by Jerry Shugart

XII. When Did the Body of Christ Begin?

Since it has been demonstrated that the Body of Christ did not begin on the day of Pentecost we will now determine when it did begin. Let us examine the evidence surrounding the Body of Christ

In Christ Before Me

In this verse Paul speaks of other believers who were "in Christ" before he was:

"Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me" (Ro.16:7).

Those who are said to be "in Christ" are members of the Church, which is His Body. If "any one be in Christ" he is a member of the Body of Christ. Therefore, the Body of Christ came into existence sometimes after the day of Pentecost and before Paul was converted. I believe that the Body of Christ came into existence when Stephen was stoned at Acts 7.

The Unpardonable Sin

Let us look at the following words of the Lord Jesus:

" Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come" (Mt.12:31-32).

In The Berean Searchlight Win Johnson wrote:

"These words of warning came from the lips of the Son of God while He walked among men in His earthly ministry. They were addressed to the religious leaders of the nation Israel. Their blasphemy against Him even when He hung on the Cross was forgiven by the Father in answer to the prayer, 'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do' (Luke 23:34).

"But when at Pentecost, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, announced the return of Messiah on the condition of Israel's national repentance, these leaders instigated a persecution that reached its climax in the stoning of Stephen, a godly man, 'full of the Holy Ghost' (Acts 7:54-60). It was here that the 'unpardonable sin' was committed by Israel's leaders. The Third Person of the Trinity had been blasphemed and His pleadings through the Apostles ignored. This sin will never be forgiven" (Win Johnson, "The Unpardonable Sin," The Berean Searchlight, Feb.2001, p.6).

The "unpardonable sin" was committed at Acts 7, and I believe that at that point in time national Israel was temporarily set aside. I believe that at that time the Holy Spirit baptized all believers into the Church, which is His Body.

It was no coincidence that when Israel was temporarily set aside that Paul first comes into view. He was right there when Stephen was stoned and he gave his approval to that act:

"And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem... (Acts 8:1).

John Nelson Darby writes that "Saul was present at Stephen's death, and consenting to it. This is the end of the first phase of the assembly of God-its history in immediate connection with Jerusalem and the Jews, as the centre to which the work of the apostles related, 'beginning at Jerusalem'..." [emphasis added] (John Darby's Synopsis of the Entire Bible; Commentary at Acts 8).

Therefore, according to Darby, Israel remained the focus of the LORD's purposes as late as the seventh chapter of Acts. We read virtually the same thing in the Scofield Reference Bible here:

"They had brought false witnesses against Stephen; he bears true witness against them, quoting the testimony of writers they owned to be inspired. He speaks of the persistent rejection of God and His servants by the nation til at last it is brought home to themselves, and arouses the maddened enmity of their hearts. It was the final trial of the nation" [emphasis added] (Scofield Reference Notes by Cyrus Ingerson Scofield--1917).

XIII. Paul and His Ministry

William R. Newell, longtime associate of Moody Bible Institute, wrote the following about Paul and his ministry:

"The twelve Apostles (Matthias by Divine appointment taking the place of Judas) were to be the 'witnesses' (Acts 1:22) of Christ's resurrection--that is, of the fact of it. They were not to unfold fully the doctrine of it as Paul was...But unto none of these twelve Apostles did God reveal the great body of doctrine for this Age. Just as God chose Moses to be the revelator to Israel for the Ten Commandments and all connected with the Law dispensation, so God chose Saul of Tarsus to be the revelator and unfolder of those mighty truths connected with our Lord's death, burial, and resurrection and His ascended Person. And all the 'mysteries' or 'secrets' revealed to God's people in this Dispensation by the Holy Spirit are revealed by Paul. Finally, Paul is the unfolder of the great company of God's elect, called the Church, the Body of Christ, the individuals of which Body are called members of the Body of Chris--members of Christ Himself" [emphasis added] (Newell, Paul's Gospel).

After reading this Bible tract Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founding President of Dallas Theological Seminary, said:

"This is a great tract, a clear treatise on the truth of God for this age. The author was one of America's greatest Bible expositors. It glorifies the Savior as the author desired it to do. It should be distributed by hundreds of thousands" [emphasis added] (Editor, Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1994, Volume 7:12).

XIV. The Beginning of the Present Dispensation of the Grace of God

Here are three quotes from the pen of Paul where he speaks of a "dispensation" that has been committed or given to him:

"If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me toward you" (Eph. 3:2).

"Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God" (Col.1:25).

"...a dispensation of the gospel is committed unto me" (1 Cor.9:17).

The "dispensation" which was committed to Paul is in regard to "God's grace", a "ministry", and a "gospel." Here Paul sums up his dispensational responsibility:

"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).

In Bibliotheca Sacra, a journal published by Dallas Theological Seminary, Roy L. Aldrich quotes these three verses (Eph.3:2; Col.1:25; 1 Cor.9:17) and then says, "These passages use the word 'dispensation' (or 'stewardship') to describe the sacred commission or trust to preach the gospel" [emphasis added] (Aldrich, "A New Look at Dispensationalism," Bibliotheca Sacra, January-March, 1963, Vol.120, Number 477, p.43).

Paul first preached the gospel of the grace of God to the Gentiles at Acts 13:46-47 so that marks the beginning of the present dispensation.

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