The Gospel of the Kingdom, and Salvation by Allegiance Alone, Essay 11

Michael Bates has written a very important book entitled Salvation by Allegiance Alone.  This is a presentation that is very counter to classical Dispensationalism.  Bate’s thesis is simple.  It is that the word range of the Greek word for faith used in the texts on salvation by faith includes the meaning of allegiance, a trusting allegiance.  If this is so, then the response to the Gospel is a decision of total allegiance.  

If we translate the familiar verses with the word allegiance, then we get a very different picture than usual  For example, “For by grace you are saved through allegiance, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph. 2:8)   Some have sought to overcome “easy believism” by translating faith as trust.  One enters a trusting relationship with Yeshua which implies obedience.  This is a good and possible translation.  Allegiance seems to be part of the word definition.  We can also translate, that “Wherefore being justified by allegiance, we have peace with God.”  When we are in allegiance with God we are saved and have peace.  Even John 3:16 which is sometimes translated as “trusts in Him” in Bates includes allegiance.  “For God so loved the World that he gave his only begotten Son so whosoever “comes into allegiance with him” should not perish but have everlasting life.”  The kind of trust implied in John 3:16 is a trusting relationship that implies real allegiance. 

If Michael Bates is correct, this shatters the classic Dispensationalist view that one can be saved by believing while yet not living in obedience to Yeshua.   Such a person is not really in allegiance with Yeshua and is not saved.  Allegiance means obedience.  One may fall short, but when one’s heart is really to live in allegiance to Yeshua, that one is saved.  So, who is saved?  Those who are in allegiance with Yeshua and live in allegiance. Who is not saved?  Those who are not.  One’s denominational affiliation is not the issue.  One can believe things that Protestants find troubling.  However, Catholics or Orthodox Christians who are in allegiance to Yeshua are saved.  This is a simple and refreshing approach. 

The Gospel of the Kingdom and Discipleship, Essay 10    

George Ladd and Dallas Willard

When the Gospel is wrongly preached, there is often difficulty in motivating people to enter into discipleship.  Because J. N. Darby and Classical Dispensationalism separated the Gospel from discipleship, the idea of “cheap grace” in Bonhoeffer’s words is a serious problem.  People can be lulled into complacency thinking they will not come into judgment because there is no required repentance and no requirement to submit to Yeshua as Lord.  Is the Gospel a gospel of free grace that offers this kind of salvation?  Or is the grace offered a grace that enables a choice to submit to Jesus as Savior and Lord. 

In 1951, George Ladd’s book, Crucial Questions and the Kingdom of God was published.  Ladd broke from Dispensationalism and received intense criticism for doing so.  In subsequent writings, he established that the New Testament does not present two Gospels, the first is the Gospel of the Kingdom which was the good news of the offer of the Millennial Kingdom to Israel.  Because Israel refused this offer, it was said that this Gospel of the Kingdom is not now preached. It will again be offered to Israel during the tribulation after the Church is gone (raptured to heaven).  The second Gospel is the Gospel of Grace where salvation is offered to all people without works, repentance, or the Lordship of Jesus.  Ladd’s subsequent writings more powerfully refuted these wrong ideas.  Today we can say that Ladd’s theology or something similar is today the consensus of the Evangelical scholarly world. 

However, Ladd’s views and others that are similar are crucial for discipleship.  As we noted in an earlier article, the synoptic Gospels present the Kingdom as having come in an already but not yet way.  It is here and real and people are invited into it.  However, it is in a partial way.  The Kingdom will only come in fullness when Yeshua returns.  As such, one very powerful way to present the Gospel is to offer people the invitation to enter the Kingdom through the death and resurrection of Yeshua.  In so doing, they embrace being part of Kingdom community where everything in their lives is put in the right order. 

In Dallas Willard’s great book, The Divine Conspiracy, the Gospel of the Kingdom is presented as a powerful invitation for transformation.  The invitation is into the Kingdom under the Lordship of Yeshua and includes everlasting life. As such the disciple can now attain to living out the commandments of Yeshua.  Teaching to observe all of Yeshua’s commands is the course of discipleship that Yeshua commands in the last verses of Matthew.  For Darby, the commands of Yeshua and the Sermon on the Mount were part of the Dispensation of Law and are not the focus for believers today, but rather today the focus is on the teaching of the epistles.  This is very confused in my view.  

When the Gospel is rightly preached, the person is oriented to be baptized and to enter into a course of discipleship.  This is very important.  The right presentation of the Gospel saves much pain and failure.  We don’t have to undo false ideas that can be embedded in the mind. 

I note again that Progressive Dispensationalists are getting past these distinctions.  However, we present the classical positions so one can pick up on where there is still an unfortunate influence of bad theology and recognize this influence in preaching, articles, videos, and books.  

The Mosaic Covenant: Grace or Law, Essay #9

Theologians in the history of Christianity came up with many different approaches to the Mosaic Covenant.  Sometimes with Antisemitic tropes the Mosaic Covenant, often called only the Mosaic Law, was presented as a punishment for the Jewish people because of their sin after leaving Egypt.  There was a negativity to this part of the Bible.  Yet, a rejection of the Mosaic writings as Scripture was defined as heresy.  Marcion represented this view in the second century and rejected the Old Testament as presenting a false God.  Yet, a negativity to the Mosaic Law was not uncommon though it was accepted as inspired Scripture. Thankfully, according to my reading of Church history, the basic thrust of the Church was to see the Mosaic Law as applicable in the New Covenant.  For example, Canon Law in the Catholic Church was informed by the Mosaic Law on many matters of morality and on standards for civil society.  Calvin was the clearest on this idea of application.  While teaching that the ceremonial part of the Law was now fulfilled and no longer applicable for our practice, he yet taught that the Law provided three crucial functions in the New Covenant Age.  Firstly, it provided a standard whereby people would be convicted of sin and see their need for salvation.  Secondly, it would be a guide for civil law.  Thirdly, it would be a tool of discipleship through the Spirit that would enable or empower obedience to its righteous standards. This general approach became common with Anglicans, Methodists, and many other streams.   As we noted in an earlier essay, J. N. Darby believed this approach was wrong – that the Church had confused Law and Grace.   

For Darby, the Mosaic Law provided Israel with a Dispensation of Law that was in profound contrast to the New Covenant Dispensation of Grace.  As such, the Mosaic Law presented Israel with the challenge to seek to be saved by living by or obeying the Law.  Of course, Israel would fail and hence would be prepared for salvation by grace over against the quest of salvation by law.  Darby was right that no one could be saved by striving to keep the Law by our fleshy efforts.  However, was that what the Mosaic writings really were fostering?  Darby’s negative approach to the Mosaic writings was close to Marcion in some ways while yet seeing the Hebrew Bible as Scripture and the God of Israel as the one true God.  Some Dispensationalists still have Darby’s view today and negativity is very common as well in popular Christianity due to Darby’s influence to this day. 

However, we now know that Darby was wrong.  Studies on the cultural context for the Mosaic writings have revolutionized our understanding.  In 1969 when studying under Dr. Samuel Schultz at Wheaton College, I was presented with his book Deuteronomy, the Gospel of Love.  In 1974 Dr. Schultz published The Gospel of Moses in the year I graduated from McCormick Seminary.  I was quite astonished as Dr. Schultz presented the evidence that the Mosaic Covenant material was to be seen first as Gospel and not Law. After accepting God’s offer of grace and love, Israel was to live in obedient gratitude.  This was the same as the pattern of the New Covenant.  Moses was Gospel in pre-New Covenant form.  Dr. Schultz was able to draw from earlier studies, George Mendenhall of the University of Michigan and Meredith Kline of Westminster Seminary and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.  Kline summarized Mendenhall’s work in his Treaty of the Great King (1963).   So, what did they show?

It was that the Mosaic Covenant material was in the form of ancient Middle Eastern or Near Eastern treaties that presented a treaty from the ruling king to a vassal nation as covenants of grace, not deserved, with great benefits, but which required submission to the rule of the King and his law.  Of course, all nations have civil law, and the Mosaic Covenant provides that civil law under God as the King.  Kline and now confirmed more recently in the 21st century by  Kenneth Kitchen, show that the book of Deuteronomy especially fits the exact pattern of the Hittite Vassal treaties discovered in the late 1940s.  This pattern is a covenant of grace and constantly affirms in the content that Israel’s salvation was not due to their self-righteousness or good works but only due to God’s grace and love.  The Ten Commandments as well are a mini Covenant of Grace beginning with the announcement of God’s salvation by grace. The first words are not the first command.  Blood sacrifices show that Israel could not be perfect according to law-keeping.  That was never an option. Rather, God required a basic faithfulness and a heart toward God and provided for Israel’s shortcomings including providing for each individual. 

So why did Israel fail?  There are many reasons.  Despite being a covenant of grace, the Mosaic order was not powerful enough to overcome the sinful tendencies of the nation, though there were some periods of obedience.  The New Covenant is a covenant of greater grace and power.  It also requires higher obedience (Matthew 5-7).  The universal standards from Moses apply in the New Covenant.  Also, the pattern of life in Sabbath and Feasts also applies since they recount God’s gracious history with Israel and provide a cultural and national identity for Israel. 

Much of what we today call social justice can only be well dealt with through the Mosaic writings.  The New Covenant Scriptures do not address all these issues but assume the applicability of the Mosaic writings.  It is clear again that we must get beyond Dispensationalism. 

 

 

Grace and Law: Classical Christianity and Dispensationalism, #8 in Beyond Dispensationalism

How the Law of God relates to the message of salvation by grace and the invitation to enter the Kingdom has been a source of much debate in the history of the Church.  I will speak about the Protestant history and response of Classic Dispensationalists.  This essay is an extension of the last article, #7 on hyper-grace.  

Interpreting the letter of Galatians has been a source of difficulty and challenge in the Church. I will not speak to the Catholic and Orthodox responses.  Suffice it to say that for Catholics canon law in the Church does embrace an application of Torah law in the New Covenant though there are negative statements about the Jewish people and the Law. 

The great recovery of truth in the Reformation was justification by faith.  This unified Lutherans, Calvinist Reformed, Anabaptists (peace churches), and Baptists, and from there almost all Protestants.  The Anglicans also embraced it.  Luther made statements that appeared to be against the Law (antinomian-a classically defined heresy).  When Luther responded to those who wanted holiness standards for Sunday keeping, he railed against any such legalism, even to supporting games.  However, Luther was not consistent, and in his, Catechism Lutheranism discipled in obedience to the ten commandments.  The Catechism is a good interpretation and application.  As the dust settled, the Churches from the Reformation developed a positive view of the Law.  I John 3:4 states that “Sin is the transgression of law,” and believers are not to practice lawlessness. 

John Calvin in his great Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, section 7 put forth a view that mostly was accepted in the Protestant world.  Justification was by faith and not by doing good works.  However, works done by the Spirit, not by fleshy efforts, were fully embraced and promoted.  Calvin presented three uses of the Law.  The first was that the Law reveals sin, brings conviction, and thus shows us our need for grace and forgiveness.  Second, the Law provides principles for civil governments.  Then third, the Law is a tool of discipleship by the Holy Spirit. In this last application Calvin applied II Timothy 3:16, 17, that as part of Scripture, it is used in training in righteousness.  Romans 8:4 states that the righteous requirement of the Law is fulfilled in those who walk by the Spirit.  

In history, this led to the Laws of Moses having great influence on societies’ civil laws.  There were different approaches to the Law.  Most thought that the people of the New Covenant were no longer under the Mosaic Covenant, but that the universal parts of the Law of God still applied in the New Covenant.  There was too easy separation between moral/civic law and ceremonial law (Sabbath, Feasts, circumcision) that promoted replacement theology, that Jewish identity was no longer desirable in the New Covenant, and Israel was replaced.  But not all rejected the election of Israel, and a growing number did see a future destiny for Israel.   

In regard to personal discipleship, there were different approaches.  Some rejoiced in studying the Law and seeking to apply it and live it out by the power of the Spirit. They could say with the Psalmist, “Oh, how I love your Law.” (Calvinists)  Others saw the Law as a background check to make sure one really was walking in the Spirit.  A focus on being in Yeshua and walking in the Spirit would naturally lead to a life in fulfillment of the Law.  In New England, Puritans sought to strictly apply the civil penalties of the Law. Anglicans thought that the New Covenant and the mercy shown on the cross called governments to a more merciful application of civil law.  

The great revivalist Methodist Charles Finney stated that the difference between the Old Covenant and the New was that the New empowered us to do what the Old required but did not give them the power to fulfill. This was quite in line with John Wesley.  The Methodist founder of Wheaton College stated that his vision was that the Law of God would become the Law of the Land (on his memorial plaque in Blanchard Hall tower.)  This was close to the statement of Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper of Holland at the turn of the century 120 years ago. How much to focus on the Law revealed differences in approach.  Peace churches emphasized the application of the Law in the teaching of Jesus. 

Classic dispensationalism radically upended the overlap of Protestant consensus.  It stated that the ten comments were not incumbent and that even the Sermon on the Mount was part of the Dispensation of Law that was canceled in the cross.  Not only could one be saved and continue in sin, but if a person did dedicate their lives to Yeshua, then they were not to seek obedience to the Law, even as taught by Yeshua, but to be instructed in a holy life by the teaching of the epistles since they were post-Pentecost. Only the epistles were incumbent.  Of course, this contradicted II Tim. 3:16 and other texts.  The discipleship function of the Law, Calvin’s third use, was lost.  

However, one of the real losses was the loss of the quest for social justice as seen in Calvin, Wesley, Wilburforce, Finney, and Blanchard.  This undercut the social progress in the world that resulted from Christian influence.  Instead, the world was a sinking ship, and our job was to get people into the lifeboats.  Seeing improvement and reformation in society was a foolish endeavor.  Dr. Arthur Holmes at Wheaton, the most famous philosopher in Wheaton’s history, said in 1967.  “We have lost 100 years.”  Carl F. H. Henry, the theologian to Billy Graham, began to address this in his 1947 book, “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism.”   It partly explains why Evangelicals in America were mostly absent in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.  

The Classic Dispensationalist approach to God’s Law was wrong. Thankfully Progressive Dispensationalists are changing and coming out from these orientations.  However, these essays are on the classic views so that one may more easily recognize what still lingers.  When one knows the errors of Classic Dispensationalists one can better understand the changes in the Progressive Dispensationalist views.  There are views in the Progressive Dispensationalist teaching that we still need to get beyond. 

Hyper-Grace and Carnal Christians

Essay 7: Beyond Dispensationalism

I spent my teen summers at a famous Camp at a beautiful lake in the mountains.  I eventually became a counselor.  The pattern for the meetings, especially in the evenings was the same every week.  On Saturday through Tuesday, there was preaching and an invitation to receive Jesus.  All were encouraged to come forward and be saved. It was clearly stated that nothing was required, just to accept the forgiveness of sins by accepting God’s free gift. Why would anyone refuse?  No life change was required. What have you got to lose?  In the cabin counseling before bedtime, we taught that they were now saved if they believed or received, could know that they had eternal life (I John 5:13), and could never be lost no matter what they did after. 

From Wednesday through Friday evening the preaching changed.  All were exhorted to dedicate their lives to the Lord.  This was not required but if you wanted to live a truly meaningful life, if you wanted rewards in heaven, you needed to dedicate your life.  After all, Jesus did, how can you refuse to dedicate your life?  Many did, but many did not.  They accepted salvation without dedication.  I did not realize it, but this pattern was based on classic Dispensationalism and its hyper-grace theology.  

Years later, I read an article by a famous Hebrew Christian.  He argued that nothing was required for salvation, no repentance or dedication, but only belief or faith that Jesus died for our sins and rose again so that by faith we accept that salvation.  Salvation is by believing alone. I wrote about his article.  A Messianic Jewish colleague wrote back and said I had slandered this leader.  He did not understand the hyper-grace view of classic Dispensationalism.  I sent him the article. He was amazed.  He did not realize such things were taught. He admitted that I accurately repented to him. There are famous hyper-grace teachers today.  Peter’s words in Acts 2, “Repent, be baptized and you will be filled with the Spirit” were claimed to not be a pattern required for salvation or desired for preaching salvation.  

This wrong theology came from John Nelson Darby, the founder of Dispensationalism.  He was not the first to teach it.  The Puritans of Massachusetts condemned Ann Hutchinson for heresy for teaching such a theology or so they claimed.  Darby believed he discovered this in the New Testament, especially in Eph. 2:8, 9. “For by grace are you saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.”  If a change of life was required before or after believing or if repentance was required before believing, then there would be works required for salvation.  Believing was not considered a work.  One could sometimes read Luther as teaching such a doctrine, but other writings in Luther did not teach this.  All of the passages that spoke of salvation by grace were so interpreted by Darby.  Grace was undeserved favor that gives us salvation without any pre-requisites or post-requisites.  This was contrary to the greatest historical theologies, both as taught by Arminians (who emphasized human choice in being saved and who were mostly represented by Wesley and the Methodists) and Calvinists who emphasized predestination to salvation.  Anglicans in the 39 Articles also embraced quite a different view than Darby.  For all these folks, grace is a power of God at work that leads to repentance and transformation in a dedicated life.  It is more than just unmerited favor.  For Wesley, the grace that comes before salvation enables us to make a choice and gives us the ability for a faith response. Such a response includes repentance and dedication.   For Calvinists, God’s grace determines both repentance and dedication.  The converted will persevere or live their lives more and more conformed to the image of Yeshua. 

Why did Darby break from historic theology?  He really believed that he discovered a key to Church renewal in his grace doctrine.  He saw dead Anglican Churches in the United Kingdom. Many were going to Church as a requirement for salvation, but they really were not on fire for God. They took the bread and wine, the eucharist, to maintain salvation.  However, Darby believed that once free grace was known, he could build a church where only those who freely dedicated their lives would come. Those who only wanted mere salvation would leave but would still be saved if they believed.  It did not work out that way. Actually, there were many carnal Christians in the Dispensational churches, a category of saved people in Darbyite theology. 

The famous non-Charismatic Evangelical, John McArthur from California, broke from this teaching and stated that the decision for salvation is inseparable from the decision to be a disciple.  One cannot be saved without such an intention.  The great Dietrich Bonhoeffer agreed and called any view less than this, “cheap grace.” Hyper-grace Dispensationalist Zane Hodges wrote a response to McArthur entitled Lordship Salvation.   He sought to refute McArthur and the idea popularized by Bill Bright of Campus Crusade, that one must accept Jesus as Savior and Lord.  The famous revivalist Leonard Ravenhill responded to Hodges’s book and called him, “insane Hodges.”  

Outside of the classic Dispensationalists, this hyper-grace view is rejected by almost all biblical scholars.  Yet, hyper-grace views are still common.  There are famous media preachers who proclaim it today.  The response to this is found in two major presentations.   The first presents an understanding of the Gospel of the Kingdom.  We will have to cover the Dispensational idea of the Gospel of the Kingdom in a future essay.  Suffice it to say here that classic Dispensationalism does not believe that the Church is to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom today, but the Gospel of the Grace of God. However, as summarized by George Ladd in The Gospel of the Kingdom, the preaching of Yeshua proclaimed that the Kingdom of God had broken into this age in a partial but real way, though it would come in fullness when He would return.  People were called to experience the Kingdom in the present time, and this was the Good News.  Dallas Willard in his great book on discipleship, the Divine Conspiracy, presents the fact that the basic Gospel is an offer to enter into and live from the Kingdom of God. One enters that Kingdom through the Door, Yeshua, through his death and resurrection and by being filled with the Spirit.  As one lives in and from the Kingdom, Jesus is Lord and everything in one’s life comes into the right order.  A disciple is then one who obeys the commands of Yeshua.  Matthew 28 sends the disciples to disciple the nations and to teach them to obey all that Yeshua commanded.  Embracing the Gospel is embracing, through the power of God’s grace, the Lordship of Yeshua, and his power for obedience.  

The second approach where Yeshua must be received as Lord is represented by Matthew Bates in his great book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone. He exhaustively studies the word faith and the texts on faith and concludes that faith means allegiance in most passages.   Salvation by faith means pledging allegiance to Yeshua as Lord, and yes, accepting his atonement and empowerment.  There is no salvation except by this pledge of allegiance.  By this pledge, a person commits to discipleship or obeying all His commandments.  One is saved by allegiance to Yeshua.

Hyper-grace is a false doctrine.  It did not deliver the churches from carnal Christians.  Persecution might accomplish that.  Revival preaching that brings conviction and deep repentance can help accomplish this.  We are thankful for the many hyper-grace Christians who dedicated their lives and had a great and good impact on the Gospel, but the error did produce great harm. 

Let us be aware or be sensitive and discern when the wrong teaching of hyper-grace is put forth.  Let us return to the true Gospel of grace which is also the Gospel of the Kingdom. 

 

Bible Haters and their Humanistic Love Paradox

We are living in an age that is unusual for its hatred for the Bible and Christianity.  The apologists for hating biblical faith make two major claims among others.  One is that the Bible is full of violence and vengeance and should be rejected.  The other is that the Bible is intolerant and fosters hatred and the rejection of alternative lifestyles.  It fosters homophobia, transphobia, bi-sexual phobia, and more.  How much hate for the Bible is due to its teaching on marriage and sexuality, especially in the New Testament since polygamy was allowed in the Hebrew Bible.  Strict monogamy is a New Testament teaching.  In summary, the biblical haters profess to hate all violence, all non-acceptance, and hence Biblical and historic Western morality. 

The answer to the Bible faith haters is not difficult to find or express.  As I noted in past writings, the British atheist historian Tom Holland chides the anti-Christians by noting that the whole idea of compassionate human rights is only known in societies influenced by the Bible.  Search the rest of the world and you will not find it.  A few years back I read two very large volumes; a history of India and a history of China.  The carnage and the slaughter recounted in these histories were the way of the world.  Holland hopes that human rights will be maintained without biblical faith, but he has no grounds to believe this.  The late Quaker philosopher spoke of the West as a cut flower civilization and that by rejecting the roots, the flower of human civilization will die. 

When one deals with ancient Israel, fairness means that one must compare Israel to the other peoples of the ancient world.  This comparison is reflected in a book by the late Harvard professor G. Ernest Wright, The Old Testament Against its Environment.  Very recently the late Reuven Hammer wrote The Torah Revolution which updates the same themes.  My esteemed professor of dear memory, the renowned Samuel Schultz of Wheaton, a Harvard graduate, wrote that in the Hebrew Scriptures, God’s offer of mercy always precedes judgment.  In the case of Canaan, there were over 400 years of mercy and patience.  You will never find such ideas in other cultures.  The demonic control of the whole culture in Canaan is a key to understanding.  The Torah actually enjoins Israel to not seek to conquer other nations outside their borders.  God cares about the nations and seeks that Israel is a light to the nations (Deut. 4).  This is astonishing.  Only a terrible lack of historical sense and proportion despises the Hebrew Bible.  When we get to the Psalms and prophets, the hope for the salvation of the nations, universal redemption, and world peace, astonishes us.  Isaiah 2 is a case in point, world peace, and no more war. The nations come to the light of God (Isaiah 60).  Other cultures sought the slaughter of the nations, to build empires and a system of domination.   Enslaving the conquered was the way of the world.  When one reads the 13 attributes of God in Exodus 34 and the idea of God being first of all, merciful, compassionate, and forgiving, one is amazed that this is spoken though God does bring hard judgments on evil. 

However, the pages of the New Covenant Scriptures do go beyond the Hebrew Bible. Yes, one can find great moral foundations like “Love your neighbor as yourself,” in the Hebrew Bible. But the neighbor was a fellow Israelite.  Helping your enemy’s ox (a fellow Israelite) does move us toward the ideal.  Loving the stranger in your midst and God’s repeated concern voiced by the prophets for the widow, the orphan, and the stranger is also a powerful testimony.  They are to be treated with love and justice.  But again, the New Covenant goes beyond this.  

The sermon on the Mount reveals a higher level of ethics than ever before revealed.  It says we are to love our enemies in the very context of Roman occupation and oppression.  In the Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25 ff., Yeshua includes the enemy in the very meaning of the concept of neighbor. The despised enemy, the Samarian, proves to be a neighbor.  For the Samarian, the Jew was the enemy.  The love of the enemy is not only commanded as in the Sermon but the enemy is raised to neighbor status.  Wow!   (Scholars call this progressive revelation- we see best from the fullness of New Covenant revelation).  The writings of the epistles enjoin to love our persecutors, to endure without bitterness, to forgive, with patience and willingness to suffer.  We are not to avenge.  Yes, God so loved the whole world, all humanity, that He gave his Son to die for us. Does any other religion come close to teaching such a thing?  Passivism has been an understandable conclusion from reading the New Testament.  Though I now disagree, in my young adult years, I read Mennonite literature and was convinced.  The Anabaptist peace Churches that came out of the Reformation are a testimony to the level of love and forgiveness promoted in the New Testament. 

In the Bible, all humans are created in God’s image.  This is the absolute foundation of anti-racism and prejudice that drove the abolitionists.  Without biblical faith, slavery would still be with us.  Reading the books of the great scholar, Rodney Stark, shows the amazing effect of Biblical faith.  The Roman Empire was conquered by biblical faith because of how Christians lived. They adopted the babies given up for death, nursed the sick in the plagues when friends and relatives fled, and lived in such love that paganism was overcome.  Overcoming slavery as well as the effect of biblical faith. 

The Bible is love with standards.  The standards for marriage, sexuality, and treatment of the poor all are weaved together.  The Bible warns of Hell but councils us to get a broken heart for sinners so fewer will be lost.  Moral choice is serious and has eternal consequences.   One of the main reasons for the hatred is the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality.  Our sexuality is one of the greatest gifts from God and yet fraught with danger.  The Bible, in love, for the best fulfillment of human beings and the prosperity of the whole society, enjoins us to order our sex lives such that sexual expression is to be only in an exclusive relationship of marriage between a man and a woman.  When a society departs from this, it will unloose passion that will lead to terrible abuses. Such teaching is declared by Bible haters as hatred and phobia.  The Bible teaching and the LGBTQ movement’s values are profoundly in opposition.  Bible believers, however, declare their love for LGBTQ people and a desire to see them come into their true destiny and fulfillment.  Our belief that God can and did declare himself on the organization of our human sexuality versus autonomous human choices based on whatever the individual desires, is a foundational reason for Bible hatred.  In our culture, people want their sexual choices and want no one to question their orientations.  If the Bible is true, there is great guilt and suppressed guilty knowledge that can only be solved by the atonement of Yeshua. 

The Bible hater saws off the limb on which he or she sits. Unknowingly he or she supports some values that would never be part of western civilization but for the Bible but then opposes the Bible with these biblical values.  It is the paradox.  One part of the Bible is chosen to reject the Bible, and the part chosen is wrongly interpreted and applied.  What is the basis for the values of the secularist without the Bible but his or her own subjective preferences or the preferences of the fleeting consensus of the contemporary culture?  There is no foundation.  

The advance of civilization, despite the backsliding and horrors of history, is rooted in the Bible.  The advance of the values we most treasure, even the best of human rights is rooted in the Bible.  Hospitals care for the poor and the fight against prejudice all came about due to Bible believers.  That the Universal Declaration of Human rights, whose primary authority was a godly Christian, Charles Habib Malek, should give us pause.  It is an amazing document that is inspired by Biblical values. 

 

A Literal Hermeneutic: Essay # 6

Dispensationalists have done a service for the Body of Believers in raising the awareness of subjective methods of hermeneutics (the science of text interpretation).  After so many centuries of domination by those whose approach to the Hebrew Bible especially, was spiritualization, allegorizing, and interpretation by analogies, the dispensationalist cries halt.  He or she shows that these approaches to the text are subjective and cannot be derived from the original author intended for the text in context.  The Dispensationalist is a champion of the original intent of the human author whose writing also shows us God’s intent.  They are not the only ones who defend the author’s intent in context.  19th Century Pre-Dispensationalists who defended the election of the Jewish people and their return to their Land also embraced a straightforward approach to the text. However, the Dispensationalists for the last century have been the most prominent and outspoken proponents of literal interpretation.   What do they mean by this?  They do not mean that there are no symbols, types, and analogies intended in Scripture.  Rather they are clear on one rule. Where the text can be interpreted literally it should be interpreted literally.  Literal is the preferred choice when there is doubt.  This approach leads to embracing the destiny of Israel, the Jewish people, its future, the wars in the future over the Land, and Israel’s ultimate deliverance and destiny in the Millennial Age.  I mostly share these distinctive.  Dispensationalists are, often due to their view of Israel, passionate Christian Zionists.  I greatly appreciate the very strong repudiation of replacement theology.  However, I do speak a caution because Dispensationalism did not in its classic expression see the importance of Jewish followers of Yeshua continuing to identify and live as Jews.  Some were very much against this as a confusion of law and grace and Israel and the Church. 

The Strange Departure From Literal Interpretation 

There are two major interpretations where Dispensationalism departs from its literal hermeneutic.  The first is regarding the pretribulation rapture.  I spoke about that in an earlier essay.  For example, in Revelation 4:1 the Apostle is called up to heaven.  This is held by some to indicate the rapture of the Church before the tribulation.  The tribulation follows in subsequent chapters.   

The second is regarding the interpretation of the seven churches in Asia Minor in Revelation 2, 3.  This also is connected to the pre-tribulation rapture view.  There is nothing in the text to indicate that the seven churches are not literal churches in Asia Minor, today’s western Turkey.  However, seven ages of the church view is imposed on the chapters so that they briefly describe Church history.  The sixth age of the church comes out best, the Philadelphia Church. They are kept from the hour of trial that is coming in 3:10. This is understood as the rapture before the tribulation.  As noted before, Dispensationalists find many hints of the rapture in other texts but not from literal interpretation.  

A third example is more of a strange reading of a text, II Thes 2.  The text says that the day of the Second Coming and the rapture will not happen until after the Antichrist is revealed.  It even says that Paul wrote this so they would not be deceived by some who would claim that the day had come.  Yet in a strange twist, it is argued that Paul was saying that you can know that the rapture has not happened because if it had happened, the Antichrist would have been revealed.  The rapture must come first, then the Antichrist.  But this is not at all what the text says.  It is actually saying the opposite.

Hyperliteralism  

Above I said I partially shared the distinction of a more literal hermeneutic.  However, I do not think the rule should not be to take a text literally if it is possible to do so, but rather to take it literally if the balance of the evidence is that it was the intent of the author.  One can overpress literalism.  One example is from the book of Revelation where we read that 200 million marched from China to the Middle East. (Rev. 9:16-18).  I well recall one of the most famous dispensational teachers of his time during my teen years teaching that Revelation 9 is an amazing prophecy since it predicted the Chinese Army and only China could send such a large army?  Really?  Supply lines for 200 million.  Or is this section continuing in the theme of demonic hosts as with the locusts who had hair like women.  

Ezekiel describes the final or a next to the final war in Israel.  The armies are described in the terms of horses and weapons of that day.  Does this mean that we are to expect the end of high-tech weapons and vehicles and a return to horses, spears, and bows and arrows? Some have taught just that.  Or is Ezekiel describing last days’ wars in terms his listeners could understand without committing us to a hyper-literal approach to fulfillment?

Conclusion

Yes, Dispensationalism gets some things right.  A return to a more literal reading of prophecy is good if not taken too far.  Seeing a great destiny for Israel is also right, though this was not the invention of Dispensationalism.   Yet, we should avoid hyperliteralism and also recognize that some dispensational beliefs go against their very profession of a more literal hermeneutic. 

Rapture After Tribulation

Guest Article by Asher Intrater 

The central event of the end times is the 2nd Coming of Yeshua (Jesus). There are wars and tribulations leading up to that event. At the 2nd Coming, there is a great supernatural event called the rapture, in which the saints are transformed and caught up in the air.

There are seven primary, contextual passages that speak of the rapture. Although some people teach that the rapture occurs before the tribulation, ALL seven of these passages clearly state that the rapture comes after the tribulation.

Matthew 24:29 – “After the tribulation…” In the Mount of Olive’s prophecy, Yeshua speaks of His coming in glory, and of sending angels to gather His elect from the four winds. This is described as “after” the tribulation.

Matthew 24:38 – “Until the day…” Yeshua compares His coming to the flood of Noah. People were eating and drinking until the very day that Noah entered the ark and all was destroyed. There was no gap between the day of His coming and the destruction of all things. There is no tribulation period in between. At Yeshua’s coming one in a field will be taken and another left; two women grinding, one taken and one left.

Mark 13:24 – “After that tribulation…” Mark repeats the teaching on the Mount of Olives with all the details in Matthew describing the tribulation, the 2nd Coming, and the rapture. He also repeats that the rapture is “after” the tribulation.

Luke 17:27, 29 – “Until the day…”, “On the day…” – Luke repeats Yeshua’s teaching comparing His coming to Noah’s flood, and adds the comparison to the destruction of Sodom. As with Noah, so with Lot, total destruction came immediately. All people were there until the end. There was no time gap. On the same day the people were taken, everything ended.

I Corinthians 15:52 – “At the last trumpet (shofar)…” – At the LAST trumpet, the dead will be raised and we will be changed. Revelation describes 7 trumpets during the tribulation period. (The 7 trumpets are connected with the Feast of Trumpets [Leviticus 23:24], the last trumpet with the Day of Atonement [Leviticus 25:9].) The rapture occurs at the last trumpet, after the 7 trumpets, after the tribulation, immediately after the resurrection of the dead.

I Thessalonians 4:15 – “remain until the coming…” If the saints remain on earth until the 2nd coming, they could not possibly leave several years before. Verse 15 – “by no means precede…” 16 – “The dead will rise first…” – The resurrection of the dead will come first. The resurrection takes place after the tribulation. If the rapture “by no means” precedes the resurrection, then it must be after the tribulation as well. Only “then” will we be caught up in the air to meet the Lord (verse 17).

II Thessalonians 2:3 – “will not come until the falling away comes first…” – Paul speaks of two simultaneous events on that “day”: the coming of Yeshua and our being gathered to Him. Those two happen at the same time. They will not happen until after a worldwide apostasy and after the appearing of the son of perdition, the anti-Christ. The apostasy and the anti-Christ happen during the tribulation. If the rule of the anti-Christ must happen first, then the rapture can not occur until after the tribulation. 

These seven passages indicate that the timing of the rapture is after the tribulation. The popular teachings that the rapture comes before the tribulation are doing damage to the body of Messiah worldwide.

[Note: There is also some reference to the rapture in the parables of Matthew 13:41 and 49, as well as in Yeshua’s teaching on the “Father’s house” in John 14:2-3.

We are to prepare the international Church to stand with Israel in the spiritual battles of the end times. If the saints believe they will not be here during the tribulation, they will not prepare, and thus be caught off guard, easy prey for both the devil and the anti-Christ. 

Yeshua never promises to take us out of tribulation, but to strengthen us (John 16:33 – “In the world you will have tribulation, but be encouraged, I have overcome the world”) and to protect us (John 17:15 – “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one”).

Like Yeshua, let us pray and teach the saints to be victorious during the end times. Let us root out dangerous false teachings that the Church will be raptured before the tribulation, leaving Israel alone to suffer and fight the anti-Christ. 

The Pre-Tribulation Rapture: Is it in the Bible  

Beyond Dispensationalism #5

When I was 19 years old in October 1996 at the King’s College, I believed in the pre-tribulation rapture of the saints.  When I was 19 years old in December 1966, I no longer believed this.  What happened? It was very simple.  I learned in Dr. Thomas McComiskey’s Bible Doctrine class, in a section on hermeneutics or interpreting Bible texts, that we must interpret verses in the context of chapters, chapters in the context of whole books of the Bible, and whole books in the context of the whole Bible.  Dr. McComiskey became a very highly regarded Old Testament scholar and later taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School north of Chicago.  He also came to the post-tribulation rapture view.  My best friend was studying under Dr. William Bell, a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary, the intellectual center of Dispensationalism and pre-tribulation rapture theology.  My friend was now transitioning from the pre-tribulation to the post-tribulation view.  I thought he was falling from grace.  I decided to study all the major Bible texts on this but especially to look into the context.  Dr. Bell used to say, “Read the Rapture Question by John Walvoord, and The Blessed Hope, by George Ladd, and see which you think is more convincing.  Before I read the books, I did a text study.  I pulled out pro-pre-tribulation study Bibles, Schofield, Dake’s, and Thompson’s.  As I looked at the primary proof texts I was amazed.  It was clear to me that the texts did not say what was being claimed.  Some even implied just the opposite view, the post-tribulation view. 

One of the most amazing aspects of my study was that the people who professed to be committed to a literal interpretation of the texts of the Bible built this doctrine on analogical non-literal meanings from texts.  There are many texts that are used to bolster the argument through allusions, analogies, and hints.  I only want to deal with a few of the most foundational texts.  

II Thes. 2:1-9 is a key text for the pre-tribulation argument.  I Thes. 4:16, 17 speaks about the rapture and the resurrection but is not a proof text for the pre-tribulation people since there are no timing references.  II Thes. 2 is about “The coming of our LORD Yeshua the Messiah and our gathering together to Him.”  It continues, “Not to get shaken out of your mind or disturbed—either by a spirit or a word or letter as if through us—as though the Day of the LORD has come.  Let no one deceive you in any way, for the Day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the one destined to be destroyed.”  

The pre-tribulation interpretation says that the rapture has not occurred because if it had, you would now be seeing the man of lawlessness (the Anti-Christ).  The text says just the opposite.  It says the man of lawlessness will be revealed before the rapture.  The pre-tribulation doctrine teaches that Yeshua can come any moment, that there is no prophecy that must take place before his coming.  All of the prophecies that are to take place before his Second Coming landing on earth can take place during the seven-year Tribulation.  (By the way, the great tribulation is explicitly described as 3 ½ years in the Bible, not 7 as in Dispensationalism).  So, how was it that Dispensationalists had prophecy conferences to show that His coming was near?  Because these are “signs of the times” showing a lining up of what will be taking place in the tribulation that is taking place before the tribulation.  One can see preparations before the rapture in this view. However, the II Thes. text joins the Day of the LORD, God’s ultimate judgment and intervention with our being gathered together to Him as being together with the Day of judgment first.   The Day has not come nor has the rapture.  Both await that revelation of the man of lawlessness.  This is profoundly contrary to the pre-tribulation doctrine.  (See Mike Brown and Craig Keener, Not Afraid of the Anti-Christ.)

The second proof text is also from II Thessalonians 2:5-8a.  It states that “The mystery of lawlessness is already at work,” but they know what holds him back, for him to be revealed in his own time.”  The TLV translates, “There is one who holds back just now until he is taken out of the way.”  In a strange conclusion, it is said that the presence of the Church holds him back and will be taken out in the rapture.  Then the Anti-Christ will be revealed.  Historically, before J. N. Darby, no one ever thought this was the Church.  Paul could have said, “You know that your presence, the presence of the Church holds him back.”  He did not say that.   One very common view is that human order and government by God’s common grace holds him back or that God holds him back until the work of the Gospel has progressed to the point that the final battle can be enjoined.  One interpretation comes from the Concordat Literal Translation that changes the whole sense to the Devil restraining and resisting the Gospel until he is taken out of the way.  Then it goes on to explain that in the time of his full manifestation, he will be taken out of the way.  With such a text so capable of other good interpretations, it is strange to dogmatically hold that it is about the rapture of the Church. It does not fit the context of the preceding verses that the Antichrist is first revealed. 

Such an interpretation does not cohere with the three Synoptic Gospels and Yeshua’s presentation of his return as one event with no rapture seven years before (Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21).  

The next texts are examples of non-literal interpretation.  With no warrant in the text, the interpreter states that the 7 churches of Rev. 2, and 3 represent ages in Church history.  Again, there is no warrant for this in the text, but we see these churches as seven churches of Asia Minor, today’s western Turkey, a literal interpretation! We are told that the Philadelphia Church is the sixth age of the Church just before his coming.  (This was interpreted as the present church of that time).  It is the one most commended.  In 3:10, 11a we read, “Because you have kept My word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth.  Behold I am coming soon.”  

The church that follows is the Laodicean Church that will not be raptured but because they are unsaved, they will remain for the tribulation, the seventh period.  There is nothing in the text supporting this interpretation.  Not only so, but they are told to repent so they might receive a reward.  There is nothing in the text about their exceptionally entering the tribulation.   

With regard to the Philadelphia Church, to be kept from the hour of trial is protection in the midst of the trial that is coming, not to be raptured out. Big trials did come at that time.  One can only get the pre-tribulation rapture by a church ages theory imposed on the text about literal churches that existed in the first century.  There is no basis in the text.  The supposed literalist finds a non-literal meaning in the text and stakes his interpretation on it. 

It is the same with Revelation 4:1. A voice speaks with John like a trumpet and says, “Come up here.”  This is analogous to the rapture and points to it. Thus, for the pre-tribulation rapture person all that takes place in the book of Revelation from the end of the Philadelphia Church period to Rev. 19 and the return of Yeshua, takes place without the presence of the Church. The saints in the book are not the Church but new tribulation saints, from Israel and the nations in a new start-over (Rev. 7).  Dispensationalists spent countless hours in prophecy conferences preaching and interpreting the book of Revelation so that all could understand all the events that would take place when we are no longer here and cannot do anything about it (signs of the times teaching). 

These are the most foundational texts.  The many other texts with hints, analogies, and allusions are even more far-fetched.  When this doctrine finally falls, so will the Dispensational Theology System.  Many Progressive Dispensationalists have left much of the dispensational system and its interpretations, but the pre-tribulation rapture is still maintained.  It has been so drummed in and ingrained, it is hard to let go.  It was hard for me to let go. 

Definition of Love and Rejection of the Bible

One of the key foundations of the conflict between the Biblical World View and the prevailing culture is the clash of definitions.  Love and justice are defined in profoundly different ways.  We are watching the disintegration of the West due to profoundly false definitions.  Biblical definition profoundly influenced the development of western thought and law.   Of course, the definitions of the left often are left vague, but one can reflect and come to a valid conclusion as to what the definitions are.  In the past, Marxists gave a clear definition of justice.  “To each according to their need and from each according to their ability.”  Thus, justice was defined by equality of income and living standards.  In Lenin’s time, this led to the limitation of space where 25 meters per person would be allocated, and large houses would be divided.  And love?  The love of the Marxist was a sentiment that wanted the best for the greatest number in their age to come based on the equality motive.  The end was the Marxist millennium, a world of equality and prosperity for all.  It is an eschatological but atheist vision. 

The secular definition of love is a sentiment that seeks to indulge others in their desires.  As long as the fulfillment of desires does not destroy or hurt others, we should fully support all in what they want for themselves.  Such indulgent love is not based on biblical Law in any way.  The criterion of not hurting others is profoundly short-sighted.  Yes, there may not be immediate violence to others, but the long-term destruction for people, for society, for children, and their future is deep and lasting.  Lifestyles?  LGBTQ including the polyamorous, we support and indulge.   Abortion?  We support and indulge and define the pre-born child as not a human person so we can indulge the desire of the pregnant mother to abort the child.  We provide the marijuana through the long haul it gives a marshmallow brain.  The humanistic definition is profoundly at war with the Bible because the Bible definition coheres with the Law of God.  The humanistic definition especially rails against the Law of God and the doctrine of Hell.  In their definition of love, if there is a God would never assign someone to Hell.  How do they know that?  Their subjective desire.   The leftists will rail against their opponents, march for supposed rights and cancel all others who disagree as haters.  They are committed to every aberrant lifestyle and will fight for it.  Their definition of haters is all who do not support their indulgent love definition.  

In the Bible, God loves every human being and thus provides a way to escape Hell.  He desires that every person be saved and attain their God intended destinies in this life and in the Age to Come, eternal life.  But God’s love and all true love is passionate identification with others that seeks their good guided by God’s Law.  That good is defined by God’s destiny intention for them which is only within the parameters of God’s Law.  God’s love in line with his Law defines his intention for our sexuality, for economic provision, for caring for the needy and so much more. But it is not humanistic indulgence.  The refusal of Love with Law leads to Hell.  That refusal is clear in the rejection of the Gospel that provides our atonement.  “He that has the Son has everlasting life . . .  but he that has not the Son shall not see life. . . the wrath of God remains on him.” (5:24)  Yes, God’s love with Law is compatible with the doctrine of Hell and requires it.  Our culture is in profound rebellion to the God-definition of Love. 

Our culture is in profound rebellion against the biblical definition of justice.  Justice is an order of righteousness where each person can fulfill their God-intended destiny.  For each, God’s intended destiny is good and loving.  However, empirical study as well as studying the Bible shows us that disparity of wealth distribution is necessary for the dynamic of wealth expansion that enables the most destiny fulfillment.   Destiny prevention is injustice.  Food, clothing, provision, friendships, and so much more is God’s intention for all, but not economic equality. 

The anti-biblical quests for justice produce social disintegration.   We have noted the Marxist definition, but there is a neo-Marxist idea of equity that has now permeated the culture, universities, the Democratic party, public schools, the military, and even the Army.  The left speaks of diversity, equity, and inclusion.  These are words that resonate, but the self-defeating program is to see the percentages of each definable group, ethnic group, and racial group, be represented in university faculty and students, in the corporate board room, in the professions, be in line with their percentages in the larger population.  Dumbing down in schools enables more equal academic attainment!  The African American disparity in attainment is the main frustration.  Indeed we should all be frustrated, but racism, though the factor, is not the main factor. 

So now we find that Asian Americans, Indians, Koreans, and Chinese, have to be diminished.  Their percentages of attainment are too great.  They must be admitted to elite colleges at lower percentages.  Jews also have too much attainment.  Whites as well do.  Hispanics?  Yes, they are included but was they naturally will attain greater parity, maybe they will need to be diminished.  Then what do we do about basketball?  I won’t go there.  The Biblical answer to disparities is to recognize that people have varying desires for their lives and do not easily make way for percentages.  The Gospel is the #1 key to success.  Secondly, we restore the family and quality education for blacks and for all.  For this we need choice. 

Everything depends on defining love and justice rightly.  When we do so we see that God’s love, justice, holiness, and Law require exclusion for the rebellious.  We will see the wrong definition of Love as a profound rebellion against God.   

What is my biggest burden?  It is that Christians and Messianic Jews are swayed by the cultural nostrums and definitions and give up the Bible definitions of Love, Justice, and judgment.  See my book Social Justice or more.