“Waiting to Be Raptured: Dispensationalist Thought in America” by Carl E. Olson (This Rock, April 1999)

Carl E. Olson, of Eugene, Ore., writes: “The father of Dispensationalism is John Nelson Darby … [who] left the Anglican priest-hood and by 1831 was among the leaders of the Plymouth Brethren, a non-denominational movement that denounced mainline Christianity. He began to teach that the true church would need to be removed from the earth in order to make way for the completion of God's dealings with the Jews. He named this secret removal of the church the ‘Rapture.’ This belief was something completely new in Christianity. No previous Christian, neither Catholic nor Protestant, had ever proposed or taught such a thing.

“For Darby the Church forms a ‘parenthesis’ between the dispensation of the Gentiles (before Christ) and the coming dispensation of the Kingdom. … Meanwhile, God's real issue in human history is with his earthly people, the Israelites. The Rapture will be the necessary removal of the heavenly people from the world so that God's work with the earthly people might be finished.

“[Dispensationalist Cyrus I.] Scofield taught that Scripture contains passages meant for each respective time period, and therefore many passages had nothing to do with present-day Christians in the Church age. This meant that most of Christ's teachings, including the Sermon on the Mount, were for the future Kingdom age, not for the Church age. This was another radical break from nineteen hundred years of Christian teaching.

“Anticipation of the Rapture and the beginning of the end grew in the 1940s and '50s. The upheaval of the late '60s and early '70s presented a ripe opportunity for someone with a skill for popular writing and a background in Dispensationalism to focus on ‘end times.’ That someone was Hal Lindsey. …

“Lindsey … claimed that many biblical prophecies were being fulfilled right before our eyes: the restoration of Israel as a nation, the ‘apostasy’ of mainline churches, the collapse of morality, and the frightening realities of the Cold War. He interpreted the destructive images of Revelation as scenes of nuclear war.

“With the fall of the Soviet Union and with global politics rapidly changing, people like Lindsey had to revise their futuristic blueprints. … Lindsey continues to put out books and has a regular television program that focuses on the Y2K bug as the most likely trigger for his end-time scenarios.

“In breaking away from the Anglican Church and forming his mistaken doctrines, Darby was following the centuries-old tradition of separatist sects … who could find good only in themselves and their own teachings. … The culmination of this attitude can be seen in this statement by [Charles] Ryrie: ‘The fact that the Church taught something in the first century does not make it true, and likewise if the Church did not teach something until the twentieth century, it is not necessarily false.’

“Ryrie's assertion fails to explain how it is that we can accurately interpret the Bible in a way totally different from the previous eighteen hundred years of the Church's understanding of it. … If Scripture can be read ‘plainly’ and is for all people, why did it take eighteen hundred years for someone to figure out what it really means? In this claim Dispensationalists resemble the Latter-Day Saints, who believe that the truth was lost for eighteen centuries.

“Catholics are not bound to a fatalistic and pessimistic view of history. We have hope for the future, just as Pope John Paul II continually says: ‘Be not afraid!’ … [T]he Church, as the Body of Christ, will not fail or be ‘removed’ but shall one day be revealed as the true Kingdom.”

Ellen Wilson Fielding writes from Davidson, Maryland.