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SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT ON
DISPENSATIONALISM AND COVENANT THEOLOGY

[149th General Synod Minutes, 14 May 1971, pp. 60-62; Documents of Synod, pp. 196-198.]

(The section DISPENSATIONALISM'S DEVELOPMENT should be inserted after the 1970 Report section THE PLAN OF SALVATION, i.e., at bottom of page 81, Minutes of the 148th Gen. Syn. and the section BASIC PRESBYTERIAN BELIEFS should be inserted just before the last paragraph of the 1970 Report, i.e., p. 86, Minutes of the 148th Gen. Synod.—Stated Clerk's note.)

The report of the Dispensationalism Committee was read by the Rev. Kenneth A. Horner.

SUPPLEMENTARY REPORT ON DISPENSATIONALISM AND COVENANT THEOLOGY

At the 148th Synod Meeting, the Committee on Dispensationalism presented a report setting forth a comparison of dispensationalism and covenant theology. The report made wide use of the book, Dispensationalism Today, by Charles C. Ryrie of Dallas Seminary. Discussion of the report at Synod led to the request that the Committee continue its study dealing with other sources of dispensational teaching and areas of conflict with our standards. The Committee was also enlarged.

The following represents a supplementary report to the study of last year. It consists of a brief statement regarding the development of dispensationalism from L.S. Chafer and the original Scofield Bible. (It is our suggestion that this be inserted in the original report following the secction on "The Plan of Salvation.") Then follows a simple statement of doctrines which we consider to be essential to Covenant theology as contrasted with usual dispensational views.

DISPENSATIONALISM'S DEVELOPMENT

Ryrie's book, Dispensationalism Today, was selected as a basis for the study of dispensationalism because it was felt important that the view of the subject that was discussed be an up-to-date view. This was necessary because there has been an obvious development in the dispensationalist's view of things since these views were set forth by Dr. Chafer and the Scofield Reference Bible.

This can be demonstrated in the matter of the view of salvation in the Old Testament and the New. Dr. Chafer, for example, in a paragraph entitled, "An Acceptable Standing on the Part of Man before God," writes,

"Whatever may have been the divine method of deaqling with individuals before the call of Abraham and the giving of the Law by Moses, it is evident that, with the call of Abraham and the giving of the Law and all that has followed, there are two widely different, standardized divine provisions, whereby man who is utterly fallen, might come into the favor of God.

"a. Divine Grace upon Israel
Apart from the privilege accorded the proselytes of joining the congregation of Israel—which seemed to bear little fruitage—entrance into the right to share in the covenants of blessing designed for the earthly people was and is by physical birth.

"b. Divine Grace upon Christians
The heavenly people whether taken individually from either Jewish or Gentile stock, attain immediately by faith unto a standing as perfect as that of Christ, which standing is secured by a spiritual birth and all the saving operations of God which accompany it." (Systematic Theology, Vol III, p. 8).


These statements clearly speak of two "salvations:" one national and governmental for those born physically to the Jewish nation; the other individual and redemptive for those both Jews and Gentiles, born again spiritually.

In the course of the foregoing study of Dispensationalism Today, it is clear that dispensationalism has had a development from this original view set forth by Dr. Chafer.
While still holding to a national and governmental salvation for the Old Testament people, stress is also laid upon a personal and spiritual salvation for the individual. The latter salvation is said to be based on the atonement of Christ, secured by faith, and originating in the grace of God. Ryrie insists that dispensationalists have always believed this but does admit that statements have been made by them which would indicate otherwise.

The same development in the dispensationalist position is reflected in the original Scofield Reference Bible when comparing that original edition with the New Scofield Reference Bible. The original Bible said (Note on I John 3:7), "The righteous man under the law became righteous by doing righteously; under grace he does righteously because he has been made righteous." (Note on John 1:17 "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."

Notess such as these which imply personal salvation by legal obedience and righteousness by doing righteous deeds have been omitted or modified in the later edition, while at the same time such statements as the following have been retained or inserted: "The Christian is not under the conditional Mosaic Covenant of works, the law, but under the unconditional New Covenant of Grace," p. 95. "Under law, blessings accompany obedience; grace bestows blessing as a free gift" p. 1124. The covenant theologian would insist that in the Old Testament, believers receive blessing as a gift of grace, and in the New, believers are blessed for their obedience.

 

 

BASIC PRESBYTERIAN BELIEFS

An extensive analysis of dispensational thought is most difficult. There are varying expressions of dispensational thinking and even the standard representatives of this opinion, such as the Scofield Bible, Old and New, are interpreted differently by different people. It is also to be observed that dispensationalists use terms like covenant, works, law, dispensationalism in ways very different from the time-honored definitions of Reformed theology. There is therefore a danger of misjudging the theology of dispensationalism because of a different usage of terms.

In view of all these problems, the Committee believes that it would not be wise to commit the Synod to particular views on the people and sources which speak for dispensationalism. It urges, rather that candidates for the ministry and eldership be called upon to affirm their belief of such basic Presbyterian beliefs, among others, as: the unity of the Covenant of Grace in all ages; salvation by grace through faith in all ages; the unity and continuity of the people of God of all ages as the body of Christ as set forth in the Confession of Faith, chapters VII and XXV; a final eternal heavenly destiny for all the people of God, and the applicability of the moral law to the whole of human history on earth. Pastors likewise are urged to make these and related points clear in their instructional programs.

The Committee suggests that all of us should not only study such material as Charles Ryrie's book, Dispensationalism Today, and the notes of the New Scofield Reference Bible, but should also come to grips with the exegetical problems involved. The relations of law and grace, the interpretation of Romans 7 and 8, the study of the principles of Pharisaism and of the Judaizers of Galatia are all important and fruitful fields of attention for our men.

The Committee recommends that it be discharged.

R.L. Harris
R.G. Rayburn
R. Countess
C.T. Grayson
R.W. Gray
Ted Martin
J.M.L. Young
K.W. Horner, Chairman


It was moved and seconded that the Committee make an exegetical and theological study of the crucial passages of Scripture which bear on the areas mentioned in the section of the report entitled, "Basic Presbyterian Beliefs." Motion passed.

It was moved, seconded and passed that this report be incorporated by the chairman of the Committee into last year's study on Dispensationalism as amended by Synod, and that the revised study be sent down to the presbyteries and sessions for their consideration and guidance, especially in regard to the examinations of candidates for ordination, and that we ask the chairman of the Committee to edit the study as a whole.

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