DISPENSATIONALISM

Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth

Dispensationalism is a doctrinal system that keeps Israel and the Church distinct. This system teaches that throughout history God is seen to have two distinct purposes and two distinct people and these distinctions are maintained throughout eternity (or at least throughout the end of the millennium).

The question is whether the Bible teaches of such a division. To the contrary, the Bible teaches that God has taken all of His people and made them ONE. "For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity." (Ephesians 2:14-16).

 

DISPENSATIONAL DISTINCTIVES

DISTINCTION #1: Plan & Purpose of God.

Dispensationalism teaches that God has two separate plans and two separate and distinct peoples through whom He works - Israel and the Church.

The Bible teaches that God has ONE unified people. In the Old Testament that was Israel, but even then not all Israel was Israel, but only those who entered into covenant relationship of faith in God. Those who are not of faith are not His people. And those who are of faith are His people. This is true in every age. This is why Paul can say that "those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham" (Galatians 3:7).

DISTINCTION #2: The Law.

Dispensationalism says that the Mosaic Law is done away in Christ.

It is true that the Bible sees the Ceremonial Law as being fulfilled in Christ, but the Moral Law as contained in the Ten Commandments are repeated throughout the New Testament, showing that those commands are still in force (though admittedly the nature of the Sabbath is described differently since we have now entered into the rest provided by Christ). Indeed, Jesus Himself said, "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). Does His fulfillment of the Law mean that it has passed away? To the contrary, He explains His meaning with a careful and sober warning: "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19).

DISTINCTION #3: The Nature of the Church.

Dispensationalism sees the church as a parenthesis, a temporary situation lying between God's two dealings with Israel.

The Bible sees the church as the culmination of all God's people, the very body of Christ and the fullness of God. Paul speaks of the message given to him "to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things; in order that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 3:9-10). Far from being a parenthesis, the church is the culmination of something begun in Old Testament times. Paul goes on to point out that "this was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Ephesians 3:11).

DISTINCTION #4: Church in the Old Testament.

Dispensationalism usually teaches that the church is neither found nor mentioned in the Old Testament.

The Bible states that the Old Testament DID look forward to a time when Gentiles would enter into the Covenant. The promised Messiah was to be both a "covenant to the people, and a light to the nations" (Psalm 42:6). God also said, "I will call those who were not My people, 'My people'" (Romans 9:24-25).

Paul is specific to tell us that the coming of Gentiles into the church was a confirmation of "the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, 'Therefore I will give praise to Thee among the Gentiles, And I will sing to Thy name'" (Romans 15:8-9).

Peter says that "the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you" (1 Peter 1:10-12). The Old Testament prophets not only prophesied of those glories that would follow the cross, but also acknowledged that their prophecies were to benefit the future church.

DISTINCTION #5: Old Testament Promises.

Dispensationalism says that all of the promises given in the Old Testament must be fulfilled to a political nation of Israel.

Over and over again, the Bible sees these promises being fulfilled to the Church as the "Spiritual Israel" and people of God. The Bible teaches us that "they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel" (Romans 9:6). Conversely, we have already seen how the presence of Gentiles in the church was a fulfillment of the Old Testament promise that God would "call those who were not My people, 'My people'" (Romans 9:24-25).

The writer to the Hebrews says that those Old Testament saints "did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect" (Hebrews 11:39-40). This is completely antithetical to the Dispensational teaching that says, "Israel gets the promises to Israel and the church gets the promises to the church and never the twain shall meet."

It is significant that when James wanted to demonstrate the legitimacy of the New Testament program of bringing Gentiles into the church, he turned to the Old Testament, saying, "Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. And with this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, ‘After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins, And I will restore it, in order that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name'" (Acts 15:14-17). The passage to which James turned was that of Amos 9:11-12.

Old Testament Prophecy

New Testament Fulfillment

"I will rebuild the Tabernacle of David"

The growth of the church

"...in order that the rest of mankind may see the Lord"

Gentiles to become Christians in the growing church.

James had no problems looking to the events that were going on in the church of his day and seeing them as fulfillments of Old Testament prophecies.

 

DISTINCTION #6: Two Comings of Christ Versus One.

Dispensationalism teaches that Christ will return to the earth is a secret "Rapture" in which all believers will be removed from the earth. This is later followed by the "Second Coming of Christ" which is a distinct and separate event.

The Bible teaches that there is ONE future coming of Christ in which "every eye shall see Him" and "every knee shall bow." Instead of a second and third future coming, the Bible teaches that Christ, "having been offered once to bear the sins of many, shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him" (Hebrews 9:28).

For further discussion on the Dispensational "Rapture" Theory, see The Rapture Question and A Critique of the Evidences for a Pretribulational Rapture.

DISPENSATIONALISM VERSUS COVENANT THEOLOGY

Dispensationalism can best be understood in light of a contrast with what has come to be known as "Covenant Theology."

Dispensationalism

Covenant Theology

Stresses "literal" interpretation of the Bible

Accepts both literal and figurative (spiritual) interpretation of the Bible

"Israel" always means only the literal, physical descendants of Jacob

"Israel" may mean either physical descendants of Jacob, or spiritual Israel, depending on context

"Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16 means physical Israel alone

"Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16 means spiritual Israel, parallel to Gal. 3:29; Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6; Phil. 3:3.

God has 2 peoples with 2 separate destinies: Israel (earthly) and the Church (heavenly).

God has one covenant people. Those in this age have become a part of God's continuing covenant people.

All Old Testament prophecies for "Israel" are only for the physical nation of Israel, not for the Church

Some Old Testament prophecies are for national Israel, others for spiritual Israel

The Church is a parenthesis in God's program for the ages

The Church is the culmination of God's saving purpose for the ages

The main heir to Abraham's covenant was Isaac and literal Israel

The main heir to Abraham's covenant was Christ, the Seed, and spiritual Israel which is "in Christ"

Jesus made an offer of the literal Kingdom to Israel; since Israel rejected it, it is postponed

Jesus made only an offer of the Spiritual Kingdom, which was rejected by literal Israel but has gradually been accepted by spiritual Israel

Teaches that the Millennium is the Kingdom of God. They are always Premillennial, usually Pre-tribulation

The Church is the Kingdom of God. This can be interpreted both within the Premillennial, Post Millennial or Amillennial framework.

The Old Testament animal sacrifices will be restored in the Millennium, as a memorial only

The Old Testament sacrifices were fulfilled and forever abolished in Christ

 

THE TERM "DISPENSATION"

The word "dispensation" is translated from the Greek word OIKONOMIA. This term is used three times in Luke 16:2-4. All three times it refers to the responsibilities of a servant (or a steward). It is used in 1 Corinthians 9:17 to describe the responsibilities which the Lord had laid specifically upon Paul.

Ephesians 1:10 speaks of the purpose which God had in centering and "administering" all things in Christ. Ephesians 3:2 speaks of Paul's special ministry to the Gentiles. If this is to be considered a separate Dispensation in the Theological sense, then we must also conclude that the other apostles were still stuck in the previous Dispensation to the Jews. Colossians 1:25 does the same thing, speaking of the stewardship which the Lord had placed upon Paul - the stewardship of the preaching of the Word of God. 1 Timothy 1:4 urges Timothy to pay attention to the EDIFYING (i.e., the administration) of the things of the Lord.

Not once do we ever see the term "dispensation" used in the Bible in the manner that is used by Dispensationalists.

 

THE "DOUBLE VISION" OF DISPENSATIONALISM

Have you ever tried to deliberately cross your eyes? The result is that your vision becomes blurred and you begin to see things with a "double vision." If you are looking at a coffee mug, you will instead see two of them. Dispensationalism suffers from this kind of spiritual myopia.

I believe that to view the Scriptures through the lens of Dispensationalism creates a distorted view of the Bible, the church and the Lord's revealed program for the ages.

 

 


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