“Hi mamma, how’s it going?
I was attending a Christian conference and a debate was about to begin: “Showing unity, in spite of our diversity.” The first thing that came to mind, because I was a lifelong Southern Baptist, was the particulars of baptism. Perhaps, I thought, someone would defend the practice of infant baptism and “sprinkling”, and the other side would point out that, according to the original model, everyone was dunked, and potty-trained.
Baptism wasn’t the topic, however, and I didn’t know the proverbial rug was about to be pulled out from under me.
What I’d heard so far made my head swirl with questions, but nothing solidified into anything coherent. Keeping my voice low as I walked outside, I responded to my daughter:
“Hi honey, I’m attending a debate on Supersessionism, and they’re opening for questions soon. I want to ask you, from the perspective of the Tanakh and the Hebrew, if you could ask one question of a Christian theologian who supports “replacement theology”, what would you ask?”
As a Hebrew speaker/reader, and serious student of the Bible, she had clarity about the scriptures that most lack; we had great Bible studies as a result. I’d called because I wanted her to point me to scripture that would help clarify this issue–if God’s promises to Israel still stand–since I was fuzzy on what replacement theology actually was; I’d spent my time on other theological issues. She replied:
“Mom, I’d just ask him what he’s smokin’.”
Then I heard lots of giggling, her satisfaction at shocking me into silence as I pictured myself stepping up to the microphone and attempting to gain clarification with:
Excuse me sir, I understand that you believe “The Church” is “the new Israel” and replaces the Jews, but, uhh…by any chance, do you smoke crack?
She tossed me a few references before I hung up, but from her perspective there was no “debating” the issue, since God’s Word stands. If it happens to “violate” someone’s teaching, then so be it, God wins.
The one arguing against Supersessionism began. He was an older, gentle, classy man, a Christian minister, with a soft, Australian accent. He possessed traits I associate with Christian behavior: kind, respectful, humble, polite. He also had a good command of his notes and he had written a book to lay out his perspective further.
He went through a series of biblical proofs for his position: RT is a scourge that should be thoroughly rejected. He politely asserted that it had no place in Christian Theology because it went against all that God has said about His intention to choose Israel, bless Israel, re-gather Israel, and never completely turn away from Israel. He also emphasized the Apostle Paul’s teaching about Jews, in Romans chapters 9-11, which serves a death knell to the idea of anyone replacing them.
I could feel his great sadness that his beloved religion had created and embraced this errant teaching, and he lamented the great destruction to the Jewish people that had resulted from it.
“From Augustine to Auschwitz”, as the saying goes…
He left a favorable impression, and I assumed everyone felt the same way I did. His last point was an exhortation to see Jesus as he really was:
“When my savior walked this earth, he did so as a Jew. And when he returns to fulfill the Davidic prophecies, he’ll do so as a Jew.”
He said this with a soft tone and heavyhearted conviction and I heard an “amen” escape my lips before I realized it. And suddenly, I felt very aware of being all alone in the crowd. I found out later it wasn’t that I’d spoken up, but rather affirming his position that Jesus was, and remains, a Jew that caused the head jerks and stares.
“For God’s free gifts and his calling are irrevocable.” Romans 11:29
When the opponent finally took the stage I saw he was opposite in every detail: No book, no accent, no manners, no class.
He waved his hands on stage, complained about not having a book to sell, and berated the other speaker, even storming out on him at one point. Instead of supporting his positions with biblical texts, he gave us a handout of his own writings and opinions, which listed the names of theologians who agreed with him, and the Church Fathers who they showed fidelity to.
I began to side with the other fellow, if for no other reason than his kind demeanor; there was zero excuse for the behavior I witnessed from the opponent.
That should have told me all I needed to know, but alas, I was determined to hear both sides. However, I began to feel an undercurrent in the room.
At the end of the day I still didn’t know what RT was, however, I would be studying it at home. In the meantime, I remained determined to give the benefit of the doubt to “mister RT” since sincere passion can sometimes be mistaken for rudeness and arrogance.
“I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means!” -Rom 11:1
I’d already had a lovely conversation with the minister, so I decided to approach the other man on my way out.
“I’m trying to understand your perspective on Israel. Regarding God’s promises, and especially the covenants. Since He says it’s for “all time”, I’m not sure I understand how, or where, that gets cancelled.”
“Oh, you people are all the same.”
“Uhh… wait… What? I don’t know what you mean by “you people”, aren’t we all Christians here?
“You Messianics. You’re all the same.”
“I just told you I’m a Christian, and I’m trying to understand if “for all time” doesn’t mean forever, what does it mean? Especially since the Bible says a main function of Messiah is to re-gather the exiles–the Jewish people.”
“Yeah, well, I hear this all the time from you people, and I’m sick of it. That’s why I walked out on the first presentation…”
I kept a friendly tone, and rephrased my question a few times to help him “hear” what I was asking. He went on to belittle and talk past me. Well over 6ft tall, his loud voice, disrespectful demeanor, squared shoulders, and hands on his hips began to wear on me and I realized he wasn’t going to address my question, and that my tongue was about to become quite forked. I was on the edge of verbally taking him out, and I didn’t trust myself. He leaned in and continued:
“You know, you people ought to wake up. And, guess what? My assistant is a Jew, and even he knows that doesn’t mean bupkis. He doesn’t even agree with you people. It’s obvious God is finished with Israel. Unless they become Christians.”
I went home that day with some reading material–the minister’s book which chronicled the horrors of RT, historic Christian anti-Semitism, and anti-Judaism. And, eventually, I understood what RT was, both historically and modern-day, but it took so much study, and led to a lot of tears.
I went to this event with an open mind, because I didn’t know the issue and the history, but it was my last day of being blissfully unaware.
C. S. Lewis pointed out in That Hideous Strength:
“There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there’s never more than one.”
The “answer” I arrived at was that Replacement Theology is a cancer born of ignorance and arrogance, which was on full display for all to see that day.