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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Is the church spiritual Israel

From the beginning, the church has had to contend with those who would shackle it with Jewish ideas about diets and days and all of the other rules and regulations that made up the Jewish religion. If it wasn’t someone wanting to impose circumcision, it was someone wanting to force the Sabbath on the church. The Law had become an intolerable burden to the Jews, a fact that made it all the more senseless for Jewish Christians to try to force it on a church comprised mostly of Gentiles (Acts 15:6–12).

Much confusion has arisen in the church from the failure to distinguish between the Mosaic Law as a standard and the Mosaic Law as a system. As a standard, the Law proclaims binding and deathless rules of conduct (Rom. 13:8–10), although even at that, all can be summed up in the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself. As a system, the Law represents and upholds a vast system of God-ordained religion distorted by the rabbis and their traditions. This system, which we meet constantly in the four gospels and the book of Acts, was abolished at Calvary. Then, on the Day of Pentecost, Judaism itself was replaced by the church.

At the end of the first century, Judaizers and their Gentile proselytes were still trying to pour the church into the narrow Jewish mold. Thus, we read in the letter to Smyrna of “them which say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9).

Historically, the Roman church has always been infatuated by the rules and rituals of mere religion, some Jewish in character, others of her own invention, and many of them completely pagan. Moreover, the papacy has always confused the church with the kingdom. It has always failed, too, to distinguish between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. As a result, over the centuries it has arrogated secular power to itself and has sought to subjugate the nations of the earth by diplomacy and force.

The Reformers, as great as were some of the changes they wrought, never did throw off some of Rome’s inventions. Martin Luther, for instance, was infatuated by the Mass. The state churches that took the place of Roman churches retained such errors as infant baptism, a priestly cast, prayers to the Virgin Mary, the burning of candles, and the like. These Romish errors have frequently wormed their way into Protestant religion. To this day, countless Christians still imagine that the church is “spiritual Israel,” that it, the church, is now heir to all of God’s Old Testament promises to His earthly people and that it, the church, has permanently replaced the nation of Israel in the plans and purposes of God. To maintain this position, covenant theologians are forced to spiritualize much of the Old Testament. They have to explain away many clear distinctions between the nation of Israel and its destiny as an earthly people and the church and its members as God’s heavenly people. In the process of “Christianizing” Judaism, many churches have espoused infant baptism and denied the truth concerning the Lord’s coming millennial kingdom.

John Phillips, Exploring Colossians & Philemon: An Expository Commentary, The John Phillips Commentary Series (Kregel Publications; WORDsearch Corp., 2009), Col 2:16–17.

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