Was John MacArthur’s provocative lecture, Why Every Self‐Respecting Calvinist Is A Premillennialist at the March 2007 Shepherds’ Conference just another example of the divisiveness of dispensationalism? The reason I ask that question is because that is a common criticism of dispensationalism.
C. B. Bass in his Backgrounds to Dispensationalism makes the charge that because Dispensationalism has been a separatist movement it therefore is untrue:
One need not scrutinize contemporary evangelical church life too closely to see this principle at work today. Nor does it take more than a casual survey of the history of theology since Darby’s day to trace the continuity of his view of separation to our day. There exists a direct line from Darby through a number of channels- prophetic conferences, fundamentalistic movements, individual prophetic teachers, the Scofield Reference Bible, eschatological charts-all characterized by and contributing to a spirit of separatism and exclusion. The devastating effects of this spirit upon the total body of Christ cannot be underestimated (page 99).
I have two questions in response.
1. Is ecclesiastical separation from apostasy or disobedient brethren wrong or Biblical? Paul severely rebuked false teaching in Galatians 1:6-9. Paul admonished believers to separate from disobedient believers in 2 Thessalonians 3:6.
2. Has all ecclesiastical separation in history been dispensational?
Ryrie, after mentioning the Protestant Reformation’s stand against the Roman Catholic’s infused instead of imputed righteousness, cited later separatist movements that also were not dispensational:
Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) in 1843 led about one-third of the ministers of the Church of Scotland out of the General Assembly to organize the Free Church of Scotland.
Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) withdrew from the Dutch Reformed Church and founded in 1886 the Free Reformed Church.
J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) left Princeton Theological Seminary because of modernism and founded Westminster Theological Seminary and the Independent Board of Missions.
In addition to the historical examples that Ryrie provides, there is the Downgrade Controversy that Charles Spurgeon lead against his own Baptist Union. Spurgeon, not a dispensationalist, fought against the liberalism in his Baptist denomination.
The Fundamentalist/Modernist Controversy of the 1920s and 30s was not a dispensational movement. Historic Fundamentalism was cross denominational.
Can John MacArthur’s lecture, Why Every Self‐Respecting Calvinist Is A Premillennialist at the March 2007 Shepherds’ Conference be considered divisive? His premise for this statement is the election of Israel by God which like all elections in Scripture is unconditional and irrevocable. And yet, as MacArthur concludes:
In the [Reformed/Calvinist] theological world where people believe in the doctrine of election more strongly than anywhere else, they are more prone to deny Israel’s election than anywhere else. In fact, they have come up with the idea that the church, God’s new and present elect, receives all the promises once given to Israel. That is, all those Old Testament promises and covenants have been cancelled to Israel because of Israel’s apostasy, Israel’s unbelief, and Israel’s rejection of Christ. So this nation has become permanently set aside, the result being that all of their promises have now come to the church.
Rejecting God’s election of Israel, as MacArthur describes, is called “replacement theology, that the church replaces Israel in the promises of God, [is to say that] Israel as God’s Elect is no longer God’s Elect since it is cancelled out.”
Replacement Theology has two consequences according to MacArthur:
1) First, you have to change the meaning of election: “I don’t know anybody who believes in the doctrine of election who thinks its temporary with the elect angels, or temporary with the elect Son or temporary with the elect church, so this has to be a category invented to accommodate replacement theology.”
2) Secondly, you have to change your hermeneutics: “The second thing that has to happen is, you cannot interpret Scripture in the normal meaning, the normal sense in which it is written both in the Old Testament and the New Testament because clearly in both testaments promises are made to Israel. Therefore Israel does not mean Israel, a thousand years does not mean a thousand years, reigning in Jerusalem does not mean reigning in Jerusalem; rather these mean something else, something not apparent in any normal interpretation of the language.”
MacArthur noted that not all reformed theologians reject the election of Israel. For an example MacArthur cited “Horatius Bonar. He is a nineteenth century Scottish preacher and theological writer. In 1847 he wrote Prophetic Landmarks and he took a position very different from his Reformed friends. Bonar believed that elect Israel would be restored to their land because of God’s election.” MacArthur quoted Bonar, ‘I am one of those who believe in Israel’s restoration and conversion, who receive it as a future certainty, that all Israel shall be gathered, and that all Israel shall be saved. As I believe in Israel’s present degradation, so do I believe in Israel’s coming glory and preeminence. I believe that God’s purpose regarding our world can only be understood by understanding God’s purpose as to Israel.” Now remember, this is a time long before they [the Jews] had ever been gathered back into their land.
MacArthur quotes another, bur more recent reformed writer, Willem VanGemeren, writing in the Westminster Theological Journal of 1983 who said, “Israel is the hermeneutical crux in the interpretation of prophecy.”
In my next post we will consider some disturbing anti-Semitic consequences to Replacement Theology according to MacArthur. My next post will be entitled Has Covenant Theology Been Divisive?