Wednesday, May 27, 2009

About dispensationalism

I came across this quote while reading "Security - The False and the True" by W. T. Purkiser. Thoughts?

"Dispensationalism is one of the most ingenious systems of biblical interpretation ever devised to escape the clear statements of God's inspired Word. It takes a half-truth, and by artificial and strained application transforms it into a principle of interpretation which permits almost any deduction one might wish to draw from the pages of the Book."

6 comments:

Loy said...

Dispensationalism is pretty much a straw horse now -- the leading lights have watered it down to a very palatable version. In its original version it was pretty much what this quote says, though.

The great challenge, when one studies hermeneutics, is to realize how easy this can happen to any person or group [I call it the chosen lens hermeneutic]; and, I find it far more interesting to examine how the Anglican and RC churches do this exact thing with their claims of authority. They create a physical genealogy of faith that Christ clearly revealed as destructive, then use this as some kind of ultimate answer when faced with spiritual and theological truth questions.

It's a far more persistent and potentially deadly error than dispensationalim -- b/c dispensationalism for all its faults always had the Bible waiting as its corrective. The classic proponents of the theory had to bow to greater biblical insight [thus the state of the theory today -- biblically reformed for the most part]. Those who sign on to the RC and Anglican hermeneutic do not have this built in corrective, b/c they've excised it at the beginning. The physical genealogy trumps all.

So interesting b/c Christ and the Apostles clearly placed this hermeneutic as out of bounds, unequivocally defining it as deadly. Yet these proponents claim lineage to the apostles as reason for using this non-Kingdom hermeneutic! They use the genealogy of the apostles to abrogate the teaching of the apostles.

Thus are millions placed in bondage, and the "True Church" still maintained piously while billions of dollars are simultaneously spent to cover child abuse, et al.

Every single one of these 'vicars of Christ' claimed a direct physical lineage to the apostles -- and still do. It's their salvation; after all, they are still in 'The Church.'

We cannot reject the clear teachings of Christ and Scripture without attending to great darkness, no matter how fancy our hermeneutic or pristine our physical genealogy.

And few places was it made more clear: a physical genealogy counts for nothing in faith terms. As soon as the authoritative claim is made to physical genealogy in faith discussion, that person is already in darkness. It is the greatest heresy of works righteousness alive today.

Not all those descended from Israel are Israel.

It is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring.

A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God.

Why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?
The claim to authority in physical genealogy killed Jesus; it is killing Him yet today.

Selah.

Stephen Miller said...

Loy

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I studied dispensationalism a little more in college than I had before, and basically came to believe what you've stated concerning it.

I also agree with you in the dangers of creating a "physical genealogy of faith." My question would be this; what authority, if any, do you allow the historical church? I believe in several things, not only because I believe they are Scriptural, but also because I believe they are confirmed through a near consensus in the history of the Church. (Infant baptism and the Canon of Scripture come to mind)

I recently read "Christianity's Dangerous Idea" by Alister McGrath, and I felt it helped me understand a little more the dangers of disregarding the historical church. Understand, I'm very Protestant, but I still regard history as a very trustworthy teacher, though of course not on the same level as Scripture.

By the way, I am now reading "The Rule of Faith" and in it I came across this, and would be interested in also knowing what you think of it.

"As institutional churches, as formal Christian communities, we now stand in the same condition as did the first Christians after the resurrection. We have no articulated theology, no proven structures of authority, no experienced framework for the reading of Sripture that is common to us as a church. Is this an opportunity? Certainly it is. But we have been reduced, not raised, to this opportunity through the judgment of God's history."

Thanks,

Stephen

Loy said...

As much as I understand your position, I pretty much agree w. you, Stephen -- my soapbox aside.

You ask: "What authority, if any, do you allow the historical church?"

Short answer: Much and much. But the authority I claim from this historical church is a spiritual one; I answer to it in spiritual terms. And this: the authority of the historical church ever and always stands under the authority of revelation. The church in history ever stands as the vehicle of revelation; it is not that revelation in itself. As soon as the church takes unto itself the place reserved for revelation, it becomes an idol that will always be judged by the Spirit of God.

Likewise, per the previous post, when the claim to this authority is made in terms of physical genealogy instead of spiritual [content of teaching under revelation] it is idolatry. This kind of power and claim is a freezing coat of mail that deadens the gospel in heart, the gospel it claims to convey.

The authority in the historical church, to the degree that it exists, is an authority conveyed by the person of Christ, the Word. That authority is maintained only by obedience to this eternal Word. This authority is never intrinsic to the institutional church nor is it owned in physical genealogy. This authority is forfeited as soon as relation to Word is forfeited. As soon as an institution places itself in place of Word, it loses apostolic authority. To quite Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor as he hated and rejected the presence of Christ: "Sir, we no longer need You. We have improved upon your program." To wit, to whom did the authority of the historical church reside: the Reformers, who owned the word and Word as true standard of the Church, or the RC church of the day?

That one's not even close. And yet those who claim physical genealogy treat the Reformation as a stain on the garment of the 'True Church.'

So, short answer is that I accept this historical authority of the Church, but ever as a derivative authority to revelation and ever answerable to Word and Spirit. I am very confessional in faith and practice.

Also, you ask if I agree w. the following: "As institutional churches, as formal Christian communities, we now stand in the same condition as did the first Christians after the resurrection. We have no articulated theology, no proven structures of authority, no experienced framework for the reading of Scripture that is common to us as a church. Is this an opportunity? Certainly it is. But we have been reduced, not raised, to this opportunity through the judgment of God's history."

That statement is somewhat accurate as an indictment of the postmodern church general, but it is far more true specifically of emergent and mega-church iterations of Christianity. For confessional churches, this statement is less true.

I want to disagree, though, that this is primarily via "God's judgment on history." It is far more primarily through God's judgment of the institutional church -- especially those that claim physical apostolic continuance. God has removed His Spirit from the organization as it fought Him for authority, and abused the power of eternity that was placed in their hands.

So the stream of God's Spirit has broken out in apostolic power in so many places, and so disconnected to those who claim to "own the law" of Christian faith.

Selah.

Loy said...

Addendum:

The Body of Christ is not an organization but an organism. As soon as any organization claims to be 'The True Church,' in that moment it is an idol.

I can only belong to a church that confesses it is not the "true church" but rather that it is only one reflection of the true Church, ever in need of grace and repentance, reformation according to word, life in Word and Spirit.

Stephen Miller said...

I think I understand what you’re saying about the historical church being a “vehicle of revelation.” My fear, in recent years, is that I would find myself leaning too far in either direction. Obviously I cannot disregard history; it teaches us far too much. It is, I believe, on the authority of the churches’ witnesses over the last two thousand years that I can rest when in confusion or doubt over a particular issue. I find that “new” theologies need to be carefully examined, to see if they are the continuation of earlier revelation, or are really new. To believe in a doctrine which has no historical backing whatsoever, to me, is a dangerous thing. I’m not saying it can’t happen; I’m just saying it needs to be carefully checked out.

To me, the Reformation is a prime example of how one can go too far, or perhaps not far enough, depending on who you are looking at. In my studies on the Eucharist, I was at one time challenged to pursue the Church Fathers. I was discussing this matter with Jason, and he told me that many Christians seem to believe that our theological history began at the Reformation, and perhaps it would serve me well to look back further. I did so, understanding that the RC’s often claim historical integrity in their belief of transubstantiation.

Much to my chagrin, I noticed a pattern in their writings, indeed claiming the presence of Christ, in a very “human” sense, in the elements. What was I to do? Clearly Jesus stated “This is My body,” and despite the fact that I had been taught that this was metaphorical, it seemed that history taught differently, if not Scripture.

Then as I looked to the Reformers, I found something interesting. Luther, unwilling to give up history, and perhaps also wanting a “true” reformation of the Roman Catholic church, was willing to concede, and in fact argued vehemently, the teaching of consubstantiation, where Zwingli, unwilling to give ground, vehemently defended the “memorial” view. Zwingli was much more willing to give these things up, and therefore willing to disregard the teachings of the Fathers. What was I to take from this?

I found solace in Calvin, who I believe wasn’t looking for the “middle” ground, as some have stated. I believe he was looking for truth, both scripturally, and something he could found on the historical church. This I believe he found in the spiritual understanding of the presence of Christ. I also believe that many of the Fathers, and certainly Augustine himself (the RC’s would cringe at that) believed.

In essence, I believe that Zwingli went too far, disregarding not only Scripture, but the historical church. I don’t believe Luther went far enough, because he was unwilling, or at least unable, to deal with the difficulties of the separation of Jesus’ flesh, and was content with trying to find common ground with the “historical” church than with Scripture. Finally, I believe that Calvin found that middle ground, and tends to state, along with others across history, what I believe, in essence, concerning the Eucharist.

This goes a long way to say…Middle ground, not good. Standing on the foundation of Scripture with the testimony of the historical Church as a light/buffer/professor, to help keep me centered…good!

btw, the quote which I asked you about was speaking of the “mega-church” model.

Loy said...

Hi Stephen,

This reply is not going to do justice to your post but it's the best I can do for about 20 hrs, so I'll reply quickly. Lots of wisdom in your post, so apologies for not better reply...

I agree strongly that doctrine must be historically grounded. And if you take "historical" in its broadest sense of including Scripture then not only should we be suspicious of any non-historical doctrine, we must reject it.

The real challenge to biblical orthodoxy today is not in the classic non-Protestant claims of authority -- I disagree strongly with these physical genealogy claims, as you can tell, but this is not the serious battlefield today; it helped create the current battlefield, perhaps, but it is secondary, imo.

The real challenge is where the classic faith terms are taken and re-invested with new meaning, so that the language of faith can be used to destroy the substance of faith. This is the postmodern death of Christianity. It is Liberation Theology in all its facets: every re-imagining of faith in the last 75 years has used a LT rubric, which twists faith language to deny its intent. Every stream of Christianity is faced with this challenge.

This is where the last great battle will be fought. To lose Scripture [revelation] as the foundation of theology is to lose this battle quickly. For example, look at the Anglican struggle for the heart and soul of its denomination: the historical argument cannot sustain. They are desperately lurching to a reformation based on revelation, yet still bound by a false theology of history.

Our only rock is the Rock of Salvation: the Word incarnate witnessed in word, in Spirit.

I think your quote on Calvin is incisive. You state:

"I found solace in Calvin, who I believe wasn’t looking for the 'middle' ground, as some have stated. I believe he was looking for truth, both scripturally, and something he could found on the historical church. This I believe he found in the spiritual understanding of the presence of Christ. I also believe that many of the Fathers, and certainly Augustine himself (the RC’s would cringe at that) believed."

EXCELLENT statement: Calvin wasn't looking for middle ground as much as he was looking for Scriptural and historically founded truth.

The Lord's Supper is a prime example, as you have noted. I'd love to have a long discussion on the Lord's Supper, as I believe the RC [and lesser Anglican] "historical" treatment of this doctrine is non-biblical: flawed and hurtful. Calvin's treatment is incredibly powerful -- mainly because it places revelation at the top: Scripture defines the Supper for him, historically attended.

I hold that view of the Lord's Table close to heart; and, I am troubled at much that passes for the Lord's Table today -- on left and right, Catholic and mega-church Protestant.

On a positive note, however, here's a recent story from last month's communion service: A retired U.Methodist pastor and spouse attended service, in kind of a spiritual refugee mode. They had been to many churches in county, most recently Lutheran and non-denom., yet were troubled in heart and seemingly driven out by the Spirit. Imagine Dr. and Mrs. Hicks and you get the idea of quality. Or Douglas and Eileen Crossman. Anyway, after the Lord's Table, they requested time w. me two weeks later. They shared their encounter with the Presence of Jesus -- what they had been searching for... they said they could not speak after the worship service, but went to their car and held hands in silent tears. They they went home, fled phones, and basked in the Presence.

It's a long story made short, obviously, but it was given to me in tears and I received it similarly.

All that to agree with your statement: Scripture is the only safe place to be centered... good!

:-)