Dispensationalism divides history past and future into seven (the exact number varies) eras known as ‘dispensations’. Each dispensation represents a distinct and separate spiritual economy for God’s self-revelation to and dealings with mankind.
Dispensationalism has been popularised by the Scofield Bible and is adhered to by millions, especially in the USA.
It is hyper-literalistic in its interpretation of Scripture, and seriously undermines the New Testament’s own spiritually nuanced hermeneutic (principle of interpretation) for the Old Testament.
There are several varieties, but dispensationalism as a whole believes in separate destinies for Israel and the church.
It is premillennial in eschatology, usually holding to a pre-tribulation rapture, and believes God will fulfill his promises to ethnic Israel in such a way that Jesus Christ, after returning to earth, will rule the world from Jerusalem during a literal 1000-year millennium.
The dispensational approach, while broadly evangelical and fundamentalist, has often led to a strange mixture of truth and error; and sometimes the error has been profound.
For example, many dispensationalists believe that, during the millennium, the nation of Israel will resume animal sacrifices in a newly built temple.
At the far end is ultra-dispensationalism. This holds to the existence of two churches within the book of Acts: the Jewish church, which began at Pentecost, and which ended when the second church — the Body of Christ — began with the ministry of the apostle Paul, from Acts 28 onwards.
Dr E. W. Bullinger (1837–1913), an Anglican clergyman and notable scholar, was the main proponent in Britain of ultra-dispensationalism.
He argued that the cup of the Lord’s Supper is the New Covenant prophesied in Jeremiah 31 and is a prophecy to Israel and not to the church. He maintained that water baptism and the Lord’s Supper should not be observed by today’s church.
Ultra-dispensationalism regards only Paul’s prison epistles (written after the end of Acts 28) as relevant for today’s church — the so-called ‘mystery’ church. All other NT epistles are deemed to belong chronologically to before Acts 28; and so doctrinally to a predominantly Jewish Christian church, not to the post-Acts 28, Body of Christ.
In short, the teaching of ultra-dispensationalism amounts to a bewildering and perplexing confusion.