We believe that since the setting aside of Israel (Acts 28) God has ushered in a new dispensation, called the 'dispensation of the grace of God' to the Gentiles, and the 'dispensation of the mystery'. We believe that this new dispensation was originally revealed by God to Paul the prisoner, and that its teaching is to be found in his prison epistles alone. The company of believers called during this dispensation is called the church which is His body, of which Christ is the Head.
Its sphere of blessing, its constitution, and its hope are unique, and neither the promise to Abraham, nor the characteristics of the Pentecostal church belong in any way to this new calling.
2. Scriptural grounds.
' ... By revelation He made known unto me the mystery ... that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister ... to make all men see what is the fellowship (dispensation R.V.) of the mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid (has been hidden since the ages) in God' (Eph. 3:3,6,7,9).
' ... For His body's sake, which is the church: whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil (complete) the Word of God; even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints' (Col. 1:24-26).
'Praying... for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds' (Eph. 6:18,20).
' ... blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation (overthrow) of the world' (Eph. 1:3,4).
' ... The church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all' (Eph. 1:22,23).
3. An explanation of some special features of the dispensation of the mystery.
This present dispensation is connected with a series of facts that influence its character
1. Its chosen apostle and minister is Paul the prisoner.
Paul, the prisoner, in Acts 28, spent a whole day with the leaders of Israel in Rome, and when it became evident that Israel of the dispersion were as obdurate as their brethren in the land, blindness settled upon the nation and the door of grace was opened wide to the Gentiles.
' ... the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it' (Acts 28:28).
Israel's hope (Acts 28:20) and Israel's signs (28:1-9) did not cease with Matthew 28 or Acts 2, but remained to the end of the Acts. Till then, the Gentile believer had been but a wild olive graft into the stock of Israel. In Acts 28, the Israelite stock is cut down; the axe, so long laid to the root of the tree, does its work. A new dispensation with new terms is ushered in -- the dispensation of the grace of God for the Gentiles committed to Paul the prisoner of the Lord (Eph. 3:1).
2. Its special sphere of blessing.
This church has a unique sphere of blessing. Israel's inheritance is the land of promise; Abraham and those who walk in the steps of his overcoming faith look forward to the heavenly City; it is reserved for the church of the One Body to be blessed in heavenly places. These heavenly places are at the right hand of God, far above all (Eph. 1:20,21); the church of the One Body is spoken of, not merely as attaining that high place, of standing there, or serving there -- unspeakable blessings as these would be -- but of actually being 'seated together' there at the right hand of God. Nothing like this had ever been made known before.
3. The time of its election is unique.
Three times in Scripture do we read the words, 'Before the foundation of the world'. Two of these passages speak of Christ, viz., John 17:24 and 1 Peter 1:20. The other reference speaks of the election of the church of the One
Body 'before the foundation of the world'.
The etymology of the word 'foundation', katabole, and its usage elsewhere (e.g., 2 Cor. 4:9; 2 Sam. 20:15 etc., etc.) lead us to adopt the rendering, 'Before the overthrow of the world'. Linking this passage with Genesis 1: l and 2, and, by the analogy of faith, with Ezekiel 28, we discover that before the judgment upon Satan and his angels which involved the original earth in chaos, this church with its heavenly destiny was chosen.
4. The time of its manifestation was deferred.
This dispensation is called the dispensation of the mystery. We are told that it was 'hidden in God' from the ages and the generations, and was only made known when Israel failed and were temporarily set aside. This revelation completes the Word of God. Nothing further is to be expected, but from now until the end what has been promised shall in due time and order come to pass. Judged from the record of the rest of Scripture this dispensation of the mystery is a parenthesis in the outworking of the purpose of the ages, but from the standpoint of Him Who knows the end from the beginning, and worketh all things after the counsel of His will, the church of the One Body and its
dispensation fall into their predestined place, and complete the whole.
5. Its constitution is unique.
The Gentile members of this church were told to remember that once they were hopeless, Christless, Godless and aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. This church was no development, adjustment, or evolution of the company that was formed during the Acts (though, of course, many of the individuals who composed the early church passed over by faith into the other), but was a new creation.
' ... for to create in himself of the two, one new man, so making peace' (Eph. 2:15, Author's translation ).
In this new company there is an equality of membership never known before. Even when writing the epistle to the Romans, Paul speaks of 'the Jew first'. But in the new company we have an entirely new constitution
'Fellow-citizens with the saints' (Eph. 2:19).
'That the gentiles should be fellow-heirs, fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of his promise in Christ by that gospel, whereof I (Paul) was made a minister' (Eph. 3:6, Author's translation).
6. It is characterized by the supremacy of Christ Himself; the substance eclipsing and removing all shadows.
In this dispensation there are no 'healings', 'tongues' and other supernatural sign-gifts. They ceased with the setting aside of the people of Israel. There is only one baptism in this church, that of the Spirit -- not that of water. The baptism of the Spirit must not be confused with the earlier manifestation of spiritual gifts, but associated with the identification of the believer with His Lord in His death, burial and resurrection, which is not necessarily set forth typically by immersion in water. Water baptism is closely connected with Israel. Peter could never have said as did Paul, 'Christ sent me not to
baptize, but to preach the gospel' (1 Cor. 1:17), for Peter's gospel and baptism are inseparable.
The church of the mystery has no warrant to observe the Lord's Supper.* Its institution (Matt. 26) shows that it is directly linked with the New Covenant, in which the church of the One Body can have no place. The New Covenant is not a vague term to be spiritualized into any dimension. It is defined in Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8 as being essentially to do with the restoration of the house of Israel and the house of Judah, a blessed theme, but with no relation to this church of heavenly places.
All fasts, feasts and observance of days find themselves fulfilled in Christ
'Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ' (Col. 2:16,17).
The prison epistles of the apostle Paul -- Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and 2 Timothy -- constitute the charter of this church of the mystery.
These epistles are written to and about us. The rest of Scripture is absolutely necessary to us -- just as
the foundation of a building is necessary to its topmost stone -- but these epistles are peculiarly our own. It is a misrepresentation of our teaching to say that we have reduced our Bible to four epistles. We might as well charge the whole Protestant Church with cutting the Bible in half, because it professes to be under grace and not under law.
7. There is a sacred trust connected with this new calling.
In Ephesians 4:3-6 we are enjoined to keep the sevenfold unity of the Spirit, of which Christ, the One Lord, is the
One GOD AND FATHER.
In both 2 Timothy 1 and 2 Paul's teaching is the pattern: 'Which thou hast heard of me'.
In 2 Timothy 1:12 and 14 Paul speaks of 'that good deposit', a sacred trust of truth first of all 'committed' to Paul, then to Timothy, and subsequently 'to faithful men who should be able to teach others also' (2 Tim. 2:2).
It is to this commitment that we desire to respond. For this we seek grace, strength, understanding, and endurance. To this end we put pen to paper and publish books, seeking to buy up every opportunity of making known these
unsearchable riches of Christ.
We know not when the last member of this blessed company shall be called and the church completed, but this we do know, that the signs of the times indicate to us that the end of the age draws near. We see the movement beginning among the 'dry bones' of Israel; we see the fig tree once more beginning to put forth its leaves, and the signs of the apostasy spoken of by Paul in 1 Timothy 4 and 2 Timothy 3 and 4 appearing. We believe, therefore, that our hope draws nearer still. May we 'live ... looking for that blessed hope' (Tit. 2:12,13).
* See The Dispensational Place of the Lord's Supper -- same Author and Publisher.