The Berean Bible Society and Cornelius Stam represent a wing of dispensationalism often called hyperdispensationalism although this handle is rejected by those in the Grace Movement. While maintaining most of the major tenets of more traditional forms (e.g., moderate and progressive) such as a separation between the church and Israel and a consistent application of grammatical–historical hermeneutic, hyperdispensationalism differs on a number of importance points. These differences take on additional significance because nondispensationalists often confuse what the Grace Movement teaches with the more standard and far more widely held form of dispensational theology. But lumping in ultra-dispensations with more mainline views is like claiming that all Calvinists are hyper-Calvinists or that all Armenians are in league with Pelagius. Stam, in Things That Differ, shows clearly that things do differ among those who are under the broader dispensational umbrella.
Stam agrees with other dispensationalists concerning the definition of dispensation (pp. 24-25), that salvation during Old Testament times, while ultimately always looking to the finished work of Christ, was found by those who expressed faith in revealed truth (pp. 30-36), that a Kingdom Age is promised throughout Scripture and is yet to come (pp. 49-53), that a literal hermeneutic should be used consistently throughout Scripture (pp. 60-62), that Paul was the instrument God used to proclaim His mysteries and reveal most of church-age theology (pp. 73-77), that God blessed the world through both the rise and fall of Israel (p. 181), that the Lord’s Supper has been given to the church in Christ’s absence (p. 264), and that the church and Israel are distinct.
But Stam breaks from more standard forms of dispensationalism in these important ways:
- The Great Commission was given to the apostles, primarily directed at Israel, and is not incumbent on Christians today (pp. 11, 171-175). Paul would later reveal the church’s true great commission in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19.
- The Church Age did not begin at Pentecost in Acts chapter two with the sending of the Holy Spirit to baptize and indwell the saints, but in Acts 13 with the commissioning of Paul (p. 133). Stam also disagrees with those he terms “ultra-dispensationalist” who date the origin of the church in Acts 28 or later (p. 228).
- That the gospel of grace was first proclaimed by Paul (pp. 11, 121). This idea leads to perhaps the most disturbing difference, that is that works were required for salvation prior to Paul. Stam admits that “man has always been saved essentially by the grace of God through faith” (p. 21). In the same context he goes on to say that “while works never did or could save as such, they did once save as expressions of faith” (p. 22). If by this he means works reveal saving faith, I would agree. But other statements throughout the book are more troubling. For example, works were required for salvation in the cases of Abraham and David (pp. 24, 41) and that, “While God refuses works for salvation today, He required them under other dispensations” (p. 29).
- Moving to the New Testament, prior to Paul, Stam believes that water baptism was required for salvation (p. 118). Confusing the ritual Old Testament washings with baptism (pp. 223, 259), Stam believes, without any biblical warrant, that baptism is the sign of the Davidic Covenant (p. 208). He attempts repeatedly to build a case for baptismal regeneration prior to the preaching of Paul (pp. 158, 162, 165, 172-173, 175, 224-225, 259, 265).
- In fact, Paul preached a different gospel than the other apostles’ (pp. 124, 193-201, 269) despite the fact that Paul clearly wrote that there was only one gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). Nevertheless, Stam maintains that the twelve preached a gospel of circumcision and that Paul preached the gospel of uncircumcision (p. 269). He bases this on a faulty translation of the preposition “of” in Galatians 2:7.
- Stam believes that Peter was ignorant of God’s plan at Pentecost and only learned of it from Paul (pp. 99, 111). Thus the apostles, apparently for decades (until Acts 13 or possibly Acts 28), did not preach the gospel of grace (p. 121).
- The “church’ taught by Jesus is different from that taught by Paul. Thus, the New Testament speaks of two separate churches (pp. 144-145, 154, 160). Drawing from a very poor translation of 1 Timothy 1:14-16, Stam teaches the Church Age began with Paul (p. 135).
- Apparently being unaware of the verb tenses in texts such as Matthew 18:18-20, Stam maintains that the apostles had authority to remit sins (p. 166).
- Reconciliation was not taught by Jesus, for Israel needed no reconciliation until after God set it aside. Thus, the offer of reconciliation began with Paul (pp. 201-202).
- Water baptism – because Stam sees the church founded in Acts 13 he rejects water baptism as a New Testament ordinance. It was necessary for the gospel of circumcision, but not for Paul’s gospel (pp. 162, 173, 224-225, 259).
For those seeking an understanding of hyperdispensationalism, they need to go no further than Things That Differ. While Stam believes in salvation by grace alone for the Church Age and embraces most essential biblical doctrines, he differs widely from other dispensationalist regarding the items mentioned above.
by C. R. Stam (Germantown, WI: Berean Bible Society, 1996) 287 pp, paper, $12.00
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel