The (Not So) Great Debate

Text greenI heard my daughter’s sweet voice as she answered her cellphone:

“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.

text pinkSince I lacked her clarity on RT, I decided to focus on other cues, like the support each man gave for their perspective, their attitudes, and demeanor.

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

text blueI still didn’t have an opinion on the topic, so I was eager to hear the opposing view.

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.” 

text yellowI’m pretty sure daggers were shooting out of my eyes by this time, and I could feel fire rising in my chest, so I ended the interaction quickly.

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.

14 thoughts on “The (Not So) Great Debate

  1. It is extremely sad that there are still Christians in the world who think like he does. He’s going to be awfully surprised when his King returns as a Jew and reinstitutes Torah and the Temple sacrifices in Jerusalem.

    • I don’t so much fault him for his views, since a lot of what we think we’re “right” about hasn’t all played out yet, so at this time they’re opinions and theories. However, I do think his position reveals a heart problem, and I can tell you his behavior is shockingly inappropriate.

      As I was leaving the conference a group of people who had seen the way he treated me and saw how rattled I was, came up to me at my car. They were his followers and tried to get me to see things their way. One guy told me that is how the speaker always treats people who ask those questions. And, that’s why they like him so much and like attending his speaking engagements, because he shreds his opponents!

      They went on to explain some “theologies” they held, and that I’d never been exposed to (nothing to do with RT) and I realized I was in crazy-town.

      • It wasn’t so much what he said, since a good many Christians hold those beliefs, many without even knowing why. It’s how he treated you that tells me he has a long way to go to reconcile himself before the Master.

        • I agree James. And like Annie commented, it seems to be a trend. Those who hold his views are typically quite arrogant and it’s difficult to identify anything approaching “compassion” within them, regarding the Jewish people.

          On the other hand, some of us learn of it and become broken. I was curled up in a ball for what seems like weeks after I finally learned.

  2. Wow! It’s sad to say though that this is the “accepted” stance of so many churches and believers. There are some groups / denominations that are so rooted in RT, yet their members have never heard of the phrase and have no idea what it is when you start to point out Scripture (which is so blatant!) that says the God would never be “done” with the Jews. They just stick to their “talking points” and refuse to listen to anything that doesn’t come from theologians or leaders from the past.

    The differences between the 2 speakers seems to be right in line with what I’ve seen from people on both sides of the issue….

    • Thanks for your comment Annie.

      I was naive going into this “debate”, however, I too have seen varying degrees of these same two positions play out over and over again. One side rude and obnoxious, and the other side broken and remorseful.

      To be fair, RT is mostly treated as if it doesn’t exist, so most Christians don’t know what it is. If you tell them about it, they think you’re exaggerating or crazy because they’ve never heard of such a thing. That’s why it was so hard for me to understand too, I never heard my pastor speak of it.

      Some Christian streams do know what it is and hold to it tightly, yet they deny it exists.

  3. Well, perhaps it is not Augustine to Auschwitz, but goes back further to Marcion, Justin Martyr, Origen, Chrysostom, etc. Whether the speaker comes across as nice or nasty is mostly irrelevant, as you can find golden-mouthed nice guys spouting poison. But the choice of words is interesting (shades of Hobby Lobby.) “We don’t cater to you people.” I am planning to write an article about this when I get around to it. I called HL Corporate to ask if they had any Jewish employees at their corporate office. That was one question the media never thought to ask. I got routed to a voice mail where the male voice did not identify himself nor his title. So, I left a message, and received a reply from an Oklahoma PR firm, who Hobby Lobby had obviously hired to make this mess go away, and I assume where all the “Jew calls,” were re-routed. She asked me to call back and leave my email, and they would send me information. I left two messages, saying I would be happy to see the material, but didn’t think it would be that useful to see information that had already been released to the media. I wanted an answer to my question, and I didn’t get one. I also sent an email to an Oklahoma City based Messianic Congregation asking if any other their members worked for HL or knew someone who did, and did they have the answer to my question? I didn’t receive a reply. While I can’t prove it at this point, I suspect HL, as a result of their “Christian values,” does not employ any Jewish persons at corporate level, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they have no Jewish employees period. This might be helpful: ll check this link out, I’m not familiar with it

  4. …and like so many things we don’t talk about because they are “obvious” RT is powerful because it isn’t questioned. After all, we all “know” the Jews killed Jesus, so why would God still love them?????

  5. I wonder if Pope John Paul II reversed replacement theology with his statement left as a prayer in the Western Wall, or is this just pleasant rhetoric, as according to Catholics, a Pope must speak ex cathedra for his words to be considered inerrant. I am aware that Abraham Joshua Heschel played an influential role in Vatican II, through his relationship with John Paul. Here is the statement:
    “God of our fathers,
    You chose Abraham and his descendants
    to bring Your name to the Nations:
    we are deeply saddened
    by the behaviour of those
    who in the course of history
    have caused these children of Yours to suffer,
    and asking Your forgiveness
    we wish to commit ourselves
    to genuine brotherhood
    with the people of the Covenant.”

    Jerusalem, March 26, 2000
    Signed: John Paul II

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this. I could feel my blood percolating as I read some of it. If God never changes (and this He says repeatedly along with the word “forever”) then the “church” fathers certainly ought to watch what they change, even in interpretation. I always have to take a very deep breath after those types of encounters. Selah. :)

  7. @write12013

    Yes, this has been the popular thought process. The God who we assert is full of grace, abounding in mercy, unchanging, long suffering, entirely truthful, and able to forgive us Christians of everything we do, somehow reached His limit with Jews. And everything written the the legal decrees of the Torah, aren’t valid anymore as a result.

    @Chaya: I really like the Pope’s sentiment and think its goes a long way regarding healthier thinking. However, how he gets the “God of our Fathers” is beyond me, and still problematic, as we Christians are worshiping the God of THEIR [Jews] fathers.

    @Hope: Great points. And “percolating” is just what my blood was doing, even while I was quite ignorant about this matter. :-)

  8. It seems unclear. Is he saying the Jewish people are the spiritual fathers of Catholics? He calls the Jewish people, “children of yours,” “brothers,” and, “people of the covenant.” That is significant. But the Vatican didn’t recognize Israel until 1993.

  9. Good work Ruth. This RT is another thing to be sad about, and also not to be engaged in fruitless debates. One thing only is to speak out against it, everywhere. This will be must difficult task. RT is cancer sure, spread in all places and forms of Christianity. Speaking out is not even remedy but our responsibility. I lost many friends over this issue, but yet what of it if Im a Jew and I have what I have. What I see in the future is those replacement multitudes standing before the Throne of Glory and hearing something of different kind that they have being replaced themselves, and now there is no hope for them at all. In all what remain for us is to rise our voice.

    • Hi Eli,

      I may be misunderstanding you, but I think many sincere Christians hold to RT because they don’t know any better, as another poster said, it’s “normative.” Although I do believe they’ll be surprised and quite remorseful, I don’t believe they will necessarily be “replaced” meaning blocked from God’s mercy if they’re repentant. I am not speaking for God, you understand, I’m just saying it is a problem created long before any of us were alive.

      Thanks for commenting.

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