Friday, October 17, 2003

Dispensationalism and the Law

(Note: these are continuing fragments of Lesson 4 of my end times Sunday school. I will eventually post a refined Lesson 4 in toto for those who are linking to the individual lessons.)



Dispensationalism has often faced the charge of antinomianism, or lawlessness. We will see some of the reasons in a bit. First I wanted to say the Reformed Theology has also had to, on occasion, face this charge, when heretical groups have perverted the doctrines of grace into a license to sin.

For Reformed Theology, it crops up occasionally either along the "grace abounds so who cares if we sin, in fact all the better" variety or the not totally unrelated "given predestination, our fate is sealed one way or the other so we might as well eat, drink, and make merry." In either case what we are talking about is not merely error but full fledged heresy.

Heretics teaching antinomianism sometimes use a caricature of Reformed Theology to justify their apostasy. In dispensationalism, the charge is more serious, namely that it is built into the system.

Classic Scofieldian dispensationalism teaches of seven dispensations: Innocence, Conscience, Civil Government, Promise, Law, Grace and Kingdom. You can find charts on the internet, here and here are two examples. (By the way, if you want to send an email to those Left Behind you can do that here. I am thinking about signing myself up with a message like "you don’t feel so smart now, do you knucklehead. You and you postmillennial trash talk." You know, Just In Case.)

The charge of antinomianism is on top of the equally serious charge that dispensationalism teaches more than one method of salvation. The latter charge, which I think is unfair, is Mr. Scofield's fault. For he wrote in his original Scofield bible:
As a dispensation, grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ…The point of testing is no longer obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ, with good works as the fruit of salvation.—C. I. Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible (emphasis mine)

Recall Scofield's definition of a dispensation:
A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.—C. I. Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible (emphasis his)


Not only are you tested differently in each dispensation, but in at least two of the dispensations (law and grace) the result of the test is salvation or damnation. Talk about pass-fail. Anyway, Scofield (inadvertently, or wrong-headedly, but without question mistakenly according to his fellow dispensationalisists) implied that under law you are saved by obedience and under grace, by faith.

Dispensationalists have, ever since, been saying "Scofield didn’t really mean that." Fair enough. That such a statement must be disavowed is clear in light of the rest of scripture, such as:

2If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about--but not before God. 3What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." (Rom 4:2-3)

Abraham was saved by faith, not obedience.

While we grant that dispensationalism does not teach multiple methods of salvation, it is clear how their divisions make them prone to that mistake.

The same grace/law division that lead to Scofield's error has a more pervasive and insidious cousin which has not been disavowed and does lead some dispensationalists into antinomianism.

The error is in the dispensational teaching the Old Testament moral law does not apply in the current dispensation of grace. (In the book of Hebrews we learn that the ceremonial law has been lifted, that is not the issue.)

Surely they don't teach the moral law has been abrogated? Well, what do you make of these statements (as quoted by Mathison):
The law was never given to Gentiles and is expressly done away with for Christians—Charles C. Ryrie, Balancing The Christian Life, (Moody Press), 1969, p. 88.

What is law? The answer depends on what period of human history you are thinking about. —Ryrie, Balancing The Christian Life, p. 30.

The entire system, including the [Ten] commandments as a rule of life, ceased with the death of Christ.—Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, (Dallas Seminary Press), 1947, 7:225.

In another work, Chafer argues that Christ "disannulled" the law. (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Grace, Zondervan, 1922, p. 88.) And Ryrie teaches that we should presume that no Old Testament commands remain valid unless they are explicitly repeated in the New Testament. (Charles C. Ryrie, "The End of the Law", Bibliotheca Sacra, 1967, pp.239-242.

Think about that. The words of Christ Himself are certainly to the contrary:

17"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:17-19)

In this short passages Christ says twice (three times?) that He did not come to abolish the law. Furthermore, we have

31 "The time is coming," declares the LORD , "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.

33 "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD . "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
(Jer. 31:31,33)

The law, which the classic dispensationalists claim was for the Jews only, has, as prophesied by Jeremiah, been written onto the hearts of those of the New Covenant, which would be us.

This will lead us into a discussion of The Lordship Salvation controversy, in which dispensational antinomianism is made explicit.

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