Dispensational Distinctives in Gospel Distribution
God is sovereign in the distribution of the Gospel. Who has heard the Gospel, and who will hear the Gospel preached, is entirely in God’s plan and in His control. One hears the Gospel where God ordains it to be heard. One hears the Gospel when God ordains it (appointed time). One believes the Gospel, or not, if God ordains it. He is the author and finisher of every believer’s faith (Heb 12:2).
In the Old Testament dispensation, the Gospel of God looked forward to Christ and the cross, and it was all but limited to the Hebrew people. The mystery of God’s will in election, justification by faith, etc. was revealed through the blessings given to the Israelites, such as: the temple; the priesthood; the covenant; the Law ; the promised land; the sacrifices; and the prophets who preached the oracles of God given to them. They were blessed with types and shadows of things to come. Christ Jesus is the anti-type.
The Israelites did not use their free will to decide to make Yahweh their God. They did not choose for themselves to become the elect people of God. Their conversion, from being just like everyone else in the world, was God’s free will and gracious choice.
God chose to be the God of Israel not because they were more in number (Dt 7:6–8). He did not bless them with a greater revelation of Himself because they were a righteousness nation (Dt 9:4–7). The Israelites proved themselves to be a rebellious nation, plagued with idolatry, stiff-necked, unbelieving, grumbling and murmuring against God (1 Cor 10). The point is that there was nothing the Jews were or did that merited any favor with God (Rom 2). They did not choose Yahweh, and He had absolutely no reason to choose them.
God’s eternal good pleasure, to do His own will in salvation, is a mystery known only to God Himself. No person should feel the need to pry into the matters that belong to God (Dt 29:29). We can, however, enjoy those things revealed in His Word, the Bible, both Old Testament and New.
What is revealed about Gospel distribution, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, belongs to us. Clearly, it was never God’s will to save all people (Gen 9; Rom 9:22–23). Even among the Israelites there was a chosen remnant of true believers (Rom 9:6; 11:5). The benefits given to ethnic Israel did not reach other nations (Eph 2:12), and only a small number of Gentiles were converted God-fearers.
God’s purpose for the Israelites was for them to be an historical type for the church among the nations (Rev 5:9). The church in the New Testament era, being the Israel of God (Gal 6:16), derived its identity from the typical church of the Old Testament, ethnic Israel. In the former dispensation, ethnic Israel was the only nation receiving the ministry of reconciliation.
God passed over other nations, as He gave special revelation to the Jews. In the New Testament, the Gospel distribution was expanded to all nations because God is not just the God of the Jews. He is the God of Gentiles, also (Gal 3:28).
Under God’s sovereign direction, the Gospel goes to the nations of God’s choosing and in His time. Different nations have been the concentrated beneficiaries of promiscuous Gospel preaching for a season, only to lose that blessing at a later time. This, too, is a mystery of providence and grace that we must not pry into.
What must be rejected is the Arminian idea that it is the church’s responsibility to organize as many missionaries as possible, to preach to as many people as possible, giving those hearers a chance at the possibility of being saved by Jesus, if they choose. To suggest this notion puts the bloodguilt on the church for the billions of people who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It denies God’s sovereignty, especially in salvation.
Arminianism is man-centered theology, thus, man-centered evangelism and missions. Simply put, the most missionaries, sent to preach the Gospel, as much as possible, to as many people as possible, to provoke as many decisions for Jesus as possible, is the ideal Arminian venture. It is also theological and practical heresy.
Reformed theology is God-centered. In the correct understanding, God raises up the number of missionaries to go where He sends them in His providence. These preach the Gospel where, when, and how much He guides them. The effectual calling of God’s elect assures the preacher that some of his hearers will be regenerated and then believe the Word they hear. If no one believes, the preacher knows that must be God’s sovereign will because all who are appointed to eternal life will believe (Acts 13:48).
That preacher is not a failure, despite the meager response. Rather, that preacher is found faithful when he continues to do the good works created for him in Christ Jesus beforehand (Eph 2:10). He is not a slave to performance statistics because the whole of salvation belongs to God (Ps 3:8; Jon 2:9; Rev 19:1). The issue is faithfulness, and thank God, faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in the believer (Gal 5:22).
The believer in Jesus, having received the Spirit of Christ, is compelled to respond with gratitude, in humility. Understanding her total depravity helps the believer to see that only God’s grace was the agency in her salvation. He saved us (Titus 3:5), not we ourselves. To be the object of gratuitous love is overwhelming, especially because no believer has the insight into why God saved him or her.
It is wrong to suggest the Reformed believer is uninterested in evangelism, global missions, church planting, etc. The difference in views of Gospel distribution, the kind of activities engaged, the motive behind the activities, and the kinds of activities financially supported will differentiate him from the Arminian.
In conclusion, God has chosen a people for Himself and predestined each person for salvation (Eph 1:4-5; Rom 8:30; 9:23). In the Old Testament dispensation, God’s limited focus was on ethnic Israel. In the New Testament dispensation, God’s focus is without national distinction, as He gathers in His one holy nation (1 Pet 2:9). Throughout history not one of His elect has been deprived of Gospel preaching, and every elect soul has been saved by His grace (Jn 10:28–29; Rom 8:35–39). This means God’s plan for evangelism and global missions, under His providential care is perfect in accomplishing His will. All praise and glory to Him, alone.
Spokane Valley, Washington
January 27, 2022