The End of Dispensationalism
February 9, 2012 by 39 Comments
There is no official church doctrine on the end times. It is a matter of dispute. However, there does seem to be a consensus among all different corners of the Christian world today among Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and thankfully more and more evangelical theologians all the time: dispensationalism is an erroneous teaching. [*NOTE: I changed this paragraph after so many comments focused on the words “Christian heresy.” I think calling dispensationalism a Christian heresy is a mistake. So, I’m striking it & posting this retraction. I typically reserve the word “heresy” only for generally accepted Christological heresies, (Jesus isn’t God, Jesus isn’t human, Jesus wasn’t resurrected). I violated my own rule here & shouldn’t have. I don’t think dispensationalists are heretics, nor is it a heresy. I do believe it is an erroneous teaching, but I don’t want to count people out for that.]
I feel like most people who hold to a belief in the rapture do so because they don’t know the story; they don’t know the history. My hope is that when people discover the history, they will be able to think more critically about the concept of a rapture.
In the 1830s a pastor named John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) was ministering in PlymouthEngland. Although Darby never studied theology, he came up with a brand new interpretation of the bible, specifically in regards to the end times – what happens when you die and what is the final destiny of humankind and creation, the chief feature of which is the rapture.
The idea of the rapture was floating around Christian circles at the time and Darby picked it up and developed it. It basically says that there will be two second comings of Christ. The first second coming is a secret second coming, the rapture. The second, second coming was when Jesus comes back to earth with all of the saints who have gone before and those who were raptured and to set up his millennial reign on earth. The word rapture (from the Latin raptura, which means “caught up”), does not appear in the bible, nor does Christ ever mention two second comings.
Darby’s teach was based on an errant translation of 1 Thess. 4:16-17 by Jerome (347-420) in the Latin Vulgate text (405AD). It was a radical teaching in his day and was a significant break with the teachings of the Catholic Church, the Church of England, and the Protestant church of his day. His theological line of thinking is not found in any of the reformers such as Luther, Calvin, Wesley or any Catholic theologians such as Augustine or Aquinas. Darby broke off from the Church of England and formed his own non-denominational church that eventually became the Plymouth Brethren. He died in obscurity having never gained acceptance until his writings/thought found a powerful disciple in Cyrus Scofield.
Like Darby, Scofield was trained in law, not theology, and his great accomplishment was that he published the world’s first study bible in 1909. The Scofield Reference Bible was a huge seller (it’s still in print) and to this day it contains the errant translation from Jerome & the thinking of John Darby about the rapture. This study bible was printed by Moody press and was hugely influential in America. This is perhaps one reason that the rapture concept is largely an American phenomenon.
The concepts of dispensationalism and specifically a belief in a “rapture” are still not generally accepted by most theological streams of thought. In recent times this view has been championed in schools like Dallas Theological Seminary, Bob Jones University, Liberty University, and other fundamentalist churches and institutions, as well as by authors such as Hal Lindsay (The Late Great Planet Earth), Tim Lahaye (Left Behind series), and others like John MacArthur, and Charles Ryrie… and television’s Kirk Cameron.
The fact is that the church rejected ideas like the “rapture” for 1800 years. Even after the Darbyites helped it to gain popularity, it was still very limited. The vast majority of Christians today reject the idea. Consensus among Christians is that this is an aberrant teaching.
It’s time to let dispensationalism – mainly the belief in the rapture – go.
Jesus will return to be sure, resurrection awaits the cosmos, but a “rapture” isn’t part of our future. Rapture needs to go back to meaning “ecstasy,” and should be used only in romance novels.