As the previous article in this series indicated, the founding fathers of dispensational premillennialism divided the people of God into two groups: national Israel of the Jews, and the largely Gentile church.
Contemporary, self-styled “moderate” premillennialists exert themselves to leave the impression with covenant theologians that they—the premillennialists—now recognize a certain oneness of the two, different peoples of God. Almost humorously, this concession by leading premillennialists is hailed by some covenant theologians as a tremendous breakthrough in the controversy between premillennialism and covenant theology. These covenant theologians regard this concession on the part of premillennialists as opening the way to ecumenical relations between the churches holding the two theologies concerning Israel and the church. High-powered ecumenical conferences are being held between Presbyterian and dispensational theologians. Reports of the meetings celebrate a meeting of the minds and suggest a genuine oneness of amillennial and premillennial theologies.
In reality, the Presbyterian amillennialists are willingly being duped by their dispensational counterparts, and Presbyterian and Reformed churches are opening themselves up to the false doctrine of premillennialism.
Recognition of a certain oneness of Israel and the church on the part of dispensational premillennialism is akin to a grudging admission of a certain rotation of the earth around the sun in the sphere of science, when one has in the past vehemently contended for the rotation of the sun around the earth, and is still determined to hold on to the scientific error, regardless of powerful pressure to repudiate it.
Pursuing this comparison, and playing off Galileo’s forced confession that the sun rotates around the earth, I note that contemporary premillennialists rise from their ecumenical knees, on which they have acknowledged a certain oneness of Israel and the church, muttering, “Nevertheless, Israel and the church are fundamentally and everlasting two different peoples of God.”1
Premillennialism, whether traditional or contemporary, extreme or “moderate,” is, essentially, the division of the one people of God into two different groups: Israel and the church. This division of the people of God is premillennialism’s fundamental error—and sin. It is this error that spawns premillennialism’s false and foolish eschatology. There must be a millennium in the earthly future so that the nation of Israel may enjoy carnal peace, prosperity, and power, supposedly promised the nation in the Old Testament. At any moment, the church will be raptured off the earth, so that God may establish Israel once again as His kingdom, which implies that the church is not the kingdom.
In recent years, more “moderate” dispensational premillennialists have tried to distance themselves from the crass and plainly unbiblical division of the people of God by their theological and spiritual fathers. These “moderates” try to leave the impression with covenant theologians that they—the premillennialists—do now recognize a certain oneness of the peoples of God.
Robert Saucy has written that the traditional dispensational doctrine “that divided the people of God into an earthly and heavenly people (that is, Israel and the church), with fundamentally no continuity in the plan of God on the historical plane, must be rejected.” 2
Bruce A. Ware asserts that the traditional dispensational view of the “relation of the new covenant to Israel and the church as distinct peoples of God under distinct new covenants is…rendered unacceptable.” He continues: “Israel and the church are in one sense a united people of God (they participate in the same new covenant).”3
The editors of another volume that advances the contemporary, “moderate” premillennial doctrine propose “a revision in the dispensational view. There are important distinctions between Israel and the church… but there are also real theological connections that link them together in ways not expressed previously in dispensational thought.”4
Even Charles C. Ryrie, formerly a premillennial hardliner of the old school, pressing the difference between Israel and the church to the extreme, now concedes some “relationships” between Israel and the church, although every such concession includes a reaffirmation of the difference between the two peoples of God. Typical is what Ryrie has written in his authoritative Dispensationalism Today:
While emphasizing the distinctiveness of the Church, the dispensationalist also recognizes certain relationships which the Church sustains. He does not say that there is no kingdom today, but insists that it is not the fulfillment of Old Testament kingdom promises.5
But the effort of the contemporary dispensationalists to “moderate” the division between and separation of Israel and the church is both deceptive and unsuccessful. The division of God’s people into two different groups is of the essence of dispensational premillennialism. To confess the oneness of the people of the one God in the one Savior Jesus Christ by the one Holy Ghost would be to renounce, abandon, and condemn as heresy dispensationalism itself. This would be to convert to amillennialism. And this, the “moderates” are no more inclined to do than were the traditionalists.
The same Robert Saucy who calls for the rejection of the traditional dispensational doctrine “that divided the people of God into an earthly and heavenly people” reaffirms the division by acknowledging “functional distinctions between Israel and the other nations in the future.” The salvation of the church “is not the completion of the mystery of God’s salvation program for the world.” The completion will be “a future work with Israel,” that is, the millennium of an earthly reign of national Israel.6
The same Bruce Ware who finds unacceptable the traditional dispensational doctrine that Israel and the church are two, distinct peoples and who affirms that “Israel and the church are in one sense a united people of God” continues, in the same sentence, by declaring that “in another sense they remain separate in their identity and so comprise differing peoples of God.” Which sense is the more important to him, Ware indicates by the title of his article: “The New Covenant and the People(s) [plural—DJE] of God.”7
In contradiction of their claim that their “progressive,” “moderate” form of dispensationalism “rejects the notion of two peoples,” Blaising and Bock conclude by acknowledging that “the Israel-church distinction” consists of “two dispensational groupings of humanity.” The “groupings” continue in the future, for in a coming earthly millennium Israel has a “future” as a “nation.” Such is the commitment to the restoration of an earthly kingdom of Israel on the part of the editors of the book that is supposed to put the best foot of contemporary, “moderate” premillennialists forward, that they defend the abomination of a reintroduction of animal sacrifices to God in the millennial kingdom of the Jews.8
So immoderate regarding the fundamental differences between amillennialism and premillennialism are the reputed “moderate” premillennialists that they reaffirm the very worst aspects of dispensationalism and those elements that are most objectionable to the Reformed amillennialist: the renewal of animal sacrifices in the worship of God in a rebuilt material temple in Jerusalem. 9 How conservative evangelicals and Presbyterians can claim ecumenical oneness with men and churches thus maintaining this denial of the cross of Jesus Christ is mind-boggling. And revelatory!
As for Charles Ryrie, his vague reference to some “relationship” between Israel and the church is obliterated by his insistence that “a dispensationalist keeps Israel and the Church distinct.” This distinction is eternal. Ryrie quotes Daniel Fuller with approval: “The basic premise of Dispensationalism is two purposes of God expressed in the formation of two peoples who maintain their distinction throughout eternity.”10
For dispensational premillennialism, whether traditional or “moderate,” Israel and the church are two sharply divided peoples. The former is the kingdom of God, and the latter is not. The church is the body and bride of Jesus Christ, and Israel is not.
In time and in eternity, God has two different and divided peoples.
Even if, as a few of the braver “moderates” dare to affirm, the two peoples enter into a certain (tenuous) union after the millennium, they forever remain distinct: Israel of the Jews as the kingdom of God in the new world, over there; the church composed mostly of Gentiles, here.
This rending asunder of the people of God in Jesus Christ, which is fundamental to premillennialism in all its shades and forms and which explains premillennialism’s foolish eschatology, is false doctrine.
This, I will demonstrate in the next installment in this series on the millennium.
(to be continued)
1 When the scientist Galileo rose from his knees, upon which he had been forced by the Roman Catholic Church to acknowledge that the sun rotated around the earth, contrary to his scientific discovery that the earth rotates around the sun, he is said to have asserted, quietly, “Nevertheless, the earth does rotate around the sun.”
2 Robert Saucy, in Prophecy and the Church, quoted in John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991), 208.
3 Bruce A. Ware, “The New Covenant and the People(s) of God,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, ed. Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 92, 96.
4 Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, “Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: Assessment and Dialogue,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, 377.
5 Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965), 154. The implication of this seemingly concessive statement must not be missed. Contrary to the original premillennial theology, there is a kingdom of God in the world today, namely, the church. But it is not the kingdom prophesied in the Old Testament. That kingdom, of course, is national Israel in the coming millennium. There are, therefore, for premillennialism two distinct, different kingdoms of God. In every important aspect of the gospel, premillennialism wrests asunder that which God has unified. Dispensational premillennialism is a divisive, schismatic, false religion.
6 Robert L. Saucy, “The Church as the Mystery of God,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, 155.
7 Ware, “The New Covenant,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, 96.
8 Blaising and Bock, “Dispensationalism,” in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, 377-394.
9 Blaising and Bock, Dispensationalism, 390, 391. The writers deny that the restoration of animal sacrifices in the millennium would be a return to “weak and beggarly elements,” as the apostle charges in Galatians 4:9. They deny that the “possibility of [the restoration of animal sacrifices is] automatically excluded.” They want to allow for the restoration of animal sacrifices in an earthly temple in Jerusalem as part of the “restoration of all things” promised in Acts 3:21.
10 Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, 44, 45.