Replacement of Concepts?
In the book The Meaning of the Millennium (ed. Robert G. Clouse), the well known postmillennial scholar Loraine Boettner said,
The land of Palestine…was given to Abraham and his seed “for an everlasting possession” (Gen. 17:8). But the same thing is said of the perpetual duration of the priesthood of Aaron (Ex. 40:15), the Passover (Ex. 12:14), the Sabbath (Ex. 31:17) and David’s throne (2 Sam. 7:13, 16, 24). But in the light of the New Testament all of those things have passed away. – 98
It stands to reason that if Israel’s promises have passed away, they have to be replaced by something else. But according to many Presbyterian covenant theologians the church has always existed, so they object to being called supercessionists. R.C. Sproul, Jr is a representative voice when he says,
The Reformed perspective takes a different tack. It affirms that that Israel which is actually Israel, just as with the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, applies to those who are in Christ, who trust in His finished work. Though we deny the moniker, this is what our dispensational friends call “replacement theology.” The Reformed, however, see this is as the outworking of the truth of Galatians 3:7- “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” We who are Reformed do not believe God replaced Israel with the church. We believe instead that there has always been only one people of God, those who believe. – R.C. Sproul, Jr. http://rcsprouljunior.blogspot.com/2012/01/ask-rc-is-it-true-that-god-blesses.html
An older work by W. J. Grier makes this abundantly clear:
Let us here insist that there was a Church in Old Testament times; and that the Old Testament and New Testament believers form one Church – the same olive tree (Romans 11). – The Momentous Event, 33
Seeing that this is the position of at least some covenant theologians, is it fair to label them as replacement theologians? Well, not in the sense that they believe the church has replaced Israel in toto, (although not a few of these men do slip into that kind of rhetoric on occasion). But I would argue that an identifiable form of supercession is still going on.
Grier’s opinion that “Israel” equals believers stripped of the accoutrements of a designated land, with cities, a temple, priesthood and a king looks overly simplistic. These key OT themes are swept aside with a wave of the hand.
Consider this statement from Edmund Clowney:
The greatest promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled in the church – we are the temple of the living God. – Edmund P. Clowney, “The Final Temple”, in Prophecy in the Making, ed., Carl F. H. Henry, 84
And again this by Steve Motyer:
[Paul] consistently applies to the church – that is, the mixed Jewish and Gentile congregations to whom he writes – the great covenant ideas and terms which had previously belonged to Israel. They are the elect (1 Thess. 1:4-5), the people called to holiness (1 Cor. 1:2), the justified who are objects of God’s saving righteousness (1 Cor. 6:11; Rom. 3:22-24), the redeemed (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7), who inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10; Col. 1:12). They are the children of God (Rom. 8:14; cf. Exod. 4:22), on whom the glory of God rests (Rom. 5:2; 8:30), who offer pleasing worship (Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 5:1-2), and who can rightly appeal to the covenant faithfulness of God (Rom. 8:31-39). In all likelihood, when Paul calls God’s peace and mercy upon ‘the Israel of God’ in Galatians 6:16, he is referring to the church. – S. Motyer, “Israel (nation)”, in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed., T. Desmond Alexander, et al., 585-586.
Clowney takes all the best promises to Israel in the Bible and gives them (though in a greatly altered condition) to the church. Motyer, like so many who take this line, thinks that God’s speaking about the church in similar terms to the way He speaks about Israel is decisive in equating the two. In the Boettner quote we can see that the “perpetual duration” of the OT promises to Israel of land, king, priesthood etc., are not, in fact, perpetual; at least not in the way they would have been understood in OT times. The notion of perpetuity changes, as do the ideas of land, king, priesthood, temple, Jerusalem, and other associated matters. (more…)