Replacement Theology: The Black Sheep of Christendom Part One
If you watch the news headlines, you may have read these: “Episcopal Church Is the Next to Shun Israel,” “Presbyterian Church to Justify Israel Divestment,” and “Methodist Church Renews Drive for Divestment From Israel.”
Divestment involves withdrawing investments from companies doing business with a particular nation in order to put economic pressure on the government. It was a technique used against South Africa to break apartheid. Over the years, some Protestant churches have asked people to stop investing in companies doing business with Israel based on their claim that Israel is a racist nation. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Israel is a democracy that freely gives the vote to both Jews and Arabs. Apartheid occurs when a minority race uses its power to take economic advantage of the majority of another race. Such is not the case in Israel.
In 2007 a Methodist women’s group wrote a report, sponsored by and paid for by the Methodist church, that referred to the founding of the State of Israel as the “original sin,” thus equating modern Israel with Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God. The report implied humanity sinned against God in creating the modern nation. It was a shocking statement.
The same report claims, “The Holocaust, and the impact of the Holocaust on Israel’s society, has caused hysteria and paranoia amongst Israelis.” The report not only treated the murder of 6 million people casually, as if it were a minor event, but also claimed Jewish people have blown it out of proportion. If an event in history had put 6 million Methodists to death, these women probably would have a different outlook on the Holocaust.
Then, of course, there is Jimmy Carter. The former U.S. president’s 2006 book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, distorted facts, demonized Israel, and contained hundreds of falsehoods and fictional statements.
In light of all these events, perhaps you’ve asked yourself, Why are all of these Christians picking on Israel? What’s behind these attacks?
The answer is Replacement Theology, the belief the church has replaced physical Israel (the Jewish people) in the plan of God. Those who hold this view believe the church has become “spiritual Israel” and the inheritor of all the covenant promises God made to Israel. But they say the Jewish people retain all the curses.
Effects on the Church
In the Old Testament God often said, in effect, “Keep My covenant, and I’ll bless you; I’ll do all these good things for you. But if you do not keep My covenant, I will curse you; and these judgments will come upon you.” Replacement theologians take the blessings for themselves and leave the curses with Israel. Therefore, whenever they read Israel in Scripture, they replace it with church. The leadership of most mainline Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church hold to Replacement Theology.
Here are some implications of this belief:
- The Jewish people as a nation have no place in God’s future plan, and Israel has no future as a nation.
- There is no Tribulation or Millennial Kingdom. In fact, such prophecies become problematic, which is why Replacement theologians want us to see Israel not as a physical nation but as the church.
- The church begins with Abraham in Genesis 12, not at Pentecost in Acts 2. Old Testament Israel (not physical Israel, but only those who put their faith in God) are defined as the church.
- Old Testament Law still applies to the church because, if the church began with Abraham and continues today, then everything in the Old Testament still relates to the church. (The church, in this discussion, includes all denominations.)
Some churches, for example, have altars up front, in the center. Why? Because the Law requires sacrifice, and sacrifices go on an altar. Consequently, they view communion as the re-sacrifice of Christ, believing the elements mutate into the physical body and blood of Christ through transubstantiation.
Under the Law, a man needed an intercessor between himself and God. He could not go to God directly. Hence, some churches have priests rather than pastors.
Infant baptism replaces circumcision that, under the Law, placed a child under God’s covenant.
Have you ever heard Christians refer to Sunday as the Sabbath? In Scripture, Sabbath is sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. God defined it that way, telling Israel, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lᴏʀᴅ your God. In it you shall do no work” (Ex. 20:9–10). So church leaders thought, Because we worship on the first day of the week, we’ll redefine Sabbath to be Sunday. It is commonly referred to as the “day of rest.” However, Sunday is the first day of the week, not the seventh. To refer to Sunday as the “Sabbath Day” is contrary to Scripture. There was a reason the church began to meet on the first day: it was the day our Lord arose from the dead.
All these church practices came about because of the belief that God replaced Israel with the church and that the Old Testament Law still applies to the church.
Replacement theologians make the grievous error of interpreting the Old Testament by reading the New Testament back into it. Doing so is the only way they can make their argument. However, if you take God’s Word progressively, in its literal and historical context, as God revealed it to us, you will not believe in Replacement Theology.
Clearly, Replacement theologians believe the State of Israel has no theological reason to exist. They call it a “mistake in history” and see its creation as the “original sin.” Dispensationalists know better. And Dispensationalism makes better sense.
Understanding the Differences
Dispensationalism is a system of biblical interpretation that sees God working with mankind in different ways at different times in history. It is based on a consistent, literal interpretation of Scripture. While salvation has always been by grace through faith, dispensationalists believe the Bible teaches the ultimate purpose of history is not the salvation of man but, rather, the glorification of God. Dispensationalists believe God has two distinct programs for history: one for Israel and one for the church.
Dispensationalism. God began birthing Israel by calling Abraham and leading him to Canaan, often called the Holy Land. Then He brought the Israelites down to Egypt where they grew into a nation. By the time they fled Egypt, they numbered in the millions.
God led the Israelites into the wilderness and gave them the Mosaic Law, which covers the period of Old Testament history in which they were in the Promised Land. Then they were exiled because of disbelief and idolatry. Later God returned them to their land, where they remained for several hundred years before Christ’s First Coming. All this time, the Gentiles were in a period of ignorance.
Then came Christ’s First Advent, His death on the cross, and His burial and resurrection. Shortly thereafter the Jewish people were scattered, and the church began (Acts 2). Today we are in the Church Age. But the Bible says the church will be caught up and taken out of this world. We call that the Rapture. And with it, the Church Age will come to an end.
Many will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ after the Rapture, but they will not be part of the church. The church (also called the bride of Christ) will be in heaven with its Bridegroom, Jesus.
After the Rapture, the seven-year Tribulation will begin. It has two purposes: (1) to bring Israel to repentance, reconciliation with its Messiah, and restoration as a nation; (2) to judge the Gentile nations for their rebellion against God and their treatment of the Jewish people.
At the end of the Tribulation, Christ will return to Earth and set up His Millennial Kingdom. He will confine Satan, restore Israel and elevate it above all nations, establish His throne in Jerusalem, and rule the world from there. Believing Gentiles who survive the Tribulation will enter the Millennial (1,000-year) Kingdom.
At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be freed and allowed to lead a final rebellion against God and the reigning Messiah, but he will be defeated and destroyed. Then will come the Great White Throne judgment of all unbelievers, followed by the appearance of the new heavens and new earth.
Replacement Theology. It teaches there are not two programs for history but only one and that Israel and the church began with Abraham’s call. Therefore, the Mosaic Law did not end with Christ but still applies to the church today.
Replacement theologians say that in Old Testament times, God worked through physical Israel; and in the New Testament He worked through so-called spiritual Israel, meaning the church. The Jews once were God’s Chosen People, but now they are the rejected people of covenant curses. The Gentiles who were ignorant in the Old Testament are now the chosen people.
There is no Tribulation or Millennium. They are not needed. In fact, the Millennial Kingdom becomes a real problem for churches that embrace Replacement Theology. They wrestled with it, and out of that struggle came Amillennialism: the belief that the Church Age is the Kingdom of God on Earth and that, at some point, Christ will return to judge sinners and take us to the eternal state—the new heavens and new earth. Amillennialism projects a negative outlook on life because it provides no resolution. The world continues until Christ comes back and judges it before taking believers to the new heavens and earth, and that’s that.
Later in church history, Postmillennialism came along. It contends the church is the active agent of change in the world; and as the church’s impact grows, the entire world will eventually believe in Christ, opening the doors for Christ’s return. This seems to be a more positive outlook, but it is not what the Bible teaches.
Replacement Theology has been the “black sheep” of Christendom because, over the past 2,000 years, it has led to countless acts of anti-Semitism by some in the church—and I cannot overemphasize the word countless. A tremendous amount of anti-Jewish violence has been committed by people who claimed to be doing it “for the Lord.” Jewish people have lived for centuries with the legacy of Christians persecuting them in the name of Christ. And it is because of Replacement Theology that Christians have justified their actions.
In the next article we will travel back through history to see how Replacement Theology became established in the church.