The responsibility associated with the Christian dispensation is assigned to the corporate body of Christendom. As the nation of Israel was accountable for God’s testimony in the world during the Jewish dispensation, in a similar way, Christendom is responsible for God’s testimony in the earth in the Christian dispensation. All who claim a profession of faith in Jesus Christ assume a position in the world which is held by God to be responsible to Him. Putting these together as one professing group gives us the body of Christendom.
Of course, it is a Christian testimony associated with the Christian dispensation. God had set aside the Jews in judgment, destroying their city and temple in 70 AD, essentially ending the practice of Judaism. What God sanctions now is the religion of Christianity. All Christians claim to be following this in practice. The testimony is to the glory of God in and through the name of Jesus Christ – how well is it seen that God is being glorified and the name of Jesus Christ is being honored by the body of Christendom in its practice of Christianity?
This isn’t individual responsibility where all men would answer to God for themselves, for their works separately from others. God does not order dispensations to be dependent on a single individual. That is the wisdom of recognizing only the three dispensations taught in this book. All three have a corporate body associated with their distinctive dispensations, where the success or failure of the dispensation is dependent on these bodies.
At the beginning of the dispensation the responsible body was the church. Started as the sovereign work of God, it remained pure for some time by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Also, its outward testimony to the world was through demonstrations of the power of God. But the important question is this: What is the outward testimony of Christianity in the world? At the beginning of the dispensation this was the church. As the dispensation progressed under man’s care, he took the church and added to it his own work, creating Christendom – this is now the outward testimony of Christianity.
The true church still exists; God continues to add to the church the elect He saves; the sovereign work of God continues in the dispensation. But there should be no doubt the elect of God are scattered and dispersed throughout Christendom. The true church no longer can present itself outwardly to the world as one body. Any longer it is not possible to see the church in the world today. The true church is now a hidden treasure buried in the world (Matt. 13:44). We know it is there, and that it is secure as the work of God. But we can no longer see the church in the world, as the outward testimony of Christianity. This testimony in the world now belongs to Christendom.
The true church, wherever it may be, still has responsibility. She was to be one body in testimony, so that the world would believe that Jesus was sent from God (John 17:20–21). This is now impossible to accomplish – the church is scattered and dispersed, the wheat thoroughly mixed in with tares, with no possibility of remedy. The church is now immersed and hidden throughout Christendom, and has no legitimate testimony of unity and oneness. Now Christendom faces the same responsibility as the church, for both assume the same position before God and claim the same religion of practice. Christendom has the responsibility of maintaining the testimony of being one unified body before the world.
If there is a claim of faith in Jesus Christ, a profession, and this certified by water baptism in some form, then there is an existing relationship with God. It is a relationship that is different and of a higher level than the general Creator/creature relationship of all men. Just as Israel’s relationship with Jehovah was a step up from that of mankind in general, the professing Christian’s relationship with God represents an even higher place than that of the Jew’s.197 This “place” is being assumed by the individual, whether the claim is true or false.
197 [This “higher place” has to be acknowledged as a reality for a number of reasons, chief among them being the progressive and greater revelation of God in/through His Son, Jesus Christ. The new creations of God in the Christian dispensation are called “sons of God” through faith in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 3:26), and are said to be “in Christ” and having “put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27–28)]
Responsibility comes from the existing relationship. If Christendom exists on the earth, then isn’t it responsible for the condition it is found in? The same would be true concerning the church – if it exists on the earth, then it must be responsible for its condition. Because the profession of Christ is the same in the church as it is in Christendom, and water baptism presents both as the same in the eyes of the world, then their accountability before God is the same. Christendom’s responsibility is the same as that of the body of Christ.
Dispensational responsibility involves the corporate body’s overall testimony to the glory of God, in the time of the dispensation. Is God being glorified as He should by the works, behavior, words, testimony, of this body? Responsibility is seen in Scripture as shining forth light to this dark world – a candlestick, a lamp, a lighted city on a hill. How well is Christendom shining as a light? In the first chapter of Revelation, Christendom is viewed as the aggregate of the churches, and has a golden lampstand by which its light is to shine out to this world.
Responsibility is also viewed in Scripture as fruit growing on a vine, a tree, or in a vineyard. When God comes looking for fruit, He is expecting obedience to His word and will. Although John fifteen refers to the individual (John 15:1–8), it is easy to see that corporate responsibility is referred to in other passages (Isa. 5:1–7, Matt. 21:18–19). Israel had the responsibility to produce good fruit for God in their dispensation. Christendom has a similar responsibility in the Christian dispensation. Is its light shining bright? Is it producing good fruit?
By understanding dispensational principles, we may also show Christendom’s responsibility. First, we recognize there will be a finale dispensation in the future when God will gather all things in heaven and earth, for His glory, into the headship of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10). This means the two dispensations which precede this final one would have ended at some time previous to this.198 All dispensations end by the judgment of God. The Jewish dispensation ended by God judging the nation of Israel and setting this corporate body aside. In principle, the judgment of God is necessary and essential to any dispensation ending. You cannot have one without the other – you cannot have a dispensation end without God’s judgment on the corporate body.
198 [The first two dispensations are the only ones succeeded by another dispensation. The question we must ask is why did the first two end? It would be silly to think that God didn’t have a legitimate reason for doing so, that He just arbitrarily ended the first two in order to do something different. Arbitrary and random are not the characteristics of God’s counsels. According to His word, the first two dispensations have failed or will fail because of the failure of the corporate body associated with the dispensation to render a proper testimony to the glory of God. Otherwise, the dispensation would not have been (will be) replaced]
The parable of the wheat and tares, being a direct reference to the new Christian dispensation, ends in a time of harvest (Matt. 13:24–30, 36–43). The tares are bundled together and left in the field (world). The wheat is gathered up and removed from the field (world). The tares are destined to be burned.199 All this is accomplished as a divine work, using the angels. The time of harvest is the separation and judgment of God which ends the dispensation. The harvest represents how God deals with the crop in judgment. The only reason God would judge the crop is because He holds it accountable, in the time of the dispensation. The biblical truth that God will judge the crop, will judge Christendom, and this judgment will end the Christian dispensation, is all the proof necessary to comprehend that God holds Christendom accountable.
199 [There will be more than this—a wider scope in this work; but here I speak in reference to the present subject of the chapter – how will God view the responsibility of Christendom and how will He judge it. The wider scope is how He will also judge the world – unbelieving Jews and Gentiles. This is not dealt with in the details of the parable, which limits itself to only dealing with the content of the crop, to Christendom in the world]