Yesterday I was amidst a group of friends when the discussion of Dispensationalism and Covenantalism came up. One person asked what the difference was between the two and someone piped up, “Covenantal Theology teaches that the Church has replaced Israel”. Now if you hold to a Dispensational reading of the scriptures you probably just thought something to the effect of, “yah, so what’s the big deal? That is what Covenantal Theology teaches.” But if you hold to a Covenantal reading of the scriptures you probably just cringed at the statement as I did.
Covenantal Theology does not teach that the Church has replaced Israel.
Of course I set about to correct this misunderstanding, but afterwards I got to thinking, why is it that people who hold to a Dispensational worldview of the scriptures always claim that Covenantal Theology is Replacement Theology? To me this is a problem, especially since no educated Covenantalist would make that claim.
As I pondered this question I may have discovered the answer. Dispensationalists approach the scriptures on the premise that there are two separate and distinct groups of people of God. There is “Israel” which is usually defined as national ethnic Israel, and then there is “the Church”. So, beginning on the assumption that this is the correct way to read the scriptures, they then look at Covenantal Theology which teaches that the nation of Israel has no dominant purpose in the plan of God anymore and conclude that Covenantal Theists must teach and believe that the Church has categorically replaced Israel.
So the problem is that Dispensationalists are interpreting Covenantal Theology on Dispensational terms. But if a Dispensationalist would approach Covenantal Theology honestly and on its own terms, they would see that Covenantal Theology does not teach that the Church has categorically replaced Israel! This is because contrary to Dispensationalism, Covenantal Theology begins with the premise that there has only ever been ONE, not two, people of God. If there has only ever been one and not two people of God, then it cannot be said that the Church has replaced Israel.
Now, as I began to ponder this more, it has occurred to me that if – out of the two, Dispensationalism and Covenantalism – one of these views seems to align itself closer to Replacement Theology, it seems to me that Dispensationalism would be the likely culprit.
Please note that I am not saying Dispensationalism teaches Replace Theology; I grew up Dispensational (knowing nothing else) and can state with confidence that this system does not teach that. What I am saying is that, of the two, it is ironic that Dispensationalist make the claim the Covenant Theology teaches Replacement Theology when Dispensationalism is in fact closer to that belief.
The reason I say this is because like Replacement Theology (and unlike Covenantal Theology) Dispensationalism teaches that there have been two separate and distinct groups of people of God: Israel and the Church. And like Replacement Theology (but unlike Covenantal Theology) Dispensationalism teaches that God turned away from dealing with Israel in order to deal with “the Church”. The difference between Replacement Theology and Dispensational Theology – it seems to me – is that Dispensationalism teaches that God will turn his attention back to Israel just before (or after, or during – depending on which Dispensational view you have) Christ’ second coming. But – like Replacement Theology and totally unlike Covenantal Theology – it seems clear that Dispensationalism teaches that the Church has, at least in the meantime – categorically replaced Israel.
So to conclude this thought: Covenantal Theology does not teach that the Church has categorically replaced Israel, but – ironcially – Dispensationalism teaches something very close to that. Dispensationalist like John Hagee and John MacArthur will continue to propagate these errors and will continue to fail to understand Covenantal Theology as long as they continue to interpret Covenantal Theology on the terms of their Dispensational system.