Is Dispensationalism a recently developed doctrine?

If so, does that fact eliminate it from serious consideration?

The fact that Dispensationalism as a systematic theology was only fully developed by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) is often cited as evidence to discredit it. This reasoning is based on the premise that if it were true, it would not have been so recently discovered and systematized, but would have been a part of the understanding of the Church since its inception. By that logic, however, we would also have to discredit other doctrines such as the priesthood of the believer and justification by faith, since they did not come to light until the mid-1500’s. The question put properly is: What was taught and practiced by the apostles and the first century Church and recorded in the Bible?

Our position, which is finding an ever-widening circle of scholarly support, is that many great truths in the New Testament were obscured and lost during the intervening decades between the death of the apostles and the rise of the Roman Catholic Church early in the fourth century. The history of the Christian Church since then has pivoted around many heroic saints who wrested these truths from the jaws of religious tradition, often at the cost of their own lives.

The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is based upon the amillennialist theology of St. Augustine, who held that the Church has adopted the destiny of Israel and is building Christ’s Kingdom on earth through political, economic and worldly influence. [1] As a direct result, the doctrine of Christ’s imminent appearing has been utterly neglected by Roman Catholic tradition.

One of the logical effects of dispensational thinking was the recovery of the idea of Christ’s imminent appearing, something that was clearly believed and practiced in the first century Church (1 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 3:20 and 21; 1 Thess. 1:9 and 10, 4:16 and 17, 5:5-9; Titus 2:13; James 5:8 and 9; Rev. 3:10, 22:17-21). One of the earmarks of non-dispensational thinking is that of placing the Christian Church on a timetable of events that must occur before Christ can gather the Church. This results in believers looking for “signs” of Christ’s appearing, rather than the appearing itself.

Our experience has been that many believers who reject a dispensational view of Scripture are soon teaching a post- (or perhaps mid-) tribulational “Rapture” (defined from 1 Thess. 4:13ff as the gathering together of all Christians who ever lived to meet the Lord Jesus Christ in the air), and are looking for all the signs mentioned in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 as if these things are written to the Church. They also frequently teach “lordship salvation,” which means the believer is saved only if he “endures to the end,” because this concept is integral to the post-tribulational position. We see a clear distinction between the requirements for salvation in the Old Testament as contrasted to the Church Epistles. Yes, faith was required in each administration, but that is not the salient question. The more important question is, “Faith in what?” Throughout the Old Testament it is clear that the Jews needed faith in God, which was expressed by keeping the Law and staying faithful to the end. However, the Apostle Paul writes that “now, a righteousness from God apart from Law has been made known” (Rom. 3:21). We are concerned about the erroneous tendency among Christians to read Scripture as if it made no distinctions from administration to administration, and that punctuates for us the importance of dispensational thinking.

Endnotes

[1] Amillennialism denies that Christ will come to gather the Church and afterward have a literal 1000 year reign on the earth (Rev. 20). According to the teaching of amillennialism, the Christian Church is fulfilling the prophecies that were unfulfilled by Israel. The future will include a horrible time just before a final conflict called Armageddon, and then the bodies of the saved will be raised and reunited with their souls and they will enter God’s eternal kingdom. For the biblical (millennialist) position on what the future holds, listen to The Book of Revelation, our nine-hour audio tape seminar.

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