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What is mid-Acts dispensationalism?

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Dispensationalism is a theological system that recognizes various ages, or dispensations, ordained by God to instruct mankind on how to rightly relate to Him. Classic dispensationalism typically sees seven dispensations, starting with the age of innocence in the Garden of Eden and ending with the age of the millennial kingdom. The current age, called the age of grace or the church age, is held by most dispensationalists to have begun in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost. At that time, the Holy Spirit came upon the believers and empowered them to fulfill the Great Commission, and the church age began. However, mid-Acts dispensationalism sees that event as still part of the dispensation of Law; the “church” in the first part of Acts was a Jewish congregation under Jewish rules, not the church of the church age. According to mid-Acts dispensationalism, or Pauline dispensationalism, the church began with the ministry of the apostle Paul in either Acts 9 (Paul’s conversion) or Acts 13 (Paul’s first missionary journey).

Classical dispensationalism sees a biblical distinction between Israel and the church; mid-Acts dispensationalism moves the dividing line to Acts 9. Before that time, what we might call the “church” was still a Jewish congregation under the law and distinct from what came later: the Gentile church (the body of Christ) under grace.

Mid-Acts dispensationalism or the Grace Movement sees the apostles Peter, James, John, and the rest as still operating under the Old Covenant in Acts 1—8. They were still dutifully keeping the Law and still meeting as a Jewish body in Jerusalem. Peter and the other apostles preached repentance to Israel, but the church age had not yet begun. It was Paul, the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), to whom the doctrine of the church—and the doctrine of grace—was revealed. It was only after Paul began to minister that the church age actually began. Thus, the only parts of the New Testament that are specifically for the church are the Pauline Epistles. The rest of the New Testament is only directly applicable to Christian living in the way that the Old Testament is. Truth can be learned from it, but it was not written to Christians.

Mid-Acts dispensationalism makes a distinction between a “gospel of circumcision,” taught by Peter, and a “gospel of uncircumcision,” taught by Paul, based on Galatians 2:7. In our view, Paul is referring to different audiences in that passage, not different gospels. The Jews whom Peter ministered to were saved by grace through faith, just as the Gentiles to whom Paul ministered.

Mid-Acts dispensationalism also takes a different view of the Gentiles who were part of the early church before Paul was converted. Acts 2:10–11 makes it clear that the crowd listening to Peter preach on the Day of Pentecost included Gentile proselytes to Judaism. And Acts 8 shows how Samaritans and an Ethiopian were baptized into Christ before Paul ever started preaching the doctrine of the church or of grace. Thus, there was a joint church body of Jews and Gentiles before Paul began his ministry. The mid-Acts dispensationalist would acknowledge a mixture of Jews and Gentiles in Acts 2—8 but would specify that the Gentiles were Jewish proselytes and living under Jewish law. The Acts 2 dispensationalist would point out that there is no indication that the Gentiles saved in Acts 8 were ever required to be circumcised.

Most mid-Acts dispensationalists deny the need for water baptism today. The Grace Movement teaches that water baptism was a Jewish rite and that Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 is not for the church. They exclude water baptism on the basis that the only baptism needed today is the baptism of the Spirit, which occurs at salvation.

Most importantly, mid-Acts dispensationalism or the Grace Movement implies there are different gospels, a gospel of the kingdom taught by Peter and a gospel of grace taught by Paul. Under the law, works were required, but with the coming of Paul’s doctrine, it is all by grace. However, the Old Testament (and the first part of the New Testament) does not teach justification by works (Romans 4:1–3); being justified before God has always been by grace through faith, and the Jews in Galilee were not saved a different way from the Gentiles in Achaia.

Mid-Acts dispensationalism is a particular flavor of dispensationalism that carefully distinguishes Israel from the church. While we disagree with them on water baptism, the role of the law before the church age, and the exact start of the church age, we consider mid-Acts dispensationalists to be our brothers and sisters in Christ.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022