Dispensationalism and the Scofield Bible

Few of us realize how widespread the errors of modern dispensationalism have become in recent years.

By VARNER J. JOHNS, Professor of Bible, College of Medical Evangelists, Lona Linda

Few of us realize how widespread the errors of modern dispensationalism have become in recent years. Some deal with the old issues in the religion of yesterday, seemingly unaware that new errors of giant proportions must be met today. The errors of fundamentalism are as many and as serious as those of modernism. It is the fundamentalist wing of the modern church that rejects the law of God, declaring it was nailed to the cross; that preaches a secret snatching away of the church in a secret coming of Christ, a re­turn of the Jew to Jerusalem, and a "second chance" for salvation. All these errors, and many more, are linked together in what is known as modern dispensationalism.

It is interesting to know that, like all other er­ror, modern dispensationalism is not modern at all. The editor of The Sunday School Times, in defense of dispensationalism, quotes Augustine, "greatest of all the Latin fathers," and even Cle­ment of Alexandria, a father of the second cen­tury, as its proponents.

What is the dispensationalism of the Scofield Bible ? The definition given by Dr. Scofield on page 5 of his notes is this: "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. Seven such dispensations are dis­tinguished in Scripture." These seven so-called dispensations are: Innocency, Conscience, Human Government, Promise, Law, Grace, Kingdom.

This sevenfold dispensational division is arbi­trary and unwarranted by the Scriptures. For ex­ample : Why should the period before the Flood be designated as "Conscience," or the time of Abra­ham as "Promise" ? Is there not as much of con­science and as many promises in all the other periods of time? And what is there of "human government" in those early days more than in all succeeding periods of the world's history? The fact is that this subtle division of God's dealings with man is designed by the enemy to further two of the greatest deceptions that have ever been pre­sented to man : (r) the error of antinomianisrn, and (2) the error of a second chance during a millennial age.

Every believer in the Scofield dispensational-ism holds that there was no grace before Sinai and no law after Calvary. "Law without grace" and "grace without law" are carried so far by this false teaching that even the sermon on the Mount is taken away from the church and made a part of the dispensation of law. Moreover, the dispen­sationalist joins company with the Millennial Dawnist in the teaching of a more favorable op­portunity for salvation during the millennium.

But a great voice of protest is developing in the popular churches against the Scofield Bible. In an editorial report of the Second General Assem­bly of the Presbyterian Church of America, the Presbyterian Guardian of November 14, 1936, said of the Scofield notes : "They are heresy of a very terrible kind. Rather than that the Presbyterian Church of America should knowingly tolerate such heresy in its ministry or eldership or deaconate, it would surely seem better that it should be divided or dissolved." The same issue of this paper contained a letter by Professor Kuiper, with the statement that "the organizing principle of dis­pensationalism of the Scofield Bible is essentially heretical." Dr. Oswald T. Allis, writing in the Evangelical Quarterly (Edinburgh), says:

"But, despite these and other differences that might be mentioned, dispensationalism shares with higher criti­cism its fundamental error. It is divisive and holds a doctrine of Scripture which tends to be and is in many respects as distinctive of that high view of Scripture which its advocates assert, as it is disastrous to some of the doctrines most precious to the hearts of those that hold it."—January, 1936.

Some may be concerned lest in opposing the Scofield dispensationalism we shall lose the word "dispensation" from our theological vocabulary. In the right use of the word there is safety. But the very word itself, like so many other words in Christian phraseology, has become perverted in its meaning. For example, the word "premillen­nial" has come to designate a certain and almost fixed belief of the fundamentalist that links it with a thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. It might be better to call ourselves "Bible rnillen­nialists," because the accepted use of the word "premillennialist" is so perverted. So also with the word "rapture." Even the wonderful word "holiness" has become so perverted in meaning by the Pentecostal people that we have to explain its meaning every time we use the term. Thus it is also with the word "dispensational."

Grace Before Cross and After

I would not for a moment suggest that the shadowy sacrifice of the "old dispensation" should not be clearly contrasted with the sunshine of the "new." However, it is a serious mistake even to imply that grace, the gospel, the church, and the Holy Spirit belong only to "this dispensation." There was as much of grace before the cross as after. The Christian church includes Abraham and Moses as well as Peter and Paul. There were the same blessed gospel of salvation, the same wonderful Saviour, the same new-covenant relationship, and the same Holy Spirit in Old Testament times as in the New.

There never has been, is not now, nor ever will be, more than one basis upon which God forgives the sinner, and that is a new-covenant basis. It is a grievous error to make the new covenant a dispensational experience. It is an individual ex­perience, and always has been such. This is the covenant of grace, and has been from the begin­ning. True, it was ratified by the blood of Christ (Heb. 13:10), but it was not instituted at the cross. We read in Desire of Ages: "Every time a soul is converted, and learns to love God and keep His commandments, the promise of God is fulfilled, 'A new heart will 'I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you.' "—Page 407.

The popular teaching which sets the gospel, the new covenant, the Christian church, and grace on this side of the cross is a most dangerous doc­trine. That is exactly what Dr. Scofield does, and he goes so far in his dispensationalism as to in­clude the sermon on the mount in the dispensation of law. He declares that in the sermon on the mount, "every blessing is conditional upon works, not faith." He then excludes even the ministry of Jesus and the four Gospels from his dispensation of grace. This is a fearful error.

What was true of the gospel and of grace before Pentecost was true also of the Holy Spirit. "Be­fore then the Holy Spirit had been in the world; from the very beginning of the work of redemp­tion He had been moving upon men's hearts." What, then, was the difference in the day of Pen­tecost and after?

It was "the more abundant impartation of the Spirit," "the added power," "a new endowment of power," "the Holy Spirit in its fullness" that came to the church at Pentecost. (See Acts of the Apos­tles, p. 53.) There is no objection to the expres­sion "the dispensation of the Spirit" if the right meaning, the Biblical meaning, is given to the term. But the Scofield dispensation of grace is contrary to the Bible meaning, the very opposite of the truth. And yet the Scofield meaning is the accepted meaning that is given to this expression by nine out of ten people today. The primary Bible meaning of the word "dispensation" is "stew­ardship." In a secondary sense the word "econ­omy" is used to distinguish the shadowy service from the full light of the gospel. In using the word "dispensation" in this sense we should be careful to make clear the fact that grace and the gospel are as much a part of the old economy as of the new, and that the only things abolished at the cross were the types and shadows.

Let us not forget that the primary purpose of the Scofield dispensationalism is to set at naught the law of God. The Scofield notes say: "The law is ministry of condemnation, death, and the divine curse." According to the blessed Bible "the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul," and "the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes." The law was God's love gift to His people. (Deut. 33 :3, 4.) "That ye may live" was the purpose of God's gift of His law. The plan of God was that His law might be the life and the wisdom and the understanding of His people. There were many to whom the law of God became a "ministration of condemnation," but these were the sinners in Israel, not the saints. "His commandments are not grievous" now, and they never have been grievous to any but sinners.

The law, like a two-edged sword, brings life ta the obedient, and death to the disobedient. The same is true of the gospel. The ministry of the gospel is a ministry of "life unto life" to all who obey the gospel, but also a "savor of death unto death" to all who reject it. (2 Cor. 2:16.) If the law is to be maligned, despised, and set aside by Dr. Scofield because it condemns the sinner, then the whole gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ must likewise be set aside.

Dr. Scofield does not for a moment consider that the law is merely a ministry of condemnation to the sinner. He sets aside the law, as a dispen­sational "ministry of condemnation" against us, and therefore done away in its entirety. His dis­pensationalism is the foundation of his entire pyr­amid of error, the apex of which is his hatred of the law of God. Any teaching which sets the law against the gospel and the promises of God is dan­gerous and deceptive.

In conclusion, let us hold to the Bible meaning of the word "dispensation." If we use it to desig­nate a period or an age or an economy, let us make clear the fact that there was as much of grace before the cross as after, and as much of law after the cross as before. Let us remember that God's dealings with the human race have ever been the same, and that the blessed Jesus was the Saviour of Abrahaffi and Moses as well as of Paul. And let us never hesitate to expose as error that which separates law and grace as does the Scofield Reference Bible. The accompanying diagram illustrates the harmony of the dispensa­tions.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

By VARNER J. JOHNS, Professor of Bible, College of Medical Evangelists, Lona Linda

March 1945

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

A Well-Balanced Mind

The perils of fanaticism as illustrated in World War I.

"The Epistle of Publius Lentulus"

Are any versions of the "Report of Pontius Pilate to Tiberius" that are in circulation genuine, or are they forgeries?

Church Growth and the Tithe

Sobering facts and figures for our individual study

Freedom of Air Jeopardized

Radio evangelism in action.

A Changing Protestantism

The departure of Protestants from Protestantism.

How Good Is Your Memory?

Practical pointers for preachers.

Hints for Amateur Choir Directors

The monthly music column.

Advertising the Evangelistic Campaign

The illusive secret of successful advertising, which is so much sought after, is well worth studying.

Let Us Arise and Finish It

The Advent message to all the world in this generation.

Prevention of Church Fires

How to protect yourselves.

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - SermonView - Small Rect (180x150)

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - SermonView - WideSkyscraper (160x600)