Home > Bible Study, Dispensationalism > WHY SO MANY DENOMINATIONS?



A study in doctrinal distinctiveness

Dr. Mike Johnston, Editor

The question before us is Why So Many Denominations? The answer is simple: There are as many denominations as there are interpretations of the Bible.[1] As a result, multi-denominatio­nalism stems from a crass inability to rightly and consistently divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).

We begin our discussion by introducing a proper division of the sixty six Books of the Bible. Conventional wisdom tells us that when the Bible was written it was divided into Old Testament and New Testament. However, the Bible is basically divided into two more well defined, descriptive terms: prophecy and mystery. Cornelius Stam discusses this dichotomy:

Prophecy is basically the purpose God has for the earth and Christ’s reign upon it, which includes the nation of Israel and the city of Jerusalem (2 Peter 1: 16-19). This is the Kingdom of heaven that will in the future be set up on the earth, in Jerusalem, Israel. The Mystery is that which the prophets knew nothing about  and was revealed to the Apostle Paul, concerning heaven and the exaltation of the Body of Christ in heaven, who is together there with Christ (Eph. 2:4-10, 3: 1-4). Stam continues in more detail:


What is at the heart of Prophecy? The Messianic kingdom; that is, the “kingdom of heaven” which was spoken of by John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus Christ and the twelve disciples, which will be set up on the EARTH; (Matt. 3:1-2, 4:17, 10:5-7). Since the “kingdom of heaven” is not yet established on the earth, it will be set up in the near future when the Lord Jesus Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, returns to the earth on the Mount of Olives, then on to Jerusalem at the Second Advent and sets up His kingdom and reign upon THE EARTH for one thousand years. This is also called the Millennium. The main purpose or the main goal of prophecy is the establishment of the “kingdom of heaven” upon THE EARTH (Rom. 11:25-29). The Messianic Kingdom will be set up on THE EARTH: (Psalms 2:8) “I shall give Thee . . . the uttermost parts of THE EARTH for Thy possession”. (Jeremiah. 23:5) “A King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in THE EARTH”. The Lord Jesus Christ who is the second member of the Godhead, who is God, will rule as God, from Jerusalem and He will reign over the entire world. It will be a theocracy. “They shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Isaiah 7:14) (Matt. 1:23). “And His name shall be called . . . The mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6). “The Lord shall be King over all THE EARTH” (Zech. 14:9).


God’s purpose concerning HEAVEN and the exaltation of the Body of Christ there with the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the Body, is the subject of “The Mystery”. What is the Mystery? There are many mysteries in the Bible, but this refers to “THE MYSTERY” which is that great body of truth given to the Apostle Paul by direct revelation from the Lord Jesus Christ, from heaven. The “kingdom of heaven” one day being set up on the earth and the coming Messiah was well known and prophesied by the holy prophets. But, the Body of Christ with its heavenly calling and position was not prophesied. Nothing, not even one mention can be found in the pages of prophecy about the Body of Christ. God kept this a complete secret until the proper time when He brought the Body of Christ into existence, revealing THE MYSTERY only to the Apostle Paul. (Rom. 16:25) “kept secret since the world began”. Then also in (Ephesians 3:9) “from the beginning of the world . . . hid in God”. “hid from ages and from generations” (Col.1:26).

The nation Israel was temporarily set aside along with the unbelieving Gentiles. “Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for” (Rom. 11:7). “Because of unbelief they were broken off” (Rom. 11:12). A new dispensation was slowly being brought in and mercy was shown to all. “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief that He might have mercy upon all (Rom. 11:32). “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek (gentile)” (Rom. 10:12-13). No longer is the gospel of the kingdom proclaimed, but the gospel of the Grace of God, which is Christ’s finished work on the cross. The Apostle Paul declared “the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify THE GOSPEL OF THE GRACE OF GOD” and “THE DISPENSATION OF THE GRACE OF GOD which is given me to you-ward” (Acts 20:24) (Ephesians 3:2). (Stam 1959)

Dispensational Distinctives

While Stam’s hermeneutic is not only accurate it is provably so. Notwithstanding, we cannot begin to discover this dichotomy if we are not willing to apply sound- non prejudicial- hermeneutical principles.

If you are a PMI student you know that hermeneutics is a fancy word for “the science of Biblical interpretation employing immutable rules that when consistently applied will result in exegesis [i] of a passage rather than eisegesis. [ii]Taking into consideration that the Word of God needs dividing (2 Tim. 2:15), the school of hermeneutics most scholars find capable [iii] of the unbiased separate divisions- is called dispensationalism. Among the more well known dispensational teachers are Drs. JN Darby, CI Scofield, RA Torrey, Clarence Larkin, Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe, Thomas Ice, and a friend of Scofield’s, by the name of Lewis Sperry Chafer.

Several decades ago Dr. Chafer wrote: “All Scripture is … profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16), but all Scripture is of primary application to a particular person or class of persons which the Bible designates as such. All Scripture is not for the angels, nor is it all for the Gentiles. In like manner, not all Scripture is addressed to the Jew, nor is it all addressed to the Christian (Dispensationalism, p. 417). Simply stated, dispensationalism [2] teaches us that God gives different demands and responsibilities to the people living in different ages while making a distinction between three kinds of people: Jews, Gentiles, and the church.

Dispensationalism is distinctive for many reasons. I’ve loved and preached the Scofield notes over 30 years, because they have provided me a distinctive systematic theology that is consistent from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22. The Old Scofield Bible defines dispensation as a “period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.” Simply stated, unless you took a lamb to church this past Sunday, you are at some level a dispensationalist. [iv]However, if this term still seems a bit nebulous, consider God’s Word a giant puzzle, with a number of pieces (dispensations) scattered on the table. Now let’s give you three choices regarding the pieces, or dispensations, as they’re called: you can ignore them, destroy them, or analyze and fit them together so that once connected you will get the whole picture from Genesis to Revelation. The seven dispensations from majority consensus- including the Old Scofield Bible are: Innocence (Gen_1:28); Conscience (Gen_3:23); Human Government (Gen_8:21); Promise (Gen_12:1); Law (Exo_19:8); Grace (Joh_1:17); Kingdom (Eph_1:10; see 2Sa_7:8-17; Zec_12:8).

Dispensationalism- while distinctive- isn’t complicated even though made to be so by its opponents who have launched unfounded attacks against dispensationalism with distortions that are simply not true. [3] One of the distortions from anti-dispensationalists is that we teach several ways of salvation. Unless they are referring to a fringe group I’m not aware of, dispensationalists actually teach that salvation has always been by grace through faith.

Another anti-dispensationalist distortion maintains that dispensationalism removes a great portion of the Bible. True dispensationalism does not take the Bible away from you; it gives the Bible back to you with tools to rightly divide it. May I reiterate: while all Scripture is profitable, all Scriptural is not personal and will not lead you to misapply sections not designated for this age.

One overarching example of misappropriating Scripture concerns the 613 OT laws given to Israel and no one else (Exod-Deut). Heretics have for years used the Law like a sledge hammer to force their members to obey the Mosaic mandates that were never intended for the church. It’s sad to see how this has kept large numbers of innocent- yet Biblically ignorant- people in the throes of bondage in the age of liberty.

Another noteworthy example of dispensational distinctiveness can be found in the very different ministries of Peter- Apostle to the circumcision, and Paul- Apostle to the uncircumcision. Dr. Noah Hutchings, one of my favorite Bible teachers, writes: Investigating the reasons for church differences, I have concluded that they lie in the failure to understand the variance between the gospel of the Kingdom and the gospel of grace; and more specifically, the message preached by Peter and the message preached by Paul. It is my firm conviction that if all churches could agree on the first fifteen chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, there would be few church differences. Therefore, it is important for Christians to understand the difference between the ministry that Christ committed to Peter and the ministry that He committed to Paul . . . However, the greatest revelation to me concerning dispensational truths and sound doctrine was the scriptural evidence that Paul and Peter [4] did not preach the same message. They preached the same Christ, but not the same gospel [gospel simply means good news].  p2-3. Dr. Hutchings continues:

Some might ask, What about the conversion of the household of Cornelius when Peter preached to them the gospel? If you will read in Acts 10:42, Peter still preached Christ as the judge or ruler of the living dead. While this is certainly true, Peter was still preaching Christ from a Kingdom age covenant position. [5] p7 (Hutchings 1992).


The Epistles of Paul- Dr. CI Scofield

In the Introductory Notes to the Epistles of Paul Dr. Scofield [6]writes: The Epistles of the Apostle Paul have a very distinctive character. All Scripture, up to the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion, looks forward to the cross, and has primarily in view Israel, and the blessing of the earth through the Messianic kingdom. But “hid in God” (Ephesians 3:9) was an unrevealed fact–the interval of time between the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ and His return in glory; and an unrevealed purpose– the outcalling of the ecclesia, the church which is Christ’s body. In Mat. 16, our Lord announced that purpose, but wholly without explanation as to how, when, or of what materials, that church should be built, or what should be its position, relationships, privileges, or duties.

All this constitutes precisely the scope of the Epistles of Paul. They develop the doctrine of the church. In his letters to seven Gentile churches (in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica), the church, the “mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God” (Ephesians 3:9), is fully revealed, and fully instructed as to her unique place in the counsels and purposes of God.

Through Paul alone we know that the church is not an organization, but an organism, the body of Christ; instinct with His life, and heavenly in calling, promise, and destiny. Through him alone we know the nature, purpose, and form of organization of local churches, and the right conduct of such gatherings. Through him alone do we know that “we shall not all sleep,” that “the dead in Christ shall rise first,” and that living saints shall be “changed” and caught up to meet the Lord in the air at His return.

But to Paul was also committed the unfolding of the doctrines of grace which were latent in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Paul originates nothing, but unfolds everything, concerning the nature and purpose of the law; the ground and means of the believer’s justification, sanctification, and glory; the meanings of the death of Christ, and the position, walk, expectation, and service of the Christian.

Paul converted by the personal ministry of the Lord in glory, is distinctively the witness to a glorified Christ, Head over all things to the church which is His body, as the Eleven were to Christ in the flesh, the Son of Abraham and David. (Scofield 1917)

Dr. Hutchings reflects on Scofield: In reviewing the ministry of Peter in relation to what Dr. Scofield said about the ministry of Paul, [7] we remember that the authority for Peter’s ministry is revealed in Matthew 16:19: And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. If the keys of the Kingdom as committed to Peter concerned the church, then why would the Lord commit the revelations concerning the church to Paul? [8] The evident truth is that Peter’s ministry primarily concerned Israel. It had meaning for the Gentiles only in the sense that the Gentiles are to be blessed through Israel during the Kingdom age.

I will close by sharing again this insightful quote from Dr. Hutchings: It is my firm conviction that if all churches could agree on the first fifteen chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, there would be few church differences. Therefore, it is important for Christians to understand the difference between the ministry that Christ committed to Peter and the ministry that He committed to Paul . . . However, the greatest revelation to me concerning dispensational truths and sound doctrine was the scriptural evidence that Paul and Peter did not preach the same message. They preached the same Christ, but not the same gospel.

Works Cited

Hutchings, Dr. Noah. “Why So Many Churches.” In Why So Many Churches, by Dr. Noah Hutchings, 206. Oklahoma City, OK: Bible Belt Publishers, 1992.

Johnston, Dr. Mike. Denominationalism: Defined and Described. Tract, Battle Creek: PMI Center for Biblical Studies, 2011.

Scofield, CI. “Old Scofield Reference Bible.” By CI Scofield. New York City: Oxford University Publishing, 1917.

[1] I am not including cults and fringe groups here like Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Latter Rain/Charismatics, etc.

[2] Old Scofield Study Bibles are sound exegetical proponents of this and we have a 2 year course in Scofield Theology for those with $120 sponsors.

[3] The fact is, unless you take a sacrificial lamb to church with you this coming Saturday (Sabbath), you are at some level a dispensationalist.

[4] Peter was the Jewish facilitator for the Gentile converts Paul would be bringing into the Body of Christ.

[5] Keep in mind, Peter was the Apostle to the circumcision, aka the Jews while Paul was Apostle to the uncircumcision, aka the Gentiles.

[6] We have these Old Scofield Reference Bibles in bonded leather, KJV, available for a gift to PMI of $30 + $4 s/h to help us minister to you and others. Please remember, when you order from us, you help support us. Stamps are welcome.

[7] Dr. Hutchings actually quoted a note in the New Scofield Reference Bible while my quote is from the Old.

[8] The prophets provided Peter with his message for Israel which was confirmed by Christ and focused on earth. Prophecy and Mystery: Paul received his message for the church from the revelation of the mystery hidden from the prophets (Rom 16:25; Eph 3:3-9)  which focused on the heavenlies (Eph 2:6; Col 3:1-4).

[i] Exegesis is the process of approaching Bible interpretation with a humble spirit, and an open mind.  In order to gain a true understanding of God’s Word, one must be willing to allow God’s Word to speak for itself, and be willing to abandon cherished beliefs if they are in conflict with God’s Word.

Exegesis is not merely an intellectual exercise we do all alone.  God tells us that in order to properly understand His Word, we need the help of a) the Holy Spirit and b) others who have strong theological training.  We are also cautioned to be careful about who we allow to influence us.

[ii] Eisegesis is the approach to Bible interpretation where the interpreter tries to “force” the Bible to mean something that fits their existing belief or understanding of a particular issue or doctrine.  People who interpret the Bible this way are usually not willing to let the Bible speak for itself and let the chips fall where they may.  They start off with the up-front goal of trying to prove a point they already believe in, and everything they read and interpret is filtered through that paradigm. Stated another way, they engage in what the Bible refers to as “private interpretation”.

[iii] No other disciplines offer the seven dispensational distinctions. Two contemporary disciplines, Kingdom Now and Covenant Theology basically teach the Covenants of Works and Grace while all eke their existence out at the expense of Israel for which they blasphemously claim has been replaced by the church (Rev. 2:9; 3:9).

[iv] The word dispensation means “dispense” or administer.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a reply (vulgarity and viciousness will not be posted)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: