Previous article in this series: February 1, 2019, p. 211.
“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.” Hebrews 10:16
“Why will God…have the ten commandments so strictly preached? …That we may become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us in a life to come.” Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 115
In my treatment of premillennialism as part of my defense of Reformed amillennialism in eschatology, I have deliberately restricted myself as much as possible to considering the premillennial error concerning the last things—eschatology.
The entire series, now concluding, beginning with the apology on behalf of Reformed amillennialism, concerns the biblical doctrine of the millennium as an aspect of the truth of the last things, culminating in the return of the Lord Jesus.
But there is an aspect of the dispensational premillennial heresy which, though it does not bear directly on premillennialism’s doctrine of the last things, I cannot refrain from considering critically. Therefore, this “postscript.”
I refer to premillennialism’s false doctrine concerning the law of God consisting of the Ten Commandments as found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.
It is fundamental premillennial doctrine that the law of the Ten Commandments does not apply to the New Testament church. No premillennial church reads the Decalogue every Lord’s Day, as is the practice of the Protestant Reformed Churches in keeping with the Reformed tradition. Dispensational premillennialism is opposed to the law of the Ten Commandments regarding its application to the church and its members.
Premillennialism, therefore, is antinomian. As the word itself, which means “against the law,” indicates, premillennialism rejects the law of God. Premillennialism is inherently and essentially lawless. It necessarily produces lawlessness of life on the part of its adherents.
This characteristic of premillennialism makes this “postscript” of interest and importance to the community of conservative Reformed churches.
There is yet another reason why this “postscript” to a critique of premillennialism is of special interest to members of the Protestant Reformed Churches and of other Reformed churches in North America. In the latter part of the first decade and the early part of the second decade of the nineteen hundreds, the Christian Reformed Church was troubled by a controversy over premillennialism. A prominent Christian Reformed preacher, the Rev. Harry Bultema, was advocating dispensational premillennialism by his preaching and writing.
Bultema’s main opponent was the young Christian Reformed minister, Herman Hoeksema.
The Christian Reformed Synod of 1918 condemned Bultema’s premillennial teaching. Bultema was separated from the Christian Reformed Church. He formed the Berean (premillennial) church.
A prominent feature in the controversy was the issue of Bultema’s rejection of the law, that is, his antinomism. Bultema himself made this aspect of his dispensational premillennialism prominent in the controversy.
The antinomism of premillennialism
Antinomism is the heresy of rejecting the law of God. More specifically, it is the rejection of the law of God consisting of the Ten Commandments as the authoritative rule, or guide, of the holy life of the New Testament children of God.
Antinomians of all stripes and shades contend that their opposition to the law is due to their defense of salvation by grace alone. The gospel of grace, they argue, does away with the law. Against those who defend the role of the law as the divine rule of the life of New Testament Christians, the antinomians charge “legalism,” “works-righteousness,” and, in general, all the accusations of the New Testament against the heresy of seeking to be justified by the keeping of the law.
To state the doctrinal position of antinomism as succinctly as possible, antinomism contends that grace does away with the law in the life of the New Testament believer.
Dispensational premillennialism shares these characteristic antinomian beliefs. But its basis for these beliefs is unique. Premillennialism rejects the law because of premillennialism’s doctrine of dispensations. History, especially the history of divine revelation, is divided into distinct and different dispensations, or ages. The law belonged to the dispensation, or age, of Old Testament Israel. The New Testament church lives in a different age—the age of grace.
The law, therefore, was for Israel, for the Old Testament nation of Jews. The law is not for the New Testament church, which is “under grace.” As though grace completely rejects the law in every respect! As though in the new covenant, God does not write His law on the heart of the elect believers and their children who make up the church (Jer. 31:33; Heb. 10:16)!
Regardless of its distinctive approach to the heresy, premillennialism is guilty of the gross heresy of antinomism. And the practical consequences necessarily afflict the lives of those who avow the false doctrine: refusal to have the Ten Commandments rule their life; open, impenitent disobedience to one or more of the commandments; and, finally, the godless attitude that promotes the licentiousness of the antinomism condemned by Paul in Romans 6:1: “[Let us] continue in sin, that grace may abound,” and of the antinomism of the Jezebel in Thyatira, who taught that the way to discover the heights of grace is by actively and deliberately knowing “the depths of Satan” (Rev. 2:24).
Premillennial advocacy of antinomism
The rejection of the law as the rule of life of the New Testament believer, as the necessary implication of premillennialism, was emphasized by premillennialism’s founding fathers. C. I. Scofield asserted that “the most obvious and striking division of the Word of Truth is that between Law and Grace. Indeed, these contrasting principles characterize the two most important dispensations—the Jewish and Christian.”1 In the strongest language, Scofield applied this division by damning the use of the law as “the rule of the Christian life”: “It was reserved to modern nomolators to wrench these holy and just but deathful tables [the Ten Commandments—DJE] from underneath the mercy-seat and the atoning blood, and erect them in Christian churches as the rule of Christian life.”2
“Nomolators” are worshippers of the law, idolaters. Use of the law as the guide of the Christian life is a form of idolatry, according to the antinomians. Dispensationalism’s antinomism is ferocious. It is hatred of the law, as of an idol.
Lewis Sperry Chafer was by all accounts extremely important in the forming of the theology of dispensational premillennialism. Chafer taught that “grace delivers the child of God ‘from every aspect of the law—as rule of life….’”3 So far did Chafer go in asserting the antinomism of his theology that he dared to emasculate the admonitions, that is, commandments, of the New Testament: “Grace teachings are not laws; they are suggestions. They are not demands; they are beseechings.”4
According to this antinomian father of dispensational premillennialism, God merely “suggests” to the New Testament Christian that husbands love their wives; that wives be in subjection to their husbands; that children obey their parents; and that parents not provoke their children to wrath (Eph. 5, 6). For God to “command” this behavior of New Testament Christians would be for Him to run afoul of dispensationalism’s restriction of law (as the rule of life) to the Old Testament and millennial Jews.
A “suggesting” god is a different god from the commanding God of the Reformed faith.
The god of L. S. Chafer is a different god from the one, true, sovereign God confessed by the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Days 34-44. The God confessed by the Reformed Catechism” is not a “suggesting” God. To suggest that He is would be to insult, if not deny, Him. The God of the Reformed Catechism and faith is the God who “enjoins,” “requires,” “forbids,” and “commands.” He enjoins, requires, forbids, and commands the church and the New Testament Christian.
The Reformed church does not present to the members of the congregation a god’s “suggestions” how they might live if they choose to do so. But the Reformed church “preaches the ten commandments strictly,” that is, according to the original German of Q. 115 of the Heidelberg Catechism, “sharply.”
And the Reformed Christian is not the man or woman who heeds or disregards a god’s “suggestions” as he or she pleases. But he is the man or woman who obeys God’s law.
The historic, creedal Reformed faith takes issue with antinomism, fundamentally, by confessing that the law of the Ten Commandments is the authoritative guide of the holy life of thankfulness of the believing child of God: “Our Reformers, especially Calvin, have perfectly correctly taught that, although Christ has fulfilled the law, believers have need of that law, first of all as mirror of sin, in order from it to receive knowledge of sin and misery, but also as guide of the life of thankfulness.”5
(to be continued)
1 C. I. Scofield, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (New York/Chicago: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), 50.
2 Scofield, 61.
3 The quotation is from dispensationalist John MacArthur, The Gospel according to the Apostles: The Role of Works in the Life of Faith (Nashville, Tennessee: Word, 1993, 2000), 227. The quotation within the quotation is from Chafer’s Systematic Theology.
4 Chafer, quoted in MacArthur, Gospel according to the Apostles, 227. The emphasis is Chafer’s, or MacArthur’s.
5 “Antinomianisme” [“Antinomianism], in Christelijke Encyclopaedie voor het Nederlandsche Volk [Christian Encyclopedia for the Dutch People], ed. F. W. Grosheide, J. H. Landwehr, C. Lindeboom, and J. C. Rullmann, 6 vols. (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1925), 1.130, translation mine (the work has not been translated; emphasis added).