A FRESH LOOK AT
By John Aldworth
Acts 2, Mid-Acts or Acts 28? Which peg do you want to hand your hat on? Which lens do you want to peer through? Which matrix will you choose to shape your biblical perspective?
Do any of the above “positions” offer full insight into “what God would have believers know in this the Year of our Lord 2013? Come to that, do all of them together grasp “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” as it is found in the Bible? The answer must be a resounding “no”.
Yet each of the above schools of thought are the sincere efforts of men seeking to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) and form an explanatory framework for the changes God has made in His dealings with men. They result from the conviction that God’s Word is true, that what it says it means and that to prayerfully study the scriptures is what believers are meant to do.
Both the Mid Acts and Acts 28 schools teach much truth to the seeking “right divider” yet both still have gaping holes in their formulated dispensational structures.
Indeed none of three positions, Acts 2, Mid Acts and Acts 28 account for the Day of Christ (mentioned in seven verses in the Pauline epistles) in their dispensational charts. That’s a dispensation likely lasting the best part of a thousand years and left completely out of their understanding and calculations.
Furthermore while some Acts 28ers have rightly recognised the Acts period as the Pentecostal Dispensation that it is, this position is rejected by Mid Acts dispensationalists who see at least half of it as the dispensation of grace and the Mystery. And just where does one place the Dispensation of the Fullness Times? Seemingly this finds no place in anybody’s dispensational timeline?
The upshot is that clearly we all have much to learn. We are all on a Spirit-led journey of discovery “…in the wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Eph. 1:17). This means that none of us know it all. In defiance of this truth one self-proclaimed dispensationalist I know is adamant that he knows better than the rest. Hopefully he is alone in that opinion.
Charity, humility, a love of fellowship and an open mind, not to mention a dependence entirely on revelation from the Spirit of the Father (Eph. 1:17) are prerequisites for those climbing the sharp learning curve of higher (and deeper) biblical truth.
One good thing I learned from Mid Acts dispensationalism was the principle of progressive revelation – that God has been and still is revealing the truth about Himself and His creation step by step down the decades of history, or, more accurately, His-story.
This is important truth we need to apply to our own progression in understanding. We can only learn as we are given light by the Spirit. Seeing greater truth is not the mere product of Bible study, although clearly we are told to “Study” to show ourselves approved. Certainly it should not stem from arbitrarily drawn up dispensational schemes into which we force truth whether it fits or not. We must be bound by the word of God, not the devices of man’s imagination. Often it is only when the Lord sheds light that we see the meaning of a puzzling passage.
Importantly, the Lord reveals truth to us, as and when He pleases, not just when we think He should. Often, in His view, we are not yet ready to receive greater truth; perhaps because we are not walking obediently in the light of such truth we have already received. Another reason for lack of progress may be that we are rejecting the light He has already shed on a matter that may not seem of concern to us but that is deemed vital by Him.
Of course, it is always painful to let go of hitherto held positions in order to grasp further truth. But it is biblical. Paul’s epistles are studded with dispensational departure points, marked by such phrases as “from henceforth” and “but now”. The apostle also bears witness to the huge changes that took place to his own understanding.
That said, it seems to this writer that we are all guilty of brushing aside the scriptural bits that “don’t fit” our current dispensational model. For example, Mid Acts thinking struggles to find any verse that categorically defines when, where and how the supposed great Mid Acts dispensational change occurred.
Meanwhile some Acts 28ers cannot admit part of Romans was written after Israel’s dismissal at the end of Acts and assert the “preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery” in Rom. 16:25 does not refer to the mystery mentioned in Ephesians but to how death reigned through sin, as outlined in Rom. 5:12-17. Talk about trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Clearly Rom. 16:25-26 is where Paul penned a brief description of the Mystery which he later refers to in Eph. 3:3, saying, “as I wrote afore in few words”.
A more balanced view than either Mid-Acts or Acts 28 would see that actually the dispensation of the Mystery and the grace of God were “made known” unto Paul some time before being “now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets” (Eph. 3: 3-5). Thus we find references to the Mystery in 1 Cor. 2:71 and Cor. 15:51 years before “…this grace is given (Paul) that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God…” (Eph. 3:9).
The Mystery truths of the new creation and of reconciliation are partly set forth in 2 Cor. 5:17-21 before being more fully revealed in the prison epistles in Col. 3:9-10 and 1:20-21. The “glorious gospel of Christ” shines forth in Paul’s heart in 2 Cor. 4:47 but is much more fully spelt out in Col. 3:3-4, Col. 1:15, 1 Tim. 1:11 and Titus 2:13, for example.
That said, however, there remain huge and important boundary lines, such as Paul’s Mid-Acts commissioning to preach the gospel of God to the Gentiles and the setting aside of Israel in Acts 28 which ended the Pentecostal dispensation of the Book of Acts whereupon God sent salvation (both its proclamation and receipt) to the Gentiles.
I would submit therefore that there is a case, therefore, for going “without the camp” of the Acts 2, Mid-Acts and Acts 28 “positions” in rightly dividing the word of truth. Such a new approach might be based on:
First, strict adherence to the King James Bible as the only ground of truth, thus rejecting all dispensational interpretation not based on its actual text. This would eliminate much conjecture that has been falsely presented as “scriptural fact” in both the Mid Acts and Acts 28 positions.
Second, a more holistic approach to the Bible (i.e. that it is all the infallible, interwoven word of God) would eliminate much “wrong division” such the overblown Mid Acts division between prophecy and mystery when no verse actually enunciates this principle in general and in fact it applies only to the difference between much of the Bible and the unprophesied grace and mystery dispensation in the prison epistles.
Third, recognition that dispensational change is actually the process of God revealing new truth both progressively in scripture and equally progressively in believers’ hearts as He gives light to understand it. Unless the Lord reveals it, it is impossible for mere humans to understand it. In dispensationalism error has often resulted from men’s purely intellectual efforts to systemise and understand God’s changes in His dealings with men.
Tentatively therefore this new approach (not position) might be termed King James Bible Revelatory Incremental Dispensationalism, or more succinctly, KJV Incremental Dispensationalism.
More on this later as the Lord gives light.