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Replacement Theology

September 2002 | by Mike Matthews

On the BBC Sunday programme on 12 May there was a feature concerning so-called ‘replacement theology’. Some in Israel and elsewhere are blaming it for an ‘anti-Israeli’ stance in the West.

So what is ‘replacement theology’? None other than the biblical doctrine that the great promises of God in the Old Testament concerning Israel find their fulfilment in the church of Christ!

Valid faith?

According to this teaching, the Christian church has ‘replaced’ national Israel, which no longer has a separate place in the saving purposes of God. Opponents claim that this view is influencing the West to deny Israel its rightful place in the world.

Replacement theology was rejected by two contributors to the BBC programme. Michelle Guinness (a converted Jew) said that she had encountered this theology in the Free Churches, but no longer in the established church.

However, she did at least say that, as a Christian, she must continue to take the gospel to her fellow Jews.

But another contributor rejected the whole idea of preaching to the Jews, on the grounds that they have their own valid faith. Replacement theology, he maintained, died with the holocaust (with the unspoken suggestion that somehow this doctrine could have contributed to it).

Heart of the gospel

This issue raises a number of fundamental questions which strike at the heart of the gospel. Whatever view we take of Romans 11:26, it is clear that the way of salvation for Jews is, and will always be, the same as for all men — through Christ.

That means that converted Jews are members of the church of Christ, not of a special ‘Jewish church’. Paul makes this clear when he says that in Christ ‘there is neither Jew nor Gentile’ (Galatians 3:28).

Again, if we are not allowed to apply Old Testament passages concerning Israel to the church of Christ, it puts a wedge between the testaments, and suggests that the OT has no relevance to Christians.

This is expressly contradicted by our Lord, who told the Jews that they should find him in all the Scriptures, because they were about him (John 5:39).

The Old Testament is an integral part of the Christian Scriptures, not an optional addition. Even Abraham was saved through Christ — he rejoiced to see Christ’s day, and was glad (John 8:56).

Shadow and substance

According to Hebrews, the church and the gospel are the substance of the OT shadows, the realities behind the old covenant symbols. The old covenant between God and the Jewish nation was ‘ready to vanish away’ (Hebrews 8:13; 9:8-15).

Many of our hymns reflect this doctrine: ‘Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God!’ Are we prepared to throw all these away and admit they are the product of flawed theology?

We must hold fast to these truths which are integral to the gospel. We love the Jews for Christ’s sake, and long for their conversion — but we do them no service by failing to preach Christ from the Old Testament.

It would be ridiculous to view the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 as belonging to a different religion and excluded from the church. Scripture denies any such thought for, says Hebrews 11:40, they will ‘not be made perfect apart from us’. With us, they will be made perfect, but only as members of Christ’s body, the church!

No gospel

The real ‘replacement theology’ is that which is being perpetrated today — replacing the gospel in all its fulness, and the Scriptures with all their Christ-centred truth, by an emaciated message, which in fact is no gospel at all.

If the secular media are to be believed, there is indeed a ‘theology’ which is having a marked influence on American policy in the Middle East.

However, it is not the Christ-centred theology outlined above, which sadly has little currency in any government circles, but the theology of some of the ‘evangelical’ lobby in the USA.

This takes a number of forms, but its general thrust is that today’s secular, unbelieving Israel is entitled to the whole biblical territory — hence their alignment with Zionists and those who wish to settle the West Bank, Gaza, etc.

It is true that ‘the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable’, but Paul makes it plain in the same passage that God’s promises to Israel are, and will be, fulfilled only in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 11:26-32).

Christ’s kingdom is a heavenly one: the mistake the Jews made in his own day was to conceive of the promises in earthly terms.

It is this same erroneous theology which poses a great danger in the present situation. It distorts the search for peace and sidelines the gospel.

We must contend, as always, for sound biblical doctrine — for it can indeed have a dramatic effect on world history.