77) Progressive Revelation

While acknowledging that “the New Testament contains no explicit record of a transmission of Peter’s leadership; nor…the transmission of apostolic authority in general…it considers that its doctrine has a developmental history and that its teaching about matters such as the Trinity, the divinity of Christ…developed as the result of drawing out from the original revealed truth consequences that were not obvious…the doctrine of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, in the form in which it is upheld today in the Catholic Church, developed over the course of centuries, often in reaction to challenges made against exercises of authority by popesThe event that is often considered to have been the first conflict…was promulgated in the First Council of Constantinople (381) canon 3 which decreed…”Constantinople is New Rome.”…The increasing involvement of Eastern emperors in church matters…led successive bishops of Rome to attempt a sharper definition of their ecclesial position vis-a-vis the other bishops.The first documented use of the description of Saint Peter as first bishop of Rome, rather than as the apostle who commissioned its first bishop, dates from 354…Frm the time of Pope Damasus, the text of Matthew 16:18 (“You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church”) is used to support Roman primacy. Pope Innocent I (401–417)…wrote: “All must preserve that [authority] which Peter the prince of the apostles delivered to the church at Rome…

Does it shock you to discover that the most fundamentalist Protestant Christians who believe in the inerrant word of God base their beliefs on progressive revelation just like Catholicism and Judaism? 

dispensationalism-chart

Don’t try to comprehend everything in these complex graphics, simply take note of the progression in revelation depicted.

Two of the more common hermeneutical and theological viewpoints within the world of Bible-believing Christianity are dispensationalism and covenant theology. Each position represents a version of Biblical orthodoxy. [Emphasis added.] Both perspectives generally affirm the major doctrines of the Christian faith, such as the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible…

However, they disagree strongly on…how one views the expression of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments…No one doubts the fact of the progress of revelation….

for covenant theologians, the church began either with Adam (presumably the first saved man) or Abraham…

In contrast, dispensationalism sees the church as starting on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2…The church has a unique relationship to Christ, something that did not exist before.

How is it possible for two such different theological groups, both believing in the inerrancy of scripture, to co-exist?

The difference lies in how scripture is interpreted.

Systematic theology is a discipline which addresses theological topics one by one (e.g. GodSinHumanity) and attempts to summarize all the biblical teaching on each particular subject…the goal is to present the major themes (i.e. doctrines) of the Christian faith in an organized and ordered overview that remains faithful to the biblical witness…

Systematic theology also has major implications in the area of interpreting scripture. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity is not gathered from one passage of the Bible. Instead, the Trinity is an …interpretation of…”a pattern of implicit and explicit judgments concerning the God of Israel and his relationship to the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth…

To understand the connection between systematic theology and interpretation, we can compare it to simple systematic filing. Documents are organized into categories with file folders that allow you to develop meaningful patterns by combining information from multiple sources.

The categories are developed separately from the content of the information, and are based on the ultimate use of the information. Often the same information can be filed into a number of different categories.  For instance, the same receipt from a Chinese restaurant can be filed

  1. alphabetically
  2. under “Meals” or
  3. under “Entertainment.”

It all depends on what purpose you have for the information being categorized –

  1. retrieving any of your receipts as needed
  2. budgeting food expenses
  3. tracking tax deductions.

The content of what is being organized doesn’t change, but the way it is interpreted changes according to the way it is labeled.

The same is true for Systematic Theology. Each system files the same scripture under a different heading, to organize a different pattern of interpretation.

It is important to note that every filing system – material or conceptual – starts with a pre-conceived purpose for categorizing the information. In the case of Systematic Theology, scripture is assigned to categories to fit a preconceived pattern based on a purpose.

Covenant Theologyis a conceptual overview and interpretive  framework for understanding the overall structure of the Bible. It uses the theological concept of a covenant as an organizing principle [Emphasis added.]…The standard form of covenant theology views the history of God’s dealings with mankind…under the framework of three overarching theological covenants: those of redemption, of works, and of grace..

As a framework for biblical interpretation, covenant theology stands in contrast to dispensationalism in regard to the relationship between the Old Covenant (with national Israel) and the New Covenant (with the house of Israel [Jeremiah 31:31] in Christ’s blood)

Covenant theologians deny that God has abandoned his promises to Israel, but see the fulfillment of the promises to Israel in the person and the work of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, who established the church in organic continuity with Israel, not as a separate replacement entity…

A number of major 20th-century covenant theologians including Karl Barth, “the most important theologian of the twentieth century” ….departed from the traditional classical covenant theology to develop a monocovenantal scheme subsuming everything under one Covenant of Grace. The focus of all biblical covenants is then on grace and faith.

So as Karl Barth developed his understanding of God’s message to mankind, he moved scriptures from the Covenant Theology filing system of various old covenants (as seen in the graphic above – Adam, Noah, Moses, etc.) and the new covenant in Jesus’ blood into just one combined old and new single covenantal theologythe grace of God received by faith of man.

Notice, there are still different covenants, but now they are placed into one single file with one heading, fitting one single pattern of the relationship between helpless humans and a powerful God who saves mankind.

From beginning to end, Barth’s theology is decidedly Christocentric…In the incarnation, Christ takes on humanity’s sinfulness and lifts humanity up into restored fellowship with God [Emphasis added.]. On the cross, Christ suffers the rejection that sinful humanity deserves…judged in our place…

the community of God exists in the twofold form of Israel and the Church…according to God’s eternal decree as the people of Israel (in the whole range of its history in past and future…and at the same time as the Church of Jews and Gentiles…”

For Barth, God’s covenant with the nations is clearly an extension of God’s covenant with the Jews…“In tracing God’s election, providence, and covenant with the Jews, Barth affirmed the particularity of God’s election for the Jews ‘in whom there is fullness of salvation for all men of all nations.’ ”…

So we see that Barth’s systematic monocovenantal theology serves a purpose of understanding how the community of God’s people exists as Israel maintaining its national identity in the international Church.

In stark contrast to Covenant Theology, Dispensational Theology serves the purpose of understanding  “the difference between the Jew, the Gentile, and Church of God.

Before a child of God can move forward in serious Bible study, he must understand the different dispensations. Failure to understand the true teaching of dispensations has led many to make false applications of the Bible.

Dispensationalism is “a teaching on which we cannot afford to be uniformed.”

Three things helped dispensationalism become very popular in the twentieth century. The first was the beginning of the Bible Institute movement. D.L. Moody had one in Chicago…the flagship institution. These institutions sprung up all over both the United Kingdom and the United States, and they taught dispensationalism.

The second thing was prophecy conferences. These were popular in the early 1900s. They were held in Winona Lake, Philadelphia, and Dallas. They were everywhere.

The third thing that popularized dispensationalism was the Scofield Reference Bible, named for Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, who was born in 1843 and died in 1921. He used the dispensations as the framework to understand the Bible and its structure, and he applied that dispensational hermeneutic to texts. Scofield also put forth the dispensational distinction of a separation between Israel and the church.

The best known purveyors of Dispensationalism are found among the most fundamentalist Christians such as the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, Fundamental Independent Baptist Churches, Moody Bible Institute, Dallas Theological Seminary, Back to the Bible Broadcast and the book series Left Behind by Tim LaHaye.

Dispensationalists “consider themselves to be the only true champions of biblical orthodoxy. Departure from dispensationalism will result in the loss of the evangelical faith.”

I must say there is quite a lot of truth in that statement.

I grew up in one such ardently dispensationalist environment, described accurately I must say by a detractor whose faith was completely broken. Mine was just crippled for many years. My father was a Fundamental Independent Baptist pastor whose faithful daily morning Bible study inspired me to teach myself to read at the age of four, in order to engage myself in what was obviously the most important activity in the world. As a female I could not obtain theological studies from the Bible Study my sisters attended. My theological training occurred in the course of attending church at least three times a week, memorizing chapters at a time in AWANA Club, and studying the Bible in personal quiet time every morning and family devotions every night.

One of our family devotions became the pivot point in my spiritual life when, while studying Matthew 24, in answer to a question to clarify a confusing statement, my father replied that Jesus and his disciples were no longer Jewish, they were Christians, therefore the events in that passage describing the destruction of the temple, tribulation and second coming did not apply to them.

I was only 14 years old, but this interpretation was so inconsistent with

  1.  the personal context in which Jesus was replying to questions posed by the disciples,
  2. the historical evidence that these events had occurred to the disciples, while also would repeat in the future, and
  3. the rules of biblical interpretation I had been taught, even as a teenager,

that I was shocked and argued against it. My father’s response was “It’s Dispensationalism, but you wouldn’t understand it.” I was savvy enough to recognize that my father, who loved to teach, didn’t himself understand it or he would have held forth.

I never forgot that weird explanation, but it wasn’t until years later, through persistent questioning, that I learned how Dispensationalism reclassified the disciples / apostles from Jews to Christians, since, according to Dispensationalism, one cannot be both. Therefore, the teaching given by Jesus in Matthew 24 was NOT directed to his disciples since, according to dispensationalism, Christians are raptured out prior to the Great Tribulation described in Matthew 24.

Please note – the purpose of this study is not to discredit Dispensationalism.  The purpose of this study is to ascertain that what is believed is solidly based on inspired scripture.

I was disturbed to discover that I was basing my faith and practice on a hidden doctrine that I didn’t understand and wasn’t explained in church. I felt compelled to search out its validity, since it didn’t seem to agree with a straightforward, literal interpretation of the Bible as claimed by my family’s denomination.

 

 

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