In general, today’s Evangelicalism rarely ever speaks concerning dispensationalism, and if it does, it generally only discusses dispensational premillennial eschatology. For someone to be considered a dispensationalist, all they would really have to hold to is the pre-tribulation “rapture of the Church”.
In this uninformed view of what has become known as dispensational theology, a dispensationalist is someone who believes the Left Behind series¹. Some even think of dispensationalists as crazy prophecy kooks who look for prophetic fulfillment behind every news story, especially events in the Middle East².
But folks, this is not dispensationalism! It is a cartoon created by a Biblically illiterate Evangelical movement that focuses on feelings and relationships and that has decided that doctrine doesn’t matter. They want to be the “hands and feet of Jesus” (no scripture reference) without an intelligent understanding of what He who is the Head wants them to do. Or more important still, what He wants. They want try to understand the will of God for their lives, but they are willfully ignorant of the mystery of His will that He has made known (Ephesians 1:9).
If I were to have to answer the question as to why I am a dispensationalist, this would be my first simple answer:
Because I believe the Bible. Period.
I know, that sounds a little bit mocking of other theological positions, so let’s talk about it.
I grew up in what was known at the time as “The Grace Movement”. It probably still is, but that is not that important at the moment. Growing up in this movement, to the surprise of many, I never learned dispensational doctrine. I did learn the Bible.
Many holding to dispensational theology speak of the everlasting difference between “Israel and the Church”, and that the two can never be mixed. Funny, I never learned of this tenet until many years into my adulthood, and when I did, I thought it to be amazing that anyone couldn’t understand the difference, or that it had to even be discussed. It seemed like what we would call a “no-brainer”. Really, to strictly hold this position as a key to understanding the scriptures brings in its own set of problems to the point of any connections can make the whole system fall apart. But there are connections and we should recognize them rather than run away from them or explain them away.
If we recognize the differences and the connections, we can open our minds to the truth of Scripture without having to change the very words of God to make them fit our notions of what the Bible should say.
I heard a pastor on the radio once say “Believe what you read where you read it.” That is what dispensational doctrine really is. It is believing what you read in the Word of God and understanding what God is doing and how God is administering³ and relating to mankind. What God is doing is much more the issue than who it is that He is doing it through.
The most important distinction:
The distinction that we really need to get a handle on is the distinction between what God revealed through the prophets in times past, and what the crucified, risen, ascended and glorified Great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ, revealed through the apostle that He called a chosen vessel unto Him (Acts 9:15).
1 Timothy 1:12 – 17 — “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Note that many will say with the Apostle Paul, that they themselves are indeed “the chief of sinners”:
Depth of Mercyby Charles Wesley
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 355; Worship & Song, No. 3097
Depth of mercy! Can there be
Mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God his wrath forbear,
Me, the chief of sinners spare?
The more I ponder these words of the Apostle, I come to a different conclusion as to what it is exactly that he was talking about here.
Is it that Paul (or Saul of Tarsus) was the absolute worst sinner ever? Hardly, even though he often looked back with regret over having persecuted the church of God and having wasted it.
Some have pointed out that Saul of Tarsus was leading the rebellion of Israel against Christ, and that is what he meant by chief.
I don’t usually “Greek”, but in this case, it may help to clear this up a little.
The word that is translated “chief” here is πρῶτός. In the next verse, the apostle writes that “in me first, Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” The word first is πρώτῳ, another tense of the same word. Not knowing all the ins and outs of Greek grammar, I am not a SME (subject matter expert), but I can say for certain that these verses, one following right after the other are certainly related, and the thought is one.
Paul is speaking to his “son” Timothy of what our Lord Jesus Christ is doing. He is saving sinners, as sinners. Just as He saved Saul, not while Saul was pleading for mercy as a repentant sinner, but as he was breathing out threatenings and slaughter against Christ’s people (Acts 9:1). Paul is speaking of himself as the first in line of sinners being saved. That is the sense, in context, that he is chief of sinners. Chief of sinners saved by grace.
In the following verse, he writes of himself as a pattern. He is speaking of himself as the “prototype” of saved sinners. Why is Paul the prototype, and not David, Moses, Peter, or Abraham? It goes back to what God is now doing. He is saving sinners as sinners, not because of covenants of promise or because they are after God’s own heart as David was. He is saving sinners simply because of His mercy and grace. Because He is longsuffering. Because what Christ accomplished at the cross as a propitiation so changed the way that God is justly able to relate to mankind that He can now freely justify all who believe, simply by His grace (Romans 3:24; Acts 13:38–39). No strings attached4.
While the days of His longsuffering will not continue forever, the Lord of Heaven has extended His day of amnesty longer than anyone (including His apostle, Paul) ever imagined. We are now the recipients of God’s amnesty program, which the scripture calls the dispensation of the grace of God (Ephesians 3:2).
That is really what we would call the sine qua non of dispensational theology. The pre-tribulation rapture and distinction between Israel and the church are outcomes of this understanding of what God is doing now in human history. And who is He doing it with? “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).
None of us are deserving of the mercy and grace of God, but that is the point. It is because He is gracious. He will be gracious to you to, because that is what He is doing now. It is the dispensation of God’s grace, committed to the Apostle Paul by the ascended and glorified Lord Jesus Christ, and He is acting in grace and peace to this world of sinners, and the only requirement is that we take Him at His word and accept His offer of free grace salvation through faith in His blood.
But don’t wait! Act now! Limited time offer!
2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:2 — “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
“We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)”
- I do not find the Left Behind series as “buffoonish” as many have characterized it. I only make this point because in general a certain eschatological position has become what most think to be the sine qua non of dispensational theology, and it simply is not. J.N. Darby, the man often known as the father of dispensationalism, did not start with the pretribulational rapture, but he came to that conclusion because he came to understand the Pauline revelation.
- Most dispensationalists who are worth their salt understand that we are living in an unprophesied time period that interrupted prophecy so they will not be looking for signs of fulfilled prophecy in every headline.
- The word translated in the King James Version dispensation is translated elsewhere stewardship, and is in several translations rendered administration.
- Because so many refuse to see the dispensational distinction in Paul’s epistles, the so-called “Lordship salvation” controversy is no surprise. It is the non-dispensational or wrongly dispensational “free-grace” theologians that really “have some splaining to do”
Husband, father, engineer...Enjoys fishing, archery, guitar, running, and lifting, but most of all reading and studying God's Word.