Vol. 21 New Series August, 1959 No. 4

A friend has most kindly drawn attention to a mistake I made on p. 37 of our February, 1959, issue. In the middle of the page I erroneously wrote "membership" three times; but this word conveys the very opposite meaning to what I intended. What I meant, and should have written, is as follows:

    "Not  one of us has been free from  confusion over  this  matter.
    I  am  no  exception;  for  I  believe  I  have declared  somewhere,
    either in print or  in  a  private letter, that  the  Apostle Paul  was
    the   first  member  of  the body.  If  so, I   have  said  something
    very  misleading.  He was  the first to  be  converted  directly  to
    membership of the body and the first to become aware of being
    a member; but  others who  eventually became  members  of  the
    body  on   receiving  Paul's  Evangel   had  certainly  come  to  a
    saving faith on Jesus  Christ  before  he  did.  Such  membership
    is  not  a  matter  of  our  personal  choice  or   the  extent  of  our
    awareness, but of God's  calling.  Paul  was  the  first  to  become
    a  member  of  the body  in  the way we do; nevertheless, it  may
    well  be  that most  Christians  who  were  still living  when  Paul
    proclaimed  his  Evangel  had been,  without  realizing  it,  called
    to such membership eventually, when  the  time  came  for  them
    to hear Paul's Evangel."
The last seven lines of the paragraph, beginning, "I can only repeat. . . ." still stand. If my mistake has misled anyone, I can only apologize. The difficulty with this matter, as with many others, is that we are all so weighed down with inherited tradition, that it requires a great effort to shake off the weight and appreciate the glorious simplicity of the truth of these matters.

What I have in mind in this corrected paragraph is that many accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour at and just after Pentecost and before the events narrated in Acts 9. All of these thought then that they were called to the Kingdom promised to Israel; but not until Paul was commissioned was it made clear that the Kingdom of God was to contain a great number of people who were not destined to partake of that terrestrial aspect of the Kingdom at all or to have any part in Israel's promises according to flesh; but were to be called to another calling, in uncircumcision, namely, membership of the church which is Christ's body.

This stands out from Rom. 16:7. Andronicus and Junia "came to be in Christ before" Paul; yet they could not have received the Evangel of the uncircumcision before Paul, because it was essentially Paul's Evangel, and until he was commissioned it had yet to be proclaimed. They had, however, believed on the Lord Jesus. What a wonderful experience for them it must have been, when they learned how much more was in store for them than they had supposed!

Those dispensationalists who insist that the period of time covered by the Gospels and Acts was a period of transition are undoubtedly correct; but that fact does not make it a "dispensation" in the sense in which they use the word. On the other hand, those who insist that there was no transition after Pentecost are equally in error, though in a different way. Pentecost did not introduce a new "dispensation," neither did Acts 28:28, nor the destruction of Jerusalem some years after. Not even the commissioning of Paul by the Lord Jesus can properly be termed "the start of a new dispensation" except in the sense that something new was then dispensed, namely, the Evangel of the uncircumcision; for the dispensing of something new does not involve "a new dispensation" in the sense that the dispensationalists use the expression. A few seem to have thought it did and have been logical enough to accept such dispensing as "a new dispensation." So they started a dispensation of some sort with the birth of the Lord Jesus, another at Pentecost, another when Paul's ministry began, another at Acts 28:28, another at the destruction of Jerusalem. Or perhaps it would be fairer to say that various expositors have chosen numbers of these points for "a change of dispensation"; for I do not know of anyone who has gone so far as to be wholly logical and accept the lot.

All these problems and difficulties spring from the fundamental error of defining a "dispensation" as some sort of period of time, at the start of which all God's dealings with humanity abruptly change and everyone's standing changes with them. While it is true that every phase of God's dealings covers a period of time, for indeed it must do so and some even overlap; it is the nature of God's special activity that matters, not the time during which it operates.

Scrap this notion; and recognize that at any particular moment the important thing to know is what evangel is in force then; and with it you scrap all these difficulties but one.

The one remaining difficulty is the subject this paper is dealing with: the problem facing those of Israel who heard the Apostle Peter and believed on the Lord Jesus with him and looked for the eventual restoration of the Kingdom to Israel; but who afterwards came to hear and believe the Evangel of the Apostle Paul and to recognize that for them the Kingdom had taken a different form. Yet it is no real difficulty. Did any of these really accept any evangel from Peter in the full sense that those did who heard and received Paul's Evangel? Remember, ALL, whether of Peter or of Paul, accepted the Evangel of the Kingdom and believed on Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. The difference is that those who heard Peter only, accepted no more; for there was no more in his proclamation to accept; but those who heard and accepted Paul's Evangel entered into the fullness of the glories set out in his epistles, however dimly they may have understood them. It is not the extent of our faith, still less the extent of our knowledge, that determines whether we are called to membership of the body, but God's choice. All who believe on the Lord Jesus now, believe in the first instance just as those did who heard Peter—on the Lord Jesus crucified, risen and ascended. The bare essential of saving faith on Him now is no different to what it was then. The differences are in what accompany that faith.

If our calling were to depend on our own understanding of God's purposes, few of us would have much of a calling, anyhow. If it depended on precisely what we understood, and thought we were doing, when first we believed on the word of the Lord Jesus and thus received His righteousness, we would be even worse off. But, in fact, it depends on none of these things, only on God's own choice of us. Even our faith is secondary to that, in so far as it is our own faith. Some of us have been particularly fortunate, in that we have been able throughout our earthly lives to study His Word and so to grow to maturity; but that has not made us inherently superior to those who have not had such advantages. It has increased our responsibility to let our light shine on all with whom we come in contact. Perhaps it means that work of very special importance awaits us in the real life we are to enjoy in our celestial bodies. It does not mean that we are a sort of election within an election.

In truth, all "dispensational" speculations are unprofitable. Moreover, they are harmful in that they conceal from us the essential truth about God's purpose in Paul's Evangel and in the Evangel of the circumcision which will come after; and, what is perhaps even worse, they distract our attention from many other matters which we ought to study.

Once again I would emphasize that there is a great deal of truth in "dispensational" teaching, truth which we cannot afford to ignore, and that there is even more that is false in the many speculative developments of "dispensational" teaching which have been elaborated by those who have perceived its weaknesses but failed to perceive the cause of them. They have seen its self-contradictions, and have tried to resolve them by inventing theories. Instead, they should have reexamined their system, and any system which leads to self-contradictions or, what is even worse, contradictions of Scripture.

So, once again, I would urge that all that is true in "dispensational truth" centres round a clear understanding of various aspects of the evangel. Once we clearly grasp that the evangel at present is of the uncircumcision (akrobustia) and that after we are caught away the evangel is to be of the circumcision (peritomE), we hold the key to complete understanding of everything in the Scriptures which is commonly described as "dispensational." With this sweeping appreciation of God's sovereign purposes on earth, we are well on the way to understanding everything else revealed by Him in His Sacred Scriptures.

R.B.W. Last updated 29.3.2006