There are three major doctrinal errors that came out of the Protestant Reformation. The first of these is the doctrine that only certain people could be saved. It is called Calvinism, and I know that there is more to Calvinism that this one thing. Election is, however, the most known precept of this system of doctrine.
The system of doctrine taught by Calvin is Augustinianism, which was common to all of the Reformers. The Reformation was a great revival of Augustinianism. Remember, it was Augustine who, more than anyone else, formed the basis for the Catholic Church.
Calvin himself wrote:
“Augustine is so wholly with me, that if I wished to write a confession of my faith, I could do so with all fullness and satisfaction to myself out of his writings.” Treatises on the Eternal Predestination of God the Secret Providence of God By: John Calvin)
The next major error was the changing of the doctrine of the Catholic (universal) church. Before the rise of the Catholic Church the idea that there is any kind of universal church or universal body of Christ was unknown. From the rise of the Catholic Church to the Reformation the doctrine of the universal church held that it was a visible church that including all Christians on earth. This idea of a “universal” church was made popular by Augustine and his work “The City of God.” He taught that there was no salvation outside of the Catholic (universal) Church.
The reformers found themselves outside of the Catholic Church and needed to justify their existence outside of her because they had been taught that there is no salvation outside of the catholic (universal) church. They changed the supposed universal visible church into an invisible church which supposedly included all of the saved no matter which denominational church they were part of.
To learn more about this false teaching see my book “Universal Church: Fact or Fiction” which is available on my website.
The third major error that came out of the Reformation was Covenant theology. It has been renamed and repackaged by some to Replacement theology and is also known as supersessionism. As with all theological systems, there is some variance withing those who hold this doctrine. It essentially teaches that the “Church” has replaced Israel in God’s plan. Those who hold to this theological system believe that the Jews are no longer God’s chosen people. They believe that since they refused the Messiah God has rejected them and replaced them with the “Church”. They believe God has no specific future plans for the nation of Israel.
Replacement theology teaches that all of the promises made to Israel in Scripture are now transferred to the “Church” and are fulfilled in her. They “spiritualize” or “allegorize” the Scriptures and teach that the prophecies in Scripture concerning the blessing and restoration of Israel to the Promised Land are now promises of God’s blessing for the “Church”.
The first thing I would like to say is that this false doctrinal teaching would be eliminated were it not for the companion error on the nature of the New Testament church. Since the purpose of this article is not to teach what the New Testament has to say about the church I will only mention a few key points.
First of all, the Greek word “ecclesia” had meaning at the time Jesus first used it. The word meant a group of people, called out of their homes to meet together and conduct business. The most common usage referred to the Greek city-state town meetings. They were always local and restricted in membership. One had to be a citizen of that particular city, and had to attend the meetings regularly. Nothing in Scripture indicates that the word meant anything other than this.
The first usage of the word “ecclesia” is found in Matthew 16:18 where Jesus said, “…upon this rock I will build my church.” Of course those who believe in a universal church think that this is the “Church” Jesus was referring to here. An honest study of Scripture will show that this is not so.
The next time Jesus used the word He was referring to a local church which met to conduct business.
Matthew 18:15-17 “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”
The “universal church” is never mentioned in Scripture. All of the passages used to “prove” that it exists apply equally well to a local church. In the vast majority of the passages where we see the word ecclesia in the New Testament there is no doubt that it refers to a local church. Every time Jesus used it, except in Matthew 16:18, there is no doubt that He was referring to a local assembly.
In Matthew 16:18 He used the word in the generic or institutional manner. This is where the singular is used to represent the larger number of the whole. When I say that Henry Ford made the automobile accessible to the common man, I am using the word “automobile” and the word “man” in the generic or institutional manner. I do not mean there is only one automobile or only one man. I mean that that generic man (any man) now has access to the generic (any) automobile. That institution which we call a church (local) is what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 16:18.
I would like to point out that the church did not start at Pentecost. It already existed in Matthew 18 or Jesus could not have told His disciples to take their differences to it. I also must point out that the church in Jerusalem had a business meeting in Acts Chapter 1, which was before Pentecost. It also had at least 120 members who were present at that business meeting.
I have written a small book entitled “Universal Church: Fact or Fiction” which you can get from this website. In this book I deal with all of the passages that I know of that are used to support the doctrine of the Universal Church.
I now want to deal with the main purpose of this article, Replacement theology. This theological system is on the rise in American churches and needs to be dealt with.
Although I gave a definition above, here are the basic tenets of this theological system:
Israel, both the Jewish people and the land, has been replaced by the “Church” in the plan of God. It teaches that the “Church” is the historic continuation of Israel and that God has no further plans for Israel.
The Jewish people are now no longer a “chosen people.” They have been superseded by the elect in the “Church.”
Without repentance, the new birth, and incorporation into the “Church”, the Jewish people have no future, no hope, and no calling in the plan of God.
Since Pentecost in Acts 2, when the term “Israel” is used in the New Testament, it refers to the “Church”.
The promises, covenants, and blessings promised to Israel in the Bible have been taken away from the Jews and given to the “Church”, which has superseded them. However, the Jews are subject to the curses found in the Bible as a result of their rejection of Christ.
Let’s look at their arguments for what they believe and answer each one of them from the Scriptures.
They say that Galatians 3:29 teaches that only those who are in Christ are Abraham’s seed. “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Answer: Rather than teaching that only those who are Christ’s are the sons of Abraham this verse teaches that those who are in Christ are also Abraham’s seed. There is nothing in the verse that says the Jews are no longer Abraham’s seed.
It must also be noted that it says promise, not promises. The question is what promise is Paul talking about. The answer is found in the context. Galatians 3:14 says, “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
The nice thing about the Word of God is that we don’t have to guess what is meant on most things because they are explained, either in the context or in other related passages.
They teach that the promise of the land of Canaan to Abraham was only a “starter.” The real Promised Land is the whole world. To support this they use Romans 4:13. “For the promise that he should be the heir of the world was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.” They claim it will be the “Church” that inherits the world, not Israel.
Answer: There is nothing in this verse to exclude the Jews. It simply tells us that it is not through the law, but through the righteousness that is of faith. Our eternal inheritance as Christians, and the eternal inheritance of the Jews, are both by faith, not by works.
They teach that the nation of Israel was only the seed of the future “Church” which includes people of all nations. They support this idea with Malachi 1:11: “For from the rising of the sun, even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles, and in every place, incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts.”
Answer:This passage in its context says that God will not accept polluted offerings from His people, the nation of Israel. It in no way eliminates Israel from the future plans of God. It also tells us that His name will be spread among the Gentiles throughout the entire world.
They teach that Jesus taught that the Jews would lose their spiritual privileges, and be replaced by another people. Matthew 21:43: “Therefore say I unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.”
Answer: In this passage, Jesus was talking to the chief priests and elders. This is seen clearly in verse 45: “And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.” Jesus is not talking about taking the kingdom of God away from Israel, he is talking about taking it away from the chief priests and the Pharisees. You will notice that the Kingdom of God is given to a nation, not the “Church.”
They teach that a true Jew is anyone born of the Spirit, whether he is racially Gentile or Jewish Rom. 2:28-29: “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh; But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
Answer: This passage does not say that the “Church” replaced Israel. It its context it is talking about those who follow the letter of the law as opposed to those who follow the spirit or intent of the law.
They say that Paul shows that the “Church” is really the same “olive tree” as was Israel, and the “Church” is now the tree. Therefore, to distinguish between Israel and the “Church” is, strictly speaking, false. Indeed, people of Jewish origin need to be grafted back into the “Church” (Rom 11:17-23).
Answer: This claim is demonstratively false because this passage clearly teaches that the Gentiles are the “wild olive branches,” who get our life from being grafted into the olive tree. The tree represents the covenants, promises and hopes of Israel (Eph. 2:12). The olive tree gives life to the Jews (the “natural branches”) and Gentile alike (the “wild branches”). The Gentiles are reminded that they are grafted into the olive tree. The “wild branches” are not to boast against the “natural branches” because they can be grafted in again. The olive tree is NOT the “Church”. Christians are simply grafted into God’s plan. We are added, the Jews are not taken away. There are only some of the branches broken off.
They teach that the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament, unless they were historically fulfilled before the coming of Jesus Christ, are now the given of the “Church”. They do not interpret these promises literally, but spiritually and symbolically. They make the references to Israel, Jerusalem, Zion and the Temple, when they are prophetic, refer to the “Church” (II Cor. 1:20). “For all the promises of God in Him (Jesus) are Yea, and in Him, Amen, unto the glory of God by us.”
Answer: The New Testament references to Israel clearly pertain to Israel, not the “Church”. No promise to Israel and the Jewish people in the Bible is figurative, nor can they be relegated to the “Church”. The promises and covenants are literal, many of them are everlasting. Christians can participate in them because we have been grafted into the olive tree. Christians are not usurpers of the covenant and do not replace physical Israel. Gentile Christians are joined into what God had been doing in Israel. God did not break His covenant promises with Israel (Rom. 11:29).
As we have seen, those who hold to Covenant/Replacement theology interpret the Scriptures allegorically. When you do this, you can make them say anything you want them to say.
You may begin to see why I spent the time at the beginning of this article to explain the nature of the church. Were it not for the false teaching of the “universal church” replacement theology would not have a leg to stand on. Had Augustine not confused the “basileia” (kingdom) with the “ecclesia” (assembly) and made the “Church” equal to the kingdom they could not replace the kingdom of Israel with the kingdom of the “Church”.
The scriptures clearly teach that Israel be spread throughout the world during what the Bible calls “the times of the Gentiles.”
And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. Luke 21:24
The word “until” tells us that when those times are fulfilled Israel will be restored. The times of the Gentiles will end at the rapture of the saints. At that time the focus of God will return to His people, Israel. Paul warns Christians not to be confused by the partial blindness of Israel.
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. Romans 11:25-27
Notice that “all Israel” will be saved, the ungodliness of Jacob will be turned away, and God’s covenant unto them will be fulfilled when He takes away their sins.
Covenant/Replacement theology shows the conceit of the reformers. They thought themselves superior to everyone else, especially to the Jews. This prideful conceit is also seen in the way the reformers treated those who disagreed with them. They followed the pattern of the Catholic Church by imprisoning and murdering anyone who did not agree with their teachings.
Let me finish with a warning to those who teach this false doctrine. If God could not be trusted to keep His promises to Israel, how can you be sure He will keep His promises to you?
Copyright 2017 Pierre Coovert, All rights reserved