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Common Claims Against Dispensationalism: Responses

August 15, 2011 Leave a comment

The following come from various online discussions with individuals who cited reasons for rejecting dispensationalism, along with my responses.

Claim:  Dispensationalism is constantly changing from classic to modified to Progressive.

Response:  Dispensationalism is not “constantly changing from classic, to modified, to Progressive.” The way to describe what you have observed is: within the overall “umbrella” of dispensationalism some variations exist, on the lesser points such as the number of dispensations, the rapture timing, or on issues that really do not pertain to dispensationalism (such as Lordship salvation views, which is soteriology). These “changes” or differences also do not come from the same men changing their own views, but from these relatively minor differences among different theologians.

That said, it is equally true that the overall “umbrella” of Covenant Theology has just as much variation among different theologians. Some within overall CT hold to infant baptism, others do not. Some within CT see a future large-scale national salvation for Israel, while others think “all Israel” only means those Jews saved during the church age. Hoekema mixes things on his definitions of the Millennial Earth versus the Eternal State New Heavens New Earth. Some within CT formed another view of “New Covenant Theology” departing from some parts of CT while clinging to others. Some within CT are postmillennial with dominion theology ideas, while others are amillennial. Some postmills and amills are preterist, while some are historicist, and even a few amills are futurist, believing in a future great time of trouble before the end and Christ sets up the Eternal State. CT itself was only formulated in the 17th century and has had many variations since.

So we might as well say that “Covenant Theology is constantly changing, and thus unreliable and untrue.”

Another Claim:  As far as the idea that the New Testament “continually spoke with distinctions regarding Jews and Gentiles,” check out Ephesians 2:11-19. It clearly implies that gentile believers are no longer excluded from citizenship in Israel and strangers to the covenants. As far as, “The New Testament writers never said that the prophets were writing about the church or that those OT promises were transferred to the church age,” check out Peter’s use of quotes from Exodus 19:6 and 23:22 in I Peter 2:9.

Response:  So??  Ephesians 2:11-19 agrees with the point of Romans 11 and the wild and cultivated branches of the Olive Tree.  We are all included in the one people of God, which includes both Jews and Gentiles; we are now included in the same Olive Tree and receive the same promises given in the root, the Abrahamic covenant promises.

That does not nullify the distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, any more than where Paul says in Gal. 3:28 that “…there is now no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Just because all are now included in the people of God does not mean that men become women or women become men, or that slaves and free cease to have their distinct identities and roles.

Same with 1 Peter 2:9, just as the Jews have that identity as a chosen race and holy nation, so Gentiles who are brought to believe are brought into the one people of God, into that olive tree that includes BOTH Jews and Gentiles, yet distinctions of persons and roles still exist.  We’re all believers, but have our different roles and functions within God’s Divine Plan and Purpose:  slaves, free, great or small, male or female, Israelites (descended from Jacob), or Gentiles (descended from Japheth or Ham, etc.).

Follow-up Claim:
It’s amazing that every time that passage (Gal 3:28) is cited, dispensationalists are quick to explain what it ~doesn’t~ mean, but never really get around to explaining what it does mean. Given the context of (Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ…) it seems clear that Paul'”

Response:  Read Barry Horner’s “Future Israel” which explains it very well.  One aspect of the Abrahamic covenant referred to a singular seed of Abraham (Christ), but another part of that covenant very clearly talked about plural descendants (see Gen. 17:7-8).  In Galatians Paul dealt with one aspect of the Abrahamic covenant, but that covenant included other provisions as well, and those other provisions in the covenant are still there.  Just because someone gives particular commentary about one part of a covenant or contract, does not mean that the other parts of that covenant are null and void.

Speak, O Lord, Till Your Kingdom Comes: Church Praise Songs

July 28, 2011 Leave a comment

How common it is for wrong biblical ideas to enter through songs.  From church history I’ve heard that the error of Arianism spread easily through simple songs, such as one with the line “There was a time when the Son was not.”  That is a more extreme example, but even within American churches, many of us can recall the songs about having “a mansion” in heaven — whereas the reference — John 14:3 — is referring to many “rooms” in my Father’s house.

The general theme of church replacement / supremacy is of course well represented in the classic hymns, if in a subtle way:  all the refernces to Zion, as in “we’re marching to Zion, beautiful beautiful Zion” and “Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion city of our God,” or other songs where the word Zion, or even Beulah land, is used as a reference to heaven.

By contrast, apparently the only hymns with biblical reference to Israel and its great future, come from historic premillennialist Horatius Bonar.  He wrote seven such hymns, but I have never seen the sheet music that goes to those songs, nor seen these hymns in any church hymnal.

Among contemporary praise songs, the church-supremacy trend continues, as in the recent song (sung often at the local Reformed amillennial church) “Speak, O Lord.”  Most of the words are fine, and overall it is a great hymn, but the last verse includes the words “Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built and the earth is filled with your glory.” 

Of course, most people just sing the words and don’t really think about the words, or ask “is this biblical?”  The reference to the earth being filled with the glory of the Lord is in Habakkuk 2:14 — in the great chapter with the words “the just shall live by faith,” where we are also told of a vision that “awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end-it will not lie,” and describes both judgment to come as well as the great promise in verse 14:  For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.  Even amillennialist John Reisinger has expressed his doubts, realizing that this verse contains more than just the influence of the church in this age.  To say “till your church is built and the earth is filled with your glory” of course suggests that the church, or the gospel going forth, is going to bring this about (classic postmillennialism), and of course is not scriptural, as something never taught explicitly or implicitly in the Bible.

As shown in this blog’s title, though, I suggest a scripturally correct wording, that fits the rhythm and syllables for the song:  Speak, O Lord, Till Your Kingdom Comes, and the earth is filled with Your glory.

Covenant Theology, Amillennialism and Replacement Theology: A Brief History

March 14, 2011 2 comments

An online friend recently asked this question:
Covenant theology…I’m mixed up.  I agree with the big parts — grace, works, redemption through the ages, but why are so many CT’ers amils?  And that Israel is all but taken out of God’s promises?

Like many others, this person had come across various references to Covenant Theology, Reformed Theology, and other general concepts — mainly from reading Christian blogs — but had not (yet) researched the subjects enough, and so wanted a general framework of how all these pieces fit together.

Following is my response, a very brief overview from church history.  For those already more familiar with these issues this may seem too simplistic, and lacking in detailed explanation — but I put this forward for those desiring the basic framework.  I have also included a few links for further reference.

1.  Church Replacement Theology — the idea of the Gentile church taking priority over the Jews — began by the mid-to-late 2nd century, brought about as the result of increasing anti-Semitism and Gentile pride, as the church became increasingly dominated by Gentile believers (who forgot what Paul said about pride, in Romans 11) and the apostate Jews became increasingly hostile and continued to persecute the Christians.
For additional reference, see Barry Horner’s Future Israel, chapter 2, “The Patristic Period,” p. 39

2.  Amillennialism was invented by Augustine in the early 5th century.  Augustine first believed the standard view of the time, premillennialism, but he was also influenced by Greek platonic thought — the same thinking that produced gnosticism, the basic idea that physical and material is evil, and spiritual, non-physical is good.  Augustine was also morally repulsed by the behavior of some Christians, in a group called the Donatists, who took a rather carnal approach to the idea of the kingdom and enjoyed their love feasts (food, drink, revelry).  This was also shortly after Constantine, and the church enjoyed the power, privilege and protection of the Roman Empire.  Anti-Semitism was also quite strong, the Jews hated throughout the Roman world, and by that time they were scattered and clearly without power — so the biblical message that the despised and weak Jews would one day be given prominence and the other nations would come to them, appeared totally contrary (and unacceptable) to their observed world reality.  So Augustine formulated the idea of the spiritual-only kingdom, relating it to the Church triumphant, the Roman church of his day.  His new idea, amillennialism (which he described in “The City of God”), along with most everything else that Augustine taught, was incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church — and became (and still is) standard Catholic teaching.
Additional resources:
“The Allegorists Who Undermined the Normal Interpretation of Scripture,” by Mal Couch

Audio only:  Jim McClarty eschatology series: #89 “History of Amillennialism” and #90  “Augustine’s Amillennialism”

A thousand years later, Luther and Calvin came on the scene, and of course they came out of the Roman Catholic system.  They only reformed the soteriology — how we are saved, the doctrine of justification — but “imported” the rest of Catholic teaching including eschatology and ecclesiology, unchanged and assumed to be true.
Additional resources:

John MacArthur, “Why Every Calvinist Should Be A Premillennialist,” six-part series

3.  Covenant theology is relatively recent — developed in the 17th century, especially in Holland and central Europe.  It was developed largely in order to come up with a theological reason to support infant baptism, which was still practiced (from the Medieval Catholic era) and considered important as part of the church-government structure and census records.  The ideas of church-supremacy and amillennialism were already a given in this system, and several theologians of 17th century Protestantism came forth with the ideas of these three covenants and especially the overall “covenant of grace” for all believers since Adam.
Additional resources:

S. Lewis Johnson’s The Divine Purpose series
The History of Covenant Theology – I
The History of Covenant Theology – II

The Key to Understanding the Bible: The Cross and the Crown

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

J.C. Ryle well expressed what the “key” is to understanding the Bible:

Christ’s sacrifice and death for sinners, and Christ’s kingdom and future glory, are the light we must bring to bear on any book of Scripture we read. Christ’s cross and Christ’s crown are the clue we must hold fast, if we would find our way through Scripture difficulties.

He then gave several examples of how we see aspects of Christ in various Old Testament texts.  Many of these are in types, examples that prefigure Christ either in His cross or His crown.  Of his ten references, in fact, four of these highlighted Christ’s First Coming  (Hebrews 11:4; Galatians 3:24; 1 Cor. 10:4 and John 3:14;  and four His Second Coming (Jude 14-15; John 8:56; Genesis 49:10; and the judges and kings of Israel); and two others, David’s life and the overall theme of the prophets, that equally reference both Advents.

S. Lewis Johnson often made a similar point, that God’s Divine Purpose, and all of Old Testament Prophecy, focuses on the two events of Christ’s First Coming and His Second Coming.  In the OT types, too, he notes that David and Solomon represent different aspects of the true king:  David represents Christ as the “man of war,” while David’s son Solomon represents the King of peace.

I now notice this “key” in my own Bible reading, especially as regards the many “kingdom” references.  For example, a recent day’s Bible readings included the following:  Luke 14:16-24 , Psalms 97 and 98 (see this article), 1 Kings 10 (Solomon as the type of Christ ruling in His kingdom), and Ezekiel 34 (especially verses 23-31).

As I’ve said before, understanding the Bible in terms of the importance of both comings — rather than emphasizing the First Coming to the exclusion of the one yet to come — greatly assists in the daily ups and downs of life, to understand why the world is the way it is.  A right understanding sets the focus where it should be, for believers to eagerly await His imminent return to set things right while truly praying “Thy kingdom come.”  Amillennialism and Church Replacement Theology simply do not do justice to the language of the wonderful Old Testament prophecies, and instead give the false impression that this church age is a wonderful time in which Satan is bound and so many people are coming to Christ, which makes this world so much better.  Yes, technically amillennialism is not so optimistic as post-millennialism, yet I find it difficult to distinguish the two in practice–the amillennialist preacher optimistically proclaims that the prophets spoke of our age (while reading the wonderful texts such as found in Isaiah or Jeremiah, etc.) and that Satan is bound now while the gospel goes forth unhindered.  Aside from the fact that such an idea denies the vivid and clear words of scripture concerning both the persecuted church and Satan’s activity in this age, it simply has no answer to what we actually observe: a world in which the believers are scattered (like salt) among a majority of unbelievers, a church never extinguished yet  oppressed and persecuted, and riddled with worldly believers as well as outright unbelievers.  That view also cannot make any sense of actual history and the hard questions that many people ask, such as “why the Holocaust?” and “why such hatred of the Jews?”

More to the point, the amillennialist scheme, with its excessive focus on only the First Coming, promises great things (that cannot be delivered in this age) and encourages believers to live only for this life and forget that Christ will return to setup His kingdom.  That mindset is focused on the past and what Christ has done (past tense) for us, yet lulls the believer to sleep in regards to the future — I’ll live a full life now, and someday go to be with Jesus in heaven.  Since the “first resurrection” is only the spiritual rebirth of believers, and emphasis is on a non-material “heaven,” the resurrection itself is downplayed.  J.C. Ryle spoke truly for his age, as well as ours, that the majority of believers, like the virgins waiting for the king in Matthew 25, are asleep and not looking for Christ’s imminent return:

We have adapted and accommodated to the Church of Christ the promises that were spoken by God to Israel and Zion. I do not mean to say that this accommodation is in no sense allowable. But I do mean to say that the primary sense of every prophecy and promise in Old Testament prophecy was intended to have a literal fulfillment, and that this literal fulfillment has been far too much put aside and thrust into a corner.  And by so doing I think we have exactly fulfilled our Lord’s words in the parable of the ten virgins, we have proved that we are slumbering and sleeping about the second advent of Christ.

Bible Reading: The Abrahamic Covenant’s Plural Offspring

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

In my recent reading through Genesis (list 2 in a modified Horner Bible Reading Plan), I noticed again the references to Abraham’s offspring, or “seed.”  Though Reformed Theology emphasizes the singular offspring (Christ), spoken of by Paul in Galatians 3, yet it is obvious from just reading Genesis 17 that some of the Abrahamic covenant texts use offspring in a plural sense, and a sense that clearly cannot be talking about God.  For instance, Genesis 17:7And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

I especially noticed the phrase “to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”  Of course this is not talking about Christ as the singular seed of Abraham, or of Christ being the true Israel — for that would be saying that God is “to be God” to Himself.  The very next sentence, verse 8, gives the land promise in terms that could not be plainer:  And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

Paul in Galatians 3:16 refers to “the promises” and Genesis 18:18, “and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.”  Just because Paul cites one aspect of the Abrahamic covenant in no way invalidates other aspects of that covenant.  The same principle is at work in other oft-cited passages brought forth as “proofs” of Church Replacement Theology:  just because the writer of Hebrews cites the full passage of the New Covenant from Jeremiah 31 does not take away from its meaning in the original text or change its meaning.  Acts 15, with James’ citation of Amos 9, is similar.  All that James says is that the words of the prophets “agree with” what was happening — which is clearly not the same as having the meaning changed to some unexpected “new meaning.”

Barry Horner, in Future Israel  (p. 98) further expands on the issue of singular and plural senses of “seed”:

… the promise of Genesis 12:3 is not made to Christ as the mediator, but to Abraham, and this Scripture overwhelmingly affirms. Further, the seed of Abraham having application to Christ according to Galatians 3:16, this in no way invalidates the “seed” of Genesis 12:1-3 being the nation of Israel anymore than does “seed” in Genesis 13:15; 17:7. The exegetical reason is that God says to Abraham, your “descendants [seed]” shall be as the innumerable stars of heaven (Gen. 15:5). These references clearly refer to the nation of Israel, and not exclusively Christ as an individual. Paul’s employment of Midrash, distinctive Jewish, applicatory interpretation, incorporates Christ as the root of promised blessing without at all denying the obvious promise of national blessing, the plurality of “Abraham’s descendants [seed], heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29).  Plainly the terms of the curse/blessing in Genesis 12:2-3 principally refer to the national seed here, notwithstanding the attempted textual manipulation which betrays a difficulty that the obvious sense presents. To be sure, Christ is the ground of covenant blessing, but this does not nullify national blessing as is plainly indicated.

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The Davidic Covenant in the New Testament

July 16, 2010 1 comment

I’ve now completed the mini-series (within Lessons from the Life of David) on the Davidic covenant, so here are some more study notes and observations concerning this great covenant, itself an expansion of the Abrahamic covenant:

The New Testament has many references to the Davidic covenant, including:

  • Luke 1:31-33
  • Matt. 4:17, 21:43, 22:41-46, 26:29
  • Acts 13:29-37, and 15:15-16
  • Romans 1:3-4 and 15:7-13
  • Revelation 3:7, 5:5, and 22:16

Revelation 3:7 makes a reference to Isaiah 22:22, the “key of David.”  Revelation 22:16, the end of the New Testament, sums up the truth of the Davidic promises with Jesus’ sure words, “I am the root and the offspring of David.”

To those who would re-interpret references to David as meaning the church (as with the Acts 15 text:  David is mentioned 54 times in the New Testament, and always the word refers to David, not the church.  Furthermore, the Amos text cited in Acts 15 talks about “rebuilding” the tabernacle of David.  When is the Church ever referred to as something to be RE-built?  (No, Christ told Peter He would “build” His church.)  Or as something to be rebuilt from ruins, “as in the days of old”?  What does one do with the beginning phrase “after this”?  As always, we look at the context, which is talking about Gentiles being saved, and understand that the prophecy is talking about the future restoration, what will happen “after this,” the Gentile church age.

S. Lewis Johnson describes the difference between the Jews of Jesus’ day and the present-day Church in an interesting way:  The Jews received the promises, but rejected the seed (Jesus Christ, the seed of David).  We (the visible Church) receive the seed (Jesus), but reject the promises.

As for the common question, “what about the land promises? They’re not mentioned in the New Testament,” the obvious and clear answer is that both the Old and New Testaments are equal in importance.  We must follow the example given by the apostles, for who the Scriptures were the scriptures of the Old Testament, as pointed out in 2 Peter 3:2, “That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour.”  Peter’s statement is a strong answer to those who give the New Testament priority and would discard anything from the Old Testament unless it is explicitly mentioned in the New Testament.  Rather, we interpret the Old Testament on its own terms, and only discard something from the Old Testament if the New Testament specifically says to do so.

To think otherwise is to disparage the scriptures, and to lose a lot of the joy of understanding the purpose of God.

Is God “Most Glorified” through His Church?

June 28, 2010 2 comments

A friend recently posted a link to the following quote from preacher Jeff Noblit:  “God is most glorified through His church. God is most glorified through His church when His church is biblically healthy. For our churches to become biblically healthy, we desperately need revival and reformation. This revival and reformation will require suffering on the part of God’s shepherd. But His glory is worth it!”

It’s a statement that sounds nice and uplifting, for the average Christian who likes to hear good things about the church — if you don’t think about the words and what it’s really saying. Yet the statement struck me as unbiblical, as an idea that comes from standard Reformed ecclesiology in which the Church is the end-all plan of God, also part and parcel of Church Replacement theology (also called Supersessionism).  I had not heard that particular wording before, though, and googled to see if anyone else had anything to say regarding what God is “most glorified” in.  I did learn that John Piper has written a type of creed statement, that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”  I also found this article that looks at the biblical question of “God is Most Glorified… When?”  We really can’t say that there is one thing which glorifies God the most — although of course the Bible tells us of several things that do glorify God.  I know that at my own moment of salvation, when suddenly God revealed basic understanding (as I was driving home listening to the Rich Mullins song “Awesome God”), I suddenly knew that everything came from God, even my very breath and every cell of my existence, and that my whole purpose for being was to glorify and praise God.

But back to the original quote from Jeff Noblit — what does the Bible actually say about the Church?  And what would cause someone to think such a thing as the statement above?

So here are just a few things said in God’s word concerning the first question:  The Church began at Pentecost, and departs at the rapture.  The Church is the body of Christ, built on the foundation of prophets and apostles.  The church structure, for the local church, includes recognized positions of elders and deacons.  The Bible recognizes the gift of pastor/teacher, but does not support the idea of “office of pastor” — a point emphasized by S. Lewis Johnson, at a church that holds to that point.

The Church has been given the role that Israel would have had, to spread the gospel in the world during this age, and as Paul tells us in Romans 11, the purpose of Gentiles coming into the Church is to make Israel jealous. But Romans 11 also tells us that this situation will end, after the fullness of the Gentiles.  Old Testament texts affirm that in the age to come (the Millennial Kingdom) Israel will be restored and will serve the purpose that God intended for her, with the special place of prominence among the nations again.  So, knowing the purpose and limits of the Church in God’s overall plan — an equal part of the full people of God, alongside Israel — how can it be said that God is “most glorified through His Church?” For such language claims that the Church is greater than anything else in God’s Divine Purpose.

The New Testament also tells us to expect difficulty and great apostasy as the end draws near.  Paul often warned the church (as in Acts 20) as well as its leaders Timothy and Titus, to guard and keep the faith, to watch out for false teachers who would soon enter the church.  Peter and Jude also spoke of such things. As Mark Hitchcock has pointed out, it is interesting that the book of Jude is listed in the canon just before the book of Revelation; God has ordained both the books of the canon as well as their sequence in our Bibles.  The parable in Matthew 13:33 uses leaven to describe this age; and despite the ideas of some, leaven is never used in a positive way in scripture, and that includes the truth taught here.  The parable of the wheat and tares also makes it clear that the church will always have true and false professors within it, and we cannot separate them out.  Believers are continually exhorted to holy living and to resist the devil (again making it clear that Satan is not currently bound), and Revelation 2-3 make it clear that even by the end of the first century the churches were having lots of problems.

From church history, we can read the words of Christian leaders from previous times, such as 19th century Britain’s J.C. Ryle, C.H. Spurgeon, and Horatius Bonar, to learn that even in past times (that we like to think of as having been morally upright and more “Christian”), the true Church was oppressed, local churches plagued with professing believers more caught up in the affairs of the world than in the study of God’s word.  Refer to my previous blog article that includes one such quote from Horatius Bonar, or one of many samplings from J.C. Ryle:

The devil is the prince of this world during the present dispensation (John 14:30). The vast majority of the inhabitants of the earth choose the things that please the devil far more than the things that please God. Little as they may think it, they are doing the devil’s will, behaving as the devil’s subjects, and serving the devil far more than Christ. This is the actual condition of Christendom as well as of heathen countries. After 1900 years of Bibles and Gospel preaching, there is not a nation, or a country, or a parish, or a long established congregation, where the devil has not more subjects than Christ. So fearfully true is it that the world is not yet the kingdom of Christ.

To say that we “desperately need” revival and that it requires suffering on the part of God’s shepherd (presumably by this he means local church leaders) to accomplish this, is to put the matter in man’s hands, as if God’s glory is dependent on our producing “biblically healthy” churches.  Furthermore, the only way to come up with such a positive view concerning the Church and the necessity for revival and “biblically healthy” churches, is to re-interpret scriptures that are not even talking about the Church but about the promised future for Israel, as being really about the church — the common error of Church Replacement Theology that looks at the optimistic passages in the Old Testament prophets and applies the blessings to the Church but leaves the curses to Israel.

Since God never promised such blessings to the Church but to the future Kingdom age, those who re-interpret the scriptures (to think of our age as the glorious Church/Kingdom) face a serious disconnect between their view of God’s word and observed reality — a disconnect that can only lead to disappointment and frustration as they continue to expect to see certain things, such as revival and biblically healthy churches — while the reality fails to live up to the ideal of the great “blessings” as described by the prophets.

Bible Prophecy and Practical Christian Living

May 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Again and again in my Bible study I encounter exhortations to holy living, in the light of our understanding of the prophetic word: from J.C. Ryle, S. Lewis Johnson, John MacArthur, David Jeremiah, etc.  Certainly I can see some change within my own thoughts, over the last two years, as I continually conform my thoughts to the word of God (Romans 12:2) and appreciate the wonders of what God has revealed in His word.

Specifically, I can more readily accept the hardships and craziness of our world, knowing what the future holds.  During a recent spell of extremely hot weather, for instance, I remembered Romans 8:20-21, the promise from God that the creation itself will one day be restored to how it was in the original perfect creation, and what awaits during that glorious Millennial Kingdom age when the weather patterns will no longer bring extreme heat and cold, or the terrible natural disasters; the ground will yield forth food instead of the thistles and thorns brought about in the curse.  Just as we await the redemption of our bodies, so the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage.  Such understanding brings God’s grace to patiently endure the heat which I used to complain too much about.

Another area of difference:  understanding the seeming craziness of the world and the rise and fall of nations, and the true nature of the visible Church.  Certainly God’s word in general (basic evangelical gospel) tells us to trust God, that He is in control of the big things as well as our lives, and that He is the one who appoints the governments and leaders, and one day we’ll die and go to be with God in heaven.  Without the added understanding from prophecy, though, it is much harder to accept the specifics of the things we actually see going on in the world.  I first started learning about the rise and fall of nations from reading John MacArthur’s sermon series through the book of Daniel in early 2009, a new, biblical perspective contrary to the popular “Christian America” moral message I imbibed during my early Christian years.

What I now realize that the Bible has to say concerning the future of certain locations — especially Israel, Asia (its very large population), and Babylon — makes perfect sense of the rapidly increasing decline of the U.S., and of the U.S.’s now declining relationship with Israel.  It even makes sense of specific news items, such as what I found so disturbing a few years ago: that the U.S. was sending mega-bucks of our taxpayer money over to Iraq to rebuild its economy, even subsidizing its economy with cheap gasoline at the pump.  When I consider the amazing implied prophecy in Revelation 11:9-12, that the Bible predicted over 1900 years ago a world that would have instant, worldwide communication including the transmission of visual images, I am that much more awestruck by our great God.

That the Bible predicts great apostasy within the visible Church, and increasing apostasy as the end nears, gives me peace of mind concerning the reality observed in the Church today, in contrast to the optimistic kingdom (as in the Church is the Kingdom) language that so popularly expresses the misconception of many confused believers.

Understanding what God’s word has to say regarding the believer’s rewards compels me toward holy and righteous living — not as though my salvation were dependent on works, but to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” recognizing the need to redeem the time, since we must give account to God for how we used our gifts and spent our time — not in frivolous things of no value (wood, hay, straw), but in those things which build up God’s people and glorify Him (gold and silver).  John MacArthur’s emphasis on the value of studying and meditating on the things of God, and the great reward ahead for those who do so — a reward that will include greater capacity to know, enjoy and love God — is an encouragement to persevere toward that end, to run the race to win the prize.

By contrast, the anti-futurist Christian view emphasizes the equality of all believers in Christ without distinctions, a view that is actually quite uncomfortable with the idea of rewards or differences among believers (as I even heard one such preacher admit recently): we’re all equal, the Church has replaced Israel, and we will be judged along with unbelievers at the Great White Throne — to show that we’re just as guilty as them but for the blood of Jesus.  Yet such incomplete and unbiblical teaching lacks the extra motivation (the believer’s rewards) — provided by the study of biblical eschatology — toward holy living in believers, instead destroying our great blessed hope of our Lord’s imminent return for His people (1 Thess. 4:17-18, John 14:3).  Truly, God’s word including the prophetic picture is a great blessing that God has revealed to us, and those who endeavor to search and study the scriptures will gain this blessing (Revelation 1:3) and not be disappointed.

J.C. Ryle on Christ’s Return

May 4, 2010 Leave a comment

J. C. RyleGreat words from J. C. Ryle:

I submit, then, that in the matter of Christ’s second coming and kingdom, the Church of Christ has not dealt fairly with the prophecies of the Old Testament. We have gone on far too long refusing to see that there are two personal advents of Christ spoken of in those prophecies, an advent in humiliation, and an advent in glory, an advent to suffer, and an advent to reign, a personal advent to carry the cross, and a personal advent to wear the crown. We have been “slow of heart to believe ALL that the Prophets have written.” (Luke 24:25). The Apostles went into one extreme: they stumbled at Christ’s sufferings. We have gone into the other extreme: we have stumbled at Christ’s glory. We have got into a confused habit of speaking of the kingdom of Christ as already set up amongst us, and have shut our eyes to the fact that the devil is still prince of this world, and served by the vast majority; and that our Lord, like David in Adullam, though anointed, is not yet set upon His throne. We have got into a vicious habit of taking all the promises spiritually, and all the denunciations and threats literally. The denunciations against Babylon, and Nineveh, and Edom, and Tyre, and Egypt, and the rebellious Jews, we have been content to take literally and hand over to our neighbors. The blessings and promises of glory to Zion, Jerusalem, Jacob, and Israel, we have taken spiritually, and comfortably applied them to ourselves and the Church of Christ. . . . And by so doing I think we have exactly fulfilled our Lord’s words in the parable of the ten virgins, we have proved that we are slumbering and sleeping about the second advent of Christ.

. . . And I have long felt it is one of the greatest shortcomings of the Church of Christ that we ministers do not preach enough about this advent of Christ, and that private believers do not think enough about it. A few of us here and there receive the doctrine, and profess to love it; but the number of such persons is comparatively very small. And, after all, none of us live on it, feed on it, act on it, work from it, take comfort in it, as much as God intended us to do. In short, the Bridegroom tarries, and we all slumber and sleep.

Acts 3, The Prophets, and the Church Age

March 16, 2010 Leave a comment

In my last post I considered dispensationalism and ecclesiology, noting that the descriptions of the future kingdom, in the OT prophecies, do not agree with the assessment of the New Testament church age as described by the apostles.

Now that I’ve been following the (modified) Horner Bible reading plan for a year, I can definitely see a benefit:  really becoming familiar with what God’s word actually says.  After all, one year of this reading plan results in the following:  almost three readings through the Prophets, six readings through the New Testament Epistles, and over seven readings through the book of Acts.  From the Prophets I now notice several major themes, including the pattern of Israel’s apostasy, followed by God’s judgement, and then the wonderful hope of future restoration of Israel: into a right relationship with God, and the associated blessings of that — dwelling in the land in peace, safety and abundance.

In my current reading through Acts, Peter’s message in Acts 3 especially sticks out.  Notice verse 21 especially:

(Jesus) whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.  (ESV)

My last post mentioned the overall differences between the Old Testament prophecies and the present church age.  This passage in Acts 3 is far more direct and to the point.  Jesus must remain in heaven (referring to this age) “until the time” (future) “for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.”

Now, what did the prophets speak about, and what is meant by the restoration (the “restoring”)?  Acts 1:6-7, just two chapters earlier, answers the second part of this question.  After 40 days spent with Jesus post-resurrection, the apostles asked Him, “are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  As has often been pointed out, if the amillennialists are right and this age is the kingdom, this would have been the perfect opportunity for Jesus to correct their understanding.  Instead, He simply told them that it was not for them to know “the times or dates” of when it would come.  Acts 3:21 clearly refers to the same thing, a future restoration that will come after the present time (while Jesus remains in heaven) — in other words, at our Lord’s Second Coming.

Back to the first question:  what did the prophets speak about?  Again, multiple readings through that section of the Bible (Isaiah through Malachi) show the very oft-repeated theme of apostasy-judgment-future restoration and blessing, and all of these relate to national Israel, with language concerning “the house of Judah and the house of Israel.”  The theme is so prevalent throughout these books, that it boggles my mind that anyone could conceive of the idea that the first two parts — apostasy and judgment — involve Israel, but the third part — future restoration and blessing — is something completely disjointed from the previous two and said to apply to the Church instead.  A strong, solid knowledge of the Old Testament prophets, and the book of Acts (plus the many descriptions of the current Church age as a good contrast) makes the truth plain.

Biblical ignorance — and sinful Gentile pride, the very thing the apostle Paul warned against in Romans 11– is behind that which now boggles my mind.  Such ignorance and pride itself are an indication of the underlying problems with the Church age, as yet more proof that the Church age is NOT the kingdom of God, is NOT the fulfillment of all that the prophets spoke of long ago.

In years past when my own Bible study was more lacking (casual reading through the Bible once a year, and listening only to what was taught at my own church), I likewise did not think about these issues so much — and at a superficial glance, it does sound good when a pastor skims over a few verses out of Isaiah or Jeremiah and says “this is talking about our age now.”  We know the great things that Christ did for us in His atoning work on the cross, and eternal life in heaven, and so, naturally, it sounds great to hear that the Church is the wonderful outworking of God’s plan.  We’re all Christians, and the gospel is going out victoriously into this age and changing lives, and so it seems natural that God is doing all this for us Gentiles in the Church Age.

With such general ideas, I once supposed that previous generations of the Church age were much better than now:  that people were really more godly, moral and church-going back in the middle 20th century, or the early 20th century, or other times before that, such as on the 19th century frontier, Victorian England, colonial America, etc.  Perhaps other times were more outwardly civilized, with the restraints of law and societal pressure, but the more I learn and read of history the more it truly agrees with what the Bible says about this current Church Age.  I have read many sermons from C.H. Spurgeon, delivered in the 1850s (150+ years ago), that one would surely think were talking about the early 21st century.  Then as now, most people did not really read their Bibles, did not take the time and effort and were more interested in magazines and popular literature.  Then as now, people were lazy with excuses regarding church attendance and with really living a good Christian life.  Then as now, only a few Christians spoke out against and contended against the constant barrage of errors and evils coming against the church.  Then it was Spurgeon; now it is leaders such as John MacArthur, and others at various points throughout church history.