Ultra-dispensationalists are divided into two groups. There are the extreme ultra-dispensationalists and the moderate ultra-dispensationalists. These two differ on the exact time that the Church started but both are in agreement that the Church did not start on Pentecost.
Some feel that there has always been a church and that this dispensation’s church is merely a continuance of that church that started with Moses. They base this on the word “ekklesia”, which merely mean a group of called out ones. In their viewpoint, the church of this dispensation started in either Acts 9 or Acts 13:46. Some also place it after Acts 28.
Acts 9 is considered to be the start of the Church because of the conversion of Paul. Paul being the Apostle to the Gentiles and having been given the revelation of the “mystery” of the Church to be the logical one to start the Body of Christ or the Church. Peter would be the founder of the Jewish Church, which is a separate entity from Paul’s Church. Acts 13:46 is highly favored because it shows Israel’s final rejection of Christ and the Gospel given to the Gentiles. This would mean God had rejected Israel, set them aside and started His new dispensation.
Acts 2 is rejected by some because they feel that the kingdom was still to be offered to the Jews and if they would repented and accepted Jesus He would have returned and set up the Kingdom right then. They take this standpoint from Acts 3:19-20. Those that take the stand there has always been one church state that Acts 2:47 proves that there was already a church because people were added to the Church.
Extremists divide Acts into these sections; the first as mentioned the offering of the Kingdom then the period of reconciliation between the Jew and Gentile. After that the final rejection of Christ by Israel and the ushering in the Church dispensation.
Dispensationalists are those who hold that the dispensation of the Church age officially began in Acts 2 with filling of the one hundred and twenty with the Holy Ghost on the Day of Pentecost. Pentecost Dispensationalists would disagree with the idea of a continuous church from Moses until the Millennium. Verses such as Colossians 1:18, 24-27 as well as Ephesians 1:22-23 point dramatically to the Church age starting after Christ’s resurrection and ascension.
Christ Himself was the firstborn from the dead being made the head of the Church and in logical keeping of the analogy a head normally precedes the body in birth. The head appears followed by the body so also Christ appearing fulfilled all prophesies of concerning the suffering Messiah and thus presented Himself as the head of His Body, the Church, which was to follow. For the body to precede the head creates a breech birth and many complications as also does the Church beginning with Moses.
The argument that the same word is used is weak and irrelevant because even today we call liberal, apostate and cults “churches.” However, we realize that they are not with the true Church of Christ. Therefore, because a group of called-out ones in another one of God’s dispensations is called a church does not mean it is synonymous to the Body of Christ known today as the Church. Since the “New is in the Old concealed and the Old is in the New revealed,” perhaps the mystery of the Church lay in the fact that Moses’ “ekklesia” was a foreshadowing of the Church concealed to the Jews of the Old Testament.
You will note that the Passover is important to the Jew and Christ is called the Passover Lamb, not the Easter Lamb. Two Passovers preceded two major events in God’s plan. The ritual of keeping the Passover provided a way for Gentiles to be included. (Exodus 12:47-49) A Gentile would receive the sign of the covenant and participate in the rite that celebrated the deliverance of God’s people from Egypt and he would be as one home-born. A symbol of equality of concerning Jews and Gentiles. Christ kept the last Passover and instituted a remembrance of His sacrifices to be kept.
This is shared by Jew and Gentile alike after they receive the sign of the covenant, the Holy Ghost, which is acquired through faith and a desire to keep the Passover must have been represented a faith in Jehovah on the part of the Gentile and a true heart participation in the rites on the part of the Jews would constitute faith. So in the Body of Christ they are equal as it is stated in Galatians 3:27-28.
Notice also in Galatians 3:28 it says we are baptized into Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:2-4 talk about that first ekklesia being baptized unto Moses and the spiritual rock being Christ. These passages further strengthen the idea that Moses’ group was a foreshadowing mystery of the Church clearly revealed by Christ’s coming.
Moses was not Christ so they were baptized unto him but we are baptized into Christ. The spiritual rock was Christ and followed them maybe as a symbol of His coming to to procure His Bride. Now we are built on the Rock and follow Him much like an oriental bride would follow her husband. However, Christ said He would build HIS Church on the rock so that ekklesia in the Old was never built on The Rock so it could not have been His Church.
The binding and governing powering of Moses’ ekklesia was the Law and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred on Pentecost which commemorated the giving of the Law. Therefore since the Holy Spirit is now the binding and governing force of the new dispensation on the day He was given is appropriate since we are free from the Law to start the dispensation on a feast day commemorating the establishment of the Law. Notice the time lag between the crossing of the Red Sea which secured the freedom of Israel to the giving of the governing agent.
The resurrection and ascension of Christ secured our freedom. It was not until Pentecost when our governing agent, the Holy Spirit, was given. Again as there was an Israel prior to the giving of the Law so also there was a “church” in the hundred and twenty in the upper room prior to to Pentecost. Neither group was officially instituted until the governing agent was given.
The concept of two bodies, one Jewish and the other a Gentile body is totally unacceptable. Paul denounces the idea of division in 1 Corinthians 1:12,13. Paul asked if Christ was divided and even Christ said that a house divided cannot stand so why would He have instituted multiple churches if His intent in the original mystery was to have have the Jew and Gentile. If there were a separate entity created by Peter on Pentecost it must have “united” with Paul’s body or some could legitimately I am of Peter or I am of Paul.
The viewpoint that Acts 13:46 shows Israel’s final rejection is also weak as an argument. In Matthew 21:42 Christ repeats the prophecy of Psalms 118:22 about “the stone which rejected, the same is become the head of the corner…”. The stone is already rejected when it becomes the cornerstone. Christ’s final withdrawal from Israel in Matthew 23:37-39 shows that in their hearts they had already rejected Him and the Cross was the natural outcome of that rejection. Their house was to be desolate. There had only been the spiritual desolation of Israel from that point until Acts 13. The events in Daniel 9 concerning the Abomination of Desolation or Matthew 24 had not taken place yet. They had to take place before He would return as well as numerous other prophecies concerning the Second Coming. These events are the result of Israel’s final rejection. This is why Acts 2 can be the place where Christ becomes the cornerstone of the Church.
There is no problem with Acts 2:47 because the 120 in the upper room were the charter members of the Church and became officially established at the Church when the Holy Spirit fell upon them them as much as Christ’s ministry was officially inaugurated when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him at His baptism. Therefore although the Church was just newborn it still existed therefore any member after that would be of necessity added to that which already existed. Indeed, though we mark a person’s birth upon exiting the womb the child is still alive nine months before. The Church was conceived before the foundation of the earth, but birthed on Pentecost.
In conclusion to the evaluation of the Church’s origin all the previous considerations remove the possibility of Acts being divided in three sections and also the need for it to be divided. Acts 2 is by far the most appropriate start of the Church for this viewpoint is substantiated as the strongest by Scripture and logical result of the literal interpretation of those scriptures.
Discussing the ordinances, the extreme ultra-dispensationalists believe the Lord’s Supper is not for today because the covenant Christ instituted at that time ended in Acts 28. Moderate ultra-dispensationalists feel that the Supper is doctrinal rather than dispensational and have no problem with it.
Dispensationalists I feel would consider it both doctrinal and dispensational since it relates to the Church only and will be done away with at His coming. This is stated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:26 as well as in the Gospels. Christ did not return after Acts 28 so the ordinance must still be in effect. The covenant is still in effect because we still have the remission of sins through His sacrifice, which is what the ordinance represents so why would we not have this ordinance? It is very clear through these passages that the Lord’s Supper should be observed today.
The ordinance of baptism is rejected by ultra-dispensationalists as being part of Paul’s body because baptism was no longer a part of remission of sins as in Acts 2:38. It was never mentioned by Paul as an ordinance so it must not have been practiced. They argue that in Romans 6 the word for buried is sunthapto which means to be buried in the ground and our baptism is spiritual made without hands. Also, Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:17 said Christ sent him not to baptize so if it were to be part of the Church’s obedience Paul would have obeyed and baptized all that he led to the Lord.
Dispensationalists hold that baptism is for today. In the origin of the Church we have proven that there is one Body, not two, so if baptism is for one it is for all. Baptism was never needed for the remission of sins as some groups claim. Culturally, baptism was an outward expression of what happened inside or an identification with a teacher so that all you knew before was washed away and you are now that person’s disciple with a new life or in essence born again. Christ uses that same analogy.
1 Peter 3:21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
Note that baptism does not put away the filth of our flesh or sins, but it cleanses our conscience as we are now clean through His blood by faith. It is an ordinance that symbolizes what has happened in our soul and spirit while outwardly identifying or testifying our faith in Christ. That it does not save is clearly demonstrated when the house of Cornelius believed the Gospel and were baptized with the Spirit speaking in tongues while Peter was still preaching. Paul tells us that if any man does not have the Spirit he is not saved so this household filled and speaking in tongues were saved before they were water baptized.
Just because Paul never mentioned it as an ordinance does not mean it was not practiced. It may have been common knowledge and not necessary to teach heavily as it was readily recognized as a part of Christianity. The church fathers have always mentioned baptism as being part of the Church. The only argument has been whether it has redemptive value or not. If we accept Paul as the author of Hebrews then he does mention it as a doctrine and says baptisms in Hebrews 6:12. Plural would indicate both the water and the Spirit baptisms.
The discussion in Romans is on the spiritual meaning of baptism so the word for buried in the earth is appropriate because we were buried in His death and He was buried in earth and not water. However, how could you baptize a person in practice in the ground. It is symbolic. The water is used for convenience maintain the symbolism. The water covers the body, which would also eliminate the possibility of sprinkling.
The spiritual baptism is indeed without hands, but if he mentioned one without hands there is one with hands as well. He does not condemn it but merely explains the spiritual application. He may have been clearing up a question on water regeneration since that error cropped up so quickly in the Church. Hebrews 6:2 says “doctrine of baptisms” which infers that there is more than one baptism. This would justify the idea of a spiritual baptism with the symbolic practice similar to the Lord’s Supper.
If Paul clearly taught no baptism, why did he baptize at all. They use 1 Corinthians 1:17 a great deal but they forget that he did baptize. In Acts 18:8 many of the Corinthians believed and were baptized. In I Corinthians Paul said he only baptized a few. He was called to preach Christ, not make disciples for himself. If Paul did not baptize them who did? After all, Jesus did not baptize though ultimately there were more baptisms than John the Baptist. He delegated that to the Disciples.
Crispus was a ruler of the synagogue and accustomed to leadership so perhaps Paul set him up as an elder delegating the baptisms to him. Crispus, as a pastor, would have this responsibility. Paul was sent as an evangelist, not a pastor. Evangelists only baptize when there are no pastors or do so by request. If Paul disapproved or did not teach baptism why did he baptize Crispus and why not condemn the baptisms of others. He told Timothy to commit what he was taught unto faithful men. That Paul may have committed the teaching of baptism to Crispus is apparent. Delegating this responsibility to Crispus as a disciple would be equivalent to to Christ’s Disciples rather than Christ Himself baptizing. (John 4:1-2) It is without reasonable argument that baptism is an ordinance of the Church.
Dispensationalism is a great tool to understand how God has worked with man from Genesis to Revelation. Like any tool it can be misused leading to false interpretations. This is the error of the Ultra-dispensationalists in regard to the ordinances. We must rightly divided the Word, but not make divisions where they do not exist.
Submitted as a course requirement at Piedmont Bible College.