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Dispensation

Eph 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; [even] in him...Eph 3:2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:

The only thing mankind has ever learned from history, is


that -- mankind has never learned from history. With this lament in mind, we can still draw some "lessons learned" on how God has chosen to deal with mankind throughout the ages -- in each dispensation. Many people are familiar with the concept of covenants made between God and man on the basis of law and grace. Facilitating this relationship is the concept of dispensation (or administration). From this concept a school of Bible interpretation known as "dispensationalism" has emerged that is associated with evangelical Christianity. It has been most influential in the United States, outside of which its influence is mostly limited to areas evangelized by dispensational missionaries. However, some political analysts have argued that dispensationalism has also had large influence on American foreign policy and hence had a large indirect influence worldwide. Dispensationalism seeks to address the apparent contradictions in doctrine and practice that arise from viewing both the Old and New Testament as Scripture. The dispensationalist approach to reconciling these issues is based on what they call "rightly dividing the word of truth" (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15). They do this by breaking sacred history up into several different "dispensations" (time periods) which mark separate covenants that God is thought to have made with humanity. The word dispensation is occasionally used in the King James Bible to translate the Greek word "oikonomos," which refers originally to the government of a household, and is the origin of the English word economy. The most common lists include seven such dispensations: 1) Innocence - With Adam in the garden 2) Conscience - After man sinned, up to the flood 3) Government - After the flood, with the death penalty instituted 4) Promise - Abraham to Moses and the giving of the Torah 5) Law - Moses to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ 6) Grace - The cross to the Millennial Kingdom 7) Millennial Kingdom - The 1000 year reign of Christ on earth Dispensationalism teaches that the second coming of Jesus Christ will be a physical event, by which a world-wide kingdom will be established in human history, geographically centered in Jerusalem. As such, dispensationalism is associated with the circulation of end times prophecy, which professes to read signs of the second coming in current events. Dispensationalism tends to go hand-in-hand with a very protective attitude toward the Jewish people, and the modern State of Israel. As such, God looks upon the Jews as his chosen people and continues to have a place for them in the dispensational, prophetic scheme of things. While

virtually all traditions of Christianity teach that the Jews are a distinct people, irrevocably entitled to the promises of God (because "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance"), dispensationalism is unique in teaching that the covenant with the Church is only a provisional dispensation, until the Jews finally recognize Jesus as their promised Messiah (during the trials coming upon the Jews in the Great Tribulation). This approach envisions Judaism as continuing to enjoy God's protection, parallel to Christianity, literally to the End of Time, and teaches that God has a separate track in the prophecies for Jews, apart from the Church. The Apostles determined at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) that it was not necessary for Gentiles to become Jewish in order to become Christians. Thus, the church is not a sect of Judaism but a separate entity. The term 'Israel' in the Bible always refers to physical descendants of Jacob. Similarly, the terms 'church' and 'kingdom' are never used interchangeably in Scripture. Paul claims that Israel will be grafted in again (Romans 11). Abraham was saved by faith, 430 years before the Law was given to Moses. (See Galatians 3:6,16-19.) The Book of Galatians is understood to teach that the Law continues to have binding force for Jews, but not for Christians. Now that Christ has come, Christians are not under the supervision of the law (3:25), but Jews are still governed by the law (5:3) unless they are in Christ (3:28). Dispensationalism also teaches that Christians should not expect spiritual advocacy from earthly governments, but that social conditions will decline as the end times draw nearer. Dispensationalist readings of prophecies often teach that the Antichrist will appear to the world as a peacemaker. This makes some dispensationalists suspicious of all forms of power, religious and secular, and especially of human attempts to form international organizations for peace such as the United Nations. Almost all dispensationalists reject the idea that a lasting peace can be attained by human effort in the Middle East. Dispensationalists teach that churches that do not insist on Biblical literalism are in fact part of the Great Apostasy. This casts suspicion on attempts to create church organizations that cross denominational boundaries such as the World Council of Churches. (See also Ecumenism.) Dispensationalism as a school of Biblical interpretation is associated with a number of fundamentalist institutions, of which the best known are the Dallas Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute. Some political analysts have argued that dispensationalism has had a major influence on the foreign policy of the United States because as believers in dispensationalism have had large amounts of influence through the Republican Party. This influence has included strong support for the state of Israel and rejection of Palestinian calls for a separate state as well as a general distrust of multinational organizations such as the United Nations. Some dispensationist authors such as Hal Lindsey have explicitly identified the Antichrist with the Soviet Union or the European Union. Dispensationalist themes also form the basis of the Left Behind series of books. Lessons Learned Of the many things God has shown man through the dispensations, the lesson that should stand out above the others is that -- man is in a hopelessly lost position without God. He is simply not capable of living up to God's righteous standard no matter how "enlightened" and able he may think he is. From BC: Place mankind in a beautiful garden with everything he needs, including fellowship with God, a beautiful and compatible wife, the earth under his dominion, access to the Tree of Life, etc., -- and man will forsake it all and choose death. Leave him alone with his conscience to guide him -- and man will become so exceedingly wicked that he must be removed from the

earth with a flood. Give him great and sure promises -- and man will flee them and speak lies in unbelieving fear. Make of him a chosen nation for God to speak through and dwell among, with His holy Law and priesthood, -- and man will abandon his God and worship dumb idols. Through AD: Give him an eternal redemption from sin and hell, everlasting life, an indwelling Holy Spirit, the promise of a new body, a home in New Jerusalem, and birth him into God's own family making him His son, -- and man will repay his Savior with rebellion, worldliness, and indifference. Give him a perfect, uncursed earth, a cooperative environment, no Satan to tempt him, extended lifespan, and Jesus Christ himself to reign over him, -- and man will revolt and try to force Christ from His throne. The evidence is clear. Apart from God, man is a sinful and vain creature, utterly hopeless and bound for damnation. The surest proof of this, is a quick review of current events. After 6,000 years of recorded history it is apparent that mankind has not tamed his fallen nature in the least. That's why, regardless of the age in which we've been placed, our only hope is in God. Throughout history, God continues to initiate relationship with us. This is seen first when He revealed Himself through the light of creation (Romans 1), then by the light of conscience (Romans 2), and finally in the light of Christ (Romans 3). However, from Adam's first transgression, God provided a sacrificial covering for sin that pointed to the Savior. In the fullness of time, God incarnate walked among us to perfectly satisfy the demands of His law, before laying down His life as the substitutionary sacrifice for the sin of the world. With peace between God and man restored, by grace through faith in Christ, the cross, juxtaposed between the covenants of law and grace, acts as a fulcrum in human history for mankind's redemption. So, while prophets of old looked forward to Messiah, we look back to the Savior's atoning death and resurrection. In the final analysis, we are to "believe in the Lord" (Acts 16:31) to be saved. Through every age and every administration, whether on the basis of conscience, law or grace, God demonstrates mankind's inadequacy without His intercession. Alas, "there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men -- the testimony given in its proper time" (1Tim 2:5-6). Regardless of the dispensation, this common theme reminds us that reconciliation between God and man, is only on the basis of grace through faith in the Lord God -- our Rock of Ages.

Roy J. Tanner
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Sources for the article included: Enns, Paul: The Moody Handbook of Theology External links: http://www.dispensationalism.com/ http://www.hallindseyoracle.com/ http://www.alternet.org/print.html?StoryID=15221 When U.S. Foreign Policy Meets Biblical Prophecy