AKA Hyperdispensationalism AKA Bullingerism
I have been surprised by the extent to which this doctrine has permeated Bible-believing churches on every continent. In some cases the followers of the doctrine prefer to remain within orthodox churches where they quietly and subtly spread their ideas. At the same time there are hundreds of churches that have formed around these teachings. These churches, at first glance, appear to be orthodox and not unlike other fundamentalist, Bible-believing churches. Some of these churches operate under the banner of the “Grace Gospel Movement” and favor names such as “Grace Bible Church” or “Berean Bible Church”.
This heresy is old and yet, seems to have been able to fly under the radar for decades. This is partly because the language they use sounds orthodox and partly because their arguments are intended to befuddle and confuse. Here are a few phrases that may hint at someone holding to this doctrine:
- Paul’s Gospel vs Jesus’ Gospel
- Gospel of Grace vs Gospel of the Law
- Gospel to the Jews vs the Gospel to the Gentiles
- Gospel of the Kingdom vs Paul’s Gospel
It seems that the heresy finds its roots in E. W. Bullinger in the 19th century and has been picked up and modified by others. One of the main promoters in the late 20th and 21st century is Les Feldick, a popular radio and YouTube teacher.
What They Believe
My intention in this article is not to analyze their doctrine in detail, but rather to focus on sound doctrine that counters their main errors. Others have gone into much more detail (see the sources at the end of this article for more information). The main problem areas are:
- Jesus and the apostles preached the gospel “of the Kingdom” to the Jews.
- Paul received the revelation of the true gospel – the gospel of grace to the Gentiles.
- The change happened around Acts 9 or 13 (Bullinger said Acts 28). Hence the descriptor “hyper-dispensationalism”. According to them the dispensations change, not at the cross, but somewhere in Acts.
- This results in two gospels – one to the Jews and another to the Gentiles (some proponents have up to four gospels).
- Thus the church Jesus founded (Matthew 16:18) is not the church of Paul.
- The teachings of Jesus (in the four Gospels), Acts and the books from Hebrews to Revelation are not binding on us. (Feldick believes that Paul wrote Hebrews but because it is written to the Jews it is not applicable on the Gentile church). Therefore, only the 13 books from Romans to Philemon are binding on us. In this process they have virtually created a different red letter edition with the words of Paul in red and have all but deleted the words of Jesus.
- There are many consequences of these fallacies, but the practical ones are that repentance, baptism and the Great Commission are part of the Law and therefore not relevant to the Gentile church.
These teachers like to refer to themselves as “dispensational” but this is not classical dispensationalism but rather hyper-dispensationalism.
Covenant and dispensational theology people are agreed that the covenant (testament) or dispensation changed at the cross. There has never been any dispute on that truth. Since covenants are “cut” by blood, Jesus, facing the cross, said “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you.” (Luke 22:20). Paul confirmed that the change from the curse of the Law to the blessing of Abraham coming to the Gentiles happened at the cross (Galatians 3:13-14). There is no Scripture for the idea that the covenant/testament/dispensation changed at any other time. The fact that they differ on the timing (Acts 9,13,28) shows that they have no Scripture to define a change, other than what was instituted at the crucifixion.
The idea that the church Jesus founded, and that was inaugurated at the day of Pentecost, is different to what Paul established is absolutely preposterous. To even suggest that when Jesus said “I will build my church”, he meant a temporary, Jewish only church is to put it kindly, ridiculous. The Lord’s very statement that “…the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) is a clear statement of permanence – He was not building something temporary and inferior that would be replaced by something more superior, not built by the Lord Himself, but by a man!
Two Gospel people make much of the mistaken notion that the word “Ekklesia” changed its meaning. Again there is no Scripture for this at all. The church Paul persecuted in Acts 8 in Jerusalem and the Church he addressed in Acts 20 (Ephesus) is the same church. Paul says to the Thessalonians: “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans,” (1Thessalonians 2:14). Paul does not draw a distinction between the mainly Gentile Thessalonians and the Jewish churches in Judea but rather, says explicitly that they are the same and he calls the Judean churches “ekklesia”, the same word he uses for the Thessalonians (1Thessalonians 1:1). Paul does the same in Galatians 1:22.
Two New Testaments
The idea that there are two New Testaments – one for Jews and one for Gentiles is equally ridiculous. This is one of the reasons I call this a heresy since it denies that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, emphasis mine). The unity of Scripture is one of the fundamentals of the faith. They attack that foundation by creating conflict and contradiction between books that is not there.
Paul confirms that the words of Jesus are binding when he quotes Jesus (Acts 20:35; 1Corinthians 11:24-25)
Hebrews is clear that Jesus, and not Paul, is God’s final revelation to us: “GOD, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Furthermore Hebrews contains a severe warning if we neglect the words of Jesus: “For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him,” (Hebrews 2:2-3).
While we do not in any way minimize the fact that Paul wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and that the Lord revealed much to him, it was only of Jesus that the Father testified “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Luke 9:35).
Note that I took the above quote from Luke. Feldick is badly mistaken when he calls Luke and Acts Jewish books. They were written by a Gentile to Gentiles. The books are specifically addressed to Theophilus – a Gentile (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1). So, if the words of Jesus have no relevance to Gentiles, why did Luke write, and why did the Holy Spirit inspire him to write these two books addressed to a Gentile? But more, it is commonly agreed that the Gospel of Luke was written after the events of Acts, around AD60 (at the earliest). According to these men by AD60 Paul had received his revelation of the two gospels and churches. According to them by then the church was the Gentile church of Paul and the words of Jesus were irrelevant. So why then, did the Holy Spirit inspire the writing of two complete books (Luke being the longest of the Gospels) when the events in Jerusalem and the words of Jesus were no longer of relevance to “Paul’s church”?
Surely the words of Jesus apply to these teachers: “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19).
Great Commission Rejected
They are adamant that the Great Commission, including the command to baptize was given to the Jewish church and that this is part of the Law (everything before “Paul’s revelation” is Law to them). The first part of the command says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19). Note that the command is to make disciples of all nations (ethnos) – the Gentiles. Again this makes no sense unless the Lord’s intention was for the church to be one church, made up of Jews and Gentiles.
The idea of two gospels comes from the mistaken idea that Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom and Paul preached the gospel of grace through faith and that these were two different gospels to different groups of people. This is further distorted by the lie that Paul did not preach repentance while John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles preached repentance as a part of salvation (See below). Once again, this can easily be refuted by anyone who has at least read the New Testament.
They correctly emphasize that Paul defines the gospel in 1Corinthians 15:1-4. But then they try to say that this is different to the gospel of the apostles. Let me be clear, you can only come to that conclusion if you did not read the whole of 1Corinthians 15! In verse 5 it mentions Peter (Cephas) and the twelve, in verse 6 it mentions 500 brethren, and in verse 8 it mentions James and the apostles (again). Then in verse 11 he says: “Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.” (1Corinthians 15:11). The “they” are those mentioned in the preceding verses and Paul says “they” and he preached the same gospel and that the Corinthians are established in what was preached by Peter, James, the twelve, the 500 and Paul. There is no difference!
This is the whole purpose of the letter to the Romans. Paul goes to great lengths to prove that Jew and Gentile has both sinned (one with the Law and the other without) (Romans 2:12). Thus all are guilty and all have sinned (Romans 2:23) and both are condemned to death (Romans 5:12). Paul takes two entire chapters (3&4) to prove that those under the Law and Gentiles are both saved in exactly the same way – by faith. Not only they, but Abraham, who came before the Law, was also saved in the same way – by faith. The whole point of Romans is to teach that there is only one gospel for both Jew and Gentile. In fact, he opens the book by saying “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16). There is only one Gospel for both Jew and Gentile.
It is Paul whom these people lift up higher than the Lord Jesus who said: “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more.” (Acts 20:24-25 Emphasis mine). Paul preached both the Kingdom and the gospel of grace. They are the same thing, preached by the same apostle. These are clearly not two messages or gospels but simply different aspects of the same gospel.
In Galatians 2 Paul proves that the message he preached and that which was preached by Peter and the other apostles is exactly the same gospel. He stresses that he did not receive his message from those in Jerusalem but directly from the Lord. But, then after 15 years he went to Jerusalem to check his doctrine against theirs only to discover that the twelve and he were preaching exactly the same message: “But from those who seemed to be something–whatever they were, it makes no difference to me; God shows personal favoritism to no man–for those who seemed [to be something] added nothing to me.” (Galatians 2:6 My emphasis).
However, the two gospel people hang their whole argument on a misinterpretation of the next verse: “But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter” (Galatians 2:7). From this they build the idea that there are two gospels. But they wrest verse seven out of the context of verse six which says the message is the same. Secondly, they willfully misinterpret the verse when its obvious intention was to say that “Paul would take the gospel to the Gentiles while they would take the gospel to the Jews”. There is not two gospels, but two audiences.
Once again, would these men only read a couple of verses further, the meaning would be clear: “and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” (Galatians 2:9, emphasis mine)
On a personal note, I never cease to be amazed how people who cannot even read one chapter in context get to become influential and popular “teachers”! But that is the key to this whole heresy: verses must be understood in their narrow and wider context – it really is that simple. This is not even about understanding the original languages, but simply reading the entire Bible and understanding individual verses in the context of the entirety of the Word of God.
Paul Preached Repentance
One sign that a person holds to the two gospel error is often visible in the idea that repentance is not part of the gospel to the Gentiles.
Before looking at Paul’s teaching, part of the Lord Jesus’ instructions to the disciples as recorded by the Gentile, Luke, and written to Gentiles is: “and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47, My emphasis). Repentance was not just to be preached in Jerusalem but to all nations (ethnos).
In defining the gospel to both Jew and Gentile Paul says: “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
The word “trinity” does not appear anywhere in the Bible, and yet the concept is all over its pages. In the same way, Paul does not use the word “repentance” much, yet the doctrine is in every one of his letters: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). Is that not a command to repent? Or: “For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). If that is not a description of repentance then what is?
Luke is very specific that Paul did indeed preach repentance to the Gentiles:
- In speaking to Greek philosophers at Athens he said: “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent,” (Acts 17:30).
- “how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, “testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:20-21). Notice, the messages to Jews and Greeks is the same: Repentance and faith.
- In testifying before Agrippa (a Gentile) Paul says he “…declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.” (Acts 26:20).
Paul Declares Them Heretics
It is almost as though Paul had these people in mind when he wrote: “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a [means of] gain. From such withdraw yourself.” (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
They do not consent with (agree with) the words of the Lord Jesus and clearly contradict Him on many issues. Paul, their idol, says their minds are corrupt, they have no truth and we must withdraw from (excommunicate) them.
Bob DeWaay wrote an excellent article on the subject: https://cicministry.org/commentary/issue108.htm
Harry Ironside wrote an entire book on Bullingerism (before the modern iterations) which is very helpful in understanding and rebutting this error and is available free: http://www.biblelineministries.org/onlinebooks/wrongly-dividing-the-word-of-truth/index.html
26 February 2021