I was taught Dispensationalism at Dallas Theological Seminary (1978-85). That is the view that there is a distinction between Israel and the Church, that the Church began in Acts 2, and that God has had different laws and expectations for people during the six dispensations until now (innocence, conscience, human government, promise, Law of Moses, and grace [church age]) and the one dispensation to come, the kingdom [Millennial and New Earth]. The Tribulation could be seen as a separate dispensation, or as the transition between grace and kingdom.
There is, however, a group of people who go beyond Dispensationalism. They are called Ultra Dispensationalists. They believe the Church did not begin until Acts 28:28. In their view the only Scriptures which are directly applicable to the Church are the letters of Paul, and most ultras would say that only the Prison Epistles are for this age.
Some ultras say that neither baptism nor the Lord’s Supper are for the Church Age. Others say that the Lord’s Supper is for this age, but not baptism.
(Some take a middle view between Dispensationalism and Ultra Dispensationalism. They are called Mid-Acts Dispensationalists, Acts 13 Dispensationalists, and sometimes the grace movement.)
Mid-Acts Dispensationalists tend to like our writings. Shawn has had lots of good discussions with the Mid-Acts folks.
Ultra Dispensationalists like some aspects of our writings.
Here are some troubling aspects of Ultra Dispensationalism concerning grace issues:
- Some (many?) Ultras do not believe that the Gospel of John presents the correct saving message for today.
- They do not practice baptism.
- Some of them do not practice the Lord’s Supper either.
- Some of them teach soul sleep and some teach annihilationism.
- Some ultras teach a form of universalism.
- Some teach that only the prison epistles [Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon] are directed to the Church.
A reader has sent me quite a few tracts from a Mid-Acts perspective. A tract called The Necessity of Knowing Paul’s Writings audaciously and falsely says that “He who is ignorant of Paul’s letters has no place for certainty in his soul” (panel 2) and that “he that is ignorant of Paul’s Gospel cannot have certainty of his own assurance nor lead others into assurance” (panel 4). If that were true, then the promise of life which Jesus preached cannot give one certainty. John 3:16 would be gone. John 5:24, vanished. John 6:47, obsolete. John 11:25-27, expired. John 20:31, antiquated.
Yet Mid-Acts publications do cite verses like John 3:16 in their discussion of salvation. (See point 6, here.) I find it fascinating that many who think that the evangelistic message changed after Jesus ascended to heaven and who do not think that John’s Gospel is the evangelistic book in the Bible nonetheless freely cite from John’s Gospel in their presentations when it suits their purposes.
It should be noted that “Paul’s gospel” is Jesus’ gospel (Gal 1:11-12). Paul did not change or replace the promise of life which the Lord Jesus preached. Compare John 6:28-29 with Eph 2:8-9. Compare John 3:16 with 1 Tim 1:16. Notice how Acts 16:31 is saying that same thing as John 3:17-18. Galatians 3:6-14 is repeating the message found all throughout John’s Gospel.
While many if not most Ultras agree with the Free Grace message, they often are hard to have a conversation with. Nearly thirty years ago, around 1990, I acted as a go-between for a young Ultra man and Zane Hodges. The three of us had lunch at the old Dixie Lakewood Restaurant near Dallas Seminary.
For an hour the young man pestered Zane about when the church began, water baptism, the primacy of Paul’s epistles, and many issues that were important to him. Though he asked many questions, he would always rebut whatever answer Zane gave. He appeared to be there to try to persuade Zane. Not to learn. At the end of the hour the young man said, “So when can we meet again?” I learned much from Zane’s answer, “We won’t meet again. You are not teachable. You are not open to the truth of God’s Word. It would be a waste of time to meet with you further.”
Maybe your contacts with Ultras are different than that. But you should beware. If someone has an agenda and is not teachable, then I think Zane’s approach is a good one. He gave him one opportunity to show he was teachable. When he showed he wasn’t teachable, Zane rejected future meetings.