“The Church is the New Israel”: Ideas Have Consequences

Professor Diane Leclerc of Northwest Nazarene University has a piece up on the Christianity Today website called “The Good News About Bad Churches”. In it, she asks, “How, then, do we explain the seeming contradiction between what we believe about the church and what we experience in the church? Is it wishful thinking to proclaim the church holy? Are pain and heartache just inevitable?”

She goes on to express the tension that exists between that grateful, forgiven kingdom behavior that should reflect who we are in Christ and the ways in which our reality falls short. We are flawed, imperfect human beings with a seemingly-unlimited capacity to do damage to one another. This business of living in the now-but-not-yet means that the potential for all sorts of sin is attracted to and amplified among the “not yet” sort of sheep we currently are. I appreciated Leclerc’s reminder that the prod of the “now” comes as we recognize the sin-sickness of our own idolatry and reach as individuals in our broken state for the cure of devotion to God. As we do, a bad church can become a better version of itself. I didn’t disagree with most of what she expressed, though I perhaps would have liked to have seen a bit of application of these ideas toward the corporate “we” personality of the church, instead of just the individual me’s that comprise a local congregation. That said, 99% of the piece was solid writing.

But I found 1% of the essay extremely troubling. The single sentence was almost an aside, Leclerc’s summary statement following a quote about the nature of holiness from Wesleyan theologian David Thompson:

“The church is the new Israel.”

She wrote it as if this is a a foregone conclusion.

It is not a foregone conclusion.

Not all Christians think this way. Not everyone who is serious about Scripture sees this issue as she does, not by a long shot. Supercessionism, which is the official name for this kind of talk, has been used to unleash all kinds of hellish damage on the Jewish people over the last two millennia. There are some good theologians and practioners who’ve done the hard work of dismantling this toxic, arrogant view of the church. (Contact me if you’d like a few reading suggestions on the subject.)

For those who may not have time or inclination to dig deeply into works of theology on this subject, I’d like to suggest a few questions for you to contemplate the next time you hear someone express this thought as if it has been inscribed on a tablet of stone:

  • What do these words tell you about the character of God? 
  • What do these words express about the relationship between the way in which God worked in and through his people in the Old Testament in mission and the way in which the Jewish Jesus spoke in terms of his ministry of fulfillment, not abolishment,of this mission? 
  • What do these words tell you about the trustworthiness of the promises God made to his people?
  • What have the consequences been to the Jewish people as a result of the ideas behind these words? What kind of spiritual fruit have they birthed in the life of the church? 

For those of you reading this who are troubled by supercessionist ideas, what questions would you add to this list? For those of you who disagree with me on this issue, what questions would you ask me to defend your point of view in response?

 

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