The State of Discipleship in the 21st Century Church

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 The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater that its idea of God.  Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.                                                                                      A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

The Exemplar

In Matthew 28 Jesus charged His Church with “making disciples?”  What is Jesus’ paradigm for discipleship?  Matthew 28 is the common passage looked to for missions and for the directive for evangelism.  Yet Jesus said nothing about “evangelizing” the world or making converts.  His carefully chosen words are make disciples.

The 21st Century church like the legalistic rich young ruler (Luke 18: 18-24) thinks it is our decision to “chose” Jesus; coming on our terms, not willing, in truth, to pay the cost.  However, it is Jesus who does the choosing, not us (Col. 3: 12; 1 Pet. 2:9).  It seems to be the case that the paradox of Jesus’ free gift of salvation and the total cost of following Him; the real cost of discipleship is totally misconstrued.

The Problem

The apostles themselves fought a never-ending battle against doctrinal error, heretical teachings, and false teachers.  A study of the apologetic nature of the epistolary literature of the New Testament reveals this.  Century after century “the Church” has continued to drift from the foundation laid by Christ and the apostles.

Forgotten Worship

Man was made to commune with God in obedience to Him.  Adam communed with God face-to-face (Gen. 3: 8a).  The richness of that communion before the Fall can only be imagined.

Since the Fall, our ability to worship God has been obscured.  The farther down the historic road the church travels, the muddier our image of true worship and God becomes.

Why is this so?  Serving Christ should be our primary goal in life.  Nevertheless, according to pollster, George Barna,

When you ask believers to identify the single most important thing they hope to accomplish without suggesting any particular possibilities, only . . . (20 percent) mention anything directly related to spiritual outcomes. . . . Three out of five adult Christians we surveyed told us they want to have a deep commitment to the Christian faith, but they are not involved in any intentional effort to grow spiritually (italics mine).[1]

Stated differently, 80% of believers have no thought of anything spiritual regarding the most important thing they hope to accomplish in life and 60% have no strategy to grow spiritually.

The epigraph by Tozer neatly sums up the challenge of the church in the twentieth century flowing into our millennia as well.  Tozer’s perspicacity of the dilemma of the church in his era is needed more so in our milieu:

We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.  This is true . . . of the company of Christians that comprises the Church.  Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech.  She can never escape the self-disclosure of her witness concerning God (italics mine).[2]

What is the mental image of God today’s church sustains?  What is our idea of God?  What indeed is our witness concerning God?

The no nonsense answers to these questions are eloquently illuminated by Tozer in this passage:

The most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, . . . (emphasis mine).  brkn-cross

The God the world sees through Christianity is weak, bland, and unconvincing and the image portrayed from our pulpits is sterile.  As Tozer posits, what speaks the loudest is what is not said and what is not done.

Christians today follow Christ with their lips; not with their lives.  Therefore, the self-disclosed witness concerning the God proclaimed now is not the God Paul worshiped and died for.  Our god is the god of “The Rich Young Ruler.”  That is to say, he is a false god, nothing but a cold, dead idol!

Postmodern Plague, Modernity Lost

Friedrich Nietzsche and his atheistic philosophy have negatively impacted cultures worldwide.  While many were responsible for stoking the flames of postmodernism, one could assert that Nietzsche poured on the gasoline.  Colson and Vaughn tell of Nietzsche’s parable of the madman seeking God in the marketplace screaming, “I seek God!  I seek God!”  Heckled by the marketplace crowd, he glowered at them crying, “We have killed him [God]—you and I. . . . how have we done this?  How could we swallow up the sea? . . . What will we do as the earth is set loose from its sun?”[3]

Colson goes on to explain that, “Nietzsche’s point was not that God does not exist, but that God has become irrelevant. . . . God is dead not because He does not exist, but because we live, play, procreate, govern, and die as if He doesn’t.”[4]  Modernity took its last gasp as the tsunami of postmodernism and deconstructionism sucked her down, capsizing the church along with the culture.

Culture and Christians alike are now firmly mired in the age of postmodernism or deconstructionism.  A fairly long word, “deconstructionism”; chiefly it is “a form of hermeneutics, of interpreting a text.”[5]  However, deconstructionism has big arms and embraces many philosophical “isms.”  It “embraces conventionalism . . . all meaning is relative . . . [it embraces] perspectivalism . . . all truth is . . . [based on] one’s perspective . . . [it embraces] semantic progressivism . . . a text can always be deconstructed.”[6]  It embraces even more, but these will suffice to affirm these “isms” are why effective apologetics and committed disciples are crucial today.

These are the last days, very likely near the end.  When one looks at the spectrum of spiritual warfare arrayed against the church today it becomes clear the church of Christ must immediately return to its biblical mandate to “make disciples” modeled in Scripture.  Genuine Christians need to stop merely paying lip service to spiritual development and begin to take their discipleship seriously.

The Cost of Discipleship

Christians understand that we “are saved through faith . . . it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2: 8, 9).  It is indeed a free gift; nevertheless, paradoxically it costs us our lives.  But why not—it cost Jesus His life.  God’s grace is never cheap.

Over seventy years ago, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned the following:

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church.  We are fighting to-day [sic] for costly grace. . . . Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. . . . [here] the world finds a cheap covering for sins; no contrition is required, still less any desire to be delivered from sin.  Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.[7]

This singular quote affirms and intensifies Tozer’s assertions.  When the church denies the living Word of God, the world “hears” what we preach.  Christians soak up the same anemic message about God and hence the Word is denied in our lives too.  The world observes our lives and sees no distinction.

Follow Our Leader

It is time to band together as brothers and sisters in Christ and recapture the spirit and truth of bona fide worship by recapturing the “awe and fear of God.  Then using the paradigm given by Christ in The Holy Scriptures we can begin to learn the meaning of discipleship and making disciples:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Matt. 28: 19, 20).

The first phrase and last phrase are a kind of parenthetical promise enfolding His command.  “All authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to Him.  That is a lot of power.  That tells us God is the power behind this promise and behind this segment of the command.

The second segment in the last sentence Christ tells us, “Behold” that is, check it out; “I am with you always.”  That would be forever.  If He is “with us always,” He will definitely be with us to “the end of the age” when He will return to take His Bride, the Church, home.

There are a number of verbs in the Matthew 28 passage, but not all are in the imperative.  That is, not all are commands.

  1. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. He does not mean to “get decisions” or merely evangelize people.  When a person apprehends the free gift, he is instantly justified.  But building disciples is a process running concurrently with his sanctification and with the help of the church and other Christians.
  2. Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Endemic of building disciples is doctrinal knowledge.
  3. Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Each of us is to be baptized as a public sign of our new relationship with God.  This should be indicative of our comprehension that while Christ’s atoning gift was apprehended at no cost, our lives now totally belong to our Messiah who purchased them.

There is only one imperative verb in Matthew 28:19 and that is make disciples.  We often talk about the importance of the last words of someone in death’s throes.  Well this is the last command Christ gave to His Church before His ascension; His last words before leaving this earth.  Why isn’t the Church obeying it?

To put it another way, the battle was won from the foundations of the earth.  Why run the wrong way with the ball?  Why are we so timorous?  True worship means laying down one’s life for Christ, in death, if needs be; but more so in life.  It is our lives the world scrutinizes.  Scripture is the fount of power the Christian draws on.

John 4: 24 declares to us, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.  The word spirit in this passage is pneúma.  Which in this context “means [someone] with a sincere mind, [someone] with a sincere heart, not with mere external rites” (italics mine).  In the oft too comfortable and familiar passage in Romans 12: 1, Paul admonishes us to, “present [our] bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”

“Sacrifice” as used here is employed metaphorically.[8]  The Christian is not a sacrifice offered on an alter, but the life he lives should be sacrificially given in service for God’s glory.  That is, service acceptable to God.  That is worship pleasing to God.  This is not speaking of the “professional” pastor or someone in full time ministry.  Paul is speaking of every Christian in every vocation.  This is not “rocket surgery.”  If the believer’s life is lived with this deportment it is worship!  True believers should live a radically committed life for Christ.  After all, He was radically committed to live for us . . . and to die for us.

Nevertheless, while Christ’s earth-shaking sacrifice on the cross shattered sin’s grip on humanity, His death on the cross was not His ultimate deed.  His preeminent act was eternally annihilating death by the Resurrection thus shredding Satan’s title deed for mankind.  The power and the miracle of the Resurrection are second only to God’s act of Creation.  Understand—God received nothing!  He did it all for us; for me and you—that’s radical!


[1].George Barna, Growing True Disciples (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2001),  34, 35.
[2].A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1961), 2.
[3].  Charles Colson, Ellen Santilli Vaughn, Kingdoms in Conflict (co-published by William Morrow and Zondervan Publishing House, 1987), 181.
[4]. Ibid.    
[5]. Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Apologetics, adapted (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999), 192.
[6]. Ibid., 192,193.
[7].Dietrich Bonhoffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Collier Books, 1937), 45, 46.
[8].Spiros Zodiates, ed., The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament, adapted (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 1992), 746.

The Replacement Theology Bait & Switch

This is a re-post from a pastor friend, Steve Meyer.  His blog is Reaching Higher With Meyer

Since the creation of the world, God’s Word has been distorted and twisted.  As one line in Don Francisco’s song Adam, Where are You proclaims, “But the master of deception now begins with his dissection of the Word”

If you saw the word “Israel” in a sentence, but then someone tells you to replace the word with the word “church” in your mind every time you see it, isn’t that an attempt to change the meaning of the sentence?

Here’s a simple example:

“I am going to Israel on Sunday.”

If I wrote this straightforward sentence and you did the word replacement in your mind like I described above (Israel –> church), do you think the intended meaning would change?  Am I going to travel to the nation of Israel on Sunday, or actually am I just going to church on Sunday?

Wouldn’t confusion be the result of allegorizing literally written words?  Why would I write the statement one way and then subsequently make you change what it means in your mind…actually overriding the written words?  And if I am the writer of the sentence and I didn’t want you to do this replacement, but someone else came along and told you to do it anyway, you think intended meaning would potentially get messed up?

Remember, the Lord is ultimately the writer of the Bible…so it’s written perfectly!

So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.  But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Pet 19-21)

Thus does Replacement theology (also called Supersessionism, Fulfillment or Expansion Theology)…a false teaching running rampant in “Christian” circles today.  Amillennialism, Postmillennialism, Preterism, Dominion Theology, Kingdom Now Theology fall into this camp as well…that is, dispensing of God’s literal future promises to Israel.

Look at the New Covenant for example – who is this covenant made with?  What do you do with this passage…perhaps replace some words?  If you think Israel is not part of God’s future and glorious plan – that is exactly what you wrongly do with it.

Look at the actual text:

Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect a new covenant with the house of Israel [bold mine] and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in My covenant, and I did not care for them, says the Lord.

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days [bold ed.], says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more (Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:8-12).

By the way, for those who think the fulfillment of this happened in the past with Israel…can you tell me exactly when it literally occurred?  It never did!  It is dishonest to even try to say that it did.

Israel only became a nation again in 1948.  It would have had to be fulfilled post that date, May 14, 1948, because it was not previous to the Babylonian destruction of Israel in 586 B.C.  The OT writers make that crystal clear, post-destruction, that they are awaiting the fulfillment of the New Covenant which God made with His people in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (see the book of Daniel chapter 9 for details, written somewhere between 540 and 530 B.C.).

Additionally, the nation NEVER possessed the full allotment of land promised to her by the Lord (Gen 15:18-21), as per the Abrahamic Covenant.  The Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant will be fulfilled simultaneously (see Rev 20).  Look at a map and plainly see that Israel NEVER possessed her Promised Land…

If you attempt to assert the New Covenant is already fulfilled, you are proving the point of this post.  You are spiritualizing words in order to assert a position that the biblical text does not support.
[Furthermore] you are going against the literal words and promise of God.  And that goes directly against another strong and literal promise made to Israel by the Lord in Deuteronomy 7:9, “Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.”

Be very careful how you handle God’s Word. Your eternity is on the line!  Don’t get duped like many do in a bait-and-switch scenario.  The Lord would never play this game with us…NEVER!  Can you imagine if God did that with our Savior; gave us One and then swapped Him out with another?  May it never be…and it will NOT occur!!!

Deuteronomy 4:2
“You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it”

Proverbs 30:6, Rev 22:15
“Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.” “Outside [of the New Heaven and Earth] are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.”

Revelation 22:18-19
“I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.”

So you might ask…how does the Church fit into the New Covenant then? Great question!  Ephesians 1:13-14 has the perfect answer…

Ephesians 1:13-14
In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

Those saved in the Church Age have a down payment.  They are partaking in advance of blessings to come upon the future fulfillment of the New Covenant.  True Christ-follower’s have a guaranteed pledge of our inheritance, with a view towards the complete redemption of God’s own possession.  This is based on the authority of the full canon of Scripture.

The literal fulfillment of the New Covenant will occur at the 2nd Coming of Christ, when His Kingdom will literally be set up on earth (see Rev 20).  “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne” (Matt 25:41).

Now, to the extent of the Holy Spirit ruling and reigning in the Church Age saints’ personal temple…that is a spiritual blessing beyond comprehension.  But to set up God’s Kingdom in a mystical sense and forgo a literal one, this based conceptually on the Spirit’s indwelling, especially when both the Old and New Testaments promise a literal Kingdom on earth.

And the true Christ-follower should be wrestling with this, as this is one of the specific roles of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13-14) with whom he or she is indwelled.  True children of God are actually sealed by the Spirit of God for the day of the Lord’s redemption (Eph 4:30); which is actually when the New Covenant will be fulfilled.

Add in this fact: every single promise about Christ’s 1st coming was literally fulfilled.  So why then would a person spiritualize any of God’s promises about His 2nd Coming and allegorize a literally described future Kingdom to come on earth?  On what basis would you even do it?  And honestly, why would you do such a thing, and by what authority?

Spiritualizing Scripture is very dangerous, with catastrophic results if you are doing so in error.  The last exhortation in God’s Word warns specifically against this.  Please be very, very careful!

And lastly, and maybe most importantly, this is what God directly says about this matter, through very possibly the greatest Christian that ever lived.  By the way, the apostle Paul was also Jewish…

Israel Is Not Cast Away (Rom 11:1-27)
I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He?  May it never be!  For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.  God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.  Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?  “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.”  But what is the divine response to him?  “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.”  In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice.  But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.

What then?  What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written,


“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes to see not and ears to hear not,
Down to this very day.”
And David says,

“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.
“Let their eyes be darkened to see not,
And bend their backs forever.”

I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they?  May it never be!  But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.  Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!  But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them.  For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?  If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.  You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”  Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either.  Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off.  And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.  For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
“This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”


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Biblical “Last Days” Timetable

Bodily Resurrections & Judgments (Grk. anastasis-to make to stand, or rise up; érerseōs-to wake up, reanimation from the dead; exanástasis-to rise up)

The resurrection of Christ is the ultimate salvific doctrine of Christianity (1 Cor. 15:3, 13-19). It is the basis of our salvation and our hope for time and eternity. The resurrections and judgments are necessarily essentially concomitant.

Christ’s resurrection is both a necessary and sufficient condition for our resurrection for seven reasons:[1]

  1. Because of Who He Is
  2. Fulfills the Covenants (Abrahamic & Davidic)
  3. The source of resurrection life
  4. The source of resurrection power
  5. Makes Christ Head over all things to the Church
  6. By justification (only the justified are resurrected with Him)
  7. Christ was the First-fruits

The following table shows the variant views of the timing of the resurrections:

VIEWS CONCERNING LAST THINGS [2]

last-things-chart

The most biblically sound is the Dispensational Premil. view. The rapture is inclusive of the resurrection of the Church age saints in this paradigm. The rapture and the resurrection of the “dead in Christ” are virtually, if not actually, simultaneous (1 Thss. 4:16)[3].

last-days-timelineThe Church, both the dead and the living, have already been taken up with Christ. What is called the first resurrection is the resurrection of the tribulation saints—those that died or were martyred during the tribulation. There will be no other kingdoms are left on earth at this time—only the Millennial Kingdom exists.

Judgments[i]

At the rapture Christ will judge His Church for their sanctified works. This is the Bema Seat judgment, a judgment of rewards, not punishment.

At the Lord’s Second Coming (“The First Resurrection”)[ii] three judgments take place.

  1. The judgment of the Gentiles
    1. Those who made it through the tribulation alive
      1. The righteous (sheep), in their earthly bodies will go into the Millennial Kingdom
      2. The unbelieving will go into eternal punishment.
    2. The judgment of Israel
      1. Those who made it through the tribulation alive
        1. The righteous in their earthly bodies will enter the Millennial Kingdom
        2. The secular/rebellious “will be cut off.”
      2. The judgment of Old Testament and tribulation “saints”
        1. Those who “lived by faith” and died prior to the “new covenant in Christ”
        2. Those saints who died during the tribulation either naturally or were martyred.

At the conclusion of the Christ’s reign He will preside over three post Millennial judgments.

  1. Satan and his demonic minions[iii]
    1. Judged by Christ and Christ’s Church
  2. The judgment of all creation
  3. The passing away of the cursed creation
  4. The Great White Throne Judgment
  5. All the unsaved from all ages

All are thrown into the Lake of Fire



[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer, ST vol.5, v, vi.

[2] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, adapted, 383.

[3]  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

[4] Adapted from Paul Benware’s, Understanding End Times Prophecy (Revised), (Moody Publishers, 2006).

[5] The First Resurrection is exclusive of the rapture/resurrection of the Church. All involved in the “First Resurrection” are believers, but not part of the Church.

[6] Benware calls this a staged judgment. At the mid-point of the tribulation Satan and his demons are barred from the heavenlies and confined to earth. At the start of the Millennium the Devil and his toadies are chained and imprisoned in the Abyss. Lastly after the post Millennial he joins the already exiled Antichrist and the false prophet in eternal banishment to the Lake of Fire.

Studying the Bible for Real Truth

Intro

The Bible is an enigma; a mystery. Written so a child can understand it—yet portions of it are argued by studied scholars!

Everyone comes to the Bible with preconceived ideas and beliefs.  That is why it is so important to learn to interpret the Bible correctly; realizing we cannot comprehend everything.

Why is the Bible important?   

God revealed Himself to us three different ways:

  • General or natural revelation

God is revealed in the world; the cosmos.

“. . . since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what  has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Rom.1:19-20).

  • Special revelation reliabilty-of-the-bible

Special revelation, God’s Word reveals God’s salvific plan.  Thus it is absolutely critical that we rightly divide the Word. Everyone comes to the Bible text with presuppositions; stuff we’ve assumed, heard, or sang.  Nevertheless there is overwhelming manuscript (Mss) evidence to support the biblical inerrancy.  Also the error rate for all these manuscripts is about 2% and these are only copyist errors and do not effect meaning.

The Bible is God’s revelation not God’s riddle

  • Bodily revelation

His Son, Jesus Christ, Emmanuel.

God came to earth as a man.  He came, lived, and died as one of us.

Literal, Historical, Grammatical Method

The basis for sound Bible interpretation is known as the literal, historical, grammatical method of interpretation of scripture.

By literal we mean we believe the bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible, and authoritative word of GOD to be taken at face value unless there is compelling reason to do otherwise (usually indicated by the context of the passage).

Historical means that each passage must be put into its proper historical setting. We must grasp the thoughts, attitudes, customs, and feelings prevalent at the time of writing.[1]

Lastly grammatical means that words are given meanings consistent with their common understanding in language.  What does the text say? What does it mean grammatically?  What category of literature is it (poetry, narrative, historical, etc.)?

A text without a context is a pretext.

The Process

A quick note: In the following segments of the Bible interpretation process there is necessarily a certain amount of overlap between the segments.

  • Observation
  • What is historical context?
    • What was the time period God was addressing?
  • Who was the audience?
    • Were they Hebrews, Romans, Gentiles, pagan, the Church, or leaders of the Church?
  • Who was the author?
  • Why was it written? What are the facts?
    • What problem or issue was the writer addressing?
  • What are the theme and the key message?
    • Was the theme God’s discipline of Israel or songs of praise to God?

The quality of your interpretation always depends on the quality of your observation.

  • Interpretation
  • What is the author really saying? Getting the meaning the author poured into the text, NOT putting our own meaning into it.
  • Ask what the text says, before you ask what it means.
  • Don’t allegorize or spiritualize the text:

When the literal sense makes good sense, seek no other sense, lest you end up with nonsense

  • Sensus unum—there is only one meaning; one correct interpretation to the text.
    • If two people have opposite interpretations to a passage, both could be wrong, but both cannot be rightonly one can be correct!
  • There can be multiple applications to the text.

 Structure

  • We err greatly if we approach the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation and everything in between, with the same set of reading expectations for
  • the distinct books.
  • The Books of Moses (the Pentateuch) read markedly different than the poetic genre of Psalms. The books of Kings are demonstrably different than Paul’s letters to the Church.
  • The Bible is a library of 66 books covering an entire range of literary genres, or categories, including:
    • History
    • Poetry
    • Biography
    • Narrative
    • Inspirational
    • Prophecy
  • Application
  • Are the passages applicable today in our culture?
  • Are they meant for the Church?
    • Note: the Church has not replaced Israel.
  • Are they meant for Israel?

Is the segment studied prescriptive for us or merely descriptive?

Example: God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, his only son (Gen. 22).  Clearly this account just describes the event and it is not meant for any other time or place.  Indeed this is a “type” of what God would do by sending Jesus to die for us.


[1] Marriage between brother and sister and cousin was necessary in the immediate post-creation era to populate the earth.  Eventually it slowly became censured for most cultures.

Peter’s Soggy Stroll

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Recall the narrative in Matthew 14 where the disciples were on the stormy seas and in the fourth watch of the night saw Jesus walking on the sea.

Peter, always wanting to be close to His Lord yelled out to Jesus and Jesus answered:

Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” 29 And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me! (Mt. 14:28-30).”

So Jesus called for Peter to “Come!”  Peter obeyed, got out of the boat and walked over the sea to Jesus.  The passage says Peter “seeing the wind, he became frightened.

Picture this in your own mind.petersinks

You are walking on the water, not through it—on it! The wind is blowing, there is spray coming off the waves hitting you, the waves are undulating beneath your sandaled feet so you have to climb the wave peaks and not lose your balance in the troughs.

Peter wasn’t watching the Lord anymore, he was scrutinizing his environment and didn’t like what he was seeing and feeling.

So perhaps the boat is your church body.  While we are in the boat we have help, encouragement, and support.  The waves of the seas, the world, are already crashing over the bow, but we’re together.

Sometimes for varying reasons we have to go it alone.  We have to step out or stand up on our own.  Now we are more vulnerable . . . at least that is what the world wants us to think.

The winds blow harder and colder, the waves look higher, and we’re only one person.  We don’t have a chance!

But it is the world that has no chance.  Christ declared to us that “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.”[1]

Can they call us names, hit us, or kill us?  Yep, absolutely.  But then we are with Jesus in person.

God is in control of each and every situation.  The game is already won; it was won when Jesus rose from the tomb and ascended to the Father.

Game over—we win.

 

[1] Heb. 13:5

Reflections on Dispensationalism

[John F. Walvoord is Chancellor and Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas.] One of the problems in theology today is that many people who refer to dispensationalism do not adequately understand its roots, and therefore they dismiss it without giving it due consideration.

To understand the long background of dispensationalism, I examined approximately one hundred books on systematic theology to seek to determine how they explain dispensationalism. Most of these theologies in the nineteenth century were postmillennial, and most of the ones in the twentieth century were amillennial. They represented almost every system of theology, including liberal and conservative, Calvinistic and Arminian. Relatively few were premillennial. About half of them, regardless of their theological background, recognized biblical dispensations. One of the most significant was that of Charles Hodge, outstanding Calvinistic theologian of the nineteenth century, who was postmillennial in his eschatology but who wrote that the Scriptures describe four dispensations: Adam to Abraham, Abraham to Moses, Moses to Christ, and the Gospel dispensation.1 And Louis Berkhof, an amillenarian, wrote that the Bible has two dispensations.2

Dispensations Related to Progressive Revelation

In the theological works that do discuss dispensations it is evident that acknowledging the presence of dispensations is not limited to a single theological system. Instead, such acknowledgement is based on progressive revelation, the fact that God continued to reveal Himself to humankind through biblical history.

Dispensationalism is an approach to the Bible that recognizes differing moral responsibilities for people, in keeping with how much they knew about God and His ways. God’s revelation of Himself in different eras required moral responses on the part of humanity. In the Garden of Eden the only requirement for conduct was that Adam and Eve were to keep the Garden and not eat of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil. With the entrance of sin, human conscience came in as the guideline for conduct. It proved to be faulty, however, and people continued to sin. Following conscience there was the Flood and with it the introduction of the concept of government and the command that murderers be executed. This, however, also ended in failure at the Tower of Babel. The introduction of the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 12 and 15 presented a totally new perspective, as God revealed His special plan for Israel in the future. Then those dispensations or stages of progressive revelation were followed by the Mosaic Covenant.

The Mosaic Covenant, the most extensive code of conduct to be found in the Old Testament, was given only to Israel. The nations were not judged by it. None of the nations, for example, were punished for not keeping the Sabbath. Each dispensation superseded the previous one, continuing some of the revelation and conduct requirements of the past and introducing new requirements as well as eliminating some requirements of the previous dispensation. This situation was similar to raising a child who in his early years was subject to a number of limitations but for whom some limitations, as he grew, were lifted while new ones were added.

The New Testament introduces God’s plan and purpose for the church. The numerous requirements of the Mosaic Law do not apply to the present era because the present church age is a different dispensation. For instance, while the Law required executing a man for not keeping the Sabbath, no one would extend that requirement to the present day. In dealing with the legalism present in the Galatian church Paul stated that the Law was like a tutor to bring people to Christ. Just as an adult son no longer needs a tutor, so under grace believers no longer need the Law (Gal. 3:24-25; cf. 4:1-7 on the difference between the rules for children and the rules for adults).

Areas of Confusion in Definition

In the twentieth century many strides forward have been made in interpreting the doctrines of Scripture, especially eschatology and dispensationalism. In this area of theology The Scofield Reference Bible played a major part. Written originally by C. I. Scofield in 1909, he revised it in 1917. After World War I and after Scofield’s death in 1921 The Scofield Reference Bible became an unusually popular study Bible. The Bible conference movement became prominent in this country, and Bible teachers in those conferences often recommended The Scofield Reference Bible. As a result millions of copies were sold, and the views presented in that study Bible became the views of numerous Bible institutes and many evangelicals of the twentieth century.

This situation changed after the 1930s and in the decade that followed. Many seminaries that were formerly orthodox had turned liberal. Then as their graduates were called to churches that were traditionally orthodox, clashes occurred between pastors and their congregations. If a pastor opposed the doctrinal convictions of his congregants, he would have to challenge the doctrine of inspiration, the virgin birth, and similar issues, and this would immediately cause his people to raise questions about his own theology. A number of pastors discovered that most of the people who opposed them were carrying Scofield Reference Bibles, and one of the distinctive factors of the Scofield Bible is that it is dispensational. Therefore those pastors hit on the scheme of attacking dispensationalism as a heresy. Because most people did not have clearly in mind what dispensationalism involved theologically, this tactic helped protect those pastors from questions about their own theology and it put those in the pew on the defensive.

Conservative amillenarians saw an opportunity to further their cause, and they attacked dispensationalism as a departure from the Protestant Reformation. Their motto was “Back to the Reformation” as the cure for apostasy. The Reformation, however, did not deal with the subject of dispensationalism. So these theologians went back to Augustine and his amillennial eschatology.

In the ensuing controversy many liberals attacked dispensationalism. But what they were really attacking was fundamentalism, premillennialism, pretribulationism, and the inerrancy of the Bible. In the process, liberals wrongly identified “dispensationalism” with fundamentalism.

Characteristic of the attacks on dispensationalism is that its opponents say it is heretical.3 Their approach is often characterized by prejudice and ignorance rather than careful study of the Scriptures and of the history of dispensational thought.

One example of this characterization occurred when a woman indicated to me that in a conversation with her pastor she inadvertently mentioned that her nephew was a student at Dallas Seminary. The pastor immediately replied, “That seminary is heretical.” When she asked him why he felt that way, he answered that it was dispensational. Then she asked, “What is wrong with dispensationalism?” He replied, “I don’t know, but it’s bad.”

When amillenarian ministers are asked, “What is wrong with dispensationalism?” many of them cannot give an acceptable answer.

The widespread prejudice and ignorance of the meaning of dispensationalism was illustrated when I was asked by a prominent Christian publication to write an article on dispensational premillennialism. In my manuscript I referred to The Divine Economy, written in 1687, in which the author, Pierre Poiret (1646-1719), discussed seven dispensations.4 The editor omitted this from the manuscript, and when I protested, he said, “That is impossible because John Nelson Darby invented dispensationalism.” It would be difficult to find a statement more ignorant and more prejudicial that that.

Another work on dispensations, written by John Edwards and published in 1699, was titled “A Compleat History or Survey of all the Dispensations and Methods of Religion.”5 Also Isaac Watts (1674-1748) wrote on dispensational distinctives.6

A most important contribution to the discussion of dispensationalism was written by Charles C. Ryrie in 1966. In his book Dispensationalism Today7 he answered many objections to dispensationalism. He presented the subject in such a proper biblical and historical light that for some years afterward the attacks on dispensationalism were muted. After several years, however, those who objected to dispensationalism thought it possible to ignore this work. But in 1995 he issued a revised and expanded work entitled Dispensationalism.8 This work will undoubtedly be unsurpassed by any work on the subject for years to come. Ryrie deals directly with the question of whether dispensationalism is a heresy, and he has a lengthy section on the origin of dispensationalism. He also discusses the hermeneutics of dispensationalism, the doctrine of salvation, the doctrine of the church, eschatology, progressive dispensationalism, covenant theology, and ultradispensationalism.

Ryrie says this about the scriptural basis for dispensationalism: “The various forms of the word dispensation appear in the New Testament twenty times. The verb oikonomeō is used once in Luke 16:2 where it is translated ‘to be a steward.’ The noun oikonomos appears ten times (Luke 12:42; 16:1, 3, 8; Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 4:1, 2; Galatians 4:2; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10) and is usually translated ‘steward’ or ‘manager’ (but ‘treasure’ in Romans 16:23). The noun oikonomia is used nine times (Luke 16:2, 3, 4; 1 Corinthians 9:17; Ephesians 1:10; 3:2, 9; Colossians 1:25; 1 Timothy 1:4). In these instances it is translated ‘stewardship,’ ‘dispensation,’ ‘administration,’ ‘job,’ ‘commission.’ ”9

As Ryrie points out, there are three major dispensations in the Scriptures. “At least three dispensations (as commonly understood in dispensational teaching) are mentioned by Paul. In Ephesians 1:10 he writes of ‘an administration [dispensation, KJV] suitable to the fullness of the times,’ which is a future period here. In Ephesians 3:2, he designates the ‘stewardship [dispensation, KJV] of God’s grace,’ which was the emphasis of the content of his preaching, at that time. In Colossians 1:25-26 it is implied that another dispensation precedes the present one in which the mystery of Christ in the believer is revealed. It is important to notice that … there can be no question that the Bible uses the word dispensation exactly the same way as the dispensationalist does.”10

The fact that the Bible uses the word “dispensation” as a theological term only a few times is no problem. Theologians use the words “atonement” and “Trinity” even though these words do not occur in the New Testament.

Ryrie defines a dispensation as “a stewardship, an administration, oversight, or management of others’ property… . This involves responsibility, accountability, and faithfulness on the part of the steward.”11 Dispensationalism as a system in present-day discussions is most commonly associated with and stems from premillennialism because of the emphasis of premillenarians on normal, literal, grammatical interpretation, which points to a clear distinction between Israel and the church.12

Biblical Dispensations

As noted earlier, only three dispensations are discussed extensively in the Scriptures—the Law, grace (church), and the kingdom (the millennium)—though others are indicated in the Scriptures. For example The Scofield Reference Bible lists seven dispensations in the footnotes and then discusses each one subsequently in later footnotes. The seven are “Innocence (Gen. 1:28); Conscience or Moral Responsibility (Gen. 3:7); Human Government (Gen. 8:15); Promise (Gen. 12:1); Law (Ex. 19:1); Church (Acts 2:1); Kingdom (Rev. 20:4).”13 Wilmington, on the other hand, lists nine dispensations.

1. The dispensation of innocence (from creation of man to the fall of man); 2. The dispensation of conscience (from the fall to the flood); 3. The dispensation of civil government (from the flood to the disbursement of Babel); 4. The dispensation of promise or patriarchal rule (from Babel to Mount Sinai); 5. The dispensation of the Mosaic Law (from Mount Sinai to the upper room); 6. The dispensation of the bride of the Lamb, the Church (from the upper room to the Rapture); 7. The dispensation of the wrath of the Lamb—the tribulation (from the Rapture to the Second Coming); 8. The dispensation of the rule of the Lamb—the Millennium (from the Second Coming to the Great White Throne Judgment); 9. The dispensation of the new creation of the land—the world without end (from the Great White Throne Judgment throughout all eternity).14

Each dispensation includes requirements for human conduct. Some Bible students wrongly seek to apply prophecies of the future millennium to the present age. The progressive character of dispensationalism, however, means that it is wrong to bring prophecies of yet-future events and relate them to an earlier era. Nor is it proper to take elements of human conduct and responsibility from passages about Christ’s reign on earth in the millennium and apply them to today. Also a number of writers refer to passages on the Great Tribulation and its terrible disasters as if they will occur in the present dispensation of the church age. However, in the rapture the church will be taken out of the world before these events happen.

A recent development in dispensational circles is called progressive dispensationalism.15 Advocates of this view hold that Jesus Christ is now partially fulfilling the Davidic Covenant, seated in heaven on David’s throne and ruling over His kingdom as the Messiah and King. I believe, however, that Jesus’ present ministry in heaven involves His intercessory work for believers as their great High Priest, and that His messianic rule is not occurring now but will occur in the millennium. Progressive dispensationalists do affirm, however, their belief that Christ will reign over Israel in His thousand-year rule on the earth.

One of the best summaries of dispensations is found in the doctrinal statement of Dallas Theological Seminary.16 This states that dispensationalism is a form of stewardship or responsibility of humanity to obey God and to honor Him. Each dispensation recorded in the Bible ends in failure, thus proving that no one under any arrangement can achieve perfection or salvation. Even in the millennial kingdom, with its near-perfect circumstances, humanity will still fail.

In every dispensation salvation is by grace through faith, made possible by the death of Christ. On the one hand the dispensations have diversity of requirements for human conduct, but on the other hand salvation is always by God’s grace. Salvation is the unifying factor in Scripture.

It is most unfortunate that many people misunderstand dispensationalism. Even many of those who are dispensationalists tend to avoid using the term “dispensationalism” because it is often misunderstood. Those who claim that they are not dispensationalists are actually rejecting the wrong view of dispensationalism. For everyone is a dispensationalist—to a degree—whether he or she recognizes it or not.


1 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (New York: Scribner’s Son, 1857), 2:373-77.

2 L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 293-301. Also Anthony A. Hoekema, an amillenarian who argues against dispensationalism, speaks of the Old Testament as “the period of shadows and types” and of the New Testament as “the period of fulfillment,” thereby acknowledging at least two eras of human history (The Bible and the Future [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979], 195).

3 For example the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States stated that dispensationalism is “evil and subversive” (A Digest of the Acts and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States 1861-1965 [Atlanta: Office of the General Assembly, 1966], 50; see also 45-49). While this accusation was made several decades ago, that general attitude still prevails among many covenant theologians.

4 Pierre Poiret, The Divine Economy, 7 vols. (1687; reprint, London: R. Bonwicke, 1713). The seven dispensations he taught are Creation to the Deluge, the Deluge to Moses, Moses to the Prophets, the Prophets to Christ, Manhood and Old Age, the Christian Era, and Renovation of All Things.

Source: Reflections on Dispensationalism

This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library CD and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.