Grace Movement

The Grace Movement (Hyper-dispensationalism, Mid-Acts Dispensationalism.,[1] ultra-dispensationalism,[2] or more rarely and incorrectly "Bullingerism" to which the ultra-dispensationalism branding applies[3]) is a Scriptural standpoint that views the teachings of the Apostle Paul both as unique from earlier apostles and as foundational for the church, the body of Christ; a perspective sometimes characterized by proponents as the "Pauline Distinctive."[4] E. W. Bullinger (1837–1913), an Anglican clergyman and scholar, is the best known early expositor of Acts 28 ultra-dispensationalism, although all dispensational ideas trace back further through John Nelson Darby (1800–1882). However J.C. O'Hair independently arrived at the Mid-Acts position after rejecting the Acts 2 position early on and then the Acts 28 position later.[5]

Some Anti-dispensationalists, at most, admire mid-Acts dispensationalism with great insight as a "consistent Dispensationalism."

Except for a few obscure dissertations, there has been no substantial investigation of the mid-Acts dispensational position and its strengths. Only superficial assertions of the Acts 2 position is posited as an answer yet without any real engagement with the answers given by the more consistent dispensationalists. See the Berean Bible Society's web site where most all of J.C. O'Hair's writings are archived in which he answers his opponents and documents their responses or lack thereof. The clearest scholarly references to mid-Acts dispensationalism are made by Charles C. Ryrie[6] and Charles F. Baker.[7]

Some advocates of mid-Acts dispensationalism refer to themselves as "grace believers", and all reject the prefix "hyper" or "ultra" as pejorative (considering it derogatory and misinforming). Within the United States, advocates often refer to themselves as members of the "Grace Movement,"[8] particularly those affiliated with the Grace Gospel Fellowship, a church association, and its Grace Bible College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, or the more conservative Berean Bible Fellowship.

General views

Ultradispensationalism is a minority Christian doctrine regarding the relationship between God, the Christian church and human beings. As the name implies, it is an extreme form of dispensationalism.

The clearest scholarly references to Ultradispensationalism (sometimes known as "Extreme Ultradispensationalism" or "Bullingerism") are made by Charles C. Ryrie [9] and Charles F. Baker.[10] Ultradispensationalism is a niche doctrine of Christian belief that believes that the Christian Church began with Paul's statement made to the Jewish leaders at Rome near the end of the Book of Acts with Acts 28:28 stating: "Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it" being the foundational Scripture of belief of the doctrine of Ultradispensationalism.[11]

Ultradispensationalists distinguish themselves with their belief that today's Church is exclusively revealed in Paul's later writings, in the so-called Prison Epistles. The Prison Epistles contain Paul's presentation of "the mystery ... Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets" (Eph. 3:3-6). This mystery is identified as the Church, a mystery then unrevealed when he wrote his Acts-period epistles.

By contrast, Acts and Paul's early epistles are deemed to cover the Jewish Church that concluded Israel's prophesied history (Bullinger, 1972, p. 195). One rationale for this view is that Paul's epistles written during the period of Acts only proclaim those things which the prophets and Moses said would come, as Paul himself stated in Acts 26:22. The Acts-period epistles are 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans. Some add Hebrews to this list, believing it to also be written by Paul.

Hyper-dispensationalism is a term ascribed to mid-Acts dispensationalism by it's opponents. 

Mid-Acts dispensationalists themselves are critical of the imposed appellation due to it's linguistic inconstancy. As the term "mid-Acts" suggests, mid-Acts dispensationalism is predicated upon the view that the church, the body of Christ started in the middle of the book of Acts. This in all technicality makes Acts 2 and Acts 28 the appropriate positions to be ascribed with the hypo and hyper/subtra and ultra (depending on if one prefers Greek or Latin prefixes) designations respectively. In light of the prefix "ultra" being historically linked to the Acts 28 position, mid-Acts dispensationalists have thus aptly relegated the Acts 2 position under the heading of subtra-dispensationalism (although hypo-dispensationalism is also used).

The assertion made by opponents of non Acts 2 dispensationalism (as well as anti-dispensationalists) that the mid-Acts and Acts 28 positions should be labeled as hyper and ultra respectively, is criticized by mid-Acts dispensationalists as arbitrary and linguistically erroneous in light of the two prefixes being synonymous as opposed to varying in degree.

How all the terminology came to be may or may not be as nefarious as it appears. The terminology was most likely coined after Bullinger shifted to his Acts 28 position later in life. Therefore when O'Hair refined it back to the former mid-Acts status, since a label designating a further degree was already established, instead of allowing the position to retain the accurate descriptor of mid-Acts dispensationalism, the opponents of the view opted to redefine a synonymous prefix as one containing a quality of varying degree in relation to it's synonymous transliterated counterpart. This newly (and erroneously) redefined prefix was then ascribed to the mid-Acts position by it's opponents. The prevailing view among mid-Acts dispensationalists is that this was most likely done in a pejorative nature in an attempt to paint the mid-Acts position in the same light as the Acts 28 view was, as an extreme and aberrant one that had "gone too far".

While all this may account for initial usage it doesn't absolve today's users of the terminology from their linguistic error. Today, the use of the word "hyper-despensationalism" as a pejorative is considered by mid-Acts dispensationalists to be a "label and dismiss" tactic in lieu of addressing the position's distinctives.

Mid-Acts dispensationalism holds that most of the early Christian Church abandoned basic truths starting near the end of the Apostle Paul’s ministry.[12] The truths are (in order of loss):[13]

  • The Distinctive Message and Ministry of the Apostle Paul
  • The Pre-Tribulational Rapture of the Church, the Body of Christ
  • The Difference between Israel and the Church, the Body of Christ
  • Justification by Faith Alone, in Christ Alone.

The truths, advocates say, were gradually recovered in reverse order starting during the Protestant Reformation;[14] for example, Martin Luther is credited with recovery of "justification by faith" and John Nelson Darby with "Church Truth."

Mid-Acts dispensationalists reject water baptism,[15][16][17] which divides them from Acts 2 dispensationalists who are often Baptists, like W. A. Criswell,[18] or in earlier times Presbyterians[19][20] like James H. Brookes. So instead of various water baptisms, they believe in the ONE baptism made WITHOUT hands and without water by the Spirit which occurs when one believes in Christ as their Savior whereby one is identified with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection: Romans 6:3-4; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 2 Corinthians 5:5; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 1:12-14; Ephesians 4:5; Ephesians 4:30; Colossians 2:11-12.

Mid-Acts dispensationalists are not monolithic nor homogenous. There are two main positions with which there exists minor variations. The two main positions are Acts 9 and Acts 13. The difference is minor being only technical. They all see the dispensation of Grace and the church, the body of Christ as beginning with the apostle Paul. Among dispensationalists, the differences separating the Mid-Acts position from the Acts 28 position are just as great as those separating the Acts 2 position from the more consistent Mid-Acts dispensational view.

Proponents of the Mid-Acts position cite a sharp distinction between their dispensational view and the view of the Calvinist or Arminian (often Acts 2 dispensationalist) persuasion concerning the mid-Acts dispensationalist focus on salvation by pure grace through faith, regardless of what a person's life looks like before or after salvation. That is, salvation by grace through faith, thoroughly devoid of performance based acceptance of any kind throughout the believer's temporal life. This being contrasted against the Acts 2 assertion that a person's membership in the church, the body of Christ is ultimately determined by whether or not the doctrine has been effectual in changing the appearance of one's outward and observable actions and activities in life. 

Mid-Acts dispensationalists attribute this inconsitancy to the Acts 2 position's blending of Israel's prophetic Mosaic law based program with the grace without the works of the law mystery program of the body of Christ, resulting in an amalgamation of law and grace thereby rendering grace ineffective (Romans 11:6). The lack of this Acts 2 component is what elevates the mid-Acts position to it's more consistent dispensational status by comparison.

Most notable proponents

The most notable proponent of Ultradispensationalism doctrine (Acts 28 position) was E. W. Bullinger (1837–1913). Other writers holding this position include Charles H. Welch, Bob Enyart, Oscar M. Baker, and Otis Q. Sellers. Bullinger's early work suggests a more mid-Acts bent however later in life through influence from Welch, he shifted to and ultimately remained in an Acts 28 position.


Early Ultradispensationalism, such as that promoted by Sir Robert Anderson and E.W. Bullinger in his later years, emphasized a dispensational boundary line at Acts 28:28, but did not apply this boundary line to the Epistles of Paul, viewing them as a whole whether or not they were written before or after Acts 28:28. When the young Charles Welch pointed out the inherent contradiction in this to E.W. Bullinger, Bullinger changed his views, and incorporated the dividing line into his teachings on the Epistles of Paul that were written from that point forward and which became historically known as Ultradispensationalism. Since the majority of his work was written before this point, however, many of his writings view Paul's Epistles as an unbroken whole. Later adherents of Ultradispensationalism writers, such as Stuart Allen, Oscar Baker, and Otis Sellers, all followed the example of Charles Welch and E.W. Bullinger's later work in applying the division to Paul's books as well as the book of Acts in the true spirit of Ultradispensationalism.

There are large irreconcilable differences between the Mid-Acts position and the Acts 28 position just as there are between them and the Acts 2 position. They differentiate among themselves by terminology reflecting when the church, the body of Christ began. The most obvious result of this differentiation is an absence of the practice of water baptism which is considered as a ritual for Israel under the last dispensation and not for the body of Christ in this present dispensation. Less obvious is what part of the New Testament is understood as being directly written to the church. Mid-Acts dispensationalists take all of Paul's epistles (Romans through Philemon) to be directly written to the church (thus often accepting the practice of the Lord's Supper as for this dispensation of Grace) while the Acts 28 position takes only Paul's prison epistles (those written while in prison) to be directly applicable to the church today (denying the Lord's Supper for today).

Bullinger held that Paul's authoritative teaching began after the conclusion of the book of Acts, a viewpoint now characterized as "Acts 28" dispensationalism (chapter 28 being the concluding chapter of the book), a position he solidified in cooperation with Charles H. Welch.[21] Other writers holding this position include Sir Robert Anderson, Oscar M. Baker, and Otis Q. Sellers. Acts 28 Dispensationalists distinguish themselves with their belief that today’s Church is exclusively revealed in Paul’s later writings, in the so-called "Prison Epistles." [22] Acts 28 Dispensationalists tend to reject all ordinances including the Lord’s Supper.[23]

The Mid-Acts position was championed later by J.C. O'Hair followed later by Cornelius R. Stam and Charles F. Baker, among others, and reflects their position that Paul's authoritative ministry began in either the ninth (Stam) or thirteenth chapter (O'Hair, Baker). Some very few independent groups have staked the beginning of the church in a few other chapters but such differences are technical preferences rather than disagreements. The hallmark is that the church, the body of Christ is served uniquely with Paul's ministry and upon that there is complete and total agreement. Acts is seen as a transitional period between dispensations and the Mid Acts position does not insert an extra dispensation there contra Ryrie as does the Acts 28 position. The Mid-Acts position often accepts the Lord's Supper but rejects water baptism.[24] There is only one baptism (Ephesians 4:5) made without hands where the believer is baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13) which is held in contradistinction to Christ baptizing believing Israel in Acts 2 with the Holy Spirit. This pouring out baptism of the Holy Spirit is in fulfillment of the Old Testament promise of the new covenant to Israel (Acts 2:16-21, Joel 2:28-32). Thus it has nothing to do with the newly revealed Mystery to and through the apostle Paul who is not sent out until much later with the new ministry as the apostle of the Gentiles to establish a new church which is composed of both Jews and Gentiles, and not just Israelites (which includes proselytes to Judaism) as in Acts 2. This new church is not subject to any Jewish rituals (like water baptism) according to the revelation of the mystery to Paul and further promulgated at the Jerusalem council recorded in Acts 15.

John Nelson Darby, sometimes called the father of dispensationalism, began the church at Pentecost, but his dispensational scheme is not like Scofield's and later Acts 2 dispensationalists. Nor is it like that of mid-Acts dispensationalists. The church does not begin with a new dispensation for Darby as the administrations upon Earth are not relevant for the heavenly church body. One can study R.A. Huebner, (who sees the Church's advent at Acts 2), to get a better understanding of Darby's scheme of dispensations which is altogether a horse of another color. Also Miles J. Stanford follows Darby's dispensational scheme and criticizes Scofieldian Acts 2 dispensationalists for not following Darby. Miles J. Stanford drew, as well, heavily upon Darby's soteriology of "spiritual growth" and who considered himself a "classic Pauline dispensationalist" in the line of Plymouth Brethren Darbyite dispensationalists.

If Darby appears to be followed more closely by mid-Acts dispensationalism, it is because Darby's dispensationalism and mid-Acts dispensationalism are both more consistent than Scofieldian Acts 2 dispensationalism in marking Scripture's distinction between national Israel with its earthly kingdom from the church which is Christ's heavenly body.

"if Christianity were the new covenant, which it is not, the Holy Ghost is the seal of faith now as circumcision was then. Matthew 28 was never carried out. The mission to the Gentiles was given up to Paul explicitly (Gal. 2) who was not sent to baptize..."[25]
"the outward symbol and instrument of unity is the partaking of the Lord's supper - for we being many are one 'bread, one body, for we are all partakers of that one bread.' And what does Paul declare to be the true intent and testimony of that rite? That whensoever 'ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.' Here then are found the character and life of the church"[26]

J.C. O'Hair followed more closely to the Early American Dispensationalists and abandoned denominational loyalties. Rejecting gifts for the church age led to a rejection of water baptism and the Acts 2 position. He then began to explore Acts 28 as an alternative but eventually rejected that as well. It was at this time that H.A. Ironside wrote "Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth." After that O'Hair settled upon the Mid-Acts position.[27] The progression of O'Hair's understanding was an inversion of Bullinger's in that whereas Bullinger began early on leaning toward a mid-Acts view and later transitioned to an Acts 28 position, O'Hair began early on in Acts 28 eventually shifting to a mid-Acts position.

Post Acts Dispensationalism

There is also a division of Ultradispensationalism branded as "Post-Acts Dispensationalism", whereby the adherents do not believe that the church began after the Book of Acts chapter 9 nor do they identify the body of Christ as the mystery of Ephesians 3 and Colossians 1. This central belief disqualifies them from the position of mid-Acts dispensationalism which is almost universally recognised as a post-Acts chapter 9 to Acts chapter 15 system of theology.

Post-Acts Dispensationalism holds that only the mystery of Ephesians and Colossians is the grace dispensation, which effectively dispensed with "the law of commandments...the ordinances that were against us"(Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:14), in order to bring those saved into the body during Paul's Later Acts ministry, with those like the Ephesians and Colossians, into one fellowship, "the one new man...the fellowship of the mystery."(Eph.2:16;3:9) In this new unified body, all the practices ordained for the Acts church, which was decidedly Jewish/Covenantal, were abolished with the "revelation of the mystery" (Romans 16:25) of Ephesians and Colossians.[28] It is this central belief of a subtle form of Acts 28 doctrine that qualifies Post Acts Dispensationalism as a doctrine to be added into the category of Ultradispensationalism.

Ultradispensationalism and personal living

Ultradispensationalism tends to emphasize personal Bible study, a one-on-one relationship with God, and living a Godly life as opposed to religious activities.

Water Baptism rejected

As such, most of the adherents to Ultradispensationalism (as well as mid-Acts dispensationalists) reject all sacraments, including baptism with water.[29]


See also

  • Dispensationalism
  • E. W. Bullinger—describes some of the basic theology of the Acts 28 doctrine
  • Grace Bible College—first president of the college was Charles F. Baker; in the mid-1960s, the College experienced a break with one of its early supporters, Cornelius R. Stam with whom began the more conservative Berean Bible Fellowship and the Berean Bible Society
  • Pauline Christianity


  • Stam, Cornelius R., Things That Differ, 1951, Berean Bible Society, Germantown, WI
  • Bullinger, E.W.,The Foundations of Dispensational Truth, Reprinted 1972, Samuel Bagster & Sons LTD 72 Marylebone Lane, London. W.I.
  • Baker, Charles F., A Dispensational Theology, 1971, Grace Bible College Publications, Grand Rapids, MI

External links

  • Writings and recordings of Acts 28 dispensationalist Charles H. Welch
  • Acts 28 dispensationalist Oscar M. Baker's writings
  • by Richard Jordan
  • 85 Pages in the Bible Comprehensive survey of the divisions of Scripture from the Post-Acts dispensational perspective
  • Berean Bible Society History of the Grace Movement
  • God's Invitation to the World A clear presentation of the Dispensational Approach to Scripture.
  • Grace Gospel Fellowship
  • Magnified Word site maintained by a former "mid-Acts" hyperdispensationalist adherent
  • Writings and recordings of Acts 28 dispensationalist Charles H. Welch
  • Ultra-dispensationalism from Elwell Evangelical Dictionary
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