Friday, September 22, 2017

Dispensational Premillennialism and the Westminster Standards Part 2

Bible Presbyterianism and the Westminster Standards

The Westminster Standards are, indeed, very specific about issues pertaining to eschatology. We shall now look at the Westminster Confession of Faith once again, particularly chapter XXXIII paragraph 1. Among the chapters of the Confession of Faith which were emended by the Bible Presbyterians, it is notable that an emendation was added to chapter XXXIII paragraph 1. According to Jeffrey Khoo, the emendation was written as follows:

“God hath appointed a day (which word in Scripture in reference to the last things may represent a period of time including the thousand years following the visible, personal and premillennial return of Christ), wherein he will judge the world, in righteousness, by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father. In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil [words in italics added by the Bible-Presbyterian Church].[1]

Concerning the emendations to the Confession, Battle further elucidates that, “A committee was appointed to suggest amendments to the [Bible Presbyterian] church’s constitution, consisting of Carl McIntire, J. U. Selwyn Toms, and H. McAllister Griffiths. When the first General Synod of the Bible Presbyterian Church (BPC) met in September 1938, it adopted the recommended changes. The only changes made in the doctrinal standards were in the Confession of Faith and the Larger Catechism. Many individual parts of the standards were affected. The following changes, made in the Confession, are typical (deletions are lined out; additions are in italics):

Chapter 32, Of the State of Man After Death, and of the Resurrection of the Dead

“2. At the last day return of the Lord Jesus, such living persons as are found alive in him shall not die, but be changed: and all the dead in Christ shall be raised up with the self-same bodies, and none other, although with different qualities, which shall be united again to their souls for ever.”

“3. The bodies of the unjust shall, after Christ has reigned on earth a thousand years by the power of Christ, be raised by the power of God to dishonor; the bodies of the just, by his Spirit unto honor, and be made conformable to his own glorious body.”

Chapter 33, Of the Last Judgment Things

“1. God hath appointed a day (which day in Scripture in reference to the last things may represent a period of time including the thousand years following the visible, personal and pre-millennial return of Christ) wherein he will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ . . . .”[2]

From our study of the Larger Catechism,[3] it has been established that premillennialism, particularly Dispensationalism, is apparently incompatible with the Westminster Standards. Taken together with the Larger Catechism, it is difficult to understand the Confession as expounding two distinct judgments: an earlier judgment for the church before the Judgment Seat of Christ, and a later one after the millennium i.e. the Great White Throne Judgment. The Westminster Standards also oppose any understanding of the Second Advent of Christ as constituting two separate events. According to dispensational premillennialism, there is a secret coming of Christ for His church, and a visible, glorious return of Christ with His church before the millennium. In addition, the dispensationalist postulates at least three judgments and three resurrections.

The teachings of the Westminster Larger Catechism cannot be divorced from the Confession of Faith. The Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, as well as the Confession of Faith, form an integral unit comprising the Standards of the Westminster Assembly. Thus, the Catechisms and the Confession of Faith must be studied together, and not apart from each other. W. Robert Godfrey relates to us that the Larger Catechism was intended to contain a more comprehensive enunciation of the Confession of Faith:

“On January 14, 1647, the [Westminster] Assembly had adopted a motion “that the committee for the Catechism do prepare a draught of two Catechisms, one more large and another more brief, in which they are to have an eye to the Confession of Faith, and to the matter of the Catechism already begun.” George Gillespie observed that the Larger Catechism would be “for those of understanding” while other Scottish Commissioners referred to it as “one more exact and comprehensive.” . . . Clearly the Larger Catechism was intended for the more mature in the faith.”[4]

Frederick W. Loetscher goes further, and states that “[the Larger Catechism is] chiefly designed as an adaptation of the [Westminster] Confession to the didactic functions of the preacher and pastor.”[5] It is clear that the Larger Catechism serves as a detailed and exact description of the doctrines set out in the Confession of Faith. In fact, it provides a manual of systematic theology for the Reformed pastor and teacher. Thomas Torrance concurs, “The Larger Catechism was designed chiefly as a directory for ministers in their teaching of the reformed faith Sunday by Sunday.”[6]

How, then, can a self-professed Reformed minister teach a system of eschatology that contradicts the Westminster Standards?[7] Can a Reformed church add an emendation to the Confession of Faith, which unashamedly contradicts the original statements of the Larger Catechism, and yet claim to be theologically consistent and Reformed? Apparently, the sine qua non of Dispensationalism has become the “directory” for Bible Presbyterian ministers in their teaching of Dispensationalism “Sunday by Sunday.” It, therefore, appears to be an enigma why Dr Khoo has failed to address the obvious contradictions between the Bible Presbyterians’ emendations of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the original statements of the Larger Catechism.

The enigma resolves when we realize that the Larger Catechism is, likewise, emended by the Bible Presbyterian Church to accommodate premillennialism.[8] The emendations seem to be an inevitable consequence of attempts to rectify contradictions between the Larger Catechism and the Confession. Changes made in the Larger Catechism are as follows (deletions are lined out; additions are in italics):

Q. 87. What are we to believe concerning the resurrection?

A. We are to believe, that at the Last Day there shall be a general resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the unjust: when they when Jesus Christ returns the just that are then found alive shall in a moment be changed; and the self-same bodies of the dead in Christ which are laid in the grave, being then again united to their souls forever, shall be raised up by the power of Christ. The bodies of the just, by the Spirit of Christ, and by virtue of his resurrection as their head, shall be raised in power, spiritual, and incorruptible, and made like to his glorious body in the first resurrection. The bodies of the wicked shall, after a thousand years, be raised up in dishonour by him, as an offended judge in the second resurrection.

Q. 88. What shall immediately follow after the resurrection?

A. Immediately after the second resurrection shall follow the general and final judgment of men and angels, the day and hour whereof no man knoweth, that all may watch and pray, and be ever ready for the coming of the Lord the destruction of the earth by fire, and the ushering in of the new heaven and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.

Q. 89. What shall be done to the wicked at the day of judgment?

A. At the day of judgment After their resurrection, the wicked shall be set on Christ’s left hand shall be judged, and, upon clear evidence, and full conviction of their own consciences, shall have the fearful but just sentence of condemnation pronounced against them; and thereupon shall be cast out from the favourable presence of God, and the glorious fellowship with Christ, his saints, and all his holy angels, into hell, to be punished with unspeakable torments, both of body and soul, with the devil and his angels for ever.

Q. 90. What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment?

A. At the day of judgment After the resurrection, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds; shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted; shall join with him in the millennial reign, and the judging of reprobate men and angels; and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and for ever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys; made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. And this is the perfect and full communion, which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.[9]

It is stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter XXXIII paragraph 1, that “God hath appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world”. Despite the didactic, non-symbolical language of the Confession of Faith, it is plain that Dr Khoo does not understand “a day” to mean a literal day.[10] But in his reiteration of David Cooper’s “golden rule,” Dr Khoo writes:

“In our study of the Bible, it is important that we observe this basic rule of interpretation: “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense” (David Cooper). Unless there are compelling contextual reasons against taking a word in its literal sense, we should understand a word in its most natural or common sense. Thus, 1,000 years means literally 1,000 years. Israel means Israel, and Church means Church. There is a distinction between Israel and the Church.”[11]

Ironically Dr Khoo, who insists on a consistently literal hermeneutics, does not understand “a day” to mean a day. This self-professed literalist understands neither the “last trump” (1 Cor. 15:52) as being the last, nor the first resurrection (Rev. 20:5-6) as being the first. Despite the fact that there are no “compelling contextual reasons against taking a word in its literal sense,” Khoo understands “a day” in the Confession of Faith to mean a period of time of more than one thousand years. Moreover, he interprets the “last trump” as not being the last, and the “first resurrection” as not being the chronological first. Yet he demands that “Israel means Israel, and Church means Church.”

Commenting on the rebirth of Israel as a nation, Timothy Tow quotes from Isaiah 11:11-12:

“This is “the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.’”[12]

Dispensationalists and Bible Presbyterians understand that this passage in Isaiah prophesizes the future regathering of Jews from all the corners of the earth, namely Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar and Hamath. Commenting on this text (Isa. 11:11-12), Martin writes,

“In verses 11-16 Isaiah spoke of the Lord’s gathering the people of Israel and Judah from all over the world. . . . The remnant will be drawn by God from the north (Hamath), south (Egypt and Cush), east (Assyria... Elam... Babylonia) and west (islands of the sea)-from the four quarters of the earth. Both Israel and Judah will be regathered (v. 12; cf. Jer. 31:31-34).”[13]

In the immediate context of this passage whereby “Israel” is to be understood literally according to Dispensationalism and Bible Presbyterianism, there is no hermeneutical reason to interpret the other ancient cities figuratively or allegorically. Using the consistently literal hermeneutics of Dr Khoo, one must understand “Assyria” as a literal country called Assyria, “Pathros” as literally Pathros, and “Cush” as Cush. Is it not true, then, that the countries of Assyria, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar and Hamath must be reborn before Israel can be regathered “from the four corners of the earth?” Because “Israel means Israel, and Church means Church,” “Assyria” must mean Assyria, “Pathros” must mean Pathros, and “Cush” must only mean Cush.

Dispensationalists, who insist that “Israel means Israel, and Church means Church,” often have to contradict their principle of a consistently literal hermeneutics when it comes to interpreting other ancient cities or nations mentioned in Old Testament prophecies.[14] As a further example, “Gog” in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 is not literally Gog, but Russia or the Soviet Union according to some dispensationalists.[15] This method of allegorical interpretation is further exemplified by Charles Dyer in his commentary on Ezekiel,

“Ezekiel spoke of a coalition of several nations, many of which are today aligned with or under the influence of the Soviet Union. These include Iran (“Persia”), Sudan and northern Ethiopia (“Cush”), Libya (“Put”), and Turkey (“Meshech,” “Tubal,” “Gomer,” and “Beth Togarmah”). All these nations (see [Ezekiel] 38:2-3, 5-6), possibly led by the Soviet Union, will unite to attack Israel.”[16]

Despite their insistence that “Israel” must be understood literally as Israel, Dispensationalists such as Dyer allegorize the meaning of “Persia,” “Cush,” “Put,” and “Meshech” to mean Iran, Sudan, Libya, and Turkey respectively. In response to such hermeneutical inconsistencies, William J. Grier writes,

“The prophets frequently speak of the dooms upon Edom, Philistia, Assyria, etc. The literalist holds that these dooms are yet future. But where are the Edomites, the Philistines, the Assyrians? Who can find them? Zechariah foretold that the families of David, Nathan, and Shimei would weep, every family apart (12:12-14). The literalist holds that this is yet to be, but no one on the face of the earth today can establish their descent from any of these.”[17]

The analogy of faith is the Reformed principle of interpretation. Old Testament prophecies must be understood with the light of New Testament revelation, not vice versa. Grier is correct to say that “to interpret the Old Testament prophecies with a uniform literalism, as many try to do, is to turn into a stone what the Lord meant for bread.”[18]


It should be clear to the reader that the literalist does not interpret all, or even most, of prophetic Scripture literally. There are certainly occasions whereby he spiritualizes or allegorizes portions of Scripture which do not fit his system of theology, particularly the eschatological schema of Dispensationalism. Contrary to popular claims, this is not a consistently literal hermeneutics.

As regards the Westminster Standards, Bible Presbyterians are even compelled to emend the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger Catechism, so as to incorporate dispensational premillennialism into Reformed teachings. But we have seen that the literal, plain understanding of the Reformed confessions does not allow such a system of eschatology. It is, therefore, unlikely that the dispensational premillennialist can truly adhere to the Reformed system of doctrine set forth in the Westminster Standards.[19]


Note concerning abbreviated references: Please refer to previous posts for more details of repeated references

[1] Khoo, Fundamentals of the Christian Faith, 132.
[2] John A. Battle, “Eschatology in the Bible Presbyterian Church,” Western Reformed Seminary 11, no. 2 (2004): 19-20.
[3] This refers to the original Larger Catechism prior to the emendations of the Bible Presbyterian Church.
[4] W. Robert Godfrey, “An Introduction to the Westminster Larger Catechism,” in The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary, ed. G. I. Williamson (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co, 2002), x, quoting John Murray, “The Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly,” Presbyterian Guardian, December 25, 1943, 362.
[5] Frederick W. Loetscher, “The Westminster Formularies: A Brief Description,” in The Westminster Assembly (Department of History, Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1943), 17.
[6] Thomas F. Torrance, The School of Faith (New York: Harper, 1959), 183.
[7] We cannot claim to teach the Westminster Standards when we teach something different from the Standards, unless, of course, we change the original statements of the Standards. And this is exactly what the Bible Presbyterian Church has done.
[8] With a similar logic, any denomination can emend the Westminster Confession of Faith, as well as the Larger Catechism, and claim to adhere to the Westminster Standards.
[9] See Westminster Larger Catechism of the Bible Presbyterian Church [article on-line]; available from; Internet; accessed 21 November 2006.
[10] The expression “a day” appears in both the original and the Bible Presbyterian’s version of the Confession.
[11] Khoo, Fundamentals of the Christian Faith, 135.
[12] Timothy Tow, The Truth Shall Make You See (Singapore: Far Eastern Bible College Press, 1999), 26.
[13] Martin, “Isaiah,” 1057.
[14] This principle of interpretation is unfortunately repeated ad nauseam. See Timothy Tow and Jeffrey Khoo, Theology for Every Christian: A Systematic Theology in the Reformed and Premillennial Tradition of J Olover Buswell (Singapore: Far Eastern Bible College, 2007), 399. Here, the authors wrote, “God means what He says, and says what He means. Israel means Israel; Zion means Zion; Jerusalem means Jerusalem.”
[15] See Edwin M. Yamauchi, Foes from the Northern Frontier: Invading Hordes from the Russian Steppes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Co, 1982) for an excellent critique of this erroneous interpretation.
[16] Charles H. Dyer, “Ezekiel,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty, eds. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1300.
[17] Grier, The Momentous Event, 40.
[18] Ibid., 41.
[19] This, of course, refers to the Westminster Standards prior to Bible Presbyterian emendation.