by Jerry Shugart
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).
The Beginning of the Present "Dispensation of the Grace of God"
Following are three quotes from the pen of Paul where he speaks of a "dispensation" that has been committed or given to him and one of those verses is about the "dispensation of the Grace of God":
"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).
There can be no doubt whatsoever that the event which marks the beginning of the "dispensation of grace" is the preaching of the "gospel of grace."
The Acts 2 Dispensationalists (the dispensationalists who place the beginning of the present dispensation on the day of Pentecost) call those who teach that the present dispensation began sometime
after Pentecost "ultradispensationalists." John Nelson Darby, considered by many to be the father of modern dispensationalism, must be considered an ultradispensationalist because he taught that the
present dispensation began after Acts 2:
"Reference to the second chapter of Galatians will confirm and establish the point historically as to the present dispensation, where not only is the fact stated of Paul having the ministry of the
Gentiles, as Peter of the circumcision; but it was actually agreed on their conference, consequent upon the grace given, that Paul and Barnabas should go to the uncircumcision; and James, and Cephas, and
John should go to the circumcision. And so far was the apostle's mind under Judaising influence, that it required a positive fresh revelation to induce him to go into company with a Gentile at all, and even after
this he would not eat when certain came from James. In fact the Gentile dispensation, as a distinct thing, took its rise on the death of Stephen, the witness that the Jews resisted the Holy Ghost: as their
fathers did, so did they" (John Nelson Darby, The Apostasy Of The Successive Dispensations; http:/biblecentre.org/content.php?mode=7&item=613).
Acts 2 Dispensationalist Charles Ryrie writes that "What the ultradispensationalist fail to recognize is that the distinguishableness of a dispensation is related to what God is doing, not necessarily to
what He reveals at the time, and least of all to what man understands of His purposes" [emphasis added] (Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 201).
Ryrie states that "the question that decides the beginning of this dispensation is, When did God begin to do this? Not, When did man understand it?...Therefore, whether Peter and the others understood
it then does not determine the beginning of the present dispensation" [emphasis added] (Ibid., 201-2).
According to Ryrie the present dispensation began when the LORD began it and not when men understood it. However, earlier in the same book Ryrie wrote the following:
"Therefore, we conclude that a new dispensation was inaugurated, since the economy and responsibility changed and the new revealation was given" [emphasis added] (Ibid., 34).
Ryrie also listed the things that are necessary to effect a change from one dispensation to another:
"Thus, the distinguishing characteristics of a different dispensation are three: (1) a change in God's governmental relationship with man (though a dispensation does not have to be composed entirely of completely
new features); (2) a resultant change in man's responsibility; and (3) corresponding revelation necessary to effect the change" [emphasis added] (Ibid).
Ryrie is correct that before there can be a "change in God's governmental relationship with man" there must be a corresponding 'revelation' necessary to effect the change. Of course a person cannot be
held responsible for carrying out a stewardship or dispensation unless he is given a revelation which spells out the new dispensational responsibilities. Dr. Ryrie understands this to be correct, using
the "dispensation of the law" as an example to illustrate this principle:
"At the giving of the law to the Israelites through Moses, God's government was mediated through the various categories of the law...His principal mode of government was the Mosaic code, which was
a new thing introduced at that time. It also means that the responsibility upon mankind was conformity to that code...again a new responsibility, for prior to the giving of the law people were obviously not
held responsible for something that did not exist" [emphasis added] (Ibid., 33-4).
Despite the clear writing of Dr. Ryrie on this point he turns around and says that a new dispensation can begin without God revealing anything to man:
"In this book a dispensation has been defined as a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God's purpose...What the ultradispensationalist fail to recognize is that the distinguishableness of a
dispensation is related to what God is doing, not necessarily to what He reveals at the time, and least of all to what man understands of His purposes" [emphasis added] (Ibid., 201).
Confusion reigns supreme in the Acts 2 community in regard to the beginning of the present dispensation and the birthday of the Church which is His Body.
Are Dispensations Conditions for Salvation?
The Doctrinal Statement of Dallas Theological Seminary says: "We believe that the dispensations are not ways of salvation nor different methods of administering the so-called Covenant of Grace " (Dallas Theological Seminary; Full Doctrinal Statement, Article V).
Despite this Charles Ryrie says that "under grace the responsibility on man is to accept the gift of righteousness that God freely offers to all (Rom. 5:15-18) " (Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 56).
In his book Ryrie provides a chart labeled THE DISPENSATIONS . There he lists the responsibilities of men in each dispensation, and under "Grace" he lists "Believe on Christ" and "Walk with Christ" (Ibid., 54).
So Ryrie is teaching that the "dispensation of grace" is indeed a way of salvation despite the fact that the "Doctrinal Statement" of Dallas Theological Seminary rejects that idea.
Phillip Heideman of Chafer Theological Seminary writes: "Moreover, according to Ryrie's chart on page 54 of 'Dispensationalism,' one of the tests in the Age of Grace is faith in Christ. That would lead one to think that each Dispensation has its own test for entrance into God's eternal kingdom. Moreover, in most, if not all cases, the test includes some system of good works/obedience. Certainly, Dr. Ryrie along with others who agree with his position, if asked, would acknowledge that salvation always has been and always will be by faith in God/Christ and that Dispensationalism is not teaching different ways of salvation. Yet, sometimes the way scholars present Dispensationalism, at least in the traditional way, leads to confusion on this point. " (Phillip Heideman, "Dispensational Theology," Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 4:3 [July, 1998], 36-37).
Again, we can see that when it comes to the beginning of the Body of Christ and the beginning of the present dispensation the Acts 2 Dispensationalists remain in a state of confusion.