Dispensationalism and the Two lsraels

by Rev. R. C. Harbach

Scripture Interprets Scripture
or False Literalism

The Holy Scripture provides for a very clear and plain interpretation of itself. Difficulty, however, will arise if we do not observe that there are words and terms employed in Scripture which have variant shades of meaning. It may not therefore be insisted that each word in every instance of its occurrence has the same single meaning. Such a method of interpretation could easily produce false doctrine. Error would obtain, for example, if we invariably referred the word “flesh” to the physical body. Objectionable it would be also to translate the N.T. word “baptize” in every one of its instances in such a way as to express any mode of baptism. More than one false doctrine, but’especially a false view of the atonement, will be the result of translating the word “world” in every place it is found as meaning the whole human race of all men without exception. One must certainly see that the word “repentance” does not always mean a true saving repentance (cp. Mt. 27:3). Modern mass “evangelism” is worse than superficial in not marking the difference between the natural “believing” of John 12:42, 43 and the spiritual believing of Rom. 10:l0. It is therefore of the greatest importance to maintain the biblical distinction between the carnal “seed” and the spiritual seed, between the natural or national “Israel” and the true Israel.

If a man insists that he interprets the Bible not only strictly “literally,” but always with the same uniform meaning throughout for each oft-appearing word, he cannot possibly understand the seven terms noted above. The entire Bible will never make sense to him, nor anything else he may read. Atheists, almost to a man self-styled “intellectuals,” have come up with some of the most puerile allegations that the Bible contradicts itself. Believing that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, inerrant, verbally inspired, accurate and absolutely trustworthy, we unhesitatingly maintain that there are no contradictions in the Bible, real or apparent. Nor will the following references give any trouble to anyone believing the self-consistency of Scripture. We do read that “Saul inquired of the Lord” (I Sam. 28:6) and we also read that Saul died because “he inquired not of the Lord” (I Chron. 10: 13, 14). But both statements are true! It is said that “the Lord is far from the wicked” (Prov. 15:29) and also that the Lord “is not far from every one of us.” (Acts 17:27) But if this causes the reader any difficulty, he, as to knowledge of Scripture, must be a novice. In Rom. lo:13 the apostle wrote, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” while in Prov. 1:28 it is stated, “Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me.” “The pure in heart shall see God.” (Mt. 5:8) How does this compare with “whom no man hath seen nor can see”? (I Tim. 6:16) We point out these differences in order to emphasize the need for a little careful distinguishing thought in interpreting Scripture.

True Israel, Not after the
Flesh but after the Spirit!

Now to further illustrate the biblical distinction of the scriptural term “Israel,” we have the injunction, “Behold Israel after the flesh.” (I Cor. 10:18) Is it not rather obvious, even without your checking on the context of this passage, that to speak of “Israel after the flesh” is to distinguish them from Israel after the Spirit, that is, the spiritual and regenerated Israel? The “Israel after the flesh” were “Jews by nature,” (Gal. 2:15) the natural Israel, the natural seed of Abraham. They are in contrast to the spiritual Israel, the Israel of God.. (Gal. 6:16) The latter are believers, those born from above, whether from Jews or Gentiles, and in this dispensation at least are Christians! Therefore “Israel” in Scripture will be identified by the context, so that it must be observed how Scripture qualifies the term. Then Scripture distinguishes the spiritual Israel and a mere natural Israel, not a “heavenly” as over against a mere “earthly” people.

The term Israel then is not limited exclusively to natural Jews, neither the phrase “the children of Abraham.” Who are the latter? “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham!” (Gal. 3:7) The children of a person resemble that person, so that “the children of God” are like God, the “children of the wicked one” are in the image of the devil in character and conduct, while “the children of Abraham” resemble him and imitate his faith. Included under the designation “the children of Abraham” are therefore all true Christians. Mere Jews never were “Abraham’s children,” as Jesus firmly maintained. (Jn. 8:39) For true, spiritual children of Abraham “walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham.” (Rom. 4:12) But the Jews Jesus reprimanded neither did the works of Abraham nor walked in the steps of his faith. According to Jesus, they only ipso facto proved themselves not the children of Abraham. But whether Jew or Gentile, anyone belonging to Christ is “Abraham’s seed.” (Gal. 3:29) The error that the Galatian church bad to resist was that of the Judaizers, false teachers, who taught that only Jews or proselyted, circumcized Gentiles were “children of Abraham.” These alone could expect to partake of his blessing. But “they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham,” (3:9) none else!

The superficial and false distinction that the Jews were an “earthly” people, while the church is a “heavenly” people is supposed to be based on texts like Gen. 13:16 and 15:5. Because it is said that Abraham’s seed should be multiplied “as the dust of the earth,” therefore the earthly seed of natural Jews is meant, whereas where it is said his seed should be in number as the stars of heaven, the church is meant. “Dust” denotes an earthly people, but “stars” denotes a heavenly. The descriptions “dust” and “stars” are said to connote quite a difference. What then would be the difference between “dust” and “sand”? For in I Kings 4:20, “Judah and Israel were many as the sand which is by the sea in multitude.” If the “stars” indicate a heavenly seed, especially denoting the church in contradistinction to natural Jews, then why do the “stars” refer to earthly Israel in Deut. 1:l0; 10:22; 28:62? Why doesn’t the writer of I Chronicles maintain this “distinction”? For he says that “the Lord had said He would increase Israel (the nation of Israel) like to the stars of the heavens,” (27:23) which is here said to have been accomplished in David’s reign. From this it may be seen that the term “stars” does not necessarily indicate a keavenly seed. When we then read, “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore,” (Gen. 22:17) two different seeds, a spiritual and a natural, are not in view. For “stars” denote Jews as much as “dust” or “sand”.

“For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” (Rom. 9:6) What Paul is plainly saying here is that they are not all spiritual Israel who are of natural Israel. The apostle at this point is discussing God’s sovereign rejection of the Jews and His calling of the Gentiles-this in keeping with His predetermination to cast off the- Jewish nation as such (so long before foretold, Isa. 65:15; and again by Christ, Mt. 21:43) and to preserve a spiritual remnant, particularly from out of the Gentiles. This was a very sore spot with the Jews, since they mistakenly supposed that God’s promises of the old covenant were made to all the natural seed of Israel, exclusively to those circumcized and made a visible part of the nation. Their attitude was, “We have Abraham to our father,” (Mt. 3:9) although by John they had been strictly warned not to assume that. Paul refutes this error. Dispensationalism reveals how Judaistic it is in putting it back into circulation.

Children of Promise and
the True Circumcision

What Paul teaches, in fact, all Scripture teaches, is that the promises of God were never made to mere natural men, men in the flesh, but rather men in the spirit – regenerated men. The distinction of the Word of God is not that of two kinds of people, an earthly people and a heavenly people both of which shall be saved and share in the kingdom of Christ, but of two kinds of Israelites, a carnal Israel, born after the flesh, and a spiritual Israel, born by promise, the latter alone “the children of the promise.” (Rom. 9:8; Gal. 4:23) Many mere Jews are not God’s children at all, (Jn. 8:42,44) whereas many Gentiles by nature have been made fellow-citizens with the saints – what saints? Old Testament saints! for they are “blessed with faithful Abraham.” (Gal. 3~9)

When Paul maintains “We are the Circumcision, which worship God in the spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:3) he means that mere natural Israel was only a carnal circumcision, was not, never was the spiritual circumcision. Those of the mere natural circumcision Paul warns against, in the words, “Beware of the concision.” That is what they, mere natural Jews are, the concision, the Mutilation. The contrast is between the carnal Israel, the Mutilation, and the Circumcision, the Israel of God.

Circumcision was the sign of the old covenant, the meaning of which was regeneration. “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.” (Dt. 10:16) That is a command, but if the Lord will only promise, He may command what He will and it shall be done! For every command there is a promise. “The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God.” (Dt. 30:6) The true meaning of circumcision is the purifying of the heart, i.e., regeneration. It signifies a work accomplished objectively in the crucifixion of Christ, in which all Christians are involved and identified with Christ, and subjectively a work of grace in the heart of the Christian in which he is given a new heart. (Col. 2:ll; Gal. 5:24; Ezek. 36:26)

Dispensationalism On Israel And The Church


by Rev. R. C. Harbach

The Charter of the
One People of God

Continuing our examination of dispensationalism, we again cali attention to Christ’s words, “I will build My church,” and, this time, to the fact that they amount to the charter of the Christian church. For the charter of the old covenant church we have in the first promise of Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed; He shall crush thy head, and thou shalt crush His heel.” The old covenant people were a body of believers, a congregation (Ps. 22:22), founded on that charter. Then they were founded on Christ. There is only one foundation, and only one building on that foundation. In this connection, it is highly recommended to dispensationalists that they give Matthew Henry’s commentary a close perusal. He was a biblically-minded man, who hewed rather consistently and closely to Holy Writ, certainly far more so than they who claim to “rightly divide- the Word of truth” as these age-theorists do. He on this text said, “Christ…signed and published this royal, this divine charter, by which that body politic is incorporated…God had a church in the world from the beginning, and it was built upon the rock of the promised Seed, Gen. 3:15.

But now that promised Seed being come, it was requisite that the church should have a new charter, as Christian, and standing in relation to a Christ already come. Now here we have that charter.” No new church was chartered by the Lord, but the same church with a new charter. That church certainly was to be found in the old dispensation. Although denied by dispensationalists, the very word for “church” is found in that era. For the N.T. word which Jesus used for “church”, ekklesia, is the word used to translate the O.T. word for “church,” qahul, in the “congregation of the Lord.” (Ps. 22:22 with Heb. 2:12) The point is, a qahul is a church. If there was a qahal in that day, there was a church then. When Jesus referred to the building of His church, He spoke of “his own house, whose house are we.” (Heb. 3:6) This “house” of God was not some wholly new thing which began at Pentecost. For it is the same house Moses was a member of (cf. Heb. 3:2-6 with Nu. 12:7) and of which the psalmist was a member when he said, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” (Ps. 127:l) That gracious declaration certainly applies to our house of the present dispensation, as Prov. 9:1, Song 2:4 and Matt. lo:25 will show. If the reader will take the time to carefully examine these texts he will see the devastating effect they have on dispensationalism.

The Erroneous Idea that the
Church Begins at Pentecost

The idea that the church of N.T. saints is a wholly new thing limited to this Christian dispensation, and not found in the old dispensation is proved erroneous by the teaching of Heb. 12:22, 23. It is not true that the O.T. Jews only had Moses and the law, while they of the new dispensation have Christ and the gospel. For the old covenant Israel had Abraham and the promises in which they embraced Christ. (cf. John. 8:56 with Heb. 11:13, 26) Mount Zion, the city of the living God, is the city Abraham looked for (Heb. 11:10), which was prepared for all (v. 13) the O.T. saints, which they desired (v. 16), and which we of the Christian dispensation also seek (13:14). In contrast to “the now Jerusalem,” the heavenly Jerusalem is “the above Jerusalem” (Gal. 4:26, Gk.), which is the mother of us all, i.e., of all the children of the promise, including believers of the O.T., as the following quotation (v. 27) from Isaiah indicates. It only takes a comparison of Heb. 11:l0 with 12:22 to learn that the O.T. saints looked for the heavenly Jerusalem! The “general assembly” in the O.T. was called “the assembly of the saints” (Ps. 89:7) or the “assembly of the upright.” (Ps. 111:l) In the N.T. it is seen to be the entire Election of Grace, as is evident from the added, “which are written in heaven.” (cf. Isa. 4:3; Dn. 12:l) But whether Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, the general assembly or the church of the firstborn, it is all one and the same body seen from different viewpoints.

A text sometimes appealed to as teaching that the church had its beginning at Pentecost is I Cor. 1:13, “For by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles.. .” But this does not mean that we were all so baptized at the same time, as no corporate action is in view, for on that day Gentiles were not baptized by the Spirit. Paul means by “all… in one body” the members of the body of Christ, the same body and members from Adam and Abel onward, whom we saw mentioned in Ps. 35:l0; 40:5; 69:5; 81:5; 84~8, 9; 139:15, 16 and many other passages. By “baptized” (by the Spirit) Paul refers plainly to nothing other than to being “regenerated.” It is regeneration which makes a man a member of the body of Christ.

It has been argued by dispensationalists that Eph. 1:19-23 proves there was no church before Pentecost. God gave Christ to be the “Head over all things to the church which is His body” after the ascension, it is pointed out. This is no reasoning. One may as well argue that no sins were remitted until after Christ made atonement on the cross. Or that none were regenerated until after Christ was made a “life-giving Spirit” at His resurrection. It would be just as valid argument to say that Christ could not make intercession for His people until after He sat down at God’s right hand. But this is refuted by Zech. 1:12, 13 (3:1, 2)! Christ was Mediator “set up (anointed) from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.” (Prov. 8:23) We must be able to see Christ as the preincarnate Head of His people from the beginning, because “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” as well as Christ the incarnate Head in history after His birth, death, resurrection and ascension. Otherwise we cannot “rightly divide the Word of truth,” much less “cut a straight line through the truth.”

Fellow-Citizens of a
Heavenly Kingdom

In the Book of Daniel it is revealed that “the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.” (7:18) This kingdom is none other than the “everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (II Pet. 1:ll) In the 1909 edition of the Scofield Reference Bible the editor inserted the marginal note, “That these are church saints seems clear from Acts 16:17; Rom. 8:17; II Tim. 2:10-12; I Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6, etc.” But in the 1917 edition this note was changed to read, “That church-saints will also share in the rule seems clear from Acts 16:17, etc.” (ital. added) The note as it now stands means that through eternity the church will have a place subservient to Israel! But the meaning is, if anything, that the church will not merely share in the kingdom, but take it and possess it for ever! It is also of interest that the phrase, “the saints of the most High” may also be translated “the saints of the highest places,” which parallels Eph. 1:3; 2:6. That Daniel wrote of New Testament saints is plain from a comparison of 7:27 with Luke 12:32. Paul referred to what could only be Old Testament saints when he wrote of Gentiles being “fellow-citizens with the saints.” These saints included the “prophets” of the O.T. and the “apostles” of the N.T. (Eph. 2:19-22). They being “fitly framed together’! and “builded together” refers to the saints of all ages as members of the same body, the same household; That household is “the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:lO) The O.T. saints were members of that household according to Hebrews 11, verse 39. But the would-be “right-dividers” have wrongly divided the household of God, have not maintained “the unity of the Spirit,” and in effect have made God the author of confusion. For the inseparable unity of O.T. and N.T. saints is seen in the New Jerusalem which bears not only the names of the twelve apostles on its foundations, but also the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on its gates! (Rev. 21:12)

The writer in his dispensationalist days moved in circles where it was loudly insisted that “Jew” meant “Jew” and not Christian, and that “Israel” meant “Israel” and not Church. It was commonly held that Israel was an earthly people. It never occurred to the writer then that such a statement ought to be adjudged inane ! Granted they were an earthly people, -what else could they be? certainly not a lunar people, dwelling on earth’s satellite, nor a marine people, inhabiting Atlantis or Aquatania. The Canaanites and the Edomites were also an earthly people. Christians here below are an earthly people, for in body and soul they are still this side of heaven. If the dispensationalists explain that what is intended by this language is that Israel’s was an earthly inheritance, we must ask, Did the patriarchs have an earthly inheritance? It ought to be plainly evident by now in this series that Hebrews 11 proves otherwise. (14-16) Why contend that Moses had an earthly inheritance in the face of Heb. 11:26? Do not assign such an inheritance to David, for he claimed to be “a stranger in the earth.” (Ps. -39:12; 119:19) Scripture distinguishes between one who is a Jew outwardly and the Jew ‘inwardly, between a carnal Israel and the spiritual Israel. There is an Israel within Israel, the Israel of God. According to Romans 2:28, 29, all God’s regenerated people are true Jews.

Keeping this distinction in mind, attend to the words of Asaph. “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.” (Ps. 73:l) What is the meaning of “Israel” in this place? Certainly not the nation of Israel nor the natural Jews living at that time, for it could not be said that they, as such, had “clean hearts.” “O Lord, be Thou my Helper true, for just and godly men are few; the faithful who can find?” (Ps. 12:l) A “clean heart” is not found in the natural man, Jew or Gentile, for all the descendants of Adam are born with a heart consummately deceitful and desperately wicked. A clean heart is the product of regeneration through the sprinkling of (baptism of) the blood of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:22), a purifying act of God through faith (Acts 15:9). Thus the Israel mentioned in the text is the regenerated, the spiritual Israel. The text obviously excludes carnal Israel.

Jesus so distinguished. “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (Jn. 1:47) By “Israelite” He meant more than a mere natural descendant of Jacob. I-Ie meant a true Israelite. When He said, “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed,” (8:31) He meant disciples in fact, not in name only. Jesus was saying that Nathanael was a regenerated person, “in whom is no guile,” which added the confirmation that Nathanael was a saved and spiritual man, like the man described in Ps. 32:2, “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit is no guile.”

Dispensationalism -A Mutilated Ecclesiology


by Rev. R. C. Harbach

Dispensationalism’s Denial
of the Church in the O.T.

“I will build My Church” (Mt. 16:18). These words of Christ are appealed to by dispensationalists in their attempt to prove that there was no church in the Old Testament. They insist that such saints as Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Daniel, Malachi and John the Baptist were not in the church. The words, “I will build My, Church” are said to be in the future tense, implying that the Church did not then exist, nor prior to that time, but was yet to be established at Pentecost. At this point in his reference Bible, Scofield, on the Greek word for church, ekklesia, says that it means “an assembly of called out ones” and “implies no more.” So that Israel in the Old Testament, in Egypt for example, was simply an assembly. What Scofield means here is that ekklesia does not necessarily mean church and definitely does not mean so here. But the word ekklesia, to get at the truth of the matter, contains not only the meaning of the term church, but also the extent of its membership. It signifies a separated company. “The Church of God” is synonymous with “the elect of God.” For the Church is neither broader nor narrower in scope than the whole election of grace. This we can prove with the greatest ease ‘and clarity. Compare Col. 1:24, where Paul speaks of his “sufferings” for Christ’s “body’s sake, which is the church,” with II Tim. 2:10 where Paul says he endured those sufferings “for the elect’s sakes.” The inference is that the Church and the elect are one and the same! The same evidence we have in Eph. 5:25-27 where it is stated: “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it…” Here the teaching is that Christ loved a people prior to His giving Himself for them. Who are they? N.T. saints only? The O.T. saints He also loved prior to His giving Himself for them. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3). Both Old and New Testament believers are “the saints that are in the earth… the excellent in whom is all My delight.” (Ps. 16:3)

“I will build My Church” makes not so much a reference to the future (I shall) as to the promise (I will). The Lord does, not teach here that there was no church in the old dispensation. There was such a church, but the stones and the materials of it, although provided and amassed, were not yet put into place. This awaited the laying of the “Sure Foundation.” The “living stones” were cut out beforehand, but could not be actually built in O.T. times to then form the completed habitation of God through the Spirit, because the building was to be raised upon Jesus Christ crucified and risen as the sure foundation and chief cornerstone.

Therefore, “I will build My Church” does not mean, “I will bring into existence My church.” Nor does it mean, “I will begin to build My Church.” It means, “I will continue to build it.” For the building had already been begun in the making ready of the stones and materials. That was the O.T. stage of the Church. The N.T. phase was in the putting of the stones together upon the cornerstone. Jesus was referring only to this latter operation. The O. T. church is symbolized in David and his reign, while the N.T. church is typified in Solomon and his reign. David provided all the building materials for the temple of Solomon. Of Solomon’s actually raising of the edifice it is said that “the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither.” (I Kings 6: 7) The O.T. church was a readying of the stones and a providing of the materials for the building. There were living stones, but they were not yet set on the foundation (except in plan and principle), for the simple reason that the foundation stone had not yet been formed (from the Virgin!). The N.T. church was in the bringing of all the materials to the erection site and the actual framing of them together. The O.T. church was in that dispensation so readied that when the N.T. church was built “there was neither hammer nor ax, nor any tool of iron heard in the house while it was in building.” There was an O.T. church; it was then a prepared work. The N.T. church is the finished building. Proof? This: ‘Prepare thy work without and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house.” (Prov. 24:27) The church of the old dispensation was being prepared without and made fit in the field. Afterwards in the church of the new dispensation the building of the prepared house was accomplished. It was in two different forms in the two dispensations, but throughout it is the same house!

The Body of Christ that is
Mutilated by Dispensationalism

Not only is Dispensationalism far wrong, then, in its shallow interpretation of Matt. 16:18; but also in its claim that the body of Christ is never mentioned in the Old Testament, it is fundamentally mistaken. But before we turn to O. T. Scripture, which is most irrefutable and abundant on the subject, let us form in our minds some idea of the body of Christ. Here is an illustration: “…and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, ‘Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” (Acts 9:4). It would take an extremely carnal eye, indeed, not to see in these words any reference to the body (the church) of Christ. For it is undeniably there. Saul learned then that he had not been prosecuting heretics and extremists, but had been persecuting no less than the Lord of Glory. That is not difficult to see. Christ and His people are so united that what is done to Christ’s members is done to Him. He and they are one, “members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.” (Eph. 5:30) He and they are one spirit. (I Cor. 6:17) When they are persecuted, He is persecuted. “In all their affliction He was afflicted,” (Isa. 63:9) i.e., “all the members suffer with” any suffering member. (I Cor. 12:26) When they suffer, the Head suffers too. This truth runs so deeply and widely throughout the Old Testament that it cannot be as Scofield claimed, an entirely unheard of new truth revealed exclusively through the Apostle Paul. Hence, the body of Christ is found revealed in the Old Testament. This contention we will now proceed convincingly and conclusively to prove.

The Body of Christ
Present in the O.T.

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” (Gn. 49: 10) This is the O.T. form of the N.T. prophecy where the Messiah “should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” (Jn. 11:52) The same truth is more highly developed in Eph. l:10, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times, He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in Him.” What is here in view is not something yet to occur in the future, but that which has been accomplished ever since God set Christ “at His own right hand” and “hath put all under His feet, and gave Him, the head over all, to the church.” (1:20, 22) He has assumed this authority far above all principality (1;21), and is thus over all things whatsoever. They are under Him now, (Matt. 28:18), so that He is the head of the church. In this dispensation of the fulness’ of times the Shiloh prophecy has its fulfillment.

“And Moses said (to Pharaoh), Thus saith the Lord, ‘About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt, and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die… and all these thy servants shall come down unto Me,’ saying, Get thee out, and all the people that follow Thee! and after that I will go out.“’ (Ex. 11:4, 5, 8) In verse 4 the first personal pronoun is emphatic, i.e., the Lord will act here by no instrumentality, but wholly of Himself. So that the antecedents to these pronouns is the Lord alone, who said, “I will go out,” thus expressing His identity with His people in the exodus – the Head intimately united with His body. “The land shall not be sold, forever; for the land is Mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with Me.” (Lev. 25:23) The N.T. expression of this thought is had in, “They are not of the world even as I am not of the world.” (John 17:16) Again God is graciously identified with His people. David saw this spiritual union as a ground for answered prayer, “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not Thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with Thee, a sojourner as all my fathers were.” (Ps. 39:12)

“All My bones shall say, ‘Lord, who is like unto Thee, which deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him; yea, the poor and the needy from him that spoileth him.’ ”(Ps. 35:10) A parallel passage we have in Isa. 26:19, “Thy dead shall live. My dead bodythey shall arise! Awake and sing ye that dwell in the dust!” How utterly insupportable is the contention that the body of Christ is a spiritual reality unknown to the O.T.! In this Messianic Psalm Christ speaks, as verses 7, 11-16, 19 undeniably show. He speaks as Head of the Church, His body, and makes reference to His members. “For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.” (Eph. 5:30)

Psalm 40 is another where Christ speaks of Himself and His body. That this is a messianic Psalm is plain from a comparison of verses 6-7 with Heb. 10. Verse 1 presents a foreview of Christ in Gethsemane; verse 2, He is delivered from the sufferings of Gethsemane and the curse of the cross through the resurrection; verse 3 records His praise for that deliverance, “He hath put a new song in My mouth, even praise unto our God.” In victory over death the Redeemer is quite conscious of the spiritual union between Him and the redeemed. He constantly delights in it. This is the covenant idea. “Many, O Lord , My God, are Thy wonderful works, which Thou hast done, and Thy thoughts which are to us-ward.” (vs. 5) Christ in the O.T. insisted that the Head and the members of His body are one in God’s sight.

According to Dispensationalism, the Church in union with Christ, and especially conceived of as the body of Christ, is not revealed in the O.T. How foreign to Scripture this poverty-stricken view! How far short of the whole ‘range of the Old Testament! But very much more proof that the body of Christ is revealed therein can be furnished, and, D.V., will be. (continued)

Dispensationalism An Ancient Error


by Rev. R. C. Harbach

Historic Premillennialism distinguished
from Dispensational Premillennialism

The premillennial view is the doctrine of the visible and personal reign of Christ on the earth for one thousand years after the Antichrist, the False Prophet and apostate Christendom have been judged and condemned to the lake of fire. This view, in sharp contrast to Postmillennialism, teaches that Christ will not come into a perfect, converted world, but to one of mixed good and evil, with evil, largely, predominating. The slogan of premillennialism is “No millennium until Christ comes.” Premillennialists hold that at the Lord’s coming, all the elect, of both dispensations, shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, which is the rapture, to be immediately followed by His return with all the saints to the earth for the millennial reign.

We are not to confuse the above with Dispensationalism. The most popular form of Premillennialism is Dispensationalism. Its theme is, “Rightly dividing the Word of truth,” which means the dividing of Scripture according to seven periods of time, or, as so-called “ultra-dispensationalism” has it, according to ten periods. Usually these eras, ages or dispensations are distinguished in the following order: innocency, conscience, human government, promise, law, grace and the kingdom. The sixth dispensation, that of grace, is the dispensation of the Church. It is said to be distinguished from the other periods as a parenthesis in history. But if so, then we must understand the word underscored not to mean “to make eminent, illustrious and worthy of special regard,” but merely to separate or divide by some mark or quality. For a parenthesis indicates something of lesser regard, something not of the general trend or main connection. Accordingly, this view sees the Church age as having not only no connection with the preceding one of law, but as standing in sharp contrast to it. The same maybe said of the following kingdom age. Although no one has objection to the dividing of Scripture according to periods of time, as such, yet because so much is made of this “mystery parenthesis” as it is called, it ought to be referred to as Mystery-Parenthesis Dispensationalism. The term “dispensationalism” itself does not sufficiently indicate what is so offensive in the system. But to speak of Parenthesis Dispensationalism identifies it, on the face of it, as a system which puts the Church out of the main stream of God’s plan for the ages.

What we have attempted to do above is to set Dispensationalism aside from Premillennialism, historically considered. The latter does not go to the bizarre extremes of Dispensationalism. It does not view the second coming of Christ in two widely separated stages, with a rapture into the air and a coming down to the earth divided by a period of years. Nor is it so narrow as to hold that the “rapture” concerns the church only. For these and other reasons it should be understood that Premillennialism and Dispensationalism are not synonymous terms. All Dispensationalists are premillennial, but not all Premillennialists are dispensational. Therefore, it would be fairer and more clarifying to speak of “historic premillennialism” as over against “dispensational premillennialism” than to attribute dispensationalism as such flatly to the premillennial school. The following were notable historic premillennialists: Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Bengel, Alford, Bonar, Ellicott, W. J. Erdman, H. G. Guinness, W. G. Moorehead, George Muller of Bristol, B. W. Newton, Ryle, A. Saphir, Tregelles, R. C. H. Trench and Nathanael West. Some notable Bible expositors of this school were: Godet, Lange and Zahn. On the other hand, well-known Dispensationalists we have in J. N. Darby, Wm. Kelly, W. E. Blackstone, James M. Gray, A. C. Gaebelein, Wm. L. Pettingill and especially C. I. Scofield. These representatives should by no means be herded into the same corral. Staid pacers do not belong with wild broncos.

Dispensationalism and Modernism

The slogan of Dispensationalism is, “All Scripture is for us, but it is not all to us, or about us.” Explaining, they say, “Some parts of Scripture have particularly the Church in view. Other parts belong to the Jews. Therefore, certain sections of the Bible have nothing to do with this present age, but belong to the past and abrogated old dispensation, while other sections concern the future great tribulation, a period which occurs after the Church has departed the earthly scene. Still other portions apply only to the earthly millennial kingdom of Christ.” This hacking method of interpreting Scripture chops the Bible into such small fragments that the Christian is robbed of much of the promises of God. The inspired “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15) does not mean we are to dissect the Bible into pieces, making it a sort of crazy-quilt. Rather it means “to hew a straight line through the Word of truth.” But the line Dispensationalism. makes through Scripture is disjointed, slip-knotted, sheep-shanked, strained and broken with many gaps intervening along its shabby, ludicrous length.

Dispensationalism has close comparison to Modernism, despite the fact that the former vehemently repudiates the latter. For Dispensationalists claim the evangelical school, accepting the infallibility and divine authority of Scripture. But they become guilty of approaching the Bible according to modernistic methods. For both Dispensationalism and Modernism have a subjective theory of Bible structure. The latter reads the Book of Isaiah applying its subjective method and decides that chapters 40-66 could never have been written by the same prophet, but must have come from a later period. The former reads the Gospel According to Matthew applying its subjective hypothesis, and decides that the Sermon on the Mount is not intended for the Church today, but for a future age, after the Church has gone. These two methods are basically the same, yet the one comes from Modernism’s “critical school” and the other from Dispensationalism’s “prophetical school.”

Falsely Dividing God’s Promises
A Serious Error

Although Dispensationalism is a questionable hermeneutical method relatively new, arising as it did in England and Ireland about 136 years ago, its ideas were in some places prevalent 280 years ago. For Puritan John Owen in his Doctrine of Saints’ Perseverance wrote,

“Some labour much to rob believers of the consolation intended for them in the evangelical promises of the Old Testament, though made in the general to the Church on this account, (affirming) that they were made to the Jews, and being to them peculiar, our concernment lieth not now in them” (ital. added).

But it is really no new teaching that God’s promises are divided, some to the Church, embracing a heavenly people, and some to the Jews, an earthly people. The Church of England in its Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion was correct when it over three hundred years ago denied this error. The Reformed Episcopal Church in its Article VI puts it thus:

“The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only mediator between God and man, being both God and man. Wherefore they, are not to be heard, which feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises…”

If any Jews had the faith of Abraham, they were not an earthly people, did not mind earthly things and did not expect earthly promises to be fulfilled to them, but heavenly promises, as Gen. 15: l and Heb. 11:13-16 clearly and convincingly show.

Over 400 hundred years ago John Calvin wrote in his Institutes a beautiful refutation of modern dispensationalism. Says he,

“From the preceding observations it may now be evident that all those persons, from the beginning of the world, whom God has adopted into the society of His people, have been federally connected with Him by the same law and the same doctrine which are in force among us: but because it is of no small importance that this point be established, I shall show, by way of appendix, since the fathers were partakers with us of the same inheritance, and hoped for the same salvation through the grace of our common Mediator, how far their condition in this connection was from ours. For though the testimonies we have collected from the law and the prophets in proof of this, render it sufficiently evident that the people of God have never had any other rule of religion and piety, yet because some writers have raised many disputes concerning the difference of the Old and New Testaments, which may occasion doubts in the minds of an undiscerning reader, we shall assign a particular chapter for the better and more accurate discussion of this subject. Moreover, what would otherwise have been very useful, has now been rendered necessary for us by Servetus and some madmen of the sect of the Anabaptists, who entertain no other ideas of the Israelitish nation, than a herd of swine, whom they pretend to have been pampered by the Lord in this world, without the least hope of a future immortality in heaven.” (From The Similarity of the Old and New Testaments, Bk. II, X, 1).

In the next paragraph Calvin says,

“The covenant of all the fathers is so far from differing substantially from ours, that it is the very same; it only varies in the administration.”

But dispensationalism has eight different covenants! Calvin further on adds,

“Carnal opulence and felicity were not proposed to the Jews as the mark towards which they should ultimately aspire, but that they were adopted to the hope of immortality, and that the truth of this adoption was certified to them by oracles, by the law, and by the prophets.”

This being so, the Old Testament brought to the Jews the same high spiritual truth of the New Testament, and proves that the chosen people of the old dispensation were not an earthly people with only material aims and seeking only “earthly blessings.” Indeed, “the end of the Old Testament was always in Christ and eternal life.”

“Then let us drive far away from us this absurd and pernicious notion, either that the Lord proposed nothing else to the Jews, or that the Jews sought nothing else, but an abundance of food, carnal delights, flourishing wealth, external power, a numerous offspring, and whatever is esteemed valuable by a natural man” (II, X, 23).

Calvin also points out where the Jews were wrong and are wrong today, namely, “in expecting an earthly kingdom of the Messiah.” He calls this expectation a stroke of blindness and also a keeping of “themselves in voluntary darkness.” Dispensationalism is then such a grave error that it is both a mark of the righteous judgment of God and the willful sin of man.

Life and Work – The State of the Church of Scotland Today

by theweeflea

 

200px-CofSBurningBushLogo

As we move into pre-Assembly season I want to begin a new weekly series looking at the state of the Church of Jesus Christ in Scotland, and assessing where we are, how things have changed in the past year and look at some of the opportunities and threats to us.   There is no particular order to this but I hope that these musings/observations will be helpful. Like all my writing I issue these with several warnings –

  • Don’t read between the lines – there ain’t none.
  • I fully agree that I could be wrong, in fact I know that I will be wrong in some things…so feel free to correct (in love!)
  • I don’t know the full picture – I don’t I know a fraction of it.
  • I love the church of Jesus Christ, whatever the denomination. Please don’t play the denominational game.
  • Please pray.   For the cause of the gospel in Scotland. And act.

There is no doubt in my mind that we are in the midst of a major shaking up and many of the Lord’s people are as confused and bewildered as the culture around. As one elderly man told me, I no longer recognize my country, and I am struggling to recognize the church.   So lets see if we can shed some light. I begin with this rather lengthy essay on the state of the Church of Scotland in 2016.

As I was reflecting on this I started reading the latest edition of Life and Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland. It was very revealing about the state of that particular denomination. Don’t worry we will in future weeks look at other parts of the Church as well including my own – warts and all! But if you search ‘Church of Scotland’ you will come across several pieces on this. http://theweeflea.com/2015/04/17/church-of-scotland-blues-what-the-may-2015-assembly-reports-tell-us-about-the-state-of-the-kirk/

At the time these were written I was accused of many things, but reading over them it seems to me that what I predicted has happened, and if anything I was too mild! This is an ongoing story. To set the scene reflect on this: today I had lunch with a Roman Catholic friend who informed me that officially the RC’s are now a bigger denomination than the ‘National’ church for the first time since 1560.

sidebar

Life and Work – On the positive side there were some interesting articles on investment, ethical banking, army chaplaincy, international justice mission, work/life balance and digital media for the poor. I was surprised how many people mentioned in these articles I actually know!   The adverts also tell us a great deal – especially for vacant churches. I often attended Tain Parish church and it is interesting and sad to see it vacant again. They want a minister who ‘loves the Lord’ and is ‘centred on Word’ and ‘dedicated to his people and share his vision’. Those who know the recent history of that congregation know the caveat that comes along with those fine words. Meanwhile our neighbouring C of S (Logies) in Dundee is praised for having an architectural competition for the local art college. Also interesting to see that my local C of S in Dundee is seeking a minister for a ‘deferred linkage’ who will ‘channel an enthusiastic and hardworking congregation”. On the other hand another old haunt of mine, Sutherland, Lairg and Rogart offers, ‘award winning beaches and a haven for all outdoor pursuits, with the promise that you are in easy reach of Inverness airport (in case you need to get away to some warmer beaches?!)   Clincarthill parish in Glasgow wants a minister with a ‘strong bible teaching ministry’, whilst Kirk of Keith wants a ‘spiritually warm minister….with good pastoral skills, open minded and inclusive’.   Islay and Jura stipulates ‘he or she will have a broad theological outlook’.   Once you learn the code and can interpret the jargon you know what all of this means. It is to say the least, a messy and confused picture.

All of this would be fine – if somewhat bland, along with the care home, hearing aid, monumental sculpture, charity and church fabric adverts, which themselves say a great deal about the demographic the C of S is perceived to have. But the really revealing stuff is in some of the other articles.

web_moderator_of_church_of_scotland_rev_dr_angus_morrison_and_ron_ferguson__wide

Creative Theology – Ron Ferguson makes what he terms a simple ‘pre-assembly argument’.

“It is this: so called conservative evangelicals and so –called liberals need one another if the church is to effectively live out its gospel in today’s tempestuous world”…”we also need the adventure of the creative holy spirit (note the lower case). He does admit that ‘we don’t get to make up Christianity as we go along. You can’t knit your own Christianity. Certain core elements of the faith are given.”

Which is of course true. But we wait with bated breath for the C of S establishment to tell us all what exactly are the core elements of the faith?   By definition an evangelical is someone who holds to the core elements of the faith (e.g. the list Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 15) and a liberal is someone who denies some of those aspects – for example the Bible, the atonement, the virgin birth, the resurrection, heaven and hell, the necessity of the new birth etc. What Ron and other liberals are doing is redefining what ‘evangelical’ means, so that it is just a theological party within the church….it’s on a level with Baptist/Paedo Baptist (except the C of S won’t allow the former) or Post or Pre-Millennial. But that is a perversity of what evangelicalism is and if evangelicals within the C of S accepts Ron’s poisoned peace pipe they are committing suicide. Just how do you have Christian fellowship with people who deny the most basic and fundamental of Christian doctrines?   One of the sad things in Scotland over these past years has been the number of evangelicals who are prepared to work with ‘liberals’ and attack their fellow evangelicals outwith the Kirk as schismatic. C of S unity has become more important than gospel unity.

The Unity of the Church of Fundamental Importance –This article by the moderator, the evangelical Angus Morrison, backs up Ron’s appeal by suggesting that those who leave the Church of Scotland are schismatics and seem to think themselves ‘purer than thou’.

“In the church we all need to reckon with our own fallibility, not only in behaviour but in the way we interpret Scripture and understand the church’s tradition”.

Angus is an expert in Augustine and uses him to argue that those who leave the Church of Scotland to seek a ‘purer’ church are committing ‘arguably the most serious transgression of all’.   There are many problems with Angus’s thesis, although it is one that some evangelicals are desperate to hang on to.

Firstly he presents a caricature of those who have left, or those evangelicals within Scotland (by far the majority) who are not part of the Church of Scotland.   We are just simply people who believe with Ron that ‘certain core elements of the faith are given’, and who along with Angus believe that “There is a place for the proper exercise of church discipline”.  We do not believe that we can create a pure church (although we do believe that we are called to be pure and to be holy as God is holy). We are not trying to have the judgement day before the judgement day. We are passionate about church unity…it’s just that we think it should be Christian unity, that is unity in Christ, and not political unity for the sake of preserving an establishment in a Christendom that is long gone.

The other problem with Angus’s position is that his citation of Augustine proves too much. If he is advocating Augustine’s position then the Church of Scotland should not exist – it is itself schismatic. I can understand Angus’s desire for unity, not least because he has already left two denominations, with the C of S being his third. But according to Augustine it should not be his last. If he wishes to be consistent with the position he espouses his next stop must be the Roman Catholic Church. He would not be the first former Free Presbyterian who ended up back in the Roman Catholic Church!

I’m afraid that the C of S has put itself in an impossible position – you cannot argue on the basis of Matthew 13:24-30 that one should never leave ‘mother church’ and then justify your own leaving of mother church. If the Reformation was correct, and I believe it was, then it was right for the Church of Scotland to remove itself (or be removed) from a corrupt church that denied the Word of God. It is strange to now argue that those who believe that the Church of Scotland itself has become corrupt and is denying the Word of God should never leave. And to accuse them of being Pharisaical purists and schismatics is disingenuous at best.   The key question here is not ‘unity for unity’s sake’ but what is the unity based on? Has the Church of Scotland departed so far from the Word of God, that it becomes almost impossible for any biblical Christian to remain within it, without compromising that Word?

One other problem with Angus’s article is that it is dated and unrealistic – he talks of situations where ‘Christian people of one small village make their way on a Sunday morning to services of worship in four, or even five, separate Presbyterian denominations’. Yes that did happen. Yes it was disgraceful. But that was at least twenty plus years ago. The Presbyterian denominations are far too small and weak to staff that kind of system…and if it happens at all today it is fairly rare. By far the bigger problem are the many villages, towns, and housing estates throughout Scotland where there is no Gospel witness. No vibrant evangelical church. Only a dead and dying church, linked with other dead and dying churches, filled with the dead and dying. Our current problem is not too many churches, it is too few. Let the dead bury their dead. We need to get on with resurrection!

 

St-Georges-Tron-Parish-Church-External

Image over Word ­– The decline of evangelicalism within the C of S is seen in the article by Rev Alastair Duncan of St Georges Tron. As I have before indicated – http://theweeflea.com/2013/12/31/367/  The demise and decline of the Tron has been disastrous. Of course out of the ashes has arisen a renewed and vibrant church, even though they were evicted from their building. Evangelicals went berserk at me (remember the infamous 14 anonymous evangelicals who sent me a letter) for doubting that a new evangelical ministry would begin in the old Tron and the work of the Gospel would continue. I have no doubt that Alastair means well but the new evangelicalism as represented by this relaunched Tron is a million miles away from the church of Eric Alexander and Sinclair Ferguson. Alastair repeats the tired old caricature that the Reformation was about destroying works of art. I say tired because although like all caricatures, there is an element of truth, the situation was far more complex than that. Alaister suggests that

if a picture can paint a thousand words, them might a new reformation restore art to a place of proclamation, and prevent our preaching becoming merely wallpaper’.

The Reformation sought to take the Word of God out from the scholarly disputes of the academics and the images of the approved artists (paid for by the wealthy) and instead educate every person to be able to read, hear, see and think for themselves.

I am totally for using art and for encouraging art but it is through the foolishness of preaching that God primarily brings his saving Word to the people. Even more I hate the patronizing dumbing down that occurs when middle class Christians talk about reaching ‘illiterate people’ with the gospel by using medieval forms of communication! Art is often the result of the preaching of the Word. It is not itself the preaching of the Word. Let me issue a challenge. Let the old Tron introduce its new evangelicalism with preaching as wallpaper and art as substance and let the new Tron continue to proclaim the Word of God (with all the creative, mercy and social fruit that comes from that) and lets see what the God who answers by fire does. The last I heard the expelled Tron was full and was opening up a new church plant, whereas the old Tron is struggling to even have a morning service. If Café church, followed by a late afternoon service of 40 minutes works – fine. I will eat my proverbial hat and rejoice at the hundreds being brought to faith in Jesus Christ. At the moment it just looks like painting deck chairs on the Titanic.

 

11984435_747276025376923_1009851302_o

Creative Theology in Action – And now we come on to an article which presumably exemplifies the ‘creative theology’ spoken of by Ron, and the unity in diversity praised by Angus. My old sparring partner Rev Scott McKenna  http://theweeflea.com/2015/09/22/the-most-important-debate-scott-mckenna-angus-morrison-the-atonement-and-the-future-of-the-church-in-scotland/ shares with us his insights on two of the central doctrines of Christianity. Given that Scott has already trashed several of them (including calling the notion that Christ died for our sins ‘ghastly’) I was not surprised at what comes in this latest article.   Original sin – gone. The Fall – gone. The goodness of God’s original creation – gone. And after trashing any idea of any historicity of Adam and Eve and the three creation ‘myths’ Scott leads us into a wonderful new ‘creative’ insight.   God wipes out all the earth (apart from Noah) which now means that because Noah was righteous, we are no longer subject to original sin; we have Noah’s righteousness imputed to us. It’s an astonishing piece of theological gobbledygook! It is certainly ‘creative’ but it’s not the kind of creativity that comes from the Creator.   It has interesting implications if Scott does not believe in a universal flood that wiped out all mankind! Does this mean that only descendants of Noah are ‘pure’ but that others, say the Chinese and the Aborigines are still in Adam? The saddest thing about this rubbish, apart from the fact it is printed in the Church of Scotland’s official magazine, is the way it undermines and demeans Christ. In Scott’s article Jesus is just the pathetic victim of violence, not the redeemer who takes away the sin of the world (including Noah’s!). Scott’s Jesus is the ultimate nanny; he just wants us to be nice and stop hitting each other.

Now I expect this from Scott. To my mind he is an honest liberal.  But here is my question for evangelicals and those who argue that there is a place for discipline within the church. Does not a teacher of the Word, who denies that Word, who denies its most basic doctrines and who makes a mockery of the Jesus who both gave and is that Word, does not such a teacher deserve that discipline?  Or is that reserved only for those who breaks the administrative laws of 121, or commit the unpardonable sin of threatening to leave the Kirk? Are you really in union and communion with teachers like Scott? What fellowship does light have with darkness? http://theweeflea.com/2015/10/06/the-scottgate-tapes-a-revealing-insight-into-the-current-state-of-the-church-of-scotland/

The Church Speaks Out – If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound…I have been involved with politics and media for several years and one thing that stands out is that the Church of Scotland’s voice is weak and ineffectual. Until the recent leadership scandals compelled the Catholic Church to take a backseat, they were by far the more effective voice of the Christian church in wider Scottish society. The C of S has tended to do the ecclesiastical equivalent of political parties seeking to appeal to a broad electorate and show how relevant/cool/compassionate they are by kissing babies, visiting monuments and delivering sound bites based on opinion polls from focus groups. It is bland, dull and predictable. Of course the church is against poverty, climate change, injustice, and for peace, love and understanding. The words are easy. And sometimes the actions have followed. But what is missing is the prophetic proclamation of the Word of God. On issues such as SSM the church has spoken with a divided whimper. And no one listens. Because no one believes that the church believes.

Most of all the church has been silent on the great Gospel issues. If righteousness exalts a nation and sin is a reproach to any people, then surely the Church should be showing the way of righteousness and warning about the wages of sin. But it is as though the church is either embarrassed about, or no longer believes these things.   And then occasionally the church does speak with a clear voice – about issues that are frankly none of its business.

images

An example of this is the article headlined Church backs EU membership in referendum debate. It is beyond irony that the Church of Scotland cannot tell us if the Fall happened, or if people have original sin, but it can officially tell the people of Scotland that we should be voting to stay in the European Union.

When did it become the business of the Church to tell the people how to vote? (It would have been far better to have people within the church giving different points of view – that is a different matter. But the Church having an official political position is another). Of course the language is couched in what some people deem to be spiritual terms

‘the Church of Scotland has repeatedly affirmed the work of the European Union in promoting, peace, security and reconciliation amongst European nations’.

Well I’m sure the EU is glad of that affirmation but it is meaningless. What about those who are for peace, security and reconciliation but who think they are more likely to be achieved outwith the EU? Has the Spirit led the C of S to this conclusion? Have they received new revelation? Is this the new Word of God?  Or is it just a political opinion that suits the culture and zeitgeist of those who make up the leadership?

The trouble is that the Kirk seems so certain about its political and social opinions and so unsure about its theology.   That’s a bit like having a political party that is sure of its theology but not too sure about policies. Its maybe not a flattering analogy but its as though the Kirk has become the Donald Trump of the ecclesiastical world! All populist soundbite and no substance. Maybe the Kirk should remember that the good old days of the General Assembly being the alternative ‘parliament’ of the Scottish people are long gone. We have a parliament now. Our politicians can tell us about Europe, nuclear bombs and taxes. We need our prophets to tell the nation about Christ and to see that lived out in our communities. Maybe the problem is that before the Kirk decides it is going to tell the Gospel to our nation, it needs first of all to work out what that gospel actually is?  Because, despite many fine words and ambitions, this edition of Life and Work does not inspire any confidence that the Kirk actually knows what the Good News is.

search
The Anglicans, the Episcopalians and the Kirk – In another article John McPake, another evangelical, has an interesting explanation of The Columba Declaration, the widely published accord between the Church of Scotland and the Church of England, something that has really miffed the Scottish Episcopal Church. Again what struck me was the meaninglessness of the phraseology. For example

“we acknowledge…..that in both our churches the word of God is truly preached”.

What does that mean? And in what sense is that true? If anything reminds me of rearranging the proverbial deckchairs on the Titanic, it is these two establishment churches seeking to support each other in an increasingly secular society.

 

 

So where does this leave us? Today I got a letter from a former Church of Scotland member who had been an organist in three parishes. They have had enough and have left.   Last week I met a woman elder who had also just left. This is a pattern that is repeated weekly, if not daily. What is harming the C of S is not the mass defections or another disruption, but rather the drip drip drip effect of people leaving in ones and twos. These people are often the workers, givers and prayer warriors.   Personally I don’t like seeing this happen (although I do love the sense of freedom that they often say they have) but it seems almost inevitable.

search

It would be great to see the Church of Scotland renewed and revitalized. Anyone who loves the Gospel and the people of Scotland must want that. Narrow denominationalism is a curse not a sign of faithfulness. But there will not be renewal without reality and there seems little sign of reality hitting home. I heard an evangelical minister on the BBC actually stating that ‘internet’ church was ‘incarnational’ ministry. This was as part of a discussion on the new report ‘the Invisible Church’ which I suspect will soon become the justification for many of the clergy keeping their jobs! ‘There may only be a handful of elderly people attend my services, and a few children in the youth organisations, but my parish has 6,000 people and many of them are ‘churchless’ Christians, who have a real and vital faith.’ It is a mark of desperation that we have gone from church without walls, to messy church and are now in the realms of the invisible visible church!

There are still good and faithful Christians within the C of S. I suspect that some are just keeping their heads down and seeking to survive, others are confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.     And still others are hurt, tired, wounded and angry and will lash out at any who dare to ‘interfere’ in their internal grief. But we only do so because we are fellow believers, and we hate to see the Church being decimated in this way. We stand with all believers who want to fight the good fight.

logo-title-dark-blue-text-600

And therein lies the rub. Are the evangelical leaders who are left, up for that fight? Or is their concern more to be part of this broad church envisaged by Ron, Scott, Angus and John? I remember after the first Assembly which dealt with the Scott Rennie case, Angus and John both making the case that nothing should be done precipitously, that nothing had been decided, that people should wait until 2011 that evangelicals were now a large and respected part of the Church and that they had a seat at the table and could deliver.  Wait and see they said, look we have Andy McGowan on the theological commission. Well 2011 came and went and we were told wait until 2013. It came and went and we were told 2015. It came and went and now we are not even being told wait until the SSM decision in 2016. It too will come and go. There will be those evangelicals in high office within the church who will just say ‘my personal view is…’ but then go on to say ‘I have to be fair and bring balance…’ In other words they have capitulated to the liberal agenda. The question then is what’s the use of having a seat at the table if you don’t get a say in the menu? Have you not just become another church politician, dividing up the crumbs from the increasingly stale bread, and not actually distributing the Bread of life?

My view has always been that making the fight about sexuality and SSM was always going to be a losing battle. Why? Because it is not immediately obvious that it is about the gospel and it does make evangelicals look like homophobes. It also allows the Church Establishment to speak of a ‘mixed economy’ and fools some evangelicals into thinking, ‘isn’t this great, we get to keep our opinions about this issue and we can all live in peace and harmony’, not realizing that they have been bought and sold for fools gold. Of course I agree with what the Bible says about sexual issues, and I know that our stance is primarily about the bible not sexuality – but this was the wrong fight. And SSM is also the wrong one. It must be fought but it should be seen as a side issue.   The key issue is the role of Scripture and the place of Christ as Head of the Church.

If Covenant Fellowship and others are going to stay in and fight, where should the fight be?   How about the foundational gospel issues? When I debated Scott McKenna I did so because I wanted to reach him and his people with the Gospel, and I wanted to shift the focus from issues of sexuality to basic gospel issues. I hoped that one of the results would be evangelicals taking up the baton. But is that happening? I don’t think so. Yes in our own congregations and conferences we reassure our own people, but are we taking the fight to the enemy?
According to some evangelicals, there is no enemy – at least within. All the enemies (including those who actually believe the Gospel) are outwith.   Scott McKenna, a man who denies the basics of the Gospel is not an enemy of the Gospel. It is little wonder that if evangelicals think, speak and behave like this,  the ordinary Christian in the pew gets confused. I know of one congregation where the minister told me that some of his (evangelical) congregation were furious with me for debating Scott McKenna, because they believed I was only doing it to show up the Church of Scotland! That kind of cynicism just makes me despair. I am not interested in attacking the Church of Scotland, I am interested in defending the gospel – and I would like to do so shoulder to shoulder with all those, whatever the denomination, who believe that same Gospel.

 

images-1

The hardest thing about this message is to get people to listen to it. We have a tendency in Scotland to personalize things, shoot the messenger and ignore the message.   I know that this will automatically get dismissed as ‘this is Robertson on his anti C of S crusade again’.   I deny that…and I am not the only one who sees what is happening. John Haldane, the Roman Catholic philosopher, scholar and advisor to the Vatican writes:

search-1

The reality is that the Kirk has lost its way, lost its confidence and largely lost its faith. I fear it is finished as a significant force in Scottish society and is visibly dying.

I have thought this for a while but I am writing it now having received earlier in the day an email from a prominent agency of the Kirk, which, I fear, may be an expression of its desperation and lack of supernatural sense. I reproduce the main part of this message below and provide a link to the attachment that came with it here. Let me say that I am not disclosing private correspondence, for this is a pro-forma letter that has been sent out to a large number of leaders of groups and institutions on behalf of the Church of Scotland Church and Society Council. Here is the message:

‘Scotland is changing and we want to make sure that it is changing for the better.

The Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council is currently running a campaign called Speak Out! 10,000 voices for change. Over a four month period, we are asking over 10,000 people—from every part of Scotland—to tell us about the key issues that inspire or concern them. As a result of what we hear, we will identify up to six core themes for our work over the next decade. These will be the issues which, if we address them together, will help to make Scotland a fairer, more equal, and more just nation in a fairer, more equal, and more just world.’

Nowhere in the message or in the supporting material is there any mention of God, creation, revelation, scripture, covenant, sin, redemptive sacrifice, atonement, sacraments, repentance, salvation, death, heaven or hell—only of “the issues which, if we address them together, will help to make Scotland a fairer, more equal and more just nation in a fairer, more equal and more just world.” The latter stands rather, as once a passage of scripture did, as the text for sermons and homilies. It begins “Scotland is changing” and in the accompanying material “Imagine Scotland in 2035—it is a fairer, more equal and more just place. . . .” Whether it will be I have no idea, though I suspect, as with the claim that the 20th and 21st centuries are ones of moral progress, it forgets the recurrent facts of human folly and wickedness; facts which for the Christian have a clear and compelling explanation: sin.

We have reached the surreal stage in Scottish church history where it appears as though the Roman Catholic Church is in general more faithful to the Gospel than the Church of Scotland! If he were not in Glory Knox would be birling in his grave!

John Knox

But it is not the Church of Knox, nor the Church of the Pope that concerns us.   We are concerned for the Church of Jesus Christ. He is the Head from whom everything flows. I leave the last word with him.

To the angel of the church in Sardis (Scotland?) write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Message from Rt Rev David Cook

Moderator’s Comments – Posted 29 March 2016

Wee Waa’s boom years were the mid 1960’s to the mid 1980’s, there was plenty of water, and cotton, as an Australian industry, was in its infancy.

American farmers led by Paul Kahl and Frank Hadley, two Christian men from California, were instrumental in establishing the industry, centred on Wee Waa.

Wee Waa Presbyterian was our first parish. We ministered there from February 1976 to December 1981. This last Easter we had the joy of going back to lead the Easter services.

How things have changed!

There were 12 elders when we were there, 11 of them were farmers. Now there are only three farmers in the church, one of whom told me that 17 of the past 20 years have been drought years. Most of the fields where we stayed were empty of crops, they should have been getting ready for the cotton harvest, but no available water.

The town has shrunk, in fact, vacant shops were obvious in Muswellbrook, Scone, Gunnedah and Narrabri all the way up to Wee Waa itself. We visited the cemetery, the graves of many of our people, many old, some tragically cut down in their youth.

Good Friday and Sunday we met to proclaim the central facts of our faith, of the faith, “that Christ died …. that he was buried…. that he rose….. that he was seen” (1 Corinthians 15:3 – 11).

Some of the old members are still there, one 90 year old, had visited her whole block in town and invited all the neighbours to the services. The vigorous faith, the steadfast faithfulness is still there in those remaining pioneers, and a new generation has arisen to take on the leadership.

Here was a church which was prayerful, hospitable, evangelistic and always visionary. It was a privilege to be a part of it all, and on Easter day to declare Christ’s victory over death, in the face of death claiming many of our previous congregation , I found a most moving experience.

Not only were men like Paul Kahl, Harold Freer, Frank Hadley, Hadley Alf, Albert Davis, Colin Morrison brave pioneers but they were gospel men, one and all, and what wonderful wives to leave the comfort of California and in one case, Northern Ireland, and pack up the family and come to outback New South Wales; Jean, Clara, Norma, Nita, Margaret, all still alive, all looking for the day of Christ with a gleam in their eyes. What an example they have been and are. We are humbled and challenged by them, a privilege to know them. They challenged the church authorities in Sydney, challenged the Code, generously supported projects, helped establish the work of Christian Education in New South Wales and without them, there would be no APWM, which is flourishing today, it was their enterprising spirit which saw it established in the late 1970’s.

All weekend, one verse kept coming to me:

“Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

They grew cotton, but they so lived and live that they robbed death of many of its prey, by pointing people to Christ. Their work was not in vain. Many of them are with Christ which is better by far. We will soon be there as well, awaiting our new resurrection body.

Harold Freer, a beloved elder, used to keep me supplied with Bibles, he would send me one every five years or so. In the last one I received from him, before he died, he included these words in the front cover:

“When I reach the end of my days, a moment or two from now, I must look backward on something more meaningful than the pursuit of houses and land and machines and stocks and bonds. I will consider my earthly existence to have been wasted unless I can recall a loving family, a consistent investment in the lives of people, an earnest attempt to serve the God who made me. Nothing else makes much sense.”

A fitting testimony to the way they lived.

David Cook

Economy rests on Christian foundations

Ross Gittins –Mar 27, 2016

The church has had strong influences over our modern economy.The church has had strong influences over our modern economy. Illustration: Michael Mucci

I can’t think why, but Easter always reminds me of Christianity. Not, of course, that Christianity has anything to do with the grubby, materialist world of economics. Or does it?

Australia is the most unbelieving it has ever been, with the most recent census saying that only 61 per cent people identify themselves as even nominally Christian.

Twenty-two per cent say they have no religion and another 9 per cent didn’t bother answering the question. People of non-Christian religions account for 7 per cent of the population.

Separate figures say only about 8 per cent of Australians attend religious services regularly. This is about the same as in Britain and France, but a lot less than in Canada or the United States.

With so few people having had much contact with organised religion, it’s not surprising that so many people imagine Christianity to have little bearing on the modern world and economy.

Religion still has a place

However, that is far from the truth, as Australian author Roy Williams argues in his latest book, Post-God Nation? I’m quoting him liberally.

Williams says he’s sick of being told that religion’s influence on our country has been either minimal or malign.

“It is a fact of history that Australia would not exist in anything like the form it does but for Judaeo-Christianity,” he says.

“Deep-seated legacies of our religious heritage still endure, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.”

Sydney Anglican Peter Jensen says “we are . . . secular, in a Christian sort of way”.

This might be a new thought for many younger people, but it’s not a rare observation. Former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher said “the Christian religion . . . is a fundamental part of our national heritage. For centuries it has been our very life blood.”

Historian Geoffrey Blainey has said that the Christian churches did “more than any other institution, public or private, to civilise Australians”.

Law built on the Bible

All market economies rest on a foundation of laws, which enforce private property rights, the honouring of contracts and much else. Williams writes that all Western legal systems are grounded in two core assumptions, both from the Bible: that humans have free will and that morality is God-given.

But the English legal system has many other religiously based features, such as the separation of church and state, the jury system, Magna Carta (negotiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury) and the Bill of Rights (asserting Parliament’s supremacy over the king, since both were “bound by the laws of God and nature”).

The system of common law, based on rulings by judges rather than parliaments, was established by the devout Henry II, who ensured that most of the early judges were clerics, because of their knowledge of canon law.

Economic expansion comes mainly from productivity improvement, productivity improvement comes mainly from invention and innovation, and invention mainly involves applying scientific discoveries.

Guess who were the West’s first promoters of science and the inventors of universities?

The scientific method – discovery by empirical reasoning – is, Williams writes, unquestionably a byproduct of Christianity. To know the truth of God’s creation, it’s not enough to rely on human logic. It’s also necessary to observe closely what God has created.

Religious leaders

Most people today don’t realise how many of the leading politicians, judges and business people who shaped the social and economic system we have inherited had religious beliefs or backgrounds.

Most of the founders of the trade union movement and the Labor Party, for example. John Fairfax, who bought The Sydney Morning Herald in 1841, was a deacon of the Pitt Street Congregational Church, who attended up to four services on a Sunday.

Four of the Herald‘s first five editors were ministers of religion. In his research, Williams found it remarkable how often famous Australians turned out to have been the son of a clergyman (me, too).

But Christianity has permeated our attitudes and values, not just the institutions of our society.

You can be an atheist or a humanist, but if you have any ethical beliefs or moral values they might be influenced by Buddhist ideas, but they’re far more likely to reflect Judaeo-Christian thinking.

And though economists keep forgetting it, it’s the ethical behaviour of ordinary business people and consumers that keeps our economy ticking over satisfactorily and makes the CommInsures still the exception rather than the rule.

Ross Gittins is the Herald’s economics editor.