REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY (Part I)
As a young man I had the pleasure of reading all seven novels that make up the timeless story of redemption so profoundly crafted by C.S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia. Millions of others have also read one or more of these books, or have heard about them, or have seen the movies based on three of the books, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Prince Caspian; and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Many books, articles, and commentaries have also been written about the novels.
As expected in a series that consists of seven individual books, there are numerous plots, subplots, adventures, and stories; but one way or another they all relate to the Divine rescue and subsequent reign of the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve. To replace, to substitute, to exchange is the overriding theme of these novels, as so beautifully expressed in the Christ-like character of Aslan … the original Lion-King. When Edmund, one of four Pevensie children, betrayed his brothers and sisters and all of Narnia with his Adam-like disobedience of what he knew to be good and true and right, Aslan understood there was only one remedy. And that was Aslan’s own personal sacrificial death at the hands of the evil Queen of Narnia … an unmistakable representation of Satan.
The Queen demanded (rightfully so) the death of Edmund for his treason, but she was forced to accept Aslan’s offer to replace Edmund … a righteous and flawless substitute in exchange for a fallen son of Adam. But neither the fictional Queen nor the real Satan understood that when a perfectly just and sinless person (Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man) takes the place and bears the penalty of those who have sinned—every person who has ever lived—by shedding blood and dying, that the perfect sacrifice, Aslan (Christ), would be raised from the dead.
Replace: “To restore to a former place or position; to take the place of as a substitute or successor; to put something new in the place of. Synonym: Displace, Supplant, Supersede…” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, copyright 1980).
Using this definition, think about the greatest replacement and exchange gift of all time. When Jesus died a horrible death on that cross and then arose from the dead, he restored us to our former place and position as innocent sons and daughters of God, exactly the way Adam and Eve were created by God. He took our place as a substitute and successor to put something new in the place of the original sentence of death and hell … eternal separation from God. All we need do is to agree with God that we are sinners in need of this substitutionary sacrifice and believe in/on Christ as the one who exchanged his precious blood and life for our terrible sins and the just penalty for those sins.
God IS love. But he is also righteous; and that holiness demands justice. As clearly as we understand substitutionary replacement, we also understand justice. If someone assaults and robs you, or harms or even kills a loved one, it’s morally right to demand that, “justice must be served.” That’s exactly what Jesus did when he died on the Cross for our sins. He satisfied God’s demand for justice, then pardoned all those who believe and accept what Christ did on our behalf. Without justice, there would be complete chaos and anarchy … which we have all too much of as it is.
So many Bible passages explain this incredible trade provided by God through Jesus, who was not only the Son of God, but God the Son. But none more so than: “He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (II Corinthians 5:21, NASB).
If It Doesn’t Work, Trade It In or Get Rid of It
I would think this generation would comprehend better than past generations what it means to replace something or someone with something or someone better. Among other things, we have been called: The disposable generation!
Sometimes when cars, televisions, dishwashers, or toys break down we get them fixed. But not always and not indefinitely. Sooner or later—oftentimes sooner—we simply discard that old computer and replace it with a new one. We’ve become experts at: Out with the old, in with the new. Unhappily, this all too often and too easily applies to friends, wives, and husbands. Just check out the 20th and 21st century divorce rates for confirmation.
We are constantly and many times flippantly, causally, and whimsically replacing old things with new things, old relationships with new ones, and more so than ever before, old (but time-tested) truths for a new truth of today. In fact, we’ve gone much farther than that: we have begun to trade truth for lies, good things for bad, right for wrong. “They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshipped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen” (Romans 1:25, italics for emphasis). Traded means replaced or exchanged, but it doesn’t necessarily mean an equal exchange. There are good trades and bad trades. Trading God’s truth for lies is as equally bad as God’s trading the precious blood of his Son for our transgressions is good.
This has been an age-old problem, but according to Scripture the inversion of right and wrong will intensify to a magnitude unparalleled in history during the end-time last days as described by Scripture. Of course, it’s fun and exciting to exchange that old clunker for a brand new car, or that ultra-slow computer that took three seconds too long between clicks for a sleek, supersonic, speed-of-light computer. I’m not knocking new just because it’s new. Look at the spectacular New Covenant that was given to us because of Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection. The new way is God’s matchless irreplaceable grace to forgive our sins simply by trusting in what Jesus did for us. And it’s so much better than the old way of trying to vainly and unsuccessfully please God by keeping the law.
But with the breath-taking, hard-to-keep-up-with, warp-speed developments in technology (especially in the last 70 years), we’ve learned consciously and subconsciously that the only permanency is change itself. Subtly, slowly at first, we adapted to advancing technology; but in the last two decades or so we’ve been bombarded with changes so abrupt and rapid that we really don’t have or take the time to consider the consequences … whether the change is really an improvement or not.
Even more of a phenomenon is the impact that material changes have exerted on our spiritual life. Material things come and go so fast, that many people 40 years old or more couldn’t tell you how many cars they’ve bought and sold. This disposable mentality seeps and creeps into the spiritual and emotional dimensions of our life, to the extent that we sometimes shed our values, ethics, and morals much like an old worn-out pair of jeans. We find ourselves, “…tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching…” (Ephesians 4:14). And all we really need do or say in defense of lowering our standards of morality and spirituality is: “Well, this is the 21st century” For those reading this article over the age of 14, you or your peers might have said, “Well, this is the 20th century.”
Do you get the drift? Every person in every generation in every century going back as far as you like, could have and probably did say the same thing. As if the current generation is always the most enlightened; therefore possessing the right to redefine morality or set brand new standards that replace honored truths of the past. Which is another reason that many people cannot abide or tolerate even hearing the name of Jesus Christ in today’s society. Because, for one thing, Jesus Christ is the, “same yesterday, today, and forever.” When the name of Jesus is mentioned in Scripture or by his followers, his name embodies all that he is, does, and will do. Including, but not limited to all of the truth of Scripture that he either taught himself or is taught about him throughout the Bible. So, we can safely and equivocally maintain that God’s truth, morality, and values are the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Whether material or spiritual, if we mess around with the laws of physics and the truth of God … if we play with fire we’re going to get burned, physically and spiritually. (See Lake of Fire in Revelation 19 & 20).
When we try to compare or relate material technological advancements to values and morals and truth itself, we are truly making apples into lemons. But that doesn’t seem to bother very many people in today’s world. So, when it comes to open or tacit support for abortion or homosexuality or sexual promiscuity, or cheating on income tax, all one need say is: “Come on … this is the 21st century.” And all the relativism and secular humanism that goes with that amoral mindset.
Thus, there is great heartache, danger, and eternal consequences when we begin trading in God’s truth as found in the Bible in favor of any number of religious or irreligious man-made systems. For the most part it’s not all that difficult for a born-again Christian who wants to grow in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to recognize, for example, the vast difference between the god of Islam (Allah) and the God of the Bible. Or to understand that Biblical Christianity is the only “religion” in which a pure substitutionary sacrifice made it possible to exchange the penalty for our transgressions with an everlasting pardon that profoundly alters God’s divine verdict from guilty to innocent.
What is confusing, if not deceptive is when a (small) portion of the Bible is made to stand alone as a doctrinal truth that contradicts other truths/facts found in Scripture with regard to that particular subject; or passages that are misapplied because they are not placed into a broader context of the whole counsel of God, i.e. the entire content of Scripture. Replacement Theology is one of those half-truths that cleverly discounts, distorts, ignores, and even rejects the Big Picture of God’s purpose for and destiny of Israel.
So What Is Replacement Theology?
By now we should have a foundational grasp of the Replacement part of this term. Theology is simply a study and working knowledge of God—including his attributes, interaction with the human race, and the fundamentally important truths that he has shared with mankind. Many theologians call these truths, Doctrines. I encourage you not to shudder at that term or otherwise brush it off as irrelevant or overbearing or whatever you think of it. In today’s world many people, including some Christians don’t like to use the word, as it carries the connotation of something absolute or something too hard to understand; that it unnecessarily interferes with today’s emphasis on unity and love at the expense of Biblical truth. After all, the term is periodically used for such secular things as describing government policy. For example, The Truman Doctrine, named after President Harry Truman.
Biblical doctrine or dogma is simply the end product of accurately describing and consolidating Christ’s teachings and life into categorical terms that define who he was and what he did, equally as God and as man. So we have the marvelous (doctrinal) truths of Justification, Sanctification, Glorification, Reconciliation, Propitiation, and others.
Previous Eye of Prophecy articles have periodically touched on the treacherous theory of Replacement Theology, but this article and the next are written exclusively on the subject. In a nutshell, Replacement Theology maintains that the Christian Church has symbolically and, therefore, has spiritually (actually) replaced Israel in ALL of the Biblical prophetic passages pertaining to Israel, beginning with the Church’s inception at Pentecost. This includes hundreds of Old Testament predictions about Israel’s future troubles and restoration as found in end-times prophecies. Shrewdly, this symbolic spiritual substitution then becomes a literal transfer exchange of all of God’s promises for the nation of Israel to the Church. Ironically, none of those who shamelessly embrace Replacement Theology will talk about, let alone acknowledge, the Biblical passages in which God disciplines Israel.
Sorry, but they can’t have it both ways. If they’re going to substitute Israel with the Church in the good, positive blessings prophesied for Israel, they must be consistent and also replace Israel with the Church concerning negative things that will happen to Israel in the last days … just before the people, the nation, and the land of Israel are finally restored, both physically and spiritually. Next week, we’ll refer to a few Bible passages to show how ludicrous and indefensible this premise is.
By and large, proponents of this deceitful theology are Christian in name only, comprise a majority of Catholics, found in some of the more liberal Protestant denominations such as mainstream Presbyterian or Lutheran or United Methodist, or some, or all of the above.
Tragically, however, even some Evangelical Christians can be found lurking in the camps of Replacement Theology. Even more heartbreaking: the notion and impact of Replacement Theology was fostered and fueled by one of the most influential Christians in all of history: Martin Luther.
Millions of people world-wide, both believers and unbelievers, know at least something about this Catholic priest who dared confront his colleagues and superiors in the Catholic Church … fellow priests, bishops, cardinals and especially the Pope. Much like the apostle Paul who (literally) saw the light of Christ and the amazing grace of God expressed through the New Covenant; Martin Luther experienced a radical transformation when he fully realized that the extra-Biblical Catholic doctrines (especially that of purchasing indulgences … buying with money one’s salvation) were nothing more than a perversion of God’s grace. Grace that shows us that salvation is freely given through faith in Jesus Christ, and him alone.
“The just shall live by faith,” claimed Luther, was the only way of permanent redemption and reconciliation for mankind. Primarily through the Book of Romans, he finally understood that the religious hierarchy of the Catholic Church was misleading millions of their followers by asserting that baptism and membership in the Catholic Church followed by keeping dozens of man-made rules and regulations were the only way to gain God’s favor and escape the judgment of hell.
God took hold of Martin Luther with such verses as: “For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood….” (Romans 3:25). Without doubt, the Catholic Church constantly presented the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (for example through Mass) as a cornerstone doctrine of the Church. But they failed miserably to explain that one must personally believe and receive (by faith) this substitutionary sacrifice in order to be made right with God. Instead the clergy of the Catholic Church, much like the priests and scribes of Israel in Jesus’s and Paul’s day, imposed keeping of sacraments (with the Jewish religious leaders, it was complete obedience to the Law of Moses) as a legalistic requirement in order for one to achieve and maintain a right standing with God. Their deception was: Good Works to obtain salvation, not the Biblical way that good works follows salvation. As Jesus said, paraphrasing: The inside (the heart) must first be changed, then the outside (conduct and behavior) will change. (Matthew 23:26).
Thus, Martin Luther, with great courage and boldness, confronted the Catholic clergy with the real truth of salvation such as: “But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. This is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are” (Romans 3:21-22, italics for emphasis to demonstrate that even religious leaders need God’s forgiveness for their self-righteousness).
Speaking directly to the Jews in Rome (and everywhere) Paul said: “For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit….” (Romans 2: 28-29).
This is what Martin Luther proclaimed to the Catholic Church … that a change of one’s heart (no matter if that heart was basically good or demonstrably bad) because all have sinned against God, was the only way to salvation. That a true Christian is one whose heart has been transformed by the grace of God, not through the ceremony of baptism or membership rights in the Catholic Church.
Luther’s Tragic Mistake
Despite all this, despite being used mightily by God as a spring-board to the greatest turnaround in Church history that historians have now called the Reformation, this great man of God made a mistake that is normally made by those religious leaders who seek to lead (mislead) others by promoting traditions over the Bible, or emphasizing out-of-context Scriptural passages, or distortion of pivotal truths of the Bible by means of deliberate or sometimes inadvertent exclusion of other key passages relating to that doctrine. Yes, Luther made the same error that Jesus accused the Jewish Sadducees of when they tried to spring one of many traps against Jesus.
Jesus told them, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). Context is always important in Scripture, but in this case Jesus’s statement was somewhat universal; meaning it could have been and, in fact was, applied to several other situations in which the Pharisees or Sadducees attempted to trap Jesus into saying or doing something that would enable them to arrest Jesus, or at least show him up in front of the common people. There were many such events and not once were they successful. We constantly read that the response of Christ amazed and astonished both the religious leaders and the people. And often his disciples!
It’s crystal clear that Martin Luther’s born-again salvation experience took place while he was, of all things, a Catholic priest. And this change from spiritual darkness to light was a direct result of knowing and believing exactly what true salvation is: God’s righteousness imputed to anyone who believes and receives his Son, Christ Jesus—apprehended by faith, not by good works or ritualistic performance of whatever the Catholic Church demanded. Specifically, for Martin Luther, his “seeing the light” came principally from the first eight chapters of the Book of Romans.
And, it’s true, the most important theme of the Bible is that of salvation … freely given by God because Christ purchased our pardon with his death and resurrection. When Martin Luther fully realized then proclaimed this, under the threat of “ex-communication” by the Pope, the true universal church (which is not the Catholic Church) has never been the same since the first and second centuries. His protest became the root word and meaning for Protestant, though even the Protestant movement has unfortunately compromised many core truths of Scripture as seen in some of the contemporary Protestant denominations.
When it comes right down to the absolute basic tenant of the Christian faith, salvation by grace through faith, that is ultimately all we need to know … in terms of our eternal destiny. On the other hand, God has given us so much more truth about so many more things that he wants us to know and absorb and apply; things that will shape our world view and enable us to grasp and more fully appreciate the deep riches of knowledge and wisdom in his Word.
So, what part of Scripture did Martin Luther make a mistake in not knowing, or perhaps not applying? It was none other than God’s two-part plan; one plan for a spiritual merging of both Jew and Gentile into one new Man, which is the Church, the body of Christ, composed of individual born-again believers. He got that part, as summarized in the follow passage: “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promises to Abraham belongs to you” (Galatians 3: 28-29). The promises here are not referring to the aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant in which the actual land of Israel is given to Abraham and his descendants (Jews) forever. The promises that Paul is talking about are all the blessings given to the Gentiles through Isaac, the promised child, who is a prototype of the Messiah and through whom the Messiah would come.
This mysterious but wonderful truth is exclusively spiritual in nature and impact, unseen by the human eye as opposed to material things that can be seen. We walk by faith, not by sight. For example, for a Gentile free man to be one in Christ with a Jew, or a slave, or a female certainly doesn’t mean physically, via blood line or by marriage. It is by a spiritual adoption. The marriage and “one flesh” unity of a wife and husband comparison used in Scripture is only for the marriage of one man to one woman. The key phrase in this verse is, in Christ. Everyone is sealed by the Holy Spirit when they believe and receive Jesus. Thus, they are one in Christ.
The second plan is for a physical remnant of Jews and the actual physical nation/land of Israel from where the Son of Man in bodily form will rule and reign forever. This is what Luther missed or at the very least wrote off as being unimportant in God’s economy as Luther saw it.
Ironically, another passage, one of the previously quoted verses in Romans was undoubtedly a stumbling block to Luther, in that he used it against the Catholic Church (rightfully so, with its intending meaning), but also against the Jews—in gross error to rationalize and support his biased view of the Jews which came later in Luther’s life. “For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents…” (Romans 2:28).
Obviously, Paul’s purpose here is to show that simply being a Jew doesn’t guarantee entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven, i.e. automatic birth status into God’s family. Yet, it’s evident that Luther used (misused) this passage and a few others to mistakenly conclude that the Church had replaced Israel and the Jews as the people that God would, from now on, exclusively acknowledge as children of God who would inherit eternal life, but also to include every single one of the prophetic passages that clearly refer only to the Jews and to Israel.
Things to Ponder
Hundreds of years later, this Replacement Theology would be used by Hitler and the Third Reich’s propaganda machine in an even more distorted, depraved, and despicable way to justify eradication of all of the Christ killers from the face of the earth … the Jews. Obviously, Hitler’s reference to Martin Luther wasn’t the only warped justification offered to Germans (or any other people that hated the Jews) to begin his campaign of genocide; but it certainly contributed to the perverse thinking of those who wanted to believe the racial superiority propaganda disseminated throughout Europe.
It is probably the single most horrendous example of what can happen when even true Christians do not know the whole counsel of God’s Word and/or deliberately misuse what they know by omitting a large portion of Scripture that would otherwise put these misused passages into the proper perspective and context.
Next week’s article will continue with examination of other passages that have been erroneously isolated to justify the concept of Replacement Theology; with, of course, Bible verses that clearly show us that Israel had and still has a glorious future. We will also look at more devastating results of this devious doctrine in today’s world.