Replacement Theology: The Black Sheep of Christendom Conclusion
When the reformers separated from the Roman Catholic Church, they brought with them Replacement Theology. Furthermore, they built their eschatology (doctrine of future things) and ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) on the idea the church has replaced Israel in the plan of God. If you were to remove Replacement Theology from these churches today, their entire system of eschatology would collapse. Why? Because if God has not replaced Israel (as we believe), then you must handle all the passages dealing with the Tribulation and Millennial Kingdom as being literal with a future fulfillment. Suddenly the primary justification for developing Amillennialism or Postmillennialism is eliminated.
Replacement Theology allowed the church to believe it is the fulfillment of the Messianic Kingdom. Over time, it fomented widespread hatred and violence against the Jewish people; and, unfortunately, its consequences are still with us today.
The State of Israel
The existence of the State of Israel is problematic to Replacement Theology. Yet it fits in perfectly with The Friends of Israel’s dispensational understanding of God’s plan for history. God has a different plan for Israel than for the Gentiles. God said, “I will take you [the Jewish people] from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land” (Ezek. 36:24). For us, the existence of modern Israel fits right in with what God said He would do: “Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land” (37:21). God is doing what He promised, and we are privileged to see it.
Unfortunately, Replacement Theology even causes godly men to perceive Israel as the major problem in the Middle East.
- John Piper is well known as a fine teacher of God’s Word. I have tremendous respect for him. He is pastor of preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but holds to Replacement Theology. In March 2004 he preached about the Middle East, saying there is no place ever for hatred or violence against the Jewish people or any other people. He made it clear he rejects anti-Semitism. But in the same sermon he called Israel’s existence and borders “perhaps the most explosive factors in world terrorism and the most volatile factors in Arab-Western relations.”1 In other words, he feels modern Israel is the major reason for the terrorism we see today. I wonder, where is Islam’s share of the blame? John Piper also said, “The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift, only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel.”2According to him, the promise of the land no longer belongs to the Jewish people; it belongs to the church, which he refers to as “true spiritual Israel.” However, it is exceedingly clear God made those promises to physical Israel, the Jewish people.
- C. Sproul Jr. of Ligonier Ministries, said, “We believe that the church is essentially Israel. We believe that the answer to, ‘What about the Jews?’ is, ‘Here we are.’”3 That’s Replacement Theology.
- Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, founded by D. James Kennedy, dislikes the Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins because of its eschatology. In 2002 the seminary posted an open letter on its website that stated, “Bad Christian theology is today attributing to secular Israel a divine mandate to conquer and hold Palestine.” It also said, “The entitlement of any one ethnic or religious group [referring to the Jewish people] to territory in the Middle East called the ‘Holy Land’ [referring to the land of Israel] cannot be supported by Scripture.”4 That is Replacement Theology.
- Then there is Hank Hanegraaff, whose radio program, The Bible Answer Man, hails from Charlotte, North Carolina. Mr. Hanegraaff has a tremendous ability to memorize and recall Scripture, but he holds to Replacement Theology. He went so far as to call Tim LaHaye a racist and blasphemer (he has since toned down his criticism) and is no friend to The Friends of Israel because he disagrees with us and believes the church is Israel. Once again, this is Replacement Theology.
Typically, people in the Replacement camp side with the Palestinian Arabs, who are against Israel, and blame Israel for the troubles in the Middle East. Perhaps most troubling is what is taking place in European churches today. Anti-Semitism is mushrooming, and clergy and laypeople alike are openly claiming the State of Israel should never have been established. Their fallacious rationale is that Jewish people do not believe in Christ, so they should be punished by being stripped of their country.
It is not anti-Semitic to believe the church has replaced Israel. However, it is anti-Semitic to use Scripture to justify contempt for the Jewish people and to repudiate Israel’s right to sovereignty. Historically, it has been difficult for those in the church to subscribe to Replacement Theology and avoid anti-Semitism.
Today it is the Replacement churches that are rising up against Israel and calling for divestment and action against the Jewish state. This has been the historical pattern. What does God have to say?
Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ, who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (The Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts is His name): “If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the Lᴏʀᴅ, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever” (Jer. 31:35–36).
God says that only if the sun, moon, and stars go out of existence will Israel also cease––not before. However, if the sun, moon, and stars disappear, not only would Israel cease to exist, but the Gentiles would also.
God told Israel, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (v. 3) and “He who touches you touches the apple of His eye” (Zech. 2:8). If God so loves Israel, it is our obligation to do so as well.
Ezekiel 36 explains why God will restore Israel. Here is the crux of the issue:
I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed throughout the countries; I judged them according to their ways and their deeds. When they came to the nations, wherever they went, they profaned My holy name….But I had concern for My holy name,…I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. And I will sanctify My great name (vv. 19–23).
God will restore Israel for His name’s sake––for His glory. This point differentiates what we believe as dispensationalists from what those in the Replacement camp believe––those who hold to Covenant or Reformed Theology. Reformed/Covenant Theology contends history’s ultimate purpose is man’s salvation. Dispensational Theology contends history’s ultimate purpose is God’s glorification. God certainly gets glory through salvation, but the Reformed/Covenant view places the primary focus on humanity. God’s glorification places it on God. God will do what glorifies Him the most, and He tells us restoring Israel will sanctify His great name. He also tells us His covenant that gives Israel––they physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob––the land of promise will last forever:
He is the Lᴏʀᴅ our God; His judgments are in all the earth. He remembers His covenant forever, the word which He commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, and confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the allotment of your inheritance” (Ps. 105:7–11).
God could not have made Himself any clearer. If you have a desire to build a relationship with people in the Jewish community, you must understand Replacement Theology and the impact it has had on the church and Jewish people who have lived with a 2,000-year legacy of anti-Semitism in the name of Christ. This is what they know. Jewish people need to know there is more than one type of Christian and that there are Christians today who do not believe God is finished with the Jewish people. He will restore them and make them a glorious nation for His name’s sake because He loves them: and He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
- John Piper, “Israel, Palestine and the Middle East,” Desiring God Resource Library, March 7, 2004 <desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2004/165_Israel_Palestine_and_the_Middle_East>.
- C. Sproul Jr., Table Talk (Spring 1999), cited in <middletownbiblechurch.org/reformed/sprouljr.html>.
- “An Open Letter to Evangelicals and Other Interested Parties: The People of God, the Land of Israel, and the Impartiality of the Gospel” <bibleresearcher.com/openletter.htm>.