The Early Church Fathers and the Foundations of Dispensationalism -- By: Larry V. Crutchfield

Journal: Conservative Theological Journal
Volume: CTJ 03:9 (Aug 1999)
Article: The Early Church Fathers and the Foundations of Dispensationalism
Author: Larry V. Crutchfield

The Early Church Fathers and the
Foundations of Dispensationalism

Larry V. Crutchfield

Professor of Early Christian History & Culture
Columbia Evangelical Seminary, Longview, WA

Part VIThe Conclusion: Evaluating the Content of Early Dispensational Concepts


We began this study of the foundations of dispensationalism by noting that for decades nondispensationalists have claimed that there are no historical antecedents for this doctrine. As examples of this view we quoted Clarence B. Bass’ statement that, “No dispensational writer has ever been able to offer…a single point of continuity between what is today known as dispensationalism and the historic premillennial view,”1 and Millard J. Erickson’s flat assertion that “No trace of this theology can be found in the early history of the church.”2 Close on the heels of this criticism is the invariable insistence that modern dispensationalism had its birth with John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren in the nineteenth century and was unknown before that time.

Alexander Reese reflects this viewpoint when he says,

About 1830…a new school arose within the fold of Premillennialism that sought to overthrow what, since the Apostolic Age, have been considered by all pre-millennialists as established results, and to institute in their place a series of doctrines that had never been heard of before.3

Previously, we noted too that even progressive dispensationalists agree with this assumption held by Bass, Erickson, and Reese. Walter A. Elwell says of progressive dispensationalists, Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock,

“Blaising and Bock maintain that dispensationalism is both recent and different from most of what went before it.”4

This study, we trust, has shown these assertions and views to be patently untrue and untenable. Lewis Sperry Chafer is indeed correct in saying that the evidence found in the early fathers “establishes the fact that Chiliasm, with those dispensational divisions which belong to it, was the orthodox faith of the early church, and far from the heresy that some writers represent it to have been.”5 We fully recognize that as a well defined system, dispensationalism did not come into its own until the nineteenth century. But we steadfastly reject the position that it ...

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