THE PROBLEM OF MESSIANIC JUDAISM
A TRAIL OF MESSIANIC ISSUES, CONT.
2. The Replacement Theology Conundrum
Messianic teaching contends against what it has come to call Replacement Theology. Assuming all the properties of an undefined “buzz word,” the term Replacement Theology is funneled through an emotionally clouded confusion of spiritual issues regarding natural Israel’s role since Christ that allows rejection of truth by association with error.
The term “replacement” has different shades of theological meaning and application, some of which is true and some false. In reality, there are two “Replacement Theologies,” one based in spiritual truth; the other in clashing racial theory disguised as spiritual truth. This discussion will sort the false from the true, and so remove the error that serves as Messianism’s excuse for rejecting the spiritual truth about natural Israel’s role in the plan of God since inauguration of the New Covenant.
- Synopsis of False Replacement Theology
False Replacement Theology is a Gentile-origined racial dogma formed in early church history. It teaches that once the New Covenant was initiated, the “church” (defined as Gentile believers only, viz., western cultural Christianity) "replaced" natural Israel in God's plan such that God had no further redemptive purpose (or at least not one of significance) toward the Jews.
This belief gave cause for Gentile-origined Christians of prior centuries (and some still today) to “write off” serious belief in any dimension of literal fulfillment of the restoration prophecies regarding natural Israel. The restoration prophecies became entirely spiritualized to refer only to “spiritual Israel” (again, defined as the Gentile-origined church), essentially wiping out any consciousness of God’s plan to eventually reconcile the people of Israel to Himself. (The “good” prophecies were reserved for the Gentile church while all the “bad” prophecies referred to natural Israel past.)
Far worse however is that this theology inspired some in history (including Martin Luther) with a religious rationale for actually mocking and persecuting Jews. In fact, the seeds of this teaching were found at the root of the 19th century German anti-Semitic movement that eventually became the driving force for the Nazi holocaust! (It’s in turn the remaining sting from all this that emotionally encumbers the Messianic perception of theological “replacement.”)
The “Replacement Theology” as represented above is of course the exact belief Paul warned against in Romans 11. It is based in western racial, cultural and nationalistic Gentile pride (labeled as “Christian”) that in effect “boasts against the branches;” and is just as condemnable as the pride by which Israel rejected Yeshua.
- Anatomy of True Replacement Theology
Another Replacement Theology however is absolutely true and forms the very foundation of the apostolic doctrine of salvation. This theology, derived strictly from Paul’s writing, teaches that God has covenantally replaced the way He relates to all men (including Israel) because in His saving of men, God has replaced the interior identity of the men themselves:
Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (—knowing this that our old self was crucified with Him…) II Cor. 5:17 (Rom. 6:6)
Consequently, this most basic spiritual yet literal (not theoretical) replacement necessarily impacts Israel’s national role and function as originally instituted by God under Moses.
· Inner Identity Replacement
True Replacement Theology teaches first of all that in Christ every believer's earthly racial identity has been crucified and replaced by a new creation in Christ. That new creation is born of no human lineage, but of God only (Jn. 1:13). Thus it is recognized neither as Jew nor Gentile. It is a supra-national identity. This means when a Jew or anyone else is born again, his original identity in his human lineage has been replaced. He is no longer a Jew—or a European, or an African, etc.
Following from this fundamental fact, true Replacement Theology teaches that the church is a transnational body of “replaced people”—all sharing equal standing before God in Christ regardless of natural origin, without difference in His sight. It also necessarily teaches that God’s habitation in and among “His people” is now defined and manifested solely on a basis of spiritual lineage, not a human genealogical one. (As demonstrated in point 1 of the first treatise, the concepts of spiritual and human genealogy are mutually exclusive.)
· Covenantal Replacement
True Replacement Theology further teaches that, because of identity replacement, all relationship with God through the Old Covenant—a covenant made strictly with a fleshly nation on the basis of its human lineage—is terminated, not to be reconstructively restored.
In accord with their newly replaced identity descended only from God, the New Covenant believer’s ongoing relationship (and so the church’s relationship) with God is conducted through the New Covenant terms of faith outworked by the Spirit solely under the Law of Agape (the “new commandment,” also referred to as the “Law of Christ.”)—totally apart from direct reference to the Jewish Law.
The New Covenant terms of relationship with God are as mutually exclusive of the Mosaic terms as are the identities supported by each covenant. And since spirit identity has replaced natural lineage as the basis for relationship with God, so the New Covenant has necessarily replaced the Mosaic covenant. Identity replacement and covenant replacement are inseparable.
· Functional Replacement of Natural Israel
The corporate replacements of identity and Covenant inescapably affect the originally ordained function of Israel as a national people. The word “function” is the operative word here. Through identity and covenant replacement, national Israel’s original function as the exclusive site of divine habitation and steward of the divine oracles has also necessarily been transferred to the Eternal Israel born of God.
National Israel’s function has been replaced by transfer on the same basis that we proved the transfer of title to the Promised Land in the first treatise. The transfer of natural Israel’s inheritance to Eternal Israel includes transfer of national Israel’s stewardship function. I describe the details of that functional replacement more fully at the end of the first treatise (see the section Projecting National Israel’s Destiny into the Age of Restoration).
And how could it be otherwise? The Spirit specifically disavows that anyone can please God—hence functionally serve Him—on a fleshly basis (Rom. 8:8). In the same way that He is not pleased through the offering of the blood and bulls and goats which He once ordained, neither is He fundamentally pleased by the Levitical lineage originally ordained to offer such sacrifices.
The truths of identity replacement, hence Covenantal replacement, hence functional replacement of the physical Hebrew nation as God’s oracle keepers are indivisibly mutually inclusive concepts. The replacement of the one mandates the replacement of the three. These three stand or fall together. If any one of them is proven false, they are all false. If any one of them is proven true, they are all true.
What does this mean? It means it is impossible to maintain that the new creation has replaced the old self without maintaining that the New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant and that natural Israel’s function has been replaced by Eternal Israel. Conversely, it is impossible to maintain that natural Israel’s function has been preserved and also maintain that the New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant and that the “new man” has replaced the “old man.”49
Since Christ’s death, God’s habitation among men and the stewardship of His mysteries—sic, his salvation—is no longer assigned on a physical basis but on the basis of His own replacement seed within men of every race. Thus unavoidably, as a fleshly race once commissioned to serve God on that basis, natural Israel has been functionally replaced by the transnational church.
Nevertheless, we must be absolutely clear. In saying natural Israel’s function has been replaced by Eternal Israel (ie, by the apostolically defined church), true Replacement Theology is not teaching that the Hebrew nation has been in any way “replaced” (read, eliminated) either “by” or “in favor of” the Gentiles relative to God’s dealings, relationship with Him or function in the world.
True Replacement Theology does not teach that “the Gentiles have replaced the Jews.” It has nothing to do with divine “racial preference.” Just the opposite. It denies all racial preference. It says that all race itself has been replaced in essence, covenant and function by reborn supra-national spirit.
- Answering the Messianic Complaint
Messianics coined the term "replacement theology" in response to the historic abuses toward Jews through the false theology cited above. But they have illegitimately extended it to contend that transnational identity replacement and covenantal replacement do not apply to them, and that they retain a special national function in God’s sight simply because they are Jewish.
Messianics however must cease using the abuse of theology to evade the truth that requires them to lay down their identity in this life to find Yeshua’s true purpose and national meaning according to the Spirit. The fact remains that all true believers have already been replaced; and, if we are truly in Christ, we must all endure the outworking of that replacement—Jews and Gentiles alike—before we can fulfill God's purpose for a redeemed body in the earth.
If Messianics deny they have been replaced by a transnational new creation, they must ultimately question whether they have been spiritually reborn. But if they accept that they have been internally replaced by spirit rebirth to become a “new creation,” then they must relinquish their claim to identity and self-worth through the Mosaic covenant given to reinforce their human identity, and they must relinquish all claim to unique function in the Body of Christ and the kingdom of God on any basis of their original fleshly identity which is to pass away in the resurrection.
49 If Israel’s function has not been replaced, then neither has the Old Covenant been replaced. And if so, then salvation is still tied to human lineage. This means that faith in Christ apart from relationship to natural Israel is of no avail and cannot save. Hence almost no one has been saved by the gospel for nearly 2000 years. Unless natural Israel’s function was replaced at Calvary, then no salvation has come available to the world until the modern return of Israel, or otherwise apart from worship with Jews wherever they could be found. Obviously, such inescapable logic makes a mockery of New Testament teaching. But it is the only conclusion afforded anyone who believes the function of natural Israel is not replaced by the New Covenantal Eternal Israel.