Exposing a Delusion
Gary Ray Branscome
“We have not written anything to you, other than what you read. // If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (2Corinthians , Isaiah
Many who read the title to this essay may be puzzled or even shocked by it. If you have been led to faith by someone who held dispensational views you may even feel angry or defensive. However, be assured that my disagreement is not with the gospel, but with a “theology” that mixes the truth of the gospel with error, that mixes God’s Word with man’s word, while contradicting and explaining away what the Bible actually says.
Let me begin by pointing out that “Dispensational Theology” is far from uniform. While most tend to agree on certain basic ideas, the differences are great. For example: The book “Full Assurance” by H. A. Ironside is (except for a few statements) in full accord with Lutheran Theology. And, that is saying something, because Lutheran Theology is very precise. However, the same cannot be said for all of his writings, and there are other Dispensationalists who garble the message of Scripture so badly that some of their views are cultic.
How, you might ask, can this be? How can some who claim to trust in Christ get so far from the truth? The answer to that question is to be found in the way they read unscriptural ideas into the text while explaining away any statements of Scripture that do not square with their ideas. For example, let us begin with their claim that believers will not be present at the final judgment. The problem lies in the fact that the Bible says the opposite. Not only does every description of the final judgment in Scripture mention both the saved and the lost, but the Bible specifically says that believers will be judged (John -29, Matthew 25:31-33, Romans , 2Corinthians ). However, instead of correcting their thinking by bringing it into agreement with the Word of God, they rebel against God by making up elaborate explanations in order to get around those passages of Scripture.
First of all, they add to Scripture by claiming that there will be more than one judgment. Then, when we point out that the Bible explicitly says that believers will be judged, they take away from Scripture by claiming that it will not be a place of punishment, but only of reward. Again, the Bible says no such thing! On the contrary, it says “that each may receive the things done in the body, according to everything he has done, whether good or evil” (2Corinthians ).
Why are they so eager to deny that believer will be at the last judgment? The answer is simple. They do not understand the proper relationship of Law and Gospel. If they did, they would realize that the passages that say we will be judged are Law. And, because they are law, their purpose is not to tell us how to be saved, but to show us our need for forgiveness. In other words, the Bible warns us of the coming judgment so that we will repent and look to Christ for forgiveness. And, the reason we will not be condemned when we are judged is not because we will not be present at the final judgment, but because our sins have been washed away by the blood of the Lamb (John , 1John 1:7).
If you fail to see the seriousness of what they are doing, let me remind you that when the Pharisees explained away what the Law said Christ warned them that they were making the Word of God of “no effect” (Mark 7:13). Now, you might not think that is important. I did not think it was either until I had a language teacher who had studied to be a rabbi. He told me that the Pharisees decided that no one could keep the Law if it was interpreted in the strictest sense, so they decided that the most lenient interpretation was all God required. And, the rabbis they acclaimed most highly were those who were most adept at finding “loopholes” in the Law.
Before he told me that, I had thought of the Pharisees as being very strict. After all, Paul called them, “the strictest sect” (Acts 26:5). However, even though they made a big show of following some rules, they watered down the Law so that they could keep it, and in so doing made the Word of God “of no effect” (Matthew 15:6). That is what Christ was referring to when He said, “you load men down with burdens they can hardly bear, and you yourselves do not touch those burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke ). Or, what Paul was speaking of when he said, “You who make your boast of the law, through breaking the law” (Romans ). And, that is the primary reason why they failed to accept Christ. If they had interpreted the Law in its full sternness, and thrown themselves on God’s mercy, they would have been saved and would have accepted Christ (Matthew 12:7). But, they preferred self deception (John , Psalm 13:5).
Just as the Law was given to show the Jews their need for God’s grace, the warning that we will be judged and will have to account to God for all that we have done, has been given to show us our need for God’s grace. Therefore, instead of explaining it away like the Pharisees did, we should confess our sins to God and look to His promise to “cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:7-9). If we do that we will have no need to fear God’s judgment. Not because we will not be judged, but because there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
If you fail to see the harm in explaining away what God says about the Judgment you need to take off your blinders and consider the sin which is rampant in evangelical churches. Just off the top of my head I can think of a Deacon who had an affair with a woman half his age, and a music minister who ran off with another man’s wife. That is not normal! And, it would not be so common if we were not making the Word of God of no effect.
That also holds true for the doctrine, “once saved always saved”. Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that just as we are saved by grace, we are kept by grace. Or, as the Apostle Peter put it, we “are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (1Peter 1:5). However, there are many passages of Scripture that warn us of the danger of losing our salvation, and we should never explain them away. Because those warnings are Law, their purpose is not to tell us how to be saved but to show us our need for God’s grace. Therefore, instead of explaining them away (thereby making the Word of God of no effect), we need point people to Christ by assuring them that God is able to keep them from falling. (John 10:27-29, Jude 1:24, 2Thessalonians 3:3, 1Peter 1:5).
Those who are trusting in God’s promise to keep them from falling have no reason to explain away the passages that warn of losing salvation. After all, without God’s help none of us could keep ourselves saved. But, it does not depend on us. Just as God saved us by His grace, He keeps us by His grace! However, if instead of trusting God to keep us by His grace, we deny our need for His help by claiming that we cannot lose our salvation, we will feel compelled to explain away any passage that says otherwise. Passages such as Luke 8:13, “They believe for a while, but in time of temptation fall away,” or Galatians 5:4, “Christ is of no benefit to those of you, who seek righteousness by the law; you are fallen from grace.” And, those who explain such passages away hinder the work of salvation by making the Word of God “of no effect”. [See Galatians 1:6, 1Timothy -20; 4:1 and -15, 1Corinthians , Hebrews 6:4-6; -27 and -39, 2Peter -22.]
If you fail to see the harm in explaining away what God says about losing salvation, you need to take off your blinders and consider the hardening of the heart that results from making the Word of God of no effect. I know of a man who, after being offended, left the church and joined a cult. I know of a young man who, when confronted because he was being immoral, said, “When I went forward in camp to accept Christ, I was told that I could not lose my salvation no matter what I did”. I have also been told of a woman who, after three years of marriage, divorced her husband, and when questioned said, “God told me to divorce him, because He wants me to be happy”. I also know of one person, and have heard of others, who stopped attending church because they saw no need for attending church after they were saved.
Now, I have pointed out that the passages that warn of the danger of losing salvation are law. And, the words, “the law is not meant for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious,” tell us that the people who commit sins such as those I have already mentioned are the very people who need to hear that law (1Timothy 1:9). The law is not made for believers, because believers are righteous in the sight of God. Not righteous because of their efforts, but righteous because every sin has been washed away by the blood of Christ (1John 1:7). But, those who are unrepentant need God’s warning. And, if we fail to warn them we are giving them a false gospel by giving them a false assurance of salvation.
Mutilating the Salvation Message
Before looking at how the dispensational practice of making up explanations of some passages while explaining away others subverts the gospel, I want to stress the fact that God wants us to teach exactly what He has said, without adding our own ideas to it or explaining anything away (Revelation 22:18-19). God does not need or want our explanations. On the contrary! The only doctrine that can honestly be called God’s doctrine is nothing “other than what you read” (2Corinthians ).
God wants us to teach what He has said, not what men say! And, to learn what He says we begin with those doctrinal truths that are so clearly stated in Scripture that they need no explanation. Everything else that the Bible says is to be interpreted in the light of those passages. However, dispensationalists do the opposite. They begin with what men say and explain away any statement of Scripture that does not agree with their ideas. That is a refusal to accept sound doctrine [i.e. what the Bible says] while believing fables [i.e. man made explanations of Scripture] (2Timothy 4:3-4).
To begin with, the very claim that that there are seven dispensations is a fable. The Bible says no such thing! Although the King James translation does use that word in connection with the gospel, it never uses it in connection with the law or any other period of history. That is all man made conjecture. However, they not only fail to recognize it as conjecture, they twist everything the Bible says to fit that conjecture, and in so doing fail to rightly divide the Word of truth.
In the third chapter of Galatians, the Apostle Paul divides Scripture into the law and the promises. He then goes on to explain that the law never saved anyone. On the contrary, “all who trust in the law are under a curse” (Galatians ). The law, “was added because of transgressions,” and it consisted of two parts (Galatians ). The commandments were given to show God’s people their and need for God’s forgiveness (Romans ), and the sacrifices were required as a way of leading them to seek God’s mercy (Matthew 12:7, Psalm 13:5). The law never saved anyone! On the contrary, salvation has always been through faith in God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ. For, “The covenant concerning faith in Christ, that was confirmed by God at the time of Abraham, cannot be nullified by the law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, so as to make the promise of no effect” (Galatians 3:17). Furthermore, the Bible plainly tells us that it is those who trust in Christ (not the Jews who reject Him) who are the true “children of Abraham,” his “seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:7 and 29, Genesis ).
In contrast to what the Bible says, Cyrus Scofield – whose perverted Bible did much to popularize dispensationalism – claimed (in his footnote to John 1:17) that Jews were saved by the law. And, even though I have been told that that footnote has been removed from some of the newer editions of his Bible, that false doctrine continues to be taught by many of his followers. Worse yet, some of his followers have gone to such extremes with their unbiblical conjecture that other dispensationalists (Harry Ironside being one) have felt it necessary to denounce their wild ideas. One of those ideas being the claim that nothing written in the Four Gospels or the book of Acts applies to believers. If you think that such extremes are rare, let me assure you that I have personally dealt with dispensationalists who are today teaching that very thing. Why, I had one dispensationalist tell me that John was not for people living today. How far from the truth can someone get! That verse is God’s promise of forgiveness in Christ, and those who deny that is for people living today make it of no effect. [If you doubt that the footnotes Schofield added to his Bible are a perversion of God’s Word, you need look no further than the first chapter of Genesis where he teaches theistic-evolution.]
All of the dispensationalists whom I have encountered claim that God will raise up and rapture believers before the last day, and that seven years of tribulation will follow that event. Yet, the Bible says no such thing. Oh, they interpret passages to support that doctrine, but they are reading their own ideas into those passages instead of interpreting them in the light of passages so clear that they need no explanation.
To start with, Christ plainly said that he would raise up believers “on the last day,” not before (John , 40, 44, 54; John and ). However, instead of submitting to God’s Word, dispensationalists try to get around it by claiming that the “last day” is a long age. Moreover, their claim that there will be seven years of tribulation is based on a misinterpretation of Daniel 9:24-27. That passage is a Messianic prophesy, and Christ is the one who brought an end to sacrifice (verse 27). Furthermore, because the “seventy weeks” were to be consecutive, it is absurd to claim that the last week is separated from the others by thousands of years. Yet much of their theology rests on that unbiblical claim.
Worse yet, in order to have the anti-Christ cause sacrifice to cease, they claim that after believers are raptured God will reinstate Judaism complete with temple and sacrifices. In making this claim they not only blind themselves to the fact that salvation has always been and always will be through faith in God’s promise, but they wind up teaching the very heresy that Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written to condemn. The only difference is that they teach it as God’s plan for the future rather than the present.
Mangling Bible Prophesy
Although dispensationalists brag about how literally they interpret Scripture, they only make themselves appear like fools in the eyes of the world. Do not misunderstand me. I believe in taking what the Bible says literally. But, they do not seem to be able to tell the difference between the words of Scripture and dreams or visions. For example, the book of Genesis tells us about a dream that Pharaoh had. It then goes on to give us a plain literal description of what he saw in that dream. And, his dream had to do with events which were going to take place. However, that does not mean that his dream was a literal description of those events.
same holds true for the book of Revelation. Just because the Bible
gives us a
literal description of what John saw in his vision, does not mean that
vision is a literal description of what will transpire. For example: in
twelve we are told that John saw a woman clothed with the sun who was
birth to Christ. However, that is not what the people living in
For example: In chapter twenty John saw the souls of saints who “lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years” (verse 4). However, instead of looking at what the Bible plainly says, dispensationalists assume that Christ will be physically present on earth during this reign. They then twist passage after passage to fit that assumption even though chapter twenty says nothing about Christ being present on earth. In fact, Christ plainly said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John ). They just ignore what Christ said.
That same passage of Scripture also speaks of a “first resurrection”. And, we are told that all who have part in that resurrection will reign with Christ “a thousand years” (verse 6). But, here again, they just assume that it will be a physical resurrection and then make up a story about Christ raising up believers sometime before His visible return to judge the living and the dead. Not only does the Bible say no such thing, but as I have already pointed out, Christ plainly said that He would raise up believers on the “last day,” not before (John 6:39, 40, 44, 54). They just ignore the words of Christ and let their imagination run wild.
If we interpret John’s reference to a “first resurrection” in the light of what the Bible plainly says, we find that the Bible tells us that although we were by nature “dead in trespasses and sins,” when we came to faith in Christ God “raised us up together with Him” (Ephesians 2:1 & 6, Colossians 3:1). That is the first resurrection! And, because Christ is presently reigning in Heaven, when our physical bodies die, all who have part in that first resurrection will reign with Him in heaven (1Corinthians 15:25, Acts 5:31, Philippians 2;9, 2corinthians 5:6-8).
For a long time I wondered how people who seem to know the Lord and trust in His grace could be under such a delusion. Then I slowly began to see that even though they look to Christ for salvation they are not trusting Him for righteousness. Now I know that some of them will take issue with me on this and insist that they do trust Him for righteousness. But, if you look closer you will find that they are probably just calling what they are trying to attain by their works by a different name. Perhaps they are calling it holiness or obedience, but if they are looking to their own efforts to bring them God’s favor, then they are trusting in what they do rather than what Christ did.
On one hand they promote easy believism, giving those who are unrepentant, those who have never really understood the gospel, and those who have never really trusted in Christ a false assurance of salvation by leading them to think that they are saved, not by what Christ did, but by what they did when they prayed the “sinner’s prayer”. Then, when the lives of those people show no evidence of salvation, they go to the opposite extreme, telling them that in order to be happy in Jesus [i.e. have God’s favor or blessing] they need to “obey,” pursue holiness, or try to earn “crowns”. In all of this they fail to understand the power of the Holy Spirit that is available to those who believe not only that Christ has saved them, but that the blood that washes away their sin makes them righteous, holy, perfect and obedient in the sight of God (Hebrews 10:10 & 14, Galatians 5:16-17).
Whatever the reason, the problem is so serious that the Spiritual Counterfeits Project has devoted one entire issue of its Journal to it. The title of that issue is, “Strong Delusion Enters By Stealth” (Volume 37:3 – 37:4 2014). Although I know little about the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, or what other positions they may take, what they have to say about Dispensationalism is right on the mark, and I urge every pastor to get, and read, a copy of that issue. Their Web Site address is www.scp-inc.org