A.C. Gaebelein: A Compassionate Dispensational Premillennialist and Friend of Israel

Introduction

Through the years, Dispensationalists have been caricatured by a plethora of names, some positive, while others negative. John Gerstner, in his book Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, called Dispensationalism a “cult.”[1] The well-acclaimed A.W. Pink described the conclusions of Dispensationalism as being “dreadfully superficial.”[2] John Bowman, in referring to the teachings of Dispensationalist C.I. Scofield said they “[represent] perhaps the most dangerous heresy currently to be found within Christian circles.”[3] Furthermore, Gerry Breshears and Mark Driscoll spoke of the practical implications of adopting a Premillennial, Dispensationalism as “a gloomy, pessimistic underrealized eschatology that thinks we can’t make a difference in the world as the church by the power of the gospel…”[4] Instead, a Covenant Theologian, according to Driscoll and Breshears, will be more inclined to “labor in hope until he returns by working on both the spiritual and physical needs of people, caring for the whole person including their food, water, shelter, education, and clothing.”[5] Perhaps all of these included accusations against Dispensationalists are correct. Maybe Dispensationalists are both doctrinally unorthodox and practically immobile towards the physical needs of the downtrodden and poor. But history argues against both conclusions, particularly in the case of A.C. Gaebelein. Rather than drawing out heretical teachings from Scripture, Gaebelein has produced both historically orthodox and intellectually satisfying writings on Scripture. Instead of being numb to the social and physical needs of others, Gaebelein exemplified a life of generosity, service, and compassion. Though not perfect in all his ways, Arno Clemens Gaebelein was still a great hero of the Christian faith, particularly in the areas of Jewish missions and in proclaiming biblical doctrines related to eschatology.

Childhood and Young Adult Years

Arno Clemens Gaebelein was born on August 27, 1861 in the country of Germany and later immigrated to the United States at the age of eighteen.[6] Very little is known of his childhood years, for even in his autobiography he begins with his call to preach.[7] Prior to his call to preach, at the age of twelve he, in the words of Gaebelein, “had a definite experience in which [he] accepted the Lord Jesus as [his] Saviour.”[8] With the prospective thoughts toward full-time missionary work already in mind, it was not long until Gaebelein pursued work in Christian service. Late in his teenage years, and after immigrating to America, he started working at a “woolen mill” in Lawrence, Massachusetts.[9] In that city, he also attended a German Methodist church where he developed a close friendship with a Boston University student named Augustus Wallon, the son of a Methodist preacher.[10] It was through Augustus’s father, Louis Wallon, that Gaebelein first had been approached with Dispensational, Premillennial theology.[11] In Gaebelein’s own words, he said, “[Louis] Wallon was an ardent Premillennialist, and he tried hard to convert me. But it was too much for me at that time. He talked to me almost daily about the antichrist, the great tribulation, the blessed hope, the kingdom and Israel’s future, but I was unable to grasp it.”[12] Likewise, it was Louis Wallon who gave him Emile Guers’ book, La Future D’Israel, French for “The Future of Israel.”[13] While being acquainted with Dispensationalism, he also would travel from Lawrence, Massachusetts to Bridgeport, Connecticut in order to serve at the German Methodist Mission.[14] By winter of 1881-1882, Gaebelein had applied to serve in a local church ministry within the East German Methodist Conference, and was given the opportunity to lead a small congregation in Baltimore, Maryland.[15] Therefore, in the early stages of his life, Gaebelein did not necessarily live the most exciting of lives, yet he benefited from different influences that proved to be foundational for the rest of his life.[16]

Adult Life and Ministry

  • A.    Pastoral and Preaching Ministry

Over his many years of ministry, Gaebelein spent much time and effort in pastoral labor and preaching in addition to being greatly involved in publishing theological material, working in missions, and in serving the needy. First, he served in his Baltimore ministry, doing pastoral work, though not yet being ordained as a Methodist bishop. He took over for a man named John Lutz, and continued there for three years.[17] His ministry flourished, and as he reflected on this time he wrote, “In a few months the audiences had more than doubled, so that the chapel was filled to its full capacity.”[18] Once his term of three years expired, the Methodist Episcopal Church transferred him to a new ministry position.

This new assignment led Gaebelein to serve a church in Harlem, New York where he was ordained as a deacon.[19] Instead of pastoral-like ministries, as in Baltimore, Gaebelein was in charge of helping his new church to rid itself of a “heavy debt.”[20] Much greater of importance than his work of traveling to other congregations to raise funds was that he met his future wife during his ministry in Harlem. Gaebelein happened to encounter difficulty in finding a place to live, so the Presiding Elder, C.F. Grimm, offered to let the newly ordained deacon stay in his home with his family.[21] It was in that very home that Arno met Emma Grimm; both later confessed in unison, “It was love at first sight.”[22] Before long, Arno and Emma were married while their ministry in Harlem continued to prosper. At the end of a three-year term in his diaconal ministry, as was customary in the Methodist Episcopal Church, he and his wife moved onto a new field of ministry.[23]

Upon arriving in Hoboken, New Jersey, Gaebelein was ordained as an elder to lead a Methodist Episcopalian congregation.[24] While in this new ministry, one of A.C.’s Jewish congregants had heard how fluently he could speak in Hebrew and said to him:

It is a shame that you do not make use of your knowledge. You should do a greater work than preaching to a German congregation…Jews [are] coming in by the thousands from every European and several Oriental countries. You should go and preach the Gospel to the Jews. I believe the Lord made you take up these studies because He wants you to go to my brethren, the Jews.[25]

Gaebelein took these words to heart, and started serving alongside of Jacob Freshman, the son of a Jewish Rabbi and director of the “Hebrew Christian Mission” in New York City.[26] It soon became apparent that God was leading the Gaebeleins to full-time ministry at the “Hebrew Christian Mission.” And whether or not A.C. knew it at the time, this was just the beginning of many years of ministry presenting the Jewish people with a message from Scripture concerning the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

The news that a Gentile would be preaching from the Old Testament concerning God’s future plans for Israel struck a significant amount of interest among the thousands of Jews in New York City. Gaebelein explained in his autobiography, “On the day before the Jewish Sabbath, when thousands were passing, I wrote in Hebrew characters on a piece of cardboard the following: ‘Tomorrow, Sabbath afternoon at 3 o’clock, a German Gentile preacher, who knows Hebrew and is a friend of Israel will give a lecture on the Bible.’”[27] While the size of attendees grew fast, plenty of Jewish men entered with an antagonizing spirit about them. Often, Gaebelein would allow for questions during his sermon, and sometimes, distraught skeptics would leave in the middle of the services.[28] Though opposition would be persistent in his ministry, nevertheless, God had blessed his efforts with visible fruits of people coming to know Christ as Messiah and Savior. As a result of his intense research of the Old Testament, his theology was undoubtedly shaped by a focus on God’s promises to Israel and how the rest of the Bible speaks of these prophecies.[29]

By the late 1890s, Gaebelein’s ministry saw a great extension in terms of widespread influence. Michael Stallard says, “The year 1899 was a pivotal one in the life of Arno C. Gaebelein. It marked the transition from the Jewish outreach in New York City and the constant need for travel and support of the local ministry to a truly national ministry where the declaration of the message was the major thrust.”[30] While there were some changes in ministry philosophy, such as leaving the Methodist Episcopal Church and rejecting the tenets of Messianic Judaism’s ecclesiology, his ministry as guest speaking in Bible conferences was just beginning to bloom.[31] According to Timothy Demy, “Between 1900 and 1915, [his] reputation as a Bible teacher and…prominence grew significantly.”[32] From the Niagara Bible conferences, slightly before the twentieth century, he was not only able to have his voice heard, but also established contact with other Dispensationalists, including members of the Plymouth Brethren denomination.[33] Another critical point in history was in 1901 when Gaebelein spoke at the Sea Cliff Bible Conference in Long Island, New York with C.I. Scofield. These annual conferences continued until 1911 and were impactful, though perhaps more importantly, his relationship with Scofield helped for the propagation of Dispensational Premillennialism.[34] Stallard declares, “For the first two decades of the twentieth century, Scofield and Gaebelein were perhaps the two most prominent names in the world of dispensational premillennialism on the American scene.”[35] Furthermore, Gaebelein left an impact on this world through his teaching experience at the Evangelical Theological College (now known as Dallas Theological Seminary). Gaebelein spent one month there every year from 1924 until 1931, serving as a Bible teacher under the presidency of Lewis Sperry Chafer.[36] Until the end of his life and ministry, Gaebelein continued in his public profession and instruction of Christian doctrine via the ministry of preaching and teaching. However, another significant facet of Gaebelein’s ministry to be discussed was his publication efforts.

  • B.    Publication Ministry

While Gaebelein’s pastoral and preaching ministries were tremendously important, had it not been for his publication ministry, it is difficult to ascertain whether or not he would have achieved such a height of influence. In 1893, a point in his life when he was serving in New York City at the “Hebrew Christian Mission,” he began the publication of Tiqweth Israel-The Hope of Israel Monthly.[37] This particular ministry of Gospel literature for the Jews was not only well received by many in New York City, but also in countries around the world, particularly in Europe.[38] Along with monthly publishing work, Gaebelein was also responsible for the publication of many Gospel tracts and booklets over his lifetime.[39] Just a year later (1894), Gaebelein began publishing a monthly magazine pertaining to Jewish evangelism titled Our Hope.[40] Contemporaneously, Dr. James H. Brookes, publisher of another magazine, The Truth, urged his readers to also subscribe to Our Hope.[41] As a result of the generous recommendation, Our Hope grew in influence and demand.[42] Gaebelein also served as an associate editor of the Scofield Reference Bible, a major contribution to the lasting impact of dispensational, premillennial theology.[43] Additionally, he was responsible for the publication of multiple commentaries on the Bible and biblical topics, especially on prophecy.[44] Stallard is convinced that Gaebelein is “one of the most prolific premillennial writers of all time.”[45] Though much more could be said of Gaebelein’s contributions from his publication ministries, it is quite clear that Gaebelein’s writings were incredibly significant for the cause of the Gospel and for advocating his biblical convictions of eschatology.

  • C.    Missions and Social Compassion Ministry

Thus far, it has been maintained that Gaebelein was undoubtedly a man of biblical insight, a hard-working pastor/preacher, and a prolific writer. But in addition to his theology, he was a man who had a heart for the physical and social needs of others. His actions of sacrifice were clear proof.  While serving at the “Hebrew Christian Mission” in New York City, Gaebelein recorded his own concerns for the thousands of persecuted Jewish people who came from Russia and Poland:

It appeared to me a grand opportunity to show to them the practical side of Christianity. I had a visitor who went through the tenement houses, and numerous families were found on the verge of starvation. I appealed to wholesale grocery and commission houses to send barrels of potatoes, flour, etc., to the church building, and there was a generous response…Many times I denied myself the most necessary things in order to help them in their distress, and many times I felt great joy and His approval in loving and helping the suffering members of the people who are still His people.[46]

In the summer of 1895, Gaebelein traveled to Russia in order to get a better understanding of how poorly the Jewish people were treated in that country, and while he was there, take the message of the Gospel. Gaebelein recorded one of his intense situations from that trip regarding his train ride from Poland into Russia:

My heart beat faster and faster the nearer we came to the Russian-Polish border. Finally the train stopped and a heavily armed Russian officer demanded my passport and I had to leave the carriage with my belongings. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘You are from America.’ He spoke in German and engaged me in a friendly conversation. He wanted a lot of information about our country and why I had come over there, what I intended to do, how long I would stay. Then he pointed to my large suitcase, and the box filled with tracts. I told him that these were my personal belongings, and he kindly answered: ‘I am not going to trouble you unpacking everything; I shall just look into one of the two.’ Then he selected my suitcase and looked through it, and the box with the literature was not opened and escaped confiscation.[47]

Later on in his life, Gaebelein sought to be compassionately involved during the Holocaust years. Ironically, Gaebelein has been accused of being anti-Semitic, though such labels were carelessly and inappropriately given.[48] In 1937, Gaebelein went to his home country of Germany with the hope of being used by God for a spiritual revival in that country.[49] However, he only came back to America with dismal reports of the horrid condition that Germany was in as Nazism progressed.[50] Gaebelein later reported on the sheer horror of World War II in Our Hope with deep sorrow over the actions that have been committed by Germany:

It is now a fact that more than two million Jews have been slaughtered in this four-year-old-war. We say it again – all these sufferings and these terrible devastations it is our lot to hear about, move the Christian believer to deep sympathy, and millions of prayers are now made that our all-wise God, Whose oft mysterious ways are beyond our ken, may soon end it.[51]

At the time in which Gaebelein wrote these words, it is clear that his heart was broken for the Jewish people. Simply put, Arno Clemens Gaebelein was not just a man of theological convictions pertaining to Dispensational Premillennialism, but one who exemplified compassion towards others, especially Jewish men and women.

Conclusion

Gaebelein had the privilege of seeing the end to World War II, but did not live to see the day in which the Jewish people were able to return to a national homeland.[52] He died on Christmas day, 1945.[53] It is hard to ignore the providential irony that, of all nationalities, it was a German man who helped lead the way in nineteenth and twentieth century missions to the Jewish people despite the cultural pressures of anti-Semitism prevalent among many of the Germans at that time. Instead, Gaebelein willingly sacrificed his own comfort for the benefit of the persecution-stricken Jewish people, spoke out against Nazism, and lovingly communicated the Scriptures to the most Orthodox of Hebrews. Additionally, Gaebelein was devoted to accurately understanding the Bible, particularly in its application to prophecy. Yet, his devotion to the Gospel’s importance was never hindered. Consider these words:

The knowledge of the Gospel has been throughout my life and ministry an ever-expanding knowledge. I fear those who speak of the master of the Gospel, as if the Gospel were the most simple thing in our Christian faith, have never looked deep enough. It is very true that the Gospel of our salvation is very simple, yet there are depths which no saint has ever fathomed. Not until we reach the Father’s house in everlasting glory shall we know the fulness [sic] of the Gospel.[54]

Truly, Arno C. Gaebelein was a compassionate Dispensational Premillennialist and friend of Israel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Bowman, John. “The Bible and Modern Religions: II. Dispensationalism,” Interpretation 10

(April 1956).

Breshears, Gerry and Mark Driscoll. Vintage Church. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008.

Demy, Timothy. “Arno C. Gaebelein,” n.d., http://www.pre-trib.org/articles/view/arno-c-gaebelein.

Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. Half a Century: The Autobiography of a Servant. New York, NY:

Publication Office “Our Hope,” 1930.

Gerstner, John. Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism.

Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991.

Pink, A.W. The Divine Covenants. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1973.

Rausch, David A. Arno C. Gaebelein, 1861-1945: Irenic Fundamentalist and Scholar. Lewiston,

NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1983.

Stallard, Michael. The Early Twentieth-Century Dispensationalism of Arno C. Gaebelein.

Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2002.


[1] John Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991), 150.

[2] A.W. Pink, The Divine Covenants (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1973), 10.

[3] John Wick Bowman, “The Bible and Modern Religions: II. Dispensationalism,” Interpretation 10 (April 1956): 172. Italics added.

[4] Gerry Breshears and Mark Driscoll, Vintage Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 61.

[5] Ibid.

[6] David A. Rausch, Arno C. Gaebelein, 1861-1945: Irenic Fundamentalist and Scholar (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1983), 1.

[7] Arno Clemens Gaebelein, Half a Century: The Autobiography of a Servant (New York, NY: Publication Office “Our Hope,” 1930), 1.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 2.

[10] Ibid., 3.

[11] Ibid., 5.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid. Although, as Michael Stallard in The Early Twentieth-Century Dispensationalism of Arno C. Gaebelein, (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2002), 62, points out, this was most likely an abbreviated title of the original, “Israël aux Derniers Jours De L’Économie Actuelle ou Essai Sur La Restauration Prochaine De Ce Peuple, Suivi D’Un Fragment Sur Le Millénarisme.” [Israel in the Last Days of the Present Economy; or, An Essay on the Coming Restoration of this People. Also, a Fragment on Millenarianism].

[14] Ibid., 6.

[15] Ibid., 8-9.

[16] There were at least three major influences, and not all were mentioned above. (1) Dispensational Premillennial theology, particularly from Louis Wallon (2) Ministry to the poor and needy, namely from his time serving in Lawrence, Massachusetts and Bridgeport, Connecticut (3) Exceptional linguistic abilities. Louis Wallon encouraged him to study as much as possible on his own, rather than seminary training. Gaebelein mastered several languages, and particularly his proficiency in Hebrew proved to be one of the greatest tools for his future ministries. See Ibid., 4, 11, 19, and 55-72 for a few examples of his impact through languages.

 

[17] Ibid., 9.

[18] Ibid., 11.

[19] Ibid., 12.

[20] Ibid., 13.

[21] Ibid., 14.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid., 16.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., 19.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid., 25-26. Italics added.

[28] Ibid., 26-29.

[29] Up until his Jewish ministry in New York, Gaebelein confessed that he interpreted Old Testament prophecies in accordance with the “spiritualizing method” (pg. 20). However, upon studying the texts of Scripture in the Old Testament, he soon became convinced that there are unfulfilled prophecies regarding national Israel that are to be fulfilled literally and in the future. Perhaps, too, the influence of Louis Wallon and the writings of Emile Guers were finally making sense.

[30] Stallard, The Early Twentieth-Century Dispensationalism of Arno C. Gaebelein, 28.

[31] For more information on his dissension from the Methodist Episcopal Church and his response to Messianic Judaism, see Gaebelein, Half a Century, 81-82 and Stallard, The Early Twentieth-Century Dispensationalism of Arno C. Gaebelein, 32.

[32] Timothy Demy, “Arno C. Gaebelein,” n.d., http://www.pre-trib.org/articles/view/arno-c-gaebelein (accessed January 24, 2013).

[33] Gaebelein, Half a Century, 84-85. Also, Stallard, on page 35 notes, “It is…clear that Gaebelein had no knowledge of the [Plymouth] Brethren and of Darby until 1898. His conversion to premillennialism in 1887 was only indirectly influenced by Darby through Guers.”

[34] Stallard, The Early Twentieth-Century Dispensationalism of Arno C. Gaebelein, 42.

[35] Ibid., 42.

[36] Ibid., 42-43. See also Gaebelein, Half a Century, 115, 178-180, 207-208 for information regarding other academic teaching experiences that included Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, and Elim Chapel in Winnipeg.

[37] Gaebelein, Half a Century, 33.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Gaebelein records the titles of several tracts/booklets on Ibid., 34.

[40] Ibid., 44.

[41] Ibid., 45.

[42] Gaebelein also includes that when Dr. Brookes died, a few years following Our Hope’s beginning, The Truth merged with another magazine and was identified as Watchword and Truth. Over time, it became evident that Watchword and Truth was not aligned with the eschatology espoused by Gaebelein and Dr. Brookes, and thus, many more subscribers transferred over to Our Hope. Gaebelein stated, “And so it came that Our Hope was looked upon as the true and legitimate successor of The Truth with the result that hundreds of the old Truth readers became readers and supporters of Our Hope.” Ibid., 46.

[43] Stallard, The Early Twentieth-Century Dispensationalism of Arno C. Gaebelein, 42.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid. On this point, Stallard notes, “The amount of material produced by Gaebelein probably exceeds that written by Brookes and Scofield combined.”

[46] Gaebelein, Half a Century, 35.

[47] Ibid., 56.

[48] Stallard discusses how such claims came about. First, he records that a “bizarre” document entitled The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, written by Serge Nilus, propagated incorrect claims concerning Gaebelein and his ministry. Stallard quotes Rausch who said, “The Protocols are of Russian origin and are the alleged secret proceedings of a group of Jews plotting to destroy Christianity, challenge civil government and disrupt the international economy in an effort to control the world.” Other writers, too, have interpreted Gaebelein as being anti-Semitic, such as Ruth Mouly, Roland Robertson, and George Marsden. Overall, though, this supposition was a result of reading Gaebelein’s book, The Conflict of the Ages, without understanding the rest of Gaebelein’s life and his intentions in writing it. Gaebelein’s theological criticisms were twisted by historians to have been meant for racial condemnations instead. Most definitely, however, “Gaebelein had no animosity towards the Jews…” See Stallard, 47-54.

[49] Ibid., 59.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Quoted in Ibid.

[52] Timothy Demy, “Arno C. Gaebelein,” n.d., http://www.pre-trib.org/articles/view/arno-c-gaebelein (accessed January 24, 2013).

[53] Ibid.

[54] Gaebelein, Half a Century, 10.

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