By Laurence M. Vance
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).
One characteristic of conservative Evangelicals and Baptists who are not adherents of Reformed theology is that they are Dispensationalists. This is especially true of Free Grace believers.
The essence of Dispensationalism, as stated by one of its greatest proponents, Charles Ryrie (1925–2016), “is the distinction between Israel and the church.”1 Based on the writings of Ryrie, Grant Hawley has posited five points of normative dispensationalism:
- Literal, historical, grammatical interpretation should be applied to all portions of Scripture.
- The church and Israel are distinct peoples in God’s program for the ages.
- The Lord Jesus Christ will return bodily to earth and reign on David’s throne in Jerusalem for one thousand years.
- The underlying purpose of God’s dealings with the world is His glory, not merely the salvation of man, thus the Scripture goes far beyond evangelism.
- The Christian is free from the Law in its entirety for both justification (Gal 2:16) and sanctification (Gal 5:18).2
Dispensationalists recognize distinctions between Israel and the Church, between the Rapture and the Second Coming of Christ, and between the Judgment Seat of Christ and the Great White Throne Judgment. The failure to observe basic dispensational distinctives leads even the most orthodox scholars astray. For example, Thomas Schreiner, professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, maintains that works are “necessary for justification” and “necessary for final salvation.”3 This is why Schreiner and others, such as Wayne Grudem and Ben Witherington, can talk about “initial justification and final justification,” as if there were two stages to justification.
Ultra-Dispensationalism and Hyper-Dispensationalism are terms used to describe Dispensationalists who take Dispensationalism to extremes under the guise of proclaiming “God’s Word, rightly divided” (2 Tim 2:15). They, of course, never refer to themselves by these designations. They generally call themselves Grace Believers and their movement the Grace Movement. This should be offensive to all Free Grace believers because it implies that Grace Believers have a monopoly on the true teaching of salvation by grace through faith. It is like a Calvinist’s calling the Five Points of Calvinism the Doctrines of Grace.4
The founders of Ultra-Dispensationalism in the United States were J. C. O’Hair (1876–1958) and Cornelius Stam (1908–2003), who were both active in the Chicago area. Their teachings are alive and well through such organizations as the Grace Gospel Fellowship and the Berean Bible Society, which Stam founded in 1940. Their distinctive teachings are:
» Water baptism is not for this age.
» Baptism will be required for salvation during the Tribulation period.
» A period of time called the “Dispensation of the Grace of God” began with the apostle Paul.
» The Church did not begin until Acts 9 or Acts 13.
» Israel, not the Church, is the bride of Christ.
» The books of Hebrews through Jude are doctrinally for Tribulation saints.
» The apostles Peter and Paul preached different gospels.
» The Gospels are entirely Jewish and have no message for the Church.
» The Body of Christ began with the apostle Paul.
» The early church in Acts is the kingdom church, still under the Law, and is distinct from the Church, which is the Body of Christ.
These are the views of mainstream ultra-dispensationalists, such as those associated with the Berean Bible Society, now headquartered in Germantown, Wisconsin, which publishes a monthly journal called The Berean Searchlight. The Bereans, as they like to point out, “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
The original Ultra-Dispensationalist was the Anglican clergyman and scholar Ethelbert W. Bullinger (1837–1913), editor of The Companion Bible and author of many other works. His teachings were originally called Bullingerism. He believed that only the apostle Paul’s Prison Epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) could be considered doctrine for the Church. He also taught that the soul sleeps between death and the resurrection and denied that baptism and the Lord’s Supper were for this age.
But because modern Ultra-Dispensationalists are generally sound on not only the fundamentals of the faith and basic dispensational distinctives, but also on salvation by grace through faith, the gospel of the grace of God, premillennialism, and rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ, they can ensnare Free Grace believers and other Dispensationalists.
The Apostles Peter and John
The apostles John and Peter, and not the apostle Paul, are the only ones who mentioned being “born again” (John 3:3; 1 Pet 1:23). Are we to believe that the new birth is only for “kingdom saints” and “Tribulation saints”?
The Gospel of John was written that people might “believe” and “have life through his name” (John 20:31). In the Gospel of John, “everlasting life” and no “condemnation” are promised to believers (John 3:16, 18, 36; 5:24), just as in the Pauline Epistles (Rom 5:18; 1 Tim 1:16).
If Peter preached a different gospel at the same time that Paul preached his gospel, then he was “accursed” (Gal 1:8). It was Peter, not Paul, who said “that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe” (Acts 15:7), referring to the incident with Cornelius in which God “had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27). God told Cornelius to “hear words” (Acts 10:22) from Peter about being saved (Acts 11:14). After God showed Peter the full implications of the gospel concerning Jews and Gentiles, Peter concluded, “that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:11).
The Apostle Paul
The apostle Paul was baptized (Acts 9:18) and baptized some of his converts (1 Cor 1:14-16). The Corinthian believers who were “baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:13) were also baptized in water after they believed (Acts 18:8), including Crispus, whom Paul himself baptized (1 Cor 1:14).
Paul persecuted the “church of God” (Gal 1:13; 1 Cor 15:9) that was in existence before his conversion. Are we to believe that this is a different group from the “church of God” that he wrote to (1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:10) and mentioned to Timothy (1 Tim 3:5)? Paul divided all mankind into three groups: the Jews, the Gentiles, and the church of God (1 Cor 10:32). How can we say that there was, at this same time, also a kingdom church under the Law of Moses?
Believers in Christ
The apostle Paul often speaks about believers being “in Christ” (Rom 8:1; 1 Cor 16:24; 2 Cor 5:17; 1 Thess 4:16; Phile 6). At the end of Romans, Paul named some individuals “who also were in Christ before me” (Rom 16:7). He told the Thessalonians that they “became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess 2:14). He told the Galatians that he “was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ” (Gal 1:22). The apostle Peter likewise said that his readers were “in Christ Jesus” (1 Pet 5:14). Are we to believe that there was a time when the churches of Judaea were not “in Christ”? Are we to believe that the Christians in the Judean churches and the Christians to whom Peter wrote were in a different body of Christ than that which Paul referenced? Jesus promised His disciples that they would be in Him (John 14:20) and would be indwelt by the Holy Spirit (John 14:17).
The distinction between Jews and Gentiles in Christ was abolished at the Cross. Both groups were reconciled “unto God in one body by the cross” (Eph 2:16). The mystery “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph 3:6), was revealed to God’s “holy apostles and prophets” (Eph 3:5), not just to the apostle Paul, and was revealed “by the Spirit” (Eph 3:5), not just by Paul.
New believers added to the number of believers (Acts 1:15; 2:41) and to the first church at Jerusalem (Acts 2:47) were said to be added to the Lord both before (Acts 5:14) and after (Acts 11:24) the conversion of the apostle Paul.
Paul almost persuaded Agrippa to be a Christian (Acts 26:28). Peter said that “if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Pet 4:16). Are we to believe that there were Pauline Christians and Petrine Christians, each in their own assemblies and with their own beliefs?
Beware of Ultra-Dispensationalism. It will take from you the OT, the four Gospels, the books of Acts and Hebrews, and the General Epistles. Ultra-Dispensationalism is not Dispensationalism taken to its logical conclusion. It is an aberration of Dispensationalism that wrongly divides the word of truth.
Laurence M. Vance is the author of The Other Side of Calvinism, as well as many other books.
1 Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, rev. and exp. ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 41.
2 Grant Hawley, “Dispensationalism and Free Grace: Intimately Linked,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society 24 (Spring 2011), 66-67.
3 Thomas R. Schreiner, “Justification apart from and by Works: At the Final Judgment Works Will Confirm Justification,” in Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment, ed. Alan P. Stanley (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 81, 98.
4 See Laurence Vance, The Other Side of Calvinism, Revised Edition (Pensacola, FL: 1991, 1999).