by Rick Erb
We’ve all seen it – kids in action with one another. Some kids are passive, and some are aggressive. Some are polite, and some are obnoxious. Some want to share, and some want to grab up everything in sight. Even if it obviously belongs to one of the other kids. Even when the other kid’s name is plainly written on it. Even when the other kid’s dad is standing right there. Some bullies will try and grab it away, no matter what. So it is with many religious folks. Sadly, so it has been, for far too long, in the Messianic movement.
The Bible teaches us about G-d’s creation of all that is, and how that creation was corrupted long ago as sin entered in. It teaches us also of the future restoration of all things, as perfection is ultimately restored to the creation. Central to this story is Israel, and the specific promises which G-d made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to the descendants of Jacob, who would ultimately comprise the nation of Israel.
Israel, as we all know, was not blemish-free. G-d knew that as well. Even as He was speaking promises to and about the nation of Israel, He knew that the journey for Israel would not be a straight line to the promised restoration of all things. In fact, it wasn’t even a straight line to the Promised Land. Even so, He made very specific promises to and about Israel prior to its division into two separate houses. Then, as Israel separated into those two houses, the House of Judah and the House of Israel/Ephraim, He also spoke promises which were sometimes applicable to both of these separate groups of Israelites, and sometimes applicable to only one or the other. G-d gets to pick and choose like that; He’s G-d.
Along the pathway which leads to the restoration of all things there are some milestones – significant events which give us some sense for where we are in this process. G-d promised that we would be dispersed among all the nations. He promised us a Redeemer. He promised us an awakening. He promised us a regathering. The Northern Kingdom received some promises specific to its people, and the people of the Southern Kingdom received other promises which were specific to them. He also promised, one day, an end to the hostilities between the two houses of Israel.
The Northern Kingdom was dispersed before our Redeemer came, and the Southern Kingdom was dispersed after He left. And then, there was no longer a nation known as Israel. There were descendants of the people who had once comprised the nation of Israel, but there was no longer a nation; not a southern one, not a northern one, and certainly not a unified one – at least not in the natural sense of things. But, still, there were the promises of G-d, stated plainly and eternally in the volumes of the scrolls; permanently and irrevocably made to the descendants of Israel, and to those who would choose to be joined with them.
As news of the Redeemer’s arrival traveled beyond the boundaries of Israel, throughout the various civilizations and societies of that time, the details about what had actually transpired became blended with religious customs and traditions which were already familiar to those other cultures. As a result, another religious system grew out of the dominant culture of that time, based in Rome, and though this hybrid outwardly appeared to have some elements of the truth, it was largely a departure from the message which had actually been delivered to humanity through the Hebrew prophets and through the Redeemer Himself.
This hybrid system became a dominant religious and political system, blending some truth with the worship of various iterations of the sun god, and other mythical members of the pantheon of Greek and Roman gods. Among the manmade teachings which came from the hybrid was the notion that G-d was “finished with those Jews.” The hybrid also taught that the promises which were made centuries earlier to the people of Israel were no longer applicable to the literal physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Rather, according to the hybrid, those promises had been somehow “spiritualized” and were now the rightful property (so they claimed) of the adherents of the hybrid. According to many of the dominant “theologians” of that time, the promises no longer belonged to the people to whom they had actually been promised (Israel), but now belonged instead to the “theologians” and their faithful followers. So went the teaching of those “theologians,” more or less.
This notion is known generally as “replacement theology” or alternatively as “supersessionism.” There is apparently no singular or uniform definition for this doctrine, and its nuances and variations probably depend, to some degree, on the point which the religious proponent wishes to make. However, reduced to its most basic elements, replacement theology generally claims that the promises which G-d actually made to a specific group of people-the people of Israel, the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all of Israel-are no longer applicable to that group of people, and now belong to a different group of people due to apparent default.
In some ways, replacement theology may have been an outgrowth of religious inquiry which struggled to explain what was being seen in society, and to reconcile that with what had been promised in Scripture. And, what were people seeing back then? Well, the people of Israel were no longer organized into an identifiable social/political structure. The Temple and Jerusalem had once again been destroyed. For the most part, the Jews had been driven from the land which had been eternally promised to Israel, and that land was being taken over by others to whom it was never promised.
Based on what was being seen, at that time, it may well have appeared as though G-d was finished with Israel. Since promises had been made by G-d, and the nation to which they had been made seemed to have ceased to exist, theologians of that early period came up with a handy little self-serving theory to fill this apparent theological vacuum; they began promoting replacement theology, which became a rather widely accepted teaching throughout much of the Christian empire. However, “widely accepted” is not synonymous with “legitimate,” and legitimate this teaching most certainly was not.
At its core, replacement theology denies that G-d knows what He’s talking about, and operates on the ridiculous notion that G-d made a mistake when He made eternal promises to Israel. It also introduces the frightening (and thoroughly unbiblical) idea that the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob cannot be counted on to keep His promises. Good little Christian soldiers everywhere were taught to march to this new cadence, and march they did, as we have seen through the annals of history. Replacement theology has been the basis (religious excuse), over the course of many centuries, for torturing, pillaging, raping, and murdering countless numbers of our Jewish brothers and sisters. It is an evil doctrine, promoted by evil religious tyrants with evil intentions, and it has spawned evil results.
Fairly rough talk, to be sure, but it’s the truth. Since the mere mention of this philosophy arouses within many (Jewish, mostly, and for very good reason) a palpable sense of dread, polite and civilized folks really do need to be careful about indiscriminately playing that card and accusing others of holding to this dark philosophy. Nobody who is “not one” should be accused of “being one.” And yet, this sort of slanderous accusation has been the modus operandi of those who are intent upon sowing discord and division within the body of Messiah.
The Messianic Israel movement, also known by some as the Ephraimite movement, has been accused by others within the Messianic movement of promoting replacement theology. This accusation has been made repeatedly against virtually all members of this fairly diverse movement. Those who make that accusation, for the most part, have never made any attempt to meet with or get to know any of the individuals against whom they have hurled this epithet. In fact, not only have they made no attempt to do so, they have utterly rejected interaction when members of Ephraim have attempted to seek them out and try to work through these matters.
Perhaps the most widely publicized and circulated accusation of this sort is the 1994 position paper, entitled: “The Ephraimite Error.” It is still available for your reading pleasure on the official websites for the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC), the International Messianic Jewish Alliance (IMJA), and the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA). The only logical conclusion that flows from that fact is that these organizations still hold fast to the positions espoused in that writing. While it does not seem to be linked anywhere on the website of Tikkun Ministries International, rest assured that the leadership of that organization wholeheartedly embraces and promotes it as well.
Nice folks who are in leadership positions within the Ephraimite movement have repeatedly made attempts to discuss this issue with the leadership of the Messianic Jewish organizations, and those attempts have been either ignored or rejected by the leadership of these Messianic Jewish organizations. Even some well known Evangelical organizations, such as Promise Keepers, have been drawn into this sort of unthinking accusation and unbiblical conduct. Even though the false accusations and erroneous conclusions have been soundly refuted for many years now, these organizations and their leaders continue to promote the same false notions and the same hostility.
That sort of conduct ought to be setting off some alarms with people who genuinely walk with the L-rd. We are taught to test the spirits, and we are taught to evaluate things on the basis of the fruit which is evident in the lives of people who claim to be walking with the Master. And what fruit are we supposed to see? Well, we should see fruit in keeping with repentance. We should see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We should also see bond servants of Messiah loving one another, esteeming one another more highly than themselves, and walking in unity. Such fruit has been largely absent among the major Messianic Jewish organizations and many of their adherents when the subject of Ephraim pops up.
A little Bible history now, if you please. Promises were made to the Northern Kingdom which were not made to the Southern Kingdom. Similarly, promises were made to the Southern Kingdom which were not made to the Northern Kingdom. Neither group should be attempting to lay claim to a promise which was made to the other group. Some promises were made to the members of both kingdoms, all Israelites, and neither group should be attempting to deny the applicability of such promises to the other group.
G-d promised the whole House of Israel, all twelve tribes and all of their descendants, forever, that if they would simply live in obedience, they would be blessed, and He also promised that if they became disobedient, they would be cursed. Those promises were made to the whole House of Israel, all twelve tribes, long before Israel was divided into two separate kingdoms, and long before any part of Israel was referred to as “Jews.” Even after the division, those promises applied to the descendants of both kingdoms; they did not suddenly become the exclusive domain of only the descendants of the Southern Kingdom.
This attitude is not unlike another attitude taught by some of today’s Messianic Jewish teachers. According to some of them, the instructions set forth in Torah are “Jewish laws” and Gentiles should not be embracing them or living according to them. Let’s try being a little more precise about that; those are not “Jewish laws” – they are words which proceeded from the mouth of G-d, and we are all to live by them. True enough, they were spoken to Israel, all of Israel, the descendants of all twelve tribes, but they were entrusted to Israel for the reasons which G-d disclosed.
And why were those words of G-d entrusted to Israel? Was it because G-d was in an arbitrary mood one day and He decided to impose upon Israel a bunch of random and irrelevant rules just to show the rest of the world how ornery He could be? Did He call Israel out of Egypt, free them from slavery, lead them to Mount Sinai, and there speak to them of rules which had absolutely no personal application to the rest of mankind? Well, that’s not what Moses said:
See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today? Deuteronomy 4:5-8 NASB
It’s also not what Isaiah said:
Now it will come about that
In the last days,
The mountain of the house of the LORD
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways,
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion,
And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Isaiah 2:2-3 NASB
It’s also not what Micah said:
And it will come about in the last days
That the mountain of the house of the LORD
Will be established as the chief of the mountains.
It will be raised above the hills,
And the peoples will stream to it.
Many nations will come and say,
“Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD
And to the house of the God of Jacob,
That He may teach us about His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For from Zion will go forth the law,
Even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Micah 4:1-2 NASB
It’s also not what Yeshua said:
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:14-19 NASB
That most certainly does include our Jewish brothers and sisters, but it also includes those of us who make up the rest of the family. And, they weren’t given to Israel in order to burden Israel and prove to the rest of the world that G-d was random and oppressive. They were given to Israel so that Israel would walk them out, as a result experience a blessed society, and then the rest of the nations would see that result and believe and follow G-d as well. In fact, as we just saw in Isaiah and Micah, during the Messianic Age, the instructions which proceeded from the mouth of G-d are supposed to go forth from Jerusalem to all the world-finally.
We who identify with Ephraim have for quite a while now been accused by quite a few Jewish believers of being “replacement theology” in our understanding and teaching. Excuse me? Let’s evaluate the quality of that accusation. Just exactly who is it who’s laying exclusive claim to promises which were made to someone else? And who is it who is laying exclusive claim to the instructions which were given to all of Israel for the benefit of all mankind? We of Ephraim honor and respect the fact that G-d made certain promises to the Southern Kingdom, and we are not laying claim to those promises. On the other hand, as descendants of the Northern Kingdom, it is right-in fact it is good-for us to embrace the promises and instructions which were made to our ancestors, and we are not attempting to replace our Southern brothers and sisters in so doing. Furthermore, we are all entitled to embrace the promises and instructions which were made to the whole House of Israel. So who is it who is actually promoting a form of replacement theology?
Let’s evaluate the quality of the allegation from the perspective of the fruit which has been produced; let’s follow the evidence and see where it takes us. What is the evil fruit which actual, genuine, unabashed replacement theology has previously borne in society? Well, as a result of replacement theology (the real stuff), Christians from Europe went on crusades to the Holy Land during the middle ages, murdering Jews and pillaging along the way. As a result of replacement theology, the Spanish Inquisition was characterized by Jews being tortured, murdered, and forcibly “converted” to Christianity; their children were stolen, and they were driven from their homeland. The pogroms of Russia were attributable, at least in some regard, to replacement theology, and the hostility which had been institutionalized in Christianity for centuries leading up to the pogroms. Arguably, replacement theology also laid the foundation for the anti-Semitism of the Nazis, and ultimately the Holocaust.
How much of that sort of conduct have we seen in the mainline Messianic Israel movement? None. Instead, we largely see people coming from Christian backgrounds, leaving behind the traditions and attitudes of the hybrid, and embracing and loving the Jewish people and the instructions which proceeded from the mouth of G-d. Rather than hostility toward Jews, which has historically been an integral part of replacement theology, we see the exact opposite; we see people who are not Jewish wanting to walk in unity and love with their Jewish brothers and sisters. Many of our Jewish brothers and sisters have reciprocated, however the formalized leadership of the major Messianic Jewish organizations have done just the opposite. Rather than seeking fellowship and unity, as the Bible clearly teaches us to do as bond servants of Messiah, they have been hostile, they have promoted false accusations, they have taught non-Jews to continue in the ways of the hybrid instead of embracing obedience, and they have threatened other Jews with retaliation and excommunication if they do not engage in the same hostility. Brothers and Sisters, this ought not to be.
“That’s mine. That’s mine too.” Such an attitude is the very essence of replacement theology, it is unacceptable behavior, and it has sadly been the official policy of the leadership of the major organizations of the Messianic Jewish movement. It is time-no, it is past time-for this false accusation against Ephraim to be put to rest. “Replacement theology” is a shoe that simply does not fit Ephraim. Our Father is pleased that the prodigal son has come home. It would please Him even more if His other son would now join in celebrating the prodigal’s return instead of treating him like some stranger to the promises.
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