Dispensationalism is a school of Bible interpretation that is associated with fundamentalist Christianity.
Dispensationalists believe that sacred history can be broken up into several different "dispensations," (time periods) which mark separate covenants that God is thought to have made with humanity. The most common list includes seven such dispensations:
- Innocence - Adam
- Conscience - After man sinned, up to the flood
- Government - After the flood, man allowed to eat meat, death penalty instituted
- Promise - Abraham up to Moses and the giving of the Torah
- Law - Moses to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ
- Grace - The cross to the Millennial Kingdom
- Millennial Kingdom - A 1000 year reign of Christ on earth centered in Jerusalem
Dispensationalism in this form was proposed as a specific system by John Nelson Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren movement. It was popularised in the United States by Cyrus I. Scofield through the vehicle of his widely circulated Scofield Reference Bible, an annotated study Bible that taught dispensationalism as a system. In the protestant countries of Europe, on the other hand, it has had very little influence. This fact is largely resposible for the very different "flavors" of American and European protestantism that exist today.
Dispensationalism has had a number of effects on Protestantism, at least as it is practised in the United States of America. By consistently teaching that the Beast of Revelations, or the Antichrist, is a political leader, dispensationalism has weakened the traditional Reformation-era identification of that figure with the Pope, and the Roman Catholic Church with the Whore of Babylon. Dispensationalism has led many evangelical Christians of the USA to temper their traditional anti-Catholicism, at least a little.
Dispensationalism rejects the traditional Christian teaching of supersessionism. It tends to go hand-in-hand with a very protective attitude toward the Jewish people, and the modern State of Israel. John Nelson Darby taught, and most subsequent dispensationalists have consistently maintained, that God looks upon the Jews as his chosen people and continues to have a place for them in the dispensational, prophetic scheme of things. While virtually all traditions of Christianity teach that the Jews are a distinct people, irrevocably entitled to the promises of God (because "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance"), dispensationalism is unique in teaching that the covenant with the Church is only a provisional dispensation, until the Jews finally recognize Jesus as their promised Messiah during the trials that dispensationalists envision coming upon the Jews in the Great Tribulation. Darby's prophecies envision Judaism as continuing to enjoy God's protection, parallel to Christianity, literally to the End of Time, and teaches that God has a separate track in the prophecies for Jews, apart from the Church.
On the other hand, dispensationalists tend to be energetically evangelistic, with special interest in the Jews because they are "God's chosen people". Dispensationalist beliefs are widespread in many forms of Messianic Judaism, for example, which aggressively seeks the conversion of Jews to a form of Christianity mixed with Jewish ritual and Hebrew language. In some dispensationalist circles, the Jewish converts to Christianity are sometimes referred to as "completed Jews". Thus, while it is at odds with traditional supersessionism (which was formulated to discourage directly carrying over Jewish practice into the Christian Church), dispensationalism generally is markedly at odds with modern religious pluralism, which is typified by the view that proselytism of the Jews is a form of anti-semitism. Also, some dispensationalists, such as Jerry Falwell, have asserted that the Antichrist will be a Jew, based on a belief that the Antichrist will falsely seem to some Jews to fulfill prophesies of the Messiah more accurately than Jesus did. This belief is not essential to dispensationalism. At any rate, dispensationalists are typically, in practical terms, allies of the Jews and enthusiastic popularizers of Judaica, and foes of anti-semitism in the conventional sense.
Dispensationalism is criticized for other reasons. It teaches that Christians should not expect spiritual good from earthly governments, and should expect social conditions to decline as the end times draw nearer. Dispensationalist readings of prophecies often teach that the Antichrist will appear to the world as a peacemaker. This makes some dispensationalists suspicious of all forms of power, religious and secular, and especially of human attempts to form international organisations for peace such as the United Nations. Almost all dispensationalists reject the idea that a lasting peace can be attained by human effort in the Middle East; this seems, apart from dispensationalist assumptions, inconsistent with the Sermon on the Mount, where peacemakers are blessed in the Beatitudes. Dispensationalists teach that churches that do not insist on Biblical literalism as they deem appropriate are in fact part of the Great Apostasy. This casts suspicion on attempts to create church organisations that cross denominational boundaries such as the World Council of Churches. (See also Ecumenism.)
Dispensationalism as a school of Biblical interpretation is associated with a number of fundamentalist seminaries, of which the best known are the Dallas Theological Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute.
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3 External link
Biblical Arguments in Favor of Dispensationalism