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A Position Paper Submitted to the International Messianic Jewish Alliance
Author: Kay Silberling, Ph.D.
Why We Are Opposed To Replacement Theology And Why You Should Be Too
Even though God has made it clear that Israel is special and Christians should support Israel, many have been taught the opposite – that they don’t need to support Israel. They have been taught that there is no longer anything special about the Jewish people; the fact that most Israelis are descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is irrelevant; Israel is regarded as no different from any other nation.
These attitudes toward Israel and the Jewish people have their roots in what is called Replacement Theology, also known as Supersessionism. This doctrine asserts that God is finished with the Jewish people as a special nation, that the Church is the new Israel and has replaced Israel; and therefore all the promises of restoration and blessing originally given to Israel now apply to the Church and not the Jewish people.
Replacement Theology has become the dominant position within Christianity regarding Israel, and most Christians accept it without ever critically examining it. Churches and pastors who believe in Replacement Theology rarely, if ever, discuss the many promises made by God to restore the Jewish people to their homeland and bring the Jewish people to a great national salvation. The selective exclusion of these prophecies in their preaching, coupled with a general unawareness of Replacement Theology by the average Christian, prevents this flawed teaching from being opposed – and it needs to be opposed.
Replacement Theology Is Based On Bad Interpretation
Replacement Theology is wrong because its method of interpretation is wrong. It depends on a non-literal (allegorical, metaphoric, symbolic) approach to interpreting the Bible. It ignores the Golden Rule of Interpretation: “If the literal sense makes sense, seek no other sense – otherwise you get nonsense.” The literal sense is the preferred sense – unless there is a compelling reason to use a non-literal sense.
Approaching the Bible with a commitment to the Golden Rule of Interpretation is often understood to mean that every word of the Bible is interpreted in a literal way. But that’s not true. Being committed to a literal approach to interpretation does not mean ignoring non-literal uses of language such as figures of speech, allegories, metaphors and parables. A literal approach means that, since words mean something, and since human beings normally communicate using words in a literal way, that is the way we approach interpreting the Bible. We are to take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning, unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise. This is a common sense and correct approach to using and understanding language and literature, including the Bible.
Using the Golden Rule of Interpretation, it’s evident that “Israel” refers to the people who descend from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who have a special attachment to a land called by that same name. “The Church” is different from Israel. The Church is a community of Messianic Jews and people from the nations whom God has called out from the world. The Golden Rule of Interpretation makes clear that God has not replaced Israel with the Church nor is God finished with the Jewish people. The Lord has a glorious future for that special people, nation and land. His plan is to continue to gather the Jewish people from the nations and bring them to their ancient homeland. He will continue to reveal the Messiah to more and more of them until Israel experiences a great national salvation that will result in tremendous blessing for the world! Replacement Theology, by ignoring the Golden Rule of Interpretation, makes passages like Romans 9-11 (which affirms God’s ongoing commitment to Israel and contains promises of restoration and blessing) impossible to properly understand.
Replacement Theology Has Been Rejected By Prominent Theologians
Replacement Theology has enjoyed majority support throughout much of Church history, yet several of the most influential and gifted theologians of the past and present have understood that God has a continuing plan for the Jewish people, and reject this teaching. Consider this statement from Jonathan Edwards: “Nothing is more certainly foretold than this national conversion of the Jews in Romans 11.” (Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1, Banner of Truth Trust, reprint, 1976, 607). And consider this statement from Charles Spurgeon: “I think we do not attach sufficient importance to the restoration of the Jews. We do not think enough of it. But certainly, if there is anything promised in the Bible, it is this. I imagine that you cannot read the Bible without seeing clearly that there is to be an actual restoration of the children of Israel … For when the Jews are restored, then the fullness of the Gentiles shall be gathered in; and as soon as they return, then Jesus will come upon Mount Zion to reign with his ancients gloriously, and the halcyon days of the Millennium shall then dawn; we shall then know every man to be a brother and a friend; Christ shall rule, with universal sway.” (Charles Spurgeon, The Spurgeon Archive, Sermon No. 28, delivered June 3, 1855, spurgeon.org/sermons/0028.htm, Accessed February 27, 2015 ).
Replacement Theology Attacks The Faithfulness Of God
If God will not fulfill the many literal promises He made to Israel of future restoration and salvation (for example, see Ezekiel 36-48, Isaiah 60-66, Zechariah 12-14), then God is not faithful and the Church can’t rely on Him to keep His promises to the Church.
Replacement Theology Nurtures Arrogance
Replacement Theology encourages the opposite of what the apostle to the nations told Christians from the nations to do – to have a humble, loving attitude toward the Jewish people and understand that God is not finished with Israel and has not replaced Israel with the Church. If some of the natural Jewish branches have been broken off and you wild branches (Christians from the nations) have been grafted in, do not consider yourself to be superior to those Jewish branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you (notice the importance of Israel and being connected to Israel). You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in” … do not be arrogant but tremble … God will graft the Jewish branches back into their own olive tree … all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:17-26). Notice that Paul anticipates the development of Replacement Theology – the claim that the Church has replaced Israel and God is finished with Israel and Israel is no longer important. And Paul rejects Replacement Theology and the arrogant attitude behind it.
Consider this: Rabbi Paul felt the future standing of Israel was so vital that he devoted three entire chapters of Romans (arguably his theological magnum opus) to that very issue, and includes a warning against dismissing Israel or boasting against them. It is as though the great Apostle anticipated the very thing that Replacement Theologians have promoted.
Replacement Theology Encourages Anti-Semitism And Anti-Zionism
Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism are growing around the world. The tiny nation of Israel, surrounded by a sea of anti-Israel sentiment, continues to be in the headlines – and cast in a very controversial light. Ask almost any group of people, “How do you feel about Israel?” and you are sure to get lots of opinions, some very strongly against this special land and people. Replacement Theology contributes to this hostility towards the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. There is little doubt that in the past, Replacement Theology was driven by anti-Semitism and was used as a theological justification for additional anti-Semitism. For extensive documentation of “Christian anti-Semitism” and its horrible consequences, we recommend The Anguish of the Jews by Edward Flannery and Our Hands Are Stained With Blood by Michael Brown. And, undoubtedly some of today’s anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism continues to be supported by Replacement Theology.
Replacement Theology Diminishes The Importance Of Something Important That God Is Doing Today
Not only is the importance of Israel diminished by Replacement Theology, but so is the Messianic Jewish movement. We believe that God is in the process of fulfilling His promises to gather the Jewish people to Israel and save us spiritually, and one of the most significant things God is doing in the world today is revealing to more and more Jewish people that Yeshua is the Messiah. God is using the Messianic Jewish movement to make an impact for the Gospel on the Jewish people and on the Church. But those who embrace Replacement Theology don’t share that perspective, and the Messianic Jewish movement is of little interest to them.
Imagine The Good That Would Come From The Rejection Of Replacement Theology
Imagine what would happen if Replacement Theology were rejected and hundreds of millions of Christians, who were once indifferent or even antagonistic to Israel and the Jewish people, suddenly came to understand God’s plan for Israel and the Jewish people. Imagine them no longer seeing Israel as just another nation, but as a special nation that God was committed to support and bring salvation to, so that Israel will be the center of blessing for the world. Imagine hundreds of millions of Christians becoming passionate about the growth of the Messianic Jewish movement and the salvation of the Jewish people.
Let’s be aware of Replacement Theology (Supersessionism), why it’s wrong, and the harm it causes, and let’s oppose it whenever we can.
By Doug MacLean, Rabbi Loren, Rabbi Glenn and Jerry Weinstein -- Used with permission.
The Issue Of Conversion
There are those in the Messianic Jewish movement who are going even further than pressuring Gentile Believers to live like Jews. There are those who are “converting” Gentiles into Jews. This type of “conversion” is wrong for many reasons:
• It violates the clear command of Scripture: “Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised … Let each man remain in the calling in which he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:18-20). Messiah came to bring peace between Jews and Gentiles and to unite the two – but not by turning Gentiles into Jews nor Jews into Gentiles.
• It encourages Gentiles who are dissatisfied with who God made them to be to despise their God-given identity. God specifically ordained that each human being come from the parents, people, and nation they came from. The God of Israel is a God who created much diversity, and Messiah’s Holy Community was designed to be made up of Jews and people from every nation, people, and language group.
• It arouses envy and encourages Gentiles who are envious of the Chosen People to deal with their envy in the wrong way – by attempting to become Jews rather than realizing that all of us who are joined to the Messiah are complete. Jews and Gentiles have equal access to the God of Israel. He is equally our Heavenly Father. All of us are His sons and daughters. We are brothers and sisters. We are fellow citizens of the New Jerusalem and co-heirs of eternal life. We all share His Spirit! What more does anyone need?
• It creates different classes of Christians and fractures the Body of Messiah. It fosters a subtle form of elitism – elevating the perceived status of those who “convert” and creating an artificial divide between them and those who don’t.
• The focus of the Judaizers is wrong. Instead of focusing on being filled with the Spirit of Yeshua, preaching the Gospel to all nations, and loving one another, the focus becomes one’s own ethnic identity. I love the Jewishness of the Messiah and the New Testament and am committed to Messianic Synagogues and Messianic Judaism; but I am very concerned about those who, while initially interested and enthusiastic about the Jewish Roots of Christianity, take their eyes off of Messiah focusing, instead, on themselves and trying to become more Jewish. They are perpetually discontented with who God made them.
I’ve seen Gentiles drift away from Yeshua, leave the Faith, renounce the Lord, and convert to non-Messianic Judaism. I’ve seen Gentiles start living like orthodox Jews and make an orthodox lifestyle their new mission in life. Focusing on Christianity’s Jewish Roots is no substitute for knowing God and being filled with the Spirit! Knowing about the Jewishness of Christianity won’t sustain your spiritual life! Christianity is about Messiah. He Himself is the substance. In Him we are complete. He is the vine, and we are the branches who must abide in Him for our spiritual life to prosper. We need to fix our eyes on Yeshua. We need to concentrate on Messiah, and Him crucified.
In this age, as the Gospel returns to the Jewish people from whom it first went forward, we need to remember that Christianity is meant to be transcultural. The requirements are minimal (just four – see above discussion) so that it can easily adapt to other cultures. The focus is not on practices; ceremonies; rituals; traditions; Sabbaths; holidays; or what we eat, drink, or wear but on mankind being reconciled to God, loving Him with all our heart and soul, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. It’s about embracing Messiah’s Mission, preaching the Good News about salvation, serving and loving others, and putting their needs ahead of our own.
Some Messianic Synagogues, in their desire to retain what they regard to be an authentic Jewish identity, go to the opposite extreme. They don’t convert Gentiles; they simply exclude them from their worship services altogether (perhaps not absolutely forbidding but certainly discouraging them from involvement in their congregations). I believe that every congregation should be open to anybody the Holy Spirit sends its way. God declared through the prophet Isaiah, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the peoples” (Isaiah 56:7). Not all Messianic Congregations will have the same percentage of Jews and Gentiles. In Israel the majority of the population is Jewish, and not surprisingly the concentration of Messianic Jews is high. But the situation for many Messianic Congregations outside of Israel is different. For example, the Metro Detroit area has about 3 million people, which includes 100,000 Jewish people. We number about 3 percent of the population. Why should we expect the majorities in our congregations to be Jewish? Messianic Congregations don’t need a majority of Jewish Believers to be “authentic.”
By Rabbi Loren, June 27th, 2014 -- Used with permission.
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