Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism

Part 2: The Rise of the Christians
by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com

In my previous blog I began relating to Reformed Christians a useful theological tool that I call “The Ephesians Road Out Dispensationalism.” I developed this instrument about twenty years ago after long and fruitless interactions with dispensationalists which transpired over a number of years. This is the second installment expositing this evangelistic tract.

Background to Product Development

In my eschatological debates twenty and thirty years ago I had fruitlessly attempted to prove the impossible. I was trying to convince my dispensationalist friends that the rapture was not going to occur on the day we were engaged in discussion. Day after day they laughed me to scorn. Day after day I continued to fail in convincing anyone that the rapture was not going to occur that very day. My success was being hampered by their annoying habit of continually looking upwards to the clouds while I was trying to point out Scripture texts to support my argument. This kept my seed arguments from finding root. My seed could find no purchase.

Those debates inevitably ended at midnight — the very close of the day. At that moment the dispensationalist would confidently assert: “Maybe tomorrow.” As I pulled my hair in frustration, I would hear them walking off lost in song: “Coming again, coming again / Maybe morning may be noon, / Maybe evening and maybe soon.” All I could do was stumble away with my head bowed low in exhaustion while humming: “You load sixteen tons and what do you get, / Another day older and deep in regret” (my apologies to Merle Travis — or George S. Davis; the original authorship of this song is still in dispute). I began to surmise that engaging in debate with a dispensationalist is a lot like saddling a cow: It is a whole lot of work, and there is not much point in it.

But I began to rethink my methods. Through this process of self-examination arose The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism. Previously I had found it extremely difficult to pull dispensationalists away from their network diagrams, Venn diagrams, Bachman diagrams, block definition diagrams, model diagrams, dot-and-cross diagrams, existential graphs, bar charts, message sequence charts, pie charts, tree charts, flow charts, line charts, bubble charts, radar charts, candlestick charts, Kagi charts, Gantt charts, Pareto charts, PERT charts, Pournelle charts, sparklines, histograms, cartograms, nomograms, box plots, scatterplots, probability plots, tube maps, value streaming maps, Karnaugh maps, stereographic projection graphs, Dymaxion graphs, wave-number frequency graphs, and so forth.

For the life of me I could not convince them that these charts and graphs were only in recently-produced study Bibles and not in the original biblical manuscripts. Too many dispensationalists were convinced that archaeologists were on the very brink of discovering the Scofield Reference Bible in the original Greek. After all, Joseph Smith was so successful in finding his Reformed Egyptian hieroglyphic golden plates on September 22, 1823 near his home in Manchester, New York (though the angel Moroni promptly took them off and hid them)! Archaeologists were so fortunate as to discover the Hebrew Copper Scroll in Cave III at Khirbet Qumran on March 14, 1952 (though some Bedouin shepherds attempted to sell them to antiquities dealers in downtown Cairo)! Why, why, why then may we not expect biblical scholars to find near Scofield’s birthplace in Lenawee Country, Michigan, at least some aluminum foil wrappers containing the original Greek version of the Scofield Scrolls? Such was the depth of their trust in their early church fathers, Darby, Scofield, and CHM.

My debates became even more difficult with the work of Robert Gaskins and Dennis Austin of Forethought, Inc. in Sunnyvale, California. They created the original version of a computer software program that was eventually to become Powerpoint. When this presentation tool was sold to Microsoft in 1987 it was only a matter of time before it would be obtained by televangelists. It began to empower dispensationalists even more: Now they could change their charts and graphs at the first seismic readings of another earthquake or of early onset volcanism causing harmonic tremors. No longer were they trapped with expensive canvas wall charts that were outdated and in need of revision. They could now quickly and easily change their presentations each day. Their charts would appear always fresh and engaging; their arguments persuasive and convincing. And in color (not their arguments but their Powerpoint presentations; televangelists never use colorful language).

But enough history. Let us get down to our exegesis of The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism. Hopefully you will find this helpful in ministering among native dispensationalists. In my first installment I noted that in Ephesians Paul clearly declares Christ was enthroned as king in the first century. And this proved that his kingdom was not postponed until there could arise CNN to report the sudden disappearance of millions of Christians. Christ’s kingdom and kingly rule began at his first coming. His kingdom was not postponed, causing God to establish Plan B for history in the establishment of the Church.

We Presently Rule with Christ

To add insult to injury, Paul continues his anti-dispensational diatribe in his little missive. His next step transforms Ephesians into dispensationalism’s right strawy epistle. The heck with James! Dispensationalists find Ephesians quite a bit more strawy because immediately after affirming Christ’s first century enthronement he takes the next logical step. He declares that all those who believe in Christ (beginning in the first century) are enthroned with Christ! All the hopes of ruling over cities during a future millennium are destroyed in this maneuver. How dare he! But alas, there it is in black and white (unless you have a red-letter edition of the Bible, in which case it would appear in black and white and red).

Note once again the clarity of Paul’s theology:

“God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4–6).

And where had Paul just stated that Christ was seated? According to Ephesians 1:20–21 God “raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” He is at God’s right hand ruling over all.

Say it ain’t so! According to the plain-and-simple method of literal interpretation our enthronement must wait until after the second coming of Christ in the rapture, the resurrection of believers, the conversion of the Jews, the building of the temple in Jerusalem, the unveiling of Antichrist, the outbreak of the great tribulation, the destruction of two-thirds of the Jewish race, the arising of the beast, the formulation of the revived Roman Empire, the imposing of the mark of the beast for buying and selling, the third coming of Christ at the second advent, the battle of Armageddon, the sanctification of temple for millennial use, and the establishment of the global Department of Redundancy Department.

Why does Paul speak in the past tense by using the aorist verbal forms of “raised” and “seated?” Ah! Perhaps these are aorist futures which really mean he will in the future raise us and seat us! Why does he teach that Christians in the first century are already enthroned with Christ, that is, that they are already ruling and reigning with him in his kingdom? Paul is surely not rightly dividing the word of truth. He has mixed dispensations. He is not interpreting literally. He has strayed from Scofield’s notes. Perhaps this is proof for a late-date for Revelation! Paul obviously did not have verse 4 of Revelation 20 to guide him in his entire eschatological and theological understanding.

Or has Paul missed the mark? Maybe it is the late-blooming (1830) dispensational construct that is mistaken. Maybe Paul knew exactly what he was talking about. Maybe we as Christians are already enthroned with Christ.

Indeed, may I be so bold as to suggest that maybe he, Peter, and John actually know the truth? After all, Peter calls first-century Christians a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet 2:9), i.e., a kingdom of priests. And even John, long before he speaks of the millennium (which occurs in only one chapter in all of the Bible, which happens also to be its most difficult book) and our reigning with Christ as kings and priest (Rev 20:6), states in the past tense: “He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (Rev 1:6).

To make matters worse, Paul even mentions the celebration of Christ’s enthronement in Ephesians 4. He speaks of his enthronement in terms reflecting a formal Roman triumph where the conquering ruler returns to his capital and divides the spoil with his jubilant citizens. In Ephesians 4:8 Paul states regarding the heavenly-enthroned Christ: “When He ascended on high, / He led captive a host of captives, / And He gave gifts to men.”


Thus, once again we see how Ephesians can function as a counter to dispensationalism. It is truly a tract that could be titled “The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism.”