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Progressive Revelation and Dispensationalism

     There are many who believe that Jesus Christ essentially taught Old Testament religion right up until the very end of His ministry, at which time He introduced His “New Commandment” to love one another---and thereby substituted “love” in place of God’s law.   Such an idea is totally unscriptural.

     Others believe an equally false concept.  They say that Christ preached Old Testament religion for His entire ministry, and that His teachings have no relevance for Christians!   They have “no relevance,” because it is said that the way to salvation became totally changed!   They say it was “changed” either by Christ’s crucifixion---or, as some say, by the teachings of Paul. 

     In his book Primitive Christianity in Crisis, author Alan Knight states this:  “…dispensationalism [is] the modern justification for rejecting Jesus’ earthly ministry [i.e., rejecting Christ’s teachings].” 

     What is “dispensationalism”?   Basically, it is a religious teaching that the history of mankind is divided into a series of divinely appointed eras.  It is said that God is testing mankind in different ways, according to which specific era God was (or is) dealing with.  Some dispensationalists divide history into 3 or 4 eras, whereas many teach that there are 7 eras. 

     Yet, regardless of the number of eras, it seems that most all dispensationalists include some form of the following two eras(1) The era of the law (which is generally said to have existed from the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai up until the time of Christ’s crucifixion), and  (2) The era of grace. 

     Unger’s Bible Dictionary says this about the “era of grace”:   “This period began with the death and resurrection of Christ…The point of testing [in this era] is no longer legal obedience to the law as a condition for salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ…”  (1966, p. 269).  

     Now, if you think about it, this is an incredible teaching!   It essentially says that for a period of about 1,500 years, mankind had to obey supposedly harsh laws as a means of attaining salvation; whereas ever since then, all that one has to do to gain salvation is to accept Christ!   How could anyone believe in such an unfair God?!

     Now, back to Alan Knight’s book.  Speaking of “dispensationalism,” he says this:  “This modern doctrine, espoused by most of Protestant evangelicalism, argues that portions or all of Jesus’ earthly ministry are part of the Old Testament and therefore have no relevance for Christians.”

     Again, that is an incredible doctrine---that much or all of what Christ Himself taught was done away as soon as He was crucified!   Doesn’t scripture tell us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”?!

 (Heb.13:8).   Jesus Christ is alive today---living within true Christians.   And He lives, within them, the same life of obedience to God’s spiritual law that He lived 2,000 years ago!

     Continuing, Mr. Knight explains that “they use this [teaching of dispensationalsim in order] to reject the many lawful teachings of Jesus’ earthy ministry.”   Also, he refers to a “’veritable explosion’ of antinomian [i.e., anti-law] teaching within evangelicalism beginning in the 1980s.”

  

 

Numerous Proofs

     Let’s now consider numerous reasons and proofs why it is false to teach that “Christ taught Old Testament religion, whereas Paul and others in the New Testament taught a different way to salvation.”

     First of all, there is no way to salvation except through Jesus Christ.  [see point "(3)" of this hyperlinked article]    Almost 30 years after Christ’s crucifixion, Peter said this, concerning Christ:  “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”  (Acts 4:12).

     Furthermore, after Christ’s crucifixion, Paul warned of those who would come preaching “another Jesus” (II Cor. 11:4).   And that is exactly what professing Christianity does today---they preach of a Christ who came to do away with His Father’s commandments!

     Yet, the fact is that Jesus Christ was obedient to God’s spiritual law---and He taught obedience to God’s law!   Did all that end at the crucifixion?   No!   More than a week after Christ’s resurrection from the dead, Christ gave these parting instructions to His disciples---“that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations”  (Luke 24: 47). 

     So, did the apostles follow Christ’s instructions?   Did they, in fact, go forth and preach a message of repentance?

     Just weeks after Christ’s crucifixion, on the annual day of Pentecost, notice what Peter preached:  “Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…”  (Acts 2:38).   It was Peter, again, who said, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out…”  (Acts 3:19).   Peter also said that God gives His Holy Spirit “to those who obey Him”  (Acts 5:32). 

     Yes, Peter taught the same message of repentance and obedience as did Christ.   In fact, Peter said to “arm yourselves also with the same mind” as Christ (I Peter 4:1).   He said that Christ is our “example, that you should follow His steps”  (I Peter 2:21). 

     What about James?   Did he, after Christ’s crucifixion, teach a message of obedience to God’s law?   James said, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).   He also said, “a man is justified by works, and not by faith only”  (verse 24). 

     How about Paul?  Paul said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (I Cor.11:1).   Yes, Paul imitated Christ, and instructs us to do likewise.   So, since we are to imitate Christ---and Christ lived in obedience to God’s law---then that clearly means that we too are to obey God’s spiritual law.

     Paul likewise said, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus”  (Philip. 2:5).   And he continues, in verse 8, explaining what kind of mind Christ had---a mind that was “obedient to the point of death.” 

     Yes, Paul imitated Christ’s obedient life, and Paul taught adherence to God’s law!

     Yet, despite Paul’s strong endorsement of God’s spiritual law, many people insist that Paul was guided by God to “liberate” mankind from the law! 

     Notice the following excerpt from a modern Dispensationalist tract:  “Apparently God allowed this system of Jewish ordinances to be practiced about thirty years after Christ fulfilled it because in His patience, God only gradually showed the Jews how it was that His program was changing…Thus it was that after God had slowly led the Christians out of Jewish religion He had Paul finally write these glorious, liberating truths”  (Maurice Johnson, Saved by ‘Dry’ Baptism!, pp. 9-10).

     Here we get a strong sense that, inherent in this dispensationalist mentality, is the idea of “progressive revelation.”   The idea that God, long ago, began dealing with the primitive Israelites---giving them laws to live by.  As time passed, God moved in a more advanced fashion, by first giving us Jesus Christ, and then, as we progress through the New Testament, we come to the writings of Paul---who showed God’s more perfect will---that we be liberated from law, and arrive at God’s ultimate way of salvation---that of “grace without law.”

     Now, what are some things we can immediately see wrong with this concept of “progressive revelation”? 

(1)  It ignores the many scriptures where Paul plainly taught obedience to God’s law.

(2)  It ignores the fact that Paul says we should imitate Christ---and that means that since Christ obeyed God’s law, we should too!

(3)  It ignores the fact that if one asserts that God’s will is “progressively” revealed in the Bible, then our primary teachings would come from John’s writings---not Paul’s---since John’s three epistles and the book of Revelation were all written after Paul died!

     Having already looked at the endorsement of God’s law by Peter, James, and Paul, let’s now look at John’s writings---and we’ll look specifically at what he wrote after Paul’s death.

     What did John say is the very definition of “sin”?    “…sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4, KVV).   Does that sound like John thought that God’s law had been done away?

     Consider I John 5:3---“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.  And His commandments are not burdensome.”

     In Rev.14:12 John describes the saints (i.e., Christians) as “those who keep the commandments of God.”   In Rev. 12:17, John again refers to Christians as those “who keep the commandments of God”  (Rev.12:17).

     Finally, notice that John says this: “He who says he abides in Him [in Christ] ought himself also to walk just as He [Christ] walked”  (I John 2:6).    

    

     In conclusion, there are those who believe that Christ taught Old Testament religion for His entire ministry, and that after His crucifixion the New Testament shows that a “new way” is revealed.  Yet, those who believe this should consider the following:  Peter said that Christ is our “example,” and that we “should follow His steps.”   Paul said that we should “imitate Christ,” and to Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus”--- a mind that was “obedient to the point of death.”   And it was John who said that we should “walk just as He [Christ] walked.”   And how did Christ walk?    He lived a life of obedience to God’s spiritual law!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Addendum:

     The following question could be asked:  Since the Old Covenant was not completely abolished until Christ’s crucifixion, does that mean that Jesus Christ, while on earth, preached an Old Covenant message?   No!   Jesus Christ came as “the Mediator of the new covenant”!  (Heb.12:24).   Christ is “Mediator of a better covenant”  (Heb.8:6).   The final book of the Old Testament records a promise of the coming of “the Messenger of the covenant”  (Mal.3:1).   This is obviously speaking of the NEW Covenant, which had already been prophesied back in Jeremiah chap. 31---“’Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant …’”  (verse 31).   

     “Just as Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant made at Mt. Sinai, so Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant.  And just as His [Christ’s] marriage with Israel at Mt. Sinai set up the physical kingdom of Israel, so the marriage of the Church to Christ will set up the spiritual Kingdom of God.  Thus, the good news of that coming marriage actually is the Gospel Jesus preached---the coming Kingdom of God [Mark 1:14]! ….. The Gospel of the Kingdom of God [which Christ preached] contains the terms and conditions for entering into the New Covenant agreement with Jesus Christ….Keeping God’s spiritual law as defined in the Ten Commandments is one of the conditions of the New Covenant [the other condition being acceptance of Jesus Christ and His shed blood] ”   (“The Plain Truth About the Old and New Covenants,” Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course, Lesson 17, 1983).

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

References:

Primitive Christianity in Crisis, Alan Knight, pp. 321, 324, 340, 345-346