Rev. Laning is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Walker, Michigan. Previous article in this series: April 15, 2008, p. 325.
Central to dispensationalism is their distinction between Israel and the church. God is said to promise one thing to Israel, and another thing to the church. And He does this, they say, because He has one goal with Israel, and another goal with the church. Two different goals for two different groups of people who receive two different promises. This idea is at the heart of dispensationalism.
By making this unbiblical distinction, they wrongly divide not only God’s people, but also the Scriptures. The one Word of God we have in Scripture is divided by them into two—with one larger part being primarily for Israel, and the other much smaller part being primarily for the church. When a believer in the church comes across God’s promise that His people will inherit the land forever, the dispensationalist would have him believe that this promise is not for him, but for a different group of people. Thus they divide God’s one Word to His one people.
As we turn now to examine some of the specific teachings of dispensationalism, let us begin by considering the distinctions they make between Israel and the church, and some of the serious implications of this doctrinal error.
Dividing God’s People
The centrality of their distinction between Israel and the church has been openly confessed by dispensationalists. Charles C. Ryrie, who served for many years as professor of systematic theology at Dallas Theological Seminary, the well-known fountainhead of dispensationalism, gave the following summary of dispensationalism:
The essence of dispensationalism, then, is the distinction between Israel and the Church.¹
Dispensationalists make multitudes of erroneous distinctions, which make it quite difficult to bring them out of their error into the light of truth. The chart below shows some of the more significant distinctions between Israel and the church upon which many dispensationalists would agree:
-Abraham is the head; God is the Husband
-Entered by physical birth (in the line of Jacob)
-Inheritance transmitted by human generation
-Promised primarily earthly things
-The nation in this world destined to be above the others
-Will be the subjects of Christ in His earthly kingdom
-God elected them as a nation
-God is the Father of Israel as a nation
-God deals with and saves them as a nation
-Will come into God’s judgment
-Christ is the Head and Bridegroom
-Entered by spiritual birth
-Inheritance received immediately from God
-Promised primarily heavenly things
-Not a nation of this world but strangers in it
-Will reign with Christ in His earthly kingdom
-God elects the members of the church as individuals
-God is the Father of believers as individuals
-God deals with and saved them as individuals
-Will not come into God’s judgment
To the Reformed believer who rightly holds that there is one God, one Christ, and one people of God who are united spiritually in one faith by Christ’s one Spirit, this all seems very strange. Why do they make such a distinction? Why is it so important to them?
Some Dangers Related to This Distinction
To answer these questions we must recognize that this movement as a whole is ultimately rooted in unbelief, and this central distinction between Israel and the church is an attempt of the forces of evil to ensnare people. That is not to say that everyone who holds to dispensationalism is an unbeliever. Undoubtedly a child of God could fall into this error. In fact, it would be quite easy to fall into it, seeing as the dispensationalists repeatedly claim that they are merely teaching what Scripture literally says. Seeing as there are so many who view Scripture to be a collection of ancient myths, one can well understand how some would think it to be safe to side with those who constantly boast of being the only people to hold to what Scripture literally teaches. Be that as it may, it is still the case that the movement as a whole is rooted in unbelief. False theological systems always are.
Furthermore, we must always remember that behind the promotion of false doctrines, including false systems of eschatology, is the unseen work of the devil and his host. Our Father has warned us that we fight not with flesh and blood, but with spiritual, demonic wickedness in high places. These invisible enemies work through false teachers to ensnare people, and do so while claiming to be defending the truth of Scripture.
The following are some of the more obvious dispensational traps—a number of which are clearly related to the distinction they make between Israel and the church.
1. The danger of believing false prophets who function as fortune tellers. If one takes the Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel’s returning to the promised land and makes them refer to natural Israel instead of the church, then the fulfillment of these promises becomes something carnal, which one can first predict and then strive to bring about, as we have seen. Furthermore, the same tactic can be applied to other nations mentioned by the prophets, so that a large portion of the Scriptures can be turned into a record of carnal predictions about world events. For those selling books and movies that make such predictions, this practice becomes a great way to make a fortune. But also, this is a very effective way of getting a large following—a following that will attract the interest of politicians.
2. The danger of hoping for a carnal delusion. In addition to what has been already mentioned, there are a number of other ways in which this movement leads people to hope for something carnal. As with other false eschatological systems, the people are led to believe that the coming Messianic kingdom will be a carnal, earthly kingdom. Even though they say the Israelites are the ones who are going to be in this earthly kingdom, they place the church with Christ as reigning in it. They actually teach that Israelites are going to be in the millennial kingdom as subjects of King Jesus, while the members of the church are not going to be the subjects of the King, but instead are going to be reigning with the King. I do not intend to get into that subject at this point, save to say that this amounts to a carnal hope not only for the natural seed of Abraham, but also for the church.
3. The danger of being unprepared for the dangerous times ahead.Dispensationalism promises many things that are never going to happen. They promise not only a carnal reign, but also a carnal deliverance from the great tribulation. God’s people are warned in Scripture to be ready for the last days, in which the persecution of God’s people will be great and the delusion will be strong. But dispensationalists falsely prophesy that the church will be raptured out of this world before the great tribulation begins. Furthermore, since they teach that the church will be gone from this earth when the antichrist sets himself up as God, when we actually enter the great tribulation period, dispensationalists (if the movement still exists at that time) would deny that we are actually in it. They would look at the final antichrist, for example, and deny that he really is the antichrist. Insisting that the antichrist’s reign of terror will not take place until after the church has been taken from this earth, they would refuse to acknowledge what is actually happening.
4. The danger of supporting and fellowshipping with unbelieving Israelis. If Israel is God’s people, then obviously we should be fellowshipping with them, and supporting them in their cause. Christians are commanded to use their gifts and to lay down their lives for the advantage of God’s people. So, if the unbelieving Israelis are God’s people, then undoubtedly we are to be using our gifts, our money, and all our efforts to support them in any way we can. That this is indeed the folly to which this erroneous distinction between Israel and the church leads is evident from what has been written previously.
Only One People in One Lord
There are passages that speak of the unity of God, the unity of Christ, the unity of Christ’s Spirit, and the unity of Christ’s body. These will be helpful to us as we seek not only to refute dispensationalism, but also to understand the significance of the truth that dispensationalists are denying.
Let us begin by considering the relationship between Christ’s Spirit and Christ’s body. This relationship is brought out in I Corinthians 12:12, 13, which reads:
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
Here we see that all those who partake of Christ’s one Spirit are part of His one body, the church. And now consider the fact that dispensationalists deny that Israel is the body of Christ. They speak of Israel as God’s people, but not as Christ’s body. If Israelites are not members of Christ’s body, then they do not receive Christ’s Spirit, for the passage quoted above says that all those who receive Christ’s Spirit are in Christ’s body.
Furthermore, all those joined to Christ are spiritually one.
But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit,
Two different peoples would not be spiritually one, but spiritually two. Yet all those united to the one Lord Jesus Christ are spiritually one, being all united by Christ’s one Spirit. Thus, if Israel and the church are two separate peoples, then only one of them can be joined unto the Lord. Such is the seriousness of the dispensational error.
Two peoples of God would actually require two different Spirits—one Spirit in the first people and another Spirit in the second people. But there cannot be two Spirits of one Christ. Two Spirits would require two Christs, and two Christs would require two Gods.
But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him,
There can be only one Lord who possesses and rules over all things. And this is rooted in the fact that there is but one God who governs and directs all things through His one Christ. And the one Christ of the one God has one Spirit in His one body. This is all put together in Ephesians 4:4-6:
There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
Dividing God’s Word
To deny the unity of God’s people is to deny the unity of Christ. But since Christ is the Word of God, to deny the unity of Christ is to deny the unity of the Word. And this denial of the unity of God’s Word manifests itself in a denial of the unity of Scripture.
Some dispensationalists have made the point that almost four-fifths of the text of the Bible is primarily for Israel, and slightly more than one-fifth is for the church. Even though they put the word “primarily” in there, and say that passages that are primarily for Israel are still of some significance for the church, the idea is clear that the majority of Scripture is not really for us believers in the church. By making a distinction between Israel and the church, and then claiming that many promises of the Old Testament are for Israel and not the church, the forces of darkness attempt to strip the church of many of the promises God has made to her.
Thus we see that two peoples would mean two hopes and two faiths. The passage from Ephesians 4 quoted above speaks of the one body of Christ having one hope and one faith. But two separate peoples would have different hopes and different faiths. If God promises one thing to Israel and another thing to the church, then Israel believes and hopes for one group of promised blessings, and the church believes and hopes for a different group of promised blessings. Such is the confusion that results from this unbiblical distinction.
¹ Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), p. 47.