Monday, January 30, 2006

Thriving Outside Your Comfort Zone

My Pastor was invited to preach at a Vancouver church Sunday morning, so a couple of us were asked to speak. This is what I had to say. It isn’t a transcript. I just typed it up from my notes.

Thriving Outside Your Comfort Zone

We all know that its important to step outside your comfort zone. If you want to reach out, to grow, to gain what you haven’t gained before, you have to be ready to go where you haven’t been before. As Christians, if we want more from life, we have to be ready to get outside our comfort zones. This isn’t new. We all know this. If you haven’t been taught it, I am sure it strikes you as obvious. Common sense.

And God has no qualms about putting you outside your comfort zone. He has always been perfectly happy to challenge His people. In fact, simply by choosing to be raised in Galilee He was challenging people’s preconceptions. When you read the gospels the contempt Judeans had for Galileans jumps off the page. Galilee had a large gentile population, even in the Old Testament it is called ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ and the religious of Jerusalem refused any fellowship with gentiles. Those Jews who did live and worked among gentiles were unclean. It didn’t matter how religiously observant a Galilean Jew kept himself, he was always suspect. Whenever Jesus spoke the accent people heard was a Galilean’s, and people being people you can be sure many stopped listening the moment they heard it.

This year we have a theme, Light Your World (text: Matthew 5:14). But we aren’t being challenged by others, we need to challenge ourselves. If we are to go where we haven’t gone, if we are to get what we haven’t got, we need to step outside of where we are and into a new place. Now, as a bookseller I am always seeing books – in self-help, business, even in religion – that promise X steps to the new you! So I thought I would come up with ‘7 Steps To Thriving Outside Your Comfort Zone!’ But I only came up with five. Give me time!

Five Steps To Thriving Outside Your Comfort Zone:

1. Think Before You Run

The first thing we do when we’re outside our comfort zone is to run right back into it. It’s a normal, knee jerk reaction, but it doesn’t help. So, when you find yourself in new territory, pause and remind yourself that, even if it isn’t going the way you want it to, it may be going the way He wants it to.

2. Remember WHAT You Are

We are cities built on a hilltop. We are meant to be out there, for all to see. After all, we are saved for His purpose. If what we find ourselves in is a new experience, then we have a great chance at making a first impression. But much of the time we’re not having new experiences. Same job, same neighbours, same friends, same church. We need to look for new answers to old situations; to create new opportunities to make an impression.

3. Remember WHO You Are

What we are is our role in the bigger picture, who we are is someone with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s important. And not only to us. Out of our bellies should flow rivers of living water. We have to remember that we are not limited by what others think we are, or by what we might fear we are. We are who the Bible says we are.

4. Act

Our faith is made real when we act. We believe God is with us. We know it intellectually. We need to behave as though we believe it. We need to trust God when we find ourselves outside our comfort zones.

5. Focus On The Lord

When we are out there building for His Kingdom, we have to keep our focus on Him and not on the program we are using. Sure the “journey” is important, but the real measure of a journey’s success is whether or not it takes you where you intend to go. Once you’re out there, working outside your comfort zone, don’t be distracted by the details. Our purpose is to be a light in our world.
Well, that’s it. I concluded by encouraging people to do what they need to in order to see what they want to see accomplished this year. January may have gone by quickly, but we’re less than a tenth of the way through 2006. We’ve still a lot of time to accomplish something new. I was encouraged afterwards to keep working on it. To maybe find steps six and seven. And I don’t think that’s a bad idea. Throughout the year, as I try to be that light, I’ll evaluate my progress and develop this further. Push out the boundaries of my comfort zone!

Sunday, January 29, 2006


I was up at an extremely early hour today and was surfing when I came on a Wikipedia article on Baptism. I can't recall why I was looking into baptism. Anyway, I noticed a couple of things that needed changing, so... I changed them! I don't know why it took me so long to start on Wikipedia. I have a co-worker whose grandfather was the first head of the World Health Organization. She hates the many errors in his entry, which have been quoted all over the net, but told me that when she tried to edit the entry she couldn't. I don't know why. Perhaps I'll offer to do it for her.

As for the two edits I made, one was about the baptism of the Spirit. Someone had written that no one teaches that the baptism of the Spirit included additional gifts, such as speaking in tongues. Thats simply not true. Many Pentecostals believe the initial infilling of the Holy Ghost is accompanied by speaking in tongues. So I pointed that out. The question is, why would whoever made the post make a point of denying this teaching unless they had heard of it?

The other edit was much smaller. It said that Mennonites and Pentecostals share the Baptist teaching that baptism is not a necessary part of salvation (that it is, rather, an outward sign or testimony). Here I only added the word "some" to Pentecostals, because not all of us share in this Baptist interpretation. Myself included. I am saying "Baptist" interpretation both because the Wikipedia article identifies it as Baptist in origin and because many of those that I know to hold it are baptists. Actually, I think one of the strengths of the article is that it talks of the many understandings of this important rite and only lists the Baptist's as one of many. The Baptist interpretation has become predominant among North America's evangelical/nondenominational Christians and all too often those of us who don't share it find ourselves on the defensive. The Church historically, and most churchs even today, teach that baptism is a necessary part of salvation. The Wikipedia article has a nice quote from Martin Luthor on this subject:

To put it most simply, the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is to save. No one is baptized in order to become a prince, but as the words say, to 'be saved.' To be saved, we know, is nothing else than to be delivered from sin, death, and the devil and to enter into the kingdom of Christ and live with him forever.
One thing that has always confused me about those who believe that baptism isn't a necessary part of salvation is that so many of them boast of the literal nature of their exegeses of the Bible. But shouldn't someone who promotes such conservatism start with the most obvious understanding of scripture? I mean "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins." (Acts 2:38) And "And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name." (Acts 22:16) What is baptism for in these verses? The cleansing from sin!

Don't worry! I am not going to spend the next month on baptism! Though if any Baptists -- or others -- want to discuss this subject, I think it could be an interesting discussion topic.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Let Your Light Shine

My Pastor likes to start off each year with a sermon that introduces a theme. Something that we'll come back to throughout the year. This year its "Light your world." The scripture reference is Matthew 5:14.

So, I'm thinking, how should I light my world? I am pretty sure that everyone I know is already aware that I am a committed Christian. First impressions are behind me. I guess, then, that its all about increasing the wattage. How to do that will be the year's project.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

End Time Miscellany

Leaving Dispensationalism Behind V

With this entry I am going to wrap things up with a few points about Dispensationalism. I may come back to it, or a related topic, someday, but I have to admit, when I started I had no idea how long it would go. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it was a surprise.

From Historicism To Dispensationalism:

There are still people who use the Historicist model in understanding the end times, but there is no doubt that its teachings have been displaced as the predominant one among Protestants. Looking at the two, though, I can’t help but notice similarities in their methods. Both provide believers with complex schemas that explain everything, if only you take the time to lay all the facts out ‘correctly.’ Dispensationalism simply replaces the history books with newspapers. I haven’t seen any studies to confirm this, but I suspect that generations of Historicist teachings were in some way important in creating the intellectual climate necessary to make Dispensationalism possible.

Always Applicable:

In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul taught that all scripture is inspired by God and ‘is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.’ But Futurists, including Dispensationalists, teach that Revelations, chapters 4 to 22, is only applicable to the end times. How can these two assertions be reconciled? If we were living in 1537 would any of the book matter? Believing that this is now the end times, Dispensationalists might deny there is a problem, but what does that say about the book’s relevancy for the last two thousand years?

Left Behind:

A teaching of Dispensationalists – and a central part of the Left Behind novel series – is that you can still be saved if you miss the Rapture. As far as I can tell, this teaching has its origins in Dispensationalism’s problem of in explaining scriptures that describe a Church on earth during the Tribulation, but the whole idea of becoming a Christian after Jesus comes for His Church runs counter to the teachings of so much of the New Testament that I don’t know where to being! The Parable of the Ten Virgins. The analogy comparing His coming to that of a thief in the night. We are taught to be ready, because when He comes it will be too late to say, ‘Oh, I guess its time to repent!’

Previously I said I would discuss Dispensationalism’s pessimism. Here are three examples.

History Of Failure:

Dispensationalist history is one of continuous failure. God makes a covenant with man and man fails to honour it. God makes another covenant and, again, man fails to honour it. The pattern of failure continues, literally, until the end of time. Why don’t we instead read the Bible as God’s effort to bring man into a closer and deeper walk with Him? Then each covenant would make God a more intimate part of our lives.

Pessimism And Government:

Dispensationalism has been tied to a conservative and distrusting view of government, but at the same time Dispensationalists often advocate stronger and stronger policing and security policies. I have never been able to make any sense of this. Why would people who fear a coming One World Government want to give that government the tools to control and monitor their lives? Presumably, they expect to be Raptured out of here before they face the consequences of their actions.

Pessimism And The Environment:

First off, let me acknowledge that I am not going to win an environmental award any time soon. In fact, I am only now learning to drive, after 42 years of doing without. Nevertheless, another puzzling thing about Dispensationalists is how little regard they have for the earth. Why? Because the Lord will someday destroy the earth with fire, anyway, before He makes make a new heaven and earth (1 Peter 3:10-13). So, why worry? But ask them about money, time or their family and they’ll tell you that God wants them to be good stewards of His blessings, even though they are temporal. But didn’t He also give us a responsibility for the earth (Genesis 1:28)? Can you think of one aspect of your life that God has given you authority over in order for you to exploit it and discard it?

(Interestingly, not everyone believes that Peter is referring to the end of time. Many believe the passage refers to the second coming, with the fire representing God's judgement. Notice when this is supposed to happen: ‘the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night’ [verse 10]. This is a phrase Dispensationalists understand to mean the Rapture! There is more to it than this one phrase, but that would mean a much lengthier study than I have time for right now. Perhaps I can return to it after I move.)

Wars And Rumours Of Wars:

Finally, since I don’t really know when I will be coming back to this subject, I thought I’d add this point as well. Everyone has some pet peeve. And often they are about trivial things. For example, I hate it when people say ‘nauseous’ when they mean they feel ‘nauseated.’ I have an end times pet peeve, too. How often have you heard the phrase ‘wars and rumours of wars’ when discussing prophecy? It comes from Matthew 24:6, when Jesus was asked by His disciples about the end times.

Matthew 24:4-8:

And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.

Notice what he says? ‘[B]ut the end is not yet’? Remember that. Jesus starts by telling His disciples to ignore false prophets and rumours of war and other disasters. He then goes on to describe the end times, beginning with apostasy in, and persecution of, the Church. And how can the Church be prosecuted if it has been Raptured out of here?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Dispensationalist Outline of History

Leaving Dispensationalism Behind IV

At the heart of Dispensationlism is the teaching that there have been seven dispensations throughout human history. In my January 1st entry I mentioned some of the problems with this idea, but here I want to go into a little more detail. Each dispensation is initiated by the creation of a covenant between man and God. And each ends with the man failing to honour that covenant, and God judging us.

Dispensations one through four occur within the first twelve chapters of Genesis. The first, Innocence, finds us free of sin and in direct contact with God. We live in paradise and eat of the Tree of Life. The only stipulation is that we not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We do it anyway. God’s judgement is to expel us from paradise, make man to work for his living and to put woman in subjection to her husband. Sin and death reign.

The second, Conscience, finds us having to choose between good and evil. No longer living in innocency, we are now responsible for our own choices. We choose badly, and evil and violence are the result. In judgement God destroys all but eight people in a flood that covers the world.

The third, called the Noahic Covenant, or Human Government, follows the flood. God makes a covenant with Noah that provides the foundations for human government, including initiating capital punishment, and requires that the survivors repopulate the whole earth. Instead they settle together on the plains of Shinar and determine to build a tower to heaven. In judgement God brings division by creating a multitude of languages.

The fourth dispensation, Promise, is the call of Abraham. He is told that if he leaves his family and goes into the land of Canaan, God will “make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee and curse them that curseth thee: and in thee shall all the nations of the world be blessed.” (Genesis 12: 2-3) This dispensation is said to end with Abraham’s descendants being enslaved in Egypt.

The fifth and sixth dispensations are those of the Law and of Grace. Really, the rest of the Old Testament, beginning with Moses on Mount Sinai, and the New Testament, respectively. While the beginning of the dispensation of Law is clear, its ending isn’t – however, since the birth of the church on the day of Pentecost ushers in the dispensation of Grace, we should be able to mark it closed by then. The dispensation of Grace ends with the rapture, which gathers all true Christians to Jesus and leaves everyone else to suffer through a terrible tribulation. (Of course, some Dispensationalists don’t believe in a pretribulation rapture, but I am generalizing.)

The final dispensation is the Millennial Reign of Christ on earth. It lasts for a thousand years and ends with Satan being loosed again to try men’s hearts.

The idea that different covenants have governed our relationship with God at different times in history is nothing new. The idea is pretty much implicit in the Christian idea of a New Testament (or New Covenant!). Dispensationalism is defined both by the extent to which it works to break down history into little subcategories and the pessimism that it brings to our understanding of it.

The outline seems to hold up pretty well at the start. Everyone agrees that we began in a state of innocence, blew that and were forced to except responsibility for our actions. Still, we were given a lot of latitude. The rules set out for us were few. Adam was told to work for his living. Eve that she would have pain in childbirth and that she’d have to listen to her husband. One generation later Cain learned that murder was not going to go down to well. But apart from that, God seemed to have confidence we’d work things out. It turned out to be a confidence we didn’t deserve and things ended very badly. God decided to make a fresh start, saving only Noah and his next of kin.

From the time of Noah until Abraham, the Bible doesn’t tell of any new covenants. Dispensationalism says that the judgement at Babel marks the end of one, but it was years before Abram, the son of Terah, was even born. A better reading is that, rather than marking the end of a covenant, it simply shows God punishing disobedience and creating circumstances that would require man to act out His will.

When Abraham is finally called, the promises made are made specifically to him and his descendants. The Promise dispensation does not represent a covenant between God and man, but between God and one man. God promised Abraham that he would be a great nation, that his name would be great, and that “in thee shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” This covenant will be a blessing to all, but it wasn’t made with all of mankind. If you’re a Christian, this blessing is the gospel, which implies that God’s covenant with Abraham is alive today. Dispensationalists teach that it ended in judgement, with Abraham’s descendents being enslaved in Egypt. God told Abraham that this would happen. In Genesis 15:13-16 Abraham was told that they would be enslaved for four hundred years, but would then return to Canaan. The only explanation given being that “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” If it was meant to be a judgement, why would God punish the Israelites for the sins of the Amorites?

No one disputes the next covenant, the Law, though there is some dispute about its application. Jews still believe that the Noahic Covenant continues to hold for Gentiles, and that a non-Jew can still find favour in God’s eyes by honouring it. Also, while the beginnings of the Law can be found at Sinai, when did this dispensation end? Most studies I have seen use the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple to mark its end. But that would mean that it continued past the beginnings of the Church!

Actually, there are a lot of gaps and overlaps when it comes to charting out the dispensations, between Babel and Abraham, between enslavement and Sinai, but these are only problems if you accept the doctrine in the first place. If you’re not a Dispensationalist, then the Law ended when the Church began. You needn’t look for a judgement to finish it off.

Another problem in dating the Law and Grace stems from an important, but less publicized Dispensationalist teaching: that God’s plan still lies primarily with the Jews and that the Church represents an interruption, an “intercalation” or “parenthesis” in God’s scheme. Many dispensationalists believe that once Jesus sets up his earthly kingdom, we will see a return to the Mosaic Law – blood sacrifices included! All this stems from a reading of a prophecy in Daniel, 9: 24-27. There are a lot interpretations of this passage, the most traditional being that it tells of the coming of Jesus and the destruction of the temple, but Dispensationalists teach that the weeks are periods of seven years, except for the seventieth, which represents the entire Church Age. To go into this in much detail would require a great deal of space. Maybe after I have moved in March I’ll give it a shot, but for the time being I just want to note that this idea plays further havoc with this outline. Why would God turn the clock back and re-establish the Law in the seventh dispensation, the Millennium? Some say that temple sacrifices will return as a memorial, but for what? In the Millennium Jesus will be right there! This idea represents a misunderstanding of grace.

Paul described the Law as a schoolmaster, Galatians 3:24, which brought us to grace and was now no longer needed. The writer of Hebrews taught – in fact, the whole message of Hebrews is – that we now have a better Covenant. The Old is now done away. Not abolished, but fulfilled, completed (Matthew 5:17). The Law was a shadow of something to come, and that something is the Gospel. It is hard to believe that anyone who reads the New Testament would think that it represented a pause in a greater plan – rather, it is the culmination of God’s plan.

That pretty much outlines the Dispensations and flags some important weaknesses. Next I will finish up by looking at the pessimism I have referred to and making a few personal observations.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


Its been a couple of days since my last post and life here just gets busier and busier. Not only are the holidays behind us, but we just learned we will be moving soon. The end of February. My wife and daughter are excited, but I am dreading it. I haven’t moved in almost fourteen years. Looking forward to all the sorting and packing… Well, I am not looking forward to it at all! We will still be living in Victoria, though. It’s a long and not too interesting story.

Back to Dispensationalism. I am hoping to finish this off with weekly entries, but if it takes a little longer, then it will just take a little longer.

Leaving Dispensationalism Behind III

A great book I’ve found, though I have only just started it, is Revelations: Four Views: A Parallel Commentary. Written by Steve Gregg, it gives four parallel commentaries: Historicist, Preterist, Futurist, and Spiritualist. Gregg tells that when he first taught about the End Times, it was easy. He knew all about Dispensationalism and he could teach it easily. But as he learned there were other views, it became harder. He now sees strengths in all of them. His introduction contains a great quote from Justin Martyr, circa 100-165 AD. A premillennialist, Martyr describes others who did not share his views as also being “true Christians.”

I think it is important to understand the flaws of Dispensationalism, and that it leads to some wrongheaded thinking, but I also think it is important to appreciate that this is not a salvation doctrine. In other words, no one’s salvation is tied to any given view on the matter. Instead, we should read Jesus’ comments on the end times in Matthew 24 and 25. Having described many things that will happen, He then teaches a series of parables that all have the same moral: be ready! If we live for Christ each day, then we will be ready when He comes, whatever doctrine is correct. I know some great men and women in the Lord who are Dispensationalists. What I want to do is help them, as they say, learn things “more perfectly.”

In this entry I want to concentrate on what certain terms mean. You hear these terms a lot and I thought spending a little time going over them would probably help in the long run.


Revelations 20 tells of Christ reigning a thousand years. Historically there are three different schools of thoughts on the matter.

Premillennialists believe that Jesus will return and set up a thousand year reign on earth. This will follow the many tribulations foretold in Revelations. This belief is sometimes called Chiliasm. Premillennialism is a view is held by many, including the early Church, Dispensationalists, and myself. Premillennialists who are not also Dispensationalists are called Historical Premillennialists in recognition of the fact that the position was held by the Apostolic Church – which was Premillennial, but not Dispensationalist.

Postmillennialists believe that the millennium will be brought about by the Church’s evangelical work. That is, the gospel will be spread throughout the world, resulting in a thousand years of peace, which ends with the return of Christ. But not all Postmillennialists believe it will necessarily be a literal one thousand years. The number one thousand represents fullness and completion. Postmillennialists include Calvin and Jonathon Edwards. It was the dominant view on the matter in the US until the rise of Dispensationalism.

Amillennialists believe the Millennium refers to the Church Age. There will be no earthly rule by Christ, except via His Spirit filled Church. Amillennialists believe it began with Christ’s first coming and will end with His second. The millennium is not a literal period of one thousand years; rather, the number represents fullness and completion. The last two groups differ in that Postmillennialists believe the Great Commission will usher in the Millennium and Amillennialists believe, essentially, that it is already here. A great many prominent theologians, from Augustine to Martin Luther have been Amillennialists and it is the official position of the Catholic Church.


The Bible talks of a great many terrible things coming to pass before the Lord’s return. In Matthew Jesus describes them as a “great tribulation.” Most Dispensationalists believe that before any of it happens, Jesus will take all his followers from the earth, saving them from any distress. This will happen suddenly, with no one outside the Church even knowing He has come. Because it happens before the tribulation, this teaching is called the Pretribulation position. There are two others. The Midtribulation position holds that Jesus will take all his followers from the earth half way through the tribulation. They point to scriptures describing His followers being on earth still, while the tribulation is happening, but believe Jesus will save them before things get too terrible. The third position, Posttribulation, teaches just what the name suggests: that Jesus gathers up his saints following the tribulation, at the same time he returns to establish his thousand year reign. I was a Posttribulationist before giving up on Dispensationalism, and I still, essentially, hold the same view. I just don’t frame it in terms of Dispensationalism. I believe the Church has gone through terrible trials in the past, that it is doing so right now in many parts of the world, and that it will continue to until Jesus comes. God never promised to spare us pain, just to help us endure it.

Rapture and Parousia

The term “rapture” is a transliteration of the Latin word raptus, meaning carried off, snatched (even abducted!). It is used to refer to the sudden, secret, coming of Jesus taught by Pre- and Midtribulationists. They, and only they, believe this will be a separate event from the Second Coming itself. The term “parousia” is a bit of old fashion religious jargon meaning the Second Coming, when Jesus comes to set up an earthly reign. I have never seen it used outside of some religious texts.

One thing I think is clear from looking at what these term mean is that there is more to being a Dispensationalist than views on the Millennium, the Tribulation, or the Rapture. How these things are framed in Dispensationalist teachings reflects a broader understanding of history and the role of God in working His will throughout it. I will look at what the Dispensations actually are in my next post. I have mentioned some of the problems will them in my first post on the subject. I will develop that further too.

Last point: In calling this Leaving Dispensationalism Behind I never made the connection with the Left Behind series until I had made my second post! Funny that.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Methods of Interpretation

Or, Leaving Dispensationalism Behind II

What peaked my interest, and led me away from Dispensationalism was the discovery of just how recent a doctrine it is – and that there are rival methods of interpretation! Those who already knew this may well be amused at my surprise, but I have gone to church and actively participated in Bible Studies, etc, for almost twenty-five years and it was all news to me!

And I know I am not alone here. I know people who are unfamiliar with the name Dispensationalism, even though they are very familiar with its teachings, because they have never heard it discussed as a school of thought. To them it is simply how one interprets Bible prophecy. Everyone knows that!

But before John Darby and the Plymouth Brethren – in the 19th century – no one believed or taught it! I know some have tried to disprove that fact, but their “proofs” don’t stand up to investigation. Some try to argue that because the early church was Premillennialist it was also Dispensationalist, but there is no necessary link between the two teachings. Being a Premillenialist does not imply you’re also a Dispensationalist. I am very much a Premillennialist. (Maybe I’ll get into those differences in another post.) Others try to link it to Futurism and the 16th century – read on for more about that – but while Dispensationalism is a form of Futurism, its teachings include a lot more than Francisco Ribera, the founder of Futurism, taught. Others have looked for a precedent in the writings of an 18th century American Baptist named Morgan Edwards, but his writings only lend support to the idea that there will be a tribulation lasting three and a half years.

Some critics of Dispensationalism have taught that its origins can be found in the teachings of a Scottish teen named Margaret McDonald. She did teach that the church would be “raptured” out before the tribulation, and Darby did meet with her before he began teaching Dispensationalism, but if he was influenced by her, it was only in that one teaching. There is a lot more to it than that.

What other forms of interpretation are there?

The Spiritualist method, which relates the book of Revelations to symbolism and typology, is the oldest formalized way of understanding it, and dates at least as far back as the second century. This has been the predominant way reading prophecy for the last two thousand years. The Historicist method dates back to Martin Luthor and the Protestant Reformation. It views the Book of Revelations as a panoramic overview of church history, and links the Beast, Anti-Christ, etc, with Catholicism.

While the Spiritualist approach pre-dates Constantine and Nicea, you could generalize and say that it has historically been seen as the Catholic interpretation and Historicism as the Protestant. But these are generalizations. There are Protestant Spiritualists.

Some Catholics responded to the criticism contained in the Historicist approach by proposing alternative ways of interpreting prophecy. One is the Preterist approach. First formalized by Luis de Alcazar (1554-1613), it views the events described in Revelations as referring to things that happened in the first century, such as the fall of Jerusalem and the Church’s persecution by Rome. In other words, the prophecies were directed to the Apostolic Church, and should be read today much as you would read Isaiah or another Old Testament prophet. This method has some historical merit. We know, for example that many Church Fathers did see the pagan Rome in the Beast, etc. There are also many Protestant Preterists.

A second response is the Futurist approach. First proposed by Francisco Ribera (1537-1591), it teaches that everything following the letters to the churches refers only to events at the end of history, and to no other time. Dispensationalism is a form of futurism, making this teaching, originally created to rebut the Protestant teaching of Historicism, the most popular form of interpretation today! Interestingly, Seventh Day Adventists, who are Historicists, condemn Dispensationalism as a Catholic doctrine.

Well, I suspect I’ll be making at least a couple more posts before I am done with this subject!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Leaving Dispensationalism Behind

From a doctrinal perspective, the biggest thing about 2005 was my final good-bye to Dispensationalism. It wasn’t hard. I had always had problems with it. Always. But I assumed Dispensationalists knew what they were talking about. I mean, I never heard an alternative viewpoint. I also learned that there are a lot of other Pentecostals who have made the same decision. Which was a surprise to me. Dispensationalism is a part of the doctrinal heritage of Pentecostalism, just as it is Fundamentalists and modern Evangelicals.

Blogs aren’t very conducive to long pieces, so I’ll probably make this into more than one entry, but the reasons for my initial doubts include the dispensationalist habit of trying to link every news article to the Second Coming, an often poor understanding of geopolitics, even on a simplistic level, and aspects of the teaching that didn’t hold up to scrutiny. Those are all generalizations, I know. Specific examples of each?

I came to the Lord in 1981. One of the first prophecy books I’d been given suggested that Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian leader who had just made peace with Israel, might be the Anti-Christ. He was a peace-maker, after all. I wish I could remember the title, but I do recall that the fact that he had just been murdered took something away from the author’s argument. For me, anyway. Just one incident, I know, but a good example of something that happens in dispensationalism all the time. Everything is made to fit neatly together into a schema, but the schema is being remade all the time. Nobody steps back and looks at the big picture, and the horrible record it shows.

Examples of the poor geopolitics can be found in the Cold War mentality that permeates books and teachings. Until the end of the Cold War dispensationalists were always talking of the upcoming nuclear holocaust, seemingly unaware that such a war would destroy America and Israel as well. I’m not talking about a river of blood; I am talking about rendering the nations deserts of molten glass. Moreover, many are still entranced by the threat of Russian Communism, apparently unable to pick up a newspaper and realise that that threat is over, and that if Russia is going to still play that role Jesus is going to have to put off his return for a generation while Putin and his cronies rebuild their country.

This is going to take more than one entry. A quick example of teachings that don’t hold up to scrutiny? The dispensations themselves. Each is a period in which God dealt with humanity through a different covenant, and each ended with a judgement. The first few work fine. Innocence, Conscience, Human Government (or the Noahic Covenant). But once you get to Abraham it all falls apart. It applied to one family only, not all mankind – and would not apply to all until Jesus came (when all the nations would be blessed through God’s promise to Abraham). And it did not end with judgement. Actually, it hasn’t ended at all. God’s promise to Abraham is still true. But all the lessons I know use Israel’s slavery in Egypt to mark its end. If you took the time to read Genesis chapter 15, you’ll learn that their slavery was not a judgement at all.

In my next entry I’ll go into the discoveries that led to my parting with this doctrine, but a last point for now. A great many Christians do, of course, turn their backs of this teaching. After years of expecting, they grow disillusioned and doubtful. But rather than learning of other teachings, they either decide to continue churchgoing as a tradition – its something they’ve always done – or they stop going all together. Many would be shocked to learn how new this teaching really is.