A dispensationalist keeps Israel and the church distinct. This is stated in different ways by both friends and foes of dispensationalism. Fuller says that ‘the basic premise of Dispensationalism is two purposes God expressed in the formation of two peoples who maintain their distinction throughout eternity.’ A. C. Gaebelein stated it in terms of the difference between the Jews, the Gentiles, and the church of God.
The essence of dispensationalism, then, is the distinction between Israel and the church.
— Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism (source).
Why is the dispensationalist so eager to keep Israel and the church distinct, or separate from each other?
All interpreters feel the need for distinctions. Obviously this does not prove that dispensationalist’s distinctions are the correct ones, but it does demonstrate that the need for distinctions as basic to the proper interpretation of the Scriptures is recognized. There is some truth in the two statements ‘Any person is a dispensationalist who trusts the blood of Christ rather than bringing an animal sacrifice’ and ‘Any person is a dispensationalist who observes the first day of the week rather than the seventh’. That is true simply because every person who does not bring an animal sacrifice or who does not observe Saturday as his day of worship recognizes the need for distinctions in the interpretation of the Bible. The dispensationalist feels that his system supplies the answer to that need. (source)
Ryrie is saying that unless we want to be under the law of Moses, like the Israelites were, then a distinction between Israel and the church is essential. Unless we want to have to give up eating bacon and pork, or unless we want to have to stop attending church on Sunday, we’d better make sure to keep a distinction between Israel and the church.
How do dispensationalists support this with Scripture?
One verse often used is Romans 10:4.
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
A second passage is 2 Corinthians 3:7-11.
7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away:
8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious?
9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.
10 For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth.
11 For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.
However, these verses by Paul seem to contradict words by Jesus in Matthew 5.
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)
This is tough to understand! Jesus said he would not abolish even the smallest part of the law, not even after He had fulfilled them. He said that they would last until heaven and earth disappeared — which obviously hasn’t happened yet.
So has Paul made a mistake? No, Scripture cannot contradict itself.
Peter admitted that Paul’s letters are difficult to understand.
15 And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;
16 As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
17 Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness. (2 Peter 3:15-17)
He also said that in his day, “unlearned and unstable” were distorting Paul’s letters to say they meant something that they didn’t. In fact, he clearly identifies these people as “wicked.”
While Paul is often said to have been the first to teach that Christians are not under law any more, he himself claimed to have followed the law of Moses throughout his life.
But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets (Acts 24:14)
He believed everything that was written in the Law? What about animal sacrifices?
Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings. Whereupon certain Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with multitude, nor with tumult (Acts 24:17-18)
According to Numbers 6:13-20, “those offerings were a ram of a year old for a burnt-offering, a sheep of the same age for a sin-offering, a ram for a thank-offering, a basket of unleavened cakes, and a libation of wine” (Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible).
20 And when [the elders in Jerusalem] heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto [Paul], Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law:
21 And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.
22 What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come.
23 Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them;
24 Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law. (Acts 21:20-24)
We also see that Paul continued to worship on the seventh-day Sabbath in the book of Acts. Some say that he only offered animal sacrifices and worshiped on Sabbath when he was with the Jews, keeping a distinction himself between Jews and the church.
According to dispensationalists, ‘the basic premise of Dispensationalism is two purposes God expressed in the formation of two peoples who maintain their distinction throughout eternity’ (source).
However, Paul seems to say something else.
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
It certainly sounds as if Paul is saying that Gentiles are part of the same group of people as Israel, not two separate peoples who maintain their distinction.
He goes on to say,
That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel (Ephesians 3:6).
In fact, years before this, Jesus told his disciples,
14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.
15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. (John 10:14-16)