By PAUL J. SCHARF, M.Div.
Editor in Chief
(Read Part 1)
The fact that God’s dealings with people—not His essence or character (see Heb. 13:8)—differ according to His dispensational plan is so clear that even non-dispensational theologians speak, to some extent or other, in these terms, although they distinguish their handling of this issue from that of dispensationalists.
Take, for instance, Louis Berkhof, who is widely recognized as a leading Reformed theologian. He writes of “distinguishing just two dispensations or administrations, namely, that of the Old, and that of the New Testament.”
While denying the meaning intended in this article, Berkhof nonetheless uses the Biblical term “dispensation,” showing that all must wrestle with how to interpret the distinct circumstances that are apparent throughout history as the Bible presents it.
Non-dispensationalists, however, minimize the importance of such distinctions. “Israel was the Church of the Old Testament and in its spiritual essence constitutes a unity with the Church of the New Testament,” Berkhof writes.
By contrast, dispensationalists see these distinctions as being of far greater importance. Theologian Renald Showers states: “The different dispensations are different ways of God’s administering His rule over the world.”
What importance do these distinctions hold for the student of Scripture? A dispensation, from the human vantage point, is the basis of the means by which believers are to live at any given time.
Theologian Myron Houghton expands on this point, writing: “The essence of Dispensationalism is that Israel and the Church, as well as God’s program for each, are clearly and consistently distinguished. The revelation concerning God’s program for each are not ways of salvation but ways of managing one’s life.”
Thus, dispensationalists believe that the obvious distinctions that exist in Scripture—especially the differences between Israel and the church—must be understood, not only in order to grasp God’s plan for history, but also to know His will for the sanctification of believers in a given dispensation.
The New Testament epistles make it clear that the key for the sanctification of believers in this age is that they “are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14; see also John 1:17; Tit. 2:11-14). This is a drastic shift from the system under which Old Testament Israel operated, demonstrating clearly that the church is a completely separate entity (1 Cor. 10:32).
Thus it is vital for the Christian to have a basic grasp of the importance of dispensational distinctions.
Many books that a layman can easily digest develop this topic to a much greater degree. Among the most important are There Really is a Difference! by Showers, Law & Grace by Houghton and Law and Grace by Alva J. McClain.
My own thinking on these issues has been molded by many great Bible teachers—not the least of which is my mentor and long-time co-laborer Dr. John Whitcomb.
Of course, we hope to provide an abundance of resources here at Dispensational Publishing House that will have that same type of influence upon many, many people for years to come.
Copyright © 2015 Dispensational Publishing House, Inc.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®.
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Myron J. Houghton, “Law and Gospel in the Dispensational Tradition,” Article included in Systematic Theology IV class notes, Faith Baptist Theological Seminary, Ankeny, Iowa, Spring 1996 Semester. (Here is a multi-media slide featuring this quotation.)