HOW SHOULD WE VIEW DISPENSATIONALISTS OF BYGONE DAYS?
by Shawn Brasseaux
It is no secret that the average professing Christian has little to no familiarity with dispensational Bible study (hence, the abounding Scriptural confusion and spiritual ignorance!!). He or she, if aware of dispensationalism, has little to no time for it. Despite the opportunity to learn the Scriptures“rightly divided” (2 Timothy 2:15), using the lens of religious tradition is often the preferred approach to God’s Holy Word. Such souls thunder out in exasperation, “Leave me alone! My denominational doctrine was good enough for ____, so it is good enough for me!” It almost seems like even professing dispensationalists adopt this attitude at times—even today. Why?
Decades and centuries ago, our dispensational brethren in Christ did not understand and enjoy the Bible as fully as we do now. It is quite apparent in their literature (commentaries, study Bibles, pamphlets, sermons). They understood the distinctive nature of the Apostle Paul’s ministry and message, and the difference between the nation Israel and the Church the Body of Christ, but they were weak on various and sundry points of doctrine. In certain instances, they blurred the Body of Christ with Israel, and they (even to a small degree) made Paul’s ministry and message an extension of Peter’s office and doctrine. They tried to “harmonize” Peter and Paul in the places where they disagreed. Why?
We cannot know their hearts. Still, whatever their reason, they stopped in Bible understanding. They likely spent their whole lives trying to recover from denominational deception themselves, renewing their minds (yet only going so far). Their earthly journey ended before they came to where we are. Or, maybe they knew more about dispensational Bible study than they indicated, but kept it quiet so as not to attract the ire of denominational brethren (we understand!!). No doubt some refused to take certain theological positions because it would be financially devastating to their ministries or socially disadvantageous in “scholarly” circles (we know that too!!). After all, whether we are saved or lost, our flesh is wretched through and through. There is always that enticement, “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43).
No one human knows everything. Therefore, whatever the field of study, the teacher will be able to take the student only so far in the material. It is indubitably true of Bible teachers and preachers. These men may be our nearest and dearest, but they are nevertheless just men. Never, ever idolize them, assuming they can do no wrong and supposing they will never drift away from sound teaching—especially this author (!). This author, remember, is merely a man as well. He is able to bring you only so far in Bible understanding. The day is coming, whether near or distant, when he will reach his limit too. Whether indifference, apostasy, or physical death, the teacher (sadly) eventually diminishes his rate of contribution of new understanding. We never want to stop growing in the Word, so by God’s grace, we need to endeavor to see to it that physical death (never indifference and never apostasy!!) is the only reason we cease spiritual growth.
Saints, we stand on the shoulders of the “grace men” who have gone on before us in ministry, so for us to disparage them is to harm ourselves. Interesting, one of their sermons or Bible study articles might have taken them 20 or 30 years of firsthand research and experience. These brethren who spent decades reading and studying Scripture give us the fruit of their extensive labor and we can gain it all in a matter of minutes, hours, days, or weeks. Never should we take that lightly! Be sure to praise our Lord Jesus Christ—He is the Person of supreme importance. We should listen to the biblical advice these brethren have laid forth. They endured circumstances that we have yet to face, and the scriptural insight that helped them will likely prove useful to us too. Societal problems that existed back then are still with us today, just on a larger scale because it involves more people. They were people of like passions, and we are more similar than we imagine.
We certainly do not have to agree with them on every little point of doctrine (and we surely do not agree with them 100 percent). It is wise, ever so wise, to “eat the meat and not choke on the bones.” We discern what is good, and we filter out what is bad. Let us appreciate the fact that these dispensational brethren did walk—at least to some extent—in the spiritual light they had (this we are sure). We should not demand they should have walked in the light we have, but let us stress the need that we walk in the light we have! They had blind spots, as do we, so let us be mindful of that as well. Wherever they relied on “scholarship,” “pet” denominational doctrines, and did not apply consistent dispensational Bible study, we learn from these mistakes and correct the problem(s) in our own thinking.
CONFUSION NO MORE!
Our dispensational brethren in Christ enjoying Heaven have been “straightened out” regarding the doctrinal issues where they could have been clearer or stronger. This goes for our deceased denominational brethren in Christ as well. Confusion is no more for them. What they are experiencing now in the Lord’s presence, we have the same Bible to lead us to a godly view of spiritual matters before we depart this life. Will we further our understanding, or continue to carp concerning the lack of theirs? Let us build off their work, and, above all, praise God for their work!! “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
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