Dispensationalists derive their name from their teaching that the entire program of God is divided into seven dispensations. Five of these have passed into history, we are living in the sixth, and the seventh dispensation will be an earthly reign of one thousand years (the millennium) following the rapture of the church. Although the word ‘dispensational’ literally means a stewardship or type of economy, they take it to designate a given period of time during which God works in a distinct manner with mankind.
The Scofield Bible (page 5, notes 4, 5) deals with the seven dispensations of their system. They are innocency, conscience, human government, promise, law, grace, and kingdom. According to Scofield, each of these dispensations begins a new and distinct method of testing mankind and each ends in man’s failure and judgment. One of the main emphases of dispensational thought is that they insist that each of these seven dispensations has its peculiar system of testing; and obedience to the existing method brings the approval of God upon the individual or nation being tested.
Although dispensationalists deny the charge, it has been said that these alleged seven distinct manners of testing create seven different plans of salvation. Certainly Cyrus Ingerson Scofield carried water on both shoulders at this point, saying in some places that all people are saved in the same manner, but indicating in others that salvation was gained in a different manner during each of the seven periods. An example of his dual plans of salvation is found in the Scofield Bible (page 11 15, note 2) where he is contrasting the dispensation of law with that of grace. ‘The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ… ‘ It is difficult to interpret this statement in any other way than that he was saying folk under the law were saved by one ‘condition’ while we under grace are saved by another ‘condition.’ His words, ‘no longer,’ indicate that there was a time when legal obedience was the means of salvation!
Lewis Sperry Chafer, another prominent leader among the dispensationalists, also – in his insistence on a complete isolation of the New Testament dispensation from that of the Old Testament actually teaches two different plans of salvation. Writing in Dispensationalism (p.416), he makes the following statement:
The essential elements of a grace administration – faith as the sole basis of acceptance with God, unmerited acceptance through a perfect standing in Christ, the present possession of eternal life, an absolute security from all condemnation, and the enabling power of the indwelling Spirit are not found in the kingdom administration. On the other hand, it is declared to be the fulfilling of ‘the law and the prophets’ (Matt 5:17,18; 7:12), and is seen to be an extension of the Mosaic Law into realms of meritorious obligation (italics mine).
When this paragraph by Chafer is broken down into its component parts, the following points can be distinguished clearly:
- he gives the characteristics, including ‘faith as the sole basis of acceptance with God,’ of the present ‘dispensation’;
- he says the alleged coming ‘dispensation’ (millennium) w ill operate under a different plan, since none of the above mentioned characteristics (note that this would include the mode of salvation) ‘are to be found in the kingdom administration’;
- he says that the alleged coming millennial kingdom will be a continuation of the Old Testament plan, i.e., ‘it is declared to be the fulfilling of the law and the prophets.’
From these three points a syllogism can be formed easily. The syllogism would be as follows:
- In the present dispensation, we have ‘faith as the sole basis of acceptance with God…’
- In the coming kingdom administration, this plan will not be in effect. They ‘are not found in the kingdom administration.’ Since, according to the dispensationalists, people will be saved during the millennium, they must of necessity be saved in some other manner than ‘faith as the sole basis of acceptance with God.’
- Therefore, inasmuch as the coming dispensation will be an extension of the Mosaic Law into realms of meritorious obligation,’ the people under the Mosaic Law also were saved in a manner different from the present dispensation.
Chafer’s argument could also be illustrated in a diagram as follows:
- Old Testament – Salvation by legal obedience – In effect until the Cross
- ‘Church Age’ – Salvation by grace alone – Legal obedience postponed
- ‘Kingdom Age’ – Legal obedience resumed – On a more perfect basis
In another book (The Kingdom in History and Prophecy, p. 70) Chafer again distinguishes between two different modes of salvation:
In the light of these seven ‘present truth’ realities we are enabled to recognize how great is the effect of the change from ‘the law which came by Moses’ and ‘grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ.’ And when these changed, age-long conditions have run their course we are assured that there will be a return to the legal kingdom grounds and the exaltation of that nation to whom pertain the covenants and promises.
It should be noted, in view of the above statement, that if there is to be a return to a certain means of salvation, then another means of salvation must of necessity be in operation at the present time.
In the writings of another dispensationalist we also note a reference to more than one plan of salvation based upon a distinct separation of the so-called dispensations. William Evans (Outline Studys of the Bible, p. 34) says:
This is sometimes called the Age of the Church, or the Church period. The characteristic of this age is that salvation is no longer by legal obedience, but by the personal acceptance of the finished work of Jesus Christ, who by his meritorious ministry has procured for us a righteousness of God’.
Evans clearly states that during this present age salvation is through personal acceptance of the meritorious ministry (the cross) of Christ, while in the age preceding this one, people were saved by legal obedience. If words have any meaning at all, then this dispensationalist – who is merely being consistent with dispensationalist teachings – has presented two clear and distinct means of salvation, one by legal obedience and the other by the cross of Christ.
That thinking people have taken dispensationalism to present various means of salvation is evident in the report adopted by the Southern Presbyterian Church in the United States. That report, adopted by this assembly in May, 1944, was in part as follows:
It is the unanimous opinion of your Committee that Dispensationalism is out of accord with the system of the doctrines set forth in the Confession of Faith, not primarily or simply in the field of eschatology, but because it attacks the very heart of the theology of our Church. Dispensationalism rejects the doctrine that God has, since the Fall, but one plan of salvation for all mankind. and affirms that God has been through the ages administering various and diverse plans of salvation for various groups…
In a further effort to portray distinct groups being dealt with in distinct ways in given periods Of time, dispensationalists teach that there are four gospels to be preached (some have already been preached, and one is being preached in the present age) according to God’s plan. Each of these is said to be for a given period of time and great pains are taken to establish the fact that each of these gospels is different from the other three. These four gospels are described on page 1343 of the Scofield Reference Bible. The following is a paraphrased description as given by C.I. Scofield:
- The gospel of the kingdom. This is the preaching of the good news that God had promised to set up an earthly kingdom. This kingdom was to be political, spiritual, Israelitish, universal; and was to be ruled over by Jesus as the greater Son of David. It was to last one thousand years.
- The gospel of the grace of God. This is the good news that Jesus died, was buried, and that he rose again. Scofield says that one of the main characteristics of this gospel is that it saves ‘wholly apart from forms and ordinances,’ the plain implication being that this is not true of some of the other three gospels.
- The everlasting gospel. This is to be preached by Jews after the church is raptured, but before the beginning of the millennium. Scofield says of this gospel that it is neither the gospel of the kingdom, nor of grace. It is the good news that those who were saved during the ‘great tribulation’ will enter the millennial reign.
- That which Paul calls ‘my gospel’ This is the gospel of grace, but has a fuller development than that preached by Christ and the apostles! Paul has been given new insight into the ‘mystery’ of the church and this is included in ‘Paul’s gospel.’
According to this theory of four gospels, the first of them was preached by John the Baptist and by our Lord, until the proffered kingdom was rejected by the Jews and had to be postponed while the church age was ushered in by the death of our Lord on the cross.
After his plan to establish a kingdom was frustrated by the Jews, our Lord changed to the second form of the gospel and began to preach that he would be crucified, buried, and resurrected. This gospel was preached by our Lord during the remainder of his ministry and then by the apostles until the time of Paul.
Upon receiving a fuller revelation concerning the church, which neither Jesus nor any of the other apostles had been permitted to disclose, Paul began to preach number four of the distinctive gospels held by dispensationalism. In other words, what Paul termed ‘my gospel’ was quite an improvement over that preached by our Lord. This is the same gospel, according to this theory, that we are supposed to preach today. Note, we are not to preach the gospel preached by our Lord, but that which was preached by Paul.
Number three of these gospels will not be preached until after the present ‘church age’ is ended and the church has been taken out of the world. Then, after the ‘everlasting gospel’ has been preached and the millennium established, Jewish converts win begin to preach the ‘gospel of the kingdom’ again. Note that this gospel of the kingdom is the first gospel preached by our Lord, which gospel was rejected and then postponed. Whereas our Lord failed in his presentation of it, the Jewish nation is going to succeed!
In view of the fact that this theory holds to four distinct gospels – each having its own characteristics differing from the others – and in view of the fact that each one is said to bring about salvation, it is difficult indeed to escape a doctrine of four plans of salvation. And this, according to the New Testament, amounts to heresy.