Dispensationalism and the American Way

Some of you might be old enough to recall an interview that Tucker Carlson conducted with Vladimir Putin. In this interview, Tucker asked a few questions regarding the war against Ukraine and Putin spent quite a bit of time talking about historical events going back hundreds of years. The average American took this as a stalling tactic where a world leader was uncomfortable with how the discussion was going so he sought to filibuster until he could escape the harsh reality of the situation.

Let’s remember we’re talking about the former head of the Soviet KGB here. A brutal man who can bend the will of a nation through tactics most people wouldn’t consider, allowing a visit in his own offices, knowing all the while that the reporter across from him could disappear and the weak leaders of that man’s nation would do nothing to rescue him. In fact, they would likely breathe a sigh of relief! No, this historical lesson was more than a stalling tactic. It was a way of expressing the different way that Americans think when compared to our European forebears.

As I write this, I am 50 years old. I did attend history classes for the world as well as my nation, but the pertinent facts of history have always been those events that happened during the lifetimes of people I have known. So any event prior to the Great Depression of the 1930’s has been reduced in value. Not by the history teacher, but by the societal concepts. The only reason anything matters prior to that is for political gain. At least in the minds of way too many Americans, and I call them Americans in a very loose sense.

Christopher Columbus has become a polarizing figure. The Mayflower Compact doesn’t ever come up in legal discussion. The religious nature and the resulting mission of the first generations of Americans is disregarded. Slavery comes up, but only because it is useful to the Marxists who hate any unity among the people. So much of our history is being erased by those who can’t bear to have any concepts taught that might add context to complex people who are memorialized in statues, but whose legacies are reduced to two dimensions by the weak minded.

But the sexual revolution of the 1960’s must reign supreme in our culture! We are a people of selective memory. We disregard anything that might interfere with the progress we prefer while we champion whatever version of history that would empower those who would be useful toward the ends of our lusts. History, then, becomes a politicized set of dates and statistics, all malleable at the whim of others.

Vladimir Putin is a thug. He is a despot. He is an evil man. But he does have a sense of history that predates anything or anyone who he knows. And that is because his ancestors remained in Europe for millennia and because he was taught that historical events hundreds of years before still matter.

When the immigrants began coming to the new world, many of them sought to get a fresh start. They brought their traditions with them, but assimilation quickly became a matter of life and death. I think to the Yellowstone 1883 episode when it is discovered that the immigrants couldn’t bear to leave behind their pianos on their way to Oregon and ended up having to leave them on one side of a river otherwise they would all die. Likewise, many immigrants left their old ways in Europe to the extent where their children were thoroughly American and their grandchildren had no meaningful concept of the old country.

The American experience was one of adaptation, which often required that they abandon the historical ways along with the connections of before. The melting pot would be influenced by each wave of immigrant, but the overriding flavor was America, not the various ports of origin. There are some who seek to carve out little samples of the land they fled in our inner cities and these tend to be places where even the police are afraid to enter. So do not think that I am wholly against the fresh start that a new land can offer. I am only against those who flee one place in order to import the dangers into a new place.

Here’s a pivot. Did anyone order a pivot?

During the 19th century there was something in the air, often called the Second Great Awakening. The First Great Awakening is almost universally accepted as an act of God, but the Second has encountered mixed responses. When the Spirit moves among a people, they are changed. They have a new relationship with sin, a new relationship with the only solution to their sin, a new relationship with the ekklesia, which means the gathering. The first definition of the church. I question the legitimacy of the Second Great Awakening because the movement did not lead people en mass into a more ordered set of relationships.

There was no concept of Mormonism prior to this time. The Jehovah Witnesses came out of this period. The Seventh-day Adventist Church? Came from this period as well. Who else? Many others, and among them came the concept of Dispensationalism. To be fair, Dispensationalism was first found in Europe, but it didn’t take hold until it got to the New World, where the Plymouth Brethren group took it to all who would listen, both people whose grandparents had abandoned the ways of the old country and also those who were in the process of doing the same. They saw no need for historical documents and traditions in this religion that seemed to be custom fit for a people who are starting over.

And there it is. To show my cards, I come from a very Dispensational family. My grandfather was an Anabaptist pastor with a strong Dispensational bent. My uncle went to Dallas Theological Seminary. My dad studied to be a Dispensational pastor and served in the mission field, spreading the dispensations to the people of Belize. Returning to the States, I became more familiar with Dispensational charts than the Bible, and I don’t say that in malice. It just sounds that way.

No Creed but Christ

My interaction with people outside the Dispensational concepts was quite sparse growing up. They were all viewed with suspicion. I was taught that our “essentially Baptist” way of understanding the Bible was the right approach, but that approach was never reinforced with proper teaching. The “why” was never addressed, let alone contrasted with other understandings. At least not fairly. We were the ones who could open the Bible to any page, read what it said, and take it at face value.

I did ask about others as I learned of their existence. Catholics were people who believed in works salvation and Lutherans were people who didn’t understand Dispensational principals, making them hybrids of Catholics and Christians. Methodists were weird because they wore robes. Ours was the pure religion and all others were misguided, but many of them were close enough that we didn’t assume their eternal damnation. That is to say, we looked at those others as people who would go to Heaven (for that was the biggest goal I was taught) despite their poor theology, not because of it.

yoda with the words you must unlearn what you have learned

Dispensational teaching in the 70’s and 80’s wasn’t quite cultish, but looking back it bears some resemblance. And when you factor in the other religious manifestations that appeared along with it, I can’t imagine suggesting that any Christian get too firmly grounded into any Dispensational church without an understanding of alternative understandings. To be clear, I am not saying that dispy teaching is wrong to the point of heresy. I have recently visited a dispy church and worshiped along the saints there. It is not heresy, but it does promote a sense of apathy, blunting the work of Christ in the kingdom expansion in this world in favor of personal salvation.

When Jesus walked this earth He proclaimed that the Kingdom was at hand and that this kingdom was not of (from) this world. This is not a traditional earthly kingdom with armies, taxes and bureaucrats. This is a kingdom of redeemed men and women, no longer living in conformity with the culture around them, but living in that culture as transformed citizens. To be in the invisible kingdom is to be saved from your sins. But individual salvation is not the endpoint of the plea to be saved.

In Dispensational thought, the kingdom is not at hand. It has not arrived. It is awaiting a time when the current dispensation fails, as has the dispensations before it. Once the church age is seen to be a complete failure, they believe Jesus will return in a secret rapture, bringing those who remained faithful to Himself for seven years of tribulation. The kingdom comes after those seven years. Until then, Christ isn’t truly reigning from the throne of David.

Mark 12:35-37
 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

Dispensational concepts are what I was raised with. I see them throughout our culture, even still. Regarding the nation of Israel as a blessed place filled with people so blessed that they don’t really even need Jesus! In fact, our Christian scholars look to Talmudic Jews for their insight in biblical matters, even though they reject Jesus and lack the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Our nation diminishes and condemns creeds wherever we can find them, including phrases like “In God We Trust” or any display of the Ten Commandments on the secular temples of our day, just like I was taught to reject all creeds as extra-biblical. Why anyone listens to a sermon rather than just a reading of scripture is a mystery to me. If a pastor uses his own words to summarize a text, how is that not a creed? And what about this woodenly literal approach to scripture that Dispensationalists are so proud of? Don’t they realize that woodenly literal reading is one of the main things Jesus spoke out against?

The problem with America is that the church has lost her prophetic voice. I would blame much of this on the Dispensationalist concepts if this hadn’t been going on in parts of the world that are far less dispensational. America is a nation of people who reject historical understandings from elsewhere. She was largely isolationist until World War I. The people, by and large, had left behind the Old World in order to make a new start. They didn’t have the same regard for history that dated prior to our Manifest Destiny with mentions of the original colonies that had broken away from a monarchy. We were ripe for a teaching that would favor individual salvation over kingdom building. The church lost much of her salt through this. Not all, but there is a lot of work to be done.

Revelation 3:1-3
 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
Spread the love

Published by CoffeeSwirls

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.