MacArthur's Millennial Manifesto
Date Posted dec. 4, 2009
On March 7, 2007, John MacArthur opened his Shepherd's Conference with the topic "Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Premillennialist." He called all Calvinists to become premillennial and leave amillennialism for the Arminians. He argued
This amounts to guilt by association and, as usual, Arminianism is the scapegoat. If MacArthur's analysis is correct, then let me be the first to welcome all Arminians to leave premillennialism. Before we proceed, however, we need to define some terms.
Calvinism teaches that only the elect can be saved. Those who ultimately do not maintain the condition of the covenant were never elect. While Louis Berkhof held that the covenant is eternal and unbreakable, as a consistent Calvinist he held that it is particular and realized only in the elect. Yet he also concluded that if there were no condition, God only would be bound by the covenant and the covenant would lose its character as a covenant, "for there are two parts in all covenants." Yet God himself fulfills the condition in the elect. Therefore, it appears that the only real condition, in the Calvinistic covenant of grace, is that we must be selected for salvation. But those who are the elect are predestined to persevere in faith.
Dispensationalism teaches that a believer could be a new creation and yet remain a carnal Christian without any change in character or exhibiting any spiritual fruit. Thus, a Christian could deliberately choose to disobey his Lord and remain in that state of carnality, addicted to sin. The promptings of the Spirit may be ignored and the wickedness intensified until the "believer" is sucked into a kind of black hole, winding up in misery and filth. They could even die in such a condition, but they are assured of heaven because the covenant of salvation is unconditional.
No one has taken on this antinomian theology of dispensationalism any more boldly than John MacArthur in The Gospel According to Jesus (1988). And yet poor John cannot decide whether he wants to be a dispensationalist or a Calvinist. While he professes to be a Calvinist, he holds to a dispensational view of covenants.
Is God through with old Israel? No, because "all Israel shall be saved" (Rom 11:26). But all who are saved are added to the Church. Thus, God does not have two brides. The Church is God's covenant people, the continuation and expansion of old Israel.
Perhaps the Bible could shed some light on the commentators. In Romans 4:12 and 16 the "seed of Abraham" includes all who believe. In fact, Paul redefines the Jew as one who has undergone circumcision of the heart by the Spirit of God (Rom 2:28-29). Those who belong to Christ are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise (Gal 3:29). The Church is described as the children of God, heirs according to the promise, and sharing in the inheritance promised to Abraham (Rom 4:13). Both Jew and Gentile are to be incorporated into "one new man" (Eph 2:15). Christ reformed the old Church (Heb 9:10) and the new Church was built upon the foundation of the old (Eph 2:20). Thus, the Church is the new Israel of God (Gal 6:16; Eph 2:12; 19).
According to Ray Dunning, "The most pervasive metaphor used in the New Testament for the Church is 'the new Israel.'" There are eighteen descriptions of Israel given in the Old Testament which, in the New Testament, are used in reference to the Christian Church. In addition there are sixteen passages in the Old Testament referring to Israel which are quoted in the New Testament as referring to Christians. And there are seven ethical commands to Israel in the Old Testament which are quoted in the New Testament as applying to the Church. Therefore, the conditional privilege of old Israel has been transferred to the Church. N. T. Wright said that the promises to Israel have been "redefined."
In his Notes on Romans 8:33 Wesley explained that the Jews who would not receive the Lord Jesus Christ were termed "reprobate." They no longer continued to be the people of God, but were cut off from the chosen people of God because of their apostasy. Their titles and privileges were transferred to both Jews and Gentiles who embraced Christianity.
Methodist writers have remained consistent in their interpretation that the Church is the new Israel. In fact, Israel and the Church had never been segregated until the theology of John Darby (1800-1882). Darby concluded, "Israel is always the people of God and cannot cease to be the people of God" because God never casts off. "He does not repent of His counsels, nor of the call which gives them effect." Therefore, Darby concluded that the Church was an interruption of God's plan with Israel.
Daniel Steele had the opportunity of hearing John Darby and reported that he could hardly keep from laughing in his face. "The wriggling and floundering of this great evangelist was something wonderful to behold. May I never see another man, manifestly of so great genius and learning, compelled to crawl through orifices so small. There is something very depressing to a generous mind to witness such an intellectual humiliation in the attempt to save a baseless dogma from a manifest overthrow."
Darby carried this dogma of Israel and the Church to its logical conclusion. If God has two peoples, then Christ must return separately for each of them. Thus, Darby also introduced the teaching of a secret, pretribulation rapture of the Church prior to Christ's return to establish his Jewish kingdom. A proponent of this teaching, John Walvoord, admitted, "It is therefore not too much to say that the rapture question is determined more by ecclesiology than eschatology." In other words, this separate coming of Christ is a logical necessity of a system that has distinguished between the Church and Israel. Tim LaHaye also contended, "Separating Israel and the church is one of the major keys to rightly understanding Bible prophecy."
John Hagee believes every Jewish person who lives according to the Law has a relationship with God and will come to redemption. He contends that Jewish people do not need to be saved since they are under a different covenant. He told the Houston Chronicle that "trying to convert Jews is a waste of time. Jews already have a covenant with God that has never been replaced by Christianity" (30 April 1988). More recently in his book, In Defense of Israel (2007), Hagee claims that Jesus never came to be Messiah to the Jewish people.
MacArthur told his conference, "If you get Israel right you will get eschatology right. If you don't get Israel right, you will never get eschatology right." Yet those who adopt a dispensational theology tend to get a lot of things wrong. MacArthur also taught that the covenants of Scripture were irrevocable promises based on God's sovereign, unilateral, unconditional election. MacArthur concluded that if you get election right -- divine, sovereign, gracious, unconditional, unilateral, irrevocable election -- you get God right, you get Israel right, and you get eschatology right.
While MacArthur calls all Calvinists to embrace the dogma of Darby, unfortunately many who claim to be Arminian have also embraced it. They have never processed the implications of the theology they picked up from televangelists. Dispensationalism, with its secret rapture of the Church, is based on the premise that God's promises are unconditional. Thus, no consistent Arminian can embrace MacArthur's call to dispensational premillennialism. Ironically, no consistent Calvinist can either!