Dispensationalism and Ecclesiology


Michael Vlach, in his recent Shepherd’s Conference message highlighted the distinctives of dispensationalism, including one point I’ve often heard, that dispensationalism speaks to the matters of eschatology and ecclesiology.

In my studies over the last year and a half, I’ve mainly learned dispensational eschatology.  However, as I continue my daily (12-14 chapters) Bible reading and consider what scripture has to say concerning the Church Age, versus the ideas promoted by amillennialists, I understand more of what the ecclesiological issues are.

The New Testament speaks of this present evil age (Galatians 1:4), of how we wrestle against the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:11-12), of how we must resist the devil (James 4:7).  In Acts 20:29-30, Paul warns the Ephesian elders to be on guard, for “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.”

Horatius Bonar well said, in reference to this Church age:

With reference to the Church, the interval is evil, not good; dark, not bright. During all this period she is a little flock,—a lily among thorns. Her lot is tribulation, persecution, shame, and tears! As an oppressed widow, she cries against her adversary day and night, “How long, O Lord! how long?” Satan rages on every side, seeking to devour her. The world, like a flood, circles her about with its swelling waves. The haters of the Master are haters of the servant too. Nor does time soften the hostility or abate the persecution. The evil increases, the darkness thickens into deeper darkness as the crisis approaches. Satan pours forth his fiercest, fullest rage when the time of his binding draws near. And, besides all these, the absence of the Bridegroom keeps her sad and weary. So long as he is not with her, earth must be a wilderness, even though no enemy threatened, no sorrow wounded, and tempest wasted her. Nothing but His return can satisfy her.

Contrast this with the unbiblical ideas of amillennialists who say that this is the glorious millennial age, in which Satan is bound (a concept they redefine to something less than the words mean) and the gospel is going out triumphantly into the world.  Jeremiah (they say) wrote of our age, and they then quote words from the prophets — words about the future Millennial Kingdom — but claim that it’s really talking about our age.  But never does the New Testament speak of the Church Age in such terms, but to the very opposite, as demonstrated in the verses cited above (among many other passages).

Surely, if those Old Testament passages were really meant to be reinterpreted by our New Testament understanding, then the New Testament authors would at least agree with those reinterpretations, with New Testament statements affirming a more positive description of the present Church age.

Amillennialists are said to be the more pessimistic version of their close-cousin post-millennialists, but both groups give great credence to the unscriptural idea that the Church is now experiencing the blessings originally promised to Israel.  Since both groups spiritualize Old Testament texts that speak of Israel’s future kingdom and apply them to the Church — while conveniently ignoring the very plain, literal words of the New Testament regarding this age — both take an overly optimistic and unwarranted view regarding the impact of the gospel and the Church’s influence on the world.  Post-millennialists have the hubris to think that man can bring God’s kingdom to the earth,  but amillennialists are equally blinded and do not see the inevitable decline, failure and apostasy that must come to pass in the Church age, up to the time of the Second Advent.

Here indeed is the great divide between Covenant Theology / NCT, and dispensationalism, in the matter of ecclesiology.  To the one, the Church is the end all of God’s Divine Purpose, the complete fulfillment of God’s plans until His return, the resurrection and establishment of the New Heavens and New Earth.  The latter, however, looks at the whole counsel of God, to understand that in every age (or dispensation) man is given increasing advantages, yet every age reveals the complete failure of man — to the greater glory of God and His greatness;  along with a sober understanding that the Church is God’s plan for this age, but not THE final purpose, which will include a restored Israel along with saved Gentiles. “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all” (Romans 11:32).

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  1. March 14, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    If the Church, which is the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit fails, would that not be a failure on God’s part? Are you saying that the Body of Christ, with Christ reigning and ruling from the very throne of God in Heaven, is not God’s ‘final purpose’, but rather a physical Earthly kingdom? Would you not also believe that that carnal kingdom will fail when Satan is released from the pit?

  2. March 14, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    I am not saying that the Church will fail — Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. Throughout the church age the church always exists, a remnant of true believers among the nations, as part of God’s plan to gather in His people from among the Gentiles, during this the “Times of the Gentiles.”

    The Millennial Kingdom is the next age after this one, though not the “final” stage — the Eternal New Heavens, New Earth is the last and final stage. Yes, the Millennial Kingdom will fail after the thousand years when Satan is released from the pit — again, to show that even given the great advantages in that kingdom — without Satanic influence, a renewed creation no longer subject to the curse of the ground, and with Jesus and the saints ruling over a utopian-type world — fallen, sinful man still fails. Satan still finds many fallen people to follow him, and man is utterly without excuse, without any ability, and God is glorified through and through.

  3. March 15, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Who are the “His people” that Jesus gathers?

    During the Millenium there are resurrected saints and non-resurrected non-saints? The Earth during this time is re-newed, yet there continues to be sin? How does God glorify Himself in that His kingdom on the Earth fails?

    Andrew

  4. March 15, 2010 at 11:36 am

    Andrew,

    It would take too long to go into a full discourse on the subject just in these blog comments. But if you’re really interested in learning more about it, here are a few good resources:

    The link referenced in the post above, http://www.shepherdsfellowship.org/media/details/?mediaID=5200

    and

    http://www.shepherdsfellowship.org/media/details/?mediaID=5226 — an excellent exegesis of Revelation 20 and questions related to the Millennial Kingdom, and scriptural responses to the standard amillennialist view

    S. Lewis Johnson also has a good 37-part eschatology series (available as transcripts and MP3s) that looks at all these and many more questions:
    http://www.sljinstitute.net/sermons/eschatology/eschatology_master.html

    Regards,
    Lynda

  5. March 16, 2010 at 11:33 am

    Actually, this article, just posted today, addresses the very things mentioned above:
    http://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2010/03/16/answering-the-95-theses-against-dispensationalism-19/

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