by winston davenport, FEBRUARY 2016
One of the most adhered-to theological basics in today's Christianity is called "Dispensationalism." Dispensationalism is the segmenting of known human history into tidy partitions, used to categorize the way in which man and God interacted at a given period of time.
These eras have been labeled according to the key event of each subdivision. The Edenic dispensation. The Abrahamic dispensation. The Mosaic dispensation.
The short fragment of our race's history in which Jesus walked the earth as a man is called "The Messianic dispensation."
After Jesus ascended to Heaven, we were thrust into a new dispensation—the Apostolic dispensation. This is the time in which Paul, Peter, James, and other early apostles established and organized the Christian Church. Eventually, these guys died off, opening the door to a new division in time: the dispensation that most dispensationalist theologians believe we're still in today. This can be called the Dispensation of Grace, or the Church Age. They believe this fragment of time will conclude when the rapture occurs, taking all Christians to Heaven while the rest of the world suffers in the Age of Tribulation.
After that comes varying editions of the Millennium and the New Jerusalem. This dispensationalist mode of thinking is insufferably complicated, certainly not simple enough for a child to grasp. Interestingly, Jesus said that entrance to the Kingdom is only available to those who are willing to embrace it with the simplicity of a child (see Matthew 18:3).
I have nothing personal against dispensationalists. In fact, I don't really care how theologians choose to complicate Christianity; that's between themselves and God. However, I have noticed that certain concepts—categorizations such as dispensationalism—tend to lend themselves to the relegation of God.
To relegate means to reduce something in importance—to downgrade a thing until it is manageable, predictable, and bite-size. To limit the application of a certain reality. The facets of God are so vast, so infinite, that it's not surprising we humans try to shrink Him down to size. We want a God we can identify, control, and sum up as a caption beside His photo.
The Bible teaches that all Christians are called and empowered to perform miracles. The New Testament promises that, by placing faith in the completed work of Jesus at the Cross, physical healing is available to every single believer. Unfortunately, the notion of believing something, even though they cannot see it, flies in the face of most people's comfort zones. Faith is seen as irrational, unrealistic, and irresponsible.
So, to foil that inconvenient call to faith—the same faith that freed so many people in the first century—theology's finest philosophers found a way to conceal their fear of faith failure. I find that fascinating! It's expedient to explain away the call to miracles by relegating it to a certain "dispensation." Usually, miracles are relegated to either the past or the future. Excuses are made anything to absolve ourselves of personal responsibility:
"Jesus could perform miracles because He was God."
"The disciples could perform miracles because Jesus specifically gave them power."
"Paul performed miracles because he was an original author featured in the Bible."
"Those gifts passed away with the apostles."
This mentality relegates God to the past. It's common; but it's a cop-out. Jesus said, "I assure you (so don't question it), most solemnly I tell you (with an air of seriousness and literalness), if anyone (absolutely anyone) steadfastly believes in Me (is a Christian), he will himself be able to do the things that I do (heal, raise the dead, expel demons, preach with authority); and he will do even greater things than these (there are no limits to what he will accomplish), because I go to the Father (thus enabling Christians to have the Holy Spirit)" (John 14:12, exposition mine).
Jesus certainly didn't relegate this announcement to a certain period of time, a certain group of people, a certain level of holiness, or a specific set of qualifications. The reason the power-packed Christian lifestyle is the same today as it was back then and will be in the future is because Jesus Himself is unchanging. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
Jesus was with the disciples to empower them. His Spirit was with the apostles to empower them. His Spirit is with us today to empower us.
In the Spirit, there are no dispensations. No clever categorizations. No relegation.
Worship leader Jason Upton sings, "Dispensational lies leave us hypnotized, compromised, with one-dimensional lives that will never see the truth."
Interestingly, King David was not justified by temple sacrifices or by following the Law. Neither was Abraham. Both of them were made righteous by looking forward, seeing past the boundaries of time, and placing faith in Jesus. During the "dispensation" when men were justified by their actions, behavior, and law-keeping, Abraham was declared the father of the Christian faith, even though he was a scoundrel! (see Romans 4:16). Other people relegate supernatural power to the future. "When we go to Heaven, everything will be okay." "We do the best we can, waiting for Jesus to come back." "Christians won't reign on Earth until the millennium." But the Bible doesn't tell us to wait until we get to Heaven so that everything will be made right. No, we're told to pray that Heaven is accomplished here on Earth, right now (see Matthew 6:10).
Jesus said that the sign of the Kingdom among us is when the sick are healed, demons cast out. When Jesus's cousin Lazarus died, Jesus showed up to the funeral with His disciples. Martha was upset over the death of her brother, but in one fell swoop she relegated power to raise Lazarus from the dead to the past and to the future.
First, when she sees Jesus she says, "Master, if You had been here, my brother would not have died" (John 11:21). Seeing her hopelessness, Jesus lets her in on His plan: "Jesus said to her, 'Your brother shall rise again"' (11:23). He wanted to let her know that He had the same power to raise the dead today as He had if He had been there to heal Lazarus yesterday. But like many Christians today, Martha was afraid of getting her hopes up. She didn't take the hint.
Next she relegates God's power to a future "dispensation." She says, "I know that he will rise again at the last day" (11:24). Martha, Martha. The answer is staring you right in the face, but your dispensational mindset conceals the truth.
Jesus's response to her relegation is, "I Am the Resurrection and the Life!" (11:25). He quickly brings the conversation to the present. He will not be relegated to the past or the future. Power to heal, to cast out demons, to raise the dead, to move mountains, to quiet storms—that power is NOW because Jesus is NOW. After Martha leaves, others show up using their theology to grapple with the revelation of the NOW power of the NOW Jesus. Notice the past tenses: Mary: "If You had been here, my brother would not have died" (11:32). Jews: "Could not He Who opened a blind man's eyes have prevented this man from dying?" (11:37). In response, Jesus "again sighed repeatedly and was deeply disquieted" (11:38). Jesus said, "Take away the stone."
But Martha's theology insisted on complicating things: "But Lord, by this time he [is decaying and] throws off an offensive odor, for he has been dead four days!" (11:39).
By this time, Jesus loses it: "Woman! Didn't I tell you that if you would just believe you would see the glory of God?" (11:40).
I admire Jesus's frustration! He is getting ready to perform an awesome miracle, but these weak-kneed know-it-alls seem intent on preventing, delaying, and compromising the simplicity of what He's about to do. "But what about...did you forget...but, but but—"
"Shut up and believe!" is Jesus's response. When Christians only see God theologically, they tend to know what God did in the past. They know that in the future He will set everything right. But they don't know the NOW Jesus. They see that He is history, that He is the future. But they don't see Him as present-day power.
Don't be like Martha, relegating God's power to a dispensation—the past, the future. Recognize that the unchanging God is empowering you today to manifest change in your heart and life. If your spiritual life is dead and throwing off an offensive odor, don't think that it's too late for a miracle. Don't explain away your personal call from Heaven to operate in signs and wonders on Earth today. Jesus called Lazarus forth from his grave, and He is calling you, too. Get up, receive to power of God in your life, not for yesterday, not for tomorrow, but for today!
by winston davenport, FEBRUARY 2016