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.