Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: dispensationalism

Get out of the bus and walk

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Sunday morning. Dad had come in with pails of steaming milk and was cranking the cream separator, Mom was getting breakfast ready and I was setting the table. Over the radio came the voice of Ernest Manning, telling us again how world events were shaping up just as foretold in the book of Daniel and in Ezekiel 38 and 39. Gog and Magog (Soviet Russia) and their allies were on the verge of attacking Israel, which would trigger the Battle of Armageddon.

Dad had experienced crushing disappointment when the Wesleyan Methodist Church that he had been raised in disappeared into the United Church of Canada. This was a church that now taught that Jesus, if he ever really existed, was our model for setting to rights the evils of society. Dad had no use for this Social Gospel, he wanted to hear about the Jesus who could save us from our sins.

Shortly thereafter he heard William Aberhart preaching on radio and had gone to Calgary to visit the Prophetic Bible Institute. When Aberhart formed the Social Credit Party (which was the complete antithesis to the social gospel) and was elected Premier of Alberta in 1935, Dad decided the way to defeat the Social Gospel, Socialism and Communism was to elect Christian statesmen to government. When Aberhart died in 1943, Ernest C Manning took his place as head of the Prophetic Bible Institute, speaker on Canada’s National Back to the Bible Hour and Premier of Alberta and held those roles for another 25 years.

We listened to Manning every Sunday morning and once when the broadcast team held a service in Regina we went to hear him preach in person. I suppose he spoke about other things in all those years, but all I remember is Gog and Magog and the Russian bear.

I was aware that there were people propounding other versions of Bible prophecy. I had listened to the Voice of Prophecy a couple times, out of curiosity. According to them, the “voice of prophecy” the only reliable source of Bible truth, was the writings of Ellen G White. They also talked about a millennium, but had a different interpretation. And they had a lot to say about the Sabbath day. People calling themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses occasionally showed up on our doorstep. Dad called them Russellites, after Charles Taze Russell, their founder. They had another explanation of how things would work out when Jesus returned.

In 1970 I was converted and then married. In the winter of 1971-72 an aged minister conducted a series of Bible studies in which he expounded the dispensational pre-millennial doctrine. We drank it all in. After all, he had Bible verses to prove every point and the way he told it, it seemed completely relevant to events in the world at that time. I got myself a Scofield Reference Bible and read books by Lewis Sperry Chafer, Dwight Pentecost, John Walvoord, Hal Lindsey and others.

Those four were all prominently associated with Dallas Theological Seminary, but I began to note a few discrepancies. Then I began to wonder if those Bible verses the old preacher had quoted actually fit together the way he said. It seemed that it would not be possible to find those meanings just by reading the Bible, you needed a guide to show you how to take the Bible apart and put it together the right way. At that point, my confidence in their teachings crumbled.

It seemed to me that all the different prophetic teachings that I had ever heard were like tour buses, taking people on a tour of ancient cities and each one only showing the sites they wanted you to see, in the order they wanted you to see them. I decided it would be better to get off the bus and hike through the Bible myself, with only the Holy Spirit to guide me.

Later, I have read how that the whole millennial fever was sparked by Jesuit writers trying to counter evangelical criticism of the papacy. Anabaptists identified the papacy as the Antichrist hundreds of years before the Reformation. Luther and Calvin picked up on that and repeated it in their attacks on the Roman Catholic Church.

In order to defend itself, the Roman Catholic Church first decreed that its members could only read books approved by the church. Two 16th century Jesuits wrote books explaining how Antichrist was not the papacy, but an individual who would appear at the end of the Christian era, become ruler of the world and abolish Christianity. Those books weren’t read by many people, but in 1791 another Jesuit, Manuel Lacunza of Chile wrote a book under the assumed name of Rabbi Ben Ezra. This book was translated into English and French and seems to have been the springboard for the millennial fervour which followed.

Edward Irving, a former Presbyterian, formed the Catholic Apostolic Church in England and began to expound on Lacuna’s teaching of the end time Antichrist. John Nelson Darby, a former Church of England clergyman joined the Plymouth Brethren, took on Lacuna’s teachings and expanded them into the dispensational pre-millennial doctrine that I was taught 45 years ago.

A fifteen-year-old girl from Irving’s church had a dream that Christians would be removed from the earth before the coming of Antichrist. Darby also went to hear the young lady tell her dream. This is the origin of the secret rapture teaching. No one has ever found that teaching in the Bible, since all the mentions of Christ’s return talk about the trumpet sounding, the voice of the archangel, and “every eye shall see him.”

Many different millennial fever tour bus companies were spawned in the mid 1800’s, each offering their own unique view of future events. As you can see, I have gone along on a few of those rides and eventually decided they were leading me away from Jesus, rather than closer to Him.

What I was longing for, and not finding on those bus tours, was a place of rest and joy near to the heart of my Saviour. I have realized that anything that comes between me and that place of rest and joy is Antichrist. That word means “in place of Christ” or “in front of Christ.” If we forget the tour guides and search for Christ alone, we will find Him.

Still looking for an entry level church

We still appreciated the people at the Lowe Farm church, but decided we needed to go shopping for another church. We wouldn’t have been able to put it into words, but we were looking for an entry level church, one that wouldn’t cost us too much in the way of commitment. Nevertheless, we had been disappointed when the Lowe Farm church didn’t even require believer’s baptism.

The first church we tried was a church of a different Mennonite denomination in the town of Carman. As the service began, the minister asked everyone to stand up, shake hands and introduce themselves to the persons on either side, in front and behind. It seemed genuinely warm and friendly. The warm glow of those introductions lasted right up until the final amen was said and all the people around us headed straight for the doors. We were the last ones out, exchanged a few words with the pastor and left. In the car going home we decided we wouldn’t need to visit that church again.

Next we decided to try the other Mennonite church in town. The first thing we noticed was the large number of earnest young people. The story of what was happening emerged as we continued to attend. A young man who had grown up here had lived a decidedly non-Christian life and left looking for adventure. He heard a street preacher in Vancouver and came under conviction. As he surrendered his life to the Saviour all the things he had done back home came flooding into his mind. He associated with a Jesus People group for awhile, until they encouraged him to return home and clean up the mess he had left behind.

He had come home and looked up the people he had wronged, confessing what he had done and paying for damage he had done where needed. His example, the freedom that was evident in his life, brought other young people under conviction.

One young lady told of feeling she needed to go to a store where she had shoplifted a number of items and confess what she had done. She resisted at first, because she had no idea how she could pay for what she had stolen. But she had gone, asked to see the store manager and told him the whole story. His face gave no hint of what he might be thinking. When she was done, he asked “Do you think your youth group could come and share their testimonies at our church? Our young people need to hear this.”

And so the movement had spread. The church was now sponsoring coffee house meeting every Wednesday eveing in town, where young people would gather to sing and share testimonies.

Pastor Harvey* was fully supportive, always ready to listen and counsel. We too found him warm and supportive. He told us he used the Living Bible as he thought it was worded in a way that young people could more readily understand. So I bought myself another Bible.

Chris had several dreams during this time, nightmares really. The dreams brought vivid scenes of the end of the world and the return of the Lord, accompanied by a feeling of dread that she was not ready. She went to visit Pastor Harvey* and he assured her that she need not worry, she was doing what God wanted her to do.

In the fall it was announced that retired bishop Daniel* would be conducting Bible studies through the winter on the subject of the end times and the return of Christ. We attended those Bible studies and took it all in as the elderly bishop took verses and parts of verses from here and there and wove them into a story of the rapture of the church, the coming on Antichrist, seven years of great tribulation, the battle of Armageddon and the establishment of the kingdom of Christ when He would reign for a thousand years from Jerusalem.

All appeared to be going well, in our visits with Pastor Harvey* it seemed that baptism would not be far off. Then there was a surprise meeting at church where the elders of the church informed us that this youth movement was getting out of hand, it seemed too much like Pentecostalism. So they had decided to dismiss Pastor Harvey* and give the pastoral responsibility back to bishop Daniel* until a new pastor could be found.

*Names marked by an asterisk are real people, but these are not their real names.

The last best hope of mankind

Twenty-five years ago, as I walked the dirt streets of Plimoth, Massachusetts, Samuel Fuller fell into step beside me and began to visit.  “The churchmen in England say that we have no church here because we have no ministers.  A church is made up of Christian people; they don’t have a church over there.  Who made them ministers and bishops when they don’t even have a church?”

Samuel Fuller was a doctor who came on board the Mayflower.  He was also a deacon, the only ordained leader of the Plimoth church.  Of course I was strolling through the re-created Plimoth Plantation and Samuel Fuller was an actor.  Yet the original Samuel Fuller no doubt often repeated those very words as he travelled among the churches of the Plimoth and Bay colonies.

The law in England at that time required people to attend their local parish church.  In 1636, Edmund Goodenough of Donhead St. Andrew, Wiltshire was hauled into court and found guilty of attending church in a neighbouring parish where the minister was of a more evangelical persuasion.  The Goodenough family determined they would no longer live under such oppressive laws and in 1638 three brothers and two sisters arrived in Boston harbour aboard the Good Shippe Confidence.  I am descended from Thomas, a brother of Edmund.

The passengers on the Confidence became the founders of the town of Sudbury.  As in all the early settlements in the Plimoth and Bay colonies, they organized their church on congregational principles.  Their intention was to establish a New Jerusalem in the wilds of North America, a city set upon a hill to give light to all the world, showing the path of true Christian faith.  Only those who could give a credible testimony of being born again were admitted as members in the new church.  The members then engaged a minister for their congregation.

The idea of separation of church and state did not enter their minds; they were intent on building a new and truly Christian society.  Only church members were eligible to vote for town councillors.  The laws of their new society were based on the Bible and rigorously enforced on all.  Unwittingly, they created a society much like the one they left behind, except that they were now the ones in charge.

And they carried right on baptizing their babies.  Contrary to their expectations, many of those baptized in infancy failed to come to saving faith as they came to adulthood.  This is not the place to go into subsequent events, such as the Halfway Covenant and the Great Awakening.  Suffice it to say that there was a great decline in religion, followed by a mighty revival.  Through it all, there remained this glittering ideal of a city set upon a hill that would be a model for all mankind of the benefits of true religion.

When one Massachusetts minister, Roger Williams, began to speak of believer’s baptism, he was deposed from his pulpit and forced to flee in the dead of winter.  He established a new colony, Rhode Island, which offered freedom of worship.  When Quakers came to Massachusetts, trying to teach a milder, more peaceful way, they were rudely chased out of the colony.  They kept coming back and finally it was found necessary to condemn some of them to death by hanging to maintain the purity of the Massachusetts faith.

Some idea of the strength of their conviction that they were called of God to establish a new and better society can be found in the minutes of the town meeting of Milford, Connecticut in 1640: “Voted, that the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof; voted that the earth is given to the Saints; voted, that we are the Saints.”  Thus they extinguished any qualms they may have felt about claiming ownership of lands that had been used by the native peoples for generations.

The ideal of a city set upon a hill imbued all of the thirteen colonies when they purposed to throw of the shackles of English rule.  They could not agree which church should be established in the new nation: the southern colonies were Church of England; New England was Congregational; Maryland was Roman Catholic; only Rhode Island and Pennsylvania permitted freedom of religion.  Thus, more or less by default, the Continental Congress was led to formulate the doctrine of separation of church and state.

Many of the leading lights of the revolution, such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, were not Christians, but deists.  That is, they did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ or the authenticity of the supernatural portions of the Bible, yet they believed in God and in the moral teachings of the Bible.

It was during this period that the notion of a city set upon a hill appears to have been transferred from the church to the new nation.  All the leaders of the new nation believed that they were establishing something new in the world, a nation under God that would show the way in establishing a free and peaceful society.

The churches wholeheartedly supported this endeavour and believed that it would somehow usher in the millennium after which Christ would return to claim His own.  This belief is called post-millenialism and it was the prevailing view until the nineteenth century.

The civil war, the rise of unbridled capitalism and the inequalities found throughout the nation tended to dampen this utopian view.  In this setting, the dispensational pre-millennial views of John Darby found a fertile ground.  This doctrine seemed to promise to evangelicals that they would still be victorious and reign with Christ, even though conditions at the moment seemed to indicate otherwise.  Many proponents of pre-millenialism continued to believe that the United States of America had a special place in God’s plan for this world.

A competing doctrine, the Social Gospel, arose around the same time, teaching that the Bible’s denunciation of sin did not apply to individuals, but to society as a whole.  The key to America’s greatness would lie in eliminating the evils in society so that all people would be free to live as Christians ought to live.  According to this doctrine one of the greatest sins was the private ownership of businesses that were run for the profit of the owners.  Over time, the social gospel expanded to include many inequities in society, either real or imagined.  Governments used slogans such as New Deal and Great Society in their attempts to implement the social gospel.  In later years the movement has gone from advocating women’s right to vote, to advocating for the women’s movement and gay rights.  In the process it has distanced itself ever more from any claims of a Christian foundation.

Both dispensationalism and the social gospel still claim to be the embodiment of the old ideal of a city set upon a hill.  Both still claim a special place for the United States of America on the world stage as the last best hope for mankind.

This post is not an anti-USA diatribe.  As noted at the start, my ancestors were involved at the very beginning of the American experiment.  There is much that has been noble, and still is, about this experiment.  However, it is perhaps time to admit that it has not been a Christian experiment.  The attempt to integrate Christian faith and secular society was doomed to failure from the beginning.  The last best hope for all mankind is the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ, free of all nationalistic pretensions.

Dispensationalism Justifies the Crucifixion – Conclusion

Written by Philip Mauro (1859-1952).

A KINGDOM “NOT OF THIS WORLD”
When the Lord Jesus Christ and His forerunner, John the Baptist, were publicly announcing in the hearing of many thousands of people that the Kingdom of heaven was “at hand,” that is, about to be introduced, what actually was at hand was this present dispensation of the Holy Spirit.  And that is precisely what John announced in clear words when he said, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I cometh, the ratchet of Whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose. He shall baptize you with the, Holy Ghost and with fire” (Luke 3: 16).  And the Lord Jesus, after His death and resurrection, referred to this announcement, using the same words, and telling His disciples that the event which John had proclaimed, the baptism with the Holy Ghost, would take place “not many days hence” (Acts 1: 5).  This proves conclusively that the “kingdom” which John heralded as “at hand” began at Pentecost.

This dispensation of the Kingdom of God, heralded by John the Baptist, which is the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, was to embrace the whole world, and was to be introduced by the Lord’s death and resurrection and His ascension to the right hand of God, in fulfilment of Psalms 2, 16, 110, and other prophetic Scriptures.  This also was announced by John the Baptist in words of unmistakable clearness when he pointed to the Lord Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world;” and when he went on to say, “the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost” (John 1: 29-34).

It is clear that John was here announcing this era of the gospel of Christ crucified and risen from the dead, preached “with the Holy Ghost come down from heaven.”  Every one with the smallest Bible knowledge knows that the words, “Lamb of God,” speak of God’s appointed Sacrifice for sinners; and the remarkable expression — “the sin of the world” — shows that the coming Sacrifice was not for Israel only, but for the whole world.

CONCLUSION
The reader is called upon to say whether, with all the facts now before him, he will join himself with the chief priests and rulers of the Jews in accusing the Lord Jesus Christ of stirring up insurrection against Caesar, and seeking to set up another government.

For our part we maintain the judgment of Pilate was correct, and was strictly in accordance with the testimony in the case; and; moreover, that the testimony of the only Witness, the Accused Himself, that appeared before the court in that trial was true.

APPENDIX
The argument which the author has developed in the foregoing pages was concisely set forth several decades ago in one of his books — GOD’S PRESENT KINGDOM.  A lawyer in one of our largest cities, after reading that volume, wrote the author a letter which contained the following:
If in the mind of anyone who reads this book there is anything left of the ‘postponement’ theory I cannot imagine what it is.  There is one argument which seems to me, it may be because of my profession, is the strongest argument against the postponement theory, and when I read it on page 203 of the book I was surprised that it had not occurred to me before.

It is this: ‘Manifestly, had the Lord uttered a single word that could have been construed as a proclamation or suggestion that He was about to claim the throne, or would accept it, there would have been thousands of witnesses to prove the accusation.  But there was no proof forthcoming.  And be it noted that anything which would prove today our friends’ theory, would have proved then the accusation which the priests and Pharisees brought against the Lord before Pilate’.

That last sentence puts the whole case in a nutshell; and I do not see how anyone can get away from it.  It is surprising to me that Dr. Scofield, being a lawyer by profession, and for many years in actual practice, did not see this as a fatal objection to his theory, but then as I say, I wholly missed the point myself until my attention was called to it in your book”

Dispensationalism Justifies the Crucifixion – Part 5

Written by Philip Mauro (1859-1952)

THE TRUE WITNESS
We come lastly to John’s account, where facts are mentioned which will help us comprehend the positive and uncompromising judgment of Pilate that the Lord was wholly innocent of any word or act contrary to the rule and authority of Caesar.

One peculiarity about this strange judicial proceeding which is clearly brought out in John’s Gospel is this, namely that the Jews, who brought accusation against the Lord Jesus, would not themselves go into the Praetorium (the Roman judgment hall) lest they be defiled and hence be debarred from keeping the Passover (John 18: 28).

For that reason Pilate must need, go forth to them in order to hear their accusation, and then go into the Praetorium and question Christ concerning the things alleged against Him.  We learn also from John’s account that when Pilate first went out to the people he proposed that the Jews should try Him according to their own law; but they objected to that for the express reason that it was not permitted to them to put anyone to death (v. 31).  Thereupon Pilate entered again the palace of judgment and put to Christ the question which is recorded in each of the Gospels, “Art Thou the King of the Jews?” (v. 33).  From John, however, we learn the significant fact that Christ did not immediately reply to this question, but demanded to know of Pilate whether he had made that inquiry of himself, or whether others had brought the accusation against Him.  This question asked by the Lord of Pilate is significant.  According to Roman law a prisoner, specialty if charged with a capital crime such as sedition against the constituted government was entitled to be tried on a formal and precise statement (or “indictment”), setting forth the particulars of his alleged offence and to be confronted by the witnesses on whose testimony he was charged.  Festus said to Agrippa, “It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face and have license to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him” (Acts 25: 16).

Thus the simple question put by the Lord brought sharply to Pilate’s notice a fact which, according to Roman law, should have thrown the case out of court, namely that there were not witnesses to His alleged seditious conduct, even it there had been any definite charges lodged against Him.  All Pilate could say in reply to this pointed question was, “Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me.  What hast thou done?”  Various indications are given of what passed through Pilate’s mind on that occasion.  That the charge of sedition was wholly unsupported by proof must have been quickly apparent.  Then the extraordinary message which Pilate’s wife sent to him must have influenced his mind greatly; and finally there can be no doubt that the Lord’s word, and manner made a deep impression upon the Roman governor.  The bearing of an honest witness always impresses those who have had judicial training and experience; and in this case it was the True Witness Himself witnessing before Pontius Pilate a good confession (I Tim. 6: 13).  It is certain, at any rate, that, before Pilate came to the end of the case, “he knew that for envy they had delivered Him,” and not for any crime against the State (Matthew 27: 18).

So we must reach the point where Pilate listened to the Lord’s own testimony as to the character of the Kingdom He had proclaimed.  It is recorded in these words, which are clear and decisive “Jesus answered, ‘My Kingdom is not of this world.  If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight that I should not be delivered up to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not from hence’” (John 18: 36).

The words “of this world:” twice repeated, signify the source or origin of the kingdom referred to.  The preposition here rendered ‘of’ (ek) means “from” or “out of.”  And we are bound to understand otherwise we could impute guile and insincerity to the Lord, that when He said, “My Kingdom” He meant that kingdom which had been proclaimed publicly by Himself, by His apostles, and by John the Baptist.  This testimony from the True Witness does away with the strange idea that He (and His servants) had announced two (some of our expositors say three) different kingdoms — as different in character as the earthly rule of an earthly monarch like David or Caesar, and a kingdom purely spiritual and heavenly.  There never was, from “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1: 1-3), but one Kingdom in view; and that was and is the very same Kingdom concerning which our Lord testified before Pilate saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

These words clear away (or should do so for all who receive His testimony) the idea that earthly dominion was, at anytime or in any sense, embraced within the scope of the Lord’s mission at His first coming.  Certainly it convinced Pilate, however unconvincingly it may be to some modern Bible teachers.  For Pilate, after his interrogation of the Lord went forth again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no fault in this man” (v. 38).  This decision he pronounced in the light also of the further words of Christ recorded in verse 37: “Thou sayest that I am a King.  To this end was I born” (i.e. to the end that He might be a king) “and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.”

He was born a King indeed, and “the King of the Jews”, too (Matthew 2:2); but not to set up at that time a kingdom which would conflict with the rule of Caesar, much less a kingdom that would supplant it.  Such was the decision reached by Caesar’s representative, and such became the final judgment never reversed and so far as the present writer is informed never disputed, until called in question by certain Bible expositors of our time.  From that day onward not even the enemies of Christ have ever claimed that He had sought or proposed either directly or indirectly, to set up the earthly throne of David until within recent years that baseless charge has been revived and given to the Lord’s people as “new light:” derived by a process of a “rightly dividing the word of truth.”  It is an amazing thing.

We believe the question we are discussing will be definitely and finally settled for many who have been greatly perplexed by it, when they see by the Scriptures that Pilate’s judgment, acquitting the Lord of any act or word tending to the overthrow of Caesar’s kingdom, was based on the Lord’s own testimony.  Pilate’s judgment of acquittal would, of course, have been erroneous, unjust, and contrary to truth, had it been the fact that the Lord at any time offered the earthly Kingdom to the Jewish people, or presented Himself to them as their earthly king,or authorized others to do so.  But in that case, can anyone who loves Him harbour the thought that He would have denied the accusation or even have permitted Pilate to pronounce Him innocent of that which He had in fact done?

The case, therefore, in the last analysis, comes to a point where one who forms an opinion about it must either conclude that the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of heaven) which the Lord announced as “at hand,” was not the earthly kingdom which the Jews desired, or that Pilate, in the judgment rendered by him, was misled by the Lord’s own testimony, that being the only evidence before him.  Let the reader therefore ask himself this question: “Did Pilate in fact commit a judicial error when he pronounced Jesus Christ guiltless upon His own testimony — that being the only evidence in the case?”

That Pilate clearly understood the issue presented to him admits of no doubt whatever.  The accusation related to the setting up of a claim to an earthly kingdom, and Pilate was convinced that Christ had not spoken of a kingdom of that sort.  This further appears by the fact that when Pilate, after having acquitted the Lord Jesus, sought to release Him, the Jews cried out, saying: “If thou let this man go thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a King speaketh against Caesar” (John 19: 12).  That would have been quite true if an earthly King and an earthly kingdom had been in question.  But the truth is, and Pilate was forced to decree and publish it, that Christ had never spoken of an earthly kingdom, but solely of a heavenly kingdom — a kingdom “NOT OF THIS WORLD.”

And finally, when Pilate said unto them, “Shall I crucify your King?” the chief priests, answering for the nation, said: “We have no king but Caesar.”  The issue, therefore, which Pilate decided was perfectly clear.

Dispensationalism Justifies the Crucifixion – Part 4

Written by Philip Mauro (1859-1952).

CHRIST BEFORE PILATE
Matthew does not record the beginning of the proceedings before Pilate, nor does Mark: but Luke supplies the important facts — “And the whole multitude of them arose and led Him unto Pilate.  And they began to accuse Him, saying, we found this fellow PERVERTING THE NATION AND FORBIDDING TO GIVE TRIBUTE TO CAESAR, SAYING THAT HE HIMSELF IS CHRIST A KING” (Luke 23: 1, 2).

Here was a plainly expressed accusation of treasonable acts and utterances against Caesar.  The authority previously quoted has this to say concerning Roman jurisprudence as it existed at that time: “The Roman law was, in the early Empire as it had been during all the later Republic, shaping itself into a system which, in later years, was formulated by the most profound and authoritative jurists the world has ever known.  And the spirit of their teachings has since ruled the greatest systems of law.  It introduced the search for principles of justice under all exterior forms, and upon those principles as on the bedrock, it laid the foundations of Roman jurisprudence.  That jurisprudence unified the power of Rome; and as that power extended so as to embrace all the known and civilized world, so it was that the consolidation of empire came — not by the sword, but — by the genius of law.”

Let us note the turn given to the proceeding by the high priest and elders in accusing Christ before Pilate.  The Sanhedrin had adjudged Christ to be guilty of blasphemy in making Himself the Son of God.  But the Roman Governor could not have taken cognizance of that charge; for under Roman law it was not a crime for a man to make himself the Son of God.  It was needful therefore that Christ should be charged with a political offence and one of a capital nature.  Accordingly the charge lodged against Him was that of fomenting sedition.  That is the gravest crime that can be committed against a constituted government, and is sure to be visited with the extreme penalty; for it is a crime against the very life of the state.

In Matthew’s account it is recorded that Pilate questioned Christ, saying, “Art thou the King of the Jews?”  To which the Lord’s reply is given in the words; “Thou sayest,” which amounts to a strong “Yes.”  This was an acknowledgment of His identity and also of His sovereignty.  Had He then, whose right it is to reign, ever asserted, publicly or privately, His claim to the throne, or ever presented Himself to the Jews as their King, or ever by word or act sought recognition from them as such?  Had He ever proclaimed the hour of Israel’s national deliverance and of the overthrow of Caesar’s dominion as “at hand?”  That is what was charged against Him at that time as a capital offence (and a capital offence it was, if true), and that is what is widely averred and taught concerning Him in this our day by teachers who surely cannot be aware of what they are saying.

Matthew gives no further details of the charges preferred against the Lord, but he records with great particularity the fact that Pilate pronounced Him absolutely innocent of those things whereof the leaders of His nation accused him, even declaring Him to be a “righteous Man,” and going so far as to wash his hands publicly, and to avow himself “guiltless of the blood of this Just Person.”

Mark’s account shows that the whole Sanhedrin hurried the Lord into the presence of Pilate and were very vehement in their accusation against Him.  That the Lord acknowledged, in answer to Pilate’s question, that He was indeed the King of the Jews, might seem to give support to the charge of perverting the nation.  But there is a vast difference between the fact that Christ is the promised King and the charge that He had sought or proposed to overthrow the kingdom of Caesar and set up another kingdom in its stead. Pilate himself recognized this difference.  For, after examining Christ in regard to what He was accused of, he said: “I find no fault in this man” (v. 4).

The effect of this acquittal of Christ by Pilate was that “they were the more fierce, saying, ‘He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee’. . .” (v. 5).  And this would have been true if, when the Lord “went about all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4: 23), or if, when He sent forth the twelve to “the cities of Israel” bidding them preach, saying, “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10: 1, 23); or if when, near the close of His ministry, He sent forth other seventy also into every city and place whither He Himself should come, bidding them, to say, “The Kingdom of God is come nigh unto you” (Luke 10: 1, 9), He had been (as many teachers of our day declare) offering an earthly kingdom to the Jews.  But Pilate, who had the accusers and the Accused before him, dismissed the charge as wholly unsupported by the evidence.

Not only so, but Pilate sent Christ also to be examined as to this charge by Herod (who chanced to be at the time at Jerusalem), since the offence, if committed at all, had been mainly in Galilee, over which province Herod had jurisdiction.  Now Herod had desired for a long time to see Jesus (whom he thought to be John the Baptist raised from the dead), because he had heard many things of Him.  But it is clear that Herod had never heard, what certain modern teachers so positively assert, namely that the Lord in His preaching all over the country was announcing an earthly Kingdom.  It seems that no one, until our modern expositors arose with this strange notion, ever supposed that there was a particle of proof to support that charge.  Not a single witness came forward to testify to it before either Pilate or Herod.  For Pilate gave the final judgment in the case as recorded by Luke thus: “And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers of the people, said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one who perverteth the people (i.e. from their allegiance to Caesar); and, behold, I, having examined Him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse Him.  No, nor yet Herod; for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto Him.  I will therefore chastise Him and release Him” (Luke 23: 13-15).

And yet again, when they insistently demanded that He be crucified, Pilate said to them the third time: “Why what evil hath He done? I have found no cause of death in Him:  I will therefore chastise Him, and let Him go.” (v. 22)

But “the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed.  And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required.  And he released unto them him (i.e. Barabbas) that for sedition and murder was cast into prison.”  Thus the man who had been guilty of the very thing, “sedition,” that was falsely charged against the Lord, was released, and He, the innocent One, was condemned in his stead.  What a striking illustration we have here of the mighty fact that He suffered once for all, “the Just for the unjust,” that all our iniquities were laid upon Him!  And how serious and how lamentable that there should be current among His own people a theory which in fact (however little those who press it may intend it) fastens that false charge of sedition upon Him!

The writer was discussing on one occasion the postponed kingdom theory with one who has been teaching for many years; and when the discussion reached the Lord’s trial before Pilate the writer put to that teacher the direct question, “Was the accusation of stirring up an insurrection against Caesar’s government true?”  And our friend replied without a moment’s hesitation, “it was true,” and he had to say so or abandon the postponement theory.

As we have seen by the above quotation from the Gospel of Luke, the Lord was accused before Pilate of “making Himself a King,” and thus raising the standard of revolt and insurrection against Caesar.  But the inspired Records also show, and from Pilate’s own lips, that the accusation was utterly unfounded and false, that not a scintilla of evidence, even from the mouth of a false witness, was adduced in support of it.  Pilate formally, and in a most impressive manner, pronounced the Lord guiltless of that, and of any other crime or fault.  And surely those who know Him will all agree that nothing could have been further from His thought, or from His blameless conduct than to utter so much as a word of suggestion calculated to weaken the authority of the constituted government which He Himself had established and which by His own word was to last throughout “the times of the Gentiles,” authority which He Himself witnessed to Pilate was “from above” (John 19: 11).

Never from that day to this, through all the intervening centuries of time, have even the enemies of Christ sought to fasten upon Him the baseless charge of offering to the Jews of His day the restoration of their national independence, the charge of fomenting insurrection against the constituted civil rulers of His day — “the powers that be:” which then as now were “ordained of God” (Rom. 13: 1).  How amazing then that in our day a system of doctrine should have suddenly made its appearance among those who profess the strictest orthodoxy, a doctrine which maintains as the truth of Scripture (when “rightly divided”) that both our Lord and also His accredited servants, by His authority, had been doing persistently and over a period of years the very things whereof He was accused before Pilate!

Dispensationalism Justifies the Crucifixion – Part 3

Written by Philip Mauro (1859-1952).

CHRIST BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN
The Jewish law, divinely given in its marvellous completeness many centuries before the Roman Empire came into existence, was scrupulously careful in its safeguards against miscarriage of justice where human life was at stake.  Particularly was their law rigorous in respect to the matter of evidence.  It was an elementary rule of their law that “at the mouth of two or three witnesses” at the least, must every triable matter be determined and, of course, the more important the matter in issue, the more credible and concordant must be the testimony.  And not only so, but, according to Jewish procedure, “it was the witnesses themselves who had to satisfy the court that there was a triable matter”.  And most insistent was the law that the testimony of the witnesses must agree in all essential respects.  To that end each witness in a capital case was put on oath in terms of the most solemn adjuration, which we quote: — “Forget not, O witness, that … in this trial for life, the blood of the accused and the blood of his seed to the end of time shall be imputed to thee . . . .  Therefore was Adam created one man and alone, to teach thee that if any witness shall destroy one soul out of Israel, he is held by the Scripture to be as if he had destroyed the world.”  Furthermore, before a criminal charge could be even formulated or a trial begin, there must first have been the testimony of at least two witnesses in complete agreement.

Now by the records of all four of the Gospels it plainly appears that in the trial before the Sanhedrin, there was not produced even the testimony requisite for formulating a charge, because of which the court was baffled in its efforts to compose a triable indictment.  Many witnesses were examined in their attempt to formulate a triable charge; but none could be found whose testimony would serve their purpose.  For although “the chief priests and elders and all the council (the Sanhedrin) sought false witness against Jesus to put Him to death” — that is, to supply evidence of an offence punishable by death – they ‘found none, yea, though many false witnesses came:’ and volunteered their testimony, “they found none” — that is, none who gave agreeing testimony as to the commission by Him of a capital offence (Matthew 26: 59, 60).

At last, however, two witnesses were found whose testimony agreed; but the charge as to which those witnesses were in agreement was trivial.  They alleged merely that Christ had spoken against the temple, saying He was able to destroy it and to build it again in three days (Matthew 26: 60, 61).  Our Lord disdained to answer this charge, which was clearly irrelevant; but the record of what He actually had said as to destroying and rebuilding the temple is given by John (2: 19), namely, that they would destroy “the temple of His body” (v. 21) and that He would raise it up in three days.  Finally in their desperation they seized upon His own affirmation that He was the Christ, the Son of God, and, contrary to their own law, they made that the basis of the desired accusation; and they made it also a pretext for dispensing with the witnesses which the law required.  For no man could be lawfully charged, much less convicted, on his own testimony alone.  Nevertheless, the high priest said: “He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold now ye have heard His blasphemy.  What think ye?  They answered, HE IS GUILTY OF DEATH” (Matthew 26: 63-66).  It was His death sentence.  But the imposition of the sentence was palpably illegal; for the witnesses had not agreed as to the commission by Him of any capital offence, and therefore, according to Jewish law, a legal trial could not even begin.  As says the authority quoted above: “When the witnesses hopelessly disagreed, Caiaphas took to questioning the accused, and, contrary to Hebrew law, he founded a charge upon the accused’s own answers — a charge importing death” And straightway, as Matthew’s account informs us, they spit in His face, buffeted Him, smote Him with the palms of their hands and mocked Him (26: 67, 68); and in the morning they bound Him and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the Governor (27: 1,2).

A similar infraction of the Jewish law by the high priest himself occurred at a later time, when the apostle Paul was arraigned before the Sanhedrin.  For at the very beginning of his trial and before he had even learnt the personality of the presiding official, the high priest, Ananias, after hearing only a single sentence from the apostles lips, commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth (Acts 23: 1,2).  Paul’s outburst was but an appropriate expression of honest indignation at such a gross infraction of the law.  That God would maintain the honor of His law against such an offender was certain; and the characterization “whited wall” was both apt and just; for the assumption of judicial integrity by one who himself would so flagrantly outrage the law, was but a thin coat of whitewash.

Dispensationalism Justifies the Crucifixion – Part 2

More about Philip Mauro (1859-1952), the author of this writing:  It was Mauro who prepared the legal case that was argued by William Jennings Bryan in the Tennessee – Scopes trial in 1925.  It is often forgotten that the proponents of evolution were defeated in this case.  Mauro wrote a book, entitled Evolution at the Bar, in which he stated: “Although sometimes spoken of as a “scientific” theory, Evolution is not scientific; for science has to do only with facts. Evolution belongs wholly in the realm of speculative philosophy.”

AN EXTRAORDINARY JUDICIAL PROCEEDING
The pages of history would be searched in vain for another instance where a person charged with a capital offence was subjected to trial successively by two differently constituted tribunals.  And this unique feature of the trial of Jesus Christ is the more extraordinary because the two tribunals before which He was successively arraigned were of diverse nationality — one Jewish, the other Roman – and also of diverse orders — one ecclesiastical, the other civil.  He was arraigned first before the Jewish Sanhedrin, over which Caiaphas presided, he being “the high priest the same year” (John 11: 49); and then before the Roman governor.  And so it must needs have been, in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled, which foretold the manner of His death (Matthew 27: 35).  For the usual method of execution practiced by the Jews was stoning; and moreover, during the period of Roman domination, it was not lawful for them to put any man to death (John 19: 31).

THE FULFILMENT OF PROPHECY
The closing events of our Lord’s life had been clearly foretold by the prophets.  Thus in the second Psalm we read: “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against His Christ, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.”

There is no uncertainty as to the fulfilment of this prophecy; for the disciples, after reciting these verses of the Psalm, said: “For a truth, against Thy Holy Child Jesus, Whom Thou has anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel were gathered together for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done” (Acts 4: 24 28).

Thus the great confederacy of Jews and Gentiles, kings of the earth and rulers, having set themselves in defiance against Jehovah and against His Christ, succeeded only in accomplishing what His eternal counsels had decreed before to be done.  Wherefore, through all the centuries from that time to near our own day, the people of God have been perfectly agreed that the way, and the only possible way, to the throne of David for Him, and the only possible way of salvation for them, was the way of the cross, the way of His death and resurrection; that Christ must needs have suffered those very things ere He could enter into His promised glory or be the Saviour of His people (Luke 24: 25-27).

“PROVE ALL THINGS: HOLD FAST THAT WHICH IS GOOD”
All believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are agreed that the things whereof He spoke to the two on the road to Emmaus, things which were predicted of and suffered by Him, are the foundation things of our most holy faith.  None, therefore, would knowingly lend countenance to any doctrine that even seemed to raise a doubt in regard thereto.  Consequently they are in duty bound to examine with the utmost care and with an unbiased mind any and every newly propounded system of doctrine which teaches by implication that our Lord was, according to the Roman law, which was the law of the land at that time, actually guilty of the very acts of sedition whereof He was accused by the Jews; and specifically that He in person, as well as His Spirit-filled forerunner, His twelve apostles likewise, and the “other seventy also,” had gone about all Judea and Galilee proclaiming the immediate advent of the earthly kingdom which the Jews were eagerly awaiting at the very time.

Manifestly, if the Lord Himself, or John, or any other of His servants, had proclaimed by His authority on even a single occasion the King and the Kingdom for which the Jews were looking, or had proclaimed anything that could be fairly construed as subversive of Caesar’s authority and as tending towards the setting up in its stead of another government, His accusers would have been justified and His sentence and execution would have been warranted by the law of the land.

Moreover, and this is specially to be noted, there would have been, in that case, thousands of witnesses among the throngs at Jerusalem during that Passover season, who could have proved the accusation and would have been eager to do so.  For His enemies were ever listening with strained attention to His utterances, hoping to catch something out of His mouth whereof to accuse Him (Luke II: 54; John 18: 20).  This evidence — the lack of witnesses to any utterance from His lips that savoured — ever so little of sedition — though negative in character, is nevertheless very cogent.  But the Scripture contains even stronger proof that neither by John, nor by our Lord Himself, nor yet by any of His disciples, had He been proclaimed the promised King of Israel, the Christ of God.  For we have the clear and conclusive evidence afforded by what passed between our Lord and the Twelve at Caesarea Philippi on that notable occasion when He was for the very first time recognized as, and acknowledged by one of His disciples to be, the expected Messiah of Israel; and needless to say they could not have proclaimed before that episode what had not yet been revealed to them.  And as for the time subsequent, it is recorded that, on that very occasion our Lord “charged His disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus the Christ” (Matt. 16: 20); or as it properly reads, “that He, Jesus, was the Christ.”

Let it be remembered that in those early days of His ministry His miracles had excited the wonder of the multitudes, and filled the land with His praises.  The people were in expectation of the immediate appearance of the Messiah; and all men had previously been musing in their hearts concerning John “whether he were the Christ or not” (Luke 8: 15).  And the expectancy of the people had been raised to the highest pitch just before the occurrence at Caesarea Philippi, by the miracle of the loaves, whereby five thousand had been fed.  Some were saying He was John the Baptist; some that He was Elijah; others that He was Jeremiah or one of the old prophets risen again (Matthew 16: 13, 14; Luke 9: 19, 20).  Even Herod was greatly agitated “because it was said of some that John was risen from the dead” (Luke 9: 7-9).  It was under these circumstances that our Lord put to the Twelve that epoch-marking question: “But whom say ye that I am?” and elicited from Simon Peter the great testimony, “thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  We do not dwell upon the immense significance of Peter’s great confession, our only purpose in citing it being to call attention to the conclusive proof the whole incident affords that none of the Twelve could have announced Him previously as the Messiah of Israel, and that His express command forbade their doing it thereafter.

This proof, moreover, is strengthened by our Lord’s emphatic words, in which He blessed Peter for the reason that the great truth to which he had given utterance – that Jesus was the Christ of God and the Son of God — had not been revealed to him by flesh and blood, but by God the Father.  This makes clear that John had not preached it, else Peter would have learned it from Him.

Most earnestly, therefore, do we entreat all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity to search out and to consider carefully the copious testimony of the Gospels as to what He actually preached and taught in the days of His flesh concerning His mission to Israel and particularly concerning the nature of the Kingdom He was about to establish,— keeping in mind that any testimony which would support the postponement theory of our day, would have supported the accusation of our Lord’s enemies of that day.

Dispensationalism Justifies the Crucifixion – Part 1

This is the first installment of a booklet written by Philip Mauro and first published around 100 years ago.  Mr Mauro was a prominent US lawyer, who embraced dispensationalism at the beginning of his Christian life but then saw the inconsistencies in that teaching.  He wrote a number of books on the subject, which today are in the public domain and accessible in various ways. 

“The place that is called Calvary” (Luke 23:33) has obtained an enduring and hallowed distinction far above and beyond all other localities of earth, because at that place the death sentence was duly executed that had been pronounced by two tribunals — the Jewish and the Roman, the ecclesiastical and the civil — upon Jesus of Nazareth.

That sentence was carried out in strict conformity with the process of law prevalent at that time and place, the penal procedure of imperial Rome.  Even the requirement that the offence for which the death penalty was exacted should be placarded above the criminal’s head, was duly observed in this instance.  Attention is specially directed to this detail of our Lord’s crucifixion by the impressive fact that prominence is given it in each of the four Gospels; and, as might be gathered from that circumstance alone, the incident is of deep significance.  It was Pilate himself who formulated that “accusation” and that it was with deliberate intent he worded it as he did, is made very evident; for when the chief priests remonstrated with him, urging him to “Write not, The King of the Jews; but that He said, I am the King of the Jews;’ Pilate curtly replied, “What I have written, I have written” (John 19: l9-21).

Let us not miss the significance of this.  What Pilate had written was the truth; though it cannot be supposed he was aware of it, and we are warranted in assuming that he dictated those words under the constraint of the Spirit of truth.  We recall that when Christ, in replying to a question of Pilate’s, had said, “For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth;” the governor asked his famous question,“What is truth?” (John 18: 37, 38).  And now Pilate, acting in his official capacity as representative of Imperial Caesar, the supreme ruler of the world, was proclaiming the truth, causing it to be inscribed in Hebrew and Greek and Latin, to reach the ears and stir the hearts of all future generations of men.

Similarly Caiaphas, when presiding over the Sanhedrin in his official capacity at the time that august body was taking counsel against the Lord and against His Anointed, had been constrained by the Spirit to prophesy “that Jesus should die for that nation” (John 11: 49-52; 18: 14).

But whereas Pilate, doubtless unwittingly and under Divine constraint, wrote what was true and of the highest importance, what the chief priests urged him to write was infamously false; for our Lord had never proclaimed Himself King of the Jews.  It is most needful that this be carefully noted.  What they urged Pilate to write was indeed the accusation they had decided, in solemn conclave, to bring against Him, but it was a false accusation and the accusers had failed dismally in their efforts to support it by the testimony of witnesses.  Pilate himself had so adjudged during the trial (Luke 23: 4, 14).

It will be seen, therefore, that the matter we are about to investigate involves an issue between the word of Pilate and that of Christ’s accusers.  Which was right?

There is, of course, no doubt or question in the mind of any Christian that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the promised Messiah of Israel; that long expected Son of David, Who was to save His people out of the hand of their enemies; for that indeed is “the truth”.  That He was and is “The Christ, the Son of the living God” and hence is God’s anointed King, is the foundation truth of Christianity (Matt. 16: l&18).  Therefore, being truly “The blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords;” He was clothed with full power and authority to cast down the mighty from their seats and to depose even Imperial Caesar from the throne of the world.  And not only so, but He might, even at that very time, have summoned for the execution of His royal dictates more than twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26: 53).  As to all this there is no room for discussion.  The question which a modern system of doctrine that has found acceptance with many orthodox Christians forces upon us is this: Did our Lord, during His earthly ministry, either commit (or authorize others to commit) overt acts, or utter (or authorize His disciples to utter) words of treasonable or seditious import?  Did He ever commit or authorize acts or utter or authorize words in their nature subversive of the then subsisting government of the land?  Specifically did He ever present or announce Himself as an earthly King, the claimant of David’s throne?  Did He ever offer to the oppressed people of Judea, either in person or through the lips of His disciples, the earthly kingdom they had been taught to expect?  Had He ever, by word or act, sought to incite insurrection against the rule of Caesar, or given any countenance whatever to the political ambitions of the Jews?

These are in substance the things whereof He was accused by the leaders of the Jews; and now we, twentieth century Christians, find ourselves confronted with a situation that demands on our part an investigation of the inspired Records for the purpose of ascertaining whether they lend support to those accusations or whether on the contrary the evidence they contain thoroughly refutes them.  The proposed Investigation can be readily made; for those Records include four separate and detailed accounts of our Lord’s sayings and doings.  Those several accounts, moreover, are so clear; so complete, so plainly and simply written, that “the common people,” who always “heard Him gladly”, are as well able to understand and evaluate the evidence they contain and to decide the question at issue, as a faculty of erudite scholars or a bench of astute jurists.

THE CONSPIRACY
It is recorded that for a long time the chief priests and leaders of the people had been closely observing the Lord and their spies had been dogging His steps, being in a state of alarm because of the multitudes that had been drawn to Him by the miracles He did; and it is recorded also that their alarm was greatly augmented by the raising of Lazarus.  When the report of that miracle was brought to them they were in consternation, realizing that immediate and drastic action of some Sort was necessary to compass His destruction.  Therefore they hastily convened a council of chief priests and Pharisees to concert a plan (John 11: 46, 47).  It was possible to convene the Sanhedrin promptly at that time, because the Passover was approaching, at which season all the prominent men of the nation were gathering at Jerusalem.  What the chief priests feared was that, because of His “many miracles” — not, be it noted, because of what He preached or taught — all the people would “believe on Him;” that is, would acknowledge Him as the promised Messiah and King, the consequence of which would be that the Roman armies would march against them and take away both “their place and nation” (John 11:48).  As they saw it, they were threatened with national disaster and extinction.  Therefore, upon the advice of Caiaphas, who was president of the Sanhedrin that year (which advice was in reality a prophecy) the immediate death of Christ was decided upon as an imperative political necessity — “That the whole nation perish not” (John 11: 50).  The plan agreed upon for the accomplishment of that object was to charge Him with the crime of fomenting sedition against Caesar.  It was a very astute plan; for, if successful, it would not only compass the death of Jesus, but would also afford convincing proof of their own loyalty to Caesar.  In perfect agreement with this is the recorded fact that when Pilate, in the course of the trial of Jesus on the charge of making Himself a King, asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” the chief priests exclaimed, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19: 15).

Evangelical hubris

[The following paragraphs are quoted from Less Than Conquerors: How Evangelicals Entered the Twentieth Century, by Douglas W. Frank, copyright 1986 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.]

I suspect that the wildfire growth of premillennialism in the decades after the Civil War really represented a bold move on the part of evangelicals to recapture their control of history.  Sandeen puts it succinctly: premillennialists believed “that this whole panorama of coming glory and judgment was specifically foretold in the prophecies where one could, if taught by the spirit, discover the truth and be ready for the coming of the bridegroom.”  This meant that for premillennialists there could be no surprises.  They had a line on the future, and that line allowed them to place under their own intellectual or spiritual control every event that might transpire in the last days.  Was evil on the increase?  Of course, premillennial doctrine predicted it.  Was Christian civilization threatened by “religious formalism, adulterous friendships with the world, waning of faith, tyranny, anarchy, general revolution?”  Naturally—any Bible reader would have come to expect it.  Were families disintegrating?  Yes, they were—and it would only get worse until Christ returned.

One can see how easily the fears of losing control were thus transformed into claims of possessing control.  To premillennialists looking for the return of the Lord, bad news was essentially good news.  The worse things got, the nearer their reward approached.  No evil could befall the world that they had not predicted and they could not welcome. . . .

But for most evangelicals who sought such control, premillennialism alone was insufficient.  Sometime during the 1880s and 1890s, it seems, most evangelicals also adopted dispensationalism.  This doctrinal system was the brainchild of one of the founders of the Plymouth Brethren movement in England, John Nelson Darby, who brought it to North America on seven different occasions between 1862 and 1877.  It is Darby’s premillennialism, specifically, that we must examine if we are to understand the extent of the evangelical drive to regain control of history. . . .

In America, at least through to the end of the nineteenth century, the absence of a formal religious establishment led evangelicals like Moody to think primarily of society—and not the church itself—as a wrecked vessel.  But in Britain a close formal identification existed between the church and the culture.  In addition, Darby felt that the established church was implicated in his own lack of spiritual power and his works-orientation in the days before his deliverance.  These facts led to a slightly different articulation of the declining times.  Darby’s own words were: “The church is in ruins.”  His extensive and detailed indictment of the church did not, however, lead him to a call for reform.  In his opinion, the church was beyond repair.  Believers might better forsake the established church and separate themselves from this embodiment of evil, keeping their worship pure by assembling instead in small groups where, without ritual or hierarchy, they could symbolize the unity of the church in Christ Jesus.  As Darby expressed it, “it is positively stated (2 Tim. iii) that the church would fail and become as bad as heathenism, and the Christian is directed to turn away from evil and turn to the Scriptures, and Christ (Rev.  Ii and iii) is revealed as judging the state of the churches. . . .”

This is a very different picture from the then fashionable one of the church of Jesus Christ marching forth triumphantly to spread the gospel and inaugurate the millennium.  Far from being the agency of Christ’s victory, the church has become in Darby’s hands the clearest sign of apostasy, subject to God’s judgment. . . .

I tend to think that it was just this quality of dispensationalism—its rationalistic neatness and systematic comprehensiveness—that recommended it to evangelicals who, during the perilous times at the turn of the nineteenth century, were casting about for some new means to bring history under their control.  Dispensationalism assumed the Bible to be a thinly disguised guidebook to human history: all one needed in order to decode its message and thus acquire God’s master scheme, according to dispensationalists, was a commitment to a commonsense, literalistic reading of Scripture and the assumption that Israel and the church were two very distinct entities.  Using these tools, one could essentially take Scripture apart, verse by verse, and rearrange it into a tight, coherent system of truth—one, for example, that could be displayed graphically on a carefully drawn chart and hung in the front of the church auditorium for all the faithful to see.

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