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F. C. Baur, Wm. Wrede, and M.A.D. dispensationalism

January 26, 2013

The apostle Peter described false teachers as “cursed children.” He wrote of them:

“But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; And shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time. Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you; Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness;” [2 Pet 2:10-15]

The teachings of E. W. Bullinger, and similar doctrines of Mid-Acts Dispensationalism, (M.A.D.) (e.g., Sir Robert Anderson), were the subject of an in-depth study by H. A. Ironside, available here.

Ironside listed six features that characterize the doctrine:

First, inasmuch as our Lord Jesus was “a minister of the circumcision to confirm the promises made to the fathers,” it is insisted that the four Gospels are entirely Jewish and have no real message for the Church, the Body of Christ. All might not put it quite as boldly as this, but certainly their disciples go to the limit in repudiating the authority of the Gospels.

The M.A.D. dispensationalists have a narrow, literalistic approach to “the circumcision.” They assume Paul meant ethnic Jews, but that cannot be right, as Paul said, “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” [Phil. 3:3] Similarly, he wrote: “But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” [Rom. 2:29]

The root of the problem in Ultradispensationalism, and the M.A.D. variety of dispensationalism is that they do not believe these scriptures, nor do they believe Acts 3:22-24, where Peter said the unbelieving Jews are “destroyed;” i.e., they are no longer Israel, but are branches broken off from their tree. [Rom. 11:17]

Ironside continued,

Secondly, it is maintained that the book of Acts covers a transition period between the dispensation of the law and the dispensation of the mystery; that is, that in the book of Acts we do not have the Church, the Body of Christ, but that the word “ekklesia” (church, or assembly), as used in that book, refers to a different Church altogether to that of Paul’s prison epistles. This earlier Church is simply an aspect of the kingdom and is not the same as the Body of Christ!

In this the M.A.D. dispensationalists seems to have followed certain German critical scholars of the 19th century such as F. C. Baur and his school, called the “Tübingen School” of New Testament criticism. They emphasized and exaggerated differences recorded in the New Testament between Peter and Paul. They revived ancient heretical beliefs, such as the teachings of Marcion, and Ebionite sects of the 4th century.

Baur tried to apply his theory to the whole of the New Testament. He considered “those writings alone genuine in which the conflict between Jewish-Christians and Gentile-Christians is clearly marked.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferdinand_Christian_Baur

According to Baur and the Tübingen School, “The Petrine Matthew bears the closest relationship to this original Gospel; the Pauline Luke is later and arose independently; Mark represents a still later development according to Baur; the account in John is idealistic: it “does not possess historical truth, and cannot and does not really lay claim to it.”

Wikipedia says:

Baur’s theory starts with the supposition that Christianity was gradually developed out of Judaism, see also List of events in early Christianity. Before it could become a universal religion, it had to struggle with Jewish limitations and to overcome them. The early Christians were Jewish-Christians, to whom Jesus was the Messiah. Paul, on the other hand, represented a breach with Judaism, the Temple, and the Law. Thus there was some antagonism between the Jewish apostles Peter, James and John, and Paul the “Apostle to the Gentiles”, and this struggle continued down to the middle of the 2nd century. In short, the conflict between Petrinism and Paulinism is, as Karl Schwarz puts it, the key to the literature of the 1st and 2nd century.

The Tübingen School was a theological school which was active in the mid-19th century in Germany. Baur and the scholars who followed him applied Hegelian philosophy to Christian history in order to develop a new understanding about how Christianity developed. According to them, the key to early Christianity was the conflict between Peter, who led a Jewish party and Paul, who led a gentile party. Peter was the thesis while Paul was the antithesis.

The basic idea of a profound conflict and discrepancy between the teachings of Paul and Peter, developed by the German crictics, permeates the core of M.A.D. dispensationalism.

In “The Silence of God,” chapter 7, Sir Robert Anderson wrote:

Just half a century ago the theologians of Christendom were startled by the publication of Ferdinand Christian Baur’s treatise on Paul. It was an epoch making book. The author’s critical researches had led him to assert the unquestionable authenticity of the Epistles to the Romans, the Corinthians, and the Galatians. And fastening on these writings as our safest guides in historical inquiries respecting the character and rise of primitive Christianity, he went on to demonstrate its Pauline origin.

“These authentic documents,” he urged (to quote a recent writer), “reveal antitheses of thought, a Petrine and a Pauline party in the Apostolic Church. The Petrine was the primitive Christian, made up of men who, while believing in Jesus as the Messiah, did not cease to be Jews, whose Christianity was but a narrow neoJudaism.

The Pauline was a reformed and Gentile Christianity, which aimed at universalizing the faith in Jesus by freeing it from the Jewish law and traditions. The universalism of Christianity and, therefore, its historical importance and achievements are thus really the work of the Apostle Paul. His work he accomplished not with the approval and consent, but against the will and in spite of the efforts and oppositions, of the older apostles, and especially of their more inveterate adherents who claimed to be the party of Christ.” [“The Place of Christ in Modern Theology,” by Principal Fairbairn, D.D., p. 267.]

If we are to understand the sequel to the present argument, we must rescue from its false environment of German rationalism the important truth which Baur thus brought to light and distorted. [A dozen years before Baur’s “Paul” appeared, the truth thus attributed to him was discussed at the then celebrated
“Powerscourt meetings” in Ireland!] We must needs recognize the intensely Jewish character of the Pentecostal dispensation. And in this connection we must also apprehend the twofold aspect of the death of Christ. The Cross was the manifestation of Divine love without reserve or limit; but it was also the expression of man’s unutterable malignity. Did reverence permit us to give play to imagination on such a subject, we might suppose the death of Christ [was] accomplished by the Roman power in spite of protests and appeals from an aggrieved and downtrodden Jewish people. More than this, we might suppose “the King of the Jews” [was] given up to death on grounds of public policy, yet treated to the last with all the respect and homage due to His personal character and royal claims.

To Anderson, F. C. Baur appeared like an angel of light. He  sought to import the infidel opinions of Baur about Paul, which he labels “reformed and Gentile Christianity,” and claimed that the same “truth” had been discussed at Powerscourt twelve years previously. But Paul would have no part in a “Gentile Christianity.” He said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. [Rom. 1:16]

Ironside’s third point was the following:

Third, it is contended that Paul did not receive his special revelation of the mystery of the Body until his imprisonment in Rome, and that his prison epistles alone reveal this truth and are, strictly speaking, the only portion of the Holy Scriptures given to members of the Body. All of the other epistles of Paul, save those written during his imprisonment and the general epistles, are relegated to the earlier dispensation of the book of Acts, and have no permanent value for us, but were for the instruction of the so-called Jewish church of that time.

Another German critic who may possibly have influenced the writers who supported M.A.D. dispensationalism and Ultradispensationalism was Georg Friedrich Eduard William Wrede (1859-1906), author of a small book about the life of Paul [Wm. Wrede, Paul (trans. Edward Lummis; London: Philip Green, 1907)]

Wrede was famous for his investigation of the Messianic Secret theme in the Gospel of Mark. He suggested that this was a literary and apologetic device by which early Christians could explain away the absence of any clear claim to be the Messiah.

I think that people who read Wrede’s book, who are familiar with the writings of M.A.D. dispensationalists, and Ultradispensationalists, will discover they have much in common. But Wrede admitted that he himself was an unbeliever.

Ironside wrote:

Fourth, the entire book of Revelation has to do with the coming age and has no reference to the Church today. Even the letters to the seven churches in Asia, which are distinctly said to be “the things which are,” are, according to this system, to be considered as “the things which are not,” and will not be until the Church, the Body of Christ, is removed from this world. Then, it is contended, these seven churches will appear on the earth as Jewish churches in the Great Tribulation.

Fifth, the Body of Christ is altogether a different company, according to these teachers, from the Bride of the Lamb, the latter being supposed to be Jewish.

Sixth, the Christian ordinances, having been given before Paul is supposed to have received his revelation of the mystery in prison, have no real connection with the present economy, and therefore, are relegated to the past, and may again have a place in the future Great Tribulation.

Ironside concluded his first chapter by saying:

Having had most intimate acquaintance with Bullingerism as taught by many for the last forty years, I have no hesitancy in saying that its fruits are evil. It has produced a tremendous crop of heresies throughout the length and breadth of this and other lands, it has divided Christians and wrecked churches and assemblies without number; it has lifted up its votaries in intellectual and spiritual pride to an appalling extent, so that they look with supreme contempt upon Christians who do not accept their peculiar views; and in most instances where it has been long tolerated, it has absolutely throttled Gospel effort at home and sown discord on missionary fields abroad. So true are these things of this system that I have no hesitancy in saying it is an absolutely Satanic perversion of the truth. Instead of rightly dividing the Word, I shall seek to show that these teachers wrongly divide the Word, and that their propaganda is anything but conducive to spirituality and enlightenment in divine things.