When You Say the Church Replaces Israel…

painting broad strokesAnyone who knows me, knows that I care that doctrinal positions be articulated fairly even if you don’t hold to that position. When we don’t agree with a position, it’s easy for us to make sloppy and sweeping statements or otherwise eliminate distinctions that should be there for a thoughtful discussion. We can tend to paint with broad strokes.

This happens a lot with charges against Dispensationalism, but I won’t go there. No matter whether or how much I move away from Dispensationalism, I will always care that it be treated fairly and will defend correct articulations especially given the modifications that have occurred over time.

So it pains me to raise this charge. One broad stroke, lack-of-distinction statement that I hear made, mainly from Dispensationalists who won’t take the time to understand the church/Israel relationship from a Covenant Theology perspective (there are many thoughtful dispies who do), is that Covenant theology teaches that the church replaces Israel. However, it is certainly not confined to Dispensationalists. In fact, what prompted this post was this article here.   I also find that when concepts filter down to a popular level broad strokes and mis-definitions can occur. Even when I more aligned with Dispensationalism, this particular mis-statement made me scream because it does not accurately reflect the difference in positions between replacement and continuity.

Replacement theology advocates for just as it says, that the church replaces Israel because the Jews rejected Christ, they are judged by God. Israel no longer exists. All promises are now transferred over to the church and do not benefit them. It is a minority view and rightly brings up concerns of anti-Semitism.

Covenant theology advocates for continuity between Israel and the church. The church did not replace Israel but is one of the same organism, beginning with Abraham. Under the new covenant it has expanded to include believing Gentiles.  According to CT advocates, it is the new Israel.

Keith Mathison has written a good articulation of this here.

Another issue I think occurs whatever your doctrinal or system alliance, is that care must be taken to define Israel since it can mean different things. Even from a Dispensationalist perspective, I have always been puzzled why Israel has been treated as a national, political state when Paul makes clear in Romans 9-11, that not all Israel is Israel (Rom. 9:7-8) The true Israel are those who respond in faith to the promise found in Christ. Much can be said further and certainly there has been plenty of ink spilled.

But I digress. When it comes to saying that some believe the church replaces Israel, be careful that you are applying that charge to the right group.

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About Lisa Robinson

Servant of Christ, DTS Grad, member of Town North Presbyterian Church (PCA), non-profit professional, anti-poverty advocate, writer, thinker, explorer of ethnic food, lover of good coffee and a good laugh.
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6 Responses to When You Say the Church Replaces Israel…

  1. Scott says:

    Lisa –

    The term replacement theology is unhelpful – because it can down-play the significance of Israel in the narrative of Scripture moving towards its fulfilment, which is Christ. That is why I prefer the term fulfilment theology. So nothing (or no one) is being replaced, but we are ultimately headed towards the fulfilling work of God in his Messiah, the Israel, the firstborn son, the head of the ekklesia.

  2. ljrobinson says:

    Scott, I agree with you. I’m more addressing the need to make a distinction, since it is commonly stated that in CT the church replaces Israel. There are some who do affirm replacement but that is not the same as continuity. I think making this statement broad applied to CT is just as sloppy as non-dispensationalist saying that dispensationalism teaches 2 ways of salvation.

  3. ljrobinson says:

    Oh no, I didn’t take it that way. I just wanted to be clear that I’m not trying to argue a position but addressing those who do make this sloppy allegation without understanding there is a distinction. I even heard one of my profs say this recently and I nearly cringed. Of course it was outside the theology department 😉

  4. Doug says:

    There is a continuity between the OT Jerusalem and the heavenly Jerusalem of the NT. [Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22; Rev. 21] This is shown by Isaiah’s prophecy about mount Zion and Jerusalem in Isa. 2:1-3. The mountain of the Lord’s house was to be established in the top of the mountains, above the hills. Jesus was the only begotten son of God, so he represents the mountain of the Lord’s house, and when he ascended to the throne of his Father, Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled. Peter said that Jesus was “made Christ” by God, [Acts 2:36] which implies he fulfilled the prophecies about a Messiah who would reign forever on the throne of David. He is king of the heavenly city, and his throne is established forever. After Pentecost the prophecies about Mount Zion and Jerusalem apply to the heavenly Mount Zion and Jerusalem, not the earthly ones, because of the continuity.

  5. johngchild says:

    I agree fully with you. In my eschatology course this past term I prepared a new lecture on the church and Israel dealing with the relationship, aiming at conceptual clarification and accuracy. I too rejected replacement theology and explained why. I also, for my own clarification and my students, did some initial work on Israel and the land and the place if the land in the new covenant. Holwerda’s book Jesus and Israel was very helpful and well argued.

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