Category Archives: Church History
A MIGHTY FORTRESS
Words and Music by Martin Luther, 1483–1546
English Translation by Frederick H. Hedge, 1805–1890
God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. (Psalm 46:1, 2)
October 31, 1517, is perhaps the most important day in Protestant history. This was the day when Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and a professor of theology, posted on the doors of the Cathedral of Wittenberg, Germany, his 95 theses (complaints) against the teachings and practices of the medieval Roman Church. With this event, the 16th century Protestant Reformation was formally born.
The Protestant Reformation movement was built on three main tenets:
• The re-establishment of the Scriptures.
• Clarifying the means of salvation.
• The restoration of congregational singing.
“A Mighty Fortress” was written and composed by Martin Luther. The date of the hymn cannot be fixed with any exact certainty. It is generally believed, however, to have been written for the Diet of Spires in 1529 when the term “protestant” was first used. The hymn became the great rallying cry of the Reformation.
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe—His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide our striving would be losing, were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He—Lord Sabaoth His name, from age to age the same—and He must win the battle.
And tho this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph thru us. The prince of darkness grim—we tremble not for Him; His rage we can endure; for lo! his doom is sure—One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly pow’rs—no thanks to them—abideth; the Spirit and the gifts are ours thru Him who with us sideth. Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still—His kingdom is forever.
For Today: Deuteronomy 33:27; 2 Samuel 22:2; Psalm 46; Isaiah 26:4
Breathe a prayer of thanks to God for reformers such as Martin Luther, who laid the foundations for our evangelical faith. Praise Him on this Reformation Day for this truth.
*Source: Ken Osbeck. “A Mighty Fortress,” Amazing Grace–366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions, October 31 entry, Kregel, 2011.
By anyone’s standards Pentecost was a significant day. It is the purpose of this article to treat the significant aspects of the day in relation to certain major areas of theological studies.
Significance in Relation to Typology
Typology has suffered a great deal at the hands of both its friends and its enemies, since for many the study of types is still an uncertain science. Some, it is true, have found types in everything, while others in their reaction against this give little or no place for typological studies. My own definition of a type is that it is a divinely purposed illustration which prefigures its corresponding reality. This definition not only covers types which are expressly designated so by the New Testament (e.g., 1 Cor 10) but also allows for types not so designated (e.g., Joseph as a type of Christ). Yet in the definition the phrase “divinely purposed” should guard against an allegorical or pseudo-spiritual interpretation of types which sees chiefly the resemblances between Old Testament events and New Testament truths to the neglect of the historical, geographical, and local parts of those events. While all things are in a sense divinely purposed, not all details in all stories were divinely purposed illustrations of subsequently revealed truth. Pentecost is a good example of this, for although there is a clear type-antitype relationship, not all the details of the Old Testament feast find a corresponding reality in the events recorded in Acts 2.
As the antitype of one of the annual feasts of the Jews Pentecost has significance. This feast (Lev 23:15–21) was characterized by an offering of two loaves marking the close of harvest. The corresponding reality of this ceremony was the joining on the day of Pentecost by the Holy Spirit Jew and Gentile as one loaf in the one body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13). Pentecost is sometimes called the feast of weeks because it fell seven (a week of) weeks after Firstfruits. No date could be set for the observance of Firstfruits, for that depended on the ripening of the grain for harvest. However, when the time did arrive a small amount of grain was gathered, threshed, ground into flour, and presented to the Lord as a token of the harvest yet to be gathered. The corresponding reality is, of course, “Christ the firstfruits” (1 Cor 15:23). The fifty days interval between the two feasts was divinely purposed in the Old Testament type and finds exact correspondence in the New Testament antitype.
Significance in Relation to Theology
The theological significance of Pentecost concerns chiefly the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity, not Peter, played the leading role in the drama of that day; He is the power of Pentecost; and in a very special sense the era which followed is His age. Obviously the Spirit of God has always been present in this world, but He has not always been a resident as one who permanently indwells the church. This was a new relationship which did not obtain even during the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry, for He said to His disciples concerning the Spirit, “He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:17).
The Evidences of His Coming (Acts 2:1-4)
Wind. A sound as of a rushing mighty wind was the first evidence of the Spirit’s coming. It came suddenly so that it could not be attributed to any natural cause, and it came from heaven, which probably refers both to the impression given of its origin and also to its actual supernatural origin. It was not actually wind but rather a roar or reverberation, for verse two should be literally translated “an echoing sound as of a mighty wind borne violently.” It filled all the house which means that all of the 120 would have experienced the sensation since so many people would of necessity have been scattered throughout the house. This was a fitting evidence of the Spirit’s coming, for the Lord had used this very symbol when He spoke of the things of the Spirit to Nicodemus (John 3:8).
Fire. The audible sign, wind, was followed by a visible one, fire. Actually the tongues which, looked like fire divided themselves over the company, a tongue settling upon the head of each one. This, too, was an appropriate sign for the presence of the Holy Spirit, for fire had long been to the Jews a symbol of the divine presence (Exod 3:2; Deut 5:4). The form of the original text makes one doubt the presence of material fire though the appearance of the tongues was clearly as if they had been composed of fire.
Languages. Finally, each began to speak in a real language which was new to the speaker but which was understood by those from the various lands who were familiar with them. This was the third piece of evidence, and although some have assumed that this miracle was wrought on the ears of the hearers, this certainly forces the plain and natural sense of the narrative. These tongues were evidently real languages (vv. 6–8) which were spoken, and the imperfect tense, “was giving” (v. 4), indicates that they were spoken in turn, one after another.
The Effects of His Coming (Acts 2:5-13)
Baptism. The most important effect of the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost was the placing of men and women into the body of Christ by His baptism. Our Lord spoke of this baptizing work of the Holy Spirit just before His ascension (Acts 1:5), and it is clear from His words that this was a ministry of the Spirit thus far unknown even to those to whom He had said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22). If the baptism of the Holy Spirit was not something new to men until the day of Pentecost, then the Lord’s words in Acts 1:5—and especially the future tense of the verb “ye shall be baptized”—mean nothing. Although it is not specifically recorded in Acts 2 that the baptism of the Spirit occurred on the day of Pentecost, it is recorded in Acts 11:15–16 that this happened then, and Peter states there that what happened at Pentecost was the fulfillment of the promise of Acts 1:5. However, it is Paul who explains what this baptism (not to be confused with what is meant in Acts 2:38) accomplishes when he writes, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13). In other words, on the day of Pentecost men were first placed into the body of Christ and that by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Since the church is the body of Christ (Col 1:18), the church could not have begun until Pentecost. Furthermore, since no reference to the baptism of the Spirit is found in the Old Testament, since all references in the gospels are prophetic, and since in all prophecies of the future kingdom age there is no reference to the Spirit’s baptism, we may conclude that this work of His is peculiar to this dispensation and peculiar to the church (which, it follows, must also be limited to this dispensation) in forming it and uniting the members to the body of Christ forever.
Bewilderment. Certain visible effects of the Spirit’s coming were evident in the crowd which gathered as a result of the phenomena connected with His coming. At first the people (including Eastern or Babylonian Jews, Syrian Jews, Egyptian Jews, Roman Jews, Cretes and Arabians) were amazed. Literally the text says that they stood out of themselves with wide-open astonishment (v. 7). This is a mental reaction showing that their minds were arrested by what they observed. Next they were perplexed (v. 12). This is a strong compound word from an adjective which means impassable and hence the word comes to mean to be wholly and utterly at a loss. This was mental defeat. “The amazement meant that they did not know. The perplexity meant that they knew they did not know.” Not knowing is always a blow to man’s pride; consequently this crowd, driven to find an answer to what they had seen and heard, replaced their ignorance with criticism (v. 13). These are merely normal reactions of Satanically-blinded minds to which the things of God are foolishness (2 Cor 4:4; 1 Cor 2:14) and should not surprise us if they occur today. The offense of the cross has not ceased.
Its Signficance in Relation to Homiletics
The Sermon (Acts 2:14-36)
Introduction—Explanation. Peter, spokesman for the eleven, seized the opportunity for a witness by answering the charge of drunkenness which had been levelled at the apostles. He thus wisely introduced his sermon by using the local situation, and taking that which was uppermost in his hearers’ thoughts. He formulated his introduction as an explanation of that which they had just seen and heard (v. 15). Strangely enough he did not introduce his message with a story or joke. Nothing in the situation seemed to remind Peter of a certain story, etc. Peter’s mind was full of Scripture, not stories; Peter’s concern was for the people, not pleasantries. The disciples could not be drunk, he told them, for it was only nine o’clock in the morning. Pentecost was a feast day, and the Jews who were engaged in the services of the synagogues of Jerusalem would have abstained from eating and drinking until at least 10 a.m. and more likely noon.
From this categorical denial of the charge of drunkenness Peter passed easily and naturally to the explanation of what the phenomenon was. It was not wine but the Holy Spirit who was causing these things, and to prove this Peter quoted Joel 2:28–32. This is a very definite prophecy of the Holy Spirit’s being poured out when Israel is again established in her own land. The problem here is not one of interpretation but of usage only. Clearly Joel’s prophecy was not fulfilled at Pentecost, for (1) Peter does not use the usual Scriptural formula for fulfilled prophecy as he does in Acts 1:16 (cf. Matt 1:22; 2:17; 4:14 ); (2) the original prophecy of Joel will clearly not be fulfilled until Israel is restored to her land, converted, and enjoying the presence of the Lord in her midst (Joel 2:26–28); (3) the events prophesied by Joel simply did not come to pass. If language means anything Pentecost did not fulfill this prophecy nor did Peter think that it did. The usage need not raise theological questions at all, for the matter is primarily homiletical and any problems should be solved in that light. Peter’s point was that the Holy Spirit and not wine was responsible for what these Jews had seen. He quotes Joel to point out that as Jews who knew the Old Testament Scriptures they should have recognized this as the Spirit’s work. In other words, their own Scriptures should have reminded them that the Spirit was able to do what they had just seen. Why then, someone may ask, did Peter include the words from Joel recorded in Acts 2:19–20? Why did he not stop with verse 18? The answer is simple. Peter not only wanted to show his audience that they should have known from the Scriptures that the Spirit could do what they had seen, but he also wanted to invite them to accept Jesus as their Messiah by using Joel’s invitation “whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v. 21). Thus what is recorded in Acts 2:19–20 is simply a connecting link between the two key points in his argument. “The remainder of the quotation from Joel, verses 19, 20, has no bearing on Peter’s argument, but was probably made in order to complete the connection of that which his argument demanded.” (J. W. McGarvey, New Commentary on Acts of Apostles, p. 28).
Theme—Jesus is Messiah. To us today it does not mean much to say that Jesus is Christ or Messiah. To a Jew of that day this was an assertion which required convincing proof, and it was the theme of Peter’s sermon. Peter’s proof is built along very simple lines. First he paints a picture of the Messiah from the Old Testament Scriptures. Then from contemporary facts he presents a picture of Jesus of Nazareth. Finally, he superimposes these two pictures on each other to prove conclusively that Jesus is Messiah. The center of each picture is the resurrection. In verses 22–24 there is a proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Then there follows (vv. 25–31) the prediction of resurrection from Psalm 16:8–11 which Peter applies to the Messiah. Finally, the Messiah is identified as Jesus whom they crucified and of whose resurrection they were witnesses. It is important to notice that the truth of Jesus’ resurrection was not challenged but was well attested by the conviction of these thousands of people who were in the very city where it had occurred less than two months before.
Conclusion—Application. Peter now puts it up to his hearers to decide about Jesus, and yet there is really no
choice, so conclusive has been his argument. How gracious of God to appeal once again to the very people who had crucified His Son. The application was personal. Peter did not say “someone” but “ye.”
The Results (Acts 2:37-41)
Conviction. Peter’s sermon brought conviction of heart. The word translated “prick” is a rare one which means to pierce, stun or smite. Outside the Scriptures it is used of horses dinting the earth with their hoofs. In like manner the hearts of his hearers were smitten by Peter’s message as the Spirit of God applied it.
Conversion. To the group of 120 (which included men and women, Acts 1:14) were added 3000 souls (Acts 2:41). They repented or changed their minds, for that is the meaning of repentance. It is not mere sorrow which is related to the emotions, for one can be sorry for sin without being repentant. Neither is it mere mental assent to certain facts, for genuine repentance involves the heart as well. For the Jews gathered at Pentecost it involved a change of relationship toward Him whom they had considered as merely the carpenter’s son of Nazareth and an imposter by receiving Jesus as Lord and Messiah.
The Spirit of God must always do the work of enlightening and converting, but men are still His method of heralding the message. May our sermons be like Peter’s—doctrinally sound, homiletically excellent, filled with and explanatory of the Word of God, and aimed at those to whom we speak.
Its Significance in Relation to Practical Theology
In the realm of practical theology two things command attention from among the many events of Pentecost and the days which immediately followed.
The Ordinance of Baptism
To the question “What shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized.” That this refers to the new converts’ being baptized by the Spirit is untenable for several reasons.
(1) It is doubtful that Peter himself and much less probable that his hearers understood yet the truth concerning the baptism of the Spirit even though it did first occur at Pentecost. (2) If this were referring to that automatic ministry of the Spirit then there would be no need for the report of verse 41: “Then they that gladly received his word was baptized.” (3) What would this audience have understood by Peter’s answer? His words meant that they were to submit to a rite performed with water which would be a sign of their identification with this new group. They would have thought immediately of Jewish, proselyte baptism which signified entrance of the proselyte into Judaism (Cf. Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, II, 745–47, for a concise discussion of the baptism of proselytes).
They would have thought of John’s baptism, submission to which meant identification with John’s message in a very definite way; for John was the first person to baptize other people (all proselyte baptisms were self-imposed), which was a striking way to ask people to identify themselves with all that he stood for. They would have realized that they were being asked to identify and associate themselves with this new group who believed Jesus was the Messiah, and Christian baptism at the hands of these disciples signified this association as nothing else could.
(NOTE: The language of verse 41 implies that the 3000 converts were all baptized on the same day. There were numerous pools and reservoirs in Jerusalem which would have provided the facilities for this even by immersion. If all the 120 disciples assisted in administering the ordinance it could easily have been done in a very short time. The magazine Life in its August 14, 1950, issue reported a modern instance where 34 men immersed 3381 converts in 4 hours).
Even today for a Jew it is not his profession of Christianity nor his attendance at Christian services nor his belief in the New Testament but his partaking of water baptism that definitely and finally excludes him from Judaism and sets him off as a Christian. And there is no reason why it should not be the same line of demarcation for all converts to Christianity, signifying the separation from the old life and association with the new.
(NOTE: A. T. Robertson explains well the meaning of the words “unto the remission of your sins” (v. 38), and his words are here quoted lest any misinterpret the words of Peter to teach baptismal regeneration. “In themselves the words can express aim or purpose for that use of eis does exist as in 1 Cor 2:7…. But then another usage exists which is just as good Greek as the use of eis for aim or purpose. It is seen in Matt 10:41…where it cannot be purpose or aim, but rather the basis or ground, on the basis of the name of prophet, righteous man, disciple, because one is, etc. It is seen again in Matt 12:41 about the preaching of Jonah…. They repented because of (or at) the preaching of Jonah. The illustrations of both usages are numerous in the N.T. and the Koine generally…. I understand Peter to be urging baptism on each of them who had already turned (repented) and for it to be done in the name of Jesus Christ on the basis of the forgiveness of sins which they had already received.” [Word Pictures in the New Testament, III, 35–36]).
The Organization of Believers
Its commencement. We have already noted how the church as an organism, the body of Christ, began on the day of Pentecost. But the church as an organization also began that day as the Lord added 3000 souls.
Its continuance. The power of the early church, humanly speaking, was due largely to the facts recorded in Acts 2:42. There was no rapid falling away from the newly-embraced faith. Indeed, just the opposite was true, for membership in the early church involved persevering adherance. They continued in the apostles’ doctrine. “The church is apostolic because it cleaves to the apostles….” Teaching had always had a prominent place among the Jews, and it is not strange to find the Christian group appearing as a school. The apostles were the first teachers, and the bulk of their teaching we now have in the gospels. It consisted of the facts of the Lord’s life as well as His doctrine and teaching. The church today could well afford to emulate the early church in this. Instead of capitalizing on new converts and exploiting them, we should teach them even if that means keeping them in the background for a while.
Furthermore they continued steadfastly in fellowship, and this is evidently to be understood in the broadest sense of the word, for the text says “the fellowship.” This means partnership with God, partnership with others in the common salvation and in the sharing of material goods. They also continued in the breaking of bread which refers to the Lord’s Supper though not isolated but as the climax of the agapé or love feast. At the very first this was evidently observed daily (v. 46) though afterward it seemed to form the great act of worship on the Lord’s Day (20:7). At least we must say that the early church remembered her Lord with great frequency and with great freedom, for it was observed in homes without distinction between ordained clergy and laity (no service of ordination having yet occurred in the church).
Finally the record says that they continued in prayers. Again the definite article is used with this word and probably indicates definite times for prayer. Further, this is a word that is used exclusively for prayer to God and indicates the offering up of the wishes and desires to God in the frame of mind of devotion.
Its characterization. The early organization was characterized by fear (v. 43), favor (v. 47), and fellowship (vv. 44–46). Fear kept coming on this new group as signs and wonders kept on being done through the apostles (both verbs are in the imperfect tense). This fear was not alarm or dread of injury but a prevailing sense of awe in the manifest presence of the power of God. Favor was also their portion with the people at this time although times changed very quickly. Finally, fellowship in spiritual things demonstrated itself in fellowship of goods and worship. No doubt many of the pilgrims to the feast of Pentecost lingered in Jerusalem after their conversion to learn more of their new faith, and this created a pressing economic need. Providing for them through the sale and distribution of goods was God’s way of meeting this emergency. The necessity for this was probably shortlived though we know that the saints in Jerusalem remained a poor group.
This is the significance of Pentecost—the type fulfilled, the Holy Spirit baptizing men for the first time into the body of Christ, the sermon built on the resurrection and bringing conviction and conversion, and the young church marked off and established in the word and ways of the Lord.
About the Author:
Charles Caldwell Ryrie (born 1925) is a Christian writer and theologian. He graduated from Haverford College (B.A.), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M., Th.D.) and the University of Edinburgh, Scotland (Ph.D.). For many years he served as professor of systematic theology and dean of doctoral studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and as president and professor at Philadelphia College of Bible, now Philadelphia Biblical University. He is a premillennial dispensationalist, though irenic in his approach. He is also the editor of the popular Ryrie Study Bible.
When Sereno E. Dwight included the seventy resolutions in his biography of his great-grandfather Jonathan Edwards, he added the arresting comment: “These were all written before he was twenty years of age.”
Doubtless the resolutions display the marks of relative youth — references to God are frequent, while references to Christ and to grace are noticeably infrequent. Edwards’ sense of the need for radical consecration was then greater than his ability to show how such devotion would need to be resourced in Christ over the long haul. While this is not wholly lacking, there is no doubt that introspection dominates over divine provision. That notwithstanding, the “Resolutions” provide a very powerful illustration of an often-repeated divine pattern: those the Lord means to use significantly he often deals with profoundly in early years.
Edwards stood in a great puritan tradition of resolution-forming and covenant-making. Both are lost spiritual arts, substituted at best by life-plans that tend to focus on the externals. Edwards, by contrast, was deeply concerned with the internals. He early grasped the value of a deliberate binding of the conscience to a life of holiness and of expressing such commitment in a concrete, objective, and also very specific way. Thus for him, the practice of keeping a journal (in which half of his resolutions are found) was not merely an exercise in narcissism but a careful guarding of the heart against sin. In addition, Edwards was conscious from his teenage years that dealing with indwelling sin (“mortifying” it in the older terminology) meant a commitment to deal generally with all sin, and also repenting of — and mortifying — “particular sins, particularly” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 15.5; Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5, 8–10. Indeed, these words of Paul form the unwritten backdrop to a number of the resolutions).
What can we learn for Christian living today from the resolutions themselves? Here are only three of many outstanding lessons:
Life is for the glory of God. Resolution 4 epitomizes this: “Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.”
These words have a Daniel-like ring about them (Dan. 1:8). When coupled with Edwards’s further principle that we learn from Scripture how God is to be glorified in our lives, this is both a life-goal statement and a life-simplifying one. The question, what will most tend to the glory of God in this situation? asked against the background of growing biblical wisdom wonderfully simplifies and clarifies the choices of life. In a world full of apparent complexities, this is an invaluable litmus test to use — not least if, like Edwards, you are a teenager.
Life should be lived in the light of eternity. This was, of course, a dominant perspective throughout Edwards’ later life. But it was already powerfully present in his late teens. He sought to relate the whole of life to its end (in both senses of the word). In pain he reflected on the sufferings of hell (resolution 10). He lived from death and judgment backwards into the present (resolution 17), and endeavored to do so as if each hour might be his last (resolution 19). He sought to make future happiness a central goal (resolutions 22, 50, 55). Thus, if living for the glory of God simplifies all of life, living in the light of eternity solemnizes all of life and enables one increasingly to give weight to every thought, word, and deed.
Life is lived best by those who guard the heart. Edwards guarded his emotions and affections — and his verbal and physical expressions of them — with great care. This emerges in several resolutions (including 31, 34, 36, 45, 58, and 59). Particularly noteworthy is resolution 25. Here he stresses that, if he wishes so to live in a holy manner, he must be “resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.” Whether consciously or not, Edwards here recognized a cardinal element in the original temptation — to malign and thus destroy a sense of the generous love and goodness of God to Adam and Eve (“Has he set you in this garden and forbidden you to eat of all the trees?” seeGen. 3:1).
As early as the age of nineteen, therefore, Edwards recognized that if he lost a sense of the greatness and generosity of the divine love, there would be no resources of grace to motivate the life of holiness to which he committed himself in his resolutions. Therein lay wisdom far beyond his years.
When he penned his final series of resolutions in the summer of 1723, Edwards appears to have been reading through Thomas Manton’s sermons on Psalm 119. He refers to the idea of being open to God found in Manton’s exposition of Psalm 119:26 (sermon 27 in a series of 190). There Manton had given directives for those “who would speed with God.” Edwards was certainly such a young man. Great intellect though he was, he recognized that to “speed with God” was a matter of the heart. That is why all of us — teenagers included — can still aspire today to share the devotion to God he expressed so powerfully in his resolutions.
|DATE||January 1st, 2009|
|TOPICS||Spiritual Growth,Sanctification and Growth|
Dr. Sinclair B. Ferguson is senior minister of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina.
Dr. Larry J. Michael and C.H. Spurgeon on “The Medicine of Laughter”
Dr. Larry Michael is senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Clanton, Ala. He serves as an adjunct professor at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham. This article is an adaptation of writings from the upcoming book, Spurgeon on Leadership, Kregel Publications, scheduled for release October 2003.
Some years ago there was a documented case in the British Medical Journal about a man who laughed himself well. He actually had a terminal illness, and through the employment of laughter therapy, he allowed his body to successfully fight the disease.
While we may smilingly acknowledge the merit of such a case, for the most part, we find such an incident almost incredible. Can laughter really be that good for us? The Bible definitely supports such a notion.
The Bible advocates laughter
The writer of Ecclesiastes stated: “There’s a time to laugh, and a time to cry” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). We know that there are plenty of reasons to cry. Just a casual glance at our world, with its wars, hatred, violence and evil — makes us sad. Every day we see/hear on the news horrible accounts of hurting people who hurt others. We are grieved at the plight of so many persons who are living in darkness and have rejected the light of Christ. The stark reality of sin in our world is indeed sobering.
It’s not surprising that many of us as leaders may be more inclined toward sadness than to joy. Given the nature and demands of Christian leadership in an increasingly challenging world, one could cynically surmise that leaders may have more reason to be glum than glad these days. The pressures of our organizational responsibilities, and the accompanying stresses, can drag us down. Handling church conflict, losing someone special, helplessly seeing a marriage dissolve, experiencing personal betrayal, facing an unsuspected tragedy — all may give cause for tears.
To counter the sad times, the Scripture also advises that there is a time to laugh. Leaders need to know the balancing therapy of laughter. Toward that goal, we should fully embrace the joys of ministry — celebrating special moments with members, “high-fiving” family achievements, relishing the reaching of hard-earned goals, and savoring the blessing of spiritual growth. But those experiences may still fall short of the biblical pronouncement regarding laughter. C’mon, when was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?! Or, you actually had a good belly laugh?
Spurgeon’s great sense of humor
Many evangelicals know well the stern side of C. H. Spurgeon and his serious pursuit of the holy life. Indeed, his stands for righteous causes, and countering doctrinal error are often recounted. But many readers may not know that he was a man with a great sense of humor. Spurgeon knew the value of laughter and mirth. He virtually took to heart the word in Proverbs 17:22: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”
Spurgeon laughed as often as he could. He laughed at the ironies of life, he laughed at comical incidents, he laughed at the amusing elements of nature. He sometimes laughed at his critics. He loved to share wholesome jokes with his friends and colleagues in ministry. He was known to tell humorous stories from the pulpit. William Williams, a fellow pastor who kept company with Spurgeon, was a near and dear friend in the latter years of Spurgeon’s life. He wrote:
What a bubbling fountain of humour Mr. Spurgeon had! I laughed more, I verily believe, when in his company than during all the rest of my life besides. He had the most fascinating gift of laughter . . . and he had also the greatest ability for making all who heard him laugh with him. When someone blamed him for saying humourous things in his sermons, he said, “He would not blame me if he only knew how many of them I keep back.” 1
Spurgeon considered humor such an integral part of his ministry that a whole chapter in his autobiography is devoted to it. Humor permeates his sermons and writings, often woven into the fabric of his messages. It’s one reason among many why he is still so readable today.
The therapy of laughter
Spurgeon knew the blessing of the treatment of humor. He often spoke of his illness in humorous terms: “I have had sharp pains,” he wrote to a friend, “but I am recovering. Only my back is broken, and I need a new vertebrae.” 2 Once, when he was feeling depressed, he spoke of the remedy of laughter:
The other evening I was riding home after a heavy day’s work. I felt wearied and sore depressed, when swiftly and suddenly that text came to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’ I reached home and looked it up in the original, and at last it came to me in this way. ‘My grace is sufficient for THEE.’ And I said, ‘I should think it is, Lord,’ and I burst out laughing. I never understood what the holy laughter of Abraham was till then. It seemed to make unbelief so absurd…O brethren, be great believers. Little faith will bring your souls to heaven, but great faith will bring heaven to your souls. 3
Some of Spurgeon’s humor even bordered on the cynical — like the time he was embroiled in the Baptismal Regeneration Controversy. When Spurgeon took on the Church of England clerics because of their belief in baptismal regeneration, he had a baptismal font installed in his back garden as a birdbath. He referred to it as “the spoils of war.” While the great “Prince of Preachers” may have gone over the top on that one, for the most part, his humor was balanced and appropriate.
Laughter a needful release
Laughter is an important release in a leader’s life. It is much-needed therapy for positions that are most often fraught with stress and the burdens of the day. Certainly there is a time to be sober as we face many tough situations in our lives and ministries. But, we need to learn how to experience the relief of laughter. Part of the problem is that too many of us take ourselves way too seriously. When we forget that God has a sense of humor, we need to do as one leader suggested — go look in the mirror!
Spurgeon knew the value of laughter and humor. Both in tough times and sick times, humor was a means for him to deal with his situation. It was a coping mechanism for him. There will always be seasons of sadness and joy for the conscientious leader. But, the leader who learns to balance the two, will learn the discipline of employing laughter and joy in his life. It could very well make a difference in his fulfillment and purpose in his service to the Lord.
Article adapted from Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 9, Number 40, Septemeber 30 to October 6, 2007.
Notes: 1. William Williams, Personal Remembrances of Charles Haddon Spurgeon (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1895), 24; 2. Ibid, 231; 3. Ibid, 25.
What kind of human leaders has god used to influence the church when He is pleased to send revival?
In every period of history God has given gifts to the church in the form of servants who are a great blessing to that age. Some periods seem to have a good number of people while others only have a few. Horatius Bonar, the famous Scottish minister in the 19th century wrote a small tract called True Revivals and Men God Uses. In this tract Bonar listed nine characteristics of the kinds of leaders God used in seasons of revival.
Horatius Bonar asks the question this way: “What weapons did they employ?”
1) They were in earnest about the great work of the ministry on which they had entered.
2) They were bent on success.
3) They were men of faith.
4) They were men of labor.
5) They were men of patience.
6) They were men of boldness and determination.
7) They were men of prayer.
8) They were men whose doctrines were of the most decided kind, both as respects law and gospel.
9) They were men of solemn deportment and deep spirituality of soul.
About the Author:
Dr. John H. Armstrong is a former pastor and church-planter, of more than twenty years, the author/editor of eleven books, and the author of hundreds of magazine, journal, and Web based articles. Besides this ministry of writing Dr. Armstrong serves as an adjunct professor of evangelism at Wheaton College Graduate School, teaches in various seminaries and colleges as a guest lecturer, and is a seminar and conference speaker in the United States and abroad. He is the founder and president of ACT 3, based in Carol Stream, Illinois. John and Anita, his wife of thirty-eight years, have two adult married children. Their son Matthew is engaged in a ministry of evangelism and discipleship and is a church planter, while their daughter Stacy is an administrative assistant for ACT 3. John and Anita have two granddaughters, Gracie and Abbie.
John was born in Lebanon, Tennessee (March 1, 1949). He is the youngest of two sons of the late Dr. Thomas H. and Marie F. Armstrong. John’s dad was a dentist and the editor of the Tennessee State Dental Journal. He also served on the faculty of the University of Tennessee Dental School in Memphis for nearly fifteen years. John’s brother is a family physician in Huntsville, Alabama. He attended Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tennessee, where he was an ROTC cadet officer and graduated cum honore in 1967. He attended the University of Alabama from 1967-1969, studying journalism and history. In 1969 he transferred to Wheaton College, were he received the B. A. in history (1971) and the M. A. in theology and missions (1973). He did further study at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois, and Northern Baptist Seminary, Lombard, Illinois. He earned the D. Min degree (1979) at Luther Rice Seminary, Atlanta, Georgia.
John is the author of Five Great Evangelists (Christian Focus Publications, 1997), The Catholic Mystery (Harvest House, 1999), True Revival: What Happens When God’s Spirit Moves (Harvest House, 2000), and The Stain That Stays: The Church’s Response to the Sexual Misconduct of It’s Leaders (Christian Focus, 2000). He is the general editor of Roman Catholicism: Evangelical Protestants Analyze What Unites and Divides Us (Moody Press, 1994), The Coming Evangelical Crisis (Moody Press, 1996), Reforming Pastoral Ministry (Crossway, 2001), and The Glory of Christ (Crossway, 2002), Understanding Four Views on Baptism (Zondervan, 2007) and Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper (Zondervan, 2007) He has contributed single chapters, theological and historical introductions, and forewords to a dozen or more volumes, and has been published in Christianity Today, Christian History and similar popular Christian periodicals.
John is a member of several fellowships and societies, including the World Reformed Fellowship, the Karl Barth Society, the John Calvin Society and the Abraham Lincoln Forum. John’s hobbies include baseball, with a love for the Atlanta Braves which goes back to the 1957 Milwaukee Braves who won the World Series, and book collecting. He also enjoys reading great literature, art, movies and walking/biking. He remains an avid college football fan, following his beloved Crimson Tide of Alabama. John and Anita have a special place in their home for Neo, the Armstrong’s miniature dachshund. John and Anita’s grandchildren, Gracie and Abbie, bring very special joy to their busy lives through regular visits.
If systematic Dispensationalism is rightly understood it logically makes sense only within a theocentric and soteriologically Calvinists theology. Dispensationalism teaches that it is GOD who is ruling His household, as administered through the various dispensations of history. Though Dispensationalism, or elements of Dispensationalism have been disseminated throughout a wide diversity of Protestant traditions, this system of theology is best seen as a system of theology that views God as the Sovereign ruler of heaven and earth; man as a rebellious vice-regent (along with some angels); Jesus Christ is the hero of history as He is saves some by His Grace; history as a lesson in the outworking of God’s glory being displayed to both heaven and earth. In essence, Dispensationalism is a theology properly derived from biblical study and lets God be God.
Modern, systematic Dispensationalism is approaching two hundred years of expression and development. We live at a time in which Dispensationalism and some of its ideas have been disseminated and adopted by various theological traditions. This is not surprising since our day is characterized by anti-systemization and eclecticism in the area of thought. It may be surprising, to some, to learn that Dispensationalism was developed and spread during its first 100 years by those within a Reformed, Calvinistic tradition. It had only been in the last 75 to 50 years that Dispensationalism and some of its beliefs were disseminated in any significant way outside of the sphere of Calvinism.
Before proceeding further I need to provide working definitions of what I mean by Calvinism and Dispensationalism.
First, by Calvinism, I am speaking mainly of the theological system that relates to the doctrine of grace or soteriological Calvinism. This would include strict and modified Calvinism (i.e. four and five point Calvinism [some hold to limited atonement and some hold to universal atonement]). I am referring to that aspect of Calvinism that speaks of the fallen nature of man and the elective grace of God (John Calvin image at left).
Second, by Dispensationalism, I have in mind that system of theology that was developed by J. N. Darby (pictured on right) that gave rise to its modern emphasis of consistent literal interpretation, a distinction between God’s plan for Israel and the church, usually a pretribulational rapture of the church before the seventieth week of Daniel, premillennialism, and a multifaceted emphasis upon God’s glory as the goal of history. This includes some who have held to such a system but may have stop short of embracing pretribulationism. The focus of this article will be upon Dispensational premillennialism.
In concert with the Calvinist impulse to view history theocentricly, I believe that dispensational premillennialism provides the most logical eschatological ending to God’s sovereign decrees for salvation and history. Since Dispensational premillennialists view both the promises of God’s election of Israel and the church as unconditional and something that God will surely bring to pass, such a belief is consistent with the Bible and logic. A covenant theologian would say that Israel’s election was conditional and temporary. Many Calvinists are covenant theologians who think that individual election within the church is unconditional and permanent. They see God’s plan with Israel conditioned upon human choice, while God’s plan for salvation within the church is ultimately a sovereign act of God. There is no symmetry in such logic. Meanwhile, Dispensational premillennialists see both acts as a sovereign expression of God’s plan in history that is a logical, consistent application of the sovereign will of God in human affairs.
Samuel H. Kellogg, a Presbyterian minister, missionary, and educator wrote of the logic between Calvinism and “modern, futurist premillennialism,” which was in that day (1888) essentially dispensational. “But in general,” notes Kellogg, “we think, it may be rightly said that the logical relations of premillennialism connect it more closely with the Augustinianthan with any other theological system” (Samuel H. Kellogg, “Premillennialism: Its relations to Doctrine and Practice,” Bibliotheca Sacra, XLV , p. 253).
His use of “Augustinian” is the older term for Calvinism. Kellogg points out the different areas in which Calvinism and premillennialism are theologically one. “Premillennialism logically presupposes an anthropology essentially Augustinian. The ordinary Calvinism affirms the absolute helplessness of the individual for self-regeneration and self- redemption” (Kellogg, “Premillennialism,” p. 254). He continues, “it is evident that the anthropological presuppositions on which premillennialism seems to rest, must carry with them a corresponding soteriology” (Kellogg, “Premillennialism,” p. 257). Kellogg reasons that “the Augustinian affinity of the premillennialist eschatology becomes still more manifest. Nothing is more marked than the emphasis with which premillennialists constantly insist that, the present dispensation is strictly elective” (Kellogg, “Premillennialism,” p. 258-59). “In a word,” concludes Kellogg, “we may say that premillennialists simply affirm of the macrocosm what the common Augustinianism affirms only of the microcosm” (Kellogg, “Premillennialism,” p. 256).
This is not to say that Dispensationalism and Calvinism are synonymous. I merely contend that it is consistent with certain elements of Calvinism that provide a partial answer as to why Dispensationalism sprang from the Reformed tradition. C. Norman Kraus contends,
There are, to be sure, important elements of seventeenth-century Calvinism in contemporary dispensationalism, but these elements have been blended with doctrinal emphasis from other sources to form a distinct system which in many respects is quite foreign to classical Calvinism (C. Norman Kraus, Dispensationalism in America: Its Rise and Development. Richmond: John Knox Press, 1958, p. 59).
Nevertheless, Dispensationalism did develop within the Reformed community and most of its adherents during the first 100 years were from within the Calvinist milieu. Kraus concludes: “Taking all this into account, it must still be pointed out that the basic theological affinities of dispensationalism are Calvinistic. The large majority of men involved in the Bible and prophetic conference movements subscribed to Calvinistic creeds” (Ibid). I will now turn to an examination of some of the founders and proponents of Dispensationalism?
Darby and the Brethren
Modern systematic dispensationalism was developed in the 1830s by J. N. Darby and those within the Brethren movement. Virtually all of these men came from churches with a Calvinistic soteriology. “At the level of theology,” says Brethren historian H. H. Rowdon, “the earliest Brethren were Calvinists to a man” (Harold H. Rowdon, Who Are The Brethren and Does it Matter? Exeter, England: The Paternoster Press, 1986, p. 35). This is echoed by one of the earliest Brethren, J. G. Bellett, who was beginning his association with the Brethren when his brother George wrote, “for his views had become more decidedly Calvinistic, and the friends with whom he associated in Dublin were all, I believe without exception, of this school” (George Bellett, Memoir of the Rev. George Bellett . London: J. Masters, 1889, pp. 41–2, cited in Max S. Weremchuk, John Nelson Darby. Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux Brothers, 1992, p. 237, f.n. 25).
What were Darby’s views on this matter? John Howard Goddard observes that Darby “held to the predestination of individuals and that he rejected the Arminian scheme that God predestinated those whom he foreknew would be conformed to the image of Christ.” In his “Letter on Free-Will,” it is clear that Darby rejects this notion. “If Christ has come to save that which is lost, free-will has no longer any place.” “I believe we ought to hold to the word;” continues Darby, “but, philosophically and morally speaking, free-will is a false and absurd theory. Free-will is a state of sin” (Ibid, p. 186). Because Darby held to the bondage of the will, he logically follows through with belief in sovereign grace as necessary for salvation.
Such is the unfolding of this principle of sovereign grace, without which not one should would be saved, for none understand, none seek after God, not one of himself will come that he might have life. Judgment is according to works; salvation and glory are the fruit of grace (J. N. Darby, “Notes on Romans,” in The Collected Writings of J. N. Darby [Winschoten, Netherlands: H. L. Heijkoop, 1971], 26: 107–8).
Further evidence of Darby’s Calvinism is that on at least two occasions he was invited by non-dispensational Calvinists to defend Calvinism for Calvinists. One of Darby’s biographers, W. G. Turner spoke of his defense at Oxford University:
It was at a much earlier date (1831, I think) that F. W. Newman invited Mr. Darby to Oxford: a season memorable in a public way for his refutation of Dr. E. Burton’s denial of the doctrines of grace, beyond doubt held by the Reformers, and asserted not only by Bucer, P. Martyr, and Bishop Jewell, but in Articles IX—XVIII of the Church of England (W. G. Turner, John Nelson Darby: A Biography [London: C. A. Hammond, 1926], p. 45).
On another occasion Darby was invited to the city of Calvin—Geneva, Switzerland—to defend Calvinism. Turner declares, “He refuted the ‘perfectionism’ of John Wesley, to thedelight of the Swiss Free Church.” Darby was awarded a medal of honor by the leadership of Geneva (Rowdon, Who Are The Brethren, pp. 205–07).
Still yet, when certain Reformed doctrines came under attack from within the Church in which he once served, “Darby indicates his approval of the doctrine of the Anglican Church as expressed in Article XVII of the Thirty-Nine Articles” (Goddard, “The Contribution of Darby,” p. 86). On the subject of election and predestination, Darby said,
For my own part, I soberly think Article XVII to be as wise, perhaps I might say the wisest and best condensed human statement of the view it contains that I am acquainted with. I am fully content to take it in its literal and grammatical sense. I believe that predestination to life is the eternal purpose of God, by which, before the foundations of the world were laid, He firmly decreed, by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and destruction those whom He had chosen in Christ out of the human race, and to bring them, through Christ, as vessels made to honour, to eternal salvation (J. N. Darby, “The Doctrine of the Church of England at the Time of the Reformation,” in The Collected Writings of J. N. Darby [Winschoten, Netherlands: H. L. Heijkoop, 1971], 3:3).
Dispensationalism in America
Darby and other Brethren brought dispensationalism to America through their many trips and writings that came across the Atlantic. “In fact the millenarian (or dispensational premillennial) movement,” declares George Marsden, “had strong Calvinistic ties in its American origins” (George M. Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism: 1870–1925 [New York: Oxford University Press, 1980], p. 46). Reformed historianMarsden continues his explanation of how dispensationalism came to America:
This enthusiasm came largely from clergymen with strong Calvinistic views, principally Presbyterians and Baptists in the northern United States. The evident basis for this affinity was that in most respects Darby was himself an unrelenting Calvinist. His interpretation of the Bible and of history rested firmly on the massive pillar of divine sovereignty, placing as little value as possible on human ability (Ibid).
The post-Civil War spread of dispensationalism in North America occurred through the influence of key pastors and the Summer Bible Conferences like Niagara, Northfield, and Winona. Marsden notes:
The organizers of the prophetic movement in America were predominantly Calvinists. In 1876 a group led by Nathaniel West, James H. Brookes, William J. Eerdman, and Henry M. Parsons, all Presbyterians, together with Baptist A. J. Gordon, …These early gatherings, which became the focal points for the prophetic side of their leaders’ activities, were clearly Calvinistic. Presbyterians and Calvinist Baptists predominated, while the number of Methodists was extremely small… Such facts can hardly be accidental (Ibid).
Proof of Marsden’s point above is supplied by Samuel H. Kellogg—himself a Presbyterian and Princeton graduate—with his breakdown of the predominately dispensational Prophecy Conference in New York City in 1878. Kellogg classified the list of those that signed the call for the Conference as follows (Kellogg, “Premillennialism,” p. 25):
Kellogg concluded that “the proportion of Augustinians in the whole to be eighty-eight per cent” (Ibid, p. 254). “The significance of this is emphasized,” continues Kellogg, “by the contrasted fact that the Methodists, although one of the largest denominations of Christians in the country, were represented by only six names” (Ibid). Kellogg estimates that “analyses of similar gatherings since held on both sides of the Atlantic, would yield a similar result” (Ibid).
George Marsden divides Reformed Calvinism in America into three types: “doctrinalist, culturalist, and pietist” (George M. Marsden, “Introduction: Reformed and American,” in David F. Wells, ed., Reformed Theology in America: A History of Its Modern Development [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997], p. 3). He then explains that “Dispensationalism was essentially Reformed in its nineteenth-century origins and had in later nineteenth-century America spread most among revival-oriented Calvinists” (Ibid, p. 8). This is not to say that only revival-oriented Calvinists were becoming dispensational in their view of the Bible and eschatology. Ernest Sandeen lists at least one Old School Presbyterian—L. C. Baker of Camden, New Jersey—as an active dispensationalist during the later half of the nineteenth century (Ernest R. Sandeen, The Roots of Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800–1930 [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970]).
Timothy Weber traces the rise of Dispensationalism as follows:
The first converts to dispensational premillennialism after the Civil War were pietistic evangelicals who were attracted to its Biblicism, its concern for evangelism and missions, and its view of history, which seemed more realistic than that of the prevailing postmillennialism. Most of the new premillennialists came from Baptist, New School Presbyterian, and Congregationalist ranks, which gave the movement a definite Reformed flavor. Wesleyan evangelicals who opposed premillennialism used this apparent connection to Calvinism to discredit it among Methodists and holiness people (Timothy P. Weber, “Premillennialism and the Branches of Evangelicalism,” in Donald W. Dayton and Robert K Johnston, editors, The Variety of American Evangelicalism [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press]).
It is safe to say that without the aid of Reformed Calvinists in America dispensational premillennialism would have had an entirely different history. Men like the St. Louis Presbyterian James H. Brookes (1830–1897), who was trained at Princeton Seminary, opened his pulpit to Darby and other speakers. Brookes, considered the American father of the pretribulational rapture in America, also discipled a new convert to Christ in the legendary C. I. Scofield (For more on the life of Brookes see Larry Dean Pettegrew, “The Historical and Theological Contributions of the Niagara Bible Conference to American Fundamentalism,” [Th.D. Dissertation from Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976]; David Riddle Williams, James H. Brookes: A Memoir, [St. Louis: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1897]). Others such as Presbyterians Samuel H. Kellogg (Princeton trained), E. R. Craven, who was a PrincetonCollege and Seminary graduate and Old School Presbyterian (Samuel Macauley Jackson, ed., The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952], 3: 296), and Nathaniel West provided great leadership in spreading dispensationalism in the late 1800s.
Scofield, Chafer, and Dallas Seminary
C. I. Scofield (1843–1921), Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871–1952), and Dallas Theological Seminary (est. 1924) were great vehicles for the spread of dispensationalism in America and throughout the world. Both Scofield and Chafer were ordained Presbyterian ministers. The “Scofield Reference Bible, is called by many the most effective tool for the dissemination of dispensationalism in America” (Larry V. Crutchfield, The Origins of Dispensationalism: The Darby Factor, [Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1992], preface). Scofield was converted in mid-life and first discipled by James H. Brookes in St. Louis. He was ordained to the ministry at the First Congregational Church of Dallas in 1882 and transferred his ministerial credentials to the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. in 1908 (Daniel Reid, ed., Dictionary of Christianity in America [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990], pp. 1057–58). Thus, his ministry took place within a Calvinistic context (Chart of some of the biggest popularizers of Dispensationalism pictured left – Darby, Scofield, Chafer were Calvinists – not certain about the others).
Scofield was the major influence upon the development of Chafer’s theology. John Hannah notes that “it is impossible to understand Chafer without perceiving the deep influence of Scofield” (John David Hannah, “The Social and Intellectual History of the Origins of the Evangelical Theological College,” [Ph. D. Dissertation from The University of Texas at Dallas, 1988], pp. 118–19). In fact, “Chafer often likened this relationship to that of father and a son” (Jeffrey J. Richards, The Promise of Dawn: The Eschatology of Lewis Sperry Chafer, [Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1991], p. 23). This relationship grew out of Chafer’s study under Scofield at the Northfield Conference and from a life-changing experience in Scofield’s study of the First Congregational Church of Dallas in the early 1900s. Scofield toldChafer that his gifts were more in the field of teaching and not in the area of evangelism in which he had labored. “The two prayed together, and Chafer dedicated his life to a lifetime of biblical study” (Ibid).
Scofield and Chafer were two of the greatest American dispensationalists and both developed their theology from out of a Reformed background. Scofield is known for his study bible and Chafer for his Seminary and systematic theology. Jeffrey Richards describes Chafer’s theological characteristics as having “much in common with the entire Reformed tradition. Excluding eschatology, Chafer is similar theologically to such Princeton divines as Warfield, Hodge, and Machen. He claims such doctrines as the sovereignty of God, …total depravity of humanity, election, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints” (Ibid, p.3). C. Fred Lincoln describes Chafer’s 8-volume Systematic Theology as “unabridged, Calvinistic, premillennial, and dispensational” (C. F. Lincoln, “Biographical Sketch of the Author,” in Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology [Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948], 8:6).
Since its founding in 1924 as The Evangelical Theological College (changed to Dallas Theological Seminary in 1936), it has exerted a global impact on behalf of dispensationalism. Dallas Seminary’s primary founder was Chafer, but William Pettingill and W. H. Griffith-Thomas also played a leading role. Pettingill, like Chafer, was Presbyterian. Griffith Thomas, an Anglican, wrote one of the best commentaries on the Thirty-nine Articles of the Anglican Church (W. H. Griffith Thomas, The Principles of Theology: An Introduction to the Thirty-nine Articles [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979/1930]), which is still widely used by conservative Anglicans and Episcopalians today. The Thirty-nine Articles are staunchly Calvinistic. Both men were clearly Calvinists. The seminary, especially before World War II, considered itself Calvinistic. Chafer once characterized the school in a publicity brochure as “in full agreement with the Reformed Faith and itstheology is strictly Calvinistic.” In a letter to Allan MacRae of Westminster Theological Seminary, Chafer said, “You probably know that we are definitely Calvinistic in our theology” (Cited in Ibid, p. 200). “Speaking of the faculty, Chafer noted in 1925 that they were ‘almost wholly drawn from the Southern and Northern Presbyterian Churches’“ (Cited in Ibid., p. 346). Further, Chafer wrote to a Presbyterian minister the following: “I am pleased to state that there is no institution to my knowledge which is more thoroughly Calvinistic nor more completely adjusted to this system of doctrine, held by the Presbyterian Church” (Ibid., p. 346, footnote 323).
Since so many early Dallas graduates entered the Presbyterian ministry, there began to be a reaction to their dispensational premillennialism in the 1930s. This was not an issue as to whether they were Calvinistic in their soteriology, but an issue over their eschatology. In the late 1930s, “Dallas Theological Seminary, though strongly professing to be a Presbyterian institution, was being severed from the conservative Presbyterian splinter movement” (Ibid, pp. 357-358). In 1944, Southern Presbyterians issued a report from a committee investigating the compatibility of dispensationalism with the Westminster Confession of Faith. The committee ruled dispensationalism was not in harmony with the Church’s Confession. This “report of 1944 was a crippling blow to any future that dispensational premillennialism might have within Southern Presbyterianism” (Ibid, 364). This ruling effectively moved Dallas graduates away from ministry within Reformed denominations toward the independent Bible Church movement.
A Broadening of Dispensational Acceptance
Even though dispensationalism had made a modest penetration of Baptists as early as the 1880s through advocates such as J. R. Graves (See J. R. Graves, The Work of Christ Consummated in 7 Dispensations [Memphis: Baptist Book House, 1883]), a strong Calvinist, they were rebuffed by non-Calvinists until the mid-1920s when elements of dispensational theology began to be adopted by some Pentecostals in an attempt to answer the increasing threat of liberalism. Kraus explains:
Some teachers said explicitly that premillennialism was a bulwark against rationalist theology. Thus it is not surprising to find that the theological elements which became normative in dispensationalism ran directly counter to the developing emphasis of the “New Theology” (Kraus, Dispensationalism, p. 61).
Up to this point in history, those from the Arminian and Wesleyan traditions were more interested in present, personal sanctification issues, rather than the Calvinist attention in explaining God’s sovereign work in the progress of history. However, the rise of the fundamentalist/liberal controversy in the 1920s stirred an interest, outside of the realm of Calvinism, in defending the Bible against the anti-supernatural attacks of the liberal critics. Dispensationalism was seen as a conservative and Bible-centered answer to liberalism, not only within fundamentalism, but increasingly by Pentecostals and others as well. Timothy Weber notes:
But in time, dispensationalism had its devotees within the Wesleyan tradition as well. More radical holiness groups resonated with its prediction of declining orthodoxy and piety in the churches; and Pentecostals found in it a place for the outpouring of the Spirit in a “latter-day rain” before the Second Coming (Weber, “Premillennialism,” p. 15).
Latter Rain Pentecostalism
One of the first non-Calvinist groups to adopt a dispensational orientation can be found among some Pentecostals in the mid-1920s. This development must be understood against a backdrop of the Wesleyan and holiness heritage out of which Pentecostalism arose at the turn of last century. The American holiness movement of the 1800s was primarily postmillennial and if premillennial, then historical premillennial. They were not in any way dispensational.
Pentecostalism is at heart a supposed restoration of apostolic Christianity that is meant to bring in the latter rain harvest in preparation for Christ’s return. The phrase “latter rain” is taken from Joel 2:23 & 28 and sometimes James 5:7 as a label describing an end-time revival and evangelistic harvest expected by many charismatics and Pentecostals. Some time in the future, they believe the Holy Spirit will be poured out like never before. The latter rain teaching is developed from the agricultural model that a farmer needs rain at two crucial points in the growing cycle in order to produce a bountiful harvest. First, right after the seed is planted the “early rain” is needed to cause the seed to germinate in order to produce a healthy crop. Second, the crop needs rain right before the harvest, called the “latter rain,” so the grain will produce a high yield at harvest time, which shortly follows. Latter rain advocates teach that the Acts 2 outpouring of the Holy Spirit was the “early rain” but the “latter rain” outpouring of the Holy Spirit will occur at the end-times. This scenario is in conflict with dispensationalism that sees the current age ending, not in revival, but apostasy. It will be during the tribulation, after the rapture of the church, that God will use the miraculous in conjunction with the preaching of the gospel. Thus, latter rain theology fits within a postmillennial or historical premillennial eschatology, but it is not consistent with dispensationalism.
Many Christians are aware that the Pentecostal movement began on January 1, 1901 in Topeka, Kansas when Agnes Ozman (1870–1937) spoke in tongues under the tutelage of Charles Fox Parham (1873–1929). Yet, how many realize that in the “early years Movement’” (Donald Dayton, Theological Roots of Pentecostalism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), p. 27)? This is because Parham titled his report of the new movement as “The Latter Rain: The Story of the Origin of the Original Apostolic or Pentecostal Movements” (Dayton, Roots, pp. 22–23). Many are also aware that William J. Seymour (1870–1922) came under the influence of Parham in Houston, Texas in 1905 and then took the Pentecostal message to Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906, from where it was disseminated to the four-corners of the world. But, how many are also aware that he too spoke of these things in terms of a latter rain framework?
There is no doubt that the latter rain teaching was one of the major components—if not the major distinctive—in the theological formation of Pentecostalism. “Modern Pentecostalism is the ‘latter rain,’ the special outpouring of the Spirit that restores the gifts in the last days as part of the preparation for the ‘harvest,’ the return of Christ in glory,” says Donald Dayton (Ibid, 27). David Wesley Myland (1858–1943) was one of the early Pentecostal leaders. He wrote the first distinctly Pentecostal hymn entitled, “The Latter Rain” in 1906. The “first definitive Pentecostal theology that was widely distributed, the Latter Rain Covenant” appeared in 1910 (Stanley M. Burgess and Gary B. McGee, editors, Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988], p. 632). Myland argued in his book that “now we are in the Gentile Pentecost, the first Pentecost started the church, the body of Christ, and this, the second Pentecost, unites and perfects the church into the coming of the Lord” (Cited by Dayton, Roots, p. 27).
Dayton concludes that the “broader Latter Rain doctrine provided a key…premise in the logic of Pentecostalism” (Ibid). In spite of having such a key place in the thinking of early Pentecostalism, “the latter rain doctrine did tend to drop out of Pentecostalism” in the 1920s “only to reappear, however, in the radical Latter Rain revitalization movement of the 1940s” (Ibid, 43). One of reasons that latter rain teachings began to wane in the mid-1920s was that as Pentecostalism became more institutionalized it needed an answer to the inroads of liberalism. As noted above, dispensationalism was seen helpful in these areas.
The Latter Rain teaching developed out of the Wesleyan-Holiness desire for both individual (sanctification) and corporate (eschatological) perfection. Thus, early perfectionist teachers like John Wesley, Charles Finney, and Asa Mahan were all postmillennial and social activists. Revivalism was gagged by carrying the burden of both personal and public change or perfection. It follows that one who believes in personal perfection should also believe that public perfection is equally possible. Those who believe the latter are postmillennialists. After all, if God has given the Holy Spirit in this age to do either, then why not the other? If God can perfect individuals, then why not society?
However, as the 1800s turned into the 1900s, social change was increasingly linked with Darwin’s theory of evolution. The evolutionary rationale was then used to attack the Bible itself. To most English-speaking Christians it certainly appeared that society was not being perfected, instead it was in decline. Critics of the Bible said that one needed a Ph.D. from Europe before the Bible could be organized and understood. It was into this climate that dispensationalism was introduced into America and probably accounts for its speedy and widespread acceptance by many conservative Christians. To many Bible believing Christians, Dispensationalism made a great deal more sense of the world than did the anti-supernaturalism conclusions of liberalism.
Dispensationalism, in contrast to Holiness teaching, taught that the world and the visible church were not being perfected, instead Christendom was in apostasy and heading toward judgment. God is currently in the process of calling out His elect through the preaching of the gospel. Christian social change would not be permanent, nor would it lead to the establishment of Christ’s kingdom before His return. Instead a cataclysmic intervention was needed (Christ’s second coming), if society was to be transformed.
Early Pentecostalism was born out of a motivation and vision for restoring to the church apostolic power lost over the years. Now she was to experience her latter-day glory and victory by going out in a blaze of glory and success. On the other hand, dispensationalism was born in England in the early 1800s bemoaning the latter-day apostasy and ruin of the church. Nevertheless, within Pentecostalism, these two divergent views were merged. Thus, denominations like the Assemblies of God and Foursquare Pentecostals moved away from doctrines like the latter rain teaching and generated official positions against those teachings. It was in the mid-1920s that dispensationalism began to be adopted by non-Calvinists and spread throughout the broader world of Conservative Protestantism.
Dispensationalism appealed to the average person with its emphasis that any average, interested person could understand the Bible without the enlightened help of a liberal education. Once a student understood God’s overall plan for mankind, as administered through the dispensations, he would be able to see God’s hand in history. Thus, dispensational theology made a lot of sense to both Pentecostal and evangelical believers at this point in history.
Post War Development
Fundamentalism/Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism- Charismatic movements spread rapidly in America after the second World War and since dispensationalism was attached to them, it also grew rapidly. Many baby-boomers within Pentecostal and Charismatic churches grew up with dispensationalism and the pre-trib rapture as part of their doctrinal framework. Thus, it would not occur to them that dispensationalism was not organic to their particular brands of restoration theology. Further, as non-Calvinist Fundamentalism grew after the War, especially within independent Baptist circles, there was an even greater disconnect of dispensational distinctives from their Calvinist roots.
We have seen that the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement has a tradition of both Latter Rain/restoration teachings as well as the later rise of a dispensational stream. However, these are contradictory teachings that appear to be on a collision course.
Either the church age is going to end with perfection and revival or it will decline into apostasy, preparing the way for the church to become the harlot of Revelation during the tribulation. It is not surprising to see within the broader Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, since the mid 1980s, a clear trend toward reviving Latter Rain theology and a growing realization that it is in logical conflict with their core doctrine. Many, who grew up on Dispensational ideas and the pre-trib rapture, are dumping these views as the leaven of Latter Rain theology returns to prominence within Pentecostal/Charismatic circles.
Pentecostal/Charismatic leaders like Earl Paulk and Tommy Reid, to name just a couple among many, are attempting to articulate the tension over the struggles of two competing systems. They are opting for the dismissal of dispensational elements from a consistent Pentecostal/Charismatic and Latter Rain theology. Tommy Reid observes:
This great Last Day revival was often likened in the preaching of Pentecostal pioneer to the restoration promised to Israel in the Old Testament. Whereas Dispensationalists had relegated all of these prophetic passages of restoration only to physical Israel, Pentecostal oratory constantly referred to these prophecies as having a dual meaning, restoration for physical Israel, AND restoration for the present day church. WE WERE THE PEOPLE OF THAT RESTORATION, ACCORDING TO OUR THEOLOGY (Tommy Reid, Kingdom Now But Not Yet. Buffalo: IJN Publishing, 1988, pp. xv-xvi. [emphasis in original]).
At the same time, the purge of Dispensationalism from Reformed Christianity, begun in the late 1930s, has been pretty much completed. Typical of this polarization is found in books like John Gerstner’s Wrongly Dividing The Word Of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing The Word Of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism. Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, 1991). While admitting on the one hand that a “strange thing about Dispensationalism is that it seems to have had its strongest advocates in Calvinistic churches” (Ibid, 106). Gerstner so strongly opposes dispensationalism, that it has blinded him to the true Calvinist nature of such a God-centered theology. Gerstner claims that he and other Reformed theologians have raised “strong questions about the accuracy of dispensational claims to be Calvinistic” (Ibid, pp. 105-47). It appears that since Dispensationalism arose within the Reformed tradition, as a rival to Covenant Theology, some want to say that they cannot logically be Calvinistic. This is what Gerstner contends. However, in spite of Gerstner’s sophistry on this issue,he cannot wipe out the historical fact that dispensationalism was birthed within the biblical mindset of a clear theocentric theology and by those who held strongly to soteriological Calvinism. The fact that Dispensationalism arose within a Reformed context is probably the reason why the Reformed community has led the way in the criticism of Dispensational theology.
The purpose of this article is to remind modern Dispensationalists and Calvinists of the historical roots of Dispensationalism. It is precisely because Dispensationalism has penetrated almost every form of Protestantism that many today may be surprised to learn of its heritage. In our day of Postmodern irrationalism, where it is considered a virtue to NOT connect the dots of one’s theology, we need to be reminded that the theology of the Bible is a seamless garment. It all hangs together. If one starts pulling at a single thread, the whole cloth is in danger of unraveling.
I personally think that if systematic Dispensationalism is rightly understood then it still logically makes sense only within a theocentric and soteriologically Calvinistic theology. After all, Dispensationalism teaches that it is GOD who is ruling His household, as administered through the various dispensations of history. However, the reality is that Dispensationalism, or elements of Dispensationalism (i.e., pretribulationism, futurism, etc.), have been disseminated throughout a wide diversity of Protestant traditions. Dispensationalism is best seen as a system of theology that sees views God as the Sovereign ruler of heaven and earth; man as a rebellious vice-regent (along with some angels); Jesus Christ is the hero of history as He is saves some by His Grace; history as a lesson in the outworking of God’s glory being displayed to both heaven and earth. Dispensationalism is a theology that I believe is properly derived from biblical study and lets God be God (Article Adapted from Vol. 4: Conservative Theological Journal Volume 4. 2000 (12) (127). Fort Worth, TX: Tyndale Theological Seminary).
About the Author: Dr. Thomas Ice is the Executive Director of The Pre-Tribulational Research Center. He founded The Center in 1994 with Dr. Tim LaHaye to research, teach, and defend the pretribulational rapture and related Bible prophecy doctrines. The Center is currently located on the campus of Liberty University in Virginia.
Dr. Ice has authored or co-authored about 30 books, written hundreds of articles, and is a frequent conference speaker. He has served as a pastor for 15 years. Dr. Ice has a B.A. from Howard Payne University, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, a Ph.D. from Tyndale Theological Seminary, and is a Doctoral Candidate at The University of Wales in Church History. Dr. Ice lives in Omaha, Nebraska with his wife Janice. Two of their three boys are college graduates and the third is currently in college.