What is happening?

The Dragon stood on the shore of the sea. I saw a Beast rising from the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads—on each horn a crown, and each head inscribed with a blasphemous name…The Dragon turned over its power to it, its throne and great authority…

The whole earth was agog, gaping at the Beast. They worshiped the Dragon who gave the Beast authority, and they worshiped the Beast, exclaiming, “There’s never been anything like the Beast! No one would dare go to war with the Beast!”

The Beast had a loud mouth, boastful and blasphemous. It could do anything it wanted for forty-two months. It yelled blasphemies against God, blasphemed his Name, blasphemed his Church, especially those already dwelling with God in Heaven. It was permitted to make war on God’s holy people and conquer them. It held absolute sway over all tribes and peoples, tongues and races. Everyone on earth whose name was not written from the world’s foundation in the slaughtered Lamb’s Book of Life will worship the Beast.

Are you listening to this? They’ve made their bed; now they must lie in it…

I saw another Beast rising out of the ground. It had two horns like a lamb but sounded like a dragon when it spoke. It was a puppet of the first Beast, made earth and everyone in it worship the first Beast, which had been healed of its deathblow.

This second Beast worked magical signs, dazzling people by making fire come down from Heaven. It used the magic it got from the Beast to dupe earth dwellers, getting them to make an image of the Beast that received the deathblow and lived…

(Excerpts from Revelation 13 (MSG Version)

Revelation is a beloved book of the Evangelical Dispensationalist.  This passage descries two beasts, the first beast is what has been misappropriated as the “Anti-Christ” at least since the Reformation.  This is incorrect as the term “Anti-Christ” is used only 3 times in the Bible (twice in the first epistle of John, and once in the second epistle of John), each time referring to false teachers that come out of the Church itself and their doctrines.  The Anti-Christ is not a political leader as so many suppose, it is in the Church itself.  The term “beast” used here actually means a venomous beast.  I tend to picture a kimodo dragon in relating to that term, a beast that inflicts a deadly wound and follows its victim, waiting to the venom to take effect before overtaking its helpless victim.

The second beast is regarded as a religious leader or group which follows and supports the first beast.  Together, they dupe people and convince them to follow the first beast.  By following the first beast, they are in fact following Satan, the Dragon, who gives the beast its power.  There does not actually have to be anything “magical” here in the beast’s power to mislead people into following the beast and Satan:  lies, pride, boastfulness, arrogance, blasphemy – they are all from Satan; the only trick comes in getting people to believe them.  If there is anything that the last 3 years have proven, it is that it is not very hard to get people to believe lies.  All you have to do is tell them lies they want to hear.

There have probably been many beasts of Revelation, and there probably will continue to be many more as long as human civilization continues.  Ever since Akhenaten of Egypt and Constantine of Rome, every political leader knows the value of a gaining religious allies; and the more “conservative” the political leaders, the more “fundamentalist” the religious leaders, the more valuable they are to each other.  But now we are facing the beasts of Revelation here in the United States.  Donald Trump and his minions in the Republican Party, along with this current manifestation of Dispensational Evangelicalism, are in every way the description of the beasts of Revelation 13.

Reading Revelation 13 should send chills up the spine of the Dispensationalist, but it doesn’t to the Evangelical today.  They have had almost 2oo yrs of believing that real news is fake, and their own fake news is real; they have lived their lives in distrust of media, science, and government, even when it is for their good.  They have been told over and over that anything that deviates from the capitalist world view is of the Devil, and progressive world views are evil and will take away their freedom to worship.  Further, in order to keep the fear and hate that they have built up intact, they will completely turn their backs on the teachings of Jesus Himself.  It can be no surprise at all that they will follow along with Trump’s message of hate and mistrust of anything but what he tells them is real.  It is exactly the message they want to hear, and have spent years believing was true.

So, this is the bottom line, this is where the Church in this country finds itself today.  Are non-Dispensational, non-Evangelical denominations prepared to handle this challenge?  No, they are not.

You may be wondering at this point why I utilize the term “main stream” as opposed to the more accepted term “mainline” when referring to the established Protestant denominations.  It’s because I see this phrase as more fitting to what Protestant denominations have become.  Protestants in their churches today seem to be floating down stream, overall oblivious to the difficulties and dangers that they are facing.  Main stream Protestants are dying off, quite literally.  It is an aging demographic, and predictions are that by the year 2030 they will cease to function as any organized religious entity.  Yet they still seem content with the “that’s the way we have always done it” mentality.  They remains largely resistant to any change in the Ecclesiastical structure or Liturgical mannerisms that will allow them to address the needs society today.  In short they are old fashioned and want to stay that way, even if it means that eventually they will be left with no choice but to close their church doors.

Main stream denominational leaders remain woefully ignorant of the dangers that Dispensationalism presents, most do not know what it teaches, and in many cases, may not even know what it is.  Yet its underlying message of hate and distrust, do reach into the pews of the main stream denominations.  The people sitting in those pews still watch Fox News, still watch 700 Club, still listen to conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh.  The central message of the Dispensationalist Evangelical is still getting through, and disturbingly, the more main stream Protestants attend church, the more likely they are to fall prey to it.

This article details a disturbing trend that was found following the 2016 elections.  Even in the most progressive denominations, the more often someone attended services and church activities a week, the more likely it was that they would vote for Donald Trump:

Searching for the Religious Left

The article seems to end in bewilderment, how could this be?  But the answer is really quite simple.  Main stream denominations have failed.  They are faced with a challenge they do not understand, and are ill prepared to deal with.  Their leaders can write position papers, and doctrinal statements to their hearts content, but they mean nothing to those sitting in the pews.  They are really just worthless scraps of paper.  Why is that?  This is the work of the second beast – the real Anti-Christ…

The language we use is an expression of who we are, how we see the world, how we make sense of our environment.  It is very difficult to understand someone who speaks another language than you do.  You may find a way to communicate, but it is through a set of assumptions that we human beings hold to be universally true; a smile means happy, or a frown means sad.  However there can be much more to a smile and a frown than just that, and it is those things that can be misconstrued.  The same holds true of main stream Christians and Evangelicals.  Both will make assumptions about what the other is saying based on their particular understanding of what Christianity means, but many times they will both be wrong.

It was not until I was in my mid-twenties that I realized that the Rapture was not a universally taught doctrine in Christian churches.  I had always pretty much assumed that everyone knew of the Rapture – I was wrong.  Looking back now, I guess I really should have figured it out, but I just never made the right connections.  It was at that point that I also realized that had been speaking a different language than other Christians all along.  When the Evangelical says, “Jesus is coming again.”  It is the Rapture they are referring to, other Christians will use the same words, but they are referring to Christ returning to set up his kingdom on earth.  When the Evangelical sings “Oh what a wonderful day it will be, Jesus is coming again!”  They are not thinking of the same “day” as others are – they are thinking of the Rapture.  The difference is not subtle.  It is a real, and a wide, chasm that exist between to two expressions.

The same is true of the word “Grace”.  To most main stream Christians, Grace is the work of God in our lives to move us into a relationship with Him, it leads us in the directions that we should go to follow Him, it calls us back when we fall off our way – it is the extended hand of a loving God toward imperfect humans.  But to the Dispensationalist, Grace is simply “unmerited favor” that God extends to human beings.  Beyond that though, Grace is also a period of time, the current Dispensation, which means, that Grace also has an end.  And in the end, those dirty sinners will get what’s coming to them (after the Dispensationalist has been Raptured of course).  That is not something that is taught in main stream churches, but the underlying attitude, that hateful distrust, does find its way into main stream pews.  Again, it is not a subtle difference, it is a wide, and very real, chasm that our main stream churches and leaders do not understand.

This second beast is there to wrap the lies of the first into religious propaganda that will appear to those hearing it to be coming from God, and yet the meanings of the words are not what they think.  Lies are hidden behind a phrase from a verse here and another phrase from a verse there in the Bible.  This second beast causes Christians to ignore the teachings of Christ to follow along after the things they want to be told; and shown in the above article, this modern Evangelical beast is alive and well in even the most progressive (on paper) Protestant denominations.  The second beast has been very successful in its mission!

So what is needed?  I am calling for a RE-Formation of the Church in our country.  Not another Reformation, and we certainly need no more revivals.  Rather a Re-Forming of the Church in seeking what Jesus Christ Himself actually wanted His Church to be.

That is the subject of our next post…

Evangelicalism and Dispensationalism

Dispensationalism is probably the most the most important aspect of the modern manifestation of Evangelicalism, yet it is the least understood aspect of Evangelicalism.  There is a lot of discussion and dispute regarding the exact origin of Dispensationalism, but most will agree that it was a man named John Darby who first popularized the idea in and/or around the year 1830.  Darby was one of the founders of the group called the Plymouth Brethren; this group had become disillusioned with the current hierarchal structure of churches in England, Ireland, and Scotland.  The group formed in 1828 and Darby became one of its chief advocates and outspoken messengers.  Darby is a man whose character has often been called into question, along with the motivation and impetus of his development of Dispensationalism; however it can be said that he was a man who knew his Bible very well.  That is not to say that his views are correct, one can know the words of the Bible very well, but still never know Jesus, which is what being a Christian means.

At the time of its inception, Dispensationalism did not find immediate acceptance by most Evangelicals.  Dispensationalism was, and still is, viewed as a very different method of interpreting the Bible.  It diverges from the more established Covenant Theology norms, and it took time before it became popular in theological circles.  Darby made several trips to the United States, as did other members of the Plymouth Brethren.  Eventually strongholds of Dispensational thought were established in the United States and the movement became more popular.

Probably the most important milestone in the development of Dispensational thought came with the publishing of the Schofield Reference Bible in 1909.  This immediately became the gold standard of Dispensational Biblical interpretation, and is still very popular today.  The Schofield Bible gives cross references and notes which succinctly map out the very complex nature of Dispensationalist theology.  This allowed Dispensationalism to grow at an ever quickening pace.

In the split that took place in Evangelicalism during the middle of the 20th century, Dispensationalism found an established home in the fundamentalist factions, while on the other side of the divide it was rejected and even named a heresy by some denominations.  Today however, with the fundamentalist regaining control of the modern Evangelical movement, Dispensationalism is the dominate theology of Evangelicals.

So, what is Dispensationalism?

Simply put, Dispensationalism is the belief that human history as portrayed in the Bible is divided into specific periods of time called dispensations.  In each dispensation God reveals himself in a specific manner, and human beings are given specific requirements to respond to how God is revealing himself at that point in time.  In all cases human beings fail in these responsibilities, and God revisits with a new dispensation and, therefore, new requirements.  The number of these dispensations will vary occasionally from one interpretation to another, but it generally ranges from 3 to 7, with 7 being the predominate thought today.  It is important to note that not all these dispensations have occurred yet – and, not all are finished.  A rough listing of dispensations recorded in this view of Biblical history is:

Dispensation of Innocence (Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden)

Dispensation of Conscience (Adam to Noah)

Dispensation of Human Government (Noah to the Tower of Babel)

Dispensation of the Patriarchs (Abraham to the Exodus from Egypt)

Dispensation of the Law (The Law given to Moses and the establishment of Israel)

Dispensation of Grace (the Church, Present Age)

The Millennial Rule of Christ on Earth (Future)

These first three dispensations listed deal with the human race as a whole, the third and fourth deal specifically with the nation of Israel. It is important to note that the Dispensation of Law has not yet been completed according to the Dispensationalist model, but will be completed at a future time. The next, the Dispensation of Grace, deals with the present age and specifically the church itself.  The last dispensation has not come about yet, and will be established by the thousand year earthly reign of Jesus on earth as it is recorded in the final chapters of Revelation.  By far the most emphasis is placed on the last three dispensations by the modern Evangelical movement.

One of the foundational elements of Dispensationalist thought is that God deals with the Jewish nation, Israel, and the Christian Church in very different ways.  The current “Age of Grace” was necessitated by the Jews rejection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, thus opening the door for the Gospel to be preached to the Gentile nations.  It is a mistake however to think that this current dispensation is something that God came up with “on the fly” as many Dispensationalist detractors will claim; actually, this was, in the Dispensationalist view point, always the plan. This current Dispensation of Grace was hidden from the Jewish prophets and was only made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  But to the Dispensationalist, it also means that God is not through dealing with Israel yet, the Dispensation of the Law is not over; no, the Dispensation of Grace interrupted the Law in order for the Gentile nations to hear the Gospel message.  The Dispensation of the Law will not conclude until the 7 yr “Tribulation” recorded in the book of Revelation.  In order for the Dispensation of the Law to be fulfilled however, it becomes necessary that the Dispensation of Grace to end, and the Church to be removed – thus, we find the teachings regarding the Rapture of the Church which I have discussed in previous posts.

Confused yet?  Yes, you probably are if you have not been indoctrinated into the realm of thinking.  Believe it or not, it does become even more confusing, but at this point we must draw some conclusions and start to see how Dispensationalism becomes so popular in the current manifestation of the Evangelical movement.  Further explanation of the Dispensationalist teachings will have to wait for a later post; but here I want to make one thing very clear:  Dispensationalism IS heresy.  It is an entirely different way of viewing “biblical” events, and its foundation rests on its adherent’s acceptance the Dispensational interpretation of those events.  This interpretation is FULL of apostasy.

To illustrate this, let’s return to the Dispensational teaching of the Rapture of the church.  I Thessalonians 4:16-17 is used as a description of what the rapture will be.  Make no mistake, this description in in the Bible, and yes, as they will claim, these verses were viewed by the early church to describe a coming event (it must be noted though when this event will occur is quite different in the views of the early church than it is in Dispensationalism).  However, these verses to NOT describe the Dispensationalist Rapture.  The apostasy of the Rapture hides itself behind these verses (and others a well).  This apostasy is the belief that Jesus will return, not once as the Bible predicts, but twice.  The first time here, “in the clouds”, to remove the church from the earth, thus opening the door for conclusion of the Dispensation of the Law.  Then a second time as described In Revelation 20 to set up His Millennial  Kingdom on earth, which is the final dispensation.   This idea of Jesus returning twice is the apostasy of the Dispensational Rapture.  It is never found in the Bible.  It requires you to accept their interpretation of the linear framework they see developed in the Bible (dispensations) to believe it to be true.

So, why is Dispensationalism so widely accepted by modern Evangelicals?

First, because it masquerades itself as a literalist view of the Bible, even though, as we just demonstrated, it really is not.

Secondly, because the Evangelical view of salvation or conversion fits neatly into the Dispensationalist framework.  The only requirement placed on human beings in this current Dispensation of Grace is to accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for salvation.  That’s it – from there you can look forward to rapture and going to heaven.

Thirdly, because Dispensationalism is highly politically motivated.  The Dispensationalist will look to current world events for verification of their beliefs.  They will look for signs in what is happening on the world stage for indications of the imminent return of Jesus Christ (meaning the rapture) and the fulfillment of the prophecies they see in the book of Revelations.  They see these signs in such things as the re-establishment of the nation of Israel, they will see the United Nations as the beginnings of a world government, they will see the European Union and NATO as the reconstitution of the old Roman Empire; they will even see things like socialism, and even climate change to be a plot to impose a world order as they understand the beast of Revelation will do.  The current Trump administration will seem to them to fit right into their Dispensationalist, Evangelical ideas – they don’t like NATO so they have no problem if we pulled out; they don’t believe in climate change so there is no problem with pulling out of environmental treaties; moving the  US embassy to Jerusalem, that was a great thing.

All this leads to making the Evangelical very vulnerable to being tossed about with every political whim that comes about, as long as they can justify it somehow in their Dispensationalist framework.  There are consequences to heresy and believing apostasy, this is what we are seeing today.  Jesus said “You will know them by their fruit” (Matthew 7:16).  Today we see the fruit of Dispensational Evangelicalism.