PD In Depth
Kingdom Hope in the OT
Kingdom Hope in Psalms
Kingdom Hope in Gospels
Kingdom Hope in Parables
The Abrahamic Covenant
Heaven Destiny Origin
The Mystery Revealed
Paul & the Mystery
Church in the OT - I
Church in the OT - II
Church in the OT - III
Kingdom Hope in Hebrews
Daniel's 70 Weeks
Jesus & David's Throne
Intro: Couch vs. Warner
I. Opening - Warner
I. Rebuttal - Couch
I. Response - Warner
I. Closing - Couch
II. Opening - Couch
II. Rebuttal - Warner
II. Response - Couch
II. Closing - Warner
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Doctrinal Studies > Progressive
Copyright © Tim Warner
A serious difficulty in traditional dispensational thinking is what to do with the four Gospels. Dispensationalists unanimously agree that Paul's Epistles apply directly to the Church. Most would also include the General Epistles and Revelation. There is by no means a consensus among dispensationalists regarding how much of Acts or the Gospels applies directly to the Church. At one end of the dispensational spectrum are those who see the Church beginning with Jesus' calling the first disciples. At the other end are those who see the present dispensation beginning towards the end of the book of Acts. These see the ministry of Jesus and the Twelve Apostles as something entirely distinct from the present dispensation. Some, on the fringe of ultradispensationalism, do not even accept the Great Commission or water baptism. They associate these with the Twelve and Jesus' ministry, and accept only Paul's epistles as containing "Church doctrine." (They usually do not even accept all of Paul's teaching, because Paul taught on baptism and the proper use of spiritual gifts, which many consider obsolete.)
BASIC PRINCIPLE IS SOUND
As is quite apparent from this example, without a system to explain such apparent discrepancies, the Bible becomes impossible to decipher.
Essentially, the primary premise of dispensationalism is that God has not always dealt with mankind under the same rules, or program. There has been a progression of programs since creation. Contrary to charges made by opponents of this system, the basic dispensational principle is not a human system superimposed on the Word of God. It is explicitly taught in the Scripture. There are a number of Scriptures which demonstrate a change in God's program. Here are a couple of examples.
Both of these Scriptures demonstrate dynamic use of the basic principle on which dispensationalism rests. God has dealt with mankind differently during various periods of history. His economy for dealing with man in one period eventually gives way to a new economy. This has occurred on several notable occasions in Scripture. The flood, the giving of the Law, the New Covenant, and the Millennial Kingdom are all clear examples of dispensational changes. In each of these cases God's dealings with man has (or will) changed dramatically.
The differences of opinion among dispensationalists stem from the application of the basic dispensational principle to the Scriptures. On what grounds can we say a new dispensation has begun? Some, when encountering seemingly contradictory ideas in Scripture, such as Paul's emphasis on grace and James' emphasis on works, immediately infer separate dispensations for Paul's and James' ministries. Others try to harmonize this type of difficulty within a single dispensation. The approach one takes, whether distinguishing or harmonizing passages, has far reaching implications toward the degree of dispensational distinctions one finally adopts. In other words, the tendency to harmonize Scripture leads to fewer dispensations, while the tendency to draw distinctions leads to more dispensations.
IMPACT ON PRACTICAL CHRISTIAN LIVING
But, if only Paul's epistles apply directly to us, we are not bound at all by the teachings of Christ! How can we claim to be 'Christians?' Shouldn't we be called 'Paulians?' Isn't a 'Christian' a follower of Christ? Therefore, a real problem emerges regarding what to do with the teachings of Jesus.
The best example of this problem is the 'Sermon on the Mount.' In Matthew five through seven Jesus gave a series of commandments to His disciples. Many, in the mainstream of dispensationalism, teach these commandments belong to another dispensation, implying they are not binding on us. The old Scofield Bible demonstrates this kind of thinking in its notes attached to this sermon. "...the sermon on the mount gives neither the privilege, nor the duty of the Church."[page 1,000]. If this sermon does not apply to the Church, one needn't be too concerned about it. On the other hand, if Jesus intended these commandments to be followed by all Christians, and if dispensationalists are relegating it to another dispensation, they are guilty of undermining the gospel and leading Christians astray! Jesus said to His disciples, "if you love me, keep my commandments."
IMPACT ON ESCHATOLOGY
MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
There is only one way to be objective regarding dispensational distinctions. We must have clear statements from Scripture indicating a dispensational change before we assume one. We cannot invent dispensations on the basis of apparent doctrinal difficulties. There are apparent doctrinal difficulties even within a single writer's works, often within the same book. For a good example of this compare Romans 8:35-39 with Romans 11:20-22. Are we to suppose a dispensational change between Romans eight and Romans eleven? Obviously, the apparent conflict in these passages arises from our lack of understanding and our own doctrinal bias, not from a dispensational distinction. We are not free to make divisions where the Scriptures do not. If we use doctrinal difficulties as license to devise dispensational distinctions, we could come up with an infinite number of dispensations. This would effectively render the vast majority of Scripture irrelevant to us! This is just as destructive as denying all of the Bible is the Word of God. Making dispensational distinctions without having clear statements of Scripture indicating a change, is the equivalent to making the Word of God subjective to our theology, rather than subjecting ourselves to its authority. If dispensationalists would be consistently objective by holding to this criterion, we could save the Body of Christ much confusion. Because we have frequently allowed the end to justify the means, confusion reigns among dispensationalists.
PROBLEM IN THE GOSPELS
THE BIBLICAL CRITERIA
Here Jesus made a statement indicating that something new had begun. When John the Baptist began his ministry the Old Covenant began to be supplanted by the preaching of the Kingdom of God. The fact that John was to prepare the way for Christ shows a transition was in progress rather than a clear distinction. John did not belong to another dispensation as is commonly taught.
John was sent to proclaim Jesus, and salvation through Him alone! John the Baptist's own words show that his Gospel message was essentially the same as the Gospel message today, that of salvation through faith in Christ alone.
However, even though the Gospel began to be preached with the appearance of John the Baptist, the Old Covenant did not expire for the Jewish people on the day John began preaching.
Hebrews, written only a few years before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, clearly indicates that while the Old Covenant was obsolete, it had not yet entirely expired. How is it that the Old Covenant was still in effect to some degree many years after the New Covenant was established? This is only possible if there was an overlapping of the Old Covenant and the New. Jesus' answer to the woman of Samaria also shows that the Old Covenant was still in force on the Jewish people, yet He offered her salvation apart from the Old Covenant.
Many dispensationalists have recognized this transitional period. Yet any transitional time where dispensations overlap creates a serious problem for interpreters. Most of the New Testament was written within this transitional period. How are we to know what is for us and what was intended for the transitional period only? What do we do with Jesus' answer to the rich young ruler? If we reject it as not for us, what is for us, and on whose authority? This is the dispensational paradox.
It would be a terrible thing indeed if God left us to muddle through the Gospels never being entirely sure what applies to us and what does not. But, Jesus gave us the key to determining, on His authority, what is for us and what is not for us in the Gospels. This key is extremely important for dispensationalists. It is the key that unlocks the "mystery" Paul wrote about. This key has far reaching implications into all areas of theology. It is the most important piece of information available to anyone seeking to properly understand the teachings of our Savior, our Lord, and the founder of our Faith.
The Great Commission is still in force today. This is clear from the words, "even unto the end of the world (age)." Notice that a part of the Great Commission is to teach new converts to observe everything Jesus taught His disciples. He did not say, teach new converts to observe what He told the Scribes, Pharisees, the crowds, or even the rich young ruler. He told them to teach everything He specifically taught them, His disciples. Since the fulfillment of the Great Commission includes the entire Church age, Jesus commanded the disciples to teach Gentile Christians to observe everything He taught them, as recorded in the Gospel narratives. This must mean that all of Jesus' teaching directed specifically to the disciples is "Church doctrine." Since the disciples are dead, and we have succeeded them in assuming the task of world evangelism, we must also obey Christ's last command. We must consider all of the material from the Gospel accounts, directed specifically to the disciples, as applicable to us today.
With this criterion, it is a simple task to read the Gospel accounts and decide what is Church doctrine and what is transitional. Since all four Gospels were written as a narrative on the life and ministry of Christ, all we have to do is follow the writer's narration to see whom Jesus was addressing. The Sermon on the Mount is the first glaring example of this kind of teaching. Jesus called His newly chosen disciples aside and began to teach them, [Matt. 5:1,2]. Other notable examples are the Humility Discourse, [Matt. 18], the Olivet Discourse, [Matt. 24], and the Upper Room Discourse, [John 13-17]. Some other famous discourses do not fit this criterion, including the Bread of Life Discourse, [John 6], and the Good Shepherd Discourse, [John 10].
OF JESUS' TEACHING
Jesus, working within the context of the Jewish nation and the Old Covenant that was still in force on the Jewish people, began revealing the New Covenant. He did not directly teach New Covenant doctrine to the crowds, or the Jewish leaders. He spoke in parables. Yet when He was alone with the disciples, He taught them New Covenant doctrine. It was not His purpose to convert all of Judaism, but to call out of Judaism a remnant. He then taught His "little flock" Church doctrine, preparing them to be missionaries to the whole world. Jesus did this for three years. The night before the crucifixion, as Jesus passed the cup to these twelve men, He said; "This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you." [Luke 22:20]. Jesus confirmed the New Covenant the next day spilling His blood so that sinners could be redeemed. After the resurrection, Jesus instructed His disciples to preach the gospel to all nations until the end of the age, making His powerful statement which establishes the criterion and authority for applying Jesus' teaching to ourselves, "teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." If we take Jesus literally here, He was telling them, and is telling us, to teach all Christians to pattern their lives after His instruction to the disciples. The most comprehensive teaching being the Sermon on the Mount. If we do this, we are preparing them a good foundation for the difficult days ahead.
WHAT JESUS EXPECTS OF YOU
One of the main reasons so many Christian's lives are falling apart today is because they lack the foundation that Jesus' teaching provides. When Jesus' teaching is relegated to another dispensation, Christianity suffers immensely. As we get closer to the return of Christ, things will get much worse. That's why Jesus warned us in the above verses to pattern our lives after the Sermon on the Mount.
The Sermon on the Mount contains 10 Commandments of Jesus to His followers, which form the basis of all other New Testament teaching on Christian living. Here's what Jesus said about His commandments, delivered to His disciples.
John reinforced Jesus' remarks with the following words:
I John 2
I John 3
I John 5
II John 1
Keeping His commandments does not refer to the Law of Moses as is commonly taught. All of these Scriptures have primary reference to the commandments Jesus gave directly to His disciples, to be passed along to us. Following Jesus' commandments is one of the most important thrusts of the New Testament.
For pastors and Bible teachers, this should be the main thrust of your discipling believers. First, by setting an example by living according to the Sermon on the Mount. And secondly, by teaching Jesus' commandments to His sheep. Today most Evangelical churches are primarily engaged in teaching deep theological concepts, or focused on evangelism. Both of these are good and essential. But the training the sheep need most of all is, Following Jesus 101. The foundation for this curriculum is the Sermon on the Mount.
Following the dispensational pack may bring man's approval. But, for those who want to be great in God's sight, and have the highest positions in the Kingdom to come, the top priority must be living and teaching this Sermon, and the rest of Jesus' teaching. Here's what Jesus said about teaching this sermon, and Jesus' commandments.
Believers also need to be taught how to interpret the Scriptures themselves. The proper use of the dispensational principle is essential. The average church member has no clue how to determine if a passage directly applies to him. This is especially apparent in the Gospels. This condition exists partly because Bible teachers vary dramatically on their extent of dispensationalism. Church members are told this passage does or doesn't apply to them based on that teacher's personal view. Most do not understand why. They are almost never given the biblical criterion for making their own determinations. Consequently, many abandon personal study and rely solely on Church leaders for spiritual discernment and nourishment. This is a sad situation because it returns Evangelical Christianity back to a pre-Reformation condition, making the laity entirely dependent on the clergy, a human authority. The average believer can never mature in his understanding of the Word unless he has the biblical criterion, and can make his own judgments. The primary job of pastors, elders, and teachers, is equipping the saints.
No doubt many dispensationalists will reject this key to proper biblical exegesis. Why? Not because Scripture can be cited to prove it is incorrect. Rather, they can see the implications regarding the Olivet Discourse. Much of the structure of present day dispensationalism gives the much needed license to "disqualify" the Olivet Discourse from "Church doctrine." If the instruction given to the disciples in this discourse was intended for all Christians, "even unto the end of the age," then the pretribulation rapture position needs serious reevaluation.
The unvarnished truth is this. Refusal to teach Christians to observe all of Jesus' instruction to the disciples is refusal to obey the Great Commission. Many dispensationalists, while trying to steer clear of the Olivet Discourse for eschatological reasons, in doing so, have deprived Christians of the very teaching that will make them strong and able to endure severe testing. That teaching is contained in the "commandments of Jesus," the Sermon on the Mount. That oversight can still be corrected, but the time is very, very, short.