Classic Pauline Dispensationalism Explained
Before delving into various affirmations of withChrist.org, it may be best to state what Classic Pauline Dispensationalism (CPD) is not. CPD is not one of the many variants of dispensationalism which believe the advent of the Body of Christ (Church) came after the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. Nearly two decades ago, we coined the term “post-Acts 2,” to describe groups who believe the Church began with the Apostle Paul in either Acts 9, Acts 13, or Acts 28(1).
By contrast, we believe the Church began at Acts 2 and that Paul was commissioned by the Risen Lord Jesus Christ to progressively unfold and explain, to the other Apostles and members of the Body, various aspects of subjects previous hidden (“mysteries”) as mentioned throughout his epistles. Thus by classic, we mean the historic view which was held (recovered) and expounded by such groups as the 19th century Plymouth Brethren, and later by American dispensationalists, albeit with modification(2).
Church history records two major “recoveries” of Pauline teaching. This first focused upon the foundational truths of the authority of Scripture (sola Scriptura) together with justification by grace through faith (sola gratia plus sola fide), and is identified with men like Martin Luther (1483-1546) who were contributors to the great Protestant Reformation. The second recovery of truth, which in part built upon the first, is identified with John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) and the Plymouth Brethren, which arose during the middle of the 19th century. Darby set forth “…the Scriptures to be absolutely inspired by God and the sole authority for faith and practice,” as well as “the sovereignty of God, election, assurance, acceptance, and unconditional eternal security.”
(1) Despite their extensive arguments, these groups fail to find agreement among their own and are seemingly consumed with belligerently arguing the issue of when the Church began (similar to debates over the meaning of baptism between Baptist and Church of Christ denominations)…ad nauseum. Sadly, there is little focus upon the Risen Lord Jesus Christ and His Glory.
(2) An extensive documentation of this history was undertaken by the late Christian author, Roy A. Huebner in several of his works, which are available from Present Truth Publishers, Jackson, NJ. For an introduction, see J. N. Darby’s Teaching Regarding Dispensations, Ages, Administrations and the Two Parentheses, 1993, and DISPENSATIONAL TRUTH, Volume 1, 1998. Both publications contain exposition regarding the error(s) of post-Acts 2 dispensationalism.
We are evangelical-fundamental believers holding to the following truths:
SCRIPTURE & KNOWLEDGE
THE GODHEAD – DEITY
MANKIND & THE FALL
Further, in theological circles the term Pauline is a classical adjective used when speaking of the unique works of the Apostle Paul, his writings, teachings, and theological doctrines derived from them.
The etymology of Dispensationalism relates to the English word dispensation which is “an anglicized form of the Latin dispensatio, which the Vulgate uses to translate the Greek work” oikonomia. Oikonomia comes from the Greek verb meaning: to manage, regulate, administer, and plan. Broadly speaking, a dispensation is: a stewardship, an economy, an administration. While a dispensation can involve a duration of time, it is misleading to treat a dispensation as being synonymous with a biblical aeon (age) or a biblical diatheke (covenant). Distinctions in the various activities of the Godhead have been recognized by theologians and Bible students down through church history. However, it is an error to assume that every mention of oikonomia signifies a major shift in the plans of God.
The truths of the Gospel came under attack in the 1st century. Read Paul’s letter to the Galatians. A “different” Gospel began to establish itself and genuine Christianity increasingly became marginalized. By the post-Apostolic era, the true, born-again Church was fully in exile and the spiritual darkness of Christendomwas in ascendance. For the most part, this period spanned nearly fourteen centuries!
The Lord used the Reformation (1500-1650) to recover three foundational tenets from a long era of ecclesiastical and religious darkness.
While the Reformation rejected the religious humanism of Roman Catholicism and reestablished a sound biblical foundation based on NT revelation, it was only the beginning in the recovery of Pauline truth. Later the Lord used one John Nelson Darby, (1800-1882), a leader within the Irish/English Plymouth Brethren, to restore to the Church an understanding of the full-orbed revelation originally given (Gal.1:11,12) by the Ascended Lord Jesus Christ through the Apostle Paul. This included clarification of sanctification by grace, through faith, (not law) plus a clear understanding about the true, born-again Church. At a most basic level, the essence of Pauline dispensational theology, as found in Scripture, is “God has one purpose: to glorify Himself in Christ. This involves glory in two spheres, the earthly and the heavenly.”
Therefore, classic Pauline Dispensationalism is used to describe the biblical emphasis as originally set forth in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul, with portions historically recovered by Martin Luther during the 16th century (Protestant Reformation), and a further major recovery by John Nelson Darby during the middle of the 19th century. This framework was embraced by a majority of the original Plymouth Brethren, and dispensational Bible teachers in America such as Clarence Larkin, William R. Newell, Miles J. Stanford, and others. Many American dispensationalists drew heavily upon the deeply-spiritual writings of the original Plymouth Brethren.
Among dispensationalists, confusion has arisen regarding the term. At the end of the 20th century and start of the 21st, the label is used by various groups with both subtle and not so subtle differences in meaning. Our explanation will hopefully clarify these differences.
The Church/Body began on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, but the doctrinal details of this spiritual event were a complete mystery until revealed to Paul by the Risen Christ (Gal.1:12) and then expounded by this Apostle to others. Contrary to a narrowly-held, dispensational error, the Apostle Paul was not the first member of the Body of Christ. For several decades following Pentecost, the other Jewish Apostles, including Peter, were unclear regarding much of this new truth and would subsequently learn it ‘secondhand’ from Paul (2 Peter 3:15,16).
We hold to the following indispensable tenets regarding the Church–the Body of Christ:
“…for a dispensationalist it is best not to refer to the difference between the Old Testament (books) and New Testament (books), as such. Much of the NT (Synoptic Gospels) is OT (related to Israel and her covenants): all is OT to Matthew 27, Mark 15, and Luke 23. Church (Body) truth, the new, is totally different from Judaistic truth, the old; and it was not fully revealed until after the Cross, via Paul.” MJS
Should your Dispensationalism fall below or depart from these standards, it may be time to take a long and hard look at the difference. If your theological ancestors or contemporaries have spent their livelihoods arguing and debating among themselves, even attempting to draw others into the incessant fray, and not focused upon developing a deeper and more meaningful relationship with the Risen and Ascended Lord Jesus Christ, maybe it’s time you considered Classic Pauline Dispensationalism. Pauline dispensationalist Miles Stanford had this to say:
NO COMPROMISE! — A Dispensationalism that includes ground for the charismatic, is a danger to the Church. There may be the claim of “complete separation” of Israel and the Church, while at the same time including charismatic ground, i.e., secondary application of the Sermon on the Mount, the “spiritual” blessings of Israel’s New Covenant, plus aspects of the “present/future” millennial kingdom.
A Dispensationalism that provides ground for Covenantism, is a danger to the Church. There may be the claim of “complete separation” of Israel and the Church, while at the same time including Covenant ground, i.e., secondary application of the Sermon on the Mount, the “spiritual blessings” of Israel’s New Covenant, plus aspects of the “present/ future” millennial kingdom. Such compromised, inclusive Dispensationalism is the spawning ground for charismatic craziness, Lordship salvation, Covenant legalism, Reconstructionism, etc. [bold emphasis mine]
A Dispensationalism that does not include ground for the charismatics, or Covenantism, is a blessing to the Church. The home ground of the Body, her growth ground is in the glorified, heavenly Lord Jesus Christ, who is her Head and her Life. Her doctrinal ground is centered in the Pauline Church Epistles. Carefully note Ephesians 3:9-11. I would a thousand times rather be accused of making the Synoptic Gospels secondary to the Pauline Church Epistles, than to make Paul secondary to anything [other than the Lord Jesus Christ]!
“Now unto him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began” (Rom. 16:25). The mystery, in a general sense, includes all those peculiar revelations kept in silence from the “aeons” – before Adam and from the “generations” since Adam. Heavenly revelations they were, given by the Lord to Paul, according to which his whole ministry proceeds. They revealed resurrection things; they are non-earthly and heavenly in their character, and are connected with neither Judaism nor any forms of worship. “We are the circumcision (that is those cut off by the Cross from the old Adam line and all earthly things), who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus (His risen, heavenly Name, as connected with the Church) and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).
(1) The “mystery of faith” (1 Tim. 3:9). “The faith” is not only the body of doctrine that sets forth the heavenly truths revealed in Paul’s gospel, but that spiritual apprehension of them that held them fast in the spirit and in a good conscience. It is not opinions, but vital revelations of the Gospel, held as living oracles of God.
(2) The mystery of the union of Christ and the Church as His Body and Bride, is especially revealed in Eph. 5, but appears throughout all the Pauline epistles, even in Romans 12:5, as also in 1 Cor. 12:12, and Eph. 1:22, 23. This union is the basis of all the exhortations to love and obedience.
(3) The “mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:4), shows that in this mystical Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, all having been chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, having been cut off from their connection by birth with the first Adam, at the Cross, and created anew in Christ. Paul was made minister of this mystery and given the task “to make all men see what is the stewardship of this mystery which for ages has been hid in God Who created all things” (Eph. 3:9). The object was that through this Church might be made known the manifold wisdom of God unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.
The Church itself was to belong to heaven, though formed by the Spirit on earth, Christ Himself being the Head of it, and every believer a member of Christ and of one another in this Body which will be (has been) given the highest place in glory, though recreated from earth’s sinners, according to “the purpose of the ages,” which the Father purposes in the Son. The highest place given to the lowest creatures, thus reveals the character of the Father — His manifold wisdom forever as nothing else could do. God is Himself love, and the Cross is an exhibition of that love and the commendation of it.
The Church, being given the highest position in heaven, will exhibit the activity of that love which is called in Scripture, grace. The world knows nothing of this. It regards the Church as having taken Israel’s place, and being simply an earthly religious organization seeking to obey the general human conscience. The world knows nothing of the fact that the Church is already called, justified, and glorified, being united to Christ Himself, in death, risen and seated with Him in the heavenly places; and that same favor is extended to it, that is extended to the Father’s Beloved, its Head; and its worship is by the Holy Spirit.
(4) The mystery of God — even Christ, “in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden” (Col. 2:2, 3). This heavenly and glorified Lord Jesus is revealed to the heart of the believer as the Object of his worship, faith, praise and fellowship — by the Holy Spirit. This heavenly One is altogether unknown by the unsaved man.
(5) The mystery of Christ indwelling the believer (Col. 1:26, 27). He is called “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” “Abide in me, and I in you” (Col. 1:27; John 15:4). This is the great two-fold mystery, which in these Colossians verses is said to “fill up” the Word of God, being the highest revelation therein, and being the mysterywhich hath been hid from the ages and generations, but now being manifested. The “riches of the glory of this mystery” is made known to saints.
(6) The mystery of the Rapture of the Church at the Lord’s coming into the air, involving both the raising of those who have fallen asleep in the Lord Jesus, and also those alive at the moment (1 Thess. 4; 1 Cor. 15).
(7) The mystery of the fellow-heirship in Christ of Jew and Gentile (Eph. 3:3, 4, 9). This mystery does not seem great to us now who live on this earth, where we are accustomed to Jew and Gentile distinction as well as national differences generally, but when we remember that the Church was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (when there was no such distinction, or, indeed, any human being whatsoever), we see how great a secret this is: especially in view of the peculiar promises to national Israel in the Old Testament.
(8) The mystery of the wisdom of God, in secret in Christ: so that Paul and true preachers speak the wisdom of God that hath been hidden before the ages for our glory (1 Cor. 2:7). These things are revealed to us by the Spirit Who not only refuses to use man’s wisdom but also man’s words: “in words which the Spirit teacheth combining (or expressing) spiritual things with spiritual words.”
(9) The mystery of the Kingdom of God, in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit (Rom. 14:17). Only new-born or new-created men in Christ know thismystery ( 2 Cor. 5:17; John 3:3).
(10) The mystery of iniquity (2 Thess. 2:7). Satan is not permitted as yet to bring forth fully the “apostasy,” which will come when the world worships Satan intelligently (Rev. 13), the Church having been previously taken away according to 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, and Revelation 3:10). Babylon or “confusion” is another name for this mystery in this age — see harlot church (Rev. 17), centered in seven-hilled Rome.
(11) The mystery of the hardening in part of Israel (Rom. 11:25). Though there is at present a remnant according to the election of grace, yet national Israel’s eyes are peculiarly blinded to their own Scriptures, to Christ as their Messiah, and to grace as God’s only method of salvation.
(12) The mystery of God’s will purposed in Christ, looking unto “a dispensation of the fullness of times, to sum up (Eph. 1:10) all things in Christ (that is). the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth” (not the lower or lost world, as in Phil. 2:10; Rev. 5:13). The foundation of this in Eph. 2:10, will be the “Blood of His Cross” (Col. 1:19, 20). The saints alone have this mighty future purpose of God revealed to them; all others count upon man and the earth, which is cursed. — Wm. R. Newell
“We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church” (Eph. 5:31, 32).
The special mystery committed to the apostle Paul is the mystery of the Church as the Body and Bride of Christ. Why, it may be asked, was this kept a secret? Because it is a heavenly thing, the subject of God’s heavenly counsels; whereas the purpose of the Old Testament prophecies is to make known His earthly counsels. This is of great importance as showing how completely the Church lies outside the world. It has a different origin, it is revealed at a different time, it cherishes a different hope, it belongs to a different sphere.
Instead of inheriting the Old Testament promises and fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies, it forms the most absolute contrast with them that the mind can conceive. So different are they that the two cannot exist together. While God’s purposes about the earth were being unfolded, the mystery of the Church was hidden. When the mystery of the Church was unfolded, the purposes about the earth were suspended.
The Church is associated with Christ in heaven; Israel is associated with Him on earth. The Church knows Him in His sufferings and patience; Israel will know Him in His exaltation and power. The Church rejoices in Him as the Bride in her Bridegroom; Israel will rejoice in Him as a nation in her Sovereign. The Church looks for Him to take her to heaven; Israel looks for Him to establish her in the earth. Such is our blessed lot, such our heavenly portion, in contrast with even the most favored of the earthly people. Alas, that our hearts fall so short of this wondrous position!
However we may slight or neglect it, the apostle Paul did not. Earnest as he was in seeking souls, full as he was in setting forth the simple truth of grace to the sinner, this magnificent subject of “the mystery of Christ” was never absent from his thoughts or heart. If he prayed for the establishment of the saints, it was “according to the mystery.” If he would have them “knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding,” it is “to the acknowledgment of the mystery.” If he would have the real character of the truth committed to him understood, it is that God had by revelation “made known unto me the mystery.”
And this mystery is the Church, as the Body and Bride of the Lord Jesus Christ, already united with Him by the Holy Spirit sent down to indwell the Body on earth, and awaiting the time when this blessed oneness will be publicly displayed: “when Christ, who is our life, shall appear,” and we also shall “appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4). Surely if our hearts were more in tune with the mind of the Father and with the affections of the Lord Jesus, this wondrous theme would fill us with never-ceasing worship and praise! — T.B. Baines
Revelation Of The Mystery
The Father had a sovereign purpose to take certain creatures into His own glory, to share in that glory. And He desired also that these should know Him in His nature as Love, and be with Him, before Him, in that blissful atmosphere of pure love, forever. These happy creatures were not to be taken from among the “elect angels,” — holy. blessed beings that these are.
It was the Father’s purpose to manifest Himself, all that He is — not in holiness and righteousness and truth only; but in His infinite Love, Grace, Mercy, Tenderness, Gentleness, and Patience. He therefore sent His Son, and lo! God was manifest in the flesh! The Lord Jesus declared the Father — all that He was, which had never been done before, to any of His creatures. But, after revealing the Father’s love, mercy, and gracious tenderness towards sinners, the Son of God goes to the Cross. And there is revealed the eternal unchangeable holiness of the Father in hatred of sin, together with that love capable of giving the Son of His delight to bear sin for a world that rejected, despised His Son!
But the mystery of which Paul speaks was not yet revealed. There is prophecy in the Psalms and prophets, and a witness in the types of all the sufferings, that the Son of God, the Messiah, would suffer, and that for human sin. “Thus it is written in the law, the prophets and the psalms, that Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day,” our Lord said to His disciples in Luke 24:44–46. While “the mystery” had been “hid in God who created all things” — hid “from the ages and from the generations.”
What then, is the mystery? It is wrapped up (though not revealed) in our Lord’s words in His great heavenly prayer of John 17; for here we find Him praying for a company given Him by the Father out of the world. Our Lord asks four things for them in John 17. (1) That they may be kept — in the Father’s name, and from the evil one (vss. 11–15); (2) That they might be sanctified — as not of the world, first in truth, and second by our Lord’s identification with them — “for their sakes I sanctify Myself (vss. 16–19); (3) That they may be “one,” “perfected into one,” and that in a wondrous union to be defined “as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee, that they may be one in Us” (vss. 21–23); (4) That these may be with Him — and that forever, where He is, to behold His glory into which He would enter upon His ascension (vss. 5, 24).
Now in verse 22, our Lord Jesus says plainly, “The glory which Thou hast given Me I have given unto them.” So that this glory into which Christ was to enter was to be shared with these whom the Father had given Him. This, then, is the foundation for the revelation of “the mystery.” Certain were to be brought, in Christ, intothe divine glory! They were to be “manifested with Him in glory,” at His appearing. But that would be because they had entered into a glory never before given creatures. It was not given to angels, seraphim, or cherubim, but the Blood-bought sinners as members of Christ!
Nor was such a union proposed to earthly Israel. Redeemed Israel will, indeed, “see the glory of God.” “Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty,” is promised to that beloved, restored nation (Isa. 33:17); and also that over restored Jerusalem “the glory shall be spread a covering” (Isa. 4:2–6). But there was never a hint in the Old Testament, and much of the New, that there would be a heavenly calling — a company who would enter into that glory, be glorified with this glorious One!
This is the secret, the mystery, “kept in silence through times of ages,” the unfolding of which Paul declares will establish the saints. For it must involve the revelation to us that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). That we were foreknown, and foreordained to be “conformed to the image of God’s Son, that He might be the First-born among many brethren.” That we, having a sinful heritage in Adam the first, would not only have our sins put away, in God’s grace, by the Blood of His Son; but would be so identified with Him, by God’s astonishing act, as to be cut off from all connection with the first Adam and be re-created in His Son, now risen from the dead.
That we would not only be enlifed in Him, but raised up with Him, and made to sit together with Him in the heavenlies- -thus passing out of earthly connections, and becoming citizens of heaven. That, in the riches of the glory of the mystery, Christ would be in us, dwelling in our hearts by faith, in the energy of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Col. 1:27; Eph. 3:14–21). That thus, our hearts being as a “mirror,” we would behold the glory of the Lord, and be transformed into His image “from glory to glory,” here below (2 Cor. 3:18).
That, at our Lord’s coming for us, our bodies would be in an instant redeemed (1 Cor. 15:51–53); so that these bodies of humiliation would be, by Christ’s fashioning them anew, at once “conformed to the body of His glory”; so that “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him even as He is” (Phil. 3:20, 21; 1 John 3:2). That, in “the ages to come,” God will “show the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7).
And that, as Eve shared with the first Adam the dominion given him, being one with him (she having been taken out. of his side) and even sharing with him his name Adam (Gen. 1:28; 2:21–23; 5:1, 2); just so the Church, the wife of the Lamb, as one with Christ, having been re-created in Him and sharing with Him His name (1 Cor. 12:12), will share His dominion. That thus Christ and His Bride, the Church, shall be forever: “That they may be with Me where I am; that they may behold My glory which Thou hast given Me; and the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given unto them. “ Creatures — only creatures we, and forever will be, but given the highest position which the Word of God gives to creatures: “For we are members of Christ’s Body” and, “we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God”(Rom. 5:2).
Now, although on the Day of Pentecost God baptized into Christ in glory those in the upper room, and all believers thereafter; and although it is true that God thus in their experience made known to “His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit,” “this mystery of Christ which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men”; yet He chose Paul to open out before saints the doctrine of this heavenly mystery or secret, and to write in “all his Epistles” these thines for-us.
All the apostles knew, for example, on that Day of Pentecost that Christ had been glorified in heaven and that they were in the boundless joy of the revelation of this glorious Lord Jesus to their souls. They had all entered into the enjoyment of the blessedness belonging to this great thing concealed by God from all creatures before that moment. But it was Paul to whom the risen Lord revealed the whole doctrine of the mystery.
No one is able to read, understand, believe and meditate upon this, God’s great secret of our heavenly calling, our identification with Christ Himself and with the glory that shall be revealed, without becoming himself heavenly minded. So that the heralding of Jesus Christ according to the unfolding of the mystery is the teaching by which the Father establishes His saints. For if indeed we are heavenly; if our “citizenship” is in heaven; if our worship is by the Spirit; if through Christ by that Spirit we have “our access to the Father” — unto God in heaven — how utterly unable is any “religious” earthly system to, establish us! Nay, says Paul; “We are the circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).
We would remind the reader that unless this “revelation of the mystery” becomes indeed revelation to his own soul, he must fall short entirely of understanding what the present dispensation is; and what is the Church’s real character, calling, destiny, and present walk. As the prayer of Paul for us is realized in us, “That you may know what is the hope of His calling” (Eph. 1:18, 19), these things will be brought to pass in you and me:
NOTE: If you are a regular visitor, loyal supporter, or consider yourself a Classic Pauline Dispensationalist pursuant to the definition found at “Classic Pauline Dispensationalism” Explained, drop me an email indicating your city, state, province, and country, etc. We have created a ‘non-public’ fellowship registry for individuals. We’ll put you on the map and provide details. Requirements: If you’ve never corresponded or its been a while since we’ve heard from you, please provide some background (brief spiritual bio) information. Also, please read question #14 on our FAQs page.
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