What was that word I used in the last post?
Nope, none of the above.
It was “dispensationalism.”
Yeah, I know, it’s a mouthful.
But, what exactly is it? And, what does it have to do with that thing called the Rapture?
Besides being a thing that fundamentalists like to say in order to sound intelligent, it’s an idea that has it’s roots in the earliest writings of the Church.
In his seminal work, City of God, Augustine of Hippo viewed history as divided into various stages. In books 15 – 17 Augustine divides the history of the world by Biblical events. The time of Adam’s sons, Cain and Abel until Noah’s flood. From the flood up to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. He then follows Abraham until the time of Israel’s kings; the kings through until the time of Christ. For him these were distinct eras that revealed how God related to humanity.
Darby, too, viewed history through the lens of the Christian scriptures. His view, as reconstructed by C.I. Scofield after him, was a bit more detailed and religious sounding. His view looked a bit like this:
- Innocence, between creation and the Fall.
- Conscience, between the Fall and Noah’s flood.
- Human government, from the flood to the call of Abraham.
- Promise, from Abraham to Moses.
- Law, from Moses to the death of Christ.
- The Church, from the resurrection to the present.
- The Millennium.1
Such divisions are tools that some theologians use to describe how God relates to God’s universe so we may perhaps understand how God works. People like patterns. We see them in the wood grain of doors and in the clouds. Theologians see patterns in Holy Writ and try to describe them so that we might better understand God.
The problem with Darby and Scofield’s view is that in order for it to work the Bible must be taken literally. Every historic event must have happened just as it was written. God must have created the earth ex nihilo, out of nothing. There must have been only two humans created by God, Adam and Eve. From them all the humans who have ever lived must have been descended. An actual Earth ending flood must have occurred in which only a handful of people survived aboard a big boat. And, that boat contained representatives of every species of animals from the whole earth!
The parts of the Bible that are considered ‘prophetic’ are also read literally. And, this misunderstanding is the foundation of dispensationalism. One writer noted, “The hermeneutic [interpretation] of ethnic and geographic literalism in prophecy is base on the assumption that prophecy is nothing but history ahead of time. Consequently, it ascribes to the prophetic portrayals the exactness of a photographic picture in advance.2”
Ok, ok…I get it. This theological mumbo-jumbo is all well and good. But, what does it have to do with the so-called ‘rapture’?
It all ties in with Darby’s view of history. Another writer stated,
What separated Darby’s dispensationalism was his novel method of biblical interpretation, which consisted of a strict literalism…and the separation of the rapture (the “catching away” of the church) from Christ’s Second Coming. At the rapture, he said, Christ will come for his saints; and at the Second Coming, he will come with his saints.3
Ah, there it is! The Rapture! What Darby was saying was that at the end of the sixth dispensation, “The Church,” Jesus was going to return to Earth and ‘snatch’ all of the Christians who had ever lived up into the clouds to join Him. He then would take them to heaven. This would happen just before the Great Tribulation and the 1,000 year reign of Christ. (All of this was mentioned in my previous post.)
Darby added a couple of things. Instead of the dispensation of the Church leading right into the 1,000 year reign of Christ, (the Millennium), he added the rapture and the tribulation.
But, why did he do that?
It goes back to his literal reading of the Bible. There are several passages that he used to develop this idea. And, in the next post we’ll begin to dig into those passages to see what the writers were actually trying to say.
1 McGrath, Alister E., Christian Theology:An Introduction, 4th ed., Blackwell, Oxford, 2007, p. 476.
2 LaRondelle, Hans K., The Israel of God in Prophecy, Berrien Springs, Mich., Andrews University Press, 1983, p. 141. Qtd. In Bloesch, Donald G., The Last Things: Resurrection, Judgment, Glory, IVP Academic, 2004, p. 97-98.
3 http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/pastorsandpreachers/john-nelson-darby.html. Accessed 01/27/2018.