JUST ONE GOSPEL - a look at ultra dispensationalism

by Don Krow

     I was told that a man needed a new brain so he went to a salesman who sells brains. The salesman showed him a carpenter's brain and told him it would cause him to be a skilled carpenter. The man then asked how much the brain sold for. The salesman replied, "Forty-five dollars." The salesman then showed him a Christian's brain and the man asked how much it was. "It is fifty-thousand dollars." "Why so much?" the man asked. The salesman replied, "Because it has never been used!"

     Sometimes when it comes to the study of the scriptures, we as Christians don't think. Our brains are never used. We need to come to a place in our lives where we begin to think and examine the scriptures for ourselves. We need to get down before God and really ask to be directed and guided in study of His Word.

     I am going to discuss some things that you may not have thought about before. I want to discuss dispensations, covenant theology and ultra-dispensationalism. I've been familiar with those different schools of thought to some degree but I would like to lay a somewhat simple foundation for you today. First of all I quote from appendix 2 of the book "Faith Works," "Many people are understandably confused by the term DISPENSATIONALISM. I've met seminary graduates and many in Christian leadership who haven't the slightest idea how to define dispensationalism. How does it differ from covenant theology?" (Faith Works, by John MacArthur Jr., p. 219).

     "Dispensationalism is a system of biblical interpretation that sees distinction between God's program for Israel and His dealing with the church" (Ibid. p. 219).

     "Dispensations are not periods of TIME, but different ADMINISTRATIONS in the eternal outworking of God's purpose. It is especially crucial to note that the way of salvation - by grace through faith - is the same in every dispensation...Dispensationalism notes that Israel was the focus of God's redemptive plan in one dispensation. The church, consisting of redeemed people including Jews and Gentiles, is the focus in another" (Ibid., p. 219).

     "Dispensationalism teaches that all God's remaining covenant promises to Israel will be literally fulfilled - including the promises of earthly blessings and an earthly messianic kingdom. God promised Israel, for example, that they would possess the promised land forever (Gen. 13:14-17; Ex. 32:13). Scripture declares that Messiah will rule over the kingdoms of the earth from Jerusalem (Zech. 14:9-11). Old Testament prophecy says that all Israel will one day be restored to the promised land (Amos 9:14-15); the temple will be rebuilt (Ezek. 37:26-28); and the people of Israel will be redeemed (Jer. 23:6; Rom. 11:26-27). Dispensationalists believe all those promised blessings will come to pass...literally" (Ibid. p. 220).

     "Covenant theology, on the other hand, usually views such prophecies as ALREADY fulfilled allegorically (i.e. in principle) or symbolically. Covenant theologians believe that the church, not literal Israel, is the recipient of the covenant promises. They believe the church has superseded Israel in God's eternal program. God's promises to Israel are therefore fulfilled in spiritual blessings realized by Christians. Since their system does not allow for literal fulfillment of promised blessings to the Jewish nation, covenant theologians allegorize or spiritualize those prophetic passages of God's Word" (Ibid. p. 220).

     "I am a dispensationalist because dispensationalism generally understands and applies Scripture - particularly prophetic Scripture - in a way that is more consistent with normal, literal approach...For example, dispensationalists can take at face value Zechariah 12-14, Romans 11:25-29, and Revelation 20:1-6. The covenant theologian, on the other hand, cannot" (Ibid. p. 220).

     "So I am convinced that the dispensationalist distinction between the church and Israel is an accurate understanding of God's eternal plan..." (Ibid. p. 220).

     "I disagree with dispensational extremists who relegate whole sections of Scripture - including the Sermon on the Mount and the Lord's Prayer - to a yet-future kingdom era. I am critical of the way some dispensationalists have handled the preaching and teaching of Jesus in a way that erases the evangelistic intent from some of His most important invitations. I decry the methodology of dispensationalists who want to isolate salvation from repentance, justification from sanctification...in a way that breaks asunder what God has joined together" (Ibid. p. 221).

     "Many dispensationalists...agree that there is some continuity between the Old and New Testament people of God in that we share a common salvation purchased by Jesus Christ and appropriated by grace through faith. But dispensationalists do not accept covenant theology's teaching that the church is spiritual Israel" (Ibid. p. 222).

     "Admittedly, however, most dispensationalists carry...baggage in their systems..Early dispensationalists often packaged their doctrine in complex and esoteric systems illustrated by intricate diagrams. They loaded their repertoire with extraneous ideas and novel teachings, some of which endure today in various strains of dispensationalism. Dispensationalism's earliest influential spokesman 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, 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 Larking was a mechanical draftsman. They were laymen whose teachings gained enormous popularity largely through grass-roots enthusiasm" (Ibid. p. 223).

     "Unfortunately some of these early framers of dispensationalism were not as precise or discriminating as they might have been had they had the benefit of a more complete theological education. C.I. Scofield for example, included a note in his reference Bible that contrasted 'legal obedience as the condition of [Old Testament] salvation' with 'acceptance...of Christ' as the condition of salvation in the current dispensation (The Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1115). Non- dispensationalist critics have often attacked dispensationlism for teaching that the conditions for salvation differ from dispensation to dispensation. Here, at least, Scofield left himself open to that criticism, though he seemed to acknowledge in other contexts that the law was never a means of salvation for Old Testament saints" (Ibid., 93).

     "The maturing of dispenstationalism...has mainly been a process of refining...clarifying...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 (Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, New York: Loizeaux, n.d.). He criticized teaching that made repentance for some other era (Except Ye Repent, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1937)...Ironside's writings are replete with ( i.e. full of) warnings against antinomianism" (Faith Works, p. 224). (Antinomianism is taking the teaching of grace and saying we have no responsibility, let's live in lasciviousness that grace may abound [See Jude 1:4]. It actually means without law. It was a term that was developed by Martin Luther in the reformation to those who would take justification by faith to the extreme as they did in Paul's by saying, 'Let us continue in sin that grace may abound' [Rom. 6:1, 15], we have nothing restraining us. That is a false teaching about grace referred to as antinomianism.)

     "Many skilled and discerning students of Scripture have embraced dispensationalism and managed to avoid antinomianism, extremism, and other errors" (Ibid. p. 225).

     "Some dispensationalists apply 2 Timothy 2:15 (Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD OF TRUTH) as if the key word were DIVIDING rather than RIGHTLY...Some dispensationalists teach, for example, that 'kingdom of heaven' and the 'kingdom of God' speak of different domains. The terms are clearly synonymous in Scripture, however, as a comparison of Matthew and Luke shows (Mt. 5:3//Lk. 6:20; Mt. 10:7//Lk. 10:9;Mt. 11:11//Lk. 7:28; Mt. 11:12//Lk. 16:16; Mt. 13:11//Lk. 8:10; Mt. 13:31-33//Lk. 13:18-21; Mt.18:4//Lk. 18:17; Mt.19:23//Lk.18:24). Matthew is the only book in the entire Bible that ever uses the expression 'kingdom of heaven.' Matthew, writing to a mostly Jewish audience, understood their sensitivity to the use of God's name. He simply employed the common euphemism HEAVEN. Thus the kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of God" (Ibid. p. 226). Other tendencies are to sever justification from sanctification, believers from disciples, etc. Paul was offering a different salvation from Jesus. Abuses of dispensationalism teaches that Jesus' gospel of the kingdom had nothing to do with Christians or the Church age. This philosophy has become a tendency to divide and disconnect related ideas. Grace becomes the basis for antinomianism.

     "We must start with proper interpretation of Scripture and build our theology from there...Scripture is the only appropriate gauge by which we may ultimately measure the correctness of our doctrine" (Ibid., p. 232-233). In the light of that I want to say that you are going to have to work out in your own heart and mind these things. I have been thinking about this for a couple of years. I came from a totally Pauline prospective. The last 20 years of my life have been spent immersed especially in the book of Romans, Galatians and the Pauline epistles. The last couple of years I had to wrestle with my own theology when I was confronted face to face with the words of Jesus. Because I have come from a Pauline prospective, everything that I saw was in a Pauline light. Therefore many of the words that the Lord Jesus would speak meant nothing to me. In fact the way I dealt with Christ's words was to basically ignore them. In the last couple of years I have wondered in my own heart and my own understanding, is there really a distinction between Paul and Christ? Was the Apostle Paul preaching the same thing as the Lord Jesus Christ or was the Lord Jesus Christ speaking something different? These are real issues that I have had to wrestle with. I think they are issues today that you yourself may wrestle with. When I was about 15 years old, I was involved with a Bible youth camp that I know today to be ultra-dispensationalists. At that time, I did not know what that was, but the concept of that teaching is basically this: that all of the words of Jesus which are the four gospels, were under the law. Everything that Jesus said was under the law. It only related to the law so therefore we can more or less ignore what Jesus said because he was under the law. The words that Jesus spoke basically don't really apply to us today, so let's leave those sayings alone. It was given to the apostle Paul to understand the mystery. As a result people like Peter, James, John and the 12 apostles didn't really understand the gospel. So therefore, what is done in ultra-dispensational thinking is to cut out the general epistles of Peter, James and John. Jesus was a man under the law, so we are not going to acknowledge the gospels. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, didn't understand grace so we can't put much emphasis on him. Therefore, we must cut out the first portion of the book of Acts because it relates to the ministry of the Apostle Peter.

     There are two prominent people in the book of Acts, Peter and Paul. The first major emphasis in the book of Acts is the sermons of the Apostle Peter. Paul gets converted in Acts 9. In Acts 13, Paul is sent out and goes out on his first missionary journey. In Acts, chapter 13 we begin to focus on the Apostle Paul and his message. An ultra-dispensationalist will basically build his theology from about Acts, chapter 13 all the way through the rest of the Pauline letters. They won't say that what Jesus said was not true, but basically they wipe out most of the New Testament and focus on the 13 letters of the Apostle Paul. Because Hebrews may be written by Paul they emphasize this letter also.

     I believe that there is a continuity and unity between the entire New Testament. That is my position. I am a dispensationalist, but I am not an ultra-dispensationalists. I believe that there is a distinction between the things that have been spoken to the church and things that were spoken to the nation of Israel. I try in my interpretation to divide those things correctly. But I also believe that there is a continuity in the entire New Testament including the gospels, the words of Jesus, Paul, Acts, James, Peter and John and all of the 12 apostles. Why do I say that? Luke 16:16 makes it plain that the law and the prophets in the Old Testament were until the time of John the Baptist. Since that time there has been only one message, one gospel that has been preached, it is the gospel of the kingdom of God. It was first taught by the Lord Jesus Christ. Mark 1:14-15 states, "Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: Repent ye, and believe the gospel.'" Jesus' gospel was the gospel of God's kingdom. John the baptist said it was close, Jesus says it's here now in the person of Me. Jesus called people to repent, to change their minds and their attitudes, to turn a new direction, to come to Him for the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and to believe the gospel. That was the preaching of Jesus. Although at this time He was not crucified, the preaching, message and gospel of Jesus are basically the same except they lacked the redemptive work that He said he was going to do. Jesus began to preach the gospel of the kingdom, He then commissioned 12 apostles to preach that message, and then commissioned 70 others also to preach it as well. As we go into the book of Acts, there is no doubt a continuation of that same message. We can see this very plainly as we go through Acts. As an example, Acts 8:5 states, "Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ to them." Verse 12, "But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women." So the preaching of the kingdom of God is accompanied by the preaching of Jesus Christ redemptive work throughout the book of Acts. The Apostle Paul preaches the same message (Acts 20:24-25; 28:23, 30-31). In his thirteen epistles, Paul also will use the phrase the kingdom of God. "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost." Paul is preaching the kingdom of God and it's King, Jesus Christ. In the Jewish mentality the kingdom of God produced the idea of a king...and the territory or people over whom a king rules (Vine's), in the Gentile world the word that was used was Lord. The concept is the same. Lord is a way of saying king and king is a way of saying lord. We also see Peter, James and John talking about the kingdom. John says unless a man is born again he shall not enter the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3, 5). The kingdom of God is really the preaching and the basis of continuity between all the New Testament. It brings the gospels together, along with Acts, with Paul, with the general epistles, etc. The kingdom of God is the theme that brings unity to the entire teaching of the New Testament. Matthew 24:14 states, "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come." It's the gospel of the kingdom that Paul preached, that the apostles preached, that Jesus preached, and is going to be preached at the consummation of the end of the age, to all the world. We must ask, is Jesus Christ preaching the same thing as the Apostle Paul? I conclude that he is. Different individuals are going to teach the same message in a different ways because different personalities are expressed. But the message has to be the same.

     In Matthew 19:16 a man came to Jesus, the scriptures states, "And behold, one came and said unto him, Good master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" What is this man asking? First of all, let me say that this is an evangelist's dream. This is not somebody trying to pass out a tract. This is not one trying to witness to someone who doesn't want to hear. In the parallel account in Mark 10:17 it states, "...There came one running, and kneeled to Him and asked Him, 'Good Master what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?'" This man was asking the right question. He was asking about eternal life. He was not only asking the right question, he was asking the right person. He asked the person who could tell him how to have eternal life. Eternal life is a term used in the scriptures about 50 times. It's not talking about a quality of time, it's talking about a quality of existence; where a person is alive to God and to the things of God. The Jews saw eternal life as being the hope of life after death. That's what this man was asking. What can I do to get eternal life? Notice Matthew 19:17, "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." Now, here's a man asking how to get eternal life. Instead of answering, Jesus asked him a question. He didn't say to sit down here and pray with me. He said, "I have a question for you, my question is why do you call me good, there is none good but God." I believe that what Jesus is really asking is do you recognize who I really am? That I am the one that can give you eternal life, do you recognize my deity? Then he said something amazing, He said, "If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." Is that what the Apostle Paul said? That is exactly what the Apostle Paul said. Romans 2:13 says, "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified." Paul says it's not just those who hear the law but those who do the law that will be justified, declared righteous in God's sight. Paul is saying the same thing Jesus is saying. Jesus said if you want life, keep the commandments. Paul says if you want life, keep the commandments. Both Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul will then use that statement to their own advantage by showing that there has never been a man who has done it. Why did Paul say in Romans 2:13 that it's not the hearers of the law but the doers that shall be justified? Because he spent the first three chapters of the book of Romans making a statement showing that a man has never and can never do it. The Apostle Paul is going to go on to say that it's the law that will bring the knowledge of sin (Rom. 3:20). It will never make you right before God, therefore by keeping the law no one will ever be justified or be saved. Why? Because the law is not that standard? No! The law is the standard of righteous, holiness and goodness of God, but no man has ever been able to live up perfectly to the standard. Paul's point is the same as Jesus. When Jesus said to the rich young ruler, keep the commandments, He said that because he wanted to point something out to that man that he wasn't aware of. I see this in evangelism outreaches all the time. Whenever I witness to someone I say something similar to this: What do you think you have to do to go to heaven? Almost 80-90 percent of the time I'll get the answer, live a good life, or be the best you can, or keep the ten commandments, or some answer along these lines. I hear that over and over and over. Jesus knew that he was dealing with a self righteous man who had kept the commandments since his youth and he dealt with him in the only way that he could be reached. You see, the Bible says the law isn't made for a righteous man (1 Tim. 1:9-10). It's not made for the born again person. It's made for the unrighteous, the godless. This person thought he was righteous. In Matthew 19:18 the young man asked Jesus which ones of the commandments do I keep and Jesus named five of the ten commandments, thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, and honor thy father and thy mother. Then Jesus quoted Leviticus 19:18 that says "love thy neighbor as thyself." In verse 20, the young man says to Jesus "all these things I've kept" (Mt. 19:20). I hear it everyday, "I live by the golden rule, I keep the ten commandments, what do I lack?" Jesus says, "If you then will be perfect I'll tell you what to do: sell what you have, give to the poor and thou shalt have a treasure in heaven, then come and follow me!" What was Jesus saying? He was saying "You've kept the commandments have you? Love your neighbor as yourself, no problem, huh? Well then you are a rich man, take all your possessions and give them to your neighbor. If you love your neighbor just as you love yourself there should be no problem whatsoever in giving everything you have to someone else. If you love them like you say you do, then it's no problem." The man couldn't do it. Why? He had something in his heart and the Apostle Paul said that a covetous man is an idolater. What does that mean? He had another god enthroned. Matthew 19:22-23 says, "But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, 'Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven." In Mark's account of this story in chapter 10 verse 24, it says any rich man that "trusts" in his riches can't enter the kingdom. Jesus emphasized His point in Mt. 19:24 by saying, "And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." When he says it's harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, he wasn't talking about a door over in Palestine where the camel takes off his bags and then he can barely get through. Jesus was trying to make a point. In Matthew and Mark the Greek word for needle used meant a sewing needle. In Luke's account it meant a surgical needle. Jesus said if you can take a camel and ram him through the eye of a little bitty needle, then a rich man can enter the kingdom. It struck the point with the disciples because verse 25 says they were exceedingly amazed and they asked who then could be saved? Can anyone be saved? What did Jesus say? Verse 26, "And Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, 'With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.' What was Jesus saying? He was saying, I am taking all your self righteousness away. I'm taking all your faith in your own works away. I'm taking all your own ability to keep the law and the commandments away. I am stripping you of everything. I am taking it all away. I will tell you how impossible it is for a man to be saved, for a man to save himself he must be able to take a camel and put it through the eye of a needle. Jesus was saying a man cannot save himself. Salvation is by grace, it's not by man's works or efforts. Jesus says with man it can't be done. Salvation only comes by the grace of God, and can only be done by God. Jesus' point was that salvation is by the grace of God. That's the same point that the Apostle Paul made, it's the same message. Man can't be saved by his own effort, and he can't be saved by the law. He can only be saved through Christ. I want to preach the same thing that Jesus preached, the kingdom of God, repentance, and faith in the gospel. In Acts 20, the Apostle Paul says I declare unto you publicly what I teach: it's the kingdom of God, involving repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (See Acts 20:20-21). It's the very same thing that Jesus Christ himself spoke (Mk. 1:15). It's the same thing that He told the twelve to speak (Mk. 6:12). It's the same He told the seventy to speak (Lk. 10:9, 13). It's the same thing the Apostle Paul says was his message (Acts 20:21, 24-25).

     We often forget that when John the Baptist began to preach the kingdom of God (Lk. 16:16), he said not only to repent, but prove by your life that you have repented (Mt. 3:8). The Apostle Paul preached the same thing. In Acts 26:20 Paul says, "...to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance." He was saying that repentance is the change of heart and of mind that causes you to turn and go a new direction. The new lifestyle that comes out of that is not repentance, it's the fruit of repentance. It proves that repentance is in an individual's life.

     Then there's the question concerning the Beatitudes. What about the sayings of Jesus? He's saying it's not the ten commandments of don't commit adultery, but I say to you if you lusted after a women you've broken God's law. It's not the ten commandments of don't murder that is the keeping of God's law, Jesus says, Are you angry? What about those words of Jesus? Can we live up to those words of Jesus? The Bible says the words of God are sharper than a two edged sword (Heb. 4:12). Jesus, when He used words, used them both for the believer and for the unbeliever. When he said to the unbeliever, you think you are good enough to have eternal life by your works, I'm telling you it's not murder, it's anger, have you ever been angry? I'm telling you it's not the act of adultery, it's lust, have you ever lusted? Those words get a man right where it hurts. You can be self righteous and think that you can earn your way to God but when you apply Jesus' words they will do much more than the ten commandments, they will say you are more guilty than you ever thought. The law is a schoolmaster to lead people to Jesus.

     In Romans 8:4 Paul states that we aren't to perform the law, but "the righteousness of the law" will be fulfilled in us when we walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. What that does mean is that there is a righteousness (or right way of living) that God wants to produce in us by the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16). It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit that God wants in our lives and it does not contradict the moral teachings of Jesus or the Old Testament. "But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; and here there is no conflict with Jewish laws" (Gal. 5:22-23, LB).

     There is only one gospel. It began to be spoken by the Lord (See Heb. 2:3), it was commissioned to His followers (Mk. 16:15), and it unifies the entire New Testament in its teaching. For a more complete understanding of this subject, see my booklet "The Kingdom of God" on this website. To help you understand the difference between the law of Moses and Christ see our "Questions & Answers" page also on this website. God bless you as you continue to study His Word!