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Dispensationalism

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[?]," which mark separate covenants that God is thought to have made with humanity. Usually there are seven such dispensations:

Dispensationalism therefore teaches that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will be a physical event, a miracle in which God intervenes directly in human history. As such, dispensationalism is associated with the circulation of end times prophecy, which professes to read omens of the Second Coming in current events.

Dispensationalism 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.

Dispensationalism has had a number of (arguably) positive 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.

Likewise, John Nelson Darby taught, and most subsequent dispensationalists have consistently maintained, that God still considers the Jews his chosen people and continues to have a place for them in the dispensational, prophetic scheme of things. It is true that Darby's vision of the end times tells of terrible catastrophes that will befall the Jews and Israel, and that the Jews who survive will have accepted Jesus as the Messiah. At the same time, Darby's prophecies envision Judaism as continuing to exist, parallel to Christianity, literally to the End of Time, and that God has a separate track in the prophecies for Jews in addition to the prophecies for Christians. This teaching rejects the traditional Christian teaching of supersessionism, holding instead that Judaism is a separate covenant with God whose validity still holds, and even that the Jews remain God's chosen people in a sense, and remain the heirs to many of God's promises in the prophecies.

On the other hand, 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. Not all Dispensationalists share this belief in any case.

Still, dispensationalism has many (arguable) drawbacks. It teaches that Christians should expect no good from earthly governments, and 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 dispensationalists suspicious of human attempts to form international organisations for peace such as the United Nations, in a manner that seems hardly consistent with the Sermon on the Mount. 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.

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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