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Dispensationalism: A Panel Discussion

On November 14, 1957, a panel discussion was held at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, on the subject of Dispensationalism. The participants were: Dr. A. Holmes, Dr. B. Mickelsen, Dr. J. R. Rice and Mr. C. R. Stam, with Dr. M. C. Tenney presiding. Last month we presented the opening statement by Pastor Stam, along with the discussion among the panel members that followed. This month we conclude with questions from the floor that were directed to and answered by the panel members. We have omitted the opening statements by Drs. Holmes, Mickelsen and Rice, but the full transcript containing these omissions is available for $5.00. Simply write to Berean Bible Society, PO Box 756, Germantown, WI, or phone: (262) 255-4750.

November 14, 1957

Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL

MR. CORNELIUS R. STAM:
To begin with the “extreme” dispensational view, I might just say a word by way of definition of the word sometimes translated dispensation in our New Testament as I see it. We do not believe that a dispensation is a period of time. In fact I have written rather strongly against that view in my book, The Fundamentals of Dispensationalism. Technically, of course, the word simply means a “house management.” In usage, however, I would say that it runs very close to our word “dispensation”; it is that which is administered or dispensed, or the act of administering or dispensing.

Now we believe that the principles of God are eternal and unchanging. They could not change. God could not change His standards; men have always been, and men always will be, saved only by grace through faith, essentially, and could only be saved on the basis of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The sacrifices that were demanded for atonement in Old Testament times did not in themselves save: “It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sin.” They served only as an expression of the faith of the individuals who brought them. If God said: “Bring a sacrifice,” faith would bring a sacrifice. If God said: “Keep the Law and you will be my people,” faith would do its best to keep the Law. If God said: “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins,” faith would repent and be baptized and have its sins remitted. If God says: “But now the righteousness of God without the Law is manifest,” and again: “To him that worketh not but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness,” faith will say: “Lord this is the best we have had it yet,” and will gratefully accept what God provides.

Now how does this affect us? If we look at the Bible to get a panoramic view of it, God disposes of the Gentiles in the first 11 chapters of Genesis. Then He makes a covenant with Abraham that concerns a land and a nation. Centuries later He makes another covenant with Israel through Moses, in which He gives the laws that are to govern that nation in that land. Still later He makes a covenant with David regarding a kingdom and a King, who is to administer the laws of that nation in that land. Sometime after that we find the prophets describing that kingdom; a change in the way of life on earth is to take place. War and bloodshed are to be abolished. Tremendous changes in man’s physical condition are to take place, and a King is to reign in righteousness and justice. Now, finally, John the Baptist appears on the scene and John says in Mark 1:15, for example: “The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand.” And the Lord Jesus takes up the cry, “The kingdom of God [or the kingdom of Heaven] is at hand.” The twelve Apostles are sent to preach a kingdom of Heaven, or the kingdom of God, that is at hand.

Now what kingdom could they possibly have been proclaiming as at hand, except that which their background would lead us to believe they were discussing. We have got to remember their background, beloved, when we come to the “gospel” in the Gospel records. In Isaiah, for example, the 11th chapter, and the 6th verse: “The knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.” Jeremiah 23:5: “A king shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.” At the birth of Christ you find the same idea clearly. It is: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.” And in the Sermon on the Mount: “The meek shall inherit the earth,” and in the so-called Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”

And it seems to me that in the proclamation of the kingdom we have the proclamation of a changing way of life. The wonderful miracles which our Lord wrought indicated changes also that were to take place when that kingdom was established. So I say that the kingdom was proclaimed by the Lord Jesus Christ on earth (I know that there are eschatological and non-eschatological aspects to that kingdom), but He was proclaiming the earthly establishment of the kingdom of God. And now, this is important: That did not change after the Cross or at Pentecost. That did not change at all. They are still under the Law. Peter offers them the return of Christ and the establishment of His kingdom on earth. “If you repent God will send Jesus, and the times of refreshing will come from the presence of the Lord.” So I say that those who are seeking to serve God under the so-called Great Commission today are working under the wrong commission and a commission which God has indeed rendered it impossible to fully obey.

Now we come to the Apostle Paul, another apostle. There were twelve apostles to sit on twelve thrones, but God raised up another apostle, the Apostle Paul, who asks us “if you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to youward, how that by revelation He made known unto me the Mystery,” or secret. It is he alone who says “I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles; I magnify my office.” (This subject is fabulous, but I would like to close with what he writes to the Galatians). In the first two chapters of Galatians he makes it clear that his apostleship had no relation to the apostleship of the Twelve. He says: “My apostleship is not of men neither even by man” (as Mathias’ apostleship was). They had been led of the Holy Spirit to choose him and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. In the eleventh verse of the same chapter he says: “I certify you brethren that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man, for I neither received it of man neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” In the second chapter and the second verse he says: “I went up by revelation (to Jerusalem, that is) and I communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation lest by any means I should run or had run in vain.” So the idea that the Apostle Paul simply went up to check with the leaders of the Twelve to make sure he was preaching the same thing is certainly contradicted here. He says: “I went up by revelation; I communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles.” He says: “In conference they added nothing to me, but contrariwise I added something to them.” When they saw, when they perceived (I’ll read this to you—the ninth verse): “When James, Cephas and John who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace which was given unto me they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go unto the Gentiles and they to the circumcision.”

Now we must take into consideration all that that involves. The Twelve had been sent into all the world. They had been sent to make disciples of all nations: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” But now, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, they solemnly agreed that they would confine their ministry to Israel while Paul, with Barnabas as his helper, became the Apostle to the Gentiles. Does that not indicate that the gospel of the kingdom did not produce the desired results, that is, as far as the human side is concerned? Does that not indicate that that kingdom, the kingdom which would have been established on earth and someday will be established on earth, was rejected, and now God raised up another apostle with another message? He alone speaks of “my gospel.” Paul pronounces a curse upon those who preach another gospel than he has been preaching. He says (and you will notice it is strong language, for he repeats it): “As I said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that which ye have received…” and in the preceding verse, “than that which I have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” That doesn’t mean to be lost, of course, Christians can reap curse as well as blessing. And I believe the Church has reaped that curse in the confusion and division that has gripped it for these centuries. Thank you.

DISCUSSION BY PANEL MEMBERS

QUESTION by Dr. Mickelsen addressed to Mr. Stam:
In your book, The Fundamentals of Dispensationalism, there is a very arresting metaphor. You take the figure of our mail system and you bring out that although many of us may read our roommate’s mail, that if his dad, say, said: “I am sending you a check for $400.00,” you don’t think that his dad would be sending you the check because it isn’t your mail. We may enjoy reading it but only when our dad says he is sending us $400.00 do we get encouraged. Would you tell us what you really believe is our mail?

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
The Epistles of Paul. I believe that the Word of God teaches that the Epistles of Paul are our “private mail.” It is not Luke or James or John or Peter or anyone else, but the Apostle Paul who says: “I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the Apostle of the Gentiles; I magnify mine office.”

QUESTION by Dr. Holmes addressed to Mr. Stam:
One further question, there are just five instances where Matthew, who uses the term kingdom of heaven, uses the term kingdom of God instead. I think it can be shown in each of those five instances that he does so purely for literary purposes because the style of language would make it awkward to have it otherwise. To come back to Ephesians 3, concerning this phrase “revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets,” how do you understand this, Mr. Stam?

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
He says: “It is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets” and he adds: “by the Spirit.” Now, he went up by revelation, as it says in Galatians 2: “I went up by revelation and I communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles.” Verse 7 says: “They saw it”; Verse 9 says, “They perceived it.” Now, how could they perceive these truths? Only “by the Spirit.” He told it to them; he received it by direct revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ, then he communicated it to them and they saw it.

STATEMENT by Dr. Rice:
It seems to me that we are missing a definition in Ephesians 3. Our brothers seem to take for granted that the mystery is the Church; unfortunately that is not what the Scripture says. In Ephesians 3:3-6, what is the mystery? “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs of the same Body.” In the same passage he says: “You were one time alienated from the commonwealth of Israel.” No doubt there has been a people of God all along. The mystery was that Gentiles would be included in that Body.

STATEMENT by Mr. Stam:
I agree partly. I do not believe that the mystery was the Church. I think Dr. Scofield slipped when he tried to show contrasts between Israel and the Church. God has always had His “ecclesia,” His “called out people.” But we are talking about a joint Body and have you not contradicted yourself in what you have just said, that this Body existed all along? He is speaking here of a joint Body and says: “Now that middle wall of partition is broken down.”

QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR

QUESTION addressed to Dr. Mickelsen:
What do you feel the lines of distinction in Scripture are?

ANSWER by Dr. Mickelsen:
I would say in the matter of the lines that are drawn: first of all, I have to say what lines are put down explicitly by the Scriptures, lines which I see drawn carefully in Scripture. The line which I see is the First Covenant and the Second Covenant. Now what is the nature of that line? Is it a barrier or what is its nature? It is not a barrier. Now within the Second Covenant, we have no such explicit drawing of lines. Within the covenant we have various actions of God which He undertakes. In my own system I would not draw any hard lines. I would look at the Old Covenant as a period of preparation. In these different times God acted in these various ways, but I see no reason for drawing any more than a dotted line in that aspect. The New Covenant is the covenant of consumation. I happen to be a pre-millennialist, so I believe that God is going to act directly in the affairs of men in a way in which He has not acted previously. But for me that is a part of the New Covenant, and it is a part of the climax which began in the last of these days of Hebrews 1:1.

QUESTION addressed to Mr. Stam:
Regarding this verse in Ephesians 3 where it says that “It is revealed now to the holy apostles and prophets,” when is the “now”? When did the “now” begin?

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
With Paul.

QUESTION addressed to Mr. Stam:
Well, then, whom do you consider to be the “apostles and prophets”?

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
The “apostles” were the twelve, to whom he communicated it, and the “prophets” were the New Testament prophets.

QUESTION to Mr. Stam by Dr. Mickelsen:
Well then after they received this from Paul, if they had written no books up to that time, why is it that all the books they wrote after this time are still not our “mail”?

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
Because they wrote by inspiration for a time when the Body of Christ will have been taken away and when the Hebrew Christian epistles will come into their proper place and Revelation, which is the last, will fit very naturally.

QUESTION to Mr. Stam by Dr. Holmes:
Is John 3:16 “our mail”?

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
No, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that the whole Word of God is for us. It was not all addressed to us; it is not all written about us but it is all for us. John 3:16 was spoken by our Lord to a ruler of the Jews. But it is all the more wonderful to us because although Israel has rejected the offer to be the blesser of the world under God, God has sent grace and blessing to the world anyway through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

QUESTION to Mr. Stam:
According to the dispensational view, in the period of time between Paul’s conversion and the trip to Jerusalem, are there two dispensations at the same time and a person can take his choice between them?

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
Yes, the one vanished away while the other came in. That is very natural. The bricks of the middle wall of partition fell one by one. It was a process.

QUESTION by Dr. Rice to Mr. Stam:
Was one of the old bricks of Jewish tradition John 3:16 that eventually fell?

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
No indeed, that is one of the unchanging purposes of God, that He intervened in the affairs of mankind to bring to us. Israel rejected Christ herself and therefore could not bring Christ to the world. Therefore, God intervened and raised up the chief of sinners, saved by grace, and said: “Now look, it is all done through the cross.”

QUESTION addressed to Mr. Stam:
I assume that you accept the ethics of Paul as expressed in the Law of love to be the basis of Church ethics. What do you do with the Sermon on the Mount? What is your reason for not applying it to the Church?

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
I wouldn’t say for a moment that I don’t accept the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount. Everything in the Sermon on the Mount that is compatible with the revelation given to Paul I most certainly will accept, and the moral ethics I certainly would accept. But when he says: “Leave your gift at the altar,” I would not accept it, because he says that sacrifices have been done away in Christ.

QUESTION addressed to Mr. Stam:
I wonder if there was any difference between the concept of the conditions of salvation in the Old Testament and what Paul expresses in Galatians 5:6. In Christ Jesus the thing which avails is faith, but it is a certain kind of faith; a faith that works by love. In other words not faith and works and not just faith, but this distinctive quality of faith, a faith that inevitably will produce the goods. Now is not this the sort of faith which was the condition of salvation in the Old Testament?

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
I believe so. That is where the phrase, “the obedience of faith” comes in. Paul speaks of “the obedience of faith” in connection with works and also in connection with his own message.

QUESTION to Dr. Mickelsen and Mr. Stam:
Would you two gentlemen please comment on this passage. In Acts 10 Peter speaks to Cornelius in language which is very similar to Paul over in the second chapter of Ephesians. Peter defines his message and he says: “The Word which God sent unto the children of Israel preaching peace by Jesus Christ.” In other words, Jesus’ message was one of proclaiming peace or evangelizing peace. In Ephesians 2:17 Paul is describing Jesus’ message and he says, Jesus “came and preached peace,” the very same words in the Greek. There seems to be a similarity here rather than a disparity between Paul and Peter.

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
Well, yes, Christ was the Prince of peace. There, of course, is a similarity there, but the remarkable thing is that when Israel joined the Gentiles in enmity against God and declared war on God and His Christ, He still preached peace. And the point is that He was preaching peace not only to them that were far off, but to them that “were nigh” but now have become far off.

ANSWER by Dr. Mickelsen:
I would say that the same message was given and this indicates that the people who believed the message joined the same church. In other words, I do not hold that there is a Jewish church in Acts 1 and a Gentile church in Acts 9. The same message that was preached to Cornelius was also proclaimed later by Paul, and when Peter, who was one of the apostles, went and preached to the Gentiles, he also preached the same gospel that Paul preached.

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
It is true that Cornelius was saved after the conversion of Paul. Peter went to these Gentiles against what he thought was his better judgment. He didn’t want to go, but the Lord said: “You go,” and he begins to preach to them about Jesus of Nazareth in the land of the Jews. But when he gets to the place where he says: “To Him give all the prophets witness that whosoever believes in Him shall receive remission of sins,” then God interrupted him and “while he yet spake” the Holy Spirit fell upon them. But what I would like to know is if you think that at Pentecost Peter preached the same message that Paul did.

ANSWER by Dr. Mickelsen:
I would say that though we don’t have a completely systematic theology we do have the proclamation that this man is the Messiah to whom the prophets give witness. And it seems to me that the message that is proclaimed at Pentecost is the message of the Christian Church. But I did not say it is all.

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
Suppose someone came up and said: “What should we do to be saved?” and we did not tell them about the finished work of Christ, would we be preaching salvation at all? If we just preached that Jesus was the Messiah, would that be preaching the plan of salvation for today?

ANSWER by Dr. Mickelsen:
If the people had come out of a Jewish background and had looked at the Messiah as a coming leader and if it were made very clear that this Messiah was put to death and that God raised Him from the dead, I think I certainly would be preaching the gospel of salvation.

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
Even if you didn’t tell them that it was for them? He blames them for the death of Christ; he doesn’t tell them: “He died for you.” He says: “You took Him and by wicked hands you crucified Him and slew Him,” and when they said: “What shall we do?” he said: “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.”

ANSWER by Dr. Mickelsen:
He also said: “The promise is to you and your children.”

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
Yes, the promise was to them and their children, and not to us.

QUESTION to Mr. Stam by Dr. Holmes:
How much of the substitutionary atonement in doctrinal form does one have to understand to be saved?

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
That Christ paid the penalty for his sin would certainly be basic. To only find out that Christ is the Messiah would certainly not give relief from the conviction of sin.

QUESTION to Mr. Stam by Dr. Holmes:
But did not the Jew know this if he knew his Old Testament predictions?

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
No, Isaiah 53 is perhaps the clearest of all the Old Testament prophecies about the death of Christ and it doesn’t even say who is going to die. It was especially veiled language; God meant it so.

ANSWER by Dr. Holmes:
The Jewish interpretation always took this as applying to Messiah.

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
I go by what the Bible says. I wouldn’t be an authority on that, neither could I necessarily concede it. I know they don’t now agree this refers to the Messiah.

QUESTION addressed to Mr. Stam:
Wesley had a sort of geographical dispensationalism. I am wondering if your dispensationalism is a temporal thing or geographical as well?

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
I believe that the gospel of the grace of God has no geographical barriers. All cultures find it equally applicable.

QUESTION to Mr. Stam:
Doesn’t I Peter 1:11 seem to indicate the prophets knew of what they were prophesying?

ANSWER by Mr. Stam:
No, if you would read on, brother, it would show that they did not understand it, for it goes on to say: “They searched and inquired diligently”; they searched not only at what manner of time these things would happen, but what the Spirit did signify when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow. They couldn’t have understood it, because the Twelve were working right with the Lord and after they had preached what is called “the gospel” for at least two years, He began to tell them how He must suffer and die, and it says in Luke 18:31-34 that He took the Twelve who had been preaching with Him and He tells them how He must be put to death and three times for emphasis, in one verse, it says: “They understood none of these things.” No, they didn’t understand it.

CLOSING REMARKS BY DR. TENNEY

I am sorry we must close now. But in conclusion may I make one or two observations. One of the fallacies into which Christian people can very easily fall is that they judge somebody else by the exaggeration of his position. It is very easy to exaggerate a man’s differences from ourselves, thus to form a sort of caricature which we say is his position and which may not be it fully at all. I think that tonight we have had the advantage of having differing positions represented by their own advocates with opportunity for clarifying the differences and for making clear what those positions are.