|Q18 : Mid-Acts Dispensationalism|
I deeply appreciate your taking time to answer my questions about mid-acts dispensationalism. In researching this kind of dispensationalism I think I know how they would respond to some of your comments.
1) Concerning the supposed differences between Peter and Paul, Terry McLean (discerningthetimespublishing.com) and others (Shorewood Bible Church, Chicago) argue that repentance is not sufficient for salvation. The Spirit given at Pentecost was of course prophesied in the OT but only the exclusive belief in the shedding of blood on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins can save. Mid-acts teachers do not think that the people saved in Acts 2 were believing in the work of Christ on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins because such a statement of belief is no where to be found in the early chapters of Acts. Repentance and receiving the Spirit is the key for salvation in the kingdom early in Acts, while believing in the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins is key for salvation in the body of Christ after Paul's revelation. Again, mid-acts teachers indicate that Peter continues to define salvation in Acts 10:35 for Gentiles much differently than Paul. Mid-acts people state that we are reading Romans 10:9 into Acts 2 and not taking seriously or literally what is being said there. Actually, mid-acts people think that Peter's Pentecostal sermon is more of an indictment against the Jews for what they did to their Messiah rather than a message of salvation!
Wow, what a difference among dispensationalists. Mid-acts teachers have "rooms" on Paltalk and discuss these issues several nights a week. McLean, mentioned above, and teachers in the Berean rooms (from Chicago) are prominent teachers of the mid-acts view. I do see their point that salvation comes only through believing exclusively in the shed blood of Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, and the fact that early Acts has no such statement of belief. They mention "exclusive" to also argue against water baptism and "works meet for repentance"—two aspects of salvation appropriate only for the kingdom.
How would normative dispensationalism answer their point that believing exclusively in the shed blood of Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of sins is the only means of salvation which is not found in early Acts? (And so the salvation found there is for the kingdom and not the body of Christ.) I think that you would argue for progressive revelation which sounds acceptable to me, yet salvation in Acts 2 does not seem to be the same salvation in Paul's epistles when one considers believing in the work of Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of sins to be what we think of concerning salvation (which is essentially Pauline).
2) The works-grace distinction is too hard for me to figure out. I do know that mid-acts teachers will point to Dt 6:25: "And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe and do all these commandments before the Lord Our God, as he hadth commanded us"; and James 2:24: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" to argue that salvation was by works in the OT (although grace was always operational). I have to admit that Dt 6:25 is hard to get around. Some commentaries state that Dt 6 gives proper instructions for living and not for salvation, just as commentaries state that James doesn't really mean works in James 2:24 for salvation but that works should follow faith. Mid-acts teachers see such explanations as excuses for what the text is actually trying to communicate. Again, I can see their point that works in both passages (and others) is not taken seriously by many scholars—there are more excuses than explanations for these types of verses. You're right that Acts 26:19-21 helps put the whole issue of Pauline revelation into perspective but we still have the problem of works strongly asserting itself in Dt 6:25.
|A18 : by Tony Garland |
I appreciate your interest in sorting these issues out. However, one thing I would say as a caution: any of us can sit at the feet of any number of teachers and have them guide us in our understanding of the Scriptures. But in doing so, we are also at risk of imbibing ideas which are imposed upon the text—and not a true reflection of the complete council of Scripture (the “golden rule” — Scripture interpreters Scripture). This is just as true for listening to (or reading) my comments as any other teacher. So I would be cautious about spending a lot of time listening to me or any other teacher in lieu of spending the most time directly in Scripture itself.
Also: teachers can debate back and forth various positions about Scripture endlessly, but positions which fail to address key issues do not deserve a great amount of additional time or scrutiny. To me, the mid-Acts dispensationalism view falls into that camp.
As I stated in my first response on this issue—and went into in reasonable detail in my previous response—the key to unraveling the mid-Acts dispensationalism labyrinth is found in the definition of the body of Christ. At the risk of repeating myself: (1) the body of Christ is defined by Paul as those who are baptized by the Holy Spirit (1Cor. 12:13); (2) this baptizing work was predicted by both John the Baptist and Jesus and is the reason the disciples were to wait in Jerusalem at the beginning of Acts (also see the end of Luke); (3) the baptizing work began on the Day of Pentecost—PERIOD! Therefore, the body of Christ began at Pentecost and any attempt to place individuals saved after Pentecost into some separate body or group is counter to Scripture. This is what the mid-Acts position attempts to do—and using Paul of all people—the very one who makes clear that the church, the body of Christ is defined by Spirit-baptism. I have already dealt with this and it is, from my perspective, a fatal blow to their entire system. Once the elephant has been felled, why spend a lot of time picking at fleas which remain on the dead elephant?
I will hazard a few comments in relation to the numbered items in your questions. My approach will be brief because, I as said, I'm not willing to spend a lot of time on secondary issues when primary issues, such as Spirit-baptism, have already undermined their position.
Concerning the supposed differences between Peter and Paul, [mid-Acts dispensationalists] argue that repentance is not sufficient for salvation. The Spirit given at Pentecost was of course prophesied in the OT but only the exclusive belief in the shedding of blood on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins can save.
I think this statement indicates considerable confusion about salvation. Yes, the basis of salvation has always been the shedding of Christ's blood on the cross. But salvation itself is based on faith in what God has revealed and the content of saving faith has changed with God's progressive revelation. This is more than clear from a reading of Paul (see Galatians 2 and 3) where he consistently points to Abraham as the father of the faithful. It is highly unlikely that Abraham had a complete understanding of the details of Christ's shed blood. Even if Abraham and certain others did, it is unlikely that all who were saved in the OT had such an understanding. (And if one argues they did, then why were the disciples initially so clueless about Christ's impending death?). The mid-Acts people are confusing progressive revelation for different dispensations.
Mid-acts teachers do not think that the people saved in Acts 2 were believing in the work of Christ on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins because such a statement of belief is no where to be found in the early chapters of Acts.
Honestly, I find some of these points of view bordering on silly. What did Jesus Himself say at the last supper?
For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Mt 26:28 cf. Mr 14:24; Lu 22:20; 1Co 11:25; Heb 12:24)
Are we to suppose that non of the disciples had the slightest idea that the blood of Jesus was key to salvation? What do you suppose they would have thought when He connected His blood with the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34)? It seems patently clear: they were being taught that it was His blood sacrifice that provided for their sins.
What about the many statements of John the Baptist who referred to Jesus as “the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29,36)? To maintain that the early church was not saved by believing in Christ's atoning work, but by repenting and receiving the Spirit is to compartmentalize Scripture to an extreme! Take a look at what Jesus taught immediately prior to His ascension:
Then He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Lu 24:46-47)
What does Jesus say: (1) it was necessary for the Christ to suffer ; (2) repentance and remission of sins should be preached. Why on earth was it necessary for Christ to suffer and why did He teach this to the earliest disciples (even before Acts 2) if they were saved without believing in His shed blood?
Again, mid-acts teachers indicate that Peter continues to define salvation in Acts 10:35 for Gentiles much differently than Paul. Mid-acts people state that we are reading Romans 10:9 into Acts 2 and not taking seriously or literally what is being said there. Actually, mid-acts people think that Peter's Pentecostal sermon is more of an indictment against the Jews for what they did to their Messiah rather than a message of salvation!
The mid-Acts people want us to believe there was this small band of people who (1) had been with Jesus for His entire ministry; (2) had been told that His blood was key to the New Covenant; (3) had witnessed His crucifixion and resurrection first-hand; (4) had been taught for a lengthy time by the Master after His crucifixion and before His ascension; but (5) had no understanding of the role of His shed blood as key in their own redemption! I'm unconvinced.
I do see their point that salvation comes only through believing exclusively in the shed blood of Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, and the fact that early Acts has no such statement of belief.
I believe this to be an error—the basis of salvation has always been Christ's atoning work on the Cross. The content of saving faith has differed with time as God has revealed more about the work of Christ. Look at Abraham: “And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Ge 15:6). This statement in Genesis is foundational to salvation and the basis for all who are saved by faith—this is why we are “sons of Abraham” by faith (Gal. 3:29). The Genesis passage says nothing about the details of Christ's blood—nowhere does it say that Abraham believed on Christ's blood, etc. Abraham simply believed that which God had revealed (up to that time) and he was saved. Period. If we took the mid-Acts position, Abraham either wasn't saved or was saved by some other means than the blood of Christ—after all it doesn't mention His blood in Genesis 15! But if this were possible, how is it that Abraham is the very root by which all who trust in Christ are joined to the Abrahamic Covenant which is the foundation of the New Covenant? The minute we say that Abraham was saved one way, but we by another, then we are no longer “sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). [Incidentally, our website has an excellent course on Galatiansa by Steve Lewis which I would highly recommend listening to. Steve does an outstanding job of clarifying this area.]
How would normative dispensationalism answer their point that believing exclusively in the shed blood of Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of sins is the only means of salvation which is not found in early Acts? (And so the salvation found there is for the kingdom and not the body of Christ.)
As I have stated in the past, mid-Acts analysis of the passages attempts to read too much into silence. If I took the same approach to Scripture as the mid-Acts camp, then I could hold that Paul taught work-based salvation apart from Christ's shed blood late in the book of Acts (Acts 26:19-21). Moreover, just because something isn't stated within a few chapters of a book does not mean it is unknown to those who occupy its pages! As I've already shown, Jesus taught that the New Covenant was tied to His blood sacrifice and that He taught that He had to suffer (see also Luke 24:45). What on earth was all that suffering and blood about if it had nothing to do with the salvation of the earliest converts? Clearly, they had an ample understanding that salvation was rooted in the atoning work of Christ—and not some other way based on receiving the Spirit and repentance (apart from His blood). I believe the different emphasis found in some of the statements regarding salvation early in Acts has to do with the primarily Jewish audience and the fact that they had just been guilty, as the chosen nation, of crucifying their own Messiah. It does not indicate a different way of salvation apart from Christ's blood.
I do know that mid-acts teachers will point to Dt 6:25: "And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe and do all these commandments before the Lord Our God, as he hath commanded us"; and James 2:24: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" to argue that salvation was by works in the OT (although grace was always operational). I have to admit that Dt 6:25 is hard to get around.
The idea that salvation was by works in the OT is a very serious error which completely confuses nearly everything Paul taught on the subject:
"knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (Ga 2:16)
"I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness [comes] through the law, then Christ died in vain." (Ga 2:21)
Many people erroneously state that “dispensationalism teaches multiple ways of salvation.” I suppose they get fuel for this claim from the errors of mid-Acts dispensationalism which indeed does teach such an error. Ask yourself the same question as Paul is making clear in Galatians 2:21—If salvation can be by any other means than Christ's atoning work, then why did Christ die? Indeed, His death would have been unnecessary and the Father essentially ignored His Son's prayer in the garden:
He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You [will]." (Mt 26:39)
The idea that salvation was by works in the OT is blasphemous for it posits another way to God besides Christ's atoning work. Moreover, it completely misses the entire sway of Paul's teaching that it was impossible to keep the law. The writer of Hebrews makes the same point:
For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness, for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, [there is the] bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. (Heb 7:18-19)
The relationship between grace and works can be understood on two principles: (1) the righteousness mentioned in passages such as Deuteronomy 6:25 is not related to salvation. Just in the same way that my righteous actions as a believer contribute nothing to my salvation; and (2) righteous actions and works are a manifestation of saving faith. As Calvin said it so well: “Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is not alone."
The righteous acts of the OT saints are akin to the blood sacrifices of the OT: neither one was effectual for salvation. The moment you say that OT blood sacrifices operated in the realm of salvation, then you have subtracted from the work of the cross—you are saying that salvation is “Jesus plus. . .” something. Jesus plus anything (works, righteous acts, OT sacrifices, etc.) is blasphemy because it says that Christ's work was insufficient to do the job—that something else had to be contributed as well. Moreover, it implies the possibility of multiple ways of salvation (hence, multiple ways to God).
Why on earth is there a New Testament if people could be saved by works? If you are unclear on whether works can result or contribute to salvation, then mid-Acts dispensationalism is talking about minor details compared with areas you should be much more concerned to comprehend.
This is a pattern I've observed many times in ministering to people's questions: many people are investigating and questioning areas of doctrine which involve concepts and areas which are far beyond where they should be studying. It is like trying to cross home plate in a baseball game without ever having crossed first base! For example, I've often discussed the “pre-wrath” rapture position with people who are studying it in earnest, but haven't the foggiest grasp of eschatology in general nor have they ever truly understood the basis of the pretribulational rapture position. The results are akin to an auto mechanic trying to successfully perform brain surgery!
This compounds the problems because it leaves them all-the-more susceptible to errant teaching because they lack the necessary foundational understanding to detect and reject the error. It sounds to me that this may be your situation. The mid-Acts position has several basic and serious errors which, so far, don't seem to sufficiently concern you. These errors are like big warning signs proclaiming: “DANGER AHEAD — STAY AWAY.”
The definition of the Body of Christ given by Paul himself is based on Spirit-baptism which began on the Day of Pentecost. Membership in the (one and only) body of Christ is not based on the understanding of those who are saved—but a work of God in baptizing them with the Spirit.
Salvation has never been nor ever will be by works. It is by faith alone, ala father Abraham (also see Hab. 2:4). This was the entire basis for the Reformation and why we aren't teaching Roman Catholicism here!
That you seem unconcerned with these foundational truths—and are ready to look past them and continue to consider mid-Acts dispensationalism—is troubling. To me, these issues indicate that you would do well to spend more time directly in Scripture and less time looking at Internet sites of various teachers (including ours) because there are virtually no safety mechanisms for publishing on the Internet. I would concentrate on plugging into a solid local church where you have some idea who is teaching and can interact on these issues in greater depth and detail within the safety net of a congregation.