Pastor Michael W. Harding (M.Div., Th.M.)
Dispensationalism understands the Bible in terms of the unfolding revelation of God which results in different stewardships of responsibility on the part of man. Ryrie suggests a “distinguishable economy in the outworking of God’s purpose” (Dispensationalism, p. 28). A dispensational approach to Scripture emphasizes the Glory of God as the overarching theme of Scripture from creation to the mediatorial Kingdom to the eternal state where all things will be in absolute harmony and sync with God. Dispensationalism concerns itself with the doctrine of the church, eschatology, the historical-grammatical meaning of the OT/NT, the fundamental distinction between Israel and the Church, and the future salvation of national Israel including its restoration in the future mediatorial Kingdom.
1. Dispensationalism answers the need for Biblical distinctions.
What makes biblical Christianity different from OT Mosaism? This question cannot be answered without fundamental distinctions. The indivisible Mosaic Law with three aspects governed the theocratic kingdom at Sinai (Ex 19:6). Moral and ethical principles in the Law continue in the church age. For example, elements from the Mosaic Law which are rooted in the unchanging character of God, the created order, repeated or adjusted in the NT, and provide no fundamental dispensational conflict bind the conscience and behavior of God’s people today. In this sense the Mosaic Law is an eternal witness to the unchanging truth of God, yet the Church is not under the Mosaic Law per se. There are nearly 1300 commands and admonitions in the NT. A dispensational approach to Scripture preserves the continuity and discontinuity between Law and Grace, Israel and the Church, the Universal Kingdom and the Mediatorial Kingdom.
2. Dispensationalism harmonizes Scripture, accurately interpreting the Word of Truth.
Note the distinctions in the commissions given to the disciples in Matthew 10:1-23 and then later in Matthew 28:18-20. In the former they are only to go to the lost sheep of Israel, preach the Kingdom of Heaven (God) is at hand, and were to take no provisions. In the latter they were to go into the entire world, preach the death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Luke 24:46-48), and to take ample provisions (Luke 22:35-36).
3. Dispensationalism explains the varied ministry of the Holy Spirit in the OT and NT.
The Theocratic anointing of OT Judges and Kings is not repeated in the NT church. The Baptism of the Spirit in the NT is unique to the NT church (1 Cor 12:13).
4. Dispensationalism contrasts the role of national Israel with that of the NT Church.
Membership in Israel was ethnic and political (Deut 23:1-3). Membership in the NT local church is by regeneration, subsequent immersion, and an orderly Christian walk (Acts 2; 1 Cor 5; 2 Thess 3) with no ethnic, physical, or political requirements. The NT Church was given a great commission to evangelize the nations (Matt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). No such commission was ever given to national Israel.
5. Dispensationalism provides the best unifying center to all of God’s activity in History.
God’s unifying principle to all His activity is His own self-glory. This encompasses creation, judgment, the mediatorial Kingdom, and the eternal state where God enters into a rule of loving sovereignty and fellowship with His image-bearers and dwells with them forever. This goal occurs within history culminating in the mediatorial Kingdom, is optimistic, and sanctifies human life as having genuine worth. God administrates His world with increasing plateaus of progressive revelation and increased human responsibility leading to the ultimate goal of the Kingdom of God and the eternal state. This relationship began with the creation of man (Gen 1:26-28) when God communed with Adam and Eve in the Garden (Gen 3:8). Man enjoyed God’s creation, fulfilled God’s mandate to rule the earth as viceroys and thus glorify God. God permitted sin and provided the means of redemption and reconciliation so that He could have fellowship with man and be glorified in it all (Gen 3:15). In the consummation at the Messianic Kingdom/Eternal Kingdom God will be in perfect harmony with His creation as He rules in loving sovereignty. Each facet of the universe will glorify God in its fullest capacity. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them” (Rev 21:3).
In part 2 we will consider how dispensationalism protects against deviations from the true gospel.
Mike Harding is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Troy, Troy, Michigan. This article is used by permission.