The number of dispensation periods vary depending on who is writing. The simplest dispensations are called "minimalist" and are three: Law, Grace and Kingdom. These periods are basically: Law (from creation to the time of the Christian Church), Grace (from the foundation of the church to Christ's victory over Satan) and Kingdom (God rules forever).
On the other hand, there are more complex dispensation schemes which include: innocence, conscious, civil government, patriarchal or promise, Mosaic Law, Grace or church age, the millennial kingdom and the eternal state. Within the dispensation schemes of the minimalist and the seven or eight schemes lies the four dispensation schemes: Patriarchal, Mosiac, Ecclesial, and Zionic. Without regard to the periods of each, let's look at why!
Calvinists might claim a dispensation scheme which includes The Law or the Patriarchal. Why? It validates their doctrine! "Preservation of the saints" is invalid unless there are other economies. Saul lost God's anointing, and unless God had a different economy at that time, apostasy would be impossible. If Saul could fall from grace then so could Peter, and you and me! Why? Because Saul did. Therefore, since their doctrine proposes eternal security, it is necessary to believe in dispensations!
When the thief died on the Cross and went to "Paradise", the Church of Christ teaches that since Jesus had yet to die, the thief was in a different dispensation. Baptism, in their eyes, is only a sacrament (saving) after Jesus had paid the penalty. However, Paul, inspired by Christ himself, taught that "whosoever" believes will inherit the kingdom of God. The thief lived in the dispensation of grace as did everyone before and thereafter. He's saved by grace by his faith as were everyone before him and after him! (It's not the water which saved him, but by faith by God's grace!)
Dispensations create an excuse to ignore sound doctrine. Dispensations are non-biblical in nature and are mere commentary. Paul does mention a "dispensation of grace":
Ephesians 3:1 "For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery..."There is a "dispensation of grace"! Paul mentions it a least four times. The rationale is that if there is a dispensation of grace, then there must be other dispensations! Let's look at that observation. The original Greek for "dispensation" as used by Paul is transliterated "oikonomia", or "the administration". Paul then tells of the administration of the grace of God. It's merely saying "God is graceful" and Paul makes known the mystery that always was! Hence, this is not a new economy, but one that always was!
Since we have the "Five Solas" of the Reformation:
- Sola Fide, by faith alone.
- Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.
- Solus Christus, through Christ alone.
- Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
- Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.
Let me add Dispensationem Gratiae Solus by the "dispensation of grace alone". In fact one dispensation tends to support Sola Gratia!
My hypothesis is that there is one economy. It is by grace we'e saved and it was always by grace!
Ephesians 2:8 "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God..."Paul does not say that "salvation by grace is a new thing"! He merely says that is how anyone is saved! What is the requirement for grace? There must be faith! The "faith of Abraham" is the biblical standard of comparison in Apostolic times:
Galatians 3:8 "And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. Galatations 3:14 "... the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."Paul speaks several times of the "faith of Abraham". That is great faith. The pre-incarnate Jesus, The Word, spoke to Abraham. He told who and how Abraham was to sacrifice. It was his son and Abraham was willing to obey God and present his own son to God in exchange for grace. Abraham knew Jesus, Abraham had faith in Jesus and Abraham obeyed Jesus! Abraham was saved by faith and salvation is by grace alone... Sola Gratia!
From Adam to the last man, the economy has always been one of grace; Sola Gratia. The Law never saved. It was a mere standard for men so they were without excuse. The Law actually confused salvation. It's not saving, but how we show God love! Jesus was always plain in his teachings! The good we do is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and that was hundreds of years before God became incarnate in Jesus. All the patriarchs were saved by grace and it was Sola Gratia!
God's word points to one economy; one dispensation:
Hebrews 13:8 "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever."First off, Jesus is God. He said he was and Jesus does not lie! He was with God in the beginning (John 1) . With him (God) is consistency. He's not one thing to one person and another to the next. Indeed, he said "no man cometh unto the Father, but by me"! This implies, no... declares. that "all men" which includes all the patriarchs of all time, came to God, only by him! Since salvation is by grace, Sola Gratia, then grace has always been the economy because there is no other way to salvation! Hence, there has only been one "dispensation" and Paul declares it a "dispensation of grace"!
John 14:6 "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him (Jesus) should not perish, but have everlasting life."Who believed in Jesus? The strongest believer in Jesus was Abraham. He believed so strongly that he was willing to do as God DID; sacrifice his own son! Now the faith of all believers is gaged by the "faith of Abraham"! Abraham is the "whosoever" in the promise of salvation "that believeth in him(Jesus)". Abraham is in paradise right now! He cradled Lazarus in his arms to comfort him. Why is Abraham there? Because of God's grace and his faith in Jesus Abraham is in paradise.
Abraham is not alone! Noah, Abel, Elijah, Moses and all the other men of God who believed in Jesus are in paradise because of grace! There are not two ways to heaven! It's Solus Christus, through Christ alone! Abraham and the others (the whosoevers) are in paradise because of grace, and they received the gift of salvation, not because of obedience to The Law, but because they had faith in "The Word" when he spoke and told them of the things to come. That "Word" is the pre-incarnate Jesus!
The reformers had it right in the "Five Solas"! It is Solus Christus by Sola Gratia and by Dispensationem Gratiae Solus, my own addition to reformed theology which undermines the very core of the eternal security argument!