Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 12, 1964
NUMBER 44, PAGE 1,7b,13b

Three Dispensations Of Religion

J. D. Tant (From "Gospel X-Ray")

The word "religion" is indefinite when stated alone, and always needs some word or words to tell what kind of religion is meant. In the Bible the word religion is found five times — once, meaning Pharisee's religion (Acts 26:5); twice, Jewish religion (Gal. 1:12, 13); once, a vain religion (James 1:26); and last, a pure and undefiled religion before God. (James 1:27) From these scriptures, man is forced to the conclusion that religion means "any system of faith and practice," and must always be prefixed by some word or words to tell what kind of religion is meant.

Every religion has a standard by which its adherents become religious, and when they are measured by another standard they are not religious. To illustrate: A Mormon preacher preaches the Mormon doctrine. One hundred people accept his teaching and become religious. No one can say they are not religious; for every time they are measured by the Mormon standard of religion they are found to be a religious people, for that is the standard by which they become religious. But let a Baptist measure them by the eighteen articles of faith as the system of Baptist religion, and not one of them is found to be religious because they are measured by a different standard from the one they accept, or live by. A Methodist minister preaches the doctrine of Methodism, or twenty-five articles of religion. Let one hundred accept his teaching and they become religious. They are certainly religious every time they are measured by the standard of Methodism. But let a Christian measure them by the Bible; or let a Baptist measure them by the eighteen articles of faith; or let a Mormon measure them by the Book of Mormon and in no sense will they be proven religious because they are measured by different standards.

If it is true that God has ordained a standard of religion by which the world must become religious, and by which it must be judged at the last day, it certainly behooves the religious world to think seriously. If becoming religious by one standard never makes a man religious when measured by another standard, we greatly fear those becoming religious by human standards will he weighed and found wanting when measured by the divine standard at the last day.

Not only is this true of the religions of our time, but we find the same thought true in regard to the different ages of religion spoken of in the Bible. What was required of man at one time as an act of religious faith and practice may not be required of man at a different time. If we do not understand the different religious ages of the Bible — when one ceased and the other began — we may find ourselves practicing things in our time, under the head of religion, which do not belong to us; neither are they binding on us nor required at our hands.

To help the student understand this matter we call attention to our diagram representing the three great religious dispensations under which man has lived.

2500 Years 1500 years 1900 Years (plus)

Patriarchal Jewish Christian

The first we call the Patriarchal Dispensation, which lasted for about 2,500 years — from Adam to the giving of the law of Moses. Under this dispensation each father, controlling and directing the worship of his family, was properly designated prophet, priest, and king. He was the priest of the family, so far as the worship and offering sacrifices were concerned. He was allowed to erect altars and worship God at any place where he chose to pitch his tent. He was the prophet of the family in foretelling the future of the family and the things that were to come. He was the king. He was the king in control and government — in directing aright the affairs of his family, both religiously and politically. This could properly be called the age of family religion, as each family seemed to be independent in directing affairs pertaining to themselves.

But when the families of the earth became so numerous, God, desiring to preserve a pure seed from Abraham, through which Christ, according to promise, should come, separated the Jews as a peculiar people, a separate nation, and around them was thrown a line of protection which separated them from the rest of the world. The law of Moses was given them, and their religion became national, and differed from the religion of the Patriarchs, so far as their worship was concerned. This dispensation lasted till the coming of Christ, or for about 1,500 years, and is properly designated the Mosaical Age, or a Dispensation in which the religion was a national instead of a family religion. It differed from the Patriarchal Dispensation (1) in that the Jews erected one altar and that at Jerusalem and all Jews once a year had to go there; for God had recorded his name there, and had promised to meet with and bless them at that place. (2) Instead of each father being king or ruler, there was a certain tribe from which the rulers of the people were selected, to whom the administration of government was committed. (3) Instead of each father being the priest to offer up sacrifices for his family, one tribe was selected to whom the office of priesthood was given, and it was the duty of this tribe to devote their time to this service. (4) We find that this people had a law — the Ten Commandments — written upon two tables of stone, given specially to them, which did not belong to the former, or patriarchal age. This was properly a religious age; for every man's religion was measured by the Mosaic standard of religion, by which the patriarchs were not governed.

Passing from the two preceding ages, we now come to examine the Christian dispensation, which was established by Christ and the apostles, and which is in existence at the present time. This religion is properly called a universal religion, as it is given to all men, in all nations, and is to last till Christ comes again. In this dispensation we find the standard of religious government differing materially from the standard that governed the people in the former dispensations. In this dispensation we are (1) to hear Christ in all things. (Acts 3:22,23) In the preceding they heard Moses in all things. (2) In this the law is written in our hearts; in the former on tables of stones. (3) In this all must he taught before they become religious. In the former children were accepted, heathens were bought with money, and afterwards taught to know the Lord. (4) In this we are taught, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." No such was ever taught in any former dispensation. (5) In this, Christians are taught to meet on the first day of the week and attend to the ordinances of the Lord's house in memoryof the Son of God. No such was required in any former age.

Thus far we have been examining the different religious ages in which man has lived. What the people had to do to serve God during the Patriarchal and Jewish ages should not be a matter of much concern to us, as we do not live under those dispensations. But as we live under a different dispensation, and are required to do certain things in order to our salvation that were never required before Christ, the question we should consider above all others is, what must I do to be saved?

Knowing that the Christian religion is that system of faith and practice which was introduced by the Son of God, I turn to that system and find what I am required to believe, and what I am commanded to do in order to my salvation. All people who believe the things Christ teaches us to believe, and practice the things he commands us to practice can claim the Christian religion as their standard. In that faith I find that 1 am required to believe with all my heart that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. (John 20:30,31) In the obedience I find that I am commanded to repent or turn from my sins (Luke 24:47), confess the son of God (Matt, 10:32), and be baptized for the remission of sins. (Acts 2:38) When a man does these things he can claim to be a Christian. If he continues to practice, or live righteously, godly, and soberly in this world he will finally enter into that rest that remains to the people of God. (Tit. 2:11, 12; 2 Pet. 1:5-12)

It may be well here to explode a false theory often raised by the religious (not Christian) world. It is claimed that if baptism is essential to salvation, then Moses. Joshua, Israel, Daniel and many others were lost, as they were not baptized. The objection looks plausible to those not acquainted with the Bible, but when we turn to the word of God, and find that baptism, by the authority of Christ, belongs only to the Christian dispensation; did not belong to the Jewish age, and was not a command during the time of Moses and Daniel, then the objection vanishes. The same people seem to think that by their reasoning I can prove condemnation to all the Christian world in our day. Instead of taking an item — baptism — as they do, out of the Christian age and binding it in the Mosaic age where it does not belong, I can take an item out of the Jewish age and apply it to our age. In that age I find that the people of God were, by the law, required to go up to Jerusalem every year to worship God. I can apply that to our time, and prove that all who do not go up to Jerusalem every year according to that law are openly violating God's word. While it is not true, (because we are not commanded to go up to Jerusalem as they were) yet it is a parallel case with the objection raised about baptism. I might go back to the Jewish law and take one item, the fourth commandment, and prove by it, if I misapply it like the case of baptism mentioned, that almost all American citizens should be stoned today; for that law plainly teaches that if a man go more than two miles, or build a fire on the sabbath day, he shall be stoned to death. If I apply that command to this age very few people would be living on earth today, for nearly all violate that law. Yet when each law is applied to the age to which it was given, we find no trouble understanding these things.

Then, dear Reader, we commend to you this lesson, realizing that sooner or later you and I will be called before the Judge of the living and the dead. If we are to be judged of all things we have done by the Christian standard, let us be careful not to become religious by the Patriarchal standard, nor by the Jewish, neither by any human creed or standard of our time, knowing we are not to be judged by them, neither will they do us good when we come to die.