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Originally published in "The Lord's Coming Herald & Wesleyan Bible Prophecy Advocate," Spring Edition 2005

How Dispensationalism Polarizes Believers

On page 22 of his book Antinomianism Revived: The Theology of the Plymouth Brethren Examined and Refuted, Daniel Steele penned these graphic words--words that lucidly describe the "polarizing" effect of modern dispensational teaching:

"In this disguise he [Satan] instills speculative faith, instead of a saving faith which works by love, purifies the heart, and overcomes the world; he pleads for loose living, puts the badge of contempt upon the daily cross, and get multitudes of Laodiceans and Gnostic into his snare. Sad and sure is the result. Genuine works of faith are neglected; idle works of men's invention are substituted for those of God's commandments; and fallen churches, gliding downward through the smooth way of antinomianism, return to the covert way of Phariseeism, or to the broad road of infidelity."

Notice carefully where Daniel Steel said the smooth way of antinomianism that he saw embedded in Darbyism will take us.

It will take us, he said, either in a return to the covert way of Phariseeism on the one hand, or to the broad way of infidelity on the other.

In modern language we can frame Daniel Steele's understanding of the "polarizing" effects of Darbyite teaching like this. We can use the term "legalism" as a synonym for "the covert way of Phariseeism" (referring to the ditch to be avoided on the one side of the highway of holiness) and we can speak of "worldly compromising" as the reactionary, but opposite peril, Steele called "the broad way of infidelity" (the ditch on the other side of the road).

Do the dynamics here sound to familiar? Do they not in many ways parallel the "left/right" "conservative/liberal" divide of church and society in modern times?

Is not the contemporary "Conservative Holiness Movement" itself the product of this very polarizing tension in the church world of our day? She left the mainline Wesleyan Holiness denominations because of their perceived going "the broad road of infidelity" (worldly compromisings), only to find herself even further embroiled in a battle with "legalism" (the covert way of Phariseeism) that has led, yet to still more, and seeming endless, divisions.

The modern Wesley Holiness Movement, it seems obvious, has been splintered and fragment by the polarizing tensions that Daniel Steele was talking about in the paragraph quoted from his book above.

So, are you saying that dispensational premillennial "antinomian" ideological teaching is the culprit that is really behind the polarizing religious phenomenon of our modern day--the dynamic that splits the church over the philosophical divide between "going legalistic" and "going worldly"?

Yes, we are saying this indeed. But how is it so?

The answer is very simple. Dispensational teaching has this effect because it is, in essence, a return to Judaism.

Dispensational premillennial theory is a retreat from the ideology of New Testament Christianity, and a return to the ideology of a first century Christ-rejecting Judaism.

Now how, exactly, is it thus?

Dispensational teaching is a return to Judaism because--in agreement with Christ-rejecting Jews of the New Testament age--it denies what New Testament believers affirm. They affirmed that Jesus of Nazareth was (is) the Christ, the promised Messiah, and that he appeared on earth to establish his kingdom, and that, in fact, he did established it.

Dispensational teaching,by contrast, insists that the messianic kingdom has not yet been realized. It teaches that the promised Old Testament messianic kingdom was postponed by Jesus at the time of his first advent, and that it must now await his second coming to be set up.

The argument here is clearly over conflicting conceptions of the messianic kingdom. Modern dispensationalism places itself on the side of those Jew of the first century who refused to believe what Jesus taught about the nature of his kingdom, and what he said about the manner of its institution. In this regard they are unwelcome bedfellows with the Pharisees who crucified Jesus for not meeting those same misguided expectations, based on the same fundamental misinterpretations of Old Testament prophetic Scripture.

The Christian understanding of the messianic kingdom is by definition "righteous, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom 14:17). It is redemption from sin. It is full salvation. And it is the answer to all our need today.

So the place to start is to first get people "ideologically converted" to Christianity.

Have you been ideologically converted to Christianity?

If you have, then you have gotten over, once and for all, any addiction you may have ever had to dispensational antinomianism, its foolishness, and its fable.

Related Article Links

Holiness The Harmonizing Center
The Messianic Question