Friday, October 24, 2014

The Church does inherit many of the promises to Israel but God still has a plan for Israel

Back in the late 80's and early 90's, when I was still a new Christian, all I ever heard was the pro-Israel or Christian Zionist point of view. I heard it in Church and in Bible Study and in parachurch organizations and in the popular books of the day.

At first it was exciting to hear about fulfilled prophecy, but eventually it started to bother me as it seemed to relegate the Church to some sort of afterthought of God's while supposedly His main concern was always the nation of Israel. The Church just sort of interrupted His plan but after "The Church Age" is over we are to expect that He would resume His dealings with Israel.

 I'd done a lot of reading on my way to Christian belief and always found that the Church was the whole point of redemptive history, not some afterthought.  So this emphasis on Israel was starting to get to me. Since then the Reformed churches have become more influential and now the Christian Zionists complain that we're making Israel irrelevant, and call the theology that I'd always regarded as orthodox traditional theology by the pejorative term Replacement Theology.

Jan Markell sent along another piece on the subject of Israel, this one objecting strenuously to "Replacement Theology" as the devil's work within the Church against Israel, "Christian" Palestinianism: More Lies From the Pit of Hell by Geri Ungarean for the website Rapture Ready.
I wrote an article on Replacement Theology not too long ago. The main proponents of this lie from the pit are the main stream denominations - Presbyterian Church USA, Lutheran, Methodist and some Baptist churches, among others. The Catholic Church has been teaching RT since its inception...

We can see the finger prints of Satan in every church who is turning its back on God’s Holy Word. There is a new outcry from the pulpits of the PC crowd.

They yell, “Free Palestine! Israel is occupying land which is not theirs! Israel is an apartheid state! Down with Israel! Boycott products made in Israel!” They compare Israel with Hitler’s SS. To them, Israel is the oppressor, and are occupiers of their own land.
I agree with her that such accusations of Israel are very wrong, as I just wrote in a previous post, and it's fair to call it the work of Satan too, but I disagree that any of this has to do with theology. Apparently some kind of theological excuse for denouncing Israel is made in those pulpits, but it's hard to see how they could use Replacement Theology for that purpose;  probably it's more along the lines of the typical liberal misuse of the teachings about love and kindness and the denial of the right to self-defense, such as were directed against Israel in the film I discussed in the previous post.

Again, what does Replacement Theology have to do with whether or not Israel is at fault as they claim?

Interestingly most of the churches Ms. Ungarean lists are known as liberal churches, but what she calls "Replacement Theology" is taught in conservative churches as well, particularly Reformed or Calvinist churches.

I've never wanted to get very deep into this controversy, but every time it comes up and I post something on it I am forced to learn a little bit more about it.   I don't enjoy it, the disputes can be rancorous.   I recently listened to some dispensationalist arguments against Replacement Theology at Sermon Audio but I'll never be able to learn enough to have more than a broad grasp of the issues.

They often start off saying something like "Replacement Theology is the belief that God is finished with Israel, that He cast them off for their sins and particularly their rejection of the Messiah, so now the promises He gave to Israel all belong to the Church."  Then if their focus is on Covenant Theology, the theology of the Reformed or Calvinist churches, they'll go on to characterize Replacement Theology as related to Amillennialism and the allegorizing of scripture. 

None of this addresses any of my own concerns.  I strenuously oppose Amillennialism, have never seen any reasonable excuse for allegorizing anything in scripture, don't believe that God has completely cast off Israel, and I continue to appreciate the insistence of the Dispensationalists on the literal interpretation of numbers in scripture (if it says "a thousand years" it means a thousand years and not just "a long time" and so on.)  

And yet I do think that many of the Old Testament references to Israel refer to the Church.  I think this because I think this is what the New Testament says.

Geri Ungurean continues:
Another NEWSFLASH: God Himself is a Zionist.
“For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. ‘This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her needy with bread.

Her priests also I will clothe with salvation, and her godly ones will sing aloud for joy. There I will cause the horn of David to spring forth; I have prepared a lamp for Mine anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame, but upon himself his crown shall shine’” (Psalm 132:13-18).
Such a flat statement applying this passage to ethnic Israel is simply not true. The New Testament refers to Zion in spiritual terms as the heavenly Jerusalem, and specifically not a something of the senses that could be touched:
Heb 12:18  For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest...,   Heb 12:22  But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
This is the dwelling place of the living God, not earthly Zion. He dwells in His people as the New Testament says, not in buildings made of stone or on earthly mountains. And what could the "horn of David" refer to but the Messiah?

Here's what Matthew Henry says:
Here will I dwell, for here he adhered to his principle, It is good for me to be near to God. Zion must be here looked upon as a type of the gospel-church, which is called Mount Zion (Heb. 12:22), and in it what is here said of Zion has its full accomplishment. Zion was long since ploughed as a field, but the church of Christ is the house of the living God (1 Tim. 3:15), and it is his rest for ever, and shall be blessed with his presence always, even to the end of the world. The delight God takes in his church, and the continuance of his presence with his church, are the comfort and joy of all its members.
Ms. Ungurean's article continues with more analysis of Political Correctness in the churches and Christian Palestinianism, and I agree with her in general about the errors there, but my interest is more in the meaning of Replacement Theology.

As I say above I believe that the New Testament requires us to interpret many of the references to Israel, Zion, and other terms in the Old Testament, as applying to the Church because they all point toward the coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of God's plan of redemption in a heavenly and not an earthly Jerusalem. There is a general complaint by the Dispensationalists that we "spiritualize" the Old Testament references to Israel, but in fact it's the New Testament itself that spiritualizes them.

The New Testament also clarifies that Abraham himself was not looking to earthly Israel as the promised land but to a better country, that is, a heavenly promised land:
Hebrews 11: 9  By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: 10  For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God...
13  These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  14  For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.15  And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 16  But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
Paul in Galatians 6:16 refers to "the Israel of God" in a context that clearly defines it as referring to the Church, to believers in the Messiah:
Gal 6:14-16  But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.  15  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.   16  And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
Although this passage is often disputed it seems to me that the Israel of God can only be believers, certainly not unbelievers, and if it's believing Jews then they are part of the Church just as believing Gentiles are, and they can't therefore be a different group from those who "walk according to this rule" and that includes all believers, both Jew and Gentile.

Then another distinction is made between ethnic Jews and believing Jews, further "spiritualizing" terms that are earthly or fleshly in the Old Testament, including circumcision:
For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
There are also all those New Testament passages that show the Church to be God's chosen people:
Eph 1 4  According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:

2 Thess 2:13  But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:

James 2 5  Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

1 Peter 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:
Concerning the covenant with Abraham the New Testament is clear that all who live by faith in Christ are inheritors of that covenant, though it could possibly also be said that as long as this earth exists the land of Canaan was clearly given to the physical descendants of Abraham. The only problem there is that it is an everlasting covenant and we know from other scripture that this earth is passing away, and the "everlasting" covenant could therefore only be the spiritual covenant, the covenant with the Church.

Here's Matthew Henry again:
GENESIS 17:6-7 Here is, I. The continuance of the covenant, intimated in three things:-1. It is established; not to be altered nor revoked. It is fixed, it is ratified, it is made as firm as the divine power and truth can make it. 2. It is entailed; it is a covenant, not with Abraham only (then it would die with him), but with his seed after him, not only his seed after the flesh, but his spiritual seed. 3. It is everlasting in the evangelical sense and meaning of it. The covenant of grace is everlasting. It is from everlasting in the counsels of it, and to everlasting in the consequences of it; and the external administration of it is transmitted with the seal of it to the seed of believers, and the internal administration of it by the Spirit of Christ's seed in every age. II. The contents of the covenant: it is a covenant of promises, exceedingly great and precious promises. Here are two which indeed are all-sufficient:-1. That God would be their God, v. 7, 8. All the privileges of the covenant, all its joys and all its hopes, are summed up in this. A man needs desire no more than this to make him happy. What God is himself, that he will be to his people: his wisdom theirs, to guide and counsel them; his power theirs, to protect and support them; his goodness theirs, to supply and comfort them. What faithful worshippers can expect from the God they serve believers shall find in God as theirs. This is enough, yet not all.

2. That Canaan should be their everlasting possession, v. 8. God had before promised this land to Abraham and his seed, ch. 15:18. But here, where it is promised for an everlasting possession, surely it must be looked upon as a type of heaven's happiness, that everlasting rest which remains for the people of God, Heb. 4:9. This is that better country to which Abraham had an eye, and the grant of which was that which answered to the vast extent and compass of that promise, that God would be to them a God; so that, if God had not prepared and designed this, he would have been ashamed to be called their God, Heb. 11:16. As the land of Canaan was secured to the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, so heaven is secured to all his spiritual seed, by a covenant, and for a possession, truly everlasting. The offer of this eternal life is made in the word, and confirmed by the sacraments, to all that are under the external administration of the covenant; and the earnest of it is given to all believers, Eph. 1:14. Canaan is here said to be the land wherein Abraham was a stranger; and the heavenly Canaan is a land to which we are strangers, for it does not yet appear what we shall be.
In all of this there is no necessary idea that God is completely through with Israel and I don't see anything in scripture that says so. There are passages that speak of their failure to uphold their end of the covenant but there are passages that promise that He won't abandon them completely anyway, and how much of that refers to the Church I really don't know. We know from Romans 9 through 11 that He plans to save "all Israel" in the end and that definitely refers to earthly Israel. That to my mind is enough to give earthly Israel a place in God's plan. and I can't ignore the fact that their defeat of the Arab states who attacked them was nothing short of miraculous. This is all based on history and not scripture but nothing happens without God, the state of Israel couldn't be there at all if God weren't superintending the whole thing, and again their defeat of their enemies shows to my mind God's hand in their affairs. God isn't finished with Israel and He isn't finished with Planet Earth. Although the heritage of the Church is spiritual, and that includes believing Jews as well as Gentiles, a transformed body, a transformed life, God began His work with earthly people on an earthly planet and there's no reason to think He would not bring that work to a fitting finish, and for that earthly Israel has to play a gigantic role.

HOW it all is to happen I haven't sorted out in my mind.

How desperately we need revival

Jan Markell's ministry sends out lists of headlines every day now, and it's hard to choose among them what is the most dire situation we need to address.  They're all dire, that's the times we're living in.  Here for instance is today's list.  Religious liberty is threatened in Houston, the wellbeing of the entire nation is threatened from the seats of power in Washington, Kerry is blaming ISIS on Israel, ISIS is continuing its rise.  

So a bunch of pastors did send Houston's mayor some sermons, which is a good sign in that at least a bunch of pastors is alert to the situation, but clearly the Church is being targeted and clearly we aren't showing the ability to stand up against it in any way that would demonstrate that we have the power of the living God behind us. 

I'm driven back to my desperate wish for revival because revival would bring us that power, would bring God Himself down to us. 

Is the list of obstacles to revival I discussed a few posts back to be taken seriously?  Are these really the reason we haven't had a revival through all the growth of the power of our enemies and the enemies of America and of the west over the last decades?  Why did Leonard Ravenhill's impassioned calls to revival fail?  Why have we had only the morally and spiritually impotent "revivals" of the signs-and-wonders Charismatic churches in these decades?  Those are the questions I've wanted God to answer and I think the list I gave is unfortunately only too likely to be His answer, at least in the ballpark of the explanations we've been missing.  

Then, as the complaint about Replacement Theology has been capturing my attention lately I've wondered if the Dispensationalist errors should be identified as another hindrance to revival to add to the list.  More on Replacement Theology is what I intended to write about in this post that I'm now finding myself addressing to these more general problems.   I'll probably go on to that topic in the next post, but I feel so strongly that if we don't have revival all is lost that I wanted to add these thoughts about it.

If the problems I listed can really be taken as obstacles to God's willingness to give us revival, how much hope is there that we could overcome them?  Could those who are committed to ecumenism open themselves to the idea that they are wrong and repent of it for the sake of revival?  Could charismatics be persuaded that their own beliefs could be a hindrance?  What about all those in the churches who have been divorced and remarried, what on earth could anyone do about that?  Dying to self is our calling but these things are a call to more dying to self than we've ever even begun to ask of ourselves.  Then there's Bible Inerrancy:  the chances of the churches who deny it changing their minds seems awfully remote so should we not include them in prayer for revival or what?  (I think as we pray for revival we should clearly denounce these false elements in the Church.)  And so on.

I realize as I write this that nothing that I know of is happening toward revival anyway, this is all just my own ponderings, mostly an expression of despair.  All the best analyses of what's happening can't help us.  Nothing we can humanly do can help us. We need God's power SO desperately and everything we are doing is keeping us from having it.