthright, and Jacob tricks Isaac into giving him the blessing. And so from Abraham on, there were two groups of people, Hebrews, and everyone else.
The first 12 chapters of Genesis (written by Moses) were about mankind in general. From Genesis 12 onward to the end of the Old Testament, the focus is on the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews. Gentiles were only mentioned in how they interacted with Israel. The Gospels changed the focus of the Bible from Israel, to Jesus Christ, but His ministry was still exclusively to Israel, and not the Gentiles. Throughout the gospels up until Christ’s death on the Cross, the Mosaic Law was still in effect. There was an interim period of 40 days after Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection in which Christ visibly revealed Himself to many witnesses, and continued teaching His Disciples. Ten days prior to Pentecost, Christ ascends (or was ‘caught up’) into Heaven, and the Disciples remained in Jerusalem as instructed.
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit is descends down as “cloven tongues of fire” upon the 120 or so disciples there at a house in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was overflowing with Jews who had come from all corners of the Roman Empire to be accounted there at Pentecost. The disciples began to speak in tongues so that all the different people could understand them in their own languages. Peter gets up to preach, and 3,000 were added to the body of Christ that day. From that day forward, there was a new group of people known as the Church. These became neither Jew, nor Gentile, but were a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
If you look at the book of Acts, you can see the transition from Peter and the Jews as the focus, to Paul and the Gentiles towards the end. So now there are three groups of people that the Bible spent time focusing on. From Acts 15 through Revelation 3:22, the focus turns to the church. The book of Hebrews, who I believe the apostle Paul wrote, speaks to Hebrew Christians who were tempted to turn back to Judaism. But the Jews and Gentiles are now only mentioned in how they interact with the church. The term for the Church is called “ecclesia” in the Greek, and it means an assembly or congregation of the “called-out” ones.
So the argument normally goes, that Israel was also a called-out assembly, and that is used to allude too that both Israel and the Church are one in the same…but that is an inaccurate assessment. The “ecclesia” was applied in two specific cases that I would like to draw your attention too:
-Israel is called an “ecclesia” in Acts 7:38 as “the church of the wilderness.”
-The Guild of Ephesian Craftsmen, are also called “ecclesia” (Acts 19:32, 39).
The Guild of Ephesian Craftsmen spent more than two hours loudly chanting, the Ephesians!” So as you can see, just because someone is called ‘ecclesia’ in the Scriptures, doesn’t mean they are part of the church. Rather, we should see who and what a group of people are “called-out” from.
While Israel is a called-out body from mankind, it is a national body composed exclusively of the physical descendants of Abraham. God didn’t promise Abraham that he would be the father of many “spiritual” nations, but of physical ones. The church on the other hand, is a called-out body composed of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. We are a “spiritual body” of believers that have made up the body of Christ for the last two millennia. We share in the salvation that came through Abraham (Jesus Christ) and through faith (which is why Moses was given the Law and not Abraham). Consider these:
Their election (Israel and the church), were at different times, and for different purposes.
-The election of Israel was from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34)
-The election of the church was from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-6)
The purpose for Israel’s election was to be a light and a guide to the rest of the nations around them as a picture of a nation in covenant with God. When they were in fellowship, they were rich, prosperous, and unstoppable. When they were out of fellowship, God allowed their enemies to conquer and enslave them (ex. Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans). The purpose of our Dispensation and that of the church is not to convert every country in the world, because that is impossible.
Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 28:19 to go forth and make disciples of all nations (ethnos), or ethnic groups, not kingdoms (basileia). And so we see that the church is comprised of those who are called-out from every nation, who would make up the body of Christ (Acts 15:13-18).
The church is the body of Christ, which could not have occurred until His birth, life, death, and resurrection. If Christ is the head of this spiritual, universal body of believers (1 Cor.11:3; Eph. 1:22, 5:23; Col. 1:18), then the only way we can be incorporated into His body is by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13),
Therefore, there could be no church (called-out believers in Jesus Christ) until the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost (Acts 1:4-5, 2:1-4), who baptizes believers into this body (Eph. 4:4-6). This means that the church could not be Israel even though both were called-out peoples (or assemblies of called-out ones).
Next time we’ll discuss what the church is and is not, the Kingdom, and the Rapture.