our last study we considered the vital relationship of Dispensationalism
to the Lordship controversy. Dispensationalism is the theological
mother of non-Lordship teaching.
In this study I wish
to give a very brief history of dispensationalism in the U.S.A.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive study. It is just a little
parenthesis in our studies on the Lordship controversy.
I am taking this little
diversion because many, if no, most, of those carrying Scofield
Bibles, who sit under Dispensational teachers, know very little
about the system and its history. They do not know how the Dispensational
theological system differs from the Reformational, historical
theology in general, and covenant, Reformed Theology in particular.
This is true not only of those in the pews but also, in many instances,
the preachers themselves have never seriously compared Dispensationalism
with covenant theology as it is most clearly expressed in the
Westminster Confession of Faith and the theology of the Heidelberg
Catechism. Covenant Theology is the archrival of Dispensationalism.
It is my conviction
that many who are presently disposed toward Dispensationalism
would not be victims of the system if they were better acquainted
and informed about the system and its history-its theological
roots and the doctrinal errors it has spawned.
has its roots in the Plymouth Brethren movement which began in
the United Kingdom. Writers do not all agree as to the time and
place of the Brethren's origin. The first "breaking of bread
service" that I can find a record of was in 1827 in Dublin.
The preponderance of the information would show that John Nelson
Darby was in a real sense a key person and early teacher of the
Brethren movement. Other names are very early identified with
the movement; such as A.N. Groves; B.W. Newton; W.H. Dorman; E.
Cronin; and J.G. Bullett. All of these men were early leaders
in places like Dublin, Plymouth and Bristol. It would be generally
agreed that John Nelson Darby was the energizing and guiding spirit
in its beginning. These men had many differences and divisions
among themselves in the early days and ever after. This is not
a critique of the Plymouth Brethren movement in the U.K. I mention
it to show approximately when and where the Dispensational roots
first appeared in history.
There are some Dispensationalists
who do not agree with this assessment of their historical beginning.
Their arguments, however, will not survive historical examination.
Dispensationalism is a development of the Plymouth Brethren movement.
is a theological system which developed from a twisted, theological
interpretation of Scripture that dates from the late nineteenth
century. Before that time it was not know as a theological system.
The first record of Dispensationalism in the USA is 1864-65, when
J.N. Darby twice visited the country. Through these two visits
the 16th and Walnut Avenue Presbyterian Church in St. Louis (then
pastored by Dr. James H. Brooks) became the principal center of
Dispensationalism in America. How could it be!?! This is like
trying to mix oil with water! A Presbyterian Church promoting
Dispensationalism? Dr. Brooks became Darby's most prominent supporter
and has been call the father of Dispensationalism in the U.S.
Dr. Brooks, the most
influential exponent of Dispensationalism, propagated it by his
own Bible studies with young men. His best known student was C.I.
Scofield. Dr. Brooks also published many books and pamphlets (this
should teach us the power of literature) as well as editing a
magazine called The Truth. The chronology follows this order:
Darby to Scofield; Scofield to Chafer; Chafer to Dallas Theological
from Dr. Brooks it may be wise and helpful to call attention to
conditions in the mainline denominations in the U.S. during this
time. In the early twentieth century liberalism was beginning
to rear its ugly head in these denominations. The sad condition
of the churches had a profound effect of the success and inroads
I will not mention
the history in each denomination, but rather, use the Presbyterian
Church which was more influenced by Dispensationalism than any
which was once the great stronghold of Biblical Christianity,
was one of the first places where liberalism was exposed. One
of the first open signs of this liberalism appeared in 1914 when
J. Ross Stevenson became president of the Seminary. Dr. Stevenson
was more interested in ecumenical goals than in the theology of
the Westminster Standards.
In the General Assembly
in 1923 the brewing storm came to a head. After this meeting a
group of spiritual and theological giants followed J. Gresham
Machen to found a new seminary. On September 25, 1929 Westminster
Seminary, with fifty students and a choice faculty, was opened.
There has never been a faculty like it since.
The faculty consisted
of articulate, Reformed theologians and they were fighting for
the fundamentals of the faith; namely, the inspiration of the
Scriptures; the virgin birth of Christ; the bodily resurrection
of Christ; the miracle of Christ; and the substitutionary atonement.
Their fight was against liberalism, and this same battle was being
fought in most, if not all, the mainline denominations. Those
who rejected liberalism and held to the five fundamentals just
mentioned were labeled "Fundamentalists." This fundamentalism
must not be confused with the present day Dispensational fundamentalism.
Let me explain precisely
what I mean. The five fundamentals mentioned are beliefs which
are essential to historic Christianity. In this sense, every true
Christian who holds these truths is a fundamentalist. The present
day Dispensational fundamentalists, though they hold to the five
essential truths, often attack many other important fundamental
of the faith which Reformed people have always cherished and have
shed their blood to maintain.
brought a new kind of fundamentalism into many churches. This
new dispensationalism in its unscriptural, unreformed, and uncalvinistic
teaching came on the religious scene to fill a vacuum-a vacuum
which existed because of liberalism. The churches had drifted
away from the doctrinal roots expressed in the old confessions
and creeds. Many of the best schools and seminaries had been taken
over by liberals and modernists-beginning in the colleges and
seminaries and spreading to the pulpits and the pews. Bible-believing
Christians turned to those churches where the bible was believed
This vacuum which
Liberalism created in the churches provided a prime opportunity
for the establishment and spread of the new Dispensational teaching.
This resulted in the
independent church movement, the independent Bible conference
movement and the Bible school movement. Those who participated
in them were almost all carrying Scofield Bibles and their leaders
were predominantly Dispensational in their views.
The major training
center for evangelical and Bible-believing churches became Dallas
Theological Seminary, founded in 1924. Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer
was the first president. Keep in mind these were days when the
crucial battle between modernism and historic Christianity was
In that desperate
hour sincere, Bible-believing people turned to Dallas Seminary,
the mecca of Dispensationalism, for teaching on God's Word.
Bible schools and colleges were born during this period, and they
all were brought forth unreformed.
The late Robert King
Churchill, a respected Presbyterian minister, wrote a little paperback
entitled, Lest We Forget. It consists of his reflections on his
fifty year history in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Mr. Churchill
confirms what I have said about Dispensationalism getting into
the Presbyterian Church. He tells of his personal experience in
two specific churches: First Presbyterian Church of Tacoma, Washington,
where he was converted, baptized and called to the ministry, and
another located in Seattle, Washington. He tells how, in these
two great churches, the notes in the Scofield Reference Bible
became more and more prominent in the preaching. Churchill said,
"These notes and the interpretation of Scripture upon which
they were based, were contrary to our Presbyterian and Reformed
He tells of Dr. Lewis
Sperry Chafer delivering a series of lectures on the subject of
"Grace" (the same material now appears in Chafer's book
by the same title). Hear Mr. Churchill's own words:
But Chafer's treatment
of the subject of grace never arrives at the right view of the
law of God. According to Dr. Chafer, the law was a condition of
salvation placed upon the people of God in the Old Testament during
a special and limited time period-the Dispensation of Law. This
condition, Chafer contended, no longer has application to the
New Testament believer since we relate to God under a new dispensation,
the Dispensation of Grace. Since, as he put it, "we are no
longer under law, but under grace," Chafer argued that there
is no necessary relationship between law and grace. Here is law
without grace, and grace without law. Always and in every sense,
law and grace are opposed to each other.
This teaching appears
to be scriptural, but in reality it was the ancient error of Antinomianism
(anti-law) which denies that the law has application to the Christian.
Chafer defended this view by means of a radical reinterpretation
of the Scriptures (p. 31).
is also a frontal attack on Covenantal Theology and the doctrine
of the unity of the covenant of grace, which have been held since
the time of the Reformation.
How could Dispensationalism
be welcomed and embraced in strong Presbyterian churches whose
confession teaches Reformed, Calvinistic, Covenant Theology? Though
there is not a simple answer one thing is certain: the churches
which were infected with Dispensationalism were those which had
ceased teaching in any vital way the doctrinal distinctives of
their own confession.
All honest Dispensationalists
would agree that the Dispensational system of theology has a different
view of the grace of God, the law of God, the church of God, the
interpretation of the Word of God and the salvation of God. That
is, its teaching are different from tested, respected historic
creeds and confessions.
has a different view of living the Christian life-of sanctification
and, more specifically, how justification and sanctification are
inseparably joined together in the application of God's salvation.
This is a Southern
Baptist journal, therefore, I must say something about Dispensationalism
in Southern Baptist churches. Historically, the Southern Baptist
churches were not Dispensational in theology. None of our leading
seminaries or colleges ever taught Dispensationalism and to the
present day they do not teach Dispensationalism.
I believe I am safe
in saying that Dr. Wally Amos Criswell has been the most influential
and articulate Southern Baptist Dispensationalists. Dr. Criswell
is one of the great, esteemed and respected leaders of our denomination
and every Southern Baptist is deeply indebted to him as a defender
of the Bible and conservative Christianity. Where and how this
great leader got his Dispensationalism I do not know. I do know
that he did not get it at Baylor in his college days. He did not
get it at Southern in his seminary days, and he did not get it
from his great predecessor, George W. Truett, who pastored the
First Baptist Church in Dallas, for 47 years before Dr. Criswell.
George W. Truett was a postmillennialist.
There are other good
men in the Southern Baptist Convention who have Dispensational
views, but they did not get these views in our schools or seminaries.
They did not get them from our Baptist fathers or from our Baptist
We cannot overlook
the accomplishments of Dispensationalism. It has given rise to
Bible colleges and independent churches all over the land. It
has spawned numerous independent missions, independent preachers
If we apply the pragmatic
test and ask the question, "Does it work?" The answer
If we apply the same
test and ask the same question to:
Jehovah's Witnesses, the answer would be yes.
The Mormons, the answer would be yes, it works.
The Roman Catholic Church-yes, it works.
The Charismatic movement-yes, it works.
They all have many
converts and followers. They build schools, churches and have
missionaries and great accomplishments-but, there is another,
more important question that needs to be asked. Is it true, is
it Biblical? This question will bring a different answer.
before us is not a few minor differences or disagreements between
those who hold basically the same position. It is not just a difference
in eschatology. It is the whole system of theology that touches
every major doctrine of Christianity. What is at stake is the
saving gospel of Jesus Christ and the sinner's assurance that
he is living according to God's plan for history.
many being rescued from the errors of Dispensationalism and I
pray that God will use these studies to awaken many more to ask
the right question.