Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Finding the Middle: Part 2 What's wrong with Dispensational Theology?

Abraham's Four Seeds
by John G. Reisinger
(New Covenant Theology)
Appendix Number Two
Dispensationalism

     The following material is condensed from the book: "Lewis Sperry Chafer, Major Bible Themes, Revised by John F. Walvoord, Academie Books." I use this source because Lewis Sperry Chafer is recognized as one of the most influential early leaders of Dispensationalism in this country. He was the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary. Dr. John F. Walvoord, recently retired president of the same seminary, is probably the best representative of Dispensationalism as it is understood today. Since Dispensationalism does not have a universally accepted creed, this particular book would represent the most widely accepted authority of the past (Chafer) and the present (Walvoord). All the emphasis is mine unless otherwise stated. 

Walvoord emphasizes the importance of Dispensationalism: 

     In the study of Scripture, it is most important to understand that (1) scriptural revelation falls into well defined periods. (2) These are clearly separated, and the recognition of these divisions and their divine purposes constitute one of the most important factors in true interpretation of the Scriptures. (3) These divisions are termed "dispensations," and in successive periods of time different dispensations may be observed . . . . It is probable that the recognition of the dispensations sheds more light on the whole message of the Bible than any other aspect of Biblical study . . . P. 126 

Chafer and Walvoord define the word dispensation as follows: 

     A dispensation can be defined as a stage in the progressive revelation of God constituting a distinctive stewardship or rule of life. Although the concept of a dispensation and an age in the Bible is not precisely the same, it is obvious that each age had its dispensation . . . 

Scofield defines the word "dispensation" this way: 

A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God. 
The different dispensations are essential if all men are to be proven truly guilty before God. The various testing periods are necessary in order to "stop every mouth." 

. . . Man's relationship to God is not the same in every age. It has been necessary to bring fallen man into divine testing. This, in part, is God's purpose in the ages, and the result of the testings is in every case an unquestionable demonstration of the utter failure and sinfulness of man. In the end, every mouth will be stopped because every assumption of the human heart will be revealed as foolish and wicked by centuries of experience.29 

     Each dispensation, therefore, begins with man being divinely placed in a new position of privilege and responsibility, and each closes with the failure of man resulting in righteous judgments from God. While there are certain abiding facts such as the holy character of God which are of necessity the same in every age, there are varying instructions and responsibilities which are, as to their application, limited to a given period . . . . In the dispensations God has demonstrated every possible means of dealing with man. In every dispensation man fails and only God's grace is sufficient. In the dispensations is fulfilled God's purpose to manifest His glory, both in the natural world and human history. Throughout eternity no one can raise a question as to whether God could have given man another chance to attain salvation or holiness on his own ability.30 A knowledge of the dispensations is accordingly, the key to understanding God's purpose in history and the unfolding of the Scripture which records God's dealing with man and His divine revelation concerning Himself. Page 126,136. 

29 Paul shows that all men, without exception, to be guilty before God (Rom 1:18-3:19) without any references to or need of dispensations.

30 Could not someone in the second or third dispensation plead that he did not have as much of an opportunity as someone with the added revelation of the fifth or sixth dispensation? Was not the argument of the rich man in Luke 16:27-31 based on this very premise? 

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Here are the basic principles of Dispensationalism: 

     In studying the seven dispensations, certain principles are essential to understanding this teaching. Dispensationalism is derived from natural, or literal, interpretation of the Bible. It is impossible to interpret the Bible in its normal, literal sense without realizing that there are different ages and different dispensations. A second principle is that of progressive revelation, that is, the fact recognized by nearly all students of Scripture, that revelation is given by stages. Third, all expositors of the Bible will need to recognize that later revelation to some extent supersedes earlier revelation with a resulting change in rules of life in which earlier requirements may be changed or withdrawn and new requirements added. For instance, while God commanded Moses to kill a man for gathering sticks on Saturday (Num. 15:32-36), no one would apply this command today because we live in a different dispensation. Page 128. 

Most, not all, dispensationalists hold to seven dispensations. Here is Chafer and Walvoord's outline: 
1. Dispensation of innocence: Age of Liberty. Begins at Gen 1:26,27 and ends at Gen 3:6. 
2. Dispensation of conscience: Age of Human Determination. Begins at Gen 3:7 and ends at Gen 8:19. 
3. Dispensation of human government: Covenant With Noah. Begins at Gen 8:20 and ends at Gen 11:9. 
4. Dispensation of promise: Covenant With Abraham. Begins at Gen 11:10 and ends at Ex 19:3. 
5. Dispensation of law: [The Nation of Israel] Begins at Ex 19:4 and ends at Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. 

     In one sense the dispensation of the law ended at the cross (Rom. 10:4, 2 Cor. 3:11-14; Gal. 3:19,25). But in another sense it was not concluded until the day of Pentecost, when the dispensation of Grace began. Although the law ended as a specific rule of life, it continues to be a revelation of the righteousness of God and can be studied with profit by Christians in determining the holy character of God. The moral principles underlying the law continue, since God does not change; but believers today are not obliged today to keep the details of the law, as the dispensation has changed and the rule of life given Israel is not the rule of life for the church. Although many applications of the law may be made, a strict interpretation relates the Mosaic law to Israel only. P.134 

6. Dispensation of grace: [The Church] Begins at Acts 2 and ends at the Rapture of the Church. The dispensation of grace was directed to the church alone . . . Under grace, however, failure also was evident as grace produced neither worldwide acceptance of Christ nor a triumphant church . . . The dispensation of grace ends with the rapture of the church, which will be followed by the judgment of the professing church (Rev. 17:16). 

     The age of grace is a different dispensation in that it concerns the church comprising Jewish and Gentile believers. By contrast, the law of Israel was for Israel only, human government was for the entire world, and conscience extends to all people. In the present dispensation, the mosaic law is completely canceled as to its immediate application, but continues to testify to the holiness of God and provides many spiritual lessons by application. Although all dispensations contain a gracious element, the dispensation of grace is the supreme manifestation both in the fullness of salvation received and in the rule of life. Page 135 

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7. Dispensation of the kingdom: [The Millennium] Begins at the Second Coming and ends with the destruction of the earth and heaven by fire and is followed by the eternal state (Rev. 21 -22).

     The dispensation of the kingdom begins with the second coming (Matt. 24; Rev. 19) and is preceded by a period of time including the Tribulation, which to some extent is a transitional period . . . 

     In the millennial kingdom, divine grace is also revealed in fulfillment of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34), in salvation (Isa. 12), in physical and temporal prosperity (Isa 35), in abundance of revelation (Jer. 31:33,34), forgiveness of sin (Jer. 31:34), and in the regathering of Israel (Isa. 11:11,12; Jer. 30:1-11; Ezek. 39:25-29) . . . 

     The dispensation of the kingdom differs from all preceding dispensations in that it is the final form of moral testing. The advantages of the dispensation include a perfect government, the immediate presence of Christ, universal knowledge of God and the terms of salvation, and Satan rendered inactive. In many respects the dispensation of the kingdom is climatic and brings to consummation God's dealing with man." Page 136 
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