In order to determine whether the early Pentecostals were dispensational in their eschatology, I will outline the major eschatological views extant in the early 20th century. This exploration will provide historical context for evaluating the eschatological and hermeneutical views of the early Pentecostals in the light of ‘family resemblances’. I will illustrate the various views from the writings of proponents of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The different approaches will be ordered according to the approximate date of their appearance on the theological scene.
Various approaches to doctrinal issues existed at the beginning of the 20th century. Some individuals were traditionalist in their approach, whereas others innovated in their eschatology. Michael S. Hamilton, discussing the difficulties of understanding fundamentalism, identifies the network established in the late 19th century in the United
States through the influence of D. L. Moody as ‘interdenominational evangelicalism’.56 This term is helpful, since it distinguishes between this new interdenominational movement and the traditionalists of the established denominations. Some members of the traditional denominations were premillennial in their eschatology, due to the influence of Moody’s network, 57 whereas traditionalists rejected the premillennial understanding based on a stricter reading of their historic confessions.
1.1 Lutheran Eschatology
Some Lutheran theologians of the early 20th century rejected a literal millennium of one thousand years, finding instead a unity in the events of the last times. Henry Jacobs, a Lutheran professor, wrote in 1905 that ‘Christ’s coming and His rewards to the godly and His condemnation of the godless are always closely connected in the Scriptural accounts of the Judgment.’ He rejected the use of Revelation 20:1–6 as proof of a dispensational interpretation because the book was ‘figurative’ in nature, whilst other scriptural witnesses to the end times speak in ‘plain language’.58 Relying on the testimony of Matthew 25:31, 32, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed and the Augsburg Confession, Jacobs concluded that the judgement will occur immediately following the Second Coming.59
Jacobs answers the question, ‘Will there be a two–fold coming or manifestation of Christ?’ by quoting the Augsburg Confession, Art. 17, which condemns ‘others also who now scatter Jewish opinions that, before the resurrection of the dead, the godly shall occupy the kingdom of the world, the wicked being everywhere suppressed.’ He states that this statement ‘clearly disclaims all responsibility for any teaching that separates
56 Michael S. Hamilton, ‘The Interdenominational Evangelicalism of D. L. Moody and the Problem of Fundamentalism’, in American Evangelicalism: George Marsden and the State of American Religious History, ed. Darren Dochuk, Thomas S. Kidd and Kurt W. Peterson (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2014), 234–35.
57 Hamilton, ‘Interdenominational Evangelicalism’, 246.
58 Henry Eyster Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith (Philadelphia: General Council Publication House, 1905), 515–16.
59 Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, 517.
between a resurrection for the godly and a resurrection for the ungodly by any long period of time, and which affirms that there are two comings of Christ in the future.’60
This was not the only Lutheran understanding of eschatology. Joseph Seiss (1823– 1904) provides an example of a Lutheran form of dispensationalism. He held that the Augsburg Confession could be read as condemning Anabaptist views of the millennium and other abuses, without negating the possibility of a literal thousand–year reign of Christ after the resurrection.61 Speaking of the timing of future events, Seiss states that ‘as the great tribulation occurs only in connection with these seals, trumpets and vials [in Revelation], the translation by which these honored saints are brought to their rewards necessarily precedes that tribulation in point of time.’62 In unique fashion, Seiss taught three raptures: ‘Here, then, are at least three distinct classes of saints, and each has its translation and reward at a different time from the other, the rank, privileges and honors being diminished as the succession moves.’63 Following the raptures and tribulation, Seiss taught a premillennial coming of Christ: ‘It is Christ’s coming that is to make the millennium, and not the millennium which is to prepare the world for Christ’s coming.’64
Seiss’s dispensational views flowed out of an interest in literal interpretation of prophecy. Seiss quotes a saying that encapsulates his approach: ‘Distinguish the times, and the Scriptures will harmonize.’ This principle leads to a rejection of ‘mystical and figurative treatment of the Sacred Word, which has so emasculated and obscured it’ and allows one to ‘easily see how every jot and tittle may be, as it will be, literally and completely fulfilled.’ 65 Although holding unique views on certain points, Seiss appropriated dispensationalism within a Lutheran framework.
60 Jacobs, A Summary of the Christian Faith, 515.
61 Joseph A. Seiss, The Last Times: Or, Thoughts on Momentous Themes, 7th ed. (London: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1878), 327–29.
62 Seiss, Last Times, 348.
63 Seiss, Last Times, 352.
64 Seiss, Last Times, 40.
65 Seiss, Last Times, 353.
1.2 Reformed Eschatology
Churches of the Reformed tradition at the beginning of the 20th century held to covenant theology. Reformed theologians may speak of dispensations, but these are unified under the eternal Covenant of Grace. A. A. Hodge is representative, when he states that
in the several dispensations, or modes of administration of the eternal Covenant of Grace, Christ has contracted various special covenants with his people, as administrative provisions for carrying out the engagements, and for applying to them the benefits of his covenant with the Father.66
Thus, the Reformed see a general continuity in God’s plan for the ages, since his actions are determined under a single covenant. Hodge, speaking of the people of God, finds continuity between the Testaments: ‘The church, under both dispensations, has the same nature and design.’67
In Reformed eschatology, this continuity leads to an eschatology in which all of the events of the end times are unified. In Hodge’s words, ‘Christ’s advent, the general resurrection and judgment, will be simultaneous, and immediately succeeded by the burning of the old, and the revelation of the new earth and heavens.’ 68 In this understanding, a literal millennium of one thousand years is rejected in Revelation 20, as is the idea of ‘two resurrections’ and any return of Israel to their land as a fulfilment of prophecy.69 The traditionalist Reformed of the early 20th century generally held to either postmillennialism or amillennialism. In the former view, the Church would expand and advance, bringing in the kingdom through the preaching of the gospel. According to the latter position, the millennium was a symbolic period in which the Church militant acts. Any thought of a rapture of the Church as a distinct event from the Second Coming of Christ or as a first phase of that return was rejected.
66 A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, rev. ed. (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1878), 370.
67 Hodge, Outlines of Theology, 619.
68 Hodge, Outlines of Theology, 569.
69 Hodge, Outlines of Theology, 571–72.
1.3 Methodist Eschatology
John Fletcher’s (1729–1785) views have particular importance for our discussion on the relationship between Pentecostalism and dispensationalism. This is due to early Pentecostals’ appropriation of his views on the dispensations and modern Pentecostals’ retrieval of Fletcher’s ideas in their theologising. Lawrence Wood captures his eschatological appeal for Pentecostals:
Fletcher often spoke of the coming kingdom of God, its fulfilment on the day of Pentecost, its personal appropriation by faith in the lives of individual believers, and the final arrival of the kingdom when a global Pentecost would engulf the whole world. The essence of the millennium when the whole world would be baptized with the Holy Spirit, was loving God with all the heart, mind, and soul.70
Fletcher taught that history was divided into three dispensations that correlated to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He states, ‘Under the dispensation of the Father, the grand promise was that which respected the external manifestation of the Son.’71 Then, during the dispensation of the Son, Jesus promised ‘the abundant effusion of the Holy Spirit’.72 This glorious dispensation of the Spirit looks forward to the even more glorious return of Jesus Christ. As laid out by Fletcher, the Holy Spirit dispensation is characterised by waiting for Christ’s second coming.
We observe Fletcher’s understanding of both prophecy and the day of Pentecost in his treatment of prophecies that speak of a future spiritual restoration of Israel ‘under the reign of the Messiah’, such as Joel 2:28, Zechariah 12:10, Isaiah 44:3 and Ezequiel 36:25–27. He states, ‘That man must be prejudiced to an extreme degree, who perceives not that these gracious prophecies began to receive their accomplishment upon the day of pentecost, when the multitude of them that believed were “of one heart and one soul”’.73
70 Laurence W. Wood, The Meaning of Pentecost in Early Methodism: Rediscovering John Fletcher as John Wesley’s Vindicator and Designated Successor, Pietist and Wesleyan Studies 15 (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2002), 147.
71 John Fletcher, The Works of the Reverend John Fletcher, 4 vols. 3 (New York: B. Waugh and T. Mason, 1833), 166.
72 Fletcher, Works, 167.
73 Fletcher, Works, 168.
Fletcher appears to refer to a future reign of Christ centred in Jerusalem, but he understands Israel as the Church: ‘In prospect of this glorious time, the prophet calls upon the Church under the ancient name of Zion, Jerusalem, and Israel, to break forth in praise to Jehovah the Redeemer’.74 In equating Israel and the Church, he followed a traditionalist Lutheran understanding of a unified people of God. Fletcher may have popularised the use of three dispensations to divide history, but as J. Russell Frazier comments, ‘Fletcher’s doctrine of dispensations has very little resemblance to the dispensations of modern dispensationalism of the Plymouth Brethren’.75 It is to that dispensationalism that we now turn.
1.4 Darby’s Eschatology
John Nelson Darby, although not the first to promote dispensational ideas,76 is considered the father of modern dispensationalism. Although his writings are vast, a general understanding of his eschatology may be briefly outlined. He used Daniel 9 and the ‘seventy weeks’ as an outline for his historical time line. Speaking of the last week, he states,
But there is still a week left—we have only had sixty-nine weeks—and then there is a lapse. Messiah comes, is rejected, and is cut off, does not get the kingdom at all, gets nothing—He gets the cross, it is true, but that is all He gets. He ascends to heaven, and therefore our hearts must follow Him up to heaven, while He is there.77
During this lapse, God is calling out ‘heavenly saints’ or the Church.78 According to
Darby, ‘all the direct dealings of God with the world through the Jews are suspended until
74 Fletcher, Works, 528.
75 J. Russell Frazier, True Christianity: The Doctrine of Dispensations in the Thought of John William Fletcher (1729–1785) (Cambridge: James Clarke, 2014), 79n118.
76 William C. Watson, Dispensationalism before Darby: Seventeenth-century and Eighteenth-century English Apocalypticism (Silverton, OR: Lampion Press, 2015).
77 John Nelson Darby, Seven Lectures on the Second Coming of the Lord: Delivered in Toronto, in 1863
(Toronto: Gospel Tract Depository, 1863), https://archive.org/details/cihm_07686, 67.
78 Darby, Seven Lectures, 69.
the Church is taken up’79 in the rapture. After the rapture, a tribulation period will begin on earth.80
Darby distinguished between the resurrection of believers and the raising of unbelievers because they are ‘entirely distinct … in nature, time, character, and everything else’,81 being separated by the one thousand years of the millennium.82 During the millennium, the Jewish people will be restored to their land and blessed spiritually in fulfilment of the promises of the New Covenant.83 In summary, the final events on the prophetic calendar for Darby were the rapture, the tribulation, the ‘glorious appearing’ of Christ and the earthly millennium.84
1.5 Interdenominational Premillennial Eschatology
As mentioned above, the late 19th century saw the growth of an ‘interdenominational evangelicalism’. This movement was influenced eschatologically by a series of prophecy conferences held in the 19th century. To cite one example, Daniel Steele, an opponent of premillennialism, noted the influence of one of these conferences in 1878. The conference promoted a dispensational reading of history, and the core of the teaching was ‘recommended to American Christians by certain popular evangelists in their sermons, Bible readings, and evangelical conferences’. 85 This was the type of conference that influenced people like A. B. Simpson. Simpson published an article in 1891 entitled, ‘How I was Led to Believe in Pre-Millenarianism’,86 and later explained his eschatological views in more detail in his work The Coming One.87 Whilst Simpson differed from Darbyite dispensationalism on the issue of how to interpret the book of
79 Darby, Seven Lectures, 70.
80 Darby, Seven Lectures, 76.
81 Darby, Seven Lectures, 80.
82 Darby, Seven Lectures, 87.
83 Darby, Seven Lectures, 105–6.
84 Crawford Gribben, Evangelical Millennialism in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1500–2000
(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 84.
85 Daniel Steele, Antinomianism Revived; or, the Theology of the So-called Plymouth Brethren Examined and Refuted (Toronto: William Briggs, 1887), 193.
86 Franklin A. Pyles, ‘The Missionary Eschatology of A. B. Simpson’, accessed June 22, 2018, https://online.ambrose.edu/alliancestudies/ahtreadings/ahtr_s141.html.
87 A. B. Simpson, The Coming One (New York: Christian Alliance, 1912).
Revelation, opting for a more historicist reading,88 he held to the basic structure of a broader dispensationalism.
Simpson believed that Christ’s Second Coming would be premillennial, and that Christ would establish ‘a glorious terrestrial millennium’.89 In his understanding the Church and Israel were distinguished,90 and Israel would be restored ‘in two stages, first, national, and then spiritual’ in accord with the prophecy of Ezequiel 37.91 The Zionist movement was understood as an initial fulfilment of the promise of the return of Israel to their land.92 Before the final events could occur, Simpson believed in a coming apostasy93 and a great tribulation, from which the Church would be removed in the Parousia (i.e. Christ’s coming), ‘when His Church shall be withdrawn to meet Him in the air and the holy dead shall be united with them in the first resurrection.’94 He plainly distinguished ‘two aspects of the Lord’s return, the first, at the beginning of the Tribulation, the second at its close, and at the commencement of His Millennial reign.’95 He uses the term ‘translation’ to refer to a pretribulational rapture:
There will be, doubtless, many spiritual blessings poured out upon the world immediately after the Parousia of our blessed Master, and the translation of His waiting Bride but it will be too late to enter into the joys of the marriage, and escape the sorrows of the great tribulation.96
This common usage of the term is relevant to Sheppard’s comment on the ambiguity of the term ‘translation’ in relation to the rapture. Rather than ambiguous, the term ‘translation’ was commonly understood as the rapture. This brief discussion shows that, although differing on minor details, Simpson’s eschatology follows the broad outlines of
88 Pyles, ‘Missionary Eschatology of A. B. Simpson’.
89 Simpson, The Coming One, 15.
90 Simpson, The Coming One, 23.
91 Simpson, The Coming One, 69.
92 Simpson, The Coming One, 71–72.
93 Simpson, The Coming One, 77–101.
94 Simpson, The Coming One, 126–28.
95 Simpson, The Coming One, 133.
96 A. B. Simpson, The Holy Spirit or Power from on High: Part II: The New Testament (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1896), https://archive.org/details/cihm_24366, 33.
Darby’s. Simpson’s views are expounded here as an example of what many pastors, theologians and lay people held within ‘interdenominational evangelicalism’.
This introduction to the major views on eschatology at the beginning of the 20th century provides a basis for evaluating Pentecostal views. If a ‘family resemblance’ approach is taken towards different types of dispensationalists, should early Pentecostals be included in this broader category, or were Pentecostals latecomers to dispensationalism? We will now examine the primary sources in dialogue with these questions.