Answering the 95 Theses Against Dispensationalism (3) – Theses 7-9

7. Despite the dispensationalists’ general orthodoxy, the historic ecumenical creeds of the Christian Church affirm eschatological events that are contrary to fundamental tenets of premillennialism, such as: (1) only one return of Christ, rather than dispensationalism’s two returns, separating the “rapture” and “second coming” by seven years; (2) a single, general resurrection of all the dead, both saved and lost; and (3) a general judgment of all men rather than two distinct judgments separated by one thousand years.

Response: We have commented above  (see Response to #6) on the the fact that the major Creeds were written after Chiliasm (early premillennialism) preponderated in the early centuries.  (G.N.H. Peters’ great work, The Theocratic Kingdom, 1.494-495 mentions 15 early Chiliast sources).  For example, Victorinus of Pettau’s (d.304) Commentary on Revelation was definately chiliast according to David L. Larsen, The Company of Hope, 70-71.

Dispensational Premillennialism has no problem accommodating the basic statements of the Apostles or Nicene Creeds on eschatology, such as they are. Dispensationalists hold to a “two-phase” Return (as do Partial Preterists, though their first phase occurred 2,000 years ago!).  As for the other matters, it is superfluous to argue about what the creeds can be interpreted to teach.  The belief that Jesus Christ is returning bodily is of the greatest moment.  That is what they teach and that is what all true believers affirm, regardless of their millennial views.  These matters of secondary importance (e.g. pre, post, or a-millennialism), and even tertiary importance (pre, mid, or post-tribulationism) have their places, but the creeds were not formulated to deal with them.

Much as we value the historic creeds, we are not bound by them.  Scripture alone is the real determiner of truth and fidelity.

8. Despite the dispensationalists’ general unconcern regarding the ecumenical Church creeds, we must understand that God gave the Bible to the Church, not to individuals, because “the church of the living God” is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15).

Response: And the Church includes many more than those bound by creeds and confessions, however noteworthy.  If I feel constrained by Scripture to disagree with a creedal formulation, I or any one else may humbly do so.

Robert Reymond (who is quoted with approval by the “Nicene Council” at the head of the 95 Theses), felt he was within his rights as a Bible Christian to challenge certain formulations of the Niceno-Constantinoplean Creed in the first edition of his Systematic Theology.  The fact that he changed his mind (perhaps after reading R. Letham’s review) is not important here.  He felt at liberty enough to disagree with the Creed in places, and he was within his rights biblically to do so.  We shall take the same leave if necessary with regard to any man-made creed, and we shall not be concerned if one part of the Body thinks the creeds are somehow inviolable.

9. Despite the dispensationalists’ proclamation that they have a high view of God’s Word in their “coherent and consistent interpretation” (John Walvoord), in fact they have fragmented the Bible into numerous dispensational parts with two redemptive programs—one for Israel and one for the Church—and have doubled new covenants, returns of Christ, physical resurrections, and final judgments, thereby destroying the unity and coherence of Scripture.

Response: a). Dispensationalists have not “fragmented the Bible into numerous dispensational parts,” they have observed Divine administrations in the Bible itself.  As Chafer and others have said, “Anyone who does not sacrifice an animal at the Temple on the [Jewish] Sabbath is a dispensationalist.”  If you believe in an Old Testament and a New Testament you believe in dispensations.  Charles Ryrie (Dispensationalism, 16) shows how Berkhof allows distinctions within the history of redemption (i.e. the outworking of the so-called Covenant of Grace) in his Systematic Theology.

b). If Scripture reveals two redemptive programs – one for the future Israel and one for the Church then that is what it reveals. It is not our business to ignore it because we wish to force some extra-biblical covenantal structure upon Holy Writ to ensure a contrived “unity.”  Dispensationalists hold to the unity of the Divine Plan, though it may find diverse expressions.  This is not problematical.  Anyone who believes in a Biblical Worldview believes that God has a single comprehensive Plan for His creation, although there are many diverse patterns within the world.

c). The charge that dispensationalists “have doubled new covenants” is a misrepresentation of the system.  It is true that Chafer held to two new covenants, but he has not been followed by the vast majority of dispensationalists.  Therefore, he is not here representative of  Dispensationalism per se.  The authors of the 95 Theses either know this – in which case they are guilty of bearing false witness and should withdraw the charge – or they are ignorant of it – in which case they need to do more study!

d). As to “two… returns of Christ,” dispensationalists hold to the distinction they see between Christ’s return for His Church in the air to take them to heaven (Jn. 14:1-3; 1 Thess. 4:13-18) and with His saints to earth (Rev. 19:11-14; cf. Zech. 14:4; Acts 1:9-11). Many of the signatories to the 95 Theses believe that Christ returned spiritually in 70 A.D.  They await another return in the future.  They profess to fetch their interpretation from Scripture.  One is reminded of the goose and the gander.

e). On “two…physical resurrections;” one can read of those who rose with Jesus in Matt. 27:52-53.  This does not compromise the coherence of Scripture.  But the real problem here is that they spiritualize (allegorize) the first resurrection in Rev. 20:4-6.  Employing a non-literal hermeneutic these resurrected saints are actually not resurrected (resurrections are physical according to Paul in 1 Cor. 15).  Although differing on the historical meaning, according to the Reformed theologian G. C. Berkouwer, “We may not tamper with the real, graphic nature of the vision of Revelation 20, nor may we spiritualize the first resurrection.” – The Return of Christ, 307 (earlier (304) he shows that “soul” in Rev. 20:4 means “soul-body”).

f). Finally, any comparison between the Judgment of the Nations (Matt.25) and the White Throne Judgment – such as it taking place after the dissolution of the planet (Rev. 20:11. cf. 2 Pet. 3:10-12) will show that they are not the same.  The same is true of the Bema Judgment of Christians (2 Cor. 5:10. cf. 1 Cor. 3:11-15).  Of course, if one uses a different set of hermeneutics on one passage as opposed to another it is not to be wondered at why these and other contrasts between the “final” judgments are not perceived.

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