Category Archives: Theology Questions

Questions about Theology: What Is the Dispensation of the Millennial Kingdom?

 

In classic dispensationalism, there are seven dispensations. It is important to remember that dispensationalism is a theology inferred from Scripture rather than an explicitly taught doctrine of God’s Word. The value of dispensationalism lies in its systematic view of history’s different eras and the various ways in which the Ancient of Days interacts with His creation.

The seventh and final dispensation brings about the culmination of life on Earth and the closest thing yet to how God really wanted to live with us on this planet. As its name suggests, the Millennial Kingdom of Christ will last for 1,000 years.

The Millennial Kingdom is the seventh dispensation (Revelation 20:1–10).

Stewards: The resurrected Old Testament saints, the glorified Church, and survivors of the Tribulation and their descendants The Period: From the Second Coming of Jesus Christ until the final rebellion, a period of one thousand years Responsibility: To be obedient, remain undefiled, and worship the Lord Jesus (Isaiah 11:3–5; Zechariah 14:9) Failure: After Satan is loosed from the Abyss, sinful man rebels one more time (Revelation 20:7–9) Judgment: Fire from God; the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:9–15) Grace: Jesus Christ restores creation and rules righteously in Israel, with all saints assisting (Isaiah 11:1–5; Matthew 25:31–46; Revelation 20)

The Millennial Kingdom will be a time characterized by peace (Isaiah 11:6–7; Micah 4:3), justice (Isaiah 11:3–4), unity (Isaiah 11:10), abundance (Isaiah 35:1–2), healing (Isaiah 35:5–6), righteousness (Isaiah 35:8), joy (Isaiah 55:12), and the physical presence of Christ (Isaiah 16:5). Satan will be bound in the Abyss during this period (Revelation 20:1–3). Messiah Jesus will be the benevolent dictator ruling over the whole world (Isaiah 9:6–7; 11). The resurrected saints of all times will participate in the management of the government (Revelation 20:4–6).

The Millennial Kingdom is measurable and comes after the Kingdom of God (embodied in Jesus Christ) came to man during the dispensation of Grace. On Jesus’ first visit to the earth, He brought grace; at His Second Coming He will execute justice and usher in the Millennium. Jesus mentioned His glorious return at His trial before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:62), and He was referring to the Millennial Kingdom when He taught His disciples to pray, “Thy kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10, KJV).

The rebellion at the end of the Millennial Kingdom seems almost incredible. Mankind will have been living in a perfect environment with every need cared for, overseen by a truly just government (Isaiah 11:1–5), yet they still try to do better. Man simply cannot maintain the perfection that God requires. Mankind follows Satan any chance he gets.

At the end of the Millennium, the final rebellion is crushed, and Satan will be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). Then comes the Great White Throne Judgment where all the unrighteous of all of the dispensations will be judged according to their works and also cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11–15).

After the final judgment, God and His people live forever in the New Jerusalem on a new earth with a new heaven (Revelation 21). God’s plan of redemption will have been completely realized, and the redeemed will know God and enjoy Him forever.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Theology: Law vs. Grace—Why Is There so Much Conflict among Christians on the Issue?

 

One side says, “Salvation is by grace and grace alone.” The other side counters, “That idea leads to lawlessness. God’s righteous standard in the Law must be upheld.” And someone else chimes in with, “Salvation is by grace, but grace only comes to those who obey God’s Law.” At the root of the debate are differing views on the basis of salvation. The importance of the issue helps fuel the intensity of the discussion.

When the Bible speaks of “the law,” it refers to the detailed standard God gave to Moses, beginning in Exodus 20 with the Ten Commandments. God’s Law explained His requirements for a holy people and included three categories: civil, ceremonial, and moral laws. The Law was given to separate God’s people from the evil nations around them and to define sin (Ezra 10:11; Romans 5:13; 7:7). The Law also clearly demonstrated that no human being could purify himself enough to please God—i.e., the Law revealed our need for a Savior.

By New Testament times, the religious leaders had hijacked the Law and added to it their own rules and traditions (Mark 7:7–9). While the Law itself was good, it was weak in that it lacked the power to change a sinful heart (Romans 8:3). Keeping the Law, as interpreted by the Pharisees, had become an oppressive and overwhelming burden (Luke 11:46).

It was into this legalistic climate that Jesus came, and conflict with the hypocritical arbiters of the Law was inevitable. But Jesus, the Lawgiver, said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). The Law was not evil. It served as a mirror to reveal the condition of a person’s heart (Romans 7:7). John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Jesus embodied the perfect balance between grace and the Law (John 1:14).

God has always been full of grace (Psalm 116:5; Joel 2:13), and people have always been saved by faith in God (Genesis 15:6). God did not change between the Old and New Testaments (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 55:19). The same God who gave the Law also gave Jesus (John 3:16). His grace was demonstrated through the Law by providing the sacrificial system to cover sin. Jesus was born “under the law” (Galatians 4:4) and became the final sacrifice to bring the Law to fulfillment and establish the New Covenant (Luke 22:20). Now, everyone who comes to God through Christ is declared righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 9:15).

The conflict between Jesus and the self-righteous arose immediately. Many who had lived for so long under the Pharisees’ oppressive system eagerly embraced the mercy of Christ and the freedom He offered (Mark 2:15). Some, however, saw this new demonstration of grace as dangerous: what would keep a person from casting off all moral restraint? Paul dealt with this issue in Romans 6: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (verses 1–2). Paul clarified what Jesus had taught: the Law shows us what God wants (holiness), and grace gives us the desire and power to be holy. Rather than trust in the Law to save us, we trust in Christ. We are freed from the Law’s bondage by His once-for-all sacrifice (Romans 7:6; 1 Peter 3:18).

There is no conflict between grace and the Law, properly understood. Christ fulfilled the Law on our behalf and offers the power of the Holy Spirit, who motivates a regenerated heart to live in obedience to Him (Matthew 3:8; Acts 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:14). James 2:26 says, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” A grace that has the power to save also has the power to motivate a sinful heart toward godliness. Where there is no impulse to be godly, there is no saving faith.

We are saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9). The keeping of the Law cannot save anyone (Romans 3:20; Titus 3:5). In fact, those who claim righteousness on the basis of their keeping of the Law only think they’re keeping the Law; this was one of Jesus’ main points in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:20–48; see also Luke 18:18–23).

The purpose of the Law was, basically, to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Once we are saved, God desires to glorify Himself through our good works (Matthew 5:16; Ephesians 2:10). Therefore, good works follow salvation; they do not precede it.

Conflict between “grace” and the “Law” can arise when someone 1) misunderstands the purpose of the Law; 2) redefines grace as something other than “God’s benevolence on the undeserving” (see Romans 11:6); 3) tries to earn his own salvation or “supplement” Christ’s sacrifice; 4) follows the error of the Pharisees in tacking manmade rituals and traditions onto his doctrine; or 5) fails to focus on the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

When the Holy Spirit guides our search of Scripture, we can “study to show ourselves approved unto God” (2 Timothy 2:15) and discover the beauty of a grace that produces good works.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Theology: What Are the Main Arguments against Limited Atonement?

 

Limited atonement is the teaching that Jesus died only for the elect. It is one of the five points of Calvinism, the L in the acronym “TULIP.” Many who hold to limited atonement prefer the term “particular redemption,” but to minimize confusion this article will use the term “limited atonement.” For a full explication of what limited atonement is from a five-point Calvinistic perspective, please read our article on limited atonement, and for arguments supporting unlimited or universal atonement, please read our article on unlimited atonement.

Arminians and four-point Calvinists, or Amyraldians, believe that limited atonement is unbiblical. Got Questions Ministries takes an official four-point stance in support of unlimited atonement. Here, we present several arguments against limited atonement.

Argument 1: Limited Atonement Is Hermeneutically Insupportable

Arguing against limited atonement are verses which appear to teach universal atonement, the absence of verses that explicitly limit Christ’s atonement, verses that declare the necessity of faith for salvation, and several Old Testament types of Christ that do not fit the limited atonement paradigm.

Passages Supporting Universal Atonement

Universal (or unlimited) atonement is supported throughout the New Testament. John 3:16–17 says that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.… God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The Greek word kosmos, translated “the world,” covers the inhabitants of the entire earth. Other verses supporting unlimited atonement include John 1:29, where Jesus is said to take away “the sin of the world”; Romans 11:32, in which God has mercy on “all” the disobedient; and 1 John 2:2, which says Jesus is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

None of these verses contain any kind of limitation, stated or implied, on Christ’s sacrifice. As if saying that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world was not sufficient, the apostle John specifically included the Greek word holou, which means “whole, entire, all, complete.” Unless limited atonement is presumed, there is no solid basis for limiting the extent of the atonement mentioned in 1 John 2:2.

Passages Only Mentioning Atonement for Believers

On the other side of the coin, there are verses that say Jesus died for those who believe. Verses that seem to support limited atonement include John 10:15, where Jesus says, “I lay down my life for the sheep”; and Revelation 5:9, which indicates that Jesus’ blood “purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

These passages and others only mention a select group of people as being the focus of God’s redemptive work. However, none of the passages explicitly limit His offer of salvation. They simply say Jesus died for those who believe, not that He died only for those who believe. Jesus said He laid down His life for the sheep; He did not say that He laid down His life only for the sheep. There remains a larger group of which the sheep are but a part.

Faith Necessary for Salvation

“Universal atonement” is not the same as “universalism,” which says that everyone will be saved and go to heaven. Unlimited atonement acknowledges the reality that Jesus’ atonement must be accepted by faith, and that not everyone will believe. Four-point Calvinists believe that salvation comes only to those who have faith; it is faith that brings the saving effects of the atonement to the Christian. Unbelievers, though offered the gift of salvation through the atonement of Christ, have rejected God’s gift. Some passages proclaiming the necessity of faith for salvation are Luke 8:12; John 20:31; Acts 16:31; Romans 1:16; 10:9; and Ephesians 2:8.

Old Testament Types of Christ

An oft-repeated type of Christ presents Him as a lamb. The Old Testament sacrificial system and the Passover celebration clearly show the penalty of sin and the need for us to have an innocent substitute to cover our sin (see 1 Corinthians 5:7). At the time of the first Passover, all the Israelites had the opportunity to sacrifice a lamb and apply its blood to their doorposts. At the same time, each family had to exercise faith in God. The Passover’s atonement was universal in that it was offered to all, but the atonement still had to be applied individually, by faith.

Another type of Christ in the Old Testament is the bronze serpent on the pole (Numbers 21:5–9). Jesus related this object to Himself in John 3:14, explaining that He must be “lifted up” from the earth. During the plague of the “fiery serpents” in Moses’ day, every person who looked to the bronze serpent—believing that God would heal—was made whole. The healing power was universal in that it was available to every one of the Israelites, dependent only upon their willingness to obey. Jesus compared that incident to His own death on the cross and the spiritual healing He provides.

Argument 2: Christian Tradition Opposes Limited Atonement

Limited atonement has always been a controversial belief. The Synod of Dort in 1619 issued the points of doctrine now known as TULIP; however, several theologians at the synod rejected limited atonement while accepting the other four points of Calvinism.

Long before the Protestant confessions and synods, though, the early church father Athanasius was describing universal atonement. In his “On the Incarnation of the Word” (2.9), Athanasius writes that Jesus’ death was “a substitute for the life of all” and that, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, “the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all.” Note the word all. Athanasius’ point is that Jesus’ death atoned for all of humanity.

Ironically, Calvin himself may not have placed much value on the idea of a limited atonement. After all, the five points of what is called “Calvinism” came from a synod in the Netherlands almost 60 years after his death. Calvin had this to say about John 3:16: “It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction.… And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World; … he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life” (Commentary on John, Vol. 1).

Argument 3: Limited Atonement Would Make It Impossible to Genuinely Offer Salvation to All

Limited atonement affects one’s beliefs regarding evangelism and the offer of salvation. Essentially, if only those who will be saved (the elect) are atoned for, there is no atonement to be offered to anyone else. You could only truly offer salvation to the elect. Even a cursory look at Jesus’ ministry shows that He extended invitations of salvation to people He knew would take part in crucifying Him (see Luke 13:34). In the book of Acts, Paul preached to large portions of entire towns, Peter to thousands at a time. Salvation was offered to all without caveat, proviso, or discrimination. Repentance and faith were the required responses (see Matthew 21:32). If Christ’s death did not provide atonement for everyone, then the apostles, and even Jesus Himself, were offering something that most of their audiences could never receive.

Conclusion:

Limited atonement is the point of traditional Calvinism that has caused the most confusion and consternation among Bible-believing theologians. Will only the elect be saved? Yes. However, Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to pay for all sin, and the offer of salvation is universal. Our invitation for others to accept Christ should echo the Spirit’s call in Revelation 22:17: “ ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Theology: What Is the Dispensation of Grace?

 

In the dispensation of Innocence, God worked face to face with His highest creation, made in His own image. After the fall of Adam and Eve, mankind was no longer innocent, and God appealed to humans to use their divinely implanted consciences to do right. That brought in the second dispensation (Conscience), which lasted for about 1600 years until God could tolerate the sin no more and brought a flood to destroy all but eight persons—a remnant to continue His sovereign plan for mankind. During the dispensation of Human Government, civil authority was established to govern society, but again, mankind rebelled—this time, at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:4). After God dispersed the people, He created the nation of Israel from Abraham and his descendants (the dispensation of Promise). After God had created the Hebrew people, He gave them the Law through Moses (the dispensation of Law). God’s people consistently broke the commandments, but the Law was finally fulfilled in Christ. The Lord then established the dispensation of Grace. God’s unmerited favor would finally allow His chosen people (believing Jews and Gentiles) to have lasting fellowship with Him.

Grace is the sixth dispensation (John 19:31 to Revelation 3:22).

Stewards: The church. All believers are ministers of their spiritual fruit and a “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9) The Period: From the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) to the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18), a period of nearly 2,000 years and counting Responsibility: To be perfected by sanctification; to love one another; to exhibit ever-increasing godliness (1 Thessalonians 4:3; 2 John 1:5) Failure: A lack of maturity; worldliness; many churches falling into apostasy (Galatians 5:4; 2 Timothy 3:1–5) Judgment: The blindness of apostasy and false doctrine (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Timothy 4:3) Grace: Forgiveness of sins through Christ Jesus (1 John 1:3–7; John 14:20)

This dispensation of Grace is often referred to as the Church Age because it is during this era that Jesus is building His Church (Matthew 16:18). It began at Pentecost (Acts 2) and will end when all who are born again by the baptism of the Holy Spirit are raptured out of this world to be with Jesus Himself (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). The Church is mentioned again in Revelation 19 as returning to earth with the Lord Jesus at His Second Coming.

Grace is God’s benevolence to the undeserving. Grace is the rule of life for the Church, and through the Church God’s grace is extended to the whole world, as the gospel of Jesus Christ is taken to the ends of the earth. It has been said that grace saved us (Ephesians 2:8–9), it supports us (Romans 5:2), it teaches us (Titus 2:11–12), and it disciplines us (1 Corinthians 11:28–32; Hebrews 12:5–11). With the Holy Spirit indwelling His Church, we are able to walk with the Lord and live as He intends (Philippians 2:13; Ephesians 2:10; 5:17–18; Philippians 1:6; 4:13; Romans 8:14). It is not heaven yet, and it is far short of perfection, but as the Church is being sanctified, it provides a little taste of heaven on earth (Ephesians 2:21–22).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Theology: What Is the Dispensation of Law?

 

While the Abrahamic Covenant continues and has not yet been completely fulfilled (even to this day), God changed course with His chosen people Israel at Mt. Sinai. God added the Law, and with it a new dispensation, which had a beginning and an ending (Romans 10:4).

The fifth dispensation is that of Law—Exodus 19:5 to John 19:30.

Stewards: Moses and the children of Israel as a nation at Mt. Sinai The Period: from Mt. Sinai until Christ Jesus fulfilled the Law with His death Responsibility: Keep the whole Law (Exodus 19:3–8) Failure: The Law was broken (2 Kings 17:7–20) Judgment: Worldwide dispersion (Deuteronomy 28:63–66; Luke 21:20–24) Grace: The promised Savior is sent (Isaiah 9:6–7; Galatians 4:4–5)

Israel was never to be saved by keeping the Law (Romans 3:20). The Law was meant to govern their earthly lives, to define sin, and to point to the coming Savior. Neither did the Law change the provisions of the Abrahamic Covenant.

The dispensation of Law is named after the Mosaic Law, called a “covenant” in Exodus 24:7–8; Deuteronomy 4:13; and Galatians 3:19. It was God’s only conditional covenant with Israel in that blessing and success depended upon the people’s obedience to the Law (Exodus 19:5). It did not take long for the Law to be broken, as proved by the golden calf in Exodus 32.

The Law was also a temporary covenant to be made null and void by the institution of the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:32; Hebrews 8:13; 10:9). The Law was added “because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come” (Galatians 3:19).

It is important to note that the Law of Moses was given only for the nation of Israel (Exodus 19:3–8; Deuteronomy 5:1–3; 4:8). Jesus made it clear that it was given to Israel and not the Gentiles (Mark 12:29–30). The apostle Paul said the Law was given to Israel and not the Church (Romans 2:14; 9:4–5; Ephesians 2:11–12). The dispensation of Law is over.

How unfortunate that Israel misinterpreted the purpose of the Law and sought a righteousness by good deeds and ceremonial ordinances rather than by God’s grace (Romans 9:31–10:3; Acts 15:1)! Because they were focused on attaining their own holiness, they rejected their Messiah (John 1:11).

Israel’s history from Mt. Sinai to the destruction of the temple in AD 70 was one long record of violating God’s Law. However, the Law was still fulfilled, as Jesus states, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). Because of Jesus’ perfect fulfillment of the Law, we are saved through Him: “A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Theology: What Is the Dispensation of Conscience?

 

Dispensationalists see that God has worked with different people in different times in different manners. Usually, seven dispensations are identified: Innocence, Conscience, Government, Promise, Law, Grace, and Millennial Kingdom. Each dispensation reveals a six-fold pattern involving the stewards of the dispensation, their responsibility, a specific period of time, a failure, the resulting judgment, and God’s grace.

The second dispensation is that of Conscience—Genesis 3:23 to 8:19.

Stewards: Cain and Seth and their families The Period: From man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden until the Flood, a period of about 1,656 years Responsibility: To do good and offer blood sacrifices (Genesis 3:7, 22; 4:4) Failure: Wickedness (Genesis 6:5–6, 11, 12) Judgment: The worldwide Flood (Genesis 6:7, 13; 7:11–14) Grace: Noah and his family are saved (Genesis 6:8–9; 7:1; 8:1)

During the dispensation of Conscience, mankind only became worse and worse. Guided by conscience, man was supposed to choose to do good and approach God by means of a blood sacrifice (Genesis 4:4). It was during this time that the first death occurred, when Cain slew his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8). God had accepted Abel’s animal sacrifice but not Cain’s grain sacrifice. Before the murder, God warned Cain of impending sin and told him that he could still choose to do well (Genesis 4:6–7). Cain had the opportunity to bring a proper sacrifice, after he saw what pleased God. But Cain let jealousy cloud his eyes. Cain demanded that God be pleased with his own efforts and refused to follow God’s plan. This kind of thinking still plagues mankind today, as people attempt to approach God on their own terms rather than on God’s terms.

Mankind violated his conscience and failed in his responsibility to choose to do right. Apparently, God wanted man to discover that he could not let his conscience be his only guide. Conscience proved to be a very poor guide, indeed. Out of all that lived in this dispensation, only Abel, Enoch, and Noah were called righteous (Hebrews 11:2–7; Genesis 5:22–24; 6:8–9). Genesis 6:5 states, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” The Lord’s solution was to destroy man from the face of the earth, along with all land-dwelling animals (verse 7). “But Noah found favor [grace] in the eyes of the LORD” (verse 8).

Noah warned his contemporaries for 120 years as he built the ark and as the LORD showed His great patience. God as the righteous Judge must deal with sin, and judgment was often quick and severe in the Old Testament. His judgment then—and His grace within that judgment—should inform us today. “For if God … did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly … then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment” (2 Peter 2:4, 9). The heathen today are under the same responsibility as mankind was from the Fall to the Flood, with their “conscience bearing witness” (Romans 2:15).

God extended grace to Noah and his family and gave instructions to build the ark and established His covenant with them (Genesis 6:14–22). God saved eight people and brought them forth into a new dispensation (Genesis 7:1; 8:1; Hebrews 11:7). The apostle Peter uses God’s grace to Noah as an illustration of God’s grace today to us who are saved by faith. Just as Noah and his family were “brought safely through the water,” we are saved by the baptism of the Holy Spirit—“not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:19–21).[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Theology: What Is the Dispensation of Human Government?

 

After God had worked face to face with the first humans, Adam and Eve (the dispensation of Innocence, Genesis 1:28–3:19), they sinned, and all mankind became a fallen race living on a cursed planet. Conditions changed, and all subsequent families on earth were to do good based on what they knew to be right (the dispensation of Conscience, Genesis 3:23–8:19). Mankind again failed to fulfill their responsibility. So God brought a worldwide Flood to wipe out all but eight people. In the next dispensation, God works in a new way with His creation via Human Government.

Human Government is the third dispensation (Genesis 8:20 to 11:9).

Stewards: Noah and his descendants The Period: From the Flood to the confusion of tongues at Babel, about 429 years Responsibility: To scatter and multiply (Genesis 9) Failure: Refusal to scatter and the building of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–4) Judgment: Confusion of languages (Genesis 11:5–9) Grace: Abraham is chosen—the start of the Jewish race (Genesis 12:1–3)

After the Flood God stepped back from directly judging men until the Second Coming; thus, a human agency known as civil government was divinely appointed to restrain evil and protect man from his own sinful nature. Noah and his wife and his three sons and their wives began to repopulate the earth. Shem would become the father of the brown or Mediterranean region dwellers and eventually the Jews (Semitic comes from the Latin word for “Shem”). Ham fathered the black race, and Japheth fathered the Anglo or white race, which would become the Europeans.

Noah and his family had practical knowledge of the failure under the dispensation of Conscience, and God made them responsible to protect the sanctity of human life. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). In this way, God established the orderly rule of mankind for the good of society. Capital punishment is the most potent function of human government, and it presupposes all forms of legislation, organization, and enforcement. In the New Testament (Romans 13), man is still responsible to use this authority to enforce righteousness. In other words, God’s command in Genesis 9:6 has not been rescinded.

Sin (called “lawlessness” in 1 John 3:4) continued in the third dispensation. In fact, the time of Human Government was characterized by great idolatry and moral degradation. The height of disobedience was the rebellion against God at Babel—mankind built a tower to “make ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). Staying in one place was the one thing God told them not to do.

To enforce His command, God divided humanity into different language groups, and His sovereign will to populate the whole earth was accomplished. God also established a covenant with Noah that He would never again destroy the earth by water. His grace continued to be shown through His chosen people, beginning with Abraham.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Theology: What Is the Dispensation of Promise?

 

Each dispensation has a God-ordained responsibility, stewards (people commanded to fulfill that responsibility), a failure on mankind’s part, God’s judgment, and, finally, evidence of God’s grace. In the dispensation of Promise, God works in yet another unique way with man. This dispensation begins with the call of Abraham. It is called the dispensation of “Promise” because of the covenant made with Abraham, who lived in the “land of promise” (Hebrews 6:13; 11:9). Unconditional promises, both physical and spiritual, were made to Abraham and his descendants Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 12:1–3; 15:4–21; 17:1–8; 22:15–19).

The fourth dispensation is that of Promise—Genesis 11:10 to Exodus 19:4.

Stewards: The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob The Period: From the call of Abraham to Israel’s arrival at Mt. Sinai, a period of about 430 years Responsibility: Dwell in Canaan (Genesis 12:1–7) Failure: Dwelt in Egypt (Genesis 12:10; 46:6) Judgment: Egyptian bondage (Exodus 1:8–14) Grace: Moses the deliverer is sent (Exodus 3:6–10)

The promise God made to Abraham was that he would be the father of a great nation, that God would bless Abraham and his descendants, and that the whole earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:1–3). As the patriarch, Abraham had failure in his life, notably in fathering Ishmael (Genesis 16), going to Egypt (Genesis 12:10), and deceiving others about his wife, Sarah (Genesis 20:2). Isaac failed in similar manner, and Jacob was an outright deceiver.

Later, the Hebrew people were faced with a test: would they believe the promise God gave to Abraham to protect, bless, and guide them, or would they not believe? They chose not to believe the promise and took upon themselves the bondage of law and separation from God (Exodus 19:10–13, 18, 21; 12:19). Still, God provided grace through Moses, through Passover protection, and through the miraculous meeting of their material needs (Exodus 12–18). In Exodus 19:4 God reminds the Israelites of His grace to them: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”

The dispensation of Promise ended at Mt. Sinai, where God gave Abraham’s people the Law to govern them in yet another manner.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Theology: What Is the Dispensation of Innocence?

 

Dispensationalism is the system of theology that provides the best, most literal hermeneutic (method of Bible interpretation). Also, dispensationalism makes a clear distinction between Israel and the Church. The classic seven dispensations are Innocence, Conscience, Government, Promise, Law, Grace, and Millennial Kingdom. In each of these, there is a recognizable, six-fold pattern of how God worked with those living in the dispensation. God gives a responsibility to people, they fail to meet God’s requirements, their failure is judged, and God extends grace and hope for the future.

The first dispensation is that of Innocence—Genesis 1:28 to 3:19.

Stewards: Adam and Eve The Period: From the creation of man to his temptation and fall Responsibility: To obey God (Genesis 1:26–28; 2:15–17) Failure: Disobedience (Genesis 3:1–6) Judgment: Curse and death (Genesis 3:7–19) Grace: A new chance and the promise of a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15)

Innocence is the shortest of the dispensations. God created man to live in perfect harmony with Himself, and there was nothing known of imperfection or evil. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, and they were innocent of sin (Genesis 1:27). They had an eternal soul, a free will, and the ability to procreate. They walked and worked with God, who interacted with His creation (Genesis 2:15).

Adam and Eve were innocent until they disobeyed God, bringing sin and death into the world (Romans 5:12). This death affected their bodies and souls and those of all of their descendants. At the moment of Adam and Eve’s sin, they lost their innocence, as they were immediately aware, and they hid in shame from God (Genesis 3:7–8). The couple tried to cover their sin, which they somehow associated with their sex organs, but their attempt was futile.

God pronounced judgment on the man and his wife (Genesis 3:16–19), but He also showed mercy by killing an innocent animal and providing skins to cover over (atone for) their sin. God’s gracious provision showed the inadequacy of man’s attempt to atone for his own sin and the sufficiency of God’s atonement. The slaughter of the animals introduced the biblical principle “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).

God’s ultimate solution to the sin problem was promised in Genesis 3:15. In His grace God would send One of supernatural birth to redeem mankind. This Savior would be truly innocent and would provide the way to escape the sin nature we inherit from Adam. Jesus Christ is the “Last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45), who offered Himself as the final sacrifice for sin for all who place their faith in Him (1 Peter 3:18).[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Theology: What Is Conditional Election?

 

While the Bible clearly teaches that God elects people to salvation, there are disagreements as to the basis of that election. Conditional election is the belief that God elects people for salvation based on His foreknowledge of who will put their faith in Christ. Conditional election says that an all-knowing God looks to the future and decides to elect people based on a future decision they will make to come to faith in Christ. It is considered “conditional” election because it is based on the condition of man doing something of his own free will. According to conditional election, those whom God knows will come to faith in Christ are elected by God and those who God knows will not accept Christ are not elected.

Conditional election is one of the Articles of Remonstrance which define Arminian theology and is a core part of that worldview and theological system. As such it stands in direct contrast to the belief held by those who hold to Reformed Theology which believes that the Bible teaches unconditional election, the view that God elects people based on His sovereign will and not on any future action of the person being elected.

Those who believe in conditional election will often cite verses like 1 Peter 1:1–2 were Peter is writing “to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.…”. The key phrase here is “elect … according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.” Or another verse with similar implications is Romans 8:29–30: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined, he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

Yet there really is no debate or disagreement in the fact that God, because He is all-knowing, knows beforehand who will be saved and who will not. But the debate between conditional and unconditional election is about whether these verses teach that man’s “free will choice” is the cause of God’s election or an acknowledgement that God has the foreknowledge of who will be saved and who will not. If these were the only verses in Scripture that dealt with election, the issue as to whether the Bible teaches conditional election would be up for debate, but they are not. There are other very clear passages that tell us on what basis God elects people for salvation.

The first verse that helps us understand whether conditional election is what the Bible really teaches is Ephesians 1:4–5: “… even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.” Very clearly we see that God predestines or elects individuals “according to the purpose of His will.” When we consider the idea of adoption and the fact that it is God who choses us for adoption and that it is done before the foundation of the world, it seems to be pretty clear that the basis of God’s election and predestination is not because of a choice we would make in the future but solely upon His sovereign will which He exercises “in love.”

Another verse that strongly supports unconditional election is Romans 9:11 where God describes “the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls.” While some want to dismiss Romans 9:11 as applying to corporate election and not individual election, you simply cannot dismiss this section of Scripture that clearly teaches that election is NOT conditioned on anything man has done or will do but is solely based on the divine will of a sovereign God.

Another verse that teaches unconditional election is John 15:16, “You did not chose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.…”. Further, in John 10:26–27 we see Jesus saying: “But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. My sheep hear My voice and I know them, and they follow me.” Conditional election says that people who believe are chosen as His sheep because they believe, but the Bible actually says just the opposite. The reason they believe is because they are His sheep. Election is not conditional upon man’s acceptance of Christ as Lord and Savior but is instead the cause of it.

Conditional election is the view that man’s “free will” decision to accept Christ as Savior is the basis for his/her election. Therefore in a very real sense man’s decision is the cause of salvation. This view of election is in large part necessary because of the Arminian worldview where man chooses God, instead of God choosing man. Boiled down to its simplest form Arminian theology is that ultimately man’s salvation depends on his “free will decision” alone and not God’s will. Conditional election leads to the conclusion that God’s actions in election are dependent upon man’s free will choices. In a very real sense this view of election and salvation make God subject to the whims of men and their decisions, and his will becomes essentially the cause and effect of his salvation.

On the other hand, in unconditional election it is God’s sovereign will that determines who is elected and who is not. Therefore it is God’s will and God’s grace that is completely responsible for man’s salvation. All those whom God elects to salvation will come to saving faith in Christ and those whom He does not elect will not (John 6:37). In this scenario, it is God who gets the glory for His grace and mercy in offering salvation to those who do not love Him, and who can’t come to Him on their own (Ephesians 2:1–5).

These two views on election are not compatible at all. One is true and the other is false. One makes God’s election and ultimately man’s salvation dependent upon man, ultimately giving man the credit and glory, while the other recognizes that election and salvation depend on God’s sovereign will. One worldview has man being the master of his destiny, and in essence in control of his salvation, while the other has God rescuing lost, hopeless sinners not because they deserve it but because He wills it. One view exalts man and the other exalts God. One is a testimony to man’s goodness and ability, and the other is a testimony to God’s amazing grace.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Theology: What Is Kingdom Theology?

 

At its most basic definition, kingdom theology would be the part of theology that studies the Kingdom of God in all its many different aspects, manifestations and elements. In that sense kingdom theology is a legitimate and beneficial part of theology as a whole. But there are also theological “movements” or beliefs that are sometimes labeled as “kingdom theology,” so one must be careful to understand how the term is being used.

One type of kingdom theology that would be considered within the realm of biblical or orthodox Christian doctrine is what is sometimes referred to as the “already but not yet” view of the kingdom of God which simply means that the “end times” began with the ascension of Christ into heaven. It is also called “inaugurated eschatology” because the life, death and resurrection of Christ are seen as inaugurating, or ushering in, the beginning of the last days. Those who hold this view believe that the Kingdom of God is already here but has not yet been fully consummated.

This type of kingdom theology divides human history into two broad periods of time. First is the “present evil age” which started with the fall of man and will last until the Second Coming of Christ. This time period is marked by sin, sickness, death, disease, war and poverty. In it Satan is seen to be ruling the world and the world’s system as seen in verses like Ephesians 2:2 and 6:12, among many others. (Of course we also know from Scripture that Satan’s rule is limited to only what God allows him to do.) The second age is the “age to come” where the kingdom of God rules an age of eternal life, freedom from sin, sickness and suffering. It will be a time of universal peace on earth and God’s absolute sovereign reign over all of creation.

Kingdom theology teaches that both ages are in play today. In other words while Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God we still suffer from the consequences of living in a fallen world with sin, sickness and disease. So while the Kingdom of God is already here and Christ is already ruling from heaven, the full benefits of the Kingdom have not yet been ushered in. Because the Kingdom of God is still “not yet” here in all of its glory and power, Christians still suffer sickness and death. Although we have eternal life we still live in a world of sin with all the sickness, pain and suffering that brings. Until Christ returns again we will not experience the fullness of the kingdom of God in all aspects and areas. Where the waters start getting muddy among adherents to a kingdom theology point of view is in regards to exactly how much and to what degree the power of the Kingdom of God in the age to come is being manifested today.

Kingdom theology became a popular teaching among some Vineyard churches and was embraced by charismatic leaders such as John Wimber and others. A misunderstanding or distortion of kingdom theology has influenced or led to many different variations and movements such as the Latter Rain Movement. The charismatic leaders of these groups do not see the distinction between the two ages or how the Kingdom of God is manifested differently now than it will be after Christ’s return. This leads to many outlandish and often unbiblical claims concerning miracles, a Christian’s ability to live totally free from sickness and disease, and all types of other errors.

Taking the biblical concept of kingdom theology to unbiblical extremes, some of these leaders began to make claims that the miracles that modern day “prophets and apostles” were performing were greater than anything done by the original apostles. This erroneous teaching has spawned a whole movement of unbiblical and sometimes heretical teachings. The teaching also became popular among “Word of Faith” teachers and spawned related but heretical views such as the Kingdom Now Theology and Dominion Theology.

The basic premise of the kingdom theology movement is that the Kingdom of God is in effect now, and certainly that is a true statement. God is reigning and His Kingdom is in place as it always has been. God is the sovereign ruler over all things and we know from Scripture that Jesus Christ is “at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56) and that He is “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Where some of the proponents of the more extreme kingdom theology movements begin to go wrong is that they believe and teach that all the Old and New Testament promises and descriptions of the Kingdom of God directly apply to Christians today. Therefore they teach that salvation also brings with it total and complete healing of all diseases and problems. Then when that worldview does not match with reality they make the healing dependent on man’s faith and not God’s power or reign.

Another teaching that is somewhat common among those that take Kingdom Now theology beyond what the Bible teaches is that the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ has restored the earth to what it was before the fall and that man’s rule and reign over the earth now is the same as it was for Adam and Eve before they sinned. What those who embrace this type of extreme theology fail to recognize is the “now but not yet” aspect of God’s Kingdom. As John Frame writes, “We live in tension between this age and the age to come. In Christ, the age to come has already arrived, but the present age, dominated by sin, will not expire until He returns.” While many kingdom promises do apply to Christians today, many still await a future and more complete fulfillment after Christ’s Second Coming. Where some who teach kingdom theology begin to get off base biblically is that they try to appropriate and apply all promises and verses that pertain to the kingdom of God to Christians today and fail to see the future, fuller fulfillment that is to come.

Kingdom Now or Dominion Theology teachers try to apply Old Testament verses to Christians today in a way that cannot be done through sound exegesis of the passages. Like most false teachers, they selectively quote from Scripture and take verses out of their context to make application that is not supported from the text. Extreme Kingdom Now theology has many problems. First of all it diminishes the need for the return of Christ and what the Bible teaches that He will accomplish when He comes again. After all, if the full Kingdom of God is available and in effect for Christians today, why does Christ need to return at all? Second is that Kingdom Now theology exalts man and makes God dependent on man and his faith in order for God to accomplish His will. God’s rule is diminished and His sovereignty is attacked by many Kingdom Now teachers. Man controls his own destiny through his words and the power of his faith.

Starting with the false teaching that God “lost control” of the earth when Adam and Eve sinned, extreme adherents to kingdom theology believe that God has been looking for a “covenant people” who will take control of the earth back from Satan. Through the power of their faith and by following “last days apostles and prophets,” the church will win back dominion over the kingdoms of this world. These kingdoms extend to all areas of life including sickness, disease and financial problems. They also include such things as education, government, science, etc. Those who embrace this teaching are looking forward to the time when they, as God’s covenant people, take dominion over every aspect of the world ruling and reigning for God. They believe this will be achieved as believers use supernatural gifts given by the Holy Spirit. This particular type of kingdom theology has given rise to many well-known false prophets who have made all kinds of wild claims and prophecies only to be proven wrong time and time again.

Again it is important to recognize that kingdom theology, when correctly understood, is certainly within the realm of evangelical Christianity and those who teach it and embrace it can have sound biblical reasons for doing so. The danger, like many doctrines or theological movements, comes from those who distort the doctrine or take the theological construct to unbiblical places. Proponents and teachers of kingdom theology can run the gamut from being good sound biblical teachers to those who are misguided but not totally unbiblical, all the way to outright heresy. So one should be very careful to avoid broad-brushing the entire movement and instead judge each teacher or church by comparing what they are teaching to Scripture.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Theology: What Is Historical Theology?

 

Historical theology is the study of the development and history of Christian doctrine. As its name implies, historical theology is a study of the development and formation of essential Christian doctrine throughout the history of the New Testament church period. Historical theology can also be defined as the study of how Christians during different historical periods have understood different theological subjects or topics such as the nature of God, the nature of Jesus Christ, the nature and work of the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of salvation, etc.

The study of historical theology covers subjects such as the development of creeds and confessions, church councils, and heresies that have arisen and been dealt with throughout church history. A historical theologian studies the development of the essential doctrines that separate Christianity from heresies and cults.

Theologians often break down the study of historical theology into four main periods of time: 1) The Patristic Period from 100–400 AD; 2) The Middle Ages and Renaissance from 500–1500 AD; 3) The Reformation and Post-Reformation Periods from 1500–1750 AD; and 4) The Modern Period from 1750 AD to present day.

The purpose of historical theology is to understand and describe the historical origin of the key doctrines of Christianity and to trace the development of these doctrines over time. It examines how people have understood different doctrines throughout history and attempts to understand the development of the doctrines recognizing how changes within the church have affected different doctrines either for better or worse.

Historical theology and church history are two different yet closely related and important subjects. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to understand church history without also understanding the history of doctrine that often led to different divisions and movements within church history. Understanding the history of theology and doctrine helps us to understand the history of Christianity since the first century and why there are so many different denominations.

The basis for studying historical theology is found in the book of Acts. Luke records the beginning of the Christian Church as he continues in his goal of giving an account of “all that Jesus began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1). The work of Christ did not end with the final chapter of Acts. Indeed Christ is at work today in His church, and that can be seen through the study of historical theology and church history, both of which help us to understand how the biblical doctrines essential to the Christian faith have been recognized and proclaimed throughout church history. Paul warned the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29–30 to expect “savage wolves” who would teach false doctrine. It is through the study of historical theology that we see just how true Paul’s warning turned out to be as we come to understand how the essential doctrines of the Christian faith have been attacked and defended throughout the more than 2000 years of church history.

Like any area of theology, historical theology is also sometimes used by liberal scholars and non-Christians to cast doubt upon or attack the essential doctrines of the Christian faith as simply being the concoctions of men instead of the divinely revealed biblical truth that they really are. One example of this is in the triune nature of God. The historical theologian will study and trace the development of this doctrine throughout church history knowing that this truth is clearly revealed in Scripture, yet throughout church history there have been times where the doctrine came under attack and thus it was necessary for the church to define and defend the doctrine. The truth of the doctrine comes directly from Scripture; however, the church’s understanding and proclamation of the doctrine has been clarified over the years, often in times when the nature of God had come under attack by those “savage wolves” that Paul warned would come.

Some well-meaning but misguided Christians want to dismiss the importance of historical theology citing the promise that Holy Spirit who indwells all born-again Christians will “guide us to all truth” (John 16:13). What these Christians fail to recognize is that Holy Spirit has indwelt Christians throughout church history, and it is Jesus Christ himself who has given “some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–12). This includes not only those given in this generation but also those whom Christ ordained throughout church history. It is foolish to believe we have no need to learn from many gifted men that preceded us. A correct study and application of historical theology helps us recognize and learn from Christian teachers and leaders from centuries past.

Through the study of church history and historical theology, the born-again Christian is encouraged to see how God has been at work throughout history. In it we see God’s sovereignty over all things displayed and the truth that God’s Word endures forever (Psalm 119:160). Studying historical theology is really nothing more than studying God at work. It also helps remind us of the ever present spiritual battle between Satan and the truth of God’s Word. It shows us from history the many ways and forms that Satan uses to spread false doctrine in the church, just as Paul warned the Ephesian elders.

The study of historical theology and church history also shows that the truth of God’s Word remains triumphant. As we understand the theological battles of the past we can be better prepared to resist the errors that Satan will try to entice us with in the future. If pastors, churches and Christians are not aware of church history and historical theology, then they will be more open to falling prey to the same type of false teachings that Satan has used in the past.

Historical theology, when correctly understood and applied, does not diminish the authority or sufficiency of Scripture. Scripture alone is the standard or all matters of faith and practice. It alone is inspired and efficient. Scripture alone is our authority and guide, but historical theology can help us understand the many dangers of some “new teaching” or novel interpretation of Scripture. With over 2000 years of church history and thousands if not millions of Christians preceding us, shouldn’t we be automatically wary of someone who claims to have a “new explanation” or interpretation of Scripture?

Finally, historical theology can remind us of the ever-present danger of interpreting Scripture in light of the cultural and philosophical assumptions of our times. We see this danger so much today as sin is being redefined as a sickness to be cured by drugs instead of a spiritual condition. We also see it as many denominations leave the clear teaching of Scripture and embrace the cultural acceptance of homosexuality as a lifestyle.

Historical theology is an important aspect of studying theology, but like any other method of studying theology, it is not without its dangers and pitfalls. The challenge for all Christians and for all students of theology is to not force our theological system on the Bible but to always make sure that our theology comes from the Scripture and not some system that might be popular.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.