Evangelicalism is the dominant faction within American Protestantism. It includes the majority of conservative Protestant churches, with more than 100 million followers in North America alone.
The signature doctrine of Evangelicalism is what is called dispensationalism. This is a theory that separates biblical religion into several "dispensations."
Christians generally recognize Old and New Covenants as distinct dispensations. But dispensationalism divides history into a much larger series of periods, and in each dispensation God changes the rules of the game. In one He requires man to obey His law. In another supposedly He may require only love and faith.
The key problem with dispensationalism, however, is that it draws the dividing line between two dispensations in the very middle of Jesus' earthly ministry. It claims that when Jesus appeared on earth He first preached exclusively to Jews with a message about a coming earthly kingdom.
If the Jews had accepted Him, then the Millennium would have started at that point.
When the Jews rejected Jesus, supposedly He switched to a backup plan. Then, they claim, God decided to postpone the Millennium, and in the meantime He established the church.
Because the original plan was to establish an earthly kingdom, it was appropriate for Christ in His first message to talk about obedience, law and repentance. Those things are necessary to operate a physical kingdom.
But, when He began to preach His second message, intended for the church, He switched to speaking about grace, love and mercy.
The reason for that is supposedly that the church is an exclusively "heavenly" dispensation. If Christians are exclusively heavenly, and their salvation has nothing to do with physical kingdoms, then supposedly Christianity has nothing to do with the rules and regulations that go along with physical kingdoms.
When Christ returns to earth and sets up His millennial kingdom, humans once again, as in ancient Israel, will be required to be obedient.
Because their dispensation is earthly, they will receive an earthly reward, immortality as physical beings. They will continue to bear children and populate the earth with their new species and live forever on the earth.
Because Christians are by nature "heavenly," their reward is to live for eternity in heaven. Because their salvation is heavenly, not earthly, conduct in our earthly lives has no effect on Christian salvation.
As many readers may already have decided, dispensationalism is riddled with contradictions.
The dispensational claim that Jesus' initial purpose was to establish a physical kingdom flies in the face of Scripture. Supposedly it was the Jews' rejection of Jesus that made Him switch to the backup plan of establishing His church.
But some Jews really thought that Jesus had come to establish a physical kingdom. These people were not rejecting Jesus. But what happened when those Jews hailed Jesus as their king?
We find this situation described in the Gospel of John: "When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself" (John 6:15).
Jesus wanted nothing to do with what dispensationalism claims was His initial purpose. So the whole evangelical theory of dispensationalism is nonsense from the very start.
Origins of dispensationalism
Where did all this come from? A substantial portion of our new volume, Spirit of Antichrist, is dedicated to this, and it is a strange story indeed.
It all started with an obscure religious sect in the south of England that embraced "anarchism."
What's that? Anarchism is a sociopolitical theory that became popular in the 1800s but has long since died out. Anarchism blames man's social problems on the idea that man must be controlled.
If we could get rid of government with its laws and regulations, the innate goodness within man would surface and we would learn naturally how to live together in peace and harmony.
A large political movement was based on this belief. Unfortunately, some factions turned to terrorism to try to hurry up their goal of removing government control of man. In 1901 an anarchist assassin shot and killed our own American president, William McKinley.
Anarchist social theory first penetrated into the world of religion in southern England in the 1830s among a group known as the Plymouth Brethren.
In the religious arena anarchist theory was interpreted to mean that Christianity has nothing to do with law or any form of external control over mankind.
The Plymouth Brethren, for example, had no ordained leadership of any kind. When they met together, individuals would stand up and speak as they felt moved by the Spirit.
Because of their rejection of authority and control by any outside means, the Brethren movement developed a unique theology to justify why Christian salvation should be exempt from law and obedience.
The main thrust of their theology was to separate the church from anything to do with Israel and the Old Covenant. The whole idea of covenants was repulsive to them.
Covenants were loaded with conditions: God will do this if man will do that.
That is why the Brethren also found it necessary to separate Christianity from everything in Jesus' earthly ministry about obedience and repentance.
On to America
John Darby was a leader in the anarchist Brethren movement in England. He was a dynamic speaker, and he toured North America extensively in the mid-1800s, spreading the dispensational message to mainstream Protestant churches.
American Protestantism never adopted his ideas about eliminating church government, but his teaching about separating salvation from any hint of obedience found an enthusiastic reception.
That is the origin of the doctrine in evangelical Protestantism today called "extreme eternal security," also known as once saved always saved. Once you acknowledge Jesus as Savior, salvation is locked in, regardless of your conduct.
Dispensational theology originally embraced many truly strange ideas. For example, classic dispensationalism originally claimed that the church has nothing to do with the New Covenant.
Over time many of its most extreme ideas have been discarded or softened.
But the one thing that never changed was the underlying concept that the Christian church is totally separate from Israel and its moral law, including even the Ten Commandments.
Christians are encouraged to be good in some general sense, but technically no amount of evil conduct can block salvation once one has accepted Jesus as Savior.
That is the enduring legacy of this strange theology: extreme eternal security.
What does all this have to do with Babylonian religion?
Remember, in last month's installment in this series of articles we talked about how the apostle John in Revelation 17 lays out a tradition of religious apostasy that began in ancient Babylonia and continues until the Second Coming.
Remember also that that apostasy was based primarily on opposition to the Hebrew God of creation.
In our second volume, Spirit of Antichrist, we explain how modern Evangelicalism is based on a radical dualism similar to gnostic Christianity in the 1st century.
Classic dispensational theology insists that Christians are exclusively heavenly. Therefore their salvation has nothing to do with the salvation of the Jews, which is earthly.
Because it is earthly, involving earthly kingdoms, Jews must obey God's law to be saved, and their salvation is to continue with physical but immortal bodies on earth for all eternity.
But Christians, being heavenly, supposedly are above all that.
Dispensational theology is based on this extreme dualism of earthly vs. heavenly.
As we demonstrate in our new book, dispensationalism is a repetition of a similar dualism first promoted in the 1st century by gnostic Christianity.
Where did Gnostic Christianity come from? Space is limited in this article, but consider this one curious fact. Gnostic Christians bitterly hated the Old Testament God of the Jews. They went so far as to condemn Him as the enemy of mankind for causing the Flood.
Supposedly, they claimed, He was trying to wipe out an ancient religious truth that exposed Hebrew religion as a fraud. The people who survived in Noah's Ark supposedly preserved that truth and passed it down to the 1st century A.D. when gnostic Christians once again preached freedom from the evil God of the Jews.
Remember from last month's article how Babylonian religion preached the same story. It too blamed the Flood on the supreme deity.
It too preached salvation as liberation from the supposedly evil Hebrew God of creation.
There is much more to the story of how dispensationalism wormed its way into Evangelical Protestantism. We have yet to describe how this ancient apostasy survived over thousands of years from ancient Babylonia to the Christian era. We will address that in more detail in a future installment.
But now we have seen one additional dramatic piece of the puzzle, confirming John's claim in Revelation 17 that it's all one connected story, from ancient Babylonia all the way to our day.
Spirit of Antichrist is a 465-page paperback volume available from the author at the discounted price of $19 plus $2.50 postage and handling. Send check or money order to Alan Knight, 2704 Summercrest St., Caldwell, Idaho 83607, U.S.A. Write Mr. Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org.