I have recently been reading this book, and am still reading it. Basically, this book discusses classical Dispensationalism and critiques it. That said, this book is not an easy read. The author seems have some theological view which inform his critique of which he does not seem to be exactly explicit about it (nevermind arguing from Scripture; this is an academic historical book more than a biblical theological book). For example, his criticism of the 'strict determinism' of Dispensationalism sounds strange unless he is an Arminian or Open Theist, unless he further clarifies his charge. That said, this is not the issue I would be posting about.
I would like to muse about two topics here: namely Ecclesiology and Israelogy, which we shall go through later. Williams aptly utilizes primary source material from the leaders of Dispensationalism — John Nelson Darby, Cyrus Ingerson Scofield and Lewis Sperry Chafer and others, and showed the development of their views and the implications it had on various topic. On the topic of Ecclesiology, Williams showed the development of Darby's view of the "church in ruins" mentality, which is of course an important element in the Dispensational ecclesiology. Since I was accused before of being a Darbyist, I would like to take some time talking about my view of Ecclesiology, which is much different from the classical Dispensational view on this matter.
The classical Dispensationalist view as exposed in this book is that the Church is fundamentally invisible, and that this invisible church (which consists of true believers) is a transcendent and 'heavenly' entity, having absolutely no relation whatsoever to the earthly visible church. Chafer is quoted (p. 70) as stating that "the local church is no more than the assembly of professed believers in one locality". Therefore, there is a fundamental and metaphysical disconnect between the Visible and Invisible Church. It is also stated that "the church, as the body of christ, exists only in heaven" (p. 76), and therefore "God does not 'call-out' a church per se, but individual persons, their sum constituting the body of Christ" (p 77).
After reading all this, I can see why my stated views may seem to be similar to Dispensationalism on this topic. Yet I totally reject such views as being unbiblical. The problem therefore with people who think of me in such a manner is their judgmentalism in making all sort of assumptions about what my view on especially this particular matter is based on the little that they know about me, and imputing all manner of false and sinful motives to my actions. Yet a cursory look at several of my posts on Ecclesiology, especially the article which I have posted on Church Polity, should have told anyone without any axe to grind that my views are NOT the same as Darbyism. I do not think of the Visible or the Local Church as unimportant, and those who think I do are plainly judgmental, period.
Before going through this topic, it is good to look at the various theological terms that describe the Church.
Invisible Church: The sum total of all true Christians, elected by God before the foundation of the earth who have already confessed the true faith
Visible Church: The visible communion of all believers who professed the true faith
Universal Church: The visible communion of all believers who professed the true faith across all denominational lines and national, ethic, socio-economic and political boundaries
Local Church: The gathering of a group of professing believers as an expression of the Visible/Universal Church
Institutional Church: The Visible Church as it is expressed in institutions/hierarchy/ organizational structures, and especially focused on the leaders in such institutions.
The differences between the Visible Church and the Universal Church is more on the emphasis placed in the latter on the fact that the Church as a body is transnational, transethnic etc.; more on anthropological distribution. The contrasting pairs are therefore the Church Invisible vs Visible, the Church Universal vs the Church Local, and the Church Institutional vs the Priesthood of all believers.
The first pair to look at is the Invisible/Visible contrast that marks the Church. The Invisible Church is the sum total of all the elect who have made a true confession of Christ, while the Visible Church is the sum total of all professing believers of Christ. Therefore, the contrast is one between confession and profession; between what is invisible and what is visible. Over and against the Dispensationalists, the Invisible Church is not just some transcendent, heavenly reality, but is a present 'earthly' reality, though the exact number of the elect are not known to us but to God alone; the difference is horizontal rather than vertical. The aim of course is to make the Visible Church consists of the Invisible Church only, and thus that all who profess Christ should truly confess Christ also. Yet, we do know that there are false believers in our midst (cf 1 Jn. 2:19) but this is something we have to bother with only when they express their unbelief. In the meantime, all who profess Christ should be treated as genuine Christians, unless they prove otherwise.
The next contrasting pair is between the Church Universal and the Church Local. The contrast is therefore one of acknolwedging that the Church is gathered not in one place only, but there are local expressions of the Church as groups of believers gather separately for whatever reasons (ie geography, language, culture, doctrinal). Such a contrast is therefore a present factual reality, as it is impossible for all Christians everywhere to congregate in one place to perform all the functions of the Church.
The last contrasting pair is between the Church as an Institute and the Priesthood of all believers. This recognizes the difference between the leaders and the official beliefs of a Church, and the individual believers that make up the Church.
Now, the problem with Dispensationalism seems to be the inability to differentiate between the Church as an Institute, and the Visible Church. Dispensationalism sees the waywardness of the Institutional Church and throws away the biblical concept of the Visible Church in favor of their version of the 'transcendent, heavenly and invisible church'. Others who place a huge emphasis on the Local Church identifies the Institutional Church with the Visible Church and therefore the Institutional Church is at best not to be criticized, in an attitude reminiscent of New Evangelicalism. According to one website [link since withdrawn — see Update at end], the Spirit of Darbyism can therefore be characterized by:
- a. Rightness of one’s view, anyone with differing view is apostate
- b. Unteachable spirit
- c. “church in ruins” mentality – “lone-ranger” Christian – never associated with any church (extreme anti-denominationalism)
- d. Profess to serve the “universal” church, but only in terms of seeking out heretics/heresy
- e. Self-appointed "watchmen" of Christendom
- f. All over WWW – discussion boards, blogs, etc
- Local churches could do with less of such!
- Congregations should be taught lessons on pride/humility
- Preachers should be faithful and continue to teach sound doctrine
Before we go even further as to why such a definition is erroneous, let us affirm that the Visible Church will always be around contra the claims of Darby that the "chuch is in ruins".
In Mt. 16: 18, it is written:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Christ has promised to build His church on the rock of Peter's Confession (that He is the Christ), and He promised that the gates of hell will NOT previal against the Church. The Church will never be destroyed because Jesus is the one who is protecting her and preserving her. Therefore, both the Insivisble Church and the Visible and the Universal Church will always exist even to the very end of time itself.
That said, we must notice that this promise was never made to any particular Local church, Denomination, or any type of Christian groups. And therefore, while the Church Universal will never fall, the local churches can and do fall. Simiarly, the promise does not apply to the Institutional Church as well, as if Christian leaders and denominaions are infallible.
The failure to differentiate between the Visible Church and the Institutional Church is actually one of the hallmarks of Church-ianity, which identifies any visible form of the Church as the Visible Church and invest into it the promises of Christ in Mt. 16:18. Such a mis-identification causes harm ultimately to the cause of Christ. For exampe, some may think that that the failure to associate with any denomination or mainstream Church authority (a "lone ranger" mentality) is erroneous, yet the entire idea of a denomination is part of the Institutional Church and Church-ianity. We will ignore part d for its demonstrates a lack of charity and judgmental assult of other's characters as if such a person know what for example I do in the time I am not blogging (Curiosly enough, more than 50% of my blog is talking about various doctrines, songs etc and not naming heretics, yet it seems that there are people who are especially adept at seeing only the things they want to see). Part e is an attack on all Discernment ministries in particular, and all discerning Christians in general. Worst of all, it is a blatent attack on Scripture which tell us to be Bereans (Acts 17: 11), to test the spirits (1 Jn. 4:1) and it behaves as if false doctrines and teachers are not present in the Church. With regards to the difference between the Visible Church and the Institutional Church, Discernment ministries and all of us who function as watchmen and apologists are critcal of much of the Institutional Church and various local churches, yet, at least for me, we embrace the Visible Church. Like the Reformers, we have in mind the reformation of the Church in which the Visible Church would be purged of the dross and the heretics within her, however many they may be, and the elect of God called and matured in the faith as they join the Visible Church in its expression of biblically minded Local churches (not just any Local Church), with the result being the reform of the entire Institutional Church. We are not interested in revolution in which all church bodies would be destroyed and a new church order established (which was the error of the Anabaptists btw). Therefore, those who criticize us as having the Spirit of Darbyism is in fact bearing false witness against all people of discernment. It is no wonder that such persons, because of their identification of the Visible Church with the Institutional Church, will leave heretics alone rather than contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).
So contrary to the assertion of that article, local churches need more of such people, not less. The congregation do need to be taught about pride and humility, yey to do so biblically, knowing that a false humility that refuses to contend for the faith is not true humiltiy at all, but is actually pride masquerading as 'humility'.
With this let us look at the idea and concept of Israel within Dispensationalism and within the Bible.
[to be continued]
*Update*: The key antagonist for this post has apologized for his behavior in this, and as such, the site link is removed.