I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.
Dispensationalists have long been accused of teaching multiple methods of salvation. Dispensational leaders (excepting the Bullingerite or Consistent sects) have long denied these charges. Denial without refutation is, however, meaningless. Let us examine some of the evidence.
The Scofield Problem
C.I. Scofield (1843-1921) pastor of the First Congregational Church in Dallas, Texas, and then of Moody Church, Northfield, Massachusetts, discussed with Arno C. Gaebelein his plan to write an annotated version of the Bible in 1901 :
“One night, about the middle of that week, Dr. Scofield suggested, after the evening service, that we take a stroll along the shore. It was a beautiful night. Our walk along the shore of the sound lasted until midnight. For the first time he mentioned the plan of producing a reference Bible, and outlined the method he had in mind. He said he had thought of it for many years and had spoken to others about it, but had not received much encouragement. The scheme came to him in the early days of his ministry in Dallas, and later, during the balmy days of the Niagara Conferences he had submitted his desire to a number of brethren, who all approved of it, but nothing came of it. He expressed the hope that the new beginning and this new testimony in Sea Cliff might open the way to bring about the publication of such a Bible with references and copious footnotes.”
Moody Monthly 43 ( 1943 ) : 278.
The end result of this discussion was the Scofield Reference Bible of 1909, combining an attractive format, notes, and cross references which became perhaps the most influential tome of dispensational theology to date. “The teachings of dispensational premillennialism on prophecy have spread widely in Canada and the United States, due especially to the influence of the 1909 Scofield Reference Bible and it subsequent editions.
“The theology presented by Scofield in his Reference Bible is normative dispensational doctrine, thus the significance of the quote here:
“As a dispensation, grace begins with the death and resurrection of Christ….The point of testing is no longer legal obedience as the condition of salvation, but acceptance or rejection of Christ, with good works as a fruit of salvation”
Scofield here states that salvific grace is a New Testament phenomenon, unavailable in previous dispensations. Notice that Scofield explains that legal obedience was the condition of salvation in the previous dispensation, but that now faith in Christ is the condition that must be met.
This is consistent with Scofield’s definition of a dispensation. A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God.If, indeed, man is tested in respect to obedience to the will of God in each of these “dispensations”, what is the reward – or punishment? If the reward is salvation, as obviously Scofield taught concerning the dispensation of Law, that salvation is not of grace but of works! The dispensationalist, misunderstanding the concept of Law and Gospel, offers salvation to those who meet the condition of the “dispensation” in which they are tested, thus even in the dispensation of Grace, faith becomes a work which entitles us to Christ. If one can only muster from the depths of one’s heart enough “faith”, one can meet the condition of this dispensation and be rewarded with salvation.
Orthodox Christian doctrine, on the other hand, adamantly teaches that man is dead in trespasses and sin, cannot improve his condition in the slightest, and that it is Christ alone who justifies the ungodly. Faith is the gift of God, through the new birth, a work of the Holy Spirit by Word and Sacrament. It is also taught among us that since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin. That is, all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers’ wombs and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God. Moreover, this inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.
Rejected in this connection are the Pelagians and others who deny that original sin is sin, for they hold that natural man is made righteous by his own powers, thus disparaging the sufferings and merit of Christ. In answer to the “Scofield problem” dispensationalism began to redefine the term “dispensation”. The New Scofield Reference Bible of 1967 repeats Scofield’s terminology, but the modern commentators elaborate on 1909 version indicating that the definition implies three concepts: a new divine revelation, the nature of man’s stewardship with respect to it, and a certain time period for it.
These implied concepts are then qualified to such an extent as to make the delineations meaningless. Significantly, this new definition of dispensations brings into question whether the term means anything at all. The purpose of each dispensation, then, is to place man under a specific rule of conduct, but such stewardship is not a condition of salvation.
In every past dispensation unregenerate man has failed, and he has failed in this present dispensation and will in the future. But salvation has been and will continue to be available to him by God’s grace through faith.
Revisionist dispensationalism now states that the purpose of the dispensations are not salvific. What, then, is the purpose of the testing in regards to the “specific rule of conduct”? What is the significance of man’s failure in the various dispensations? It seems that while Scofield might have been too frank in his elucidation, his successors have so qualified the term “dispensation” as to remove from it any semblance of meaning.
Note also, that “available to him by God’s grace through faith” still leaves it unclear as to whether “faith” is an innate ability of fallen man, or is a product of the new birth. The central question here is whether dispensational theology recognizes, as does orthodox Christianity, that regeneration is the source of faith. Dispensational theology sees the sequence of dispensations as opportunities for fallen man to attain to God. Though in past dispensations none passed the test, the opportunity was there – “Do this and live”. During the current dispensation of Grace, the bar has been lowered – all that is required is “faith”. If a man will avail himself of his “chance”, and exercise his own moral ability to believe, he will be entitled to the grace of God in Christ.