Article VII – Dispensationalism
Section 1 Dispensationalism and Progressive Revelation
Although the concepts of dispensationalism and progressive revelation are distinct, we believe that they are profoundly interrelated. We believe that God progressively revealed Himself to mankind through the Scriptures, the patriarchs, the prophets, the apostles, and in the Incarnate Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. We further believe that man’s responsibility before God has progressed in light of God’s progressive revelation. These distinct responsibilities of man to God throughout different ages are often known as “dispensations.” Because dispensations are not inherently diachronic (crossing time), but simply deal with different administrations of God toward men, we believe that it would be theologically proper to say that a child or a mentally retarded person is under a different dispensation than adults. That is quite simply, God deals with children and the mentally retarded according to a different set of requirements than an adult of normal mental functioning. However, because most dispensational distinctions are intertwined with progressive revelation over time, dispensations are, in most cases, distinct administrations of God’s people over different periods of time.
Section 2 Israel is not the Church, and is not Responsible for the Revelation Given Unto the Church
In view of God’s progressive revelation of Himself, we believe that it is unreasonable to suggest, as some do, that Israel should be held to the same standard of accountability toward God in 1000 B.C. as we in the church today, who enjoy the benefit of the completed Scriptures, and the benefit of living with a historical view toward the incarnate revelation of Jesus Christ. It is absurd to hold that Israel, throughout their history, should have had as the conscious object of their faith, the incarnate, crucified Son, the Lamb of God (John 1:29) as we, in the church age do, and that apart from such profound theological conclusions, no Jew could experience the salvation that would one day be made available through the blood of Christ. It is evident that they did not comprehend as we do that the sacrifices depicted the person and work of Christ. We believe also that they did not understand the redemptive significance of the prophecies or types concerning the sufferings of Christ (1st Peter 1:10-12). Therefore, we believe that their faith toward God was manifested in other ways as is shown by the long record in Hebrews 11:1-40. We believe further that their faith thus manifested was counted unto them for righteousness (cf. Rom. 4:3 with Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:5-8; Heb. 11:7). We categorically deny that this constitutes a different means of salvation for Jews and other Old Testament peoples.
Section 3 The Church is not Israel, and therefore, not the Heir to the Blessings, Promises or Prophecies God has Made toward Israel In His Revealed Word
We reject the doctrine known, among other names, as “replacement theology,” that suggests that the church is the heir to the promises God made with Abraham, and to the promises and prophecies God made to, and regarding the nation of Israel. We believe that promises made to Abraham stand as surely today as they were understood by Abraham in the day that God made His covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-21), and that, if God cannot be taken at His Word in His promise to Abraham, He can no more be taken at His Word in His promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ. We further believe that the promises and prophecies concerning Israel in Scripture will be literally fulfilled in Israel (Ezekiel 37-39; Daniel 9:24-27; Romans 11:1-25; 2nd Thessalonians 2:3-4; Revelation 11-12). Accordingly, we reject the teaching that the prophecies made to Israel have been reduced to some “spiritual” or metaphorical meaning of a battle between good and evil in which the church is engaged.
Section 4 The Church is not Israel, and is not under the Ten Commandments of Moses
a) We believe that at no time has the law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments, ever been represented in Scripture as a means for man to earn his salvation (Romans 3:21; Galatians 3:6-9, 3:21). We believe that the law was given to Moses both as a vehicle for governing Israel (Exodus 19; Deuteronomy 28-30), and as a witness to testify to mankind of their lost condition and their need of a Savior (Galatians 2:19, 3:19-24; Romans 3:20).
b) We believe that the division of the law of Moses into “Moral,” “Civil,” and “Ceremonial” laws is not found in Scripture, and is unsupportable by Scripture. It is clear that, with a view toward the law of Moses, Peter understood it would be immoral to eat non-Kosher food, not simply “un-ceremonial” (Acts 11:4-8).
c) We believe that law, by its very nature, has two components: a system of demands and prohibitions; and a respective system of consequences for violating those demands and prohibitions. We believe that, while one is under the law of Moses, violation of that legal system makes one subject to the punishments and consequences of that legal system, which, under the law of Moses, included physical death (Romans 5:12-13; Hebrews 12:18-21) and the declaration that one is spiritually dead, and in need of the Savior (Romans 3:19-20; Galatians 3:24).
d) We believe therefore that once someone comes to faith in Christ, they are jurisdictionally transferred from the law of Moses unto the “law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2), which is a different legal system entirely, having different demands, and different consequences (Hebrews 12:18-22). Accordingly, we believe that, from the moment of salvation, a Christian is no longer subject to either the demands, or the consequences of the Ten Commandments. We believe that with the inauguration of a new legal system and a new priesthood, the law of Moses has been annulled (Matthew 5:18; Romans 3:19; Galatians 3:10; 3:24-25; 4:21; Hebrews 5:5-6; 7:12; 7:18; 8:7-13; 10:1; 10:9).
e) We acknowledge that there are some similarities between the demands of the law of Christ and the demands of nine of the 613 laws of Moses. However, we deny that the law of Christ is a stripped down version of the law of Moses.
f) We believe that a primary consequence of failure to live faithfully to the law of Christ is to forfeit our eternal inheritance, or a portion thereof, which is presented in Scripture of forfeiting the privilege of ruling and reigning with Christ over the world to come (Luke 19:11-27; 1st Corinthians 3:8-15; 9:24-27; Galatians 6:7-9; 2nd Timothy 2:12; Hebrews 4:1; 6:10-12; 10:23; 10:35; Revelation 5:10; 20:6; 22:5). Because we are no longer under the jurisdiction of a legal system having eternal consequences of condemnation, however, it is impossible that a Christian can incur condemnation by failure to obey the Ten Commandments (Galatians 3:10; 3:24-25). A Christian is no more subject to the laws of Moses than a resident of Cleveland is to the criminal or civil laws of Bangkok Thailand.
Section 5 General Demands and Salvific Demands on Mankind
Progressive revelation includes two parallel lines of thought, God’s general demands on mankind in the governance of mankind, and God’s progressive revelation with regard to eternal salvation. Because these two distinct requirements on humanity are intertwined in the pages of God’s progressive revelation to humanity, and in the dispensational architecture by which God has ordained the man’s course through history, theologians and pastors must be careful to distinguish the nature of these demands to avoid confusion and violence to the doctrine of salvation.
a) Salvific Demands on Mankind In every age, salvation has been by faith alone, and apart from human works. We believe, however, that the content of saving faith has become progressively more specific throughout human history. It is clear that the sacrificial system in Israel foreshadowed the redemptive work of Christ. We further note that Israel operated through a priesthood performing sacrificial works, and that these sacrifices were therefore not offered by the individual worshipper. We therefore believe that saving faith prior to Christ’s death was directed, in some way, to the sacrificial system of Israel. We believe that this is easily reconciled with the doctrine of grace in that, the sacrifice was not offered by the worshipper, but by a priest, even as the final sacrifice was a work in a very real sense, but offered by our Great High Priest . . . that is, by our Lord Jesus Christ. We further observe that Scripture appears to explicitly identify faith, directed in some way toward in this sacrificial system, as the basis of justification under the law of Moses prior to Christ’s death (Luke 18:14). We acknowledge that the specific content of saving faith becomes increasingly speculative when directed to certain dispensations between Adam and Moses.
b) The governance of mankind Throughout the various dispensations, God has governed mankind through a variety of means, such as the laws of Moses during the dispensation of the law. Many of these demands, and means of governance, are general demands unrelated to salvation. We believe it is vital to keep in mind the distinct nature of these parallel unfolding demands, God’s general demands, and God’s salvific demands, in progressive revelation, in order to avoid doing grave damage to the doctrine of salvation.
c) The Dispensation of Grace Because men of every age have been granted eternal life and forgiveness only through the unconditional love of God manifested as the gift of eternal life to mankind, we believe that grace is a distinguishable feature of the present dispensation only with respect to God’s general governance of His people, not with respect to His program of salvation. Accordingly, we believe the term “dispensation of grace,” though appropriate in describing the means by which God governs His people during the current age, has the potential for confusion if understood as implying that salvation was not by grace under the Mosaic period. Accordingly, we believe that great care should be taken to ensure that the phrase “Dispensation of Grace” is never extend beyond the bounds of Scripture. Because God’s means of governing Christians during this age is largely that they are to be led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14 and possibly Jeremiah 31:31-34) the current age could equally be called the dispensation of the Spirit. Similarly, because the church is God’s visible instrument on earth for leading, governing and, when necessary, disciplining his people (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Timothy 3:1-15; 4:12-6:21; Titus 1-3), the present age could equally be called the dispensation of the church.
Section 6 Dispensationalism as a Hermeneutic
We believe that the same literal hermeneutic that distinguishes the church from Israel, and the recognition that God’s revelation to humanity has been progressive, illuminates an understanding of Scriptures in periods other than the church age, or patriarchal Israel. We believe that honest men may differ in their conclusions of how many different dispensations are represented in Scripture, or the exact requirements placed upon men in various dispensations. However, we believe that, by failing to appreciate, on some fundamental level, the existence of distinct administrations in God’s governance of humanity, false teachers err by imposing on believers in the church age legal requirements that are properly ascribed to different ages or different dispensations. We further believe that, when such demands are not only imposed on the church, but made a requirement for salvation, that grave violence is done to the doctrine of grace, and the message of the gospel.
Footnote 2. Although believers are not under the law of Moses, many of the demands of the New Testament on believers, such as prohibitions against murder, adultery or idolatry, are similar to portions of the Ten Commandments of Moses, leading some Christians to categorize the law of Moses into Ceremonial, Civil and Moral, and to maintain that Christians are still under the moral law. However, the New Testament never imposes on believers of the church age the requirement of keeping the Sabbath, rendering inadequate the explanatory power of this categorization of the law.