Q5 : Mid-Acts Dispensationalism

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Q5 : Mid-Acts Dispensationalism

I'm enjoying listening to the various studies on your website. I also get recent e-mail updates from you. I'm just learning about dispensational teaching and understand that you are an "Acts 2" dispensationalist. I've also heard on Paltalk and websites associated with the Berean Bible Society (Chicago, Illinois) about a different view of dispensationalism called "mid-acts" dispensationalism. Their view is that not only are Israel and the church separate but the church itself (they call the body of Christ) did not begin until Acts 9!  Although the mid-acts view (Acts 9) seems very odd indeed, these teachings do seem to resolve many "conflicts" and "contradictions" in scripture.

I wondered if you are well aware of the mid-acts (Acts 9) position. If so, I would very much appreciate your comments on how it differs from an Acts 2 dispensationalism and why you think that the Acts 2 position is more helpful in understanding scripture than is the mid-acts view. I respect your comments on this matter.

A5 : by Tony Garland

I'm glad you are finding the studies on the website useful.   While I can't say I'm familiar with the details of mid-acts dispensationalism, I have heard of it—and the view that the church did not begin until Acts 9 (related to the conversion and commissioning of Paul).  There are several reasons why I find such an idea immediately suspect:

  1. The body of Christ is very clearly defined by the baptism of the Holy Spirit, not by the commission of specific apostles to specific people groups. This baptism clearly began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).
  2. The many teachings concerning the unity of the body of Christ (both Jew and Gentile) go against the idea that the church did not begin until some time later than Acts 2.  At Acts 2 we have human beings (whether Jew or Gentile—it doesn't matter) being baptized by the Spirit—therefore place into the single body of Christ (1Cor. 12:13). That this baptism first began with Jews (Act 2), then Samaritans (inferred in Acts 8), and then Gentiles (Acts 10), and subsequently disciples of John the Baptist (Acts 19), does not affect the unity which results from Spirit baptism.
  3. Having the church begin later than Acts 2 means there were people who were baptized by the Spirit (prior to Acts 9), but which are not considered part of the body of Christ. Scripture does not allow for any such distinction and teaches just the opposite (1Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:4-6).

It is a great challenge to treat scriptures with justice: especially recognizing those things which are continuous vs. those which are discontinuous.  We can get into just as much trouble by imposing more discontinuities on the text as in failing to recognize discontinuities which are clearly there.  In my mind, mid-Acts dispensationalism makes the mistake of placing an additional discontinuity where none is intended (similarly to how covenant theology fails to recognize the discontinuity and full significance of the Day of Pentecost).   But, as I mentioned, I'm not very familiar with the view. 

But from what I do understand, it violates some very basic truths concerning the unity of Spirit-baptism so I dismiss the idea out-of-hand.  (In other words, if you can readily see that a view runs roughshod over some key truths that are very clear in Scripture, there is no need to spend a great deal of time distracted by the details which follow.  This is how I also approach any number of ideas that are out there trying to sell themselves such as higher criticism's view of the "snyoptic problem" or the "documentary hypothesis."  Having waded through the details of the latter at one time, I've come to recognize the efficiency in assessing the major aspects of a new idea to see if there are more obvious problems.  If so, then I purposefully avoid further effort on it.  This is based on recognizing we each only have so much time to invest in God's word and that the enemy is happy to have us derailed and spending our attention on other things—even theological things so long as we are treading water rather than going forward. My take on mid-Acts dispensationalism is much the same.)

I cannot provide an in-depth comparison of the two. All I can say is that the very idea appears so obviously unsound to me based on what I know of Scripture that I spend my efforts elsewhere.  Overall, I consider myself a "minimal dispensationalist."  What I mean by that is that I strive to understand the biblical text as being continuous except for situations where the text forces me to recognize otherwise.  I see the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost as one of those unavoidable discontinuities which Scripture sets forth (e.g., John 7:38-39). I don't see any evidence for discontinuity soon thereafter as a mid-Acts scheme would require.

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