This is the first of a three-part series
Protestant or Catholic, the various views of the Bible can be winnowed down to two:
- Israel has been morphed into the Church.
- The Church is not a variation of Israel.
Sure, there are sub-groupings of importance, but this issue is central to all theological and biblical thought.
There are the issues of Calvinism vs. Arminianism, Protestantism vs. Catholicism, and so forth, but the central issue is one’s view of the Church in relation to the people of Israel. One says that the Church has replaced Israel in God’s favor (though some allow a little wiggle-room here, such as the Covenant Reformed people). Others (definitely a minority of Christians) say that Israel is not the Old Testament Church, and that the New Testament Church is not a replacement for Israel.
Who is right? Does it really matter? Why does it matter?
Well, it does matter, and one’s viewpoint is central to how one seeks to interpret the Bible. Here’s what I mean: There are two basic ways (for Christians) to view and interpret the Bible:
- The Bible is the written Word of God, and should be interpreted in a “normal” fashion; i.e., it should be interpreted at face value. A corollary is that all should be taken as literal, unless it is clearly intended to be metaphorical.
- The Bible is the written Word of God, and should be interpreted in a “normal” fashion, except for any prophetic (future) promises of God to Israel. This, of course, means that the major prophets (Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah), as well as most of the Minor Prophets, must be re-interpreted, since God is finished with Israel. The usual approach is to re-direct to the Church any unfulfilled promises to Israel. Actually, there are at least three variations often used here:
- These unfulfilled promises are merely symbolic and potential, dependent on God’s future intentions.
- These “unfulfilled” promises have been already fulfilled, in some reasonable sense.
- These unfulfilled promises will now be “cashed in” by the Church, but in a spiritual or heavenly sense, since most of the promises dealt with the land of Israel in the future.
So, this means, for example, that when the prophet speaks of a future for Israel, he is really referring to a spiritual situation in Heaven. When the “land” is spoken of, one should revise it to mean “heaven.” And, when the city of Jerusalem is noted, one should likewise take it to mean life in heaven for Christians.
Okay, but why in the world would honest, serious Christian authorities and professors work such mental gymnastics? A marvelous example of this may be found in the excellent three-volume work on Isaiah by E. J. Young, a classic. Browse through the chapters on Isaiah 40-66, especially, and you will find multiple evidences of this “adjustment.”
Well, why do they? This is the practice of the majority of Protestant scholars and also that of the various editions of Catholicism. Here’s why:
For the Church to have certain biblical authority for many of their practices and doctrines, it is necessary to maintain that the Church has replaced Israel in God’s favor, and thus, the Church may resemble Israel under the Mosaic Law in many facets, and, like Israel of old, be an institution ordained by God.
For example, Israel was a hierarchical system, complete with priests, high priests, and a full-fledged bureaucracy, complete with scribes, Levites, et al. This organization controlled all of life for the Hebrew masses. There were detailed, specific, mandatory feasts, ceremonies, vestments of great beauty, and various rites and rituals that impacted almost every aspect of life for the people.
Has it ever seemed strange to you that there is absolutely not even a hint of any of this in either the book of the Acts or in the Epistles? Or, that our current church practices are so radically unlike what we read about in the New Testament?
Well, there was no system, no hierarchy, no priests, no ceremonies (except baptism and communion) in the New Testament. Close your eyes and try to imagine Peter, James, John, or Paul garbed in brilliantly-colored official robes or vestments? Can you? I didn’t think so.
Yet, there were many such things in the Mosaic Law. There was the Clergy (both Levites and Priests). There was a large bureaucracy, gorgeous vestments, elaborate ceremonies, rites, and rituals. The individual was impacted by the Mosaic Law almost daily, with sacrifices of all sorts for all sorts of reasons. Worship was done at the Temple.
The Christians replaced Circumcision with infant Baptism. Grace was dispensed by the clergy with the “sacraments.” (Seven for Roman Catholics; usually just two (Baptism and Communion) for Protestants. The priest wore special robes, the clergy had degrees of ostentation, special titles, complete with special garb. Whereas Israelites had to offer sacrifices to the priest at the Temple, Christians settled for Confession to the priest. The pomp and circumstance of the Mosaic Law was mimicked in some form by the Church.
Now, suppose that God is not finished with Israel, and that He still intends to have similar practices in a future time (cf. Ezekiel forty through forty-eight). Thus, there is no special reason or justification for the Church to ape or imitate various aspects of the Mosaic Law. Indeed, organizing around the Epistles and Acts, none of this would be called upon.
So, you see, the Church MUST be seen as God’s replacement for Israel, else all the habits and accoutrements of the last 1700 or so years are without biblical authority. We certainly can’t have that, now, can we?
In my next post, I will suggest what might have motivated the Church to move in this direction. In the subsequent post, I will point out some of the problems associated with the Institutional Church.