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DISPENSATIONALISM VS. ULTRADISPENSATIONALISM
This Bible Study was written and submitted by: Joseph M. Willmouth, Pastor of Trinity Bible Church in Biloxi, Mississippi 39532. This contributed article is copyright protected, and the sole property of the contributing author.  It may be freely copied and used provided the above credits are included. Document expiration: indefinite.

 
 

(Ordinally written as a term paper for Tyndale Theological Seminary)
By Joseph M. Willmouth
Trinity Bible Church, Biloxi MS

The doctrine of dispensations, although some try to ignore or even deny that it exists, is clearly taught in the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul wrote the following passages about dispensations:

1 Corinthians 9:17, "For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me."

Ephesians 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:"

Ephesians 3:2, "If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:"

Colossians 1:25 KJV, "Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;"

While this paper is not necessarily about dispensationalism, it does address an issue that could divide a local church body from within. Most dispensational churches know about those who do not believe in the doctrine of dispensations, because they hold to a view of covenant theology. (1) And in most cases (there are always exceptions to the rule) they would not put someone in a leadership position who held such a differing view. However, there is another danger to a local body of believers that most have not heard about. This is the view of ultradispensationalism. In order to understand what ultradispensationalism is, we need to start on level ground by looking at some basic definitions.

Definitions

Dispensationalism. It is a system of theology that recognizes the different stewardships of man under God. Dispensationalism was popularized by C.I. Scofield, that had later refinements. Dispensationalism is distinguished by three things: (1) consistent literal interpretation; (2) clear distinction between Israel and the church; (3) the glory of God as God's ultimate purpose in the world. (2)

Dispensation: A New Testament term that conveys the idea of managing or administrating the affairs of the household during a specific period of time (the emphasis is not on time, but rather on the "What" or purpose). It is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God's purpose. A dispensation from God's viewpoint is an economy or a rule of life (the way He handles His business with His people today). A dispensation from Man's viewpoint is a responsibility in which God has given us certain requirements that we have a responsibility to obey. Dispensationalism: It is that system of theology which sees the Bible as the unfolding (developing) of the distinguishable economies in the outworking of God's purpose and which sees His program with Israel as distinct and separate from His program (plan) with the church. You don't have to believe that there are seven dispensations to be a dispensational (Dallas Seminary only names three: Law, Grace, & Kingdom).(3)

Ultradispensationalism. A theology that teaches that there are two churches: (1) the bride church, which is solely Jewish and exists only in the transitional period in Acts; (2) the body church which includes Gentiles and which began with Paul's ministry. For this reason, some ultradispensationalists observe the Lord's Supper only, whereas others reject both the Lord's Supper and water baptism. (4)

Ultradispensationalism: The prefix ULTRA simply means more extreme than the point of view held by the one who uses the term. The principal difference between ultradispensationalism and normative dispensationalism is when the church, the body of Christ, began historically. The ultradispensationalist believes it began with Paul some time after Pentecost, while the normative dispensationalist holds that the church began at Pentecost (Acts 2). This difference effects what ordinances are practiced, and what Scripture is directly for the church. (5)

History of Dispensationalism and Ultradispensationalism

Modern Dispensationalism

The system of dispensational theology is recent in origin, but there are historical references which where eventually systematized into what we know as dispensationalism. Justin Martyr (110-165) held a concept of differing programs of God (Dialogue with trypho), and in the same work he spoke of the present dispensation's gifts of power (LXXXVII). Irenaeus (130-200) often spoke of the dispensations of God and especially of the Christian dispensation (Against Heresies, V,XXVIII.3). Clement of Alexandria (150-220) spoke of the dispensations of Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Mosaic. Augustine also reflected these early dispensational concepts in his writings (To Marcellinus, CXXXVIII,5,7). (6) Many others have followed, but dispensationalism's earliest influential spokesmen included J.N. Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren and considered by many the father of modern dispensationalism; Cyrus I. Scofield, author of the Scofield Reference Bible; Clarence Larkin, whose book of dispensational charts has been in print and selling briskly since 1918; and Ethelbert W. Bullinger was an Anglican clergyman who took dispensationalism to an unprecedented extreme usually called ultradispensationalism. Many of these men were self-taught in theology and were professionals in secular occupations. Darby and Scofield, for example, were attorneys, and Larkin was a mechanical draftsman. They were laymen whose teachings gained enormous popularity largely through grass-roots enthusiasm. The maturing of dispensationalism has mainly been a process of refining, distilling, clarifying, paring down, and cutting away what is extraneous or erroneous. Later dispensationalists, including Donald Grey Barnhouse, Wilbur Smith, Allan MacRae, and H. A. Ironside, were increasingly wary of the fallacies that peppered much early dispensationalist teaching. Ironside's written works show his determination to confront error within the movement. He attacked Bullinger's ultradispensationalism. The biblical distinction between Israel and the church remains unassailed, as the essence of pure dispensationalism. Chafer himself believed much if not most of Christ's earthly teaching is not applicable to the Christian in this age. John MacArther believes that dispensationalists who follow Chafer at this point wrongly divide the Word of truth, assigning whole sections of the New Testament to some other dispensation, nullifying the force of major segments of the Gospels and our Lord's teaching for today. (7)

Extreme Dispensationalism

The movement of Bible students who push the dispensational approach beyond the point where most other dispensationalists would stop is generally called ultradispensationalism. The distinctive feature of ultradispensationalism is its view concerning the beginning of the church. In contrast to mainline dispensationalism, which believes that the church began on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, ultradispensationalism believes the church began later -- the moderate group suggesting Acts 9 or 13 and the more extreme group, Acts 28. (8)

The extreme group in the ultradispensationalist movement follows E.W. Bullinger (1837-1913), a scholar of some renown. Others in this group include Charles H Welch of London, successor to E.W. Bullinger; A.E. Knoch; Vladimir M. Gelesnoff; and Otis Q. Sellers of Grand Rapids. Ethelbert William Bullinger was born on December 15 in Canterbury, England. He was a direct descendent of Hohann Heinrich Bullinger who was a covenant theologian who succeeded Zwingli in Zurich in December of 1531. Bullinger was educated at King's College, London, and was a recognized scholar in the field of biblical languages. The Archbishop of Canterbury granted Bullinger a honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1881 in recognition of his biblical scholarship. Dr. Bullinger taught the pretribulation, premillennial rapture view, but he was also considered an ultradispensationalist because "he taught that the gospels and Acts were under the dispensation of law, with the church actually beginning at Paul's ministry after Acts 28:28." Bullinger also believed in a heretical view of the extinction of the soul between death and the resurrection. Many of his admirers were annihilationists. Dr. Bullinger died on June 6, 1913, in London, England. Bullinger placed the Four Gospels and the book of Acts under the Law and believed the dispensation of the Church began with the ministry of Paul after Acts 28:28. He believed that the prison epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians) set forth the fullness of the revelation of the mystery of this church age. He also denied that water baptism and the Lord's Supper are for this age. His dispensational teachings are the foundation of all the ultradispensational teachings from his day to the present. Almost all ultradispensationalists hold to the doctrine that the church did not begin at Pentecost but did begin with Paul. The New Testament books that set forth the revelation concerning this concept of the church are Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Bullinger identified three periods in the New Testament: (1) the time of the gospels when the gospel was preached to the Jews only, and authenticated by water baptism; (2) the transitional period in Acts and the corresponding earlier New Testament epistles when the offer still went to the Jews, offering them participation in the "bride church" and authenticated by two baptisms, water and Spirit; (3) the period of Jew and Gentile as one body in Christ and authenticated by Spirit baptism alone. Bullinger believed that the Gentile church is only related to Christ through the Spirit, so baptism and the Lord's Supper have no significance for the Gentile Church. Bullinger believed that these rites relate to the flesh. (9)

The moderate group of ultradispensationalists, believe the church began in Acts 9 or Acts 13. J.C. O'Hair, Cornelius R. Stam, and Charles F. Baker, author of "A Dispensational Theology" teach this view. Grace Bible College of Grand Rapids is the ultradispensational school leading to ministries with Grace Gospel Fellowship and Worldwide Grace Testimony. Stam taught that the church began with the conversion of Paul in Acts 9. Therefore, the "Body Church" could only begin when Paul's ministry began, because Paul was the minister to the Gentiles. The moderate view also teaches that after that time (when Paul's ministry began) there was no further offer of the kingdom to Israel. J.C. O'Hair taught this view based upon Paul's statement in Acts 13:46, "We are turning to the Gentiles." Since O'Hair's followers believe that the church began within the time frame of Acts, they observe the Lord's Supper but not water baptism. (10)

Basic Points of Ultradispensationalism

As we have seen from the history of ultradispensationalism that there are two views, the extreme and the moderate views. The two groups do agree on six points; (1) The great commission in the Gospels is Jewish and not for the church. (2) The ministry of the Twelve was a continuation of Christ's earthly ministry. (3) The church did not begin at Pentecost (NOTE: Virtually all ultradispensationalists (extreme or moderate view) agree that the church did not begin at Pentecost, but can't agree when it did start). (4) Water baptism is not for this church age. (5) There is a difference between Paul's early and later ministries. (6) Israel, not the church, is the bride of Christ. But this is where the agreement stops. They have four differences in their views of dispensationalism; (1) When the church begin (Extreme: Acts 28. Moderate: before Acts 28); (2) How long is the transition period is in the book of Acts (Extreme: until Acts 28. Moderate: until Acts 9 or 13); (3) What is the proper place of the Lord's Supper within the church (Extreme: no place. Moderate: proper to observe in the church); and (4) What Scripture is primarily written to the church (Extreme: the Prison Epistles only. Moderate: the other Pauline epistles also). (11)

 

Basic Rebuttal To Ultradispensationalism

1. FIRST ARGUMENT: The great commission in the Gospels is Jewish and not for the Gentile church. The ministry of the Twelve was a continuation of Christ's earthly ministry (to the Jews only).

REBUTTAL: In the Great Commission, Christ commands his disciples to teach their converts (new Christians in ALL THE WORLD; both Jew and Gentile) to OBSERVE ALL that He commanded them; such as Witnessing, Discipleship, and Baptism. Peter did this in Acts 10 to the Gentiles, and Paul clearly did the same (read the book of Acts and his epistles). Today's missionaries practice the very same principles every where they serve, and most protestant churches practice the very same principles in their local congregation. Scriptures teach us that obedience to God's Word is proof of our faith (1 John 2:3-5; Matt. 7:24-27; James 1:22; Rom.2:13; John 14:15), so to ignore a direct command from our Lord (that has been put into practice by Christians ever since Christ) is willfully showing a lack of faith.

2. SECOND ARGUMENT: The GENTILE church did not begin at Pentecost (Acts 2), but at a later time:

- Extreme View: Acts 28. E.W. Bullinger (1837-1913) taught that the gospels and Acts were under the dispensation of law, with the church actually beginning at Paul's ministry after Acts 28:28

REBUTTAL: There simply is NO SCRIPTURAL support for this extreme view. In fact, the only way you can support the extreme view is to deny those Scriptures that do not support your view. If there where any claims to a Gentile Pentecost, then you would have to point to Acts 10 where Peter opened the Gospel to the Gentiles, and none of the Ultra views try to claim this. (12)

- Moderate View: before Acts 28

-- Acts 9 view. Cornelius R. Stam taught that the church began in Acts 9, with the conversion of Paul. The "Body Church" could only begin with the beginning of Paul's ministry because Paul was the minister to the Gentiles

REBUTTAL: Acts 10, has Peter being the first Apostle going to the Gentiles, then in Acts 11:20 there are others who preached the gospel to the Gentiles before Paul ever started: Also throughout Paul's Ministry we see his pattern of going to the Jew first and then to the Gentile; Acts 9:29; 13:5; 17:1-2, 10, 16-17; 18:1-2, 4, 8, 19; 20:21; 24:5; 26:20, 23; 28:17, 21-23, 30-31. Note that Paul is commissioned to go to the Gentiles Acts 22:21-23, but he didn't limit himself solely to the Gentiles {Acts 17:2}

-- Acts 13 view. J.C. O'Hair taught began in Acts 13:46 with the statement: "We are turning to the Gentiles." Because O'Hair's followers begin the church within the time frame of Acts, they observe the Lord's Supper but not water baptism.

REBUTTAL: Acts 14:1, the first place Paul went in Iconium was to the synagogue, this is right after their statement in Acts 13:46.

3. THIRD ARGUMENT: There are two churches: Jewish and Gentile. E.W. Bullinger and, more recently, C.F. Baker, taught that there are two churches: the bride church, which is solely Jewish and exists only in the transitional period in Acts

REBUTTAL: Acts 15:9, Peter states that God makes NO DISTINCTION between Jewish and Gentile Christians; Also see Acts 10:28 (13)

4. FORTH ARGUMENT: The Church Ordinance, Water baptism, is not for the Gentile church. Bullinger taught the time of the gospels when the gospel was preached to the Jews only and authenticated by water baptism. He believed the period of Jew and Gentile as one body in Christ and authenticated by Spirit baptism alone. Because the Gentile church is related to Christ through the Spirit, baptism and the Lord's Supper have no significance for the church (those rites relate to the flesh).

REBUTTAL: Acts 16:33, we have Paul and Silas baptizing the Gentile Philippian jailer and his whole Gentile house; Acts 10:45-48, Peter baptized Gentiles.

5. FIFTH ARGUMENT: The Church Ordinance, the Lord's Supper, has no place for the Gentile church (Extreme view, not the Moderate view).

REBUTTAL: The Apostle Paul gives very clear instructions to the "Gentile" church in Corinth on the partaking of the Lord's Supper, 1 Cor. 11:17-34 (14)

6. SIXTH ARGUMENT: Israel, not the church, is the bride of Christ. Bullinger taught the transitional period in Acts and the corresponding earlier New Testament epistles when the offer still went to the Jews, offering them participation in the "bride church" and authenticated by two baptisms, water and Spirit.

REBUTTAL: "In the New Testament, the bride imagery is used often of the church and her relationship to Christ. The bride belongs to Christ, who is the Bridegroom (John 3:29). In Revelation, the church, as the bride of the Lamb, has prepared herself for marriage by performing righteous deeds (19:7-8). In Revelation 21, the great wedding is portrayed with the church prepared for her bridegroom (21:2,9). Finally, the bride and the Spirit issue an invitation "to come" (22:17). Paul used the metaphor of the bride to indicate his feelings toward the churches he had founded. In 2 Corinthians 11:2, Paul wrote that he had betrothed the Corinthian church to Christ. He wanted to present the church as a pure bride to Christ. The Corinthians were in danger of committing "adultery." The imagery of the bride is used by various biblical writers, but they appear to have a single purpose. The bridal imagery is used to indicate the great love which God has for His people. For these writers, no image could express better this love than the ideal love between a bridegroom and bride." (Holman Bible Dictionary)

7. SEVENTH ARGUMENT: Only the Pauline Epistles were written to the Gentile Church (Moderate view) or only the Pauline Prison Epistles (Extreme view).

REBUTTAL: Again, you have to toss out the Scriptures that do not support this view in order to claim this, because Paul never made this claim. Instead, he made it clear that ALL Scriptures (both Old and New Testaments) can be used or applied by believers (2 Tim. 3:16) to equip them in their Christian walk. Plus to accept this view would means that Paul is greater than Christ Himself, by having Paul validate which words of Christ are acceptable to believers. It is true that Christians cannot claim direct promises made to Israel or other Old Testament people that Christians are not included in.

CONCLUSION:

The Moderate Ultradispensationalist view does not stand up under the weight of Scripture, and the Extreme view just ignores all the Scriptures, by saying that they are not for the Gentile church, that do not support their view. This method is very similar to what many of the pseudo-Christian cults use today to support their views. Both views fail to recognize that the nature of a dispensation is based on what God does, not on human understanding of His purposes. The error of ultradispensationalism lies in a faulty concept of a dispensation, exegesis of key passages, understanding when the mystery was revealed, and the baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit. (15) The Scriptures do not support the ultradispensationalism view, and they have elevated the views of man above what the Scriptures teach. Where is our freedom, under Grace, found in Ultradispensationalism (the method or system almost becomes the LAW)? We are all better off if we keep dispensationalism to what the Scriptures teach about it, and not make it greater than what it was intended to be.
 
 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles, by John F. MacArthur, JR., Word Publishing, Dallas TX, 1993

Dictionary of Premillennial Theology, General Editor Mal Couch, Kregel Publishing, Grand Rapids MI, 1996

Dispensationalism, by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Press, Chicago IL. 1995

Holman Bible Dictionary for Windows, Parsons Technology Inc & Holman Bible Publishers, Hiawatha IA, 1991

Major Bible Themes, by Lewis Sperry Chafer, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI, 1974

The Moody Handbook of Theology, by Paul Enns, Moody Press, Chicago IL, 1989

Systematic Theology, by Lewis Sperry Chafer,Dallas Seminary Press, Dallas TX, 1974

1. Covenant theology is a system of theology that teaches God entered into a covenant of works with Adam, who failed, whereupon God entered into a covenant of grace, promising eternal life to those who believe. It affirms there is one people of God called the true Israel, the church.The Moody Handbook of Theology, by Paul Enns, pp. 461-62, 503-11, 632, Moody Press, Chicago IL. 1989.

2. Moody Handbook of Theology, by Paul Enns, pp.523-525, 634, 649, Moody Press, Chicago IL, 1989

3. Professor: Robert Lightner, Th.M., Th.D, from his class on dispensations at Tyndale Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, TX.

4. Moody Handbook of Theology, by Paul Enns, pp.523-525, 634, 649, Moody Press, Chicago IL, 1989

5. Dictionary of Premillennial Theology, General Editor Mal Couch, p. 97, Kregel Publication, Grand Rapids MI, 1996

6. Dispensationalism, by Charles C. Ryrie, pp.63-64, Moody Press, Chicago IL, 1995

7. Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles, by John F. MacArthur, Jr. pp. 222-231, Word Publishing, Dallas TX, 1993

8. The Moody Handbook of Theology, by Paul Enns, p.523, Moody Press, Chicago IL, 1989

9. Ibid., pp.523-524.

10. Ibid., p.524.

11. Dictionary of Premillennial Theology, General Editor Mal Couch, pp.97-98, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids MI, 1996

12. When was the church born? According to Dr. Chafer's, Major Bible Themes, Chapter XXXV The Church: Her Membership, pages 204-205, he states the church is composed of all those who have been saved between the day of Pentecost and the return of Christ to receive His own. Also on pages 45-46 of his , Systematic Theology, vol. IV. he gives four reasons why the church began at Pentecost (Acts 2).

13. Are there two churches (Jewish and Gentile)? According to Dr. Chafer's Systematic Theology, vol. IV. Page 44, he states that the Church is composed of Jews and Gentiles in one body (Eph. 3:4-6). Also as stated before, According to Dr. Chafer's, Major Bible Themes, Chapter XXXV The Church: Her Membership, pages 204-205, he states the church is composed of ALL those who have been saved between the day of Pentecost and the return of Christ to receive His own (also see pages 208-209, The Church: Her Membership, IV. Formed from both Jews and Gentiles).

14. What specific ordinances are given to the church? According to Dr. Chafer's Systematic Theology, vol. IV. Pages 150-151, he states that there are two specific ordinances are committed to the believers who sustain church relationship -- ritual baptism and the Lord's Supper.

15. Dispensationalism, by Charles C. Ryrie, Chapter 11 - Ultradispensationalism (pp.197-207), Moody Press, Chicago IL. 1995