Thursday, December 29, 2016

Dispensationalism and Discontinuity

by Michael J. Vlach

In a previous blog I mentioned eight areas of continuity in Dispensationalism. This current entry is devoted to discussing areas of discontinuity in Dispensationalism. There are five major areas of discontinuity to note. Like the previous entry on “Dispensationalism and Continuity,” the goal here is not to be exhaustive on these topics but to point out major areas of discontinuity within Dispensationalism as a point of reference for understanding and evaluating Dispensationalism.

1  Israel and the church.  Dispensationalism affirms the biblical distinction between Israel and the church. Israel consists of the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that comprise the nation Israel. Some Israelites are saved and some are not, but Israel always has an ethnic component in the Bible. The church, on the other hand, is the New Covenant community of believing Jews and Gentiles in this age who have believed in Jesus the Messiah. The church includes believing Israelites (“Israel of God” Gal. 6:16; Rom. 9:6) but is not the same thing as “Israel.” With the 73 references to “Israel” in the New Testament none refer to the church, nor are Gentiles ever referred to as “Israel.” Dispensationalism affirms that Israel is a vehicle for bringing blessings to Gentiles (see Gen. 12:2-3), but it is not God’s intent to make Gentiles part of Israel.

From Exodus 19 onward the nation Israel was the mediatorial vehicle for God’s purposes in the world. Yet with Israel’s failure, culminating in Israel’s rejection of her own Messiah, the church became God’s vehicle for Gospel and kingdom proclamation in this age between the two comings of Jesus. God is still saving Israelites, but in this age the church is the messenger of God’s kingdom program, taking the gospel to all nations. When God saves the mass of national Israel in the future (Rom. 11:26) Israel will once again have a mediatorial role of service and leadership to the nations under Jesus the Messiah who at that time will be ruling the nations (Isa. 2:2-4; Matt. 19:28; Rev. 19:15). But in this age the church is the primary agent for God’s kingdom purposes.

Israel has deep roots in the Old Testament. The church is linked with all who have believed in Jesus the Messiah and have experienced the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the church began on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the followers of Jesus (Acts 2). Some want to make the “church” the people of God of all ages but that is not correct. Jesus and the New Covenant are the main ingredients for the church and only New Testament saints have experienced these yet.

2  Mosaic Covenant to New Covenant.   The Mosaic Covenant was a temporary and conditional covenant given to Israel at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19). The era of the Mosaic Covenant ended with Jesus’ death and the establishment of the New Covenant (Eph. 2:15; Heb. 8:8-13). Most dispensationalists hold that the Mosaic Covenant was a unit that ended with the death of Christ. We are now under Jesus’ priesthood associated with the New Covenant, not the Aaronic priesthood of the Mosaic Covenant. As the writer of Hebrews stated, “when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also” (Heb.7:12). As a result dispensationalists believe Christians are under the New Covenant, not the Mosaic Covenant. Likewise Christians are under the Law of Christ as our code for life, not the Mosaic Law. This Law of Christ will have many similarities with the Law of Moses concerning moral laws since God’s moral standards remain constant, but the Christian is no longer bond by the Mosaic Law as a rule for life. With 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 Paul explicitly stated he was under the Law of Christ, not the Mosaic Law.

3  Dispensations   Like all Christians, dispensationalists believe in dispensations—eras in which God works with His people in different ways. The pre-fall era with Adam and Eve was obviously different than the post-fall era. The present church age is different from Israel’s previous theocracy under the Mosaic Covenant. The kingdom that follows Jesus’ return will differ in some ways from the present age we live in as Jesus rules from and over the earth (Zech. 14:9). Yet even with differences among the dispensations salvation has always been by grace alone, through faith alone, based on the atonement of Jesus. Dispensations may change but the way a person is saved always remains the same (Gen. 15:16; Rom. 4).

Dispensationalists debate the number and characteristics that make up the various dispensations (as nondispensationalists also do), but they acknowledge that God has worked in different ways at different times. Yet the way of salvation remains the same throughout history. Thus, the dispensations evidence both continuity and discontinuity.

4  People of God  The concept of the people of God has varied throughout some dispensations. To be clear—all God’s people from beginning to end are saved the same way (i.e. continuity), but the people of God concept has varied. From Adam until Moses there was no nation of Israel so the people of God were not related to any one nation. According to Paul this was also an era in which people were sinners even though they did not have special specific verbal revelation that Adam and Moses had (see Rom. 5:13-14).

With Israel becoming a nation, the people of God concept was strongly linked with Israel and the message of salvation coming from Israel. Under the Mosaic Covenant era becoming a believer usually meant becoming a proselyte to Israel. Yet because of Jesus and the New Covenant, the people of God concept expanded to include believing Gentiles alongside believing Israelites. This expansion of the people of God concept does not mean believing Gentiles becomes Jews or Israel as nondispensationalits believe, but they do become the people of God alongside believing Israelites. This is what Paul discusses in Ephesians 2:11-3:6 and what Isaiah predicted in Isaiah 19:24-25 (see also Acts 15:14-18).

5  Role of Holy Spirit   Most dispensationalists believe the Holy Spirit’s role of permanently indwelling saints began as a result of Jesus’ ascension and pouring out of the Holy Spirit as described in Acts 2. Before His death Jesus told the apostles that the Holy Spirit lives with them, but will be in them (John 14:17).

In His person and character the Holy Spirit never changes. Yet during Old Testament times He came upon some persons for temporary indwelling for service (Exod. 31:3). But His role of permanent indwelling and empowerment of all Christians for sanctification is closely linked with the death and ascension of Jesus the Messiah. This does not deny that the Holy Spirit saved Old Testament saints but there is greater enablement for sanctification with the coming of the New Covenant (see Rom. 8:1-4). Thus, the role of the Holy Spirit is different in the New Testament era.

There is much to discuss concerning the above five points of discontinuity, but my main point has been to highlight five areas where Dispensationalism see areas of discontinuity in the Bible. These areas appear to arise naturally from a grammatical-historical approach to the Bible and are not artificially imposed on the biblical text.

NOTE: I write as one who is a revised dispensationalist. I understand that I do not speak for all dispensationalists and I understand that other dispensationalists might word things differently. Yet I do believe that the points above represent the dispensational tradition as a whole accurately.


  1. I appreciate the helpful synopsis, along with the post on continuity. It is unfortunate that you must go so far out of your way to state the one way of salvation, but old tales linger even in the information age.

  2. This, along with the link, and other writings I just found by you online, have answered questions and provides terrific resources to reignite a study. Thank you! God bless.