Dispensationalism teaches a specific view of history and the end times. It traces and defines God's relationship with humanity throughout the ages. This belief system was first articulated in the 1880s and has grown in popularity since, especially among Baptists. Many Southern Baptists believe in Dispensationalism and teach the view in Southern Baptist churches and seminaries.
Dispensations of History
Dispensationalism teaches that history is divided into a series of epochs, or dispensations. Each epoch represents a different covenant between God and humanity. They believe in seven dispensations including Innocence, Conscience, Government, Promise, Law, Grace and Kingdom. The Innocence dispensation, for example, occurred during the Garden of Eden according to Dispensationalists. They believe the Government dispensation involved the time from Noah’s flood until the time of Moses. In this view, the current dispensation is Grace, sparked by the work of Christ. Dispensationalists believe that time will conclude with the Kingdom dispensation.
Dispensationalism and the End Times
Dispensationalists believe the Grace dispensation will end when Jesus returns to Earth to rapture believers by taking them up into Heaven. They teach the Rapture will be followed by the Great Tribulation, during which the Antichrist will rise. At the end of seven years, Jesus will come again and destroy the Antichrist, according to Dispensationalists. They believe Jesus will then rule the earth for 1,000 years in a period known as the Millennial Kingdom. This is the Kingdom dispensation, according to Dispensationalists.
Southern Baptist Doctrine
The Southern Baptist Convention Statement of Faith does not specifically endorse any particular view of the end times or of the epochs of history. The Statement of Faith refers to the Kingdom of God as a present and future reality. It indicates that the full consummation of God’s kingdom will occur when Jesus returns. Southern Baptists have a great deal of latitude in end-times beliefs. The Statement of Faith is noncommittal, indicating that God will end the world in His own time and in His own way.
Southern Baptist Beliefs in Practice
The most common belief about end times among Southern Baptists is Dispensationalism. The view is pervasive in both local churches and among seminary professors. Still, many Southern Baptists hold to alternative beliefs about the end times. Some are Postmillennialists, who believe Christianity will grow until it encompasses the entire world, ushering in 1,000 years of peace. According to these Southern Baptists, Christ will return after the Millennial Kingdom. Other Southern Baptists are Amillennialists, who believe the 1,000-year kingdom is a figurative way to describe the reign of God in Christian hearts.
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