Looking Deeper into the Problems with Covenant Theology
12. CT is implicitly supercessionist in its eschatology.
This final problem with Covenant Theology is vehemently denied by more and more who adopt its ideas. They will feel aggrieved by the accusation that CT teaches replacement theology. That is, CT’s today will object strongly when they are characterized as teaching that the Church has taken over the covenant blessings God gave to the nation of Israel. According to Sam Storms,
“Replacement theology would assert that God has uprooted and eternally cast aside the olive tree which is Israel and has planted, in its place, an entirely new one, the Church. All the promises given to the former have been transferred to the latter.” – Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, 195.
And here is Greg Beale:
“The notion of Christians being part of God’s Israelite family is expressed well in Galatians…Paul views Christ to be the summation of the true Israel and understands all, whether Jew or gentile, whom Jesus represents to be true Israel… The identification in Gal. 3:29 that both believing “Jew and Greek” (3:28) are “Abraham’s seed” is, then, a reference to them as the continuation of true Israel.” – G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 671.
On some level this is understandable. Many CT’s today will say that the Church is Israel; the “new Israel” or “true Israel.” Also, many will point out, quite rightly from their perspective, that since the elect of God in all ages is the Church then saved Israelites are in the Church. This means that if the Church equates to saved Israel then Israel is the Church and vice versa. The problem enters because this way of reading the Bible contradicts the oath-sworn covenants of the Bible. Simply saying that since the Church is and always has been Israel (and Israel always has been the Church?) does not get CT off the hook. If the OT does not speak about Israel in terms that match the doctrine of the Church then huge doubt is thrown upon CT’s way of handling the OT. And if the NT says things about Israel that cannot comport with what it says about the Church then the difficulty cannot be overcome.
Then there is this passage:
Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. – Matthew 21:43.
Covenant theologians have habitually interpreted the “you” from whom the kingdom is taken away as Israel, and have claimed that the “nation” bearing good fruits is the Church. Of this verse Beale gives this interpretation:
“Israel’s stewardship of God’s kingdom will be taken from it, and the gentiles will be given the stewardship.” – Ibid, 681.
“Thus, the transferral (sic) of kingdom stewardship also includes transferral (sic) of stewardship of the new temple, centered not in an architectural sphere anymore but now Jesus and all who identify with him. Matthew 21:41, 43 say that this new form of the kingdom (and by implication of the temple) will be the gentiles, though we know that a remnant of ethnic Jewish believers will also identify with Jesus and join with the gentiles as the new form of the kingdom and temple, which is the church.” – Ibid, 681.
The chapter that this is taken from is called “The Church as the Transformed and Restored Eschatological Israel.” What one sees here is not that the Church is and always has been Israel so that one cannot replace the other. Rather, Beale straight-on says that the kingdom is transferred from Israel and given to the Gentiles. That is precisely what Storms calls “replacement theology” in the first quotation given above!
Speaking anecdotally, I have many times listened to CT friends tell me that the Church has replaced Israel, especially in my homeland in the United Kingdom. But there is no doubt that many CT’s have gone far further than simply claiming that the Church is just an expansion of Israel and therefore the covenant promises God gave to Israel are rightly theirs. For example,
“The community of believers has in all respects replaced carnal, national Israel.” – Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 4.667
“The Jewish nation no longer has a place as the special people of God; that place has been taken by the Christian community which fulfills God’s purpose for Israel.” – Bruce Waltke, “Kingdom Promises as Spiritual,” in Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Testaments, ed., John S. Feinberg 275.
The hermeneutical assumptions of Covenant Theology require these kinds of statements. At the best of times, CT’s may tread carefully enough to avoid the charge of supercessionism, but oftentimes they really do teach replacement theology.