False Charges Against Dispensationalism
False Charges Against Dispensationalism
Dispensationalism is under attack from many sides. The opponents of dispensationalism have hurled various false charges against dispensationalists, and some of these are discussed below:
1) Dispensationalists Teach More Than One Way of Salvation.
In the 1967 preface to the New Scofield Reference Bible (p.vii) the following note is given:
As a further aid to comprehending the divine economy of the ages, a recognition of the dispensations is of highest value, so long as it is clearly understood that throughout all the Scriptures there is only one basis of salvation.
Charles Ryrie, in his excellent book Dispensationalism, has a whole chapter which answers this false charge (see Chapter 6—“Salvation in Dispensationalism”). Ryrie in this same chapter clarifies the true position of Scofield and Chafer. These men did not believe that a person could be saved by keeping the law.
Dr. Renald Showers, in his book, There Really is a Difference–A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology, makes the following clarification: “The different dispensations are different ways of God’s administering His rule over the world. they are not different ways of salvation. Throughout history God has employed several dispensations but only one way of salvation. Salvation has always been by the grace of God through faith in the Word of God, and God has based salvation on the work of Jesus Christ” (page 31).
Dispensationalist William MacDonald (known especially for his one excellent one volume commentary, Believers Bible Commentary), in his book Here’s the Difference, wrote the following: “While there are differences among the various ages, there is one thing that never changes, and that is the gospel. Salvation always has been, is now, and always will be by faith in the Lord. And the basis of salvation for every age is the finished work of Christ on Calvary’s cross. People in the Old Testament were saved by believing whatever revelation the Lord gave them…We must guard against any idea that people in the Dispensation of Law were saved by keeping the Law” (page 98).
Yet in spite of these clarifications, many who are opposed to dispensationalism continue to insist that dispensationalists teach different ways of salvation. Have they not read what leading dispensationalists have said on this issue? Salvation has always been by grace through faith based on the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
For a discussion on God’s way of salvation, including Old Testament salvation, see our study notes on Romans Chapter 3 and Romans Chapter 4.
2) Dispensationalists are Guilty of Antinomianism
“Some dispensationalists have held that since Christians live under a dispensation of grace, not law, keeping the moral law is at no stage necessary for them” (New GenevaStudy Bible, p. 1990).
The argument is this: If you are not under the law then you must be lawless. The Bible, however, gives this answer:
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:11-12).
“For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God” (Galatians 2:19).
“Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (Romans 7:4).
“That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:4).
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Remember, Paul himself was accused of being antinomian (Rom. 6:1-2)!
For a thorough answer to this charge see The Believer’s Rule of Life
3) Dispensationalists Teach that the Sermon on the Mount is Not for the Church Today.
See the following document:
The Sermon On The Mount – Is it for the church today? [PDF Version]
4) Dispensationalists Teach that the Death of Christ was an Afterthought and that the Church is “Plan B” in God’s program.
The opponents of dispensationalism characterize our teaching as follows: Dispensationalists believe that God’s main program was the kingdom but since that did not work out He decided to send His Son to die on the cross as an afterthought.
Philip Mauro said it this way:
When we press the vital question, what, in case the offer had been accepted, would have become of the Cross of Calvary and the atonement for the sins of the world?(The Gospel of the Kingdom with an Examination of Modern Dispensationalism, p. 23).
O.T. Allis made this statement:
If the Jews had accepted the kingdom would there have been any place, any necessity for the cross? (Prophecy and the Church, p. 75).
These are unfair characterizations. Dispensationalists are convinced, as are Reformed men, that Christ was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (compare Revelation 13:8). I have never met a dispensationalist who did not believe in the centrality of the cross of our Saviour. God forbid that we should glory or boast in anything else (Gal. 6:14). May we join Paul in saying, “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Dispensationalists know and teach that there is a scarlet cord that runs throughout the Bible. The cross of Christ is central. It is the focal point of all history. Its place of absolute preeminence must never be diminished or minimized.
What about the Church being “Plan B” in God’s program? This false charge is similar: Dispensationalists (so we are told) teach that the Church is God’s “Plan B.” “Plan A” is the kingdom which did not work out so God had a backup plan, “Plan B,” which is the Church. Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul Jr. says it this way,
We’re not dispensationalists here . . . We believe that the church is essentially Israel. We believe that the answer to, “What about the Jews?” is, “Here we are.” We deny that the church is God’s “plan B.” We deny that we are living in God’s redemptive parenthesis, and that sometime in the next three, no two, no eight, no seven years,He’ll get back to His real work, dealing with the Jews (Table Talk magazine, published by Ligonier Ministries, Spring of 1999).
The church is not “Plan B” and Mr. Sproul Jr. would have great difficulty finding any dispensationalist who would refer to the church in such a way. Dispensationalists never speak of the church being “Plan B” even though we are accused of doing so. Again it is a false characterization. “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18), and this includes His plan for Israel and His plan for the church.
The church, instead of being “Plan B,” might be referred to as a “mystery plan.” It was something that was not made known to man for ages and for generations. It was something locked up in the loving heart and mind of God. See Ephesians 3:3-10; Colossians 1:26-27; etc. Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Isaiah, Daniel, John the Baptist—these men knew nothing of God’s plan and purposes which would involve “one new man” (Eph. 2:15), even the body of Christ.
To deny God’s parenthesis (that period of time between the 69th and 70th week of Daniel 9) is to plunge the Bible interpreter into a faulty and erroneous system of preterism (the teaching that says that all or most prophecies found their fulfillment in or around 70 A.D.). Bondage to this system makes it impossible to understand Bible prophecies in a normal and natural way. When the plain sense makes good sense they must seek some other sense lest they end up agreeing with the dispensationalists!
5) Dispensationalism is a new doctrine.
Any student of church history will understand that the basic truths of God’s Word were lost and had to be rediscovered and recovered. For example, at the time of the Reformation the most basic truths of how a person is saved had to be rediscovered. It took nearly 1500 years just to rediscover the truth of justification by faith, the supreme authority of the Bible and the priesthood of every believer.
If it took this long for the most basic truths to be recovered, it should not surprise us that it took even longer before the church rediscovered certain truths about the nature of the church, and certain facets of God’s prophetic program, etc. We are thankful that the Reformers recovered some basic truths relating to salvation and justification, but in many other respects they did not break free from certain errors that had been held for centuries, such as the teaching that the church is the kingdom (Augustine) and that the Old Testament prophecies cannot be taken literally (Origin’s allegorical approach).
New Testament mystery truths, which relate to the nature of the church and to God’s program and purpose for this present age, were not recovered until the 19th and 20th centuries.
If dispensationalism can be attacked simply because it is new, then covenant theology has the same weakness. As Ryrie points out:
Systematized covenant theology is recent. It was not the expressed doctrine of the early church. It was never taught by church leaders in the Middle Ages. It was not even mentioned by the primary leaders of the Reformation. Indeed, covenant theology as a system is only a little older than dispensationalism….Covenant theology is a post-Reformation development in doctrine….Covenant theology is a refinement, and the refining did not antedate Darby by many years. Covenant theology cannot claim much more antiquity than dispensationalism….If lack of antiquity is detrimental and refinement is disallowed for dispensationalism, then by the same two criteria covenant theology is discredited. [Dispensationalism, pages 185, 187]
The real issue is not whether a system of theology is new or ancient, but whether it is Biblical.
6) Dispensationalism Teaches a “Secret Rapture.”
I attended a dispensational seminary (1972-1975) and have traveled in dispensational circles for the last 40 years. I have never known of any dispensational Bible teacher who spoke of “a secret rapture.” This is a term that non-dispensationalists always use disparagingly. They consistently accuse dispensationalists of teaching “a secret rapture.”
In what sense is the rapture a secret? In 1 Corinthians 15:51 the truth pertaining to the Rapture is called a “mystery.” This means that it was a truth that was unrevealed to men in previous ages. Moses, David, Isaiah and John the Baptist knew nothing of the rapture of the Church. It was a secret or mystery that had not yet been revealed. A New Testament “mystery” is something that was once hidden but now revealed. God has made it known to His saints and it is a secret no more. Paul said, “I shew you a mystery.” If he showed it to us, then it is no longer hidden. It is clearly revealed to those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. It is a truth that has been clearly revealed. It is a secret no more!
Bible believers should be making known the glorious truth that “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” living believers will be changed and those who have died will be raised (1 Cor. 15:51-52; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). May we be looking expectantly for this blessed and comforting and purifying hope (Tit. 2:13)! It’s no secret, but it’s a wonderful life-changing truth that our living Lord expects us to believe.
7) Dispensationalists claim that God made a bona fide offer of the kingdom to Israel and this claim is false.
Bona fide means “made in good faith without fraud or deceit, sincere, genuine.”
The argument goes like this: Dispensational teaching insists that Jesus made a bona fide offer of the kingdom to Israel. If Israel as a nation had truly repented, then the kingdom promised by all the prophets would have been established (Matt. 4:17). Covenant Theology claims that there is dishonesty in this since God knew all along that the nation Israel would reject Jesus as the Messiah. It was very obvious that God intended to fulfill the suffering servant Messiah prophecies, and He did. How then could it have been a bona fide offer?
The fact that God knows events ahead of time does not change the fact that it was a genuine offer.
See John 6:64. According to this passage, the Lord knows ahead of time those who will not believe on Him. Does this mean that His offer of the gospel to these people is not a genuine offer since He already knows that they will reject Him? Obviously not. Our Lord’s sincere invitation to “come unto Me” is valid, even though the greater part of lost men refuse to come (John 5:40).
In Deuteronomy 28 God promises and offers great blessings if His people will obey Him and great curses if they will disobey Him. God knew ahead of time that they would disobey. This is why the greater part of Deuteronomy 28 is about the curses. But if they had obeyed, God would have blessed them. It was a genuine offer.
The offer of the kingdom was conditional. The kingdom will be established on the condition of Israel’s repentance (Matthew 3:2). Since Israel did not meet the condition, the kingdom was not established. God was not dishonest at all. He told them in advance what they had to do. If God had established the kingdom apart from Israel’s repentance, then He would have been dishonest. See our study on The Postponement of the Kingdom.
There is no dishonesty on the part of God, because God told us ahead of time that Israel would reject their Messiah (Psalm 118:22; Isa. 53:1-3; Matthew 23:37). God was not taken by surprise by the way the Jews responded to Christ at His first coming. “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). The problem with covenant theology is that they do not believe that there will be a future kingdom as described in great detail by God’s prophets. They are thus accusing God of being dishonest because God predicted the future kingdom in hundreds of detailed prophecies. If there is no future kingdom, as described by God’s spokesmen, then not only is God dishonest, but He is a liar. So it is really non-dispensationalists who are accusing God of being dishonest, promising things that will never come to pass.
James Ventilato has added the following observations:
“The presentation of the kingdom was bound up with the acceptance of Christ and with repentance. Thus the presentation of the kingdom, as bound up with His Person, constituted a moral test of the state of the Jews, the result of which was to bring into relief the total ruin of man [man as such, and not simply Israel, and hence the absolute necessity of the Cross – JV]. It was part of God’s sovereign way to glorify Himself in Christ, utilizing the very ruin of man, to unfold His purpose in the cross [which, among other things, is the ground upon which His kingdom will be established in sovereign grace after Daniel’s 70th Week, upon the repentance of the future Jewish remnant – JV].”—R. A. Heubner
The reasoning of those who object to the kingdom offer “falsifies what the sovereign God can and cannot do. He did offer the kingdom in the Person of the lowly and meek Lord Jesus as a moral test to thus bring out the state of the people.”—R. A. Heubner
“Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26)
“The Jews therefore did not stumble because they understood the scriptures in their plain literal import. On the contrary they shut their eyes and ears against all the prophecies which dwelt on Messiah’s sufferings, and warned them of unbelief and every other sin. They were wholly insensible to His moral perfection and His testimony of God as light and love, which should have led them to repentance. They clutched at the gorgeous visions of power and glory, and overlooked that they are as full of holiness and righteousness and peace. They ignored the plainest predictions, as much as if they never were written, of their own hatred and loathing of the Messiah, as well as of His being wounded for their transgressions, and being bruised for their iniquities. They never pondered the words that Jehovah laid on Him the iniquity of us all; that the chastisement of our peace was on Him; that by His stripes we are healed.” (William Kelly)
Take the Mosaic Law as another example. The Law was given to Israel, demanding obedience. No one doubts that Israel was responsible to keep the Law. But did that imply that they, therefore, had the ability to do so? Or that God thought for a moment that they could ever keep the Law? Obviously not. But does that undermine the genuineness of God in commanding Israel to obey the Law? Far be the thought! The implications of such reasoning are blasphemous and absurd. Rather, our alone-wise God had a particular purpose in giving the Law to Israel, which demanded obedience, and for which Israel was responsible to render obedience; namely, to prove and expose man’s totally ruined, depraved, lost condition (which includes his total spiritual impotence).
At our Lord’s first coming, the establishment of the kingdom of the heavens was indeed “at hand,” contingent upon the national repentance of Israel. And this is in perfect accord with, e.g., Daniel 9 and the 70 weeks (and other OT prophecies). For Daniel 9 foresees the Messiah presenting Himself as Israel’s King (the Messiah-Prince), genuinely offering the Kingdom during the 69th week, and being rejected, cut off in the death of the Cross, having nothing of His Kingdom glory. Thus the actual establishment of the Kingdom, the bringing in of the righteousness of the ages, and the anointing of the Millennial Temple, must, as a consequence, take place upon the fulfillment of the 70th week and the Time of Jacob’s Trouble.
Again, suppose that Mr. A has fallen so deep into debt that his home was about to be foreclosed and he and his family were about to be kicked out onto the streets with nothing. And further suppose that his neighbor, Mr. B, came along and offered to wipe out, unconditionally, Mr. A’s mortgage—though he fully knew that Mr. A, in his terrible pride and disregard for the welfare of his wife and children, would absolutely reject that offer. Now would the sincerity and genuineness of Mr. B’s gracious offer from the heart be undermined or falsified in anyway because he knew that Mr. A would foolishly reject the offer, and purposed to make it anyway? Of course not. Though it does reveal much about the respective hearts of Mr. B and Mr. A.