Friday, June 23, 2017

Mid-Acts Dispensationalism in the 1800's

The opponents of Mid-Acts Dispensationalism often make the claim that what we believe and teach cannot be right because it is a recent development that started with men like C.R. Stam (1909-2003). We are not to determine what is sound doctrine on the basis of who taught it and when, but on the basis of the word of God. The truth found in verses like 2 Tim. 2:15 and Eph. 3:1-13 has been in the Bible ever since Paul wrote it by inspiration of God in the first century, and it is always true regardless of who believes it. 

I am sure there were believers down through church history that believed Christ gave Paul a distinct message and ministry as the apostle of the Gentiles, but we don't know anything about them because they didn't write any books. But some did write, and it is always a blessing find such material. 

I have always enjoyed reading after C.H. Mackintosh (1820-1896). He was a great writer that is still esteemed today by many fundamentalists. His books on the Pentateuch are classics that every Bible student should have. There are preachers that would call me a heretic, but they greatly respect Mackintosh. Well, consider this "heresy" that he wrote over 125 years ago. It can be found at the end of his book on the Life and Times of Elijah. 

"The doctrine of the Church's heavenly character was developed in all its power and beauty by the Holy Ghost in the apostle Paul. Up to his time, and even during the early stages of his ministry, the divine purpose was to deal with Israel. There had been all along a chain of witnesses, the object of whose mission was exclusively the house of Israel. 

The prophets, as has been already observed in the opening of this paper, bore witness to Israel, not only concerning their complete failure, but also the future establishment of the kingdom agreeably to the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. They spoke not of the Church as the body of Christ. How could they, when the thing was a profound mystery, "not revealed to the sons of men"? 

The thought of a Church composed of Jew and Gentile, "seated together in the heavenlies," lay far beyond the range of prophetic testimony. Isaiah, no doubt, speaks in very elevated strains of Jerusalem's glory in the latter day; he speaks of Gentiles coming to her light, and kings to the brightness of her rising; but he never rises higher than the kingdom, and as a consequence never brings out anything beyond the covenant made with Abraham, which secures everlasting blessedness to his seed, and through them to the Gentiles. We may range through the inspired pages of the law and the prophets, from one end to the other, and find nothing concerning "the great mystery" of the Church.

Then, again, in the ministry of John the Baptist we observe the same thing. We have the sum and substance of his testimony in these words: "Repent, for the kingdom is at hand." He came as the great precursor of the Messiah, and sought to produce moral order amongst all ranks. He told the people what they were to do in that transition state into which his ministry was designed to conduct them, and pointed to Him that was to come. Have we anything of the Church in all this? Not a syllable. The kingdom is still the very highest thought. John led his disciples to the waters of Jordan — the place of confession in view of the kingdom; but it was not yet that character of repentance produced in them who are made members of the body of Christ. 

The Lord Jesus Himself then took up the chain of testimony. The prophets had been stoned; John had been beheaded; and now "the Faithful Witness" entered the scene, and not only declared that the kingdom was at hand, but presented Himself to the daughter of Zion as her King. He too was rejected, and, like every previous witness, sealed His testimony with His blood. Israel would not have God's King, and God would not give Israel the kingdom.

Next came the twelve apostles, and took up the chain of testimony. Immediately after the resurrection they inquired of the Lord, "Wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" Their minds were filled with the thought of the kingdom. "We trusted," said the two disciples going to Emmaus, "that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel." And so it was. The question was, when? The Lord does not rebuke the disciples for entertaining the thought of the kingdom; He simply tells them, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." (Acts 1:7-8)

Agreeably to this, the Apostle Peter, in his address to Israel, offers them the kingdom. "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, and the times of refreshing shall come from the presence (apo prosopon) of the Lord; and He shall send Jesus Christ which before was preached unto you; whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began."

Have we here the development of the Church? No. The time had not yet arrived for this. The revelation of the Church was yet to be, as it were, forced out as something quite extraordinary — something quite out of the regular course of things. The Church as seen in the opening of the Acts exhibits but a sample of lovely grace and orderexquisite indeed in its way, but not anything beyond what man could take cognisance of and value. In a word, it was still the kingdom, and not the great mystery of the Church. Those who think that the opening chapters of Acts present the Church in its essential aspect have by no means reached the divine thought on the subject.

Peter's vision in Acts 10 is decidedly a step in advance of his preaching in Acts 3. Still, however, the grand truth of the heavenly mystery was not yet unfolded. In the council held at Jerusalem for the purpose of considering the question that had arisen in reference to the Gentiles, we find the apostles all agreeing with James in the following conclusion: "Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up; that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom My name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things." (Acts 15:14-17) Here we are taught that the Gentiles, as such, are to have a place with the Jews in the kingdom. 

But did the council at Jerusalem apprehend the truth of the Church, of Jews and Gentiles so truly formed in "one body" that they are no more Jew nor Gentile? I believe not. A few members might have heard it from Paul (see Gal. 2:12), but as a whole they do not seem to have understood it as yet.

We infer, therefore, that the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles by the mouth of Peter was not the development of the great mystery of the Church, but simply the opening of the kingdom, agreeable to the words of the prophets, and also to Peter's commission in Matt. 16: "And I say unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Mark, it is "the kingdom," and not the Church. Peter received the keys of the kingdom, and he used those keys, first to open the kingdom to the Jew, and then to the Gentile. But Peter never received a commission to unfold the mystery of the Church. Even in his Epistles we find nothing of it. He views believers on earth; as strangers, no doubt, but yet on earth; having their hope in Heaven and being on their way thither, but never as the body of Christ seated there in Him.

It was reserved for the great apostle of the Gentiles to bring out, in the energy and power of the Holy Ghost, the mystery of which we speak. He was raised up, however, as he himself tells us, before the time. "Last of all, He was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time." Things were not sufficiently matured for the development of the new revelation of which he was made the peculiar minister, and hence he styles himself one born before the time; for such is the real force of the original word. And how was he before the time? Because Israel had not as yet been finally set aside. The Lord was still lingering over His beloved city, unwilling to enter into judgement; for, as another has said, "Whenever the Lord leaves a place of mercy, or enters a place of judgement, He moves with a slow and measured pace."

Monday, June 19, 2017

Are the Twelve Apostles in the Body of Christ?

A common question people have after coming to understand that Christ gave Paul a distinct message and ministry concerns the relation of the twelve apostles to the Body of Christ. Did they, and the kingdom saints that they represented, become members of the Body of Christ? While it is evident that some of the kingdom saints did become members of the Body of Christ (like Barnabas, Luke, Silas, and Mark), I do not believe that the twelve apostles did. Neither do I believe that the majority of the kingdom saints became members of the the Body of Christ.

This is not an issue that I would break fellowship over, but it is an important issue because it has doctrinal ramifications. For example, if the twelve did become members of the Body of Christ, then at least some of the Hebrew epistles were written to us. That would be a major problem due to the fact that there are some major doctrinal differences between Paul’s epistles and the Hebrew epistles. 
Did the twelve apostles become members of the Body of Christ?
I. The Bible does not say that they did
The Bible does say that the twelve apostles and the little flock of believing Israel were in Christ and that they were a church. Many think that this proves they were in the Body of Christ. Although the terms “in Christ” and “church” are mainly used in reference to the Body of Christ, they are not exclusive to the Body of Christ (Eph. 1:10; Acts 7:38; Heb. 2:12). In the kingdom age, Israel will be “in Christ” and they will be a church (called out of nations, assembled in their land). The distinctive thing about the Body of Christ is that in it there is neither Jew nor Gentile (Gal. 3:27-28; Col. 3:11); it is one new spiritual man (Eph. 2:15). The Body of Christ was a mystery hid in God until it was first revealed through the apostle Paul (Eph. 3:1-13). We are God’s heavenly people; we have a heavenly position and destiny. Israel is the subject of prophecy. They are God’s earthly people; they have an earthly position and destiny. It is not rightly dividing the word of truth to mix these two groups together. Yes, they are both redeemed by the blood of Christ and in the family of God, but there are still major distinctions between them.
 II. There are verses in the Bible that indicate they did not 
We cannot prove a doctrine from silence. Even though the Bible does not say the twelve were in the Body of Christ, it is still possible that they were, unless there are verses that indicate that they were not. There is not a verse that says, “the twelve apostles are not in the Body of Christ,” but there are verses that indicate they were not in the Body of Christ by virtue of the fact that what it says about them cannot be said of the Body of Christ. Let me give you some examples:
1) Matt. 19:28 – They will judge the twelve tribes in the kingdom age
2) Gal. 2:1-9 – This passage clearly shows the distinction between Paul and the Jewish apostles
3) Gal. 6:15-16 – There were two groups in the transition period (Israel of God and new creature)
4) Rev. 21:12-14 – They will be identified with Israel forever 

 III. The doctrine in the Hebrew epistles proves they did not
This issue settles it for me. The Hebrew epistles do not even mention the three major doctrines revealed in the Church epistles for this present age of grace. In fact, they teach something different instead:
1) Justification – by the faith of Christ vs. a man’s faith proven by works
2) Body of Christ – one new man vs. Hebrews, twelve tribes, etc…
3) Hope – rapture to heaven vs. second coming to earth

I believe that all of the Hebrew epistles were written during the Acts period, some probably before Paul was even saved. If the twelve became members of the Body of Christ, it would certainly be reflected in the doctrine of the later Hebrew epistles, like 2 Peter.

The apostle Peter wrote his second epistle to the same group as his first epistle (2 Pet. 3:1). Both of Peter’s epistles were written to the scattered Jewish believers to remind them of the words of the prophets and the  Jewish apostles concerning the last days and the coming of the Lord (2 Pet. 3:1-4). In his first epistle, he speaks of the coming of the Lord as being “at hand” (1 Pet. 4:7). In his second epistle, he knows that it has been postponed due to the longsuffering of the Lord (2 Pet. 3:9). The difference is in that between the writing of his two epistles, he came to know some things about Paul’s ministry (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Peter acknowledged that Paul’s ministry was of the Lord, but there were things about it that were too hard for him to understand. False teachers in the tribulation will be misusing Paul’s epistles just like false teachers misuse the Hebrew epistles today. They will probably say things like, “Go ahead and take the mark of the beast, nothing can separate you from the love of God” (Jude 21). Just because Peter knew of Paul’s ministry does not mean that he changed his. He continued as an apostle to the circumcision and wrote his last epistle to confirm that their prophetic kingdom program will be fulfilled (2 Pet. 1:10-21; 3:8-14).

The kingdom church stopped expanding and eventually died out. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, not long after the transition period ended, definitely brought closure to the kingdom program of Israel. Some of the kingdom saints heard Paul’s message and were given the opportunity to change programs, but I believe the majority continued in the kingdom doctrine and hope. I realize that the nature of a transition period presents some complex issues that we may not ever fully understand, but we do know that there is a difference between the kingdom church and the church which is the Body of Christ and to mix them is not rightly dividing the word of truth.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Answering Straw Man Arguments

A straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while refuting an argument that was not advanced by that opponent. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be "attacking a straw man". The typical straw man argument creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent's proposition through the covert replacement of it with a different proposition (i.e., "stand up a straw man") and the subsequent refutation of that false argument ("knock down a straw man") instead of the opponent's proposition. (Wikipedia)
Here are the most common straw man arguments that I have heard against Mid-Acts Dispensationalism:

1) Paul said he persecuted the “church of God” before he was saved (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13)
What is a church? It is simply a called out assembly. We don't read the word "church" in the OT because it is translated from Greek and not Hebrew. However, we know there was a church in the OT because that is what Stephen said Israel was when they were called out of Egypt and assembled in the wilderness (Acts 7:38). David prophesied of the kingdom church in Ps. 22:22-31. When the writer of Hebrews quotes Ps. 22:22 he says "church" instead of "congregation" (Heb. 2:12). The church in Jerusalem was certainly the church of God, but it was a prophesied church looking for the Messianic kingdom (Acts 1:6; 2:30) and not a mystery hid in God. The Body of Christ is a church, but not every church in the Bible is the Body of Christ. Any church made up of God’s people is a church of God. Preachers say, “There is only one church of God!” Paul wrote to “the church of God which at 
Corinth” and referred to “the churches of God” three times. In the OT we find references to “the congregation of God” and the “congregation of the Lord.” By the way, Paul said that he “wasted” the church of God. He could do that to a local church, but not the Body of Christ. Another proof text that supposedly refutes our position is found in Acts 9:4-5. Christ told Saul that by persecuting His disciples he was also persecuting Him. That does not prove the kingdom saints were in the Body of Christ because Christ will say something similar to the Gentile nations when he judges them upon His return to earth. How they treat the Jews in the tribulation period will determine whether or not they enter the kingdom (Matt. 25:31-46).

2) Paul referred to those who were in Christ before him (Rom. 16:7)
What makes the Body of Christ distinct is not that we are "in Christ," but that we are "one new man" (Eph. 2:15) in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile (Gal. 3:27-28). Every believer that is redeemed by the blood of Christ is "in Christ," and so ALL believers on this side of the cross are "in Christ". A person can only be "in Adam" or "in Christ" (1 Cor. 15:22). When Israel is saved under the new covenant they will be "in the LORD," but they will still be a distinct nation with authority over the Gentiles (Isa. 45:17; 45:24-25). The tribulation saints that are martyred will “die in the Lord” (Rev. 14:13). In the eternal state, the nation of Israel, the saved Gentile nations, and the Body of Christ will be one family of God and will all be "in Christ,” but these groups will remain distinct throughout eternity (Eph. 1:10).

3) Paul said that he preached the faith he once destroyed (Gal. 1:21-23)
In the context he is defending his distinct apostleship and he makes it clear he was not one of the 12 apostles. He had denied that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God and persecuted all who believed. Upon his conversion he began to preach the very faith that he had sought to destroy. But is that all he preached? He received the gospel by revelation of Christ and communicated it to the apostles in Jerusalem (1:11-12; 2:1-2). He testified that he received "an abundance of revelations" (2 Cor. 12:7). People also try to use 1 Cor. 15:11, but it is obvious that the 12 and Paul both preached that Christ was risen from the dead. Peter preached that He was risen to sit on the throne of David (Acts 2:30), but Paul preached that He was risen to be the Head of one Body (Eph. 1:20-23).

4) Paul taught that the Body of Christ was formed by the cross (Eph. 2:16)
Notice he said “by the cross” and not “at the cross.” The cross is the basis upon which God is building the Body of Christ, but it did not mark the historical beginning of it. Not everything Christ accomplished by His cross took effect at the time of His cross (e.g. destruction of Satan). We get in the Body of Christ “by one Spirit” (v.18) and “by the gospel” (3:6). Since believing the gospel of the grace of God is how we get into the Body of Christ, how could the Body begin before that gospel was revealed?

5) Paul said the apostles and prophets laid the foundation (Eph. 2:20)
He is certainly not talking about the OT prophets and the 12 apostles. Christ gave prophets and apostles from heaven (Eph. 4:11-12). Paul laid the foundation for this age by preaching Christ "according to the revelation of the mystery" (1 Cor. 3:10; Rom. 16:25). People also try to use 1 Cor. 12:28 to prove that the 12 apostles were the first members of the Body of Christ. First of all, that verse is not even referring to the 12 apostles. Also, it is not dealing with when the Body of Christ began. It is a list of spiritual gifts that were in operation during the Acts period. Were miracles the fourth group of people to get into the Body of Christ?

6) The law came by Moses, but grace by Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:17)
This verse can’t mean that the dispensation of grace began with the earthly ministry of Christ, because that would contradict what Christ Himself said about His ministry (Matt. 5:17-20). This verse is not making a statement about when the dispensation of grace began. If John was saying that the dispensation of grace came by the earthly ministry of Christ, then he would also be saying that there was also a dispensation of truth that came by Christ. There was grace and truth before the incarnation, but when Christ came He manifested grace and truth more fully (vs.14-18). The reason for the contrast between Moses and Christ is to show the difference between the old and the new covenants. Besides, the Bible plainly says that Paul was given the dispensation of the grace of God for the Gentiles (Eph. 3:2).

7) Peter preached to Gentiles and Paul preached to Jews (Acts 15:7; Rom. 1:16)

What kind of Gentiles did Peter preach to? Cornelius was a God-fearing Gentile that was a blessing to the Jews. Peter did not preach the gospel of the grace of God to the household of Cornelius (compare Acts 10:35 with Titus 3:5). Those Gentiles were baptized with the Holy Ghost (Acts 10:44-48), but not baptized into the Body of Christ. Paul went to Jews first during the transition period as God used his ministry to get a remnant out before the nation was officially set aside in blindness (see Rom. 11). Peter preached to some Gentiles and Paul preached to some Jews, but Peter was sent to be an apostle to the circumcision and Paul was sent to be the apostle of the Gentiles (Gal. 2:9).

8) The Holy Ghost was first poured out on Pentecost
He was poured out according to prophecy (Isa. 32:15; Joel 2:28), not the mystery! The Acts 2 dispensationalists make the blunder of thinking that the baptism with the Holy Ghost is the same as the baptism by the Spirit, and they call it “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” If words have any meaning, they can't be the same!
A. Christ the Baptizer vs. Spirit the Baptizer
B. For Power vs. For Salvation
C. Manifestations vs. No Manifestations
D. Prophecy vs. Mystery

9) Peter preached the cross in the early chapters of Acts
How did he preach it? He preached it as bad news, not good news! He preached it as a murder indictment on Israel, and called on the nation to repent of that awful deed so that Christ would come back and set up His kingdom. Paul was the first to preach the cross as good news and proclaim that Christ died for our sins (1 Cor. 15:1-4). 

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