What is Replacement Theology?
By Rev. D. Earl Cripe, Ph.D.
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What is Replacement Theology?
There are three ways of identifying what Replacement Theology is and what it means. The first way we will deal with this term is with its vernacular use, why it is used, and what those who use it mean to convey by its use. In this consideration, Replacement Theology is a term that has been coined and proliferated by Christian Zionism (and its various subdivisions such as Premillennialism, Dispensationalism, Pre-Tribulationism, Mid-Tribulationism, Post-Tribulationism, et. al.) and distributed to its base as a talking point. It is intended to trivialize, marginalize and demonize any and all who are not Christian Zionists.
Who in the Church are not Christian Zionists? Well, in addition to the Apostles, those who are not Christian Zionists would include: Clement of Rome, Athanasius, Jerome, Ambrose of Milan, Origin, Augustine, and John Chrysostom; and later on John Calvin, Jacobus Arminius, John Wesley, George Whitefield (some moderns say Whitfield, but I believe Whitefield is correct), G. Campbell Morgan, Charles Finney, John Knox, Jeremy Taylor, and Jonathan Edwards, to name a very few. None of them was a Christian Zionist and all of them believed that the Kingdom of God on earth in the New Covenant was the Church.
Christian Zionism did not launch until the late 1800’s through the efforts of its author John Darby, and C.I. Scofield, its promoter. In spite of the objections of Christian Zionists, there was little or no Zionist component to the Chiliasm of the early Church. Chiliasts were a group that, while in the minority in any case, still believed with the rest of the Church that the Jews were “past history” as far as God’s program in this world was concerned. They did not see the literal one-thousand-year kingdom for which they looked as having any Jewish primacy or features. But that is another subject and we will leave it for now.
The motive of Christian Zionism in bruiting this term abroad is to accuse all who are not in agreement with them of saying that God’s program for the Nation of Israel to become the kingdom people had failed. When that happened, God was forced to go to plan “B” and replaced Israel with the Church. To Zionists, alleging that the Almighty God could ever devise a program that would fail is a heretical stripping from God of His Sovereignty. God cannot fail and therefore neither can Israel, because they were appointed this destiny in time-and-history by the sovereign and unconditional plan of God.
Is any of that true? Is that what non-Christian Zionists are saying? Well, it may be what some non-Zionists are saying, but it is not true of Historic, Orthodox Christian doctrine. But we will wait for a moment to address that.
The focus then of the term “Replacement Theology” is that it is used pejoratively by the Christian Zionist, in that the Church has replaced Israel as God’s covenant and kingdom people. As in the political world, it is a PR stunt designed to be a psychological way of rallying the troops and intimidating the opposition.
Infralapsarianism and Replacement Theology
But words are tools and they only mean what the context of thought makes them mean. In our society, many perfectly good words, like “gay,” “queer” and the like have been made off limits by those who have co-opted them for their own nefarious purposes. This makes it very difficult for others to use them in the orthodox and proper way. Mature men of God, who are not insecure in their beliefs, will not bow to that kind of bullying in this area of theological consideration. Replacement Theology has another focus that is biblical, instructive, useful, and essential for a correct understanding of New Covenant doctrine. It focuses on the time-and-history program of God in which He used a number of parenthetical and temporal operations to bring about the time and situation when, in the fullness of times, the Christ would come into the world and prove the eternal failure of the Covenant of Flesh, which later on evolved into the Covenant of the Law. This would be shown by the inability and unwillingness of the natural seed to meet the terms of that conditional covenant and by their eventual rejection of the King Himself. This was for the purpose of accomplishing a number of things, but primarily as the Apostle says in Galatians 3:24, it was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. It proved that no child of Adam or nation comprised of Adam’s children, no matter how favored, pampered and provided for, could earn eternal life by their religion and their works. Not even in the situation where God Himself came down and taught the pure spirit of the Law to them and demonstrated with His life how it was to work out. At that time the Messiah, as prophesied by Daniel 9:24-27, would take the Kingdom from them for their failure. Because of their all-pervasive abomination (the overspreading of abomination as Daniel put it) in rejecting and then crucifying the Lord of Glory, He would make their house desolate (is it not interesting that Christian Zionism considers the sacrificing of a sow pig on the already-corrupted and polluted altar of the Temple to be a greater abomination than the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory?). In St. Matthew 23:32-39, Jesus said to the Jews:
Matt 23:32 Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
Matt 23:33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
Matt 23:34 Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:
Matt 23:35 That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. 23:36 Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.
Matt 23:37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
Matt 23:38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
Matt 23:39 For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
In St. Luke 19:41-44, He addressed the Jews and the City of Jerusalem:
Luke 19:41 And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,
Luke 19:42 Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.
Luke 19:43 For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side,
Luke 19:44 And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.
In these St. Matthew and St. Luke passages, Jesus calls these the greatest of all religionists in the history of the world “children of hell” and questions how, with their attitude about the King and His Kingdom, they can possibly escape the damnation of hell. They cannot escape hell as long as they reject the Gospel and hold to their misplaced confidence in their natural heritage and religious traditions. The time of the nation is passed forever from the scene with the passing of the conditional and failed covenant made with them at Sinai. The curses of Deuteronomy 28:15-69, and specifically verses 63-66, have come upon them. Their house is left desolate. But in verse 39, of the St. Matthew passage, He tells them how they can escape hell and come back to Him individually. It is (as this passage is interpreted by the 11th chapter of Romans) by repenting and coming to the Cross, and by recognizing what those along the road knew and what the Jews did not and would not admit. This was the Messiah, coming in the Name of Jehovah. In other words, in the Romans 11 passage, it is by coming to Christ by faith and by grace recognizing Him as the Christ, the Savior of the world, just as all must do who will inherit eternal life by birth.
Jesus tells them that He would have done all of the mighty things for them promised in Deuteronomy 28:1-14, but they would not and could not live up to the demands of the Law. If only they had known, Jesus lamented with tears, the things that could have been theirs, but now the time is passed and all is hidden from their eyes. There is no more blessing and protection by God for them. There is only destruction ahead.
In St. Matthew 21:43-45, Jesus had just given the parable of the lord, the vineyard and the evil husbandmen. He concludes that discussion by saying to the Jews:
Matt 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
Matt 21:44 And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
Matt 21:45 And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.
The Jews knew what Jesus was talking about, even if Christian Zionists do not. They knew He had spoken this parable against them and was taking the kingdom away from them and giving it to someone else. It filled them with rage and they tried to take Him and kill Him, but they could not do it because His time had not yet come. The events of Pentecost make it clear that the people to whom Christ would give the Kingdom was the Church. Anyone who is too stubbornly committed to his dispensational fantasy to admit this evident reality is guilty of blasphemy against Christ and the Church. The Church is the glorious Bride of Christ, the Body of Christ, Bone of His Bone, Flesh of His Flesh, the pillar and ground of truth, by which, according to Ephesians 3:21, Christ will get Glory to Himself for the rest of this final dispensation on this earth and throughout the endless ages of Eternity. Read it:
Eph 3:20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,
Eph 3:21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
Christ is working to purify the Church so that He can present to Himself in that Day a glorious Bride having no spot or wrinkle in Her garment and no defilement in Her character.
In Colossians 1:24, the Apostle says that the sufferings of the servants of God in this world is for the sake, the filling out, the benefit, and the improvement of the Church.
In St. Matthew 16:18, Jesus tells the Apostles that His mission in the coming New Covenant is to build His Church and that not even the gates of hell can stop that enterprise. If Satan, with all his forces, imps, treacheries and falseness cannot push the Church off the center stage of time-and-history, how, one wonders, does the Christian Zionist, with his materialistic, Age of Reason, fallen religious intellect and Old Testament theology, think that he is going to be able to do it? To try to put this glorious Church in a position of secondary importance in time-and-history to that band of murderers, hypocrites, liars, enemies of the Cross, subverters of the Gospel, and children of hell, is a crime against the Cross of major proportions. The Kingdom was taken, by Christ the King, from Israel and given to the Church as God’s agency of accomplishing His work in the greatest and last dispensation of time.
If this sounds to you like replacement theology in this context, you are right. There are many more places in the Bible to verify this concept of the ‘People of Promise’ replacing the ‘people of the flesh’ in God’s time-and-history program, but we will only look at one more of them to keep this article from becoming too long. In Romans 10, the Apostle quotes from both Moses and Isaiah, or in other words the preeminent representative of the Law and the preeminent representative of the prophets. Here is what he says about it:
Rom 10:18 But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.
Rom 10:19 But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.
Rom 10:20 But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.
Rom 10:21 But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.
The point, as it bears on our subject of Replacement Theology, is that through Moses and Isaiah, God warned the Jews that He was going to wash His hands of them and replace them with other people, namely the Gentiles. This is an Old Testament metaphor for the Church, that body of the Children of Promise taken from among all nations. Is this replacement theology, or what would you call it? I am sure the Christian Zionists will call it something else because they have never yet let the words of Jesus and the Apostles get in the way of the carnal, self-righteous clinging to their perceived goodness in Adam’s children, and I doubt the will do so now. But if you are one who is looking for the truth in this matter, what does it sound like to you — these words of God through Moses and Isaiah?
The Supralapsarian Plan
And so, in the Infralapsarian plan of God as He reacted to time-and-history, God replaced Israel with the Church as His Kingdom people. In that theological context, Replacement Theology is biblical, it was good, and it was necessary. But there is another, Supralapsarian plan of God. It was not formed as a reaction to man’s actions in time-and-history. It was devised in the councils of God and attaches to the Sovereign Will of God, not only outside of time-and-history, but before time-and-history began. In that Supralapsarian plan, Christ was always the King of that eternal Kingdom, and the People of the Promise (the Spiritual Seed, the Church) were always the people of God. In fact, in that Supralapsarian plan, there never was a natural carnal seed, there was no nation of Israel, and there was no mortal and corrupted kingdom. I am going to prove that to you from the Scriptures in a moment, if you have eyes to see and ears to hear, but first I need to say a little bit about the Supralapsarian plan, the Infralapsarian plan, how they differed and how they worked out, both in eternity and time-and-history.
1. We will start with Supralapsarianism. What is Supralapsarianism, how do we understand it from the Scriptures, and how do the Scriptures say that it works? First of all, Supralapsarianism is a theological and not a Biblical term. But, like many theological terms, it is a title that represents a very large and sometimes very complex body of biblical doctrine. I will try to make it brief and simple. The word itself consists in two basic parts: supra, and then lapsarian. Supra means outside of, like superstructure. Lapsarian makes reference to the Lapse, or in other words, the Fall. In the strictest sense of the word, Supralapsarian means outside of or before the Fall. But in the practical theological sense, it means outside of and before time-and-history. The Supralapsarian plan of God was before the world was made and did not take into account any of the happenings of time-and-history. For example, the program of God from the beginning was for a family that was born to Him, out of His own inner being and of His sperm, as I Peter 1:23 puts it. The plan was devised and enacted before the world was made. In that Supralapsarian plan, Christ was slain in the councils of God before the world was made. Revelation 13:8 spells it out quite clearly: “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” The Fall was planned before the world was made and the redemption of man was provided for in those eternal councils. In order to get what He wanted, God had to lose us as created beings in order to bring us back as born children. We have gained more in Christ by far than we lost in Adam. The Fall was ordained by God in His sovereignty as a necessary part of the unfolding of the program of the redemption of the world though Jesus Christ, the Seed of the Woman. In that 8 verse, we have just read that the Church, the Elected Children of Promise, were written in the Book of Life before the world began.
2. Infralapsarian is also a two-part word. There is infra which means inside of or after, and lapsarian which means the Lapse or the Fall. This makes reference to the plan of God that unfolded in time-and-history, after the Fall and was prompted by God’s reaction to man’s actions. For instance, in time-and-history, God did not want Adam to fall. He warned him sternly against it at the pains of death, and punished him and banished him from the beautiful Garden because of it. Before time-and-history God ordained the Fall, but after the Fall in time-and-history, it was a grief of mind to God. In Genesis 6:5-8 we read: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”
In the Supralapsarian program, the Fall was planned and was an integral part of the program. But in the Infralapsarian program, God did not want it to happen and it was the dereliction of man that brought it about, a rebellion which brought down the whole human race. The question often gets asked, ‘Which one of those two theologies is the true one?’ The answer is that, to historic orthodox Christian doctrine, they are both correct. But that is not rationally reconcilable, is it? No, it is not and that underscores the greatest vice of not only Age of Reason Theology but of the theology of the creature. Truth is not a truth of reason; it is a truth of revelation. In the Garden, the serpent argued to Eve that God could not be right because what He was saying was not reasonable as man counts reason.
“You cannot give someone a Garden and then start telling them what they can and cannot do with it. If it is their Garden, they can do what they want. You cannot give someone a brilliant mind and then tell them that intellectual capacity cannot lead to life and can only lead to death. You cannot put someone in a glorious world of adventure and discovery and then tell them that truth is not discovered by experience.”
Eve bought into the lie, as many in religion are doing today, but the fact is that both Eve and the serpent were wrong and God was right. Truth does not originate in the mind of the creature because, as Jesus told the Jews in St. John 8:44, there is no truth in man. And truth cannot be censored and altered by the mind of the creature. Only God is Truth, and truth only comes from God. Furthermore, it only comes by revelation. “The day you decide you can pass rational, scientific, philosophical, experimental judgment of my truth,” God told Eve, “is the day you will die.” That was an objective judgment of God for the rebellion of the creature against the Creator and the attempt to establish autonomy from the Creator and His words. But it was more — far more. It was cause-and-effect. There is a way that seems right unto man but the ends thereof are the ways of Death. Only God is Truth, only God is Light, and only God is Life. (And, according to St. John 1, that Life, Light and Truth only comes from God and His Word.)
Long Ago, in Isaiah 55:8-9, God tried to get this point across to men: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” In this, God was not telling man that he had a long way to go in order to come to the point of knowing what God knows. He was telling them that there was a chasm between the Creator and the creature that could not be spanned by man. Job 9:10 says that the things God does are past finding out. In Romans 11:33-34, St. Paul logs on to this theme: “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?”
I Corinthians 2:9-16 tell us that the natural learning capacities of man — identified in that passage as the eyes, the ears and the mind — are impotent to contact the things of God and the truth of God. With natural man, if the eyes cannot see it, the ears cannot hear it and the mind cannot think it, then it does not exist. Ah, but there is another realm where God lives and those who have the mind of Christ can understand and know those things; but only by faith in what the Word of God reveals to them. Colossians 2:2-3 tell us that all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden from man in God and that those treasures are revealed to us by and through Christ and only by and through Christ. The Apostle goes on in verses 7-9 to say that we came to Christ by faith and we must continue with Him by faith. “Beware of philosophy or other forms of vain deceit, which are lies.” In I Timothy 6:20, the Apostle adds science to that list of false things that will drive you on the deadly reefs, insofar as far as your spiritual life is concerned. You are complete in Christ.
Well, the point here is that truth is what the Bible says it is; and not what reason, philosophy, science or experience would tell us that it is. And the Bible tells us that both the Supralapsarian plan outside of time-and-history and the Infralapsarian plan inside of time-and-history are real. No, the reality of time-and-history does not cancel out the before-time-and-history, Supralapsarian plan, but neither does Supralapsarianism rob time-and-history of its reality. How often can I say it and in how many ways? Time-and-history is real! It is real, do you hear me!
But there are a few things to keep in mind.