The following is an excerpt from an article outlining very well the differences between Reformed, Covenant, and Dispensational Theology. I will begin by stating that I was raised in Dispensational Theology. But, I want to inform the reader of the fact that Dispensational Theology often does not follow its own rule of literal interpretation or taking the scriptures as Garland states it: “at face value. Interpreting passages normally and plainly, while recognizing figures of speech, but without spiritualizing them and while paying attention to the details which are recorded therein.” This definition I have taken from Dr. Tony Garland, as well as what follows in the next paragraph. But before we look further at what Tony further states, let me just say that I believe that the New Covenant in Christ is is taught in scripture to be God’s promise to redeem and unite His people from both Israel and the Gentiles, in order to bring about all of His promises to mankind from Adam right down to the present. That fact is seen brought about in the one new man in Christ.
But now I want to examine an excerpt from what Tony Garland believes concerning all theories except his own Dispensational beliefs.
“The concept of the ‘body of Christ’ being a mystery unique to the New Testament, having been formed in the Book of Acts and excluding all believers prior to the giving of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost is denied [by the covenant Theologian] (Mat 16:18; 18:17; John 7:39; 14:16; Acts 1:5; 11:15; 15:14; 1Cor. 12:13; Eph 2:15; 3:5-6; Col. 1:26-27). [I would add that it is denied by literal scripture as well. In saying that I am also opposed to the reformed theological understanding that the church has replaced Israel, sometimes known as replacement Theology. But back to Tony] “The Church is seen to have begun with Abram (Abraham) or even as far back as Adam and Eve. Thus, the uniqueness of the Church as the body of Christ ministering in His absence consisting only of those baptized by the Spirit is unappreciated and the doctrine of a separate rapture of the bride of Christ is predictably rejected and even ridiculed as unscriptural (1Cor. 15:51-52; 1Th. 4:7). (Many, although not all, Pentecostal congregations embrace Covenant Theology since they also fail to fully appreciate the context of events on the Day of Pentecost associated with the historical coming of the Spirit.)” this is Tony’s view with emphasis added.
Taken from, Bible Prophecy Blog, the article:
Covenant, Reformed, and Dispensational Theology – What Do They Mean?
By Dr. Tony Garland
The underlined emphasis in the above statement is mine, and this is what we will be examining. We will also look at the scriptures said to be misunderstood or ignored which he used to support the exclusion of “all believers prior to Pentecost” as stated by him.
One thing that I fully agree with Dispensationalist concerning, is the need for the clarity that literal interpretation brings. Our understanding if it is to be correct stems from taking literal the scriptures dealing with a topic and rightly comparing and assimilating the message given. So let us delve into the scriptures he uses here in order to draw his own conclusions, which are in keeping with his Dispensational teaching, and we shall see if this understanding is correct.
There are several scriptures that he listed in order to prove that “all believers prior to the giving of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost” are excluded from the church.
Before we begin examining them, I want to point out that the Ekklesia was recorded in the Old Testament Septuagint of Jesus day more times than it is in the Greek New Testament. So the concept of the church was known to Peter when Jesus told of building His Church.
So with that understanding in the first offered by Tony we see Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon [k]Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 I also say to you that you are [l]Peter, and upon this [m]rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:16-18 NASB
We must state here that there is a futuristic aspect given to the church at the time Jesus makes this statement. This time then is before the actual establishment of the New Covenant church. Then we consider the next verse listed by Tony:
15 “If your brother sins[k], go and [l]show him his fault [m]in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as [o]a Gentile and [p]a tax collector. Matthew 18:15,17 NASB
This teaching of Jesus before the church was established allows us to conclude that even if the Church is a future concept, that the disciples had knowledge of what constituted the church body. It was a concept representing or made up of God’s people Israel at the time.
Toneys next verse:
But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. John 7:39 NASB
So it is true that this promise of the indwelling Spirit that institutes the New Covenant with a new heart is at that time still future. Then we consider:
16 I will ask the Father, and He will give you another [b]Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. John 14:16-17 NASB
This is a promise that the world cannot receive, because why? We know that at one time we were of the world if we consider Ephesians chapter 2, so how did we get untangled from the world? Only one way by coming to and being in Christ. By receiving Israel’s promised New Covenant. You must be born again. Remember this because in Christ is provided the only way to salvation for all of God’s people, Israel an the Gentiles.
5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized [f]with the Holy Spirit [g]not many days from now.” Acts 1:5 NASB
The Holy Spirit was given At Pentecost, but there is a scripture not listed by Tony that we must incorporate and assimilate into our understanding.
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22 NASB). This verse is just as true as these others Tony has mentioned but it is ignored, but we must consider that somehow Christ impacts those before the cross and His resurrection just as He impacts us. So, how it is that man who lived before Christ’s first coming can be found in Christ at His Second Coming. Does the scripture tell us? We will get to it, but for now let’s continue with Tony’s verses.
And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. Acts 11:15 NASB
Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. Acts 15:14 NASB
So, in these scriptures we see that not only Jews but Gentiles are being added to this church body, but this still does not answer how those before Christ came will be found in Him at His Second Coming.
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 NASB
So here we see that there is no distinction between Jew or Gentile now that the New Covenant has been established. Tony then referred us to Ephesians where we hear:
by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, Ephesians 2:15 NASB
which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, Ephesians 3:5-6 NASB
that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:26-27 NASB
So according to Tony these scriptures are to make the point that no one before Christ has access to this body, but again Paul says: For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22 NASB). Being “in Christ” is the only way to see the first resurrection. Do these verses go far enough to allow us to understand this supposed separation of Israel and the church? Or is something missing here from the Dispensational teaching that effects our truth understanding?
Jesus told the thief on the cross, “today thou shalt be with me in Paradise”. In Ephesians 4, scripture tells us that Jesus entered the belly of the earth and led captivity captive. Paradise at the time Jesus stated this to the thief was located in the belly of the earth. Jesus and the thief went there. But where is it after the resurrection of Christ until this very day today?
And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. 2 Corinthians 12:3-4 NASB
Paul here let’s us know that sometime after Christ, he Paul was caught up to heaven to paradise. Old Testament saints were in parodic. Paul did not go into the belly of the earth where Jesus had gone to paradise, and when we die neither do we. Peter tells us that:
“For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. 1 Peter 4:6 NASB
These dead will live in the Spirit.
Jesus had also stated: “25 Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. John 5:25 NASB
So it would seem clear that the information which is missing from the Dispensational view of the church is necessary truth in order to have the saints of Israel past and present included in this new covenant church which God established in Christ or in Israel’s Messiah. Because without this inclusion in the New Covenant they could never be resurrected. For me this information was a game changer as it was revealed to me years ago from scripture. As I began to see these things when studying the Bible, I truly didn’t know what to do with the concept. But as I continued my study over the years I found my place as a resident in the commonwealth of Israel one with the saints. The Church is the new covenant of God’s people past present and future who will possess the promises of God made to them through past covenants and promises. We Gentiles are no longer outside looking in. This covenant, this body is one, it cannot be divided, no matter how hard men try. The new covenant is promised to Israel, and we are also recipients.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ ( by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. remember that you were at that time [before the New Covenant] separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. Ephesians 2:4-7,12-16 NASB
This is why I love the literal scripture. This tells the story exactly as it is, but because of the confusion brought about because of the infighting between Dispensational and Reformed Theology it took me years to see that it was there all the time. Paul says:
to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 3:6,4:4-6 NASB
I might also add that Paul also states that there is only one gospel. The all in this does not exclude His own to whom He had promised this covenant. It literally means what it says. The olive Tree represents One People of God. There is never an indication based upon that tree in Romans 11 that faithful Israel from the Old Testament was cut off. There was certainly no indication either that they were never present in the tree, for which they made up the only natural branches. Those Israelites who were cut off were severed due to their unbelief, and as Paul teaches it was Gentiles not believing Jews who were ingrafted. Jews who believed as did the Disciples had no need of being ingrafted. They were never cut off. Saved Israel — those in Abraham’s bosom of the Old Testament were presented with and accepted their Messiah and paradise was led captive with Christ (Eph 4). One day soon Israel the Nation will be added back because a future remnant will again believe. And thus we have Christ’s bride. For the bride hath made herself ready.