It seems that many Christians of today are simply tired of controversy. Let’s admit it, with all of the differing viewpoints and all of the arguments and all of the church splits and all of the sectarianism which is rampant in the church today, it is easy to just throw up your hands and say, “What real difference does any of it make? As long as we all believe in Jesus Christ, can’t we just make that our common ground and all come together in unity and focus on that as the only thing that really matters?”

I’ll admit that sometimes I, too, become fed up with the constant bickering which often takes place among God’s people. It seems we have forgotten the words of Christ, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” And I have not been averse to making friends and commonly associating with people whose beliefs are far different from mine. For much of my life I have attended churches that have a differing dispensational viewpoint from that of my family. And although I didn’t really know or understand the dispensational arguments from the first, there were some things which were obvious to me even as a little child. So one cannot say that I have by any means been sequestered among those who agree with my viewpoint.

I also went for all of my high school years to a Baptist Christian school. I still have many dear friends from that place, and count myself blessed to have gone there. I have a deep affection for the Baptists because of that, and was not reluctant to be associated with them while I was going there. This did not bother me, as I respect the Baptists and what they stand for, which is a Bible-based, salvation-by-grace approach to Christianity. And yet, I disagree with them fundamentally on the issue of baptism, from which they get their very name.

I have also associated much with charismatics. I took to my senior prom a girl who was of a decidedly charismatic background. I respected her nevertheless, as I knew her faith in the Lord Jesus and her love for and dedication to Him were without question. Perhaps I was a little naïve here, as our widely differing viewpoints did cause an end to our relationship. On campus during my University days also I became involved with a charismatic group and regularly attended their Bible study. Although I found their speaking in tongues and some of their other practices chaotic and misguided, I nevertheless respected their outlook on God and the Bible, and did not question the love and devotion of at least some of them for our Savior.

And what others have I met and come to love and respect? I could speak of others, such as Presbyterians and members of the Worldwide Church of God, but this would be of little value. The point is I have come to respect and love and count as friends members of different Christian groups whose beliefs I do not by any means agree with, and find quite detrimental in many ways.

So I do not think I can be accused of making my dispensational views a criterion for fellowship with me, or of refusing to be unified with other believers who see things differently. And yet I do not agree that these things do not matter or that we should all just ignore them so that we can just get along. I will associate with Baptists if they will let me, but I will never be water baptized. I will study the Bible with the charismatics, but I will not speak with tongues or lay my hands upon someone to heal him. Unity is important, but so is the truth. Both are vital, and both must be primary motivations in the life of a believer who seeks to follow God. Therefore, our unity with someone can never be made to overshadow our devotion to the truth. Those who are calling for unity at any cost do not really love or appreciate the Scripture. That is a harsh statement, but consider the words of I Corinthians 13:6: “love rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth.” So if we do not rejoice in the truth of Scripture, if we do not long for the truth of God, then we do not truly love Him or the things of His Word as we ought. One who loves the truth must always rejoice in it. It becomes a chief motivating factor in his life, and he cannot compromise it, even if it means giving up unity. “As much as it depends on you, live at peace with all men.”  I will live in peace, as long as it does not make me betray the truth.  If the truth causes strife, then I will embrace strife.

Some have pointed to Ephesians 4:3 as evidence that we should strive for unity at all costs: “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Yet those who say this do not understand what the unity of the Spirit is all about. A unity formed by giving up on truth is not the unity of the Spirit. The unity of the Spirit is formed around the truth of God’s Word. As our studies lead us closer and closer to the truth, then, the closer and closer we get to each other, and the more unity we experience. The unity of the religions of this world, that is brought about by compromising on more and more truth, is not the unity of the Spirit. If I stand for the truth, and no one else stands with me, then I still have the unity of the Spirit. Just being unified is not enough. We must be unified in the truth!

Thus we come from truth in general to dispensationalism in particular. This is a truth that is considered secondary by some. In these people’s minds, there is only one truth that is really important, and that is the truth of salvation. When these people read the Scriptures, they expect every passage to speak of the way of salvation, and think a passage has little value if it cannot be applied to that. I remember I read in a Christian fiction book once where a man asked a pastor, “What does the Song of Solomon have to do with saving a man’s soul?” The pastor in the story actually tried to give an answer, but I would not struggle to give an answer, because I do not believe there has to be any connection. The truth may be that the Song of Solomon has nothing to do with the salvation of a man’s soul. Does this make it a secondary book that can be ignored or counted as being of little importance? NO! Why not? Because it is in the Bible! Because it tells us of God! Because it reveals something to us that God wanted us to know! Salvation is not the only thing that God has told us which is of any importance. The primary purpose of God in writing His Word is to reveal Himself to mankind. This includes bringing us to salvation, but there is so much more to be learned of Him beyond that. God is greater than any of us can imagine. So much of His Word has nothing to do with salvation, but everything to do with God and Who He is and what He wants to reveal to us. The truths of God are precious. Salvation is not the only one that matters.

But, some might say, it is much harder to see the usefulness of a theology such as dispensationalism than it is to see the usefulness of a book of the Bible such as the Song of Solomon. After all, that is a book included in the Bible, but dispensationalism is just a concept, and a difficult one to grasp at that. What is the big deal about it anyway? Why is it important? What does it reveal about God that we need to know that makes it so necessary or vital?

The answer, I believe, is that it answers for us the most vital and fundamental question a believer can ask after he has come to salvation. It is a question all new believers must ask, either of themselves or of others, as soon as they attempt to begin a walk with the Lord after their salvation. That question is, “Now that I am a believer in Christ, what is it that Christ wants me to do?”

This is a simple question, but the answer is not so simple. What could you tell a new believer who asked you that? Perhaps you know of sins in that person’s life which he needs to rid himself of. Yes, replacing sin with righteousness is and always has been an important goal of one who has recently come to God and renounced his previous selfishness and lawlessness. But where do you go from there?

Here are many answers that are often given. “You must start attending a church.” “You must be water baptized.” “You must receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.” “You must be sanctified.” “You must be confirmed.” “You must become a member of our church.” “You must start giving ten percent of your money to the church.” “You must baptize your children.” “You must try to get your friends to come to church.” All these and many more are the messages that are given to a new believer about what he must do now that he has come to Christ.

All of these answers are based on one basic thing. They are based on a person’s belief about what God is working to accomplish today and how we are to live in accordance with that purpose. Whether or not a person who says these things has thought about it, by making such statements a person is basing what he is saying on his belief in regards to this. What most people believe God is doing is building a church or a religion. He is saving people and forming a Christian religion or church and that church is His voice in this world and therefore takes a great and primary importance. All these statements are in accord with such a belief regarding God’s present purpose. To join a “church” (which is the same as joining a religion,) to support that church financially, to perform religious rituals which that church prescribes…all of these are in accord with a belief that God’s purpose in calling us as believers today was to call us to a religion which He is currently building. If this is not His present purpose, then such actions are called seriously into question, and must be reexamined to see what their usefulness is, if any.

A second major question, although perhaps not as pressing a one but one that is sure to come up in the life of a new believer nonetheless, is “What can I expect of God?” In other words, as I am now His child and am working to serve Him, how can I now expect Him to act towards me? Will He bless me? Will He guide me somehow? Will He speak to me clearly, or will He give me signs as to what He wants me to do? Will He give me some sort of spiritual gifts, such as speaking in tongues or healing? Will He bless me if I do righteousness? Will he punish me if I do wickedness? Will He reject me if I disappoint Him? Will He reward me if I serve Him? What exactly is it that I can expect from Him?

Again our answers to these questions must be based on certain assumptions. Of course, what God is trying to accomplish is going to affect how He acts toward us. And our belief as to what He is doing will greatly affect our response to such questions.

I have had plenty of opportunity to see what my charismatic friends expect from God. They expect nothing short of miracles from Him! First, to complete what they believe is the trinity of works a believer is to do “Be born again, water baptized, and filled with the Holy Spirit,” they look for God to come upon them in power and give them the ability to speak with tongues. Then, once this is accomplished, they expect more from God. They expect God to work powerfully in their lives. Always they are talking about some great thing God has supposedly done for them…healing them, speaking to them, guiding them somehow, giving them a vision, leading them miraculously to do something with stunning results. To them, God’s actions toward them must constantly be on a great and glorious level. Yet I almost weep for them, for their relationship with God is based so much on their performance. What if they cannot speak with tongues? What if no great miracle or miraculous coincidence takes place in their lives? Are they not serving God then as they ought?

Such a view of God can only lead to confusion. There will always be fakers, those whose lives reflect little desire to serve God and yet who claim more and greater spiritual experiences than anyone else. And there will be those who are honest with each other and themselves and admit that no great miracle has happened to them. How then must this affect my view of God as a charismatic? If I believe in healing, how do I view God if He refuses to heal me? If my relationship with God must be constant gratification through special experiences, then what happens to my relationship when those experiences no longer satisfy? Do you see how damaging such an incorrect view of God’s work toward me can be?

And yet, without dispensationalism, how could I ever explain why God is not working in such a way any more? My charismatic friends have confidently stated that the Bible never says that tongues and spiritual gifts were taken away, and they are right! Without understanding of dispensationalism, they are acting in a more Biblically sound way than those who believe in Acts 2 dispensationalism and yet do not practice tongues! Indeed, such are being Biblically inconsistent, and are rejecting something established by God if ultra dispensationalism is to be rejected. There can be little excuse for refusing something that God Himself has set up.

Or how about the judgment issue? How many immature Christians have been terribly vexed in spirit or discouraged because they thought that God must be mad at them because some trouble came into their lives? I know a young lady who is just sure that if she misses church even once, then God is terribly angry with her. I suppose that anything bad which happens to her, she will blame it on some failure to please God in her life. God then becomes little more than the petty and vengeful gods of the pagans. God’s judgment properly understood would not be viewed as this. But even more importantly, God’s judgment is not to be expected at all in our day.

Then there are those who receive great success in this world, and thus assume God is blessing them. I remember one young man whom I talked to who was just sure that God was going to make him into a millionaire someday. He modestly proclaimed that he would use his hoped-for riches to give money to the church. I pointed out to him Proverbs 30:8-9, “Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches— Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, And say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God.” Those verses made him think for a moment, but then he said that he still thought God was calling him to be a millionaire. Would such success if he received it be a sign of God’s blessing? No! God does not work in such a way. He does not judge righteousness by rewarding it. 

We can expect free gifts from God, but they come through no act of our own. We might receive the same grace from God as a believer who is following Him as another believer who is in the midst of sinning against Him. God makes no difference based on our works now. Why? Because this is the dispensation of the grace of God. Everything which comes to us from God comes as a gift, not a reward. And many of the good things that do come to us, and indeed all of the calamities that fall upon us, come as the result of mere circumstance and chance, or else as a natural outcome of our own wise or foolish actions. They are not placed into our lives as a result of God’s work, but merely as the natural course of things in our lives. God only gives us gifts, such as the strength to make it through the hard times that come upon us, no matter how difficult. We cannot look to Him for punishment, we must not look to Him for reward. The only thing we can expect from Him is grace. This is the truth that understanding of the dispensation of grace imparts to us, and this is the blessed knowledge that can help us through those hard times and keep us from despair.

As for spiritual gifts, we know that they are not for us. First of all, they were given under the great commission, when God’s purpose was to have the disciples preach to “every creature,” Mark 16:15. As we saw in my message on “Two Turning Points,” this purpose was accomplished, as He says in Mark 16:20, “And they went out and preached everywhere.” Also in Colossians 1:23 he proclaims that the gospel was “preached to every creature under heaven”!  Thus, the commission under which God gave the gifts, the purpose that He wished to fulfill through them, is completed. God is working on a new purpose now, which is to show His grace to all mankind, that in the ages to come those of us who believe in Him now may proclaim the unsurpassed riches of His grace to all who come after, as is stated in Ephesians 2:7. In this purpose, there is no place for miraculous gifts.

But what of the question of what we are to do once we accept Christ? If God’s purpose is to show forth His grace and not to build a religion, then how will that affect how we act? Well, first of all, we will not immediately leap into a worthless religion. It is sad to me that those who have come to a knowledge of salvation by faith in Christ totally free from the world’s system of religious acts of righteousness should, immediately after they have accepted that gift from Christ, return to the halfway house of dead works by immediately associating themselves with dead religion in taking upon themselves to perform ceremonies and join a religion and start doing religious acts. If our salvation is apart from religion, why should our walk with the Lord afterwards be any different? Why must we return from God’s grace to human error, “as a dog returns to its vomit”?

What are we to do then as believers? Well, has God shown us grace and forgiveness? Then we should likewise forgive those who have wronged us. Then we should give gifts and even ourselves to the service of others just as He has done for us. Has God revealed Himself to us when we were lost? Then we should work to bring the good message to those around us who are still lost. Has God forgiven us of every sin when we put our faith in Him? Then we should forsake every sin that once so alienated us from God and seek to live righteously. Has God freed us from the useless religions of the world to live in harmony and a true relationship with Him? Then we should not mire ourselves in the religions of this world, but should throw our very lives into the arms of Him Who loved us and gave Himself for us. This is the very lifeblood and heartbeat of everything a believer should be in His relationship to God.

This is the truth that dispensationalism teaches us. Did God judge in the past? No more now! Did God show grace in the past? He shows grace exclusively now! Did God work through miracles in the past? No more! Did God organize a religion in the past with designated leaders and offices and traditions and ordinances? No longer! God’s calling of believers today is to a company that has no set structure on this earth. We stand before God as believers and before others as brothers and sisters. But beyond that there is no office, there is no authority, there is no church between us and God. “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2:5) As soon as we make a church a mediator between us and God, we have denied our Lord Jesus His proper place in our lives.

So what then are churches? Merely organizations of men! Though they may look for Scriptural justification for the things that they do, ultimately all their laws, all their rules, and all their practices are based upon the will and desire of their people, and not upon God. Do they have no use then? No, they do have use to the instructing of the new believers, to the equipping of believers to service, and to the strengthening of believers through fellowship and unity with each other. But any authority over believers and any supposed ability to dispense ordinances or traditions or to exalt one believer over another as a “pastor” or “priest” or “reverend” or “minister” or “pope” or “elder” or “bishop” or “cardinal” or “deacon” is an usurpation of authority from the only One Who has any true authority over His children.  If we subject ourselves to them, we are giving them a place that only Christ should fill.

This is heavy censure against the churches of our day, I know. I realize many dispensationalists make a big deal about God forming “The Church Which is His Body.” Yet most if they were forced to admit it would say that this is merely God’s collection of believers that He is calling in our dispensation, and their real organization and union cannot be realized until after the resurrection. This issue does need more study and consideration before it is accepted or rejected.  Yet whatever company of believers God is calling us into in this dispensation of His Grace, it is one that will never be organized by God to do anything under a set of rules and commandments of God until the day when we are all unified in the resurrection. Our job as believers today is to commit the truth we’ve learned “to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also,” as Paul said to Timothy in II Timothy 2. Not to bring men into a Christian religion. This is a creation of men.

So in conclusion the importance of dispensationalism is found not as much in the interpretation of specific passages or the working out of certain doctrines but in our actions in this world as a believer and in our relationship with God and what we expect to receive from Him. If we reject dispensationalism, we will look for things from God and try to do things to please God that will only end up distancing us from Him. Only with a proper understanding of what God is doing in our day can we possibly know in many cases what it is that God would have us do and how we are to go about pleasing Him. And in the life of any dedicated believer, this must surely be the most precious knowledge of all.