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From the Editor: What is 'dispensational teaching'?

P Coulson

From the highly organised systems of classification used by the scientific community, to the desire of the developing child to line things up by colour or size, the human compulsion to set things in order and 'label' them is innate.

A short time ago, in another country, I was asked if I was a 'Dispensationalist'. The enquirer was a believer and a mature person. My response was to ask him the reason for his question. In short, he did not like 'Dispensationalists' because "their school of theology" contradicted his own 'Reformed' views. I sought to explain that, while I do hold to a dispensational interpretation of Scripture, I am not a Dispensationalist. Equally, by grace I am a brother in Christ and, it so happens, I was born and raised in Plymouth, England. However, I do not recognise the title 'Plymouth Brethren'. I agree with some, and definitely not all, of Calvin's teaching, but I am not a 'Calvinist'. I agree with Luther as to the truth of justification by faith, but a 'Lutheran' I most certainly am not. The words of Paul to the Corinthians could not be more clear, "For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?" (1 Cor 3.4).

'Dispensationalism' has become, in some quarters, a distinct 'school of theology' with its own colleges, public champions and non-Biblical jargon. Some of its exponents claim that John Nelson Darby was "the father of Dispensationalism", a title from which he would surely recoil if he were still here. Before Darby was born, that godly hymn writer Isaac Watts (1674-1748) taught a dispensational view of Scripture and, later, men like Darby were used of God to develop that teaching and thus dispel the darkness that had shrouded divine truth for centuries. A dispensational view of the Bible was not invented by Darby and others; it was rediscovered and taught with conviction as the Holy Spirit enabled them.

The foundation of dispensational truth is a literal approach to Scripture. The Bible means what it says. That literal approach to the Word of God is itself underpinned by the conviction that the Bible is inerrant and complete because it is inspired by the Holy Spirit. A literal reading of Scripture will never cause a believer to think that Israel is the Church, or that God has no further plans for His earthly people. One need not be a dedicated student of Scripture to understand that the Lord Jesus, now in heaven, is destined to reign upon the earth in the glory of a 1000-year manifestation of God's Kingdom. A literal interpretation of the Bible teaches that wonderful fact plainly enough. As soon as a person decides the Bible is not to be read literally, but that it is to be allegorised and quoted out of context, he can make it mean anything he wants!

The Christian who approaches the Bible prayerfully, reverently and humbly, believing it to be the inerrant Word of God, will have the Holy Spirit as their Teacher and Interpreter of divine things. That Christian does not need to subscribe to this or that 'school of theology', nor to any 'ism', in order to learn of God and His ways. Reading the Bible literally, contextually and consistently will show that God has, within His overall purpose in redemption, a particular programme for Israel, another for the Gentile nations and another for the Church, the body of Christ. The revelation of that purpose was progressive for the 4000 years that culminated in the first advent of the Lord Jesus. "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son …" (Heb 1.1-2). God Himself never changes, but He does alter His dealings with men in accordance with the outworking of His purpose. This is the basis of what is called 'dispensational teaching'.

To be continued…


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