Dispensationalism is more than just one doctrine. It is a doctrinal system.
- Doctrine refers to something taught.
- Bible doctrine is something that is taught in scripture no matter how simple or complex.
- A major doctrine is a doctrine about which the Bible says much, like the blood atonement or prayer.
- A doctrinal division results from a manmade division of the teachings of the Bible. Doctrinal divisions would include the doctrine of Christ, also known as Christology, or the doctrine of prophecy, also known as Eschatology.
Dispensationalism deals with all of the above but is none of the above. It is a doctrinal system. This is an organized framework designed to give greater meaning to the entire body of biblical doctrine. It acts as a lens through which the truth of scripture is viewed.
In all doctrinal systems, there is an element of human invention. In other words, God has not done all the organizing for us. Man may attempt to organize Bible doctrine with all honesty and integrity, but he cannot avoid being human. So, whereas the text of scripture is infallible, no doctrinal system can make that claim.
This means that no doctrinal system can be used to interpret scripture. Rather, scripture must be used to define and refine the system. Much trouble arises when the system rises to the place of interpreter and removes the Holy Spirit from the office of Teacher. No system should be used as a substitute for thinking, studying, or praying.
Doctrinal systems are built around some unifying theme. Dispensationalism declares that the most central purpose of history is to bring glory to God. Dispensationalism looks at history as a series of tests in which man is given a particular set of circumstances. Each set of circumstances is different from all that have come before it and in each man is given an opportunity to serve God and know Him. In each testing period, mankind fails and rebels against God. But God gets His glory in the judgment He bestows and in the remnant who are saved by His wondrous grace and love.
Rightly Dividing the Word
Dispensationalism is rightly dividing the word of truth. 2Timothy 2:15 says, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” This verse teaches that we must study God’s word in order to be approved by Him as a workman. And His word must be rightly divided. Specifically, God is talking to preachers but it applies to all believers. If you do not rightly divide the word you will wrongly interpret it.
What does it mean to rightly divide the word of truth? First, this statement tells us that there are divisions that must be made in scripture if we are to understand God’s truth. That is the essence of dispensationalism. But this act of dividing scripture must be done rightly. That means that it can be done wrongly. We must be very careful to rightly divide God’s word lest we wrongly divide it.
Consider also the exact grammar of the command. There is a reason God said rightly dividing the word instead of finding right division. The word dividing is a verb in the active tense and the word rightly is an adverb that describes the way in which the word should be divided. Rightly dividing is dynamic. It is an active work requiring the active assistance of the Holy Spirit. God must give you the wisdom to rightly divide His word. Rightly dividing the word is the work of spiritual men and women. It is a spiritual art.
However, many of the dispensationalists you meet today talk a lot about right division. They stress the importance of knowing right division. By statement or by implication, they communicate the idea that you can learn the right places to draw the lines in scripture and you will automatically interpret the scriptures correctly. The word division is a noun and the word right is an adjective describing the kind of division to be made. There is significance to this. The concept of right division is static. It assumes a solution that can be written in a set of laws and given as a set of mental concepts from the teacher to the student. There is no great need for the teaching of the Spirit of God. It is a science and not an art. Just learn where to draw the lines and you will have the answers.
But God does not give us right division. He does not give a set of solutions or laws that answer all of our questions. Rather, He tells us to rightly divide His word. We cannot determine whether something applies to us or does not simply by what book of the Bible it is found in. The book where a passage is located gives us help in interpretation. But it does not solve all problems. It does not tell us what this verse teaches us. To do this, we need the leading of the Spirit of God. We need Him to teach us.
What Dispensationalism Teaches
Dispensationalism teaches us that God gives different demands and responsibilities to the people living in different ages. Some people have trouble with that. But the truth is that anyone who believes anything about the Bible is dispensational to some degree. How many people are still trying to do all of the Old Testament sacrifices? Dispensationalism means that God has had a purpose throughout history. In each age He accomplishes a particular work as a part of His eternal plan.
Some sincere believers are frightened from dispensationalism because they fear that it takes a great portion of the Bible from them. True dispensationalism does not take the Bible away from you; it gives the Bible back to you. It makes you understand what is applicable to you and how to apply and use things in the right way without being afraid of scripture. It turns on the light in a dark room helping you know where you can freely walk and where you need to make a detour for the furniture.
That is the major benefit of dispensationalism. God works different ways at different times. Before the flood, people were vegetarians, but that does not mean that I cannot eat meat today. Neither do I need to put myself under the dietary laws given to the Old Testament Jews. Dispensationalism shows me that these laws are not meant for me to obey. This allows the Bible student to see the spiritual and practical applications of these laws without being compelled to practice them. Dispensationalism brings a liberty from things like the law yet gives greater weight to the spiritual applications for today.
Dispensationalism takes God’s word literally. It solves many apparent contradictions. Dispensationalism answers many doctrinal heresies. If you understand dispensationalism you will not be caught up in many false doctrines. You will understand that much false doctrine comes from trying to obey scriptural commands that were given to people of another age but are not given to the New Testament believer.
Dispensationalism comprehends the Bible as a whole. People are lost in the Bible anymore. Dispensationalism unfolds God’s purpose in history and makes sense of His overall plan. Every dispensation sets up the next one. Each one develops God’s purpose and plan a bit further. Dispensationalism exalts God’s glory as the ultimate goal. God gets the glory and not man. We need to get believers back to a solid understanding of dispensationalism in this age of ignorance and confusion.