by Jerry Shugart
During the 70's and 80's a financial service company advertised on television with the phrase, "When E.F.Hutton talks, people listen." When Hutton's name is mentioned by a young professional during a dinner party, his overheard words cause the loud party to cease all conversation to listen to him. Today the same can be said among the Acts 2 dispensationalists, "When Charles Ryrie talks, people listen." Ryrie's teaching on the topic of dispensationalism is the gold standard among Acts 2 believers.
In this study it will be demonstrated that Dr. Ryrie lacks an understanding of the basic Biblical dispensational arrangement. We will see that his misunderstanding of the Biblical dispensational arrangement leads to his mistaken assertion that the present "dispensation of grace" began on the Day of Pentecost.
II. Basic Biblical Dispensational Arrangement
In his book Dispensationalism Dr. Ryrie explains the meaning of the Greek word translated "dispensation":
"The Greek word 'oikonomia' comes from the verb that means to manage, regulate, administer, and plan. The word itself is a compound whose parts mean literally 'to divide, apportion, administer or manage the affairs of an inhabited house.' In the papyri the officer (oikonomos) who administered a dispensation was referred to as a steward or manager of an estate, or as a treasurer. Thus, the central idea in the word dispensation is that of managing or administering the affairs of a household" [emphasis added] (Ryrie, Dispensationalism,[Moody Press, 1995], p.25).
Yes, the central idea is that of managing or administering the affairs of a household.
In fact, Dr Ryrie says that "the word 'dispensation' means literally a 'stewardship'or 'administration' or 'economy.'" [emphasis mine] (Ibid., p.25).
Now let us look at this verse which speaks of an administration which was committed or given to Paul:
"Whereof I am made a minister, according to the administration of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God" (Col.1:25).
Here we can see that Paul says that an administration was given to him so therefore he is the one who is administering the affairs of a household. Despite this Dr. Ryrie says the following:
"Dispensationalism views the world as a household run by God. In His household/world God is dispensing or administering its affairs according to His own will and in various stages of revelation in the passage of time" [emphasis added] (Ibid., p.29).
Despite the fact that it is Paul who is administering the affairs of a household Dr. Ryrie says that God is administering its affairs. Now let us look at the following two verses where Paul speaks of an "administration" was was committed or given to him
"...an administration of the gospel is committed unto me" (1 Cor.9:17).
It is Paul who has been given the administration and is therefore administering the affairs in regard to the gospel, not God. Next, we can see the same idea that it is not God who is administering the affairs but instead Paul:
"If ye have heard of the administration of the grace of God which is given me toward you" (Eph. 3:2).
Here Paul says that he was given the administration so he is the one who is administering the affairs, not God. The "administration: which was committed to Paul is in regard to a "ministry," a "gospel" and the "grace of God." In the following verse Paul sums up his responsibility in regard to the administration which was given to him:
"But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20: 24).
Dr. Ryrie does not even understand the basic dispensational arrangement because he thinks that God is now running the affairs of His household/world despite the fact that Paul was given that responsibility:
"...it would seem from the concept of a dispensation as related to God's running the affairs of of His household (the world), that, when temporal history ends, the household arrangement...also ends" (Ibid.,p.48).
Dr. Ryrie fails to understand that the person who is given an "administration" or "stewardship" is the one who is running or administering the household/world. At another place Dr. Ryrie correctly understands the following principle in regard to the basic dispensational arrangement:
"Basically there are two parties: the one whose authority it is to delegate duties, and the one whose responsibility it is to carry out these charges" (Ibid., p.26).
The one who has been delegated the duties is the one who is running or administering the affairs of the household/world and in this case it is Paul and not God. It was the Lord Jesus who had the authority to delegate the duty of being a minister of the gospel and it was Paul who had the responsibility to be a minister of the gospel. Here Paul makes that arrangement clear:
"But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).
It was Paul who preached the gospel so common sense dictates that it is Paul, and not God, who is administering the stewardship responsibility of preaching the gospel in the household/world.
Definition and Lack of Clarity
Dr. Ryrie writes that "There is no more primary problem in the whole matter of dispensationalism than that of definition...To say that there is a great lack of clear thinking on this matter of definition is an understatement. Both dispensationalists and nondispensationalists are often guilty of lack of clarity " (Ryrie, Ibid., p.23).
Dr. Ryrie is not only guilty of a "lack of clarity." His understanding of exactly who is running or administering God's household (the world) is directly contradicted by the Scriptures. Using his flawed understanding of the basic Biblical dispensational arrangement Dr. Ryie attempts to prove that the beginning of the Body of Christ represents the beginning of the present "dispensation of grace":
"What the ultradispensationalists fail to recognize is that the distinguishableness of a dispensation is related to what God is doing...these are economies of God, not of man...The distinguishable feature of this economy is the formation of the church, which is Christ's Body. This is the work of God; therefore, the question that decides the beginning of this dispensation is, When did God begin to do this? Not, When did man understand it? Only by consulting the completed revelation can we understand that God began to do this work on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:5; 11:15-16; 1 Cor. 12:13; Col. 1:18). Therefore, whether Peter and the others understood it then does not determine the beginning of the present dispensation" (Ibid., pp. 201-202).
What decides the beginning of a dispensation is when man begans to administer the affairs of the household/world.