Gerald T. Sheppard: Pentecostals and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism: The Anatomy of an Uneasy Relationship

Gerald T. Sheppard: Pentecostals and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism: The Anatomy of an Uneasy Relationship

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Gerald T. Sheppard: Pentecostals and the Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism:
The Anatomy of an Uneasy Relationship


My aim in this article is to describe how some, predominantly
white Pentecostal groups have tried to wed a Pentecostal
ecclesiology to a dispensational eschatology. I am concerned to
describe the attempt by Pentecostals to find acceptance and
legitimation from the dispensationalist-fundamentalist
movement. I hope to show both that Pentecostals were not
originally dispensationalist-fundamentalists and that the
efforts secondarily to embrace such views have raised new
problems for the identity of Pentecostals-hermeneutically,
sociologically, and politically. My procedure will be, first, to
show that the earliest Pentecostal views were not united in
agreement with the doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture;
second, to illustrate that later Pentecostal dispensationalist
defenses for a pre-tribulation rapture were inconsistent about
applying the same principles to their ecclesiology; and, third, to
demonstrate that dispensational eschatological views
eventually raise problems even for the most basic Pentecostal
understanding of Acts 2. Though much of what I present applies
generally to other denominations, I have concentrated my
critique on the Assemblies of God. My purpose is not to single
out the Assemblies of God, but to choose a denomination whose
literature is easily accessible to me and one which very early
assumed a strict dispensational eschatology. Before attempting
this analysis a few words must be said about the nature of
For the purposes of this study, we must posit an essential
“dispensationalism” which gives rise to a particular style of
defense for the pre-tribulation rapture. As Timothy Weber
observes, prior to the nineteenth century no figure in church
history advocated a “pre-tribulation rapture.” The doctrine
finds its formal origin in the prophetic studies of J. N. Darby in
the 1830’s.’ Though the exact nature of a “dispensational
system” of interpretation varies somewhat, the essence of this
approach turns on the advocacy of both “literal interpretation”
as well as a strict separation in the literal meaning of biblical
texts relating to the church from those applicable to Israel.
From Darby to C.I. Scofield, from Lewis Sperry Chafer
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(Scofield’s scholarly protege) to the modifications of later
dispensationalists like John Walvoord and Charles Ryrie,
including the currently popular Hal Lindsay, one repeatedly
finds these same axioms of interpretation. One pragmatic point
of consensus, tersely put by Clarence Larkin, the patron saint of
dispensational chart makers, is “The (OT) prophets did not see
the Church,. “2 In this respect, the Church Age is an unpredicted
surprise in the light of Old Testament prophecies and occurs
only after the Jews reject Jesus’ offer of the Kingdom.
Repeatedly we are told by dispensationalists that it is one’s
ecclesiology that determines one’s eschatology. An appropriate
ecclesiology confirms that the promises in the Old Testament
are “earthly” in contrast to the entirely “heavenly” character of
the church.3 The whole economy or “rule of life” for Israel is
thus sharply contrasted, as law is to grace, with that of the
Church in the Church Age.4 This Church-Israel distinction
provides for dispensationalists a guiding light which brightens
and clarifies an otherwise dimly visible and ambiguous
eschatological plan within Scripture.5
Standing over a half century after Darby, within what had
developed into a classical school of dispensationalism,
Walvoord affirms the above in explicit terms, “It is not
therefore too much to say that the rapture is determined more
by ecclesiology than eschatology.”6 Further, he notes,
Generally speaking, the pretribulational view is followed
by those who consider premillennialism a “system” of
Biblical interpretation, while the posttribulational and
midtribulational positions characterize those who limit
the area of premillennialism to eschatology.7
Similarly, in his popular study, Things to Come, Dwight D.
Pentecost sets out the “essential basis” of a pre-tribulation
rapturist position,
As a necessary adjunct to this (the literal method of
interpretation), the pretribulationist believes in dispensational interpretation of the Word of God. The church
and Israel are two distinct groups with whom God has a
divine plan.
This mystery program (with the Church) must be
completed before God can resume His program with Israel
and bring it to completion. These considerations all arise
from the literal method of interpretation.8 8
Consequently, dispensationalists in the Darby-Scofield
tradition, unlike Reformed covenant theologians and most
earlier Christian interpreters, reject calling the “church” by
appelatives such as “spiritual Israel,” “the Israel of God,” or
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“new Israel” because this designation “Judaizes” the
“heavenly” church and falsely “spiritualizes” the “earthly”
promises of Jews.9 Darby wrote, accordingly, .
There is no earthly event between (the Church) and
heaven…It is this conviction that the Church is properly
heavenly, in its calling and relationship with Christ,
forming no part of the course of the events (concerning
Jews) of the earth which makes its (pretribulational)
rapture so simple and clear; and, on the other hand, it
shows how the denial of its rapture brings down the church
to an earthly position and destroys its whole spiritual
character and position.10
The practical consequence for this wedding of literal
interpretation and a segregation between earthly and heavenly
promises is that none of the OT and much of Jesus’ teaching
about a kingdom lacks literal significance for the Church Age.
For example, the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord’s Prayer
literally belong to Jesus’ preaching to a Jewish dispensation,
though, as Ryrie and later dispensationalists suggest, some
underlying principles congruent to the moral nature of God
remain applicable to the church because one confronts the same
true God in all periods. ‘ ‘ This system, therefore, which alone
necessitates belief in a pre-tribulation rapture, leads to the
logical interpretation of the church as belonging to an
unexpected “parenthetical age,” a mysterious and unpredicted
delay in the prophetic time-line after the Jews rejected Jesus.
Some scholars, like Chafer, prefer speaking of the age as an
“intercalation” in case the connotation of the word
“parenthesis” might imply an even marginal complementarity
to the earthly history which precedes and follows it.
Early Pentecostal Views-The Historical Problem
Certainly the earliest Pentecostal teachings from Scripture
gave remarkable prominence to eschatology. Pentecostals
commonly thought of the twentieth century outpouring of the
Spirit as evidence of the “latter rain” or at least as a sign of a last
days’ restoration of the Apostolic church prior to the return of
Christ. For example, in A.W. Orwig’s 1916 recollection of the
Azusa Street revivals a decade earlier, he summarizes the
principal topics of Pentecostal preaching there as:
…the teaching that the baptism in the Spirit was upon the
sanctified life, and evidenced by the speaking in another
tongue, however brief, as on the day of Pentecost…The
subject, or doctrine, of divine healing received special
attention…Likewise was the doctrine of the premillenial
coming of Christ ardently promulgated.?z .
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Although the ministers who founded the Assemblies of God
“movement” in 1914 in Hot Springs, Arkansas, did not plan to
write a “statement of faith,” much less a creed, two years later
the exigencies of the period called forth a “Statement of
Fundamental Truths.”Only sixteen in number, the abbreviated
affirmations were obviously not systematic or comprehensive,
lacking any explicit confession, for instance, of the virgin birth,
substitutionary atonement, or the bodily resurrection of Jesus
Christ. Instead the selection of topics reflected the existential
needs of the Pentecostal movement at that time, and four of the
sixteen were concerned with eschatology.13 Moreover, one
should be cautious about assuming how the language of these
confessions relates to the behavior and actual beliefs of the
earlier pioneers of the Assemblies of God. The Statement was
not a carefully constructed creed hammered out by a college of
theologians but a statement subject in its precise wording to the
personal ideosyncracies of the hands writing it.’4 The two
relevant sections on eschatology are as follows:
The resurrection of those who have fallen asleep in Christ
and their translation together with those who are alive and
remain unto the coming of the Lord is the imminent and
blessed hope of the Church. 1 Thess. 4:16,17; Romans 8:23;
Titus 2:18; 1 Cor. 15:51,52.
The revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ from heaven, the
salvation of national Israel, and the millennial reign of
Christ on earth are the Scriptural promises and the world’s
hope. 2 Thess. 1 :7 ; Rev. 19:I 1-14; Romans 11 :26,27 ; Rev.
20:1-7.15 S
Certainly these statements may have implied for their
writer(s) a secret “rapture” of confessing Christians at the end
of the Church Age prior to the tribulation, but in itself this issue
remains somewhat ambiguous. Neither of the statements
explicitly mentions “the tribulation,” “the Church Age,” or
uses the conventional “rapture” terminology. Conversely, the
word “translation” in “King James English” and in the theology
of that period need not entail the conception of a secret
rapture.6 In fact, even adherents to a post-tribulation position
may easily assent to this formulation without a twinge of .
conscience. However, sixteen years later a controversy arose
precisely over this issue and led to the following unanimous
decision by the General Presbyters:
That we affirm our position as being definitely behind the
Statement of Fundamental Truths and the declaration
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therein; that we believe in the imminent personal return of
our Lord Jesus Christ as the blessed hope of the church,
and that we disapprove of any of our ministers teaching
that the church must go through the tribulations
Whether a precise pre-tribulation rapture was intended
behind the original statement remains open to debate from
materials I have seen. But, regardless, such a position was in
any case not a self-evident one for all Pentecostal groups to
take. Timothy Weber’s recent study of dispensationalism in
America points out that popular pre-millennarian views were
encouraged by the events of World War I and that,
By 1920 premillennialist revivalists could afford to press
their doctrine, while before then they had been careful to
remember premillennialism’s distinct minority status
within the evangelical mainstream. IS
Weber observes that the success of earlier prophecy
conferences abated at the end of the nineteenth century in part
because no real consensus on this point had been reached.
Conversely, the crisis of World War I helped to forge a new
place for it in public opinion so that new conferences could be
started up once again in 1919. Agreeing with E. Sandeen’s
analysis, Weber argues that only at this later time did fundamentalism as a “movement” from the 1860’s become fully
“dispensationalist” with the result that popular revivalists
began to include teaching about “the rapture” as a regular part
of their sermons. 19 Certainly, Pentecostals, who look to Azusa
Street as their galvanizing moment in history, do not find that
all of the leading figures taught pre-tribulation rapture. For
Pentecostals the emphasis on eschatology belonged more
naturally to the sense of a final glorious revelation and
outpouring of the Spirit in the last days, than, as with
fundamentalists, to the dark prospect of impending destruction
for those not suddenly taken out of this world. The optimistic
flavor of Pentecostalism is evident in a whole range of
publications. A.G. Jeffries’ words in The Weekly Evangel of
March 18, 1916 are exemplary:
The great Pentecostal revival is deepening and spreading
every hour with an intensity almost inconceivable.
We have reached the limit of divine revelation. Faith has
almost become sight, and revelation tangibility. God has
never come nearer to men than He has the last few years.
…I believe the long dark night of sin is now about past
and a glorious diamond-decked morning is now upon us.2°
Moreover, if we look to other Pentecostal denominational
statements, we find that their positions seem even more
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equivocal regarding a pre-tribulation rapture than that of the
Assemblies of God. For example, one finds no affirmation of a
pre-tribulation rapture among the doctrinal statements of the
Church of God in Christ, Memphis, Tennessee.21 Typical of
most of the Black church generally, nuanced issues in
eschatology received little attention and the specific idea of a
pre-tribulation rapture is absent from official doctrinal
statements up to the present time. Likewise, an examination of
the minutes of the Church of God, Cleveland, Tennessee shows
priority given to recovering a lost apostolic order of church
government, with only limited concern for dispensational
features of eschatology. Of course, the “any moment” coming
of Jesus Christ remains a shared belief as illustrated by
Overseer A.J. Tomlinson’s summary of doctrine in his address
at the Eleventh Annual Assembly of the Churches of God in
1915. Alongside the treasured doctrines of salvation,
sanctification, and spirit baptism, he includes “the coming of
the Lord and the resurrection. “22 Yet, one looks in vain through
the minutes of annual meetings from 1906 to 1917 for a concern
with a secret rapture of the church out of the world before a
Great Tribulation. As a last example, Article 12 in the Articles
of Faith in the Discipline of the Pentecostal Holiness Church
affirms simply that,
We believe in the imminent, personal premillennial second
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ ( Thess. 4:15-18; Titus
2:13; 2 Peter 3:1-4; Matthew 24:29-44); and we love and
wait for His appearing ( Timothy 4:8).
As in the case of the Assemblies of God, later leaders assume
that this statement implicitly affirmed a pre-tribulation
rapture. Long after Article 12 was penned, Pentecostal Holiness
leader, Bishop Dan Muse, is inclined to suggest, “Possibly a
more extensive declaration of this truth would be appropriate,
particularly in our time.”23 My suspicions are that a number of
Pentecostal denominations which came to hold to popular
dispensationalism during the 1920’s and the following decades
are now reading back into their pre-1920’s statements a firm
consensus on the doctrine of the pre-tribulation rapture which
was not originally present among them. This scenario raises
afresh the question of just how “pentecostal,” in an historical
sense, the doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture was.
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Later Pentecostal Defenses for a Pre-tribulation Rapture-a
Hermeneutical Dilemma
This brief study precludes any extensive survey of the
voluminous Pentecostal literature on the biblical defense for
the pre-tribulation rapture. Therefore, in order to illustrate the
problem concretely, I have chosen to examine publications
within the Assemblies of God, which officially, at least, claimed
to be among the most rigorous Pentecostal adherents to the
doctrine. When ambiguities in the above mentioned articles on
eschatology seemed to allow room for a group of Assemblies of
God ministers in the early 1930’s to espouse openly posttribulation views, the response of the Executive Presbytery was
confident and strict in its affirmation of a pre-tribulation
rapture position. Though the controversy on this issue had been
recognized by the Executive Presbytery, at least as early as
1932, their full response, re-enforced with a pursuasive address
by Ernest S. Williams at the biennial General Council meeting,
waited until 193524 At this same time, an earlier executive draft .
of a position on the subject was accepted as part of the
Constitution and Bylaws of the General Council (Article XXIV,
Section 7), reading as follows:

Whereas, The General Council has declared in the
Statement of Fundamental Truths that it holds to the belief
in the imminent coming of the Lord as the blessed hope of
the Church, and
Whereas, The teaching that the Church must go through
the Tribulation tends to bring confusion and division
among the saints; therefore,
We recommend that all our ministers teach the imminent
, coming of Christ, warning all men to be prepared for that
coming, which may occur at any time, and not lull their
minds into insecurity by any teaching that would cause
them to feel that certain events must occur before the
Rapture of Saints.
Furthermore, We recommend that should any of our
ministers hold to the post-tribulation doctrine, they
refrain from preaching and teaching it. Should they persist
. in emphasizing this doctrine to the point of making it an
issue, their standing in the fellowship will be seriously
With this strong affirmation in mind, we may now turn to
examples of some major Assemblies of God publications which
show how Assemblies of God leaders mounted a biblical
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defense for this doctrine. In each of the following cases, taken in
chronological order of publication, I will describe similarities
and differences in the Pentecostal defense and that typical of
their fundamentalist-dispensationalist counterparts. In order
to heighten these differences, I have selected only books from
the 1930’s and later, in a period in which the Assemblies of God
have confirmed officially its commitment to this dispensational
view of eschatology.
A. Myer Pearlman’s Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible ( 1937)
In the 1930’s Pearlman served the Assemblies of God as a
highly regarded teacher at Central Bible Institute, adjacent to
the denominational headquarters in Springfield, Missouri.
During this time, he composed the first large scale book of
doctrine written within the Assemblies of God. He states
concerning the nature of this study, “The material contained in
this book is a combination of Biblical and systematic
theology.”25 He divided his work into eleven doctrinal chapters
on: the scripture, God, angels, man, sin, Christ, the atonement,
salvation, the Holy Spirit, the church, and the last things. From
the late thirties on, Pearlman’s treatment became a standard
textbook of theology used in various Bible Institutes and
colleges of the Assemblies of God. His approach became a
model of biblical theological interpretation for at least a
generation of Assemblies of God ministers in training.
His acceptance of the dispensational hermeneutic is
equivocal. On the one hand, in matters of eschatology he can
sound typically dispensational, for example, when he describes
the relation of Israel to the Second Coming: “He who is the
Head and Saviour of the Church, the heavenly people, is also
the promised Messiah of Israel, the earthly people.”260n the
other hand, this sharp line begins to blur when he expounds on
the nature of the “The Founding Church.”
Israel is described as a church in that it was a nation called
out from other nations to be the servant of God. Acts 7:38.
When the Old Testament was translated into Greek the
word “congregation” (of Israel) was rendered “ekklesia”
or “church.” Israel, then, was the congregation or church
of Jehovah. After His rejection of the Jewish church,
Christ predicted the founding of a new congregation or
Pearlman’s designation of the Christian church as a “new
congregation or church” and his repeated naming of Israel as
“the church of Jehovah” implies terms of continuity common to
Reformed Theology but alien to dispensationalism.z8 On the
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same biblical evidence, Scofield concedes that Israel might in
some sense be called a “congregation” or “church” only during
the wilderness wanderings but never is such a term appropriate
for Israel in the land.29 Likewise, Pearlman draws no
consistently sharp distinction between the church and Israel
which might provide a hermeneutical key to this later
interpretation of esch-atological texts. So, under his separate
doctrinal treatment of “The Church” he does not hesitate to
describe under the same rubric of the “bride of Christ” the
community of the faithful “in both the Old and New
Moreover, in Pearlman’s exposition on the nature of the
church he neither makes any reference to a “postponed kingdom”
for Jews nor does he locate the church in a “parenthetical” age.
Even more significantly, he answers the question-“Is the
church synonymous with the kingdom of God?”-with the
that the church age is a phase of the kingdom is implied in
Matt. 16:18,19 by the parables in Matt. 13, and by Paul’s
description of Christian work as being in the sphere of
God’s kingdom. Col. 4:11. Inasmuch as the “kingdom of
heaven” is a more comprehensive term we may also
describe the church as a part of the kingdoM.31
Even though, under criticism, Walvoord and Ryrie departed
from Scofield’s rigid distinctions between Matthew’s use of the
terms “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God,” still, they
warned that one should never, as Pearlman has done, view the
church as a continuation of the kingdom.32 As Ryrie explains,
The issue is whether or not the Church in this age as
. recognized by dispensationalists is a “sine qua non” of the
system. One sees again how ecclesiology and eschatology
of dispensationalism are closely related.33
Turning from general issues in dispensational hermeneutics
to the defense for the pre-tribulation rapture itself, we find
Pearlman’s own synopsis regarding the Lord’s instruction
about the rapture and subsequent Second Coming:
“After a long time” (Matthew 25:19), “at midnight”
(Matthew 25:6), at a time of the day and the hour of which
not one of His disciples knows (Matthew 24:36,42,50), the
Lord will appear suddenly to gather His servants and to
judge them according to their works. Matthew 25:19 and 2
Cor. 5:10. Later, after the gospel has been universally
preached and they have rejected it-when the people of the
world shall be living in utter oblivion of the coming
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catastrophe, as in the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37-39)
and as in the days of the destruction of Sodom (Luke
17:28,29)-the Son of man will appear in outward glory
and power to judge and rule over all the nations of the
world. (Matthew 25 :31-46)34
Finally, after referring to Matthew 24:40,41, Pearlman adds,
“this is called the Rapture, or the Parousia. “3s
A number of problems appear in Pearlman’s presentation
from a standard dispensational point of view. First, Pearlman
never presents a classical defense for the Rapture. He simply
assumes it to be an obvious teaching and illustrates it with
citations primarily from Matthew 24-25. Second, his use of
Matthew 24-25 proves how equivocal these texts are for a
dispensational argument. According to Scofield, the text of
Matthew 24-25 is open to “a double interpretation” which may
be seen as true of the present age but describes literally the
conditions during Daniel’s seventieth week (the tribulation). In
its literal sense Matthew 24:14 describes only preaching by the
Jewish remnant that the Good News is “at hand” during the
tribulation, and 24: l6ff. belongs to this same period. Scofield’s
point is only that these warnings (esp. vv.37ff.) at the end of
tribulation may also be used as “warnings applicable to the
present age over which these events are ever impending.”36 Of
course, one problem with these texts in any case is that they
warn of an “any moment” coming of Christ even after the
tribulation in Matt. 24:36-46, suggesting that a post-tribulation
position need not sacrifice belief in the imminence of the
Christ’s return! Regardless, Pearlman reflects this same double
interpretation suggested by Scofield for he employs verses from
the same Matt. 24:36-46 for both impending events, rapture and
second coming. Precisely because such a use of Matt. 24 entails
a double interpretation which weakens the sharp biblical
distinctions elsewhere, most later dispensationalists rejected
Scofield’s proposal and stopped treating Matt. 24 as applicable
in any literal way to the rapture. For example, Dwight Pentecost omits Matt. 24 entirely from his rapture texts since it does
not literally speak of the rapture but concerns the Jews in the
tribulation and at the time of the Second Coming.37 From a
dispensational point of view Pearlman’s use of these texts is
questionable and certainly not adequate to produce belief in a
pre-tribulation rapture.
A third and quite typical problem for such Pente-costal
treatments is that Pearlman inconsistently refuses to apply the
very same distinctions to his doctrine of ecclesiology which
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become implicit in his eschatological exposition. Perhaps a
more fair assessment would be to say that while his ecclesiology
would not require such a view, his eschatology assumed the
truth of it anyway. His scriptural supports are based on the
weakest prooftexts and depend on a double interpretation
which is later rejected by leading dispensationalist teachers.
B. Ralph M. Riggs, The Path of Prophecy ( 1937)
Ralph Riggs served as the eighth General Superintendent of
the Assemblies of God and finished his years of ministry as a
teacher at one of the denominational schools, Bethany Bible
College in Santa Cruz, California. As an advocate of a pretribulation rapture, Riggs’ presentation early in his career
would surprise his dispensationalist friends because in his
“General Hermeneutical Laws Governing Its Study” he fails to
mention the Israel-Church dichotomy necessitated by a
dispensational system of interpretation.38 Also, Riggs openly
differs from dispensationalist principles when he makes
statements like: ” He (Christ) announced the kingdom (the
church) as ‘at hand’ in mystery form. (Matthew 4:17; 10:7;
12:28; Luke 10 :9,11 ; 16:16; 17:21)”39 Darby, Scofield, and later
dispensationalists forthrightly reject such an exposition of
Jesus’ early ministry. Scofield explicitly argues that the phrase
“at hand” does not mean that something “will immediately
appear but only that no known or predicted event must
intervene. “4? Therefore, Jesus was offering only the Davidic
kingdom which was subsequently postponed after its rejection
by Jews. Typical of standard dispensationalism, Jesus’ early
preaching of the kingdom had nothing to do with the church
which was “as yet locked up in the secret counsels of God.
(Matthew 13:11,17; Ephesians
Nevertheless, in matters of eschatology, Riggs treats Daniel’s
seventieth week in familiar dispensational terms as occurring
after the parenthetical Church Age has ended with the rapture.
Riggs also speaks of the Jews’rejection of the kingdom on Palm
Sunday, though he does not specifically describe that kingdom
as “postponed.” Only after the Jews, thus, rejected Jesus in
Matt. 11:20 does the mystery of the church begin to be
revealed.42 As in the case of Pearlman, Riggs relies heavily on
Matthew 24 as a rapture text which can be so only through a
“double interpretation” and which was subsequently dropped
by later dispensationalists as a “literal” witness to the rapture.
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C. P.C. Nelson, Bible Doctrines (1948).
Annotating the list of doctrines found in the Statement of
Fundamental Truths, this esteemed Pentecostal teacher
elaborates on the article concerning “The Blessed Hope,”
This hope is founded on the plain, positive promises of
Christ Himself often repeated and elucidated by the
inspired writers of the Word of God. See Luke 21 :36 ; John
14:2,3; I Thess. 4:13-16; Romans 8:23,24; I John 3:1-3.43
In an appendix on “The Time of the Rapture,” Nelson
similarly cites verses which “literally” assert this doctrine: I
Thess. 1:9-10, 4:17; I Cor. 1:7, 15:51; Luke 21:28. Apparently
viewing a post-tribulationist position as the only competing
alternative, Nelson seeks to affirm that “the blessed hope” as
understood “among us has always carried the meaning that the
rapture was near and so far as we know, may take place at any
moment.”44 Without showing awareness of other optional “any
moment” eschatologies, Nelson simply assumes that a “plain”
biblical teaching of “imminence” must indicate support for the
doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture. However, a
dispensationalist will miss once again the clear evidence of a
corresponding ecclesiological hermeneutic which makes such a
literal reading of the eschatological verses “plain” and
convincing. In his selection of rapture texts, Nelson may well be
relying on Scofield for many of his chosen prooftexts for the
rapture. Most later dispensationalists, for example, rejected
Scofield’s appeal to the church of Philadelphia’s being taken
“out of the hour of trial” as referring to the rapture since the
literal meaning seems clearly assigned to historical churches in
Paul’s own time. Scofield’s justification for a rapture oriented
interpretation of the seven churches as seven periods in the
Church Age grew out of his reasoning that “These messages
(Rev. 1-3) must contain that foreview (of the Church Age) if it is
in the book at all, for the church does not appear after 3:22. “45
Such logic leads to a typological exegesis which cannot, even in
dispensationalist circles, offer a basic proof for doctrine.
Likewise, Nelson’s appeal to Luke 21:36 depends on a text
parallel to Matt. 24 which only refers to the rapture for Scofield
in the secondary “double interpretation,” as we have already
If we have any doubts about what a literal sense means to
Nelson, we need only consult Eric Lund’s Hermeneutics or The
Science and Art of Interpreting the Bible, which Nelson first
translated from Spanish in 1934 and which by 1948 had been
republished in four editions. This text, still commonly used in
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sationalist in its approach. Eric Lund, a Swedish-born, Baptist
missionary to Spain wrote these lectures in the last quarter of
the nineteenth century. The English editions were published by
students at the Press of the Assemblies of God’s Southwestern
Bible School, where Nelson taught. This popular and widely
distributed textbook on hermeneutics might best be classed as a
“pre-critical” primer on contextual interpretation, aided by
some detailed attention to the use of rhetorical devices within
Scripture. Even in the third edition and fourth editions-with
Nelson’s adding footnotes, an appendix on minister’s aid, and
two new chapters on rhetoric-the book totally ignores the
dispensational hermeneutical system. More significantly, in his
Appendix C, “Helps and How to Use Them,” no reference is
made to the Scofield Bible or standard dispensational
materials, though numerous Lutheran, Reformed and even a
few “modernistic” sources are recommended.46
Apparently, the narrowness of the polemical situation
regarding eschatology in Nelson’s own time was alone sufficient
to make certain biblical passages appear in their “plain sense”
to support a pre-tribulation position. Again, what Nelson
obviously sought to preserve in his eschatological views was the
idea that Jesus’ return could occur at “any moment.” Clearly,
the restricted sense of popular options for such an eschatology
and not the presence of a particular system of dispensational
hermeneutics dictated his conviction of what the Scripture
“plainly” taught on this matter. –
D. Ralph M. Riggs, Dispensational Studies ( 1948).
My purpose in returning to Riggs and a book published over a
decade after his above mentioned The Path to Prophecy is to
show that gradually within the Assemblies of God more
attention was paid to specifically dispensational issues. Riggs
sounds in this later book more like a conventional
dispensationalist than in his earlier writing. He openly seeks to
envision different ages, e.g., “The Israelitish dispensation,”
“The Ecclesiastical dispensation.” However, he rejects
dispensational ecclesiology in several overt and crucial ways.
For Riggs, a sharp separation of Israel and the church in the
economy of God is lacking. He affirms,
It can be also considered that, since the giving of the
covenant to Abraham, the members of this mystical
church, Christ’s body, have been the faith-children of the
faithful Abraham.47
In language, once more, typical of Reformed covenant rather
than dispensational theology Riggs states, “although the
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Church was not a new thing spiritually, yet dispensationally
and outwardly it began to take form on the Day of Pentecost. “48
He freely calls the church the “new Israel” and “spiritual
Israel. “49 Rather than distinguishing Israel and the Church in
terms of two entirely different rules of life, dispensations, or
economies, Riggs argues simply, “the principal distinguishing
feature is that Israel was national but the Church was international.”50 Such an assessment is at variance with the entire
nature of a dispensational hermeneutical system which led to
the view of a secret rapture of the church so that a completely
different “postponed” dispensation could finish its course.
Yet, if we focus solely on his defense for the pre-tribulation
rapture, we find a use of Scripture more typical of a uniquely
dispensational hermeneutic. In the one paragraph devoted to
this subject, Riggs confirms,
The believing remnant of the Church is to be taken out of
the world before the full fury of the Tribulation breaks
(Rev. 3:10; 12:5); but the Church visible, after whom this
dispensation is named, will receive her judgment and
punishment from God for her unfaithfulness and apostasy.
I Peter 4:17; Hebrews 10:30; Rev.
One senses little need on Riggs’ part to defend this view. The
concept is viewed as a simple and plain teaching of Scripture,
the obvious choice in light of the options. Once again, his
eschatology depends on a dispensational system of interpretation while ecclesiology does not.
E. E.S. Williams, Systematic Theology (1953).
As a General Superintendent prior to Ralph M. Riggs,
Williams had made his position in favor of a rapture obvious
during a denominational controversy in the 1930’s. Now, about
twenty years later he shows that he has not accepted some of the
dispensationalist baggage which seems to be associated, though
in his view unnecessarily, with a pre-tribulation perspective.
Williams warns that many dispensationalists,
take the position that the earthly ministry of Jesus was
entirely Jewish, (and) make the Sermon on the Mount to be
the laws of the kingdom which. will be set up, not Church
truths at all. They reason that there were no Church truths
earlier than the founding of the Church at Pentecost.52
His own position is that “the Church and the spiritual
kingdom are one and the same with slightly different
connotations. “53 Among the few distinguishing connotations is
the evidence that “Jesus linked His own government with the
ancient theocracy, but not in its earthly form.”54 Consequently,
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the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ early ministry are all
literally applicable to the church. As with Riggs, another
distinction is that Israel is one nation, while the church is
international- “a people called’out from all the nations of this
world, being born again by the Spirit of God.”55 A standard
dispensationalist would undoubtedly feel that Williams has
“Judaized” the church. Nonetheless, Williams’ assessment of
the text remains for him a “literal” one precisely because he
rejects the dispensational system at this point and assumes
substantive continuity between the church and ancient Israel,
including the idea that promises were given to them both in the
Old Testament.
However, when Williams comes to defend his belief in a
pre-tribulation rapture for the church, he suddenly reverts back
to the very dispensational system he has openly criticised in his
discussion of ecclesiology! Besides quoting the familiar
prooftext of I Thess. 4:16-17, he depends on a lengthy quote
from Frank M. Boyd’s recently published Introduction to
Prophecy. The seven points in this defense may be summarized
as follows: (1) There is no specific mention of the church in
connection with the tribulation in Scripture. (2) The overcomer
of the church at Thyatira is promised-” I will give him the
morning star” (Rev. 2:28). By contrast, the “Sun of
Righteousness” (Mal. 4:1-21) refers to the messianic hope of
Israel and, therefore, to the Second Coming. (3) The promise to
the true church at Philadelphia is that “I will keep you out of the
hour of trial” (Rev. 3:10). (4) The time of tribulation is one of
unprecedented wrath, yet the church is promised that the
believer will be “delivered from the wrath to come” (I Thess.
1 : 10). (5) Time details and signs can be found applying to Israel
in the tribulation but none to the church. (6) Elijah represents a
type of the Christian saints raptured away from the earth. (7) So
also is the small group who escaped the flood, which is
according to Luke 17:26-30 viewed as a type of those who are
rescued from the tribulation.56 Williams particularly elaborates
on Boyd’s fifth point, suggesting that the church as a New
Testament mystery leads one to the assumption that it will be
taken out of the world before Daniel’s seventh week (the
tribulation period). At the same time, Williams avoids any
claim that the church belongs to a “parenthetical” age.
A comparison of these arguments with those of
dispensationalist Dwight Pentecost’s Things to Come finds
only the second one absent from a standard dispensational
defense. Williams would appear inconsistent in terms of his
willingness to distinguish sharply the eschatological verses
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their application either to Israel or to the church, while, at the
same time, allowing non-eschatological texts to offer a message
to both parties as members sharing in the same scheme of
progressive revelation.
F. Frank M. Boyd, Ages and Dispensations, ( 1955).
We have already noted Williams’ dependence on Boyd’s
earlier study, this last work illustrates for me an effort by some
Pentecostals particularly in the 1950’s to bring their
eschatological views fully into fidelity to the established dispensational system. One reason for this attempt may have been the
growing rapport with dispensationalist groups since the early
1940’s through membership in the National Association of
Evangelicals (NAE). The period of bitter condemnation by
white holiness and fundamentalist groups in the 1920’s had
greatly dissipated and led to an era of cooperation. It was a time
for the Pentecostals to bring their doctrinal positions more in
line with mainstream conservative evangelical views. By the
early 1960’s the Assemblies of God became the largest
denomination in the NAE, Thomas F. Zimmerman became the
president of that fellowship and the Statement of Fundamental
Truth was enlarged to include some missing, key evangelical
tenets.57 Boyd’s book on Ages and Dispensations moves a step
closer to a consistent dispensational posture well beyond that of
Williams’ earlier Systematic Theology and its predecessors.
At the outset, Boyd appears to echo the usual Pentecostal
rejection of “ultra-dispensational teaching which takes away
from us as Christians, not only the whole Old Testament, but
larger portions of the New…”5g However, Boyd, unlike his
predecessors, is ready to compartmentalize the Bible more
openly into sections dealing with Israel, and those concerned
only with the church. By “ultra-dispensational” he may not
mean the Pentecostal rejection of the dispensational system of
ecclesiology as was the case with Williams and earlier Pentecostals, but only an extreme position within dispensationalism,
like that of a British clergyman, E.W. Bullinger:s9
“Bullingerism” posited that all the Gospels are entirely Jewish
and that the book of Acts covers a transitional period between
the dispensations of law and grace so that only Paul’s prison
epistles purely and truly begin to offer a message to the church.
The literal meaning of the Old Testament, and almost all of the
teaching of Jesus applies only to Jews, except for its witness to
moral principles inherent in the nature of God. This difference
between this view and conventional dispensationalism is only a
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matter of the extent to which the New Testament does not have
a literal message for the church. Most dispensationalists agreed
that Jesus turned to address the mystery of the church late in the
Gospels and that the book of Acts belongs to the dispensation
of grace. Hence, Boyd’s corrective is the standard one within
dispensationalism and does not belong to a distinctly
Pentecostal challenge. Proof that “ultra-dispensationalism”
meant for Boyd approximately the same thing as it did for
conventional dispensationalists like H.A. Ironsides is found in
his consistent distinction of the church and Israel even in
matters of ecclesiology. For example, like a conventional
dispensationalist Boyd remarks,
Paul calls the church a mystery. Jesus spoke of His church
, (Matt. 16:13-19), but further than revealing the foundation
truth on which it was to be built, he did not go. The mystery
of the church was first fully revealed to the apostle Paul.
(Eph. 3:3-6,9; Rev. 16:25) Except that blessing was
promised to the Gentiles (Isa. 11: 10; Rom. 9:25-30), the
church was unknown to the prophets.6o
Like other dispensationalists, and in contrast to Williams, he
warns against ever calling Israel the “Church” since the church
begins at Pentecost and exists on earth until the rapture.
Similarly, Boyd never describes the church as “spiritual Israel”
or “new Israel.” One might suggest that just this position had
been sufficient evidence for previous Pentecostal interpreters
that they had lost “not only the Old Testament, but large ,
portions of the New.”
When Boyd comes to his justification for the pre-tribulation
rapture his arguments are the same as cited earlier by Williams
with the addition of a new argument fully in accord with the
Scofield Bible. Boyd contends that the “After this” at the
beginning of Revelation 4 means literally “after the church
period.”61 In all of these matters Boyd is not merely reflecting
an old established Pentecostal tradition, but, as did those who ‘
later added overlooked orthodox doctrines to the Statement of
Fundamental Truths, sought to bring Pentecostal views into a
full harmony with fundamentalist-dispensationalist
orthodoxy. The theology of the Pentecostal antagonists of the
1920’s was, thus, gradually being adopted as the new orthodoxy
of a larger generation of Pentecostals.
My point in this selective assessment is not to deny that there
were some orthodox dispensationalists among Pentecostals in
the 1920’s, if not before. Rather, I have tried to show that, while
Pentecostal figures tended generally to reject the
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dispensational concern for a strict, non-Reformed separation
between the Church and Israel, they assumed that a pretribulation rapture best preserved their hope in the “any
moment” return of Jesus Christ. In other words, once one
particular system of hermeneutics gave rise to the idea of a
pre-tribulation rapture, groups like the Pentecostals who were
excluded from becoming members of the coalition of “fundamentalists” succeeded in either inventing their own ad hoc
defense for the position or accepted inconsistently only one part
of the dispensational system (its eschatology) while rejecting,
perhaps inconsistently, another corresponding part (its
ecclesiology). A cherished belief necessitated by one system
may, thus, gain a life and momentum of its own and receive new
rationalizations for its survival within other systems of interpretation.
More often than not, Pentecostal interpreters read the Bible
in a literalistic fashion and found direct applications to the
church throughout Scripture, including, among such resources,
the Old Testament, the Sermon on the Mount, and the Lord’s
Prayer. Nonetheless, certain texts seemed, in the light of a
limited popular knowledge of eschatological options to
confirm an imminent, “any moment” “rapture” view rather
than the idea that the church endure seven years of doomsday
fulfillments, lining the road to Armageddon like milestones.
This reading of Scripture lacked investment in the. “system”
considered essential for dispensationalists and remained a
pragmatic and intuitive interpretation within the poverty of
popular theological perspectives regarding the future hope of
spirit-filled believers. With the exception of some later, more
consistently dispensational exposition, like that of F. M. Boyd,
these Pentecostal readings remain problematic because they
depend primarily on an intuitive-contextual defense of a
doctrine which was only necessitated by a particular system for
interpreting Scripture. As we have seen, some of the latest
literature on these subjects suggests a growing tendency among
some Assemblies of God teachers (e.g., see J.G. Hall, below) to
move toward an orthodox dispensational position with new
implications for a modification of traditional Pentecostal
The Pentecostal Blessing and Dispensationalism – A
Problematic Wedding
As I have understood the earlier Pentecostal literature there
is general agreement that the church is founded in a special
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sense on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and that this event fulfills
the promise of Joel 2:28-32. The problem created by such an
inter-pretation for dispensationalists is that the Old Testament
prophets are supposed to predict nothing about the church and
certainly not its founding. One of the most famous parallels to
this situation for dispensationalists is the citation of Amos 9 by
James at the close of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.
Rather than allow this example to confirm a “spirit-ualizing”
interpretation of “rebuilding the booth of David,” most dispensationalists have insisted that James unexpectedly repeats a
familiar promise directed only to the Jews. Similarly, when
critics pointed to Paul’s assertion that the church was founded
“upon the apostles and prophets,” Darby had insisted that these
were New Testament prophets and not those of the Old.62
Though perhaps less spectacular in nature, Peter’s statement
that “this is that” in reference to Joel’s promise creates a similar
difficulty for such a system of interpretation. Some scholars,
like Bullinger, simply consigned this part of Acts to an interim
period between the dispensation of law and grace, therefore,
not yet fully belonging to the church period. Other
dispensationalists, like Scofield, acknowledged in the
particular case of Acts 2, comparable to instances in which the
New Testament appeals to the New Covenant of Jer. 31:31-34
(Luke 22:2; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6; Hebrews 8:8, 9:15), that
some fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy had to have
taken place in order for the biblical text to make any sense at all.
In the Scofield Bible, the notes inform the reader of this point:
“Afterward”in Joel 2:28 means “in the last days”…and has
a partial and continuous fulfillment during the “last days”
which began with the first advent of Christ (Hebrews 1:2);
but the greater fulfillment awaits the “last days” as applied
to Israe1.63
Still, many conventional dispensationalists, like James
Brookes, argue more consistently that the event of Pentecost
was not a fulfillment but a “type” of the future fulfillment of the
prophecy of Joel to the Jews.64 Ironically, the insistence on
literal interpretation commonly led dispensationalists to view
the Old Testament and much of the teaching of Jesus available
to the church only by typological exegesis. For this reason,
Daniel P. Fuller can reasonably challenge that “Dispensationalists are therefore inconsistent in finding the Church in
types but not in prophecy.”65 Vinson Synan summarizes the
implications of this situation for Pentecostals in the 1920’s
The fundamentalists had also been captured by a rather
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new biblical view known as “Scofieldian dispensationalism” which viewed the pentecostalist practices of
glossolalia and divine healing as signs heralding the
“dispensation of Grace”destined to cease with the apostles
of the New Testament. The pentecostals were therefore in
grave error and beyond the pale of orthodox
Our concern here is not to refute dispensationalism but to
show that on the crucial matter of how Pentecostal believers
were to interpret the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2,
dispensationalism presented a problem. Even as late as 1941,
Stanley H. Frodsham, former editor of the Pentecostal
Evangel, confirms an older, familiar Pentecostal interpretation
by finding both the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2:4
and of Isaiah 28:11 in Paul’s recognition of speaking in other
tongues within the experience of the church (cf. I Cor. 14:21).67
He is naturally aware that dispensationalist’s have an
alternative assessment and remarks rhetorically concerning it,
Many have eyes to recognize the very significant evidence
forthcoming concerning the restoration of Israel at this
time, but how few recognize that at the same time God is
bringing about the restoration of His true church, giving to
her in these last days what she had at the beginning?68
At most, Frodsham concedes to the dispensationalists the
possibility of a double fulfillment of Joel’s promise, but
apparently regards the common Pentecostal interpretation as
at least as obvious if not more so.
As another example of how Pentecostals used the Old
Testament on this distinctive central issue, P.C. Nelson, in his
Bible Doctrines, repeats another old familiar Pentecostal
Then in Joel 2:28,29 we have that great prediction which
has partial fulfillment at Pentecost (the former rain), and is
now being fulfilled in a more general diffusion of the Spirit
all over the world (the latter rain). See Joel 2:23 and James
5:7,8. Notice that the promise is to pour the Spirit upon all
Of course, this commonplace Pentecostal interpretation of
the former and latter rain depends for its rationale on one’s
finding a further fulfillment of an Old Testament promise to the
church by linking adjacent prophecies of Joel to James’ words
about “the early and latter rain.” This manner of literal
interpretation clearly violates strict adherence to the
dispensational system.
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In recent years, in line with a more consistent dispensational
approach, some Pentecostal scholars have tried to modify this
earlier position regarding the fulfillment of Joel. I will mention
only two examples. As we saw above, in Frank M. Boyd’s later
writing, he follows a more strictly dispensational procedure
both in eschatology and in ecclesiology than was the
“dispensation of grace” in his Ages and Dispensations. Boyd
now cautiously observes, “Potentially, this dispensation began
with the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost,. “7°
While not fully engaging this matter, Nelson equivocates
regarding the beginning of the church age in a matter common
to dispensational interpretation. Just as Scofield allows for
multiple rejections of Jesus, so dispensationalists debated when
precisely the church age began. Since the prophecy of Joel
pertains literally only to Jews, Boyd is reserved enough only to
acknowledge a “potential” fulfillment. Like other
dispensationalists, he may have assigned the actual founding to
some later stage in the biblical traditional
As a second, more recent example, we can mention J.G. Hall,
a well-known Assemblies of God evangelist-teacher, who
gained fame in the 1950’s and later as the “walking Bible” and
taught dispensational doctrine with the aid of a thirty by eight
foot eschatology chart. Hall dazzled congregations throughout
the United States by inviting any question from the audience
about he past, present and future ages. Striding with a pointer
in hand in front of his brightly painted canvas of all the various
dispensations he would answer rapidly with a catena of
memorized Bible verses. Over the years he published three
books concerned with and the interpretation of Daniel and
Revelation?2 His use of Scripture was far more consistently
dispensational than had been that of most other of his Pentecostal predecessors. He rejected, for instance, the common
Pentecostal application of Matt. 24-25 and Rev. 3:10 to
indicate the rapture of the church?3 For Hall, these texts belong
solely to the Jewish promise of a coming messiah, not to the
rapture of the church. Likewise, in his understanding of Acts 2,
Hall followed the lead of dispensationalism, more than did
iscent earlier Pentecostal interpreters. initially he grants that
the ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit is fulfillment of prophecy. Isa.
28:11,12; Joel 2:28.1174 However, he then qualifies this
statement with an observation, reminiscent of Scofield:
In the prophecy of Joel the Baptism is present from God’s
side and, strictly speaking, remains for its fulfillment in the
tribulation is (sic!) but partly fulfilled on the day of
Pentecost; i.e., we are blessed with the Spirit early
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In sum, in several cases, a more consistent dispensational
eschatology has led later Pentecostals to a more consistently
dispensational ecclesiology, one that could challenge even the
most basic doctrines common among Pentecostals. These
changes are at present ad hoc and lack full consensus. The
matter is not merely academic, for the implications of such a
shift in ecclesiology is both sociologically and politically
significant.76 In any case, we have seen that the hermeneutical
prescription of 2 Pet. 1:20 harbors an equally convincing social
description: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture
is of any private interpretation. “77
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*Gerald T. Sheppard is Associate Professor of Old Testament at
Union Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister in the
Church of God in Christ. This paper was originally
presented at the 1983 annual meeting of the Society for
Pentecostal Studies.
1. Timothy Weber, Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming:
American Premillennialism, 1875-1925 (New York: Oxford Press,
1979) 17-24, 30-32.
2. Clarence Larkin, The Greatest Book on’Dispensational Truth’in
the World (Philadelphia: Clarence Larkin Est., 1918, rev. 1920), 3. Cf.
C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody Press, 1965)
3. Examples: J.N. Darby, “On `Days’ Signifying `Years’ in Prophetic
Language,” Collected Writings Vol. 2, 53-54; C.I. Scofield, Scofield
Bible Correspondence Course (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute) 19th
ed., 23-25; L.S. Chafer, Systematic Theology (Dallas Theological
Seminary, 1944) Vol. 5, 318; John F. Walvoord, “Premillennialism
and the Church as a Mystery,” Bibliotheca Sacra 91 (January, 1954)
4. Ryrie, 120, he notes that some dispensationalists (Chafer and
others) “pictured the Law as a period when enablement was completely
lacking.” He modifies this view as follows: “…it is not accurate to say
there was no enablement under the law. The Spirit indwelt many (Dan.
4:8; 1 Peter 1:11 ) and came upon many others for special power (Judges
3:10; 1 Sam. 10:9-10; Ex. 28:3), but there was no guarantee that He
would permanently or universally indwell God’s people as He does
today.” For a discussion of charges brought against L.S. Chafer on this
particular issue by the southern Presbyterian church, see Daniel
Fuller’s The Hermeneutics of Dispensationalism (unpublished
doctoral dissertation: Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1957)
5. Cf. Lewis Sperry Chafer, “Dispensationalism,”Bibliotheca Sacra
83 (October, 1936) 448f.
6. John F. Walvoord, The Rapture Question (Grand Rapids:
Dunham Pub. Co., 1957) 16.
7. Walvoord, 15. Ryrie, Ibid., 157 reiterates this same point.
8. Dwight D. Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Dunham
Pub. Co., 1958) 193.
9. C.I. Scofield, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (Neptune, New
Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1896) 12.
10. J.N. Darby, “The Rapture of the Saints,” Collected Writings,
Vol. 2, 237-238.
11. Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 5, 97, observes that while the
Sermon on the Mount is primarily directed to the Messianic Kingdom,
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we may draw “secondary applications” from it for the church. He
explains, “A secondary application to the church means that lessons
and principles may be drawn from it..” Ryrie ( 108) sympathetically
notes that passages literally applying only to the Messianic Kingdom
“have secondary relevance today in the principles they set forth.”
12. The Weekly Evangel, March 18, 1916, p.4.
13. Cf. P.C. Nelson, Bible Doctrines (Springfield: Gospel
Publishing House, 1948, rev. ed.). This book offers the statement prior
to its enlargement in 1961, with Nelson’s notes regarding their intent.
The preamble of the statement, found in the minutes of the Second
General Council, 1916, Oct. 2-7 although omitted from Bible
Doctrines asserts clearly, that the “‘Statement of Fundamental Truths’
is not intended as a creed for the church…but only as a basis of unity
for the ministers alone (i.e., that we all speak the same thing, I Cor.
1:10; Acts 2:42).” On the secondary priority given to doctrine in the
early Pentecostal period, we might recall the observation of Donald
Gee, the well-known British Pentecostal spokesman, “When we came
out for Pentecost we came out not merely for a theory, or a doctrine; we
came out for an EXPERIENCE that revolutionized our lives. The
Baptism in the Spirit which we sought and received was a REALITY,
even though we probably understood little of the doctrine involved at
the time. How different, then, from the purely doctrinal and
theoretical issues involved in this matter” (“Tests for Fuller
Revelation,” The Pentecostal Evangel February 14, 1925).
14. An attempt to refine such doctrines as dispensationalism from a
Pentecostal perspective and to teach it in the Bible institutes cannot
even be taken for granted in the 1920’s. In Frank M. Boyd’s report in
1924 on the Bible colleges, he remarked under the heading “What are
Students Learning?” that “they (the Bible institute teachers) were
teaching doctrine.” “Some people criticized the teaching of doctrine,”
he wrote, “but the New Testament has much to say regarding sound
doctrine and sound teaching.” Boyd warned that “otherwise the
students were in danger of being overturned into the error known as
the “New Issue” (the Jesus-Only view of water baptism).” He added
“they were also making a special study of dispensational truth” (The
Pentecostal Evangel June 7, 1924).
For a brief sketch of the changes in the Assemblies of God doctrine
against the background of its social history, see Gerald T. Sheppard,
“Word and Scripture in the Pentecostal Tradition,” Agora 1:4 (1978)
4-5, 17-22; 2:1 ( 1978) 14-19.
15. Nelson, 139, 149.
16. The term can mean either “to transfer” (cf. 2 Sam 3: 10; Col. I: 13)
or “to take to heaven without death” (cf. Heb. 11:5). The
dispensationalist use of the term “rapture,” not found in the King
James Translation of Scripture helped to clarify this ambiguity in
favor of the second meaning and even more explicitly as a meeting of
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Jesus “in the air” prior to the tribulation. Cf. Melvin E. Elliott, The
Language of the King James Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1967).
17. Nelson, 171f.
18. Weber, 52.
19. Weber, 162. Weber quotes from Sandeen’s The Roots of
Fundamentalism: British and American Millenarianism, 1800-1930
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1970) 246, “as a result of the
1919 World’s Conference on Christian Fundamentals, the millenarian
movement had changed its name. The millenarian had become Fundamentalists.”
20. In an article entitled, “The Limit of Divine Revelation,” 6-7.
21. Cf. the COGIC ministers’ handbooks. The earlier statement on
the “Second Coming” remains unchanged by the 1940 revision. It
reads, “We believe in the second coming of Christ and that the church,
the bride, the Lamb’s wife will be caught up to meet him in the air. I
Thess. 4:16-17; “For the Lord Himself shall descend from Heaven with
a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God:
and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and
remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the
Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
22. Book of Minutes: General Assemblies Churches of God
Cleveland: Church of God Publishing House, 1922) Vol. I, 183.
23. “The Second Coming,” in Hubert T. Spence, et. al., eds. The
Pentecostal Message, (Franklin Springs: The Publishing HousePentecostal Holiness Church, 1950), 201 1
24. Cf. Minutes of the Sixteenth General Council of the Assemblies
of God, 1935. This record includes the following from E.S. Williams’
address: “If we do have any dissension among us pertaining to this
matter, it is not the fault of the General Council: the responsibility
rests upon these brothers who when they came into the General
Council claimed to have stood for the Statement of Fundamental
Truths. If they had not declared their stand for the Statement of
Fundamental Truths, they could not have come into the General
Council and if they no longer stand for these Fundamental Truths,
they ought not to remain in our ranks to bring about differences among
the brethren.”
25. Myer Pearlman, Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible
(Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1937), xii.
26. Pearlman, 391.
27. Pearlman, 348f.
28. For an example of a conservative evangelical, Reformed view of
covenant theology in antagonism to dispensational teaching, see,
Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church (Philadelphia: Presbyterian
and Reformed Publishing Company, 1945).
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29. C.I. Scofield, editor, The Scofield Reference Bible (New York,
1917) 1158, n.1. Note his sharp contrast between Israel and the church
in his note on Matt. 16:18 (1021, n.2.).
30. Pearlman, 348. Contrast Walvoord, The Rapture Question, 37f.
31. Pearlman, 351. This statement is immediately followed by a
quote from Williams Evans (source book undisclosed) to illustrate the
relationship, “The Church may be looked upon as part of the kingdom
of God just as Illinois is part of the United States.”
32. Fuller, 288-90.
33. Ryrie, 173.
34. Pearlman, 389-390.
35. Pearlman, 390.
36. Scofield, Bible, 1032n2.
37. Pentecost, 202-204.
38. Ralph M. Riggs, The Path to Prophecy (Springfield: Gospel
Publishing House, 1937) 28-31. The following chapter, “Special Laws
Governing Its Study,” likewise, omits any reference to this seminal
hermeneutical theory of dispensationalism.
39. Riggs, 102.
40. Scofield, Bible, 998n3.
41. Ibid.
42. Scofield, Bible, 101Inl,2.
43. P.C. Nelson, Bible Doctrine (Springfield: Gospel Publishing
House, 1948, rev. ed.) 141.
44. Nelson, 172.
45. Scofield, Bible, 133n3.
46. Eric Lund Hermeneutics or The Science and Art of Interpreting
the Bible, trans, by P.C. Nelson (Fort Worth: The Southwestern Book
Shop, 1948, 4th ed.) 194-202.
47. Ralph M. Riggs, Dispensational Studies (“Correspondence
Course,” Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1948) Bk. 2, 30.
48. Riggs, Studies, 32.
49. Riggs, Studies, 27.
50. Riggs, Studies, 39. This statement follows a list of thirteen ways
in which Israel and the church are alike.
51. Riggs, Studies, 40.
52. E.S. Williams, Systematic Theology (Springfield: Gospel
Publishing House, 1953) Vol. 3, 95.
53. Ibid.
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54. Ibid.
55. Williams, 92.
56. Williams, 193-95.
57. Cf. Sheppard, “Word.”
58. Frank M. Boyd, Ages and Dispensations (Springfield: Gospel
Publishing House, 1955) 14.
59. Cf. H.A. Ironside, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: Ultra
. Dispensationalism Examined in the Light of Holy Scripture (Neptune,
New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, 1938) 81 l.
60. Boyd, 54.
‘ ‘
61. Boyd, 61.
62. Fuller, 347.
63. Scofield, 932, n.l.
64. James H. Brookes, “Caught Up Together,” The Truth 6 (April,
1888) 210.
65. Fuller, 348f.,n.24.
66. Vinson Synan, The Holiness/ Pentecostal Movement in the
United States (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing
Company, 1971) 206.
67. Stanley H. Frodsham, With Signs Following: The Story of the
Pentecostal Revival in the Twentieth Century (Springfield: Gospel
Publishing House, 1941, rev. ed.) 263-65.
68. Frodsham, 265.
69. Boyd, 80.
70. Boyd, 46. Italics mine.
71. Fuller, 304ff.
72. J.G. Hall, Dispensations of the Eternal Program of God
(Springfield: Inland Printing Co., 1957) and two other books
published by the same company: Prophecy Marches On! Daniel, and
Prophecy Marches On! Revelation.
73. Hall, Dispensations, 50.
74. Hall, Dispensations, 118.
75. Hall, Dispensations, 119.
76. Cf. Cornelia Butler Flora, Pentecostalism in Columbia: Baptism
by Fire and Spirit (Cranbury, New Jersey: Associated University
Presses, 1976).
77. At the risk of a facile over-simplification, I think of Pentecostals
as belonging essentially to a highly important movement in the history
of Christian spirituality [Donald L. Gelpi, Pentecostalism: A
Theological Viewpoint (New York: Paulist Press, 1971) and John
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Koenig, Charismata: God’s Gifts for God’s People (Philadelphia:
Westminster Press, 1978)]. If we may think momentarily in terms of
“ideal types,” to use Weber’s terminology, we may describe the model
of classical Pentecostals as shamanistic or prophetic in character,
reflecting a community in quest of an intense sense of divine presence
and divine power to meet various needs of members in the group.
Prophetic leaders generally perform a social maintenance function,
more inclined toward the preservation of traditional values than to the
avant-garde. Moreover, the group’s search for unity in the power and
the presence of Spirit, confirmed by signs, miracles, and pneumatic
interpretations, usually takes precedence over concern with nuanced
creeds, esoteric doctrines, or schemes of eschatology. Consequently,
Pentecostal groups can be apolitical or survivalistic when they are
peripheral to the larger society but are also capable of broad political
and social critique when they have a stake in the central culture [Cf,.
the difference between peripheral and central prophets in I. M. Lewis,
Ecstatic Religion (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1971]. While such
reformist prophetic groups may also be overtly futurist, they often see
positive evidence of the Spirit working in the present-politically,
socially, spiritually. The empowerment of the Spirit can be viewed as
an instrumental means for altering the present order and exorcising
demonic forces working against the group or in society at large.
By contrast, fundamentalist-dispensationalist groups tend to be
visionary or apocalyptic in character. They emphasize agreement on
the part of members to a detailed code of eternal truths which
correspond to a revealed world order. They tend not to be reformist
except in very limited personalistic ways because they remain
sojourners in an evil world. Their comfort comes from the hidden signs
of a coming kingdom, which lies in the impending future and in which
they will find God’s final vindication. The vision so exceeds the present
reality that only God can bring it about. They tend to chart or map-out
the future as well as anticipate the times and seasons which will precede
the cosmic reversals at the end of time. In the interim, they may form
highly regimented utopian communities or even nations. In political
assessments and in biblical exegesis fundamentalist-apocalyptic interpreters are frequently fatalistic, relying on revealed knowledge of a
fixed pattern for their future which they discern in the sealed oracle of
Scripture and find confirmed by the signs of the time.
Both approaches, the prophetic and the apocalyptic, have their own
special strengths and weaknesses for the politics of biblical
interpretation within the limits of particular historical circumstances.
At least, we must recognize that subtle issues of eschatology do not
necessarily represent simply a trivial descent into the abyss of religious
esoterica. Instead, eschatological symbolism often fitly renders the
hope of the faith and, in turn, circumscribes the terms in which
believers are able to respond to the world politically and socially. The
adoption by some Pentecostal and charismatic groups of rationalized
fundamentalism is more than merely an act of acquiring new
knowledge and legitimacy from an orthodox prestige group. In
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becoming fundamentalist-dispensationalist, Pentecostal groups also
opt for a different darkened glass through which they can perceive the
Bible and the world. [A significant assessment of the political positions
Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal dispensationalists have been inclined
to take can be found in Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now!: The
Premillenial Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917 (Grand Rapids:
Baker Book House, 1977). Pentecostal statesman, David du Plessis
once observed, “Those famous charts we used to see stretched across
the platform showing God’s plan for the ages, from the Garden of Eden ,
to the new Jerusalem, have been gathering dust in basements for years
now. One reason was that every time someone found a decent antiChrist someone else always shot them!” in “Agora Talks to David du
Plessis,” Agora 2:1 (1978), 13]. Such a transition entails a
transformation which will be uneasy and which, in my opinion, grows
out of a poverty of imagination and at the expense of some of the best
elements of the Pentecostal tradition. Theologically and politically, I
think Pentecostals would be wiser to look to the eschatology and
ecclesiology of black and hispanic Pentecostal churches whose racial
and national marginality has frequently evoked a critique of culture
rather than to follow white fundamentalism’s passive acceptance of
evil in the world as a hopeful sign of the last days. [Cf. James Cone,
God of the Oppressed (New York: Seabury Press, 1975), and Cornel
West, Prophesy Deliverance: An Afro-American Revolutionary
Christianity (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1982), especially 149,
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