The dispensationalist must be able to recognize and understand that there are two corporate bodies that have an association with the Christian dispensation. The church, the body of Christ, is the work of God alone. The other is the work of man and the devil, mixed in with the work of God – this is the larger body of Christendom. Gaining a clear distinction between the two becomes a critical point of intelligence in the proper teaching of most dispensational systems.
We must believe all that is revealed in Scripture, not a part only. The main point of real progress in Christian understanding is that we learn to distinguish things that differ. Scripture often distinguishes between two objects, subjects, actions, or groups. Often, men will come to the same things with their own thoughts and begin to obscure these distinctions. Contrasts and differences are placed in Scripture so we may gain a higher level of spiritual discernment, so we may have the mind of Christ and be able to rightly divide the word of truth. Certain contrasts must be seen in many biblical subjects that are vital in the teachings of the dispensational system:
- Israel vs. the church;
- Judaism vs. Christianity;
- the earthly calling vs. the heavenly calling;
- grace vs. works (human responsibility);
- the choice of God vs. the choice of man;
- the workmanship of God vs. man building on the earth;
- earthly things vs. heavenly things (John 3:12, Col. 3:1-3);
- earthly blessings vs. heavenly ones (Eph. 1:3);
- the law vs. the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17);
- the ministration of life, righteousness, and the Spirit vs. the ministration of death and condemnation (I Cor. 3);
- the title of Messiah vs. the Son of Man;
- the first Adam vs. the Second Adam;
- the first creation vs. the new creation of God; etc.
In Scripture, these distinctions are presented in the form of contrasts. We must keep clear all the differences that God testifies to in His word. However, as I’ve said, man so often comes in to deny the testimony and teaching of God. And he does this so nonchalantly, barely considering his possible error or all the consequences and outcomes of his own reasoning.
As we have already discussed the church and its calling in order to distinguish it from Israel in the previous chapter, here we will only touch on those passages which show the church as the work of God alone.
The true church is the mystical body of Christ, joined in union with the Son of Man glorified and sitting at the right hand of God. The Holy Spirit, as the active and direct agent of God, baptizes new believers into the body.
“…the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” (1 Cor. 12:12–13)
Of course, Jesus is the head of the body (Col. 1:18). The church is this Man’s mystical body, and only comes into existence after Jesus is raised from the dead and glorified to the heavens (Eph. 1:19–23). The church is the fullness of Him, this glorified Man who now fills all things (Eph. 4:9–10). Having been raised from the dead and glorified, God places all things under His feet. The headship over all things belongs to Him and to His body, which is in union with Him (true union in Scripture is not individual, but the Head with the body).
The church is first mentioned in the gospel of Matthew: Peter confesses what was revealed to him by the Father concerning Jesus – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This confession of who Jesus is, in His person, Son of the living God, elicits this response from the Lord (Matt. 16:16–18) – “…and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” We see that Jesus alone builds the church, and this is without any human help. He builds it as the house of God. It is fitting that Peter would speak of the building of this house in his first epistle. It may be a vague analogy, but once again, there are no human hands involved in helping God build this house.
“Coming to Him as to a living stone…chosen of God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house…” (1 Pet. 2:4–5)
Notice the Spirit’s use of the word “living” – God is the living God who has eternal life. This life was manifested in His Son; he who has the Son has life. (I John 5:11–12). Jesus is the heavenly Man, the last Adam who became a life-giving spirit (I Cor. 15:45–47).
“For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself…For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will….most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” (John 5:21, 25, and 26)
Jesus is the living stone and His Father is the living God. All true believers come to Him as having been made by Him living stones, and now being built up a spiritual house.
This is God’s sovereign work in grace:
- First, to save and secure the elect individually;
- Second, and this is distinctive of the Christian dispensation, to add them together as living stones in building His own house, the church, on the earth.
There is no human work involved in the passages we referred to above. They depict the purpose of God as to the church (His eternal counsels concerning the church), as well as showing the work to accomplish His purpose as His own. God’s work is eternal, against which the power of Satan cannot, in any way, prevail (Matt. 16:18). The counsels of God are settled; the workmanship of God to accomplish this purpose continues by the Spirit to this day (John 3:6, 8). The Father continues His work of giving life to the dead in Adam. The Son does the same as He pleases (John 5:19–21, 17:2–3). The building, the true church, is not complete as yet. People are still being saved by God and added to the house of God He is building for Himself.
There is another passage found in Ephesians two, which features a similar analogy of the body of Christ (Eph. 2:13–22). Once again, God does the work alone, building a house for Himself, Jesus being the chief cornerstone in it. The church is this house – many members as stones being built around the cornerstone, a habitation for God in the Spirit. If God does the work alone, it will not and cannot fail. It will last for eternity.
Christ builds His church on the earth, but in the counsels of God she is destined to be taken to the heavens, and to live there eternally. She has a heavenly calling and a heavenly citizenship. As the assembly, she is a heavenly people (1 Cor. 15:48). God is preparing her for life in the heavens. The pre-tribulation rapture will fulfill her calling and end her time on the earth. She will be taken to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, and being there, to be blessed eternally with all spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3, 2:6). The church becomes the heavenly tabernacle of God (Rev. 13:6, 21:2–3) – this is why she is now being built up as a house for God, the habitation of God in the Spirit (Eph. 2:22).
Whether the true church is viewed as the house of God being built by Christ, or as the body of Christ formed by the Holy Spirit sent down, or as the bride of Christ, all three are accomplished as the sovereign purpose of God. This means that it is God’s work alone, there are no human hands involved, there are no dead stones or dead body parts used, and it cannot fail as to the final result. And it is only with these three viewpoints where we may say, “…and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
In contrast to the above, man’s labour and work can never have these characteristics. His work can fail, will fail, and does fail. Man’s work never will last eternally. The historical record of Scripture shows this reality, starting with Adam in the garden. When man is given responsibility, even to simply care for the work God had accomplished, he soon brings it to ruin. This we see with paradise and God’s creation. We see the same thing in the Jewish dispensation. And the pattern is repeated in the Christian dispensation. Therefore, I must repeat this point: God’s work will never fail. This is the biblical principle I wish to press here, concerning God’s work in comparison with man’s work. So, when the apostle speaks of the church as Christ’s bride with Him in glory, she will be made a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing (Eph. 5:25–27); but simply God’s work alone, and not of man.
Now here is an important clarification concerning the understanding of the assembly. In Jesus saying “I will build My church,” we see it is future tense. It was not already formed, nor did He have any thought of forming the church during His lifetime. It would be formed on His title of Son of the living God, as Peter confessed (Matt. 16:16–18). But when was this title demonstrated to the world?
“…declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” (Rom. 1:4)
He would start His building of the church after being raised from the dead, glorified, and the Holy Spirit sent. The book-ends of ‘the time of the true church on earth’ are the day of Pentecost and the rapture. These two events, both as viewed as the sovereign work of God, define the limits of the church’s existence on the earth. Jesus using the future tense, shows us that the church wasn’t in the wilderness for forty years. The church doesn’t exist until the day of Pentecost.
Further, there is another principle associated with the workmanship of God. If it is truly God’s own work, then that work itself cannot be judged. God cannot be judged by anyone; even the devil dares not. God is not a workman who needs to have His own work evaluated. When God created the heavens and the earth, He said this is very good. There was no redesign needed; God never works like that. Sure, when man was given dominion over all the works of God’s hand, his sin defiled it all. Then, because of man’s sin, God placed a curse on creation, subjecting it to futility, yet in hope (Rom. 8:19–22). The amazing beauty we see every day when we look around at God’s creation is still only a work that remains under the bondage of corruption. Can you imagine what it will be when its curse is removed? And yet the church, in a real sense, has been predestined in God’s purposes for higher and better things than these (Rom. 8:23, 29–30, Eph. 2:6–7, Heb. 11:39–40).
Then if Jesus alone will build His church, it is the sovereign work of God, it will not fail, it is a future work for the time of His speaking in Matthew, and it cannot be judged. So then, every individual believer is God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10). Through faith in Christ we are all made sons of God (Gal. 3:26). The many sons are baptized by the Holy Spirit into Christ, that is, His body (Gal. 3:27–28, I Cor. 12:13). Having “put on Christ,” we individually or the church corporately cannot be judged, not even by God (speaking of judgment to condemnation. As His children, we may be subject to chastisement. But this is not condemnation). We are created in Christ as His own work. God cannot and will not judge His own work. And nobody else can judge it as well (Rom. 8:31–34, John 5:24).
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1; this is the proper translation for the verse)
We have presented a sufficient biblical definition of what is the true church. And we have shown the biblical proofs that the body of Christ is God’s sovereign work. But dispensations are dependent on man’s responsibility, on man’s work. They may always begin with a glorious display of God’s sovereign power and grace, but eventually, every dispensation is given over to man to care for the work of God. Concerning the Christian dispensation, the important questions are, how well has man cared for God’s work which began the dispensation? What has man done? And who is the corporate body that has this peculiar responsibility for the dispensation?
If we would use our spiritual judgment as believers and fairly evaluate the state of things concerning the present dispensation, we would easily be able to conclude that there are, in fact, two corporate bodies associated with the Christian dispensation.
- The true church, the body of Christ, as built by God and gathered by the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven.
- Christendom as a whole, containing all who profess the name of Christ, all who claim to be Christians, all who have been water baptized in some form by man, and all who would say, in some measure, they practice the religion of Christianity.
When we consider the individual membership of both bodies, we see that all have the same profession of Christ. They all have the identifying ordinance of water baptism – all so-called Christians will be baptized. And we may add that both bodies also faithfully or ritually practice the ordinance of communion – all so-called Christians eventually participate, with varying frequencies, in this ordinance.
It should be obvious that Christendom is the larger body. Because the profession and the ordinances are the same, it should be equally obvious that the body of the church is contained and immersed in the larger body of Christendom. When the dispensation began on the day of Pentecost, only the church existed – as the work of God, it was good and pure. But, as a biblical principle, all dispensations run a certain course and are dependent on the responsibility of men. Although God began a new work at the beginning of the dispensation, the responsibility for care of His work and the duty for God’s testimony in the world concerning it, must be passed over into the hands of men.
Now, the true church, the body of Christ, is scattered; it is no longer a cohesive whole, and its membership is amalgamated/incorporated into the larger body of Christendom. The true church is now hidden in Christendom. It is not that God has stopped working. He continues to do His work – by the gospel of grace, He continues to save His elect (Eph. 2:4–10, Rom. 8:33, 11:5–7, I Thess. 1:4–5). Once saved, the Holy Spirit continues to build the true church, baptizing the elect into the one body of Christ (I Cor. 12:12–13). But we should never mistake the work of God for the responsibility of men. The questions relevant to the dispensation remain. What has man done, what has he built, what are his works, when he was given responsibility? Did man add to the work of God in this way, over the last two-thousand years of the dispensation?
By itself, the body of Christ is a distinct corporate body. It will be gloriously so when taken to heaven near the end of the dispensation. And God can see it in the world today, for it is His work, and the Lord knows those who are His (2 Tim. 2:19). But any longer, the body of Christ is only seen by God. In the world we can no longer perceive it as it could be seen at the beginning of the dispensation. Man was given care for it and he has built up Christendom – all individuals and groups who profess the name of Jesus Christ and have been baptized in water. This larger body contains the true church, for all have the same claim of profession. But readily, we should be able to perceive that the larger body is not the smaller, and the smaller, simply, is contained in the larger. The two have their similarities, but also have distinct differences. They should never be spoken of as the same by spiritually intelligent Christians.
But if all that is in Christendom is a member of it by means of a profession of Jesus Christ, and displaying this membership publicly to the world by some form of water baptism, then it is reasonable and correct to say that this is the corporate entity given responsibility for God’s testimony in the dispensation. If all profess Jesus Christ, then all who do so are responsible for the testimony to the glory of Jesus Christ in the time of the Christian dispensation.
It doesn’t matter whether the profession is true or false. There is responsibility in making the claim of profession, and consequently, we acquire even more responsibility after making the profession – a duty for living the Christian life as a disciple of Christ, and being a light in testimony for Christ in this dark and evil world.
It is at this point we must learn to distinguish between individual and corporate responsibility. Your personal responsibility lies on your shoulders alone – by yourself, you will answer to Christ for the things you have done as a believer. But solemn as this truth is, it remains different from corporate responsibility. Dispensations have corporate groups which are responsible to act as one body in unison in its testimony for God’s glory. This is the corporate responsibility peculiar to any dispensation.
As a people and nation, Israel had a corporate responsibility before God during the Jewish dispensation. God dealt with them as a nation. When they made and worshipped the golden calf, breaking God’s law in its first command, He said to Moses,
“I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people! Now therefore, let Me alone, that My wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them. And I will make of you a great nation.” (Ex. 32:9-10)
God would have been justified in destroying the nation of Israel. He would have been perfectly righteous in doing so, because this was the consequence of breaking His law. Previous to this, the Jews had promised Jehovah they would obey Him in whatever He asked them to do (Ex. 19:8). The fact that the Lord threatened to consume the entire nation distinguishes their idolatry as a corporate failure.
Did the failure of Israel prohibit individual faithfulness? Moses is one example of personal faithfulness in the midst of the corrupt nation (Ex. 32:7). God’s testimony concerning him was that he remained faithful in all his house (Heb. 3:5). Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp of Israel, far from the camp, separating himself from the corrupt and evil nation, although he would still have to be faithful in leading the Jews to the Promised land (Ex. 33:7). There are other examples. As spies sent into the land, Joshua and Caleb had the good report of faith. But the nation of Israel believed the evil report of the other ten spies. In consequence, the entire nation spent the next forty years in the wilderness. This was failure in corporate responsibility and even the faithful were affected by it – Joshua and Caleb were among them, in the wilderness for the forty years.
Every dispensation has a corporate body given responsibility by God for His public testimony on the earth. The Christian dispensation has an association with two bodies – the church, and the larger body of Christendom. For the purpose of discussing the reality of the present state of things, we have to admit that the true church is scattered and unrecognizable in the world. It is hidden from our sight. But what we easily see in the world is what man has built-up, and what has been the result of his care for the work of God – what we may call Christendom.
If we add together all the localities and groups who assemble in some measure to the name of Jesus Christ, regardless of their affiliations, organization, or specific doctrines, the aggregate of such is Christendom. It is the outward, external body of professing Christianity, easily seen growing and developing in the world. The true church is contained within this professing body, and therefore has the same responsibility. But the totality of the responsibility is not limited to the hidden and scattered church. It is justly upon all who claim to be Christians. Christendom is the outward corporate body responsible for the Christian dispensation. The soundness of dispensational teachings heavily depends on making this distinction.
Water baptism is the outward work of men by which individuals gain entrance into the body of Christendom, by which they are marked and identified as its members. Sprinkled, dipped, or immersed, it matters not how. It is of men, because we could not say that anyone is born-again or gains eternal life from the water. Although it is one of the two ordinances of the church identified in Scripture, it is the work of men, and is the responsibility of men. It is God’s mind that only true Christians be water baptized. But in the hands of men it has become a tool for building-up Christendom – by it many false professors as well as those who can’t profess, are added in. Let’s look for scriptural proofs.
Matthew 13:24–30 (NKJV)
24 “Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
Matthew 13:36–43 (NKJV)
36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”
37 He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. 39 The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. 40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
Because the thirteenth chapter in Matthew holds great significance for a proper understanding of the Christian dispensation, it’s character and details will be discussed in greater detail in a later section of this book. But here I will just state certain understandings that are pivotal for our purpose, without giving detailed explanations. Chapters eleven and twelve of Matthew represent Israel’s rejection of their Messiah/King, and in turn, God’s rejection and setting aside the Jews. His moral judgment of them (also see Matt. 13:10–15) meant the ending of their dispensation. Jesus quits the house of Israel, and goes to sit by the sea (Matt. 13:1). He says, “Behold, the sower went out to sow.” By the work of Jesus, God would have a new planting in the world, and in turn, a new dispensation (Matt. 13:3).
The gospel of Matthew is the only place where we can find the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven.” It is used exclusively by Matthew thirty-three times. The other gospels only use the “kingdom of God” phrase – Mark (15), Luke (32), John (2). Matthew also uses this phrase, but only occasionally (five times). This should spark our interest, because this is done on purpose by the Holy Spirit. The use of the “kingdom of heaven” phrase distinguishes a particular dispensational theme in Matthew’s gospel. The Spirit uses this phrase to more directly refer to the new Christian dispensation, which was “at hand” or, as we might say, “soon in coming” (Matt. 3:2, 4:17, 10:7).
There are some important conclusions. Whether it is a parable or practical teaching, whether it is doctrine, historical events, or discipleship instruction, when the Holy Spirit uses the phrase “the kingdom of heaven,” He is always referencing teachings associated with Christianity and the Christian dispensation. Also, another conclusion we should eventually embrace is the reality that “the kingdom of heaven” was only “at hand,” and couldn’t be established until after Jesus went away, back to heaven. Christianity and the Christian dispensation did not begin until the day of Pentecost, approximately ten days after the resurrected Lord’s ascension. In the time frame of the gospels, the new dispensation was not established as yet, but soon in coming – the kingdom of heaven was at hand.
In Matthew thirteen there are eight parables, the last seven taking the form of a similitude of the kingdom of heaven. The first parable is not a similitude, but gives us the important instrument used by God in the dispensation – His word (Matt. 13:3–9, 18–23). This one, along with the second parable about the wheat and tares (quoted above), give the definite impression that God is starting a new work. This is quite different from God’s ancient people Israel, a vine He brought out of Egypt long ago and planted as His vineyard (Ps. 80:8–16, Isa. 5:1–7). This is, in fact, a new planting, a new work of God’s, a new dispensation. And the sower in the first, as well as the owner planting good seed in his field in the second, is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, who represents God and does God’s work in the Christian dispensation (Matt. 13:3, 24, 37).
The second parable (the wheat and tares, Matt. 13:24-30) and its interpretation given by the Lord (Matt. 13:36-43), teach us critical understandings about the Christian dispensation. It gives us the dispensation’s entire prophetic history. Although we will look at this parable in greater detail later, here are the understandings that are of interest for the discussion of our present chapter. The Son of Man sows only good seed in his field. The good seeds are the sons of the kingdom of heaven – the wheat are Christians, the sons of God by faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26), born of God (John 1:12–13), and the workmanship of the grace of God (Eph. 2:8–10). The aggregate of all the wheat together is the church, the body of Christ, for all individual believers are baptized by the Spirit into the one body (I Cor. 12:12–13).
But the crop in the field is no longer just wheat. When the grain sprouted, the tares appeared as well. The crop was a mixture of wheat and tares, the work of Satan thoroughly mixed in with the work of God. And how did this happen? Men failed in responsibility – they were sleeping, instead of caring and guarding God’s work. This allowed the enemy to come in and corrupt the crop, adding in his own work. And during the time of the dispensation, will there be any remedy for the crop? The Son of Man says to the workers, leave the crop alone, you would do more damage than good by trying to remove the tares. Leave it as it is until the end of the dispensation and the time of harvest. Special harvesters, the Lord’s angels, will be given the ability to separate the tares from the wheat. The tares are bundled together and left in the world to be judged and burnt. The wheat is removed from the world and taken to the Father’s house in the heavens.
It is remarkable how this parable has all the critical elements by which we would define a Bible dispensation and plot its usual course. We have the initial work of God in beginning the dispensation by planting the wheat. But men are given responsibility to care for God’s work. Near the beginning, men were found sleeping, and this afforded the opportunity for the adversary of the owner to come in and plant tares (weeds). The field is the world, but the crop that springs up in the field is the corporate body associated with the time of the dispensation. The content of this body is a thorough mixture of wheat and tares – the result of the work of God, the work of Satan, and the failure of man’s responsibility. God’s intention was to have only wheat as a crop. Satan’s intention was to corrupt and ruin the work of God. The failure of men allowed this to take place near the start. The dispensation progresses on in time through the mercy and long-suffering of God; there is no change of the content of the crop, no weeding out of the bad, no possible remedy offered of its ruined condition. The dispensation ends with a time of harvest – God is responsible for the separation and the judgment. Like the Jewish dispensation before it, the Christian dispensation, in the hands of men, follows a similar course.
But what do we make of the crop growing and ripening in the field? What is this corporate body associated with the dispensation? What should we call it? We know its composition – it is good and bad mixed together, the work of God blended in with the work of Satan. Is it the nation of Israel? That would be the wrong dispensation. Israel is set aside and their dispensation ending. This is a new work, a new planting in the world, a new dispensation.196 It cannot be Israel. Is this corporate body the church? If it is judged a new dispensation, the Christian dispensation, why isn’t it the church? When Jesus said He would build His church, He would never use Satan to do so. The devil’s work, the adversary’s seed, is never part of the body of Christ. God only uses living stones to build His house. Then what is this crop? It is Christendom developing in the world.
196 [It is important that we do not lose the intended dispensational truths the Holy Spirit teaches in this chapter. It would be a great mistake to confound the crop growing in the field with the field itself. Doing so, one would lose all the dispensational teaching afforded us by the Spirit. The field is the world. The world is made up of all unbelievers, Jew or Gentile. But the crop is very different from this – the wheat and tares all claim to have faith in Jesus Christ; they are claim to be Christians and part of the crop; together, as one body, they form Christendom. But the unbelievers who make up the world do not claim to be Christians, or part of Christianity. To say that this parable is simply about the composition of the world as simply believers and unbelievers is to lose sight of Christendom and the unique character of the Christian dispensation]
Now, let us establish this important dispensational truth – Christendom has become the corporate body associated with the Christian dispensation. At the beginning of the dispensation it was the church, the pure work of God. In the early chapters of Acts, you have the Lord adding to the church daily those who were to be saved (Acts 2:47). The power of the Holy Spirit was present and outwardly demonstrating the unity of the one body (Acts 2, 4). Apostles and prophets were used by God, forming the foundation of the household of God, Jesus Christ Himself the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). Apostolic power and authority, by the Holy Spirit, was present to correct and discipline, keeping the body pure and its testimony true. But as in all dispensations, men were given responsibility to care for the sovereign work of God. And what does the parable tell us? Men were found sleeping, which led directly to the owner’s enemy coming in to plant his seed and ruin the crop. This crop is the blending together of God’s work with Satan’s, the direct consequence of the failure of men given responsibility to care and guard the work.
This is not the only place in the New Testament where good and bad are mixed together forming a group in reference to Christianity and the Christian dispensation. Below I will list a number of passages which do exactly this, while saving the details and extensive explanations for chapters later in the book. Here my intention is only to distinguish in Scripture the existence of Christendom as different from the true church. If we see it in God’s word, then it is the corporate body accountable for His testimony in the dispensation.
- The two parables which follow the wheat and tares also depict Christendom in the world, and the entrance or mixing in of evil with good (Matt. 13:31-33). The tree in the field (world), grew from small and insignificant beginnings into something large enough that the birds of the air nest in its branches. In the first parable of the chapter, the birds represented Satan (Matt. 13:19). Leaven being mixed into the three measures of meal can never represent anything good. Leaven always represents falseness and evil, such as when Jesus warns the disciples of the leaven of the Sadducees and Pharisees (Matt. 16:6).
- The subject matter and components of the parable of the dragnet, along with its interpretation (Matt. 13:47–50), are very similar to that of the wheat and tares, although not presented with as much detail or interpretation. Still you have Christendom represented as the net sitting in the sea (world), gathering both good and bad during the Christian dispensation. The divine work which occurs when the net and its contents are dragged to the shore is essentially the same as what takes place in the time of harvest (Matt. 13:30, 39–42).
- Paul speaks of a great house containing vessels for honor and some for dishonor (2 Tim 2:20). Again, this cannot be referring to the true church, which, as the work of God, has no vessels of dishonor in it. This refers to Christendom, which is a mixture of good and bad in the same house. In the next chapter, “the form of godliness but denies its power” can be only an apt description of Christendom (2 Tim. 3:5). And in the next chapter, the masses with itching ears, who heap up to themselves false teachers, who cannot endure the truth of God’s word, is again, none other than Christendom (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
- Paul also speaks of himself laying the foundation for God’s building, doing so masterfully by the grace of God (1 Cor. 3:9–17). But men are the ones building on this foundation, and their work must be judged by God. Wood, hay, and straw has been the primary material of choice to build Christendom through the years. It will be burnt up (judgment). And some evil men directly defile the building, and they will be destroyed by the Lord. Again, this description is not the same as what we find in Ephesians two describing the church built by God (Eph. 2:13–22). The primary difference is that in the passage in Corinthians, men are doing all the work and they are held responsible for it – this is Christendom.
- In the midst of the decidedly prophetic chapters in Matthew (24, 25), Jesus references the coming Christian dispensation in a similar way as He did earlier (Matt. 13) – He uses parables, two of which are similes of the kingdom of heaven. All three exhibit good and bad together as the general form of Christendom. All three teach a specific responsibility of behavior or action easily identified with the Christian dispensation. And please notice: regardless whether it is a faithful or evil servant, a wise or foolish virgin, they are all judged concerning the same responsibility – the evil servant is judged as a servant, just as the faithful servant was judged; the foolish virgins had the same duty given them as the wise virgins, and were judged accordingly. Remarkably, to the human eye, the foolish virgins look exactly the same as the wise virgins – as a group, this is Christendom.
- At the beginning of Matthew twenty-two, Jesus tells another parable which is a simile of the kingdom of heaven. In it, the king’s servants gathered together both bad and good to come to the wedding of his son (Matt. 22:10). In Christianity, by the hands of men, there is an indiscriminate gathering of good and bad which forms Christendom.
The above is enough biblical evidence to show that God acknowledges the existence of Christendom different from the church He builds, and, by the fact that He will judge it, He holds this corporate body responsible for His testimony in the earth during the time of the Christian dispensation.
(One of the gravest errors of so many contemporary dispensational teachers is their general failure to perceive and acknowledge the existence of Christendom, both as it is revealed in Scripture and as anyone may observe it growing-up in the world. This failure directly leads to false understandings and teachings concerning the Christian dispensation. If all we do is naively group all who claim Christianity into one large group and speak of it as the church, then the question must be asked, What is the church by your definition and what actually are you looking at and speaking of, out there in the world?)