In setting forth my beliefs on the topic of dispensationalism, I would be remiss if I pretended that my particular version of dispensationalism that I have been setting forth in these messages is the only kind of dispensationalism out there. The fact is that there are many different branches of dispensationalism, of which mine is only one. In this message, I will set forth the major divisions of dispensationalism and what the differences between them are according to my understanding of them.
First of all, let us review what dispensationalists are and what they believe. This way, we can see how much they have in common opposed to how much they differ. You will recall that in previous messages, I have set forth that the word dispensation in Greek, oikonomia, means “house-law” and expresses the idea that God rules different ones of His people in different ways at different times. Anyone who does not practice the Old Testament law has to have at least a rudimentary grasp of dispensationalism. Dispensationalism recognizes the difference between God’s people Israel and the people He is calling out for Himself today by faith in Jesus Christ. Great care is always taken by the dispensationalist to distinguish between what God promised to Israel and what He promises to us today.
The biggest issue upon which dispensationalists differ is as to when God’s present calling of believers began and His work with the nation of Israel was set aside (for the time being, at least.) The ideas as to what the time was are as follows:
1. The beginning of the New Testament. This is perhaps the most widely held belief, and is the standard conclusion of those who hold with Reformed Theology. No one that I know of who has actually studied dispensationalism agrees with this, however.
2. The death of Christ. Standard dispensationalists believe that this was the end of God’s work with Israel. His work with believers today, therefore, began at the outpouring of the Spirit that took place at the Feast of Pentecost in Acts 2. However, the ultra dispensationalists believe that Israel received another chance. Christ’s request on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do,” (Luke 23:34) was answered, and another offer of blessing was made to Israel.
3. The stoning of Stephen. Some dispensationalists believe that God’s second offer of the kingdom to Israel only revolved around the Jewish leadership at Jerusalem, and so when they rejected that offer and stoned God’s messenger to them, Stephen, to death, they think that that signaled their rejection of that offer, and so from that point on God turned from them to the Gentiles, or at least began the process of turning to the Gentiles. This through number 8 are all different variants of what is called “mid-Acts dispensationalism,” and is the more common form of ultra dispensationalism in the US, but not the UK.
4. The salvation of Paul. Some dispensationalists believe that Paul’s ministry is the deciding factor, and therefore his salvation was the beginning of God’s present work. This view is also sometimes called “Pauline dispensationalism,” and was set forth by Cornelius Stam.
5. Peter’s visit to Cornelius’s household. Since Cornelius was the first non-proselyte Gentile to believe, some mark this as the beginning of God’s current work.
6. When believers were “first called Christians at Antioch.” Les Feldick, a television preacher in the United States, holds with this view.
7. Paul’s call to ministry in Acts 13. This idea follows the same sort of reasoning as number 3, but makes the turning point Paul’s call to ministry rather than his salvation. This too, then, can be called “Pauline” dispensationalism.
8. Paul’s statement that “we turn to the Gentiles” in Acts 13:46. Since this was the first time the “apostle to the Gentiles” actually went and spoke to Gentiles, some believe this was the dispensational dividing line. This was the original view of “mid-Acts dispensationalism” set forth by J.C. O’Hair and others.
9. Paul’s pronouncement in Acts 28:28 that “the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it.” This is called “Acts 28 dispensationalism,” and is the more common form of ultra dispensationalism in the UK, but not the US, though there have been some notable Acts 28 teachers in the US.
Dispensationalists (particularly ultra dispensationalists) understand that all sign gifts and wonders were for Israel, and thus do not expect such things as speaking in tongues to be the experience of believers today, nor do they seek miraculous healing through a mediator, although healing can be prayed for. Some Acts 2 dispensationalists are Pentecostal groups, and do practice sign gifts.
Dispensationalists (particularly ultra dispensationalists) recognize that this is the dispensation of grace, and therefore salvation and blessings are on the basis of grace, not works. Acts 28 dispensationalists in particular emphasize that if God cannot act in grace, then He does not act at all. No special protection is offered to the believer based on behavior, and no punishment is meted out to him based on disobedience. All such things are worked out in the future day of judgment. Thus, good people die in car accidents while bad people win the lottery and live in luxury. These are not acts of God, but mere happenstance. The acts of God all have to do with giving gifts to the undeserving, which we all are, when you think about it.
Dispensationalists believe that the Scripture speaks literally except when common figures of speech are used, and thus do not resort to “spiritualizing” passages. Passages that speak of God’s Kingdom are taken as speaking of a literal Kingdom on earth. Believers today are not thought to be “spiritual Israel,” and the New Covenant is literally with “the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” not with believers of today. We believe and receive salvation through grace, not through a covenant. (Some standard “Acts 2” dispensationalists still take the New Covenant as applying to believers today, though this is inconsistent with dispensational theology, in this writer’s opinion.)
Standard dispensationalists practice both water baptism and the Lord’s supper or communion. Ultra dispensationalists recognize that the divine religion was given to Israel, not to believers of today. Therefore all ultra dispensationalists do not practice baptism with water, believing that true baptism takes place at salvation, and is in the sight of God, not human beings. Mid-Acts dispensationalists practice communion or the Lord’s supper because they find it in the writings of Paul. Acts 28 dispensationalists see in communion the Passover celebration of Israel, and thus do not practice it. All other ceremonial rituals are rejected by ultra dispensationalists (unless marriage is to be considered a ceremonial ritual.)
That is dispensationalism and advanced dispensationalism as best as I can summarize them. The question a dispensationalist always asks when reading any passage of Scripture is “Who was God speaking to when He wrote this? And therefore is it proper to apply it to myself?”
I have a few recommendations for finding out more about these three different forms of dispensationalism. First of all, standard (Acts 2) dispensationalism is set forth very well in a web site: www.dispensationalism.com. This site has great information on standard dispensationalism and its beliefs. Wikipedia is also a good source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dispensationalism.
Standard dispensationalism was originally developed among the Brethren, is also set forth (and was popularized) by J.N. Darby, C.I. Scofield, and is set forth in the Scofield reference Bible. Darby and Scofield also developed what is known as the Darby-Scofield dispensational premillenialist viewpoint of future events, which is the most common scheme of future events among fundamentalists and evangelicals in the U.S. This view states that the next future event is the rapture of the church, which is caught away to heaven in an instant. This event is followed by the coming of the anti-Christ and the last seven years of Daniel’s prophecy. The anti-Christ is defeated by the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and His thousand year reign on earth. After the thousand year reign comes the little season, and then the Earth is destroyed. After this is the New Heavens and the New Earth. This is the Biblical scheme of future events according to Darby-Scofield dispensational premillenialism, and as I said is very popular in the U.S. Many do not realize that this view came out of standard dispensationalism. This view is held by both standard and mid-Acts dispensationalists, and is also held by some Acts 28 dispensationalists, although some reject it. The Scofield Reference Bible would be an excellent resource for anyone interested in studying standard dispensationalism or Darby-Scofield dispensational premillenialism.
Secondly, there is a mid-Acts (Pauline) dispensationalist on TV! This is the Les Feldick I mentioned above. He basically is a Bible teacher who arrived at Pauline dispensationalism through his own study. I have heard him speak several times, and he is very interesting and Biblically based…an excellent introduction to Pauline dispensationalism. His television program is entitled “Through the Bible with Les Feldick,” and his ministry is Through the Bible Ministries. His program is often shown on religious television stations. His website is http://www.lesfeldick.org/
Mid-Acts dispensationalism was founded in the United States by men like Mr. J.C. O’Hair. His students Mr. Charles Baker and Mr. Cornelius Stam founded the Grace Gospel Fellowship and the Berean Bible Society, respectively, though originally they worked together at the Milwaukee Bible Institute. Their writings reflect the fact that they were both good Bible teachers. Their writings are available used on Amazon, and I’m certain they would be available through either the Grace Gospel Fellowship or the Berean Bible Society or any one of the churches associated with them.
Thirdly, Acts 28 dispensationalism is best introduced by reference to the classic study Bible, The Companion Bible. Although it is never actually stated in the Companion Bible, this book was written by the “father of Acts 28 dispensationalism,” E.W. Bullinger, although he left part of it unfinished at his death. It is an excellent study resource, and has many unique and extremely helpful study notes for the English reader. I have heard some say that the excellent appendixes in the back are worth buying the Bible for even if you don’t use the rest of it. I personally have read through all the notes, and can say that there are so many helpful things in this Bible that I can’t even hope to list them all. I would feel practically unarmed if I entered any advanced-level Bible study without a Companion Bible by my side. A word of disclaimer, though: Mr. Bullinger only came to an Acts 28 understanding towards the very end of his life, so his teaching of the subject isn’t as developed as other Acts 28 teachers. This book is a great introduction to the concept, though, and worthy of owning even for anyone who isn’t a dispensationalist and never plans to be. I believe it is available in many Christian bookstores, including Northwestern in my area. It is also available from Kregel publications at www.gospelcom.net/kregel/, and from Amazon. Another good book setting forth the Acts 28 viewpoint is “Approaching the Bible” by Michael Penny. Charles Welch and Stuart Allen carried on Mr. Bullinger’s work in England, while Otis Q. Sellers and Oscar M. Baker have been leading Acts 28 dispensationalists in the United States.
I hope this summary of the various types of dispensationalism has helped you to understand what I believe and what I have been setting forth in these messages, as well as some of the opposing views of dispensationalism.