"Left Behind"? Sure Hope So!
[This article was originally titled: Dissecting Dispensationalism or Judaism is a Religion not a Race]
In keeping with the purpose of this BLOG I won't provide a complete doctrinal or historic treatment on the theory of Dispensationalism. There are many good resources out there in which to dive a little deeper. Here, you will find definitions and outlines and a few personal perspectives to inform you as to the subject matter looking at the Dispensational view VS the Orthodox view. Being a former Dispensationalist I understand first hand the affront any opposition to the Dispensationalist way of thinking is. For years I thought that such a view was the predominant one, that all others were insignificant. Just the discovery that the Dispensational view of scripture and prophecy was the minority view and predominantly a western evangelical, relatively recent creation, was enough for me to start asking questions. My paradigm shift did not come instantly, but my willingness to question Dispensationalism came upon me suddenly.
One late night I was reading a book by an evangelical charismatic author. The whole of the book contained much that I would not adhere to today, but the most provocative thing I discovered was the fact that the author did not believe in the pre-tribulation rapture, the cornerstone of much Dispensational thought. The theory states that "All believers will be raptured from the Earth before Christ returns." The author simply challenged the reader to justify the usage of the scripture Matt.24: 37-41 as a proof text that believers would be snatched away off the earth and unbelievers would be "Left Behind".
"As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be when the Son of Man comes...they suspected nothing 'til the flood came and swept them all away...This is what it will be like when the Son of man comes...one is taken the other left."
The question presented was "who is actually left?.
I was a teenager in the 70's when the "good" contemporary Christian music was new and abundant. One of the most popular songs was "I Wish We'd All Been Ready", based on the passages from Matthew. "Two men walking up a hill, one disappears and one is left standing still. I wish we'd all been ready." One thing we all knew for sure, based on the premise of this song, we didn't want to be left behind! So the answer to the question posed that night, some 20 something years later, was found in the phrase, "As it was in the days of Noah". So how was it in the days of Noah?
Matthew 24: 37-41
"As it was in Noah's day, so will it be when the son of man comes. for in those days before the Flood people were eating and drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark, and they suspected nothing till the flood came and SWEPT THEM ALL AWAY. This is what it will be like when the Son of man comes. Then of two men in the fields, one is taken the other left; of two women grinding at the mill, one is taken the other left."
Do you see it yet? Here is the scripture from Genesis:
"Everything on the face of the earth was wiped out, people, animals, creeping things and birds; they were WIPED OFF THE EARTH AND ONLY NOAH WAS LEFT, AND THOSE WITH HIM IN THE ARK."
So as Matthew compares the coming of the Son of Man to Noah's day. Who was left? The righteous. Who was taken? The unrighteous. When I first discovered that this scripture had been usurped by the Dispensationalists to prove their hypothesis and interpreted to say the opposite of what it says, I had to ask myself a question. What other scriptures have been usurped?
My next major Epiphany was the discovery of Tim LaHaye's book "No Fear Of The Storm", a treatment on the Dispensational view of the Rapture. Now, I am educated but I don't hold claim to any special ability or intelligence. Even so, I found the reading of LaHay's book bringing back the elementary skills I had learned in Philosophy 101. A sound argument is sound and the conclusion is valid only if it begins with a solid premise. If premise A and premise B are true then conclusion C is true. Conversely, if either premise "A" or premise "B" is false then conclusion "C" is erroneous. I found LaHay's book not only to be full of hypothetical premises based on ideas and preconceptions rather than scriptural proofs, but on more than a few occasions there were outright contradictions. In one instance, LaHay denounces the accusation some have made that Dispensationalists believe in the three comings of Christ. In the next paragraph he refers, as fact, to the "third time Christ comes." I was so amazed by the unreasoned, contradictory, and unintelligent diatribe and the obvious effort to prove the Dispensational viewpoint in the absence of verifiable scriptural evidence, that I set out to simply outline the weakness of his ability to argue. Thanks be to God for my discovery that that had already been done. A man named Larry Simmons had already taken the time to outline all 14 of LaHay's "14 Reasons For Believing The Pre-Trib Rapture." For a deeper and more provocative study I highly recommend Simmons' free internet book, "Unmasking Pre-Trib Fallacies".
So my paradigm was shifted and soon came the discovery that what I had been raised in was not what the Church across the world believed. In fact, the Church as a whole looks upon the Dispensational theory as a bizarre and puzzling aberration that invaded the western evangelical movement just 150 years ago. The most common question I get when discussing this matter with any one is, "What difference does it make?" The premise here is that it is silly to argue over when or if Christians will be zapped off the earth before Christ returns or whether they will be "caught up to meeting him in the sky" at the end. The difference it makes is profound, for Dispensationalism isn't just about the Rapture but contains an entire system of theories and doctrinal treatments that redefine the relevance and definition of "Church", redefines the purposes and reasons for the coming of Christ and the New Covenant and promotes practices and mindsets that directly effect the way individuals live out their lives, prepare for persecution, and "work out their salvation." For example, look at the four basic points in the system of Dispensationalism in relation to the Church:
1. God has two distinct people, Israel and the Church, and is pursuing two different programs in history with them.
2. There is little or no continuity between Israel of the Old Testament and the New Testament Church.
3. The Church and the Church age (extending from Pentecost to the "Rapture") is a "parenthesis" or "intercalation" into history, the existence of which was not prophesied or foreshadowed in any way in the Old Testament.
4. Christ offered an earthly, political kingdom to the Jews, but they rejected him and so he formed a new people, the Church, from both Jews and Gentiles.
5. The New Covenant was not for the Church but for Israel, just as the Kingdom is a future, earthly reality meant only for the Jews and not a spiritual reality inaugurated by Christ and/or located in some way in the Church today. (See Matheson, Dispensationalism: Rightly Dividing the People of God? 1995, pp 17-18)
So if you believe in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, just know that that theory comes out of the same system of beliefs that promotes the above five points. But what does the Church teach?
Contrary to the accusations made toward the Orthodox teaching on this matter, the Church does not negate the importance of Israel and the Old Covenant.
"Catholic doctrine emphasizes that the promises given to Old Testament Israel and the covenants made with it are brought to fulfillment in the New Covenant instituted by Christ. The Church and the New Covenant are in continuity with the Old Covenant and fulfill it precisely because Jesus Christ, the founder and head of the Church fulfilled the Law (Mt 5:17-18) and the prophets (Luke 24:44) and founded a New Israel (MT. 16:16-19.") ("Will Catholics Be Left Behind", pp 217-218)
So Israel is the Church and the Church is Israel. Dispensationalists share the same ideology as the Judaizers of Jesus day who looked for an earthly kingdom. Christ was very clear that that was not what he came to establish and yet the Dispensationalist still see the Modern-day Nation of Israel as the hope of the world and the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. They even assert that the temple must be rebuilt, that animal sacrifices must be reestablished, and that Christ will reign in this earthly kingdom for 1000 years. There is only one problem, it is not true and the Church has never taught it or held it to be true. This theory extends from just a few million evangelical, Dispensational, western, cultural diatribes who do not realize that they are giving more credence to the writings of men such as Darby, Scofield and Ryrie (who lived during the last 150 years) than the continuous teachings of the Fathers and Martyrs of the faith and the universal Church.
The Literal Interpretation Method
One word on the Literal Interpretation method used by Dispensationalists to arrive at doctrinal conclusions. While the Holy Scripture is true, it is not all "literally true." If one approaches the study of Dispensationalism, the Rapture, etc. using this approach, one subjects himself to a myriad of possible subjective interpretations. You will also find that the Literal interpretation method used by Dispensationalists to prove a text is done so without consistency. For instance, a Dispensationalist will say that "locusts" in a prophetic passage actually refer to modern-day helicopters. This is obviously not a literal interpretation. The same Dispensationalist will then interpret the usage of "1000" to mean a literal 1000 years. This presents a problem in light of how the term "1000" is used elsewhere. For instance: If "My Father owns the cattle on a 1000 hills (Ps 50:10)", who owns the cattle on hill number 1001? "1000" simply means "complete, all, forever." Yet, the Dispensationalist will interpret scripture based on this subjective method. A good rule of interpretation would include taking a look at what has been "taught at all times, in all places, by all the Church." Simply put, on any given doctrinal matter, look at what Christ said, then what the Apostles said, then what the Disciples of the Apostles (the Church Fathers) said, then verify it by the truth the Church has preserved for 2000 years. If you have problems with the disunity of the Church today seeing the divisions of Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, then at least look at the doctrines established during the first 1054 years when the Church was ONE body. Ask yourself which is more reliable, the writings of modern men who look back and interpret the meaning of truth in isolation according to their own opinion, or the original foundation of truth-"The Church of the living God, pillar and support of truth." (1 Timothy 3:15)
The mindset of the Dispensationalist includes the idea that God had plan "A" that he offered to his chosen people, the Jews, but they rejected it, so God had to go with plan "B". He was forced to change his plan and form the Church to give the Jews time to turn things around. So, they say, the Church is just a temporary substitute until God's original plan can work itself out. This mindset follows the same theme as those who fully attribute the mess humanity is in with the choice Adam and Eve made. Would the Dispensationalist really suggest that God was taken by surprise in both instances? Did God say to himself in surprise:
"Damn it (I use the "literal" sense of the word) I had such a good plan set up and now I am going to have to do something else. Those pesty humans! They are so unpredictable! Oh, well...let's see..that's it. I 'll do this, this and this and see if that works. I hope they don't screw it up this time?"
Here is the question: Was God surprised when Adam and Eve sinned or did He know from the beginning that they would do so? Likewise, was God surprised when some (not all) of the Jews rejected him or did He know they would from the beginning? It is unimaginable that anyone would attribute to God such a wishy-washy, cause and effect, human attribute, but this is what the Dispensational theory does. The Church has always held that God's plan for mankind included the sin of Adam and Eve and the rejection of Him by the Jews. Man would be in need of a savior and God would become incarnate in Jesus the Christ to bring that salvation. The Old Testament Covenant is a forerunner of the New Covenant and salvation is extended to His chosen people-Israel- made up of Jews and Gentiles-The Church. We are not waiting for some future earthly Kingdom that hinges on the earthly Nation of Israel-the Jews. Dispensationalists fail to understand that Judaism is a religion not a race and that not all Jewish leaders consider the Nation of Israel the epicenter or the prophesied future of Judaism. Establishing His Church was God's plan from the beginning.We are awaiting the glorious return of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to bring an end of the age (earthly humanity) and a beginning to eternity (Heavenly humanity). Members of the Jewish religion, along with members of any other religions who embrace Yeshua as the Messiah will be included.
Dispensationalism is an aberration from the truth. I hope you will not dismiss this article but will study on your own. to understand what the Church as a whole has held on this matter. I recommend the book "Will Catholics be Left Behind?" by Carl E. Olson, Ignatius Press.