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Answering the Skeptic: Dispensationalism is an Invented Doctrine

Answering the Skeptic: Dispensationalism is an Invented Doctrine
By Jack Kinsella

One of the most common objections to Dispensationalism offered by Preterists and Covenant theologians is that, according to them, it was an invention based on a ‘vision’ ascribed to a young Scottish girl named Margaret MacDonald.

As they tell it, in 1830, she had a vision about the end of the world and when she came out from under her trance, she wrote it down. This account attracted the attention of Edward Irving and his church later claimed Margaret as one of their own prophetesses.

Irving also had an interest in prophecy and held prophetic conferences. The historian of Irving’s church claimed that Margaret was the first person to teach a two stage second coming of Christ.

John Darby traveled to Scotland to visit the MacDonald home. Darby was a lawyer until a year after his conversion when he was ordained a deacon in the Church of England. Soon after entering the ministry he became disillusioned with the institutional church and started the Brethren movement in Plymouth, England.

Darby became known as the ‘father’ of Dispensationalism, the first eschatology to incorporate the ‘prophecy’ of Margaret MacDonald. Darby continued to develop this new view by becoming the first to make a radical distinction between Israel and the Church.

Darby taught that God has two special groups of people (or two Brides) and a separate plan for each of them. This meant Christ would have to return twice.

Covenant theologians sneer that, “this secret rapture was so secret that no one had ever heard of it for 1800 years!”


First, let’s clearly define what Dispensationalism means; “the act of dispensing or something dispensed; a specific arrangement or system by which something is dispensed.”

Moses dispensed the Law. The word ‘dispensation’ does not mean a period of time. It means the dispensing of a particular message or ministry. For example, the Church Age began at Pentecost and will end at the Rapture.

“…Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)

The Margaret MacDonald story has been told and retold so many times that most Covenant theologians can recite it in their sleep. There is something about Dispensationalism that makes them see red.

Most Dispensationalists couldn’t care less whether or not a segment of the Church believes it will go through the Tribulation. I am among that group.

If somebody trusts Christ for his salvation, but disagrees with the timing, (or even the doctrine) of a secret Rapture, they are still saved.

But I’ve yet to discuss Dispensationalism with Covenant (or replacement) theologians without being called names like ‘false teacher’ and ‘liar’. The Margaret MacDonald story is included in every missive, so that ‘ignorant’ can be added to the list.

Is it true? Was the doctrine of Dispensationalism born out of the vision of a Scottish schoolgirl and nurtured by a church who proclaimed her a ‘prophetess’? Is Dispensationalism, as replacement theology teaches, such a secret that nobody had heard of it for 1800 years?

In 177 AD, which is, ummm, like 1827 years ago, Irenaeus wrote in ‘Against Heresies (1.10) “What the church believes: One God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who PROCLAIMED THROUGH THE PROPHETS THE DISPENSATIONS OF GOD, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His future manifestation from heaven.”

In addressing the teachings of an heretical sect called ‘Montanists” (today we’d call them ‘replacement theologians) Irenaeus wrote;

“Montanists set at naught the gift of the Spirit, which in the latter times has been, by the good pleasure of the Father, poured out upon the human race, do not admit that aspect of the EVANGELICAL DISPENSATION presented by John’s Gospel, in which the Lord promised that He would send the Paraclete (John 16); but set aside at once both the Gospel and the prophetic Spirit.”

In ‘Against Heresies’ 3:15 Irenaeus wrote, “Jesus and the Father are the only true God. Jesus gave Moses the dispensation of the Law.”

And, “Some of the orthodox are ignorant of God’s dispensations.” (Against Heresies 5.32)

Clement of Alexandria (192 AD — 1,812 years ago) in his ‘Stromata (5.3) identified seven distinct Dispensations of God, including the present Age of Grace.

Origin taught Dispensationalism in 230 AD (1,774 years ago). Justin Martyr taught in the 1st century that there were four phases, or dispensations’ of human history; Adam to Abraham, Abraham to Moses, Moses to Christ, and Christ to the eternal state.

So, if the early Church fathers taught Dispensationalism, then why so much focus on Margaret MacDonald? How come nobody was teaching it, say, in 1492?

An honest reading of history provides the answer.

When the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the state Church of Rome, he set into motion a codification process in which ultimately resulted in the Bible being restricted to members of the clergy. This period is known to history as the ‘Dark Ages’. It wasn’t until the Bible was made available to the common man that the Protestant Reformation began to take place in the 15th century.

And the Protestant Church was born out of the Roman Catholic Church. While it rejected Catholicism’s teaching of salvation by works, it carried with it much of its doctrine, including that of replacement theology.

For almost three hundred years, the Protestant Church continued to accept the Catholic doctrine of replacement theology without challenge. Until Dr. C. I. Schofield reviewed and advanced the teachings of the early Church, publishing his findings in the Schofield Reference Bible.

The Scofield Reference Bible attempted to set in order the right divisions of God’s purpose as Scofield understood it. And it is important to note that there is very little similarity between the writings of Scofield and the writings of Darby, despite being assigned joint credit for ‘inventing’ the doctrine by its critics.

As Christians, we are obligated to search the Scriptures and see if the Bible teaches different dispensations, and if it does, we are obligated to embrace its teaching. If it does not, we are bound to reject it.

There are three things to keep in mind about dispensational teaching. First, it maintains a distinction between Israel and the Church, recognizing God has an eternal, unchanging, Plan for Israel and a different Plan for the Church during the Church Age.

The second is that Dispensationalists hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible, instead of spiritualizing a text or making everything a ‘type’.

Thirdly, Dispensationalists believe God’s purpose is much bigger than the salvation of mankind. God’s purpose centers in His glory.

It was at the Cross we get in on God’s blessings and Purpose. However, the Cross is not the center or the end of God’s Plan.

The Bible teaches that there have been and will be saved Jews and Gentiles who are not part of the present body of Christ. Moses and Abraham come to mind. So does the Gentile King, Melchizidek. And the Bible teaches that Enoch was not only saved, he was raptured early.

After the Church Age, the Bible teaches that all Israel will be saved at the end of the Tribulation.

Dispensationalists also believe in a literal thousand-year rule of Christ on earth. During that time, Scripture says Israel will be the head of nations and Jerusalem will be the center of government.

The Bible is all about God’s kingdom and His Son ruling over it. This is the part where the replacement theologians start turning red. Dispensationalists believe that there is a place for the Jew, the Gentile and the Church of God in this eternal purpose. Those saved in this age are in the church, the body of Christ.

Replacement theology cuts the Jew out of God’s Plan, blurs the line between Christian and Gentile, and assumes unto the Church the Promises of God to Israel.

Therefore, according to the modern interpretation of replacement theology, modern-day Israel isn’t really the Israel of the Bible. It has no special spiritual connection to the Land. This theological worldview is behind most mainstream Protestant churches sharing the Vatican’s unwavering support for the Palestinian cause.

Replacement theology is also the root cause of modern anti-Semitism. This is why those who hold to it get so nasty when attacking Dispensationalism. If Dispensationalist truth IS truth, then they have a problem with Genesis 12:3.

“And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”

Original Article

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