The Israelification of the Church:
False Traditions We Cling To
by Gerald R. Thompson*
Of all the issues which divide Christians worldwide, one that provokes some of the strongest disagreements has to do with the relationship between Israel and the Church. Has the Church absorbed (or subsumed) Israel? Do they remain separate physically, but the Church has taken Israel’s place for spiritual purposes? Or are they completely separate and distinct? How you come down on this issue has enormous religious, political and worldview consequences that affect your life in multiple ways.
The same is true for your preacher. Things you have been taught all your life – whether you have been told in so many words or not – are direct logical consequences of the position that person takes on the Church vs. Israel question. Even if your pastor, priest or minister has never directly talked to you about the relationship between Israel and the Church, the things they have taught you have reflected their underlying beliefs. Allow me to shed a little light on this matter.
Consider this text from Jeremiah, for example.
The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: “Have you not observed that these people are saying, The LORD has rejected the two clans that he chose’? Thus they have despised my people so that they are no longer a nation in their sight. Thus says the LORD: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth, then I will reject the offspring of Jacob and David my servant and will not choose one of his offspring to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them.” (Jer. 33:23-26).
Here’s what these verses say, if taken literally. God starts out asking Jeremiah whether he has noticed that some people say God has rejected Israel (the two clans that he chose). This is exactly the problem I am examining here – specifically, whether the blessings God promised to Israel in the future have somehow been transferred to the Church – which is a rejection of Israel as a beneficiary of God’s promises. God then says that the people who say He has rejected Israel have despised my people. In other words, not a good thing.
The result, as God sees it, is that Israel is no longer a nation in their sight (i.e., to the people who think God has rejected Israel). Certainly, to those who believe Israel has merged into the Church, or the Church has subsumed Israel, Israel is no longer a nation of any biblical or spiritual significance in their sight. The result is the same for Christians who believe the blessings promised to Israel have been transferred to the Church. In that case, even if Israel exists physically, it is no longer significant to God spiritually or prophetically – strongly implying that Israel as a nation has been diminished in God’s sight. To which God says, those who believe this have despised the Jews (and are wrong).
Now Jeremiah lived around 600 B.C., or 2,600 years ago. So this is not a new problem. But what is new is that these days, people who take this position do so supposedly on the basis of New Testament scriptures, which the people in Jeremiah’s time didn’t have. But I say, if God’s promises to physically restore biological Israel are to only be fulfilled spiritually for Christians, then God is a liar. What – did God not foresee that His plans would change? Was God misleading the Jews? I assure you, in spite of how Christians read those promises, the Jews have never understood those promises to mean anything other than what they literally say.
But then God lays this on Jeremiah: only if I have not forever established day and night, and the fixed order of heaven and earth, will I reject Israel. This is, of course, a rhetorical question. There can be no doubt that God has forever established day and night, and the fixed order of heaven and earth. The creation – the universe – is the same now as it has always been. Therefore, God will never reject the offspring of Jacob (i.e., Israel), and the heir of David (Christ) will always be available to rule over the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Not rule over the world, but rule over Israel.
In other words, God told Jeremiah that as long as the present universe exists, the physical, biological offspring of Jacob will not ever be rejected, and they are the ones whose fortunes will be restored. The First Advent of Jesus changed nothing. The destruction of Jerusalem changed nothing. The Reformation changed nothing. Only if the physical creation is changed, will God’s promises to biological Israel change. Not for any other reason. (If only God knew how to use the right words, to say (you know) what He really meant. Sigh.)
The New Testament agrees. “As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Rom. 11:28-29). Now, the calling of God mentioned here specifically refers to the calling of Israel, as a biological nation. And the election referred to here is being chosen by God to be His special people. Do I really have to explain what the word irrevocable means?
All this would be perfectly obvious, except most Christian clergy believe it only allegorically (non-literally). To them, Israel means Church, and offspring means spiritual believers, not physical descendants. Why do they believe this? Partially, it’s from a confusion of the divine covenants, and partially, it’s because it is so wonderfully self-serving. We’ll look at both of these, in turn.
Confusion of Divine Covenants
The various divine covenants between God and people in the scriptures are not that hard to understand, taken at face value (literally). All of the O.T. covenants (Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic) apply to the people who first agreed to them and their biological descendants. Thus, the Adamic covenant (Dominion Mandate) applies to all the descendants of Adam and Eve, which is everyone ever born. The Noahic covenant applies to all the descendants of Noah, which is everyone born since the flood.
The Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants apply to all the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that is, the Jews (Israel). The Davidic covenant applies to the male descendants of David, concluding in Jesus. None of these particular covenants ever did, and do not now, apply to Gentiles or to the Church. God never said that the Jews stand as representatives for all the people of the world.
The Church covenant is unlike all of these. It only applies to those who believe in each generation, and does not apply to biological descendants at all. That’s what makes the Church fundamentally different from Israel, and why the Church covenant cannot be mixed with any of the O.T. covenants. Faith (or belief) and ancestry cannot be mixed.
Further, all of these divine covenants are eternal, meaning that none of them have ended, in whole or in part. Thus, the Dominion Mandate did not end, in whole or in part, when mankind fell into sin. What happened was that fulfilling the Mandate became more difficult, but its terms remained unchanged. The Noahic covenant regarding the eating of meat, capital punishment and the promise of the rainbow, are all still in full force and effect.
God’s covenants with Israel regarding circumcision, the promised land, the chosenness of the people, and all the requirements of the Mosaic law have not gone anywhere, or become less binding on the Jews. Neither the death or resurrection of Christ, nor the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., had any effect on the Mosaic law. Granted, with the destruction of the Jewish temple and dispersion of the Jews from the land, keeping the Mosaic laws became more difficult, and offering sacrifices in the temple became impossible for a time. But these things will resume when the temple is rebuilt.
The Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants were all enacted by God speaking the words, “this shall be my covenant with you,” or words to that effect. Which means that in order for any of these covenants to be modified, terminated or abolished, in whole or in part, God has to say so in so many words. Mere circumstances (the destruction of Jerusalem, or the death and resurrection of Christ) do not modify a verbal covenant. It takes words to modify a covenant of words. And God has never spoken words saying that any of His divine covenants have changed. Which means that they haven’t changed. The Church covenant did not terminate the Mosaic covenant just because it came along later. No one annuls a covenant ratified by God, not even God. (Gal. 3:15, 17).
Which also means that until God verbally says the Mosaic covenant applies to Gentiles or the Church, it does not. Reconstructionism (the belief that the Mosaic civil laws apply in substantial part to Gentiles or the Church) is a lie. The teaching that the ceremonial laws of the Mosaic covenant have been terminated by Christ is a lie. The popular Calvinist or Reformed belief that any of the ancestry-based divine covenants of the O.T. have merged into, been absorbed or subsumed by, or have culminated in, the faith-based Church covenant is a lie. The common Dispensational belief that some of the O.T. covenants have ended is a lie. It’s not that complicated.
What would lead Christians to think about Israel and the Church in ways which completely contradict a literal reading of the scriptures? Unfortunately, there is no shortage of bad reasons.
Anti-Semitism. The sad fact is many so-called church fathers were deeply antisemitic from very early on, even as early as the 2nd century A.D. Some condemned the Jews for rejecting Jesus as the Messiah and/or as “Christ killers.” Others viewed the God of the Old Testament as an inferior deity compared to the God of the New Testament, and the O.T. scriptures as a partial, and flawed, divine revelation compared to the N.T. Many interpreted Paul’s reference to the partial hardening of Israel (Rom. 11:25) to be an implicit condemnation of all Jews for all time. As a result, the Jews endured many persecutions and national expulsions over the years, often at the hands of Christians and with church approval. Such sentiments were even continued by Martin Luther, who wrote the hateful book, On the Jews and Their Lies in 1543.
I am amazed that anyone could read Romans 11 (the root and the graft) in its entirety and miss the very clear fact that God has not rejected Israel as a nation or the Jewish people, and there will come a time when He will restore them spiritually, not just physically. Rom. 11:22 even makes it clear that the Gentiles are no more secure in their participation in the “olive tree of God” than the Jews, or perhaps I should say Israel is no less secure than the Church. “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen [Israel], but God’s kindness to you [Christians], provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.”
The Jews in Jesus’ time were plagued with a “holier than thou” mentality, since they had been told for 1,500 years they were God’s chosen people. They pinned their righteousness on being the children of Abraham, but Jesus said they were of their father the Devil. (Jn. 8:44). Then the Church comes along, and because it is based on faith, not ancestry, many Christians have developed the same attitude – that Christians are holier than the Jews. However, the scripture plainly says that faith is not something anyone can boast about (Eph. 2:9). Further, “do not be arrogant toward the branches [Israel]. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you [the Church].” (Rom. 11:18). Thus, there is no excuse for antisemitism in the Church.
Does that mean all people who have Israelified’ the church are antisemitic? No, of course not. Many have simply followed their teachers, who followed their teachers, without questioning whether their teachers were right. However, I say Shame! to all those students who never questioned their teachers, or their teachers’ teachers.
Lack of Faith. Let us be frank with each other, and not give in to wishful thinking. The early church fathers, and the reformers, were all just ordinary people, every one of them. They were not super-spiritual, super wise and discerning, or super faithful. They were merely born at an earlier time, when it was easier to make an impact on future generations. None of which made them more knowledgeable or prescient about the future.
Admittedly, from A.D. 70 until 1948, the nation of Israel was a non-entity. The Jews were scattered around the world, and their culture regarded as vanished by many Gentiles. The Hebrew language was dead (no one spoke it). The idea, at the time of the Reformation, that Israel would be physically reconstituted and restored seemed impossible, and a foolish pipe dream to many. The choices at the time seemed to be: A) portray God as being unable to fulfill His promises (wrong!), or B) construe the promises so as to be fulfilled in the present-day Church (supposedly better). Few picked option C): given enough time, God’s promises to Israel will be fulfilled literally.
Under option B), essentially, God needed help in making good on His promises, because it simply was not possible for them to be literally fulfilled. But why was it regarded as not possible? Why was literal fulfillment not the obvious interpretive choice? Remember what Jesus told Thomas after His resurrection? “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (Jn. 20:29). Similarly, Heb. 11:1 informs us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” So the fact the church fathers and the reformers did not see Israel physically restored in their lifetimes, nor could they envision it in the future, does not excuse them.
It may seem harsh, but I don’t know how to construe this as anything other than a lack of faith. I’m not trying to be disparaging. I’m just saying what I think Jesus would say. The church fathers and the reformers, on this matter, were simply wrong. They lacked faith. No one today should be holding them up as an example to be followed in this matter. Let us be charitable and suppose they did their best, and tried their hardest, but in spite of this, their faith came up short. Let’s stop treating them as though they had some special insight, which they did not really have.
Honest Mistake? Perhaps the church fathers and the reformers were honestly mistaken, and believed in good faith the scriptures should be read allegorically? I admit, I have a hard time seeing that as a credible explanation. Why would anyone, who had not been specifically trained to read the scriptures that way, adopt that as a methodology when it does violence to the ordinary meaning of words? And why would anyone reject the literal understanding of words when their meaning can be easily understood? On what honest basis is the literal meaning of words, as understood by the people who wrote them and first received them, to be rejected?
Was God unable to find the right words to say what He meant, and mean what He said? Or was God intentionally concealing what He meant to say so that only those with special knowledge (i.e., not the ordinary reader) would decipher His meaning? This, of course, smacks of Gnosticism and mysticism. Or was it the scripture writers themselves who purposely obscured the true meaning of their words? To second-guess the motivations of the writers and to assume ulterior motives – this is not honest scholarship, this is the methodology of higher criticism and revisionist history. None of these are good options, or decent justifications.
The principles of the interpretation of language applicable to the Bible are exactly the same as those applicable to the U.S. Constitution, because language is language. When people talk about original intent, they mean that the words of the Constitution should mean today exactly what they meant when first written. If it is possible to allegorize the Bible, then it is also possible to allegorize the Constitution, and that is exactly what has happened over the years. Words are no longer taken literally, or at face value, and are construed to mean all sorts of things the authors of that document could never have possibly imagined.
The result has not been a greater understanding of the document, but a twisting of its meaning to tear it apart and undo its foundations. The tendency is always to interpret other people’s interpretations (whether a court opinion, or a Bible commentary) and to ignore the original text. The net effect of which is always bad – subverting the author’s intended meaning, while falsely claiming to abide by the original language. No good thing ever comes from this.
I believe God is a literalist. When Uzzah put his hand out to steady the ark of the covenant, God struck him dead. (2 Sam. 6:3-8; 1 Chr. 13:6-12). This literally fulfilled Num, 4:15, “they must not touch the holy things, lest they die.” Similarly, in Acts 5:1-11, God dealt with Ananias and Sapphira very harshly (striking them dead) for a lie of omission. Just because most of the time God withholds His immediate judgment and extends grace and mercy to people, does not mean He treats His words or our words allegorically. Do you really think burning in hell is only an allegorical concept? I’ll bet you think eternal life in heaven is a very literal concept though, don’t you?
Law vs. Theology. Consider the case study of In Re Father Abraham, decedent. In the local probate court, the will of the decedent has been admitted into the court record, and the judge is about to rule on the distribution of the estate. The decedent possessed, among other things, a substantial tract of land the size of a small country, the boundaries of which have been established by a metes and bounds description documented in a most ancient title deed. He also possessed a number of covenants running with the land, properly witnessed and attested to. The beneficiaries of the estate, all heirs at law descended from the decedent, have been determined and identified.
Suddenly, a delegation of people burst into the court making the claim that they, and the people they represent, should be named the sole beneficiaries of the decedent, not the heirs at law. Asked to state the basis for their claim, they reply that they are “religious offspring” and “spiritual heirs” of the decedent. Also, they possess a sincerely held religious belief that, in spite of the plain language of the will, the title deed, and the covenants running with the land, the estate should pass to them to the exclusion of the lawful heirs. Further, they boldly assert, this merely religious belief trumps all legal claims by the heirs. And (they claim) it doesn’t matter what the legal heirs think about the matter, or even who the decedent believed his heirs would be.
The judge – in spite of the claims of the interlopers – is duty bound to follow the law. Belief doesn’t set aside the laws of inheritance – not under the scriptures, not under the law of nature, and not in this universe. Theologians, and people working in religious ministries, often tend to think theology trumps law. Think again. Allow me to suggest that is merely wishful thinking by people who seek to validate a point of view which also happens to coincide with their choice of a career. (Of course, a lawyer would never do that.) But we really must ask, at some point …
The reality of human nature is such that most people, in most circumstances, act out of self-interest. They say and do things, believe things, and take positions that aren’t motivated out of a quest for truth so much as what will benefit them the most personally. This is who we are, as human beings: fallen, sinful, corrupt of reason, and selfish. No matter how much you may love or revere the Church as the body of Christ, it is simply naïve to believe that religious people, people who work in Christian ministry, or Christians in general, do not suffer from these same human tendencies.
One thing the apostle Paul made abundantly clear in Rom. 7:14-25 is that so long as we are in these mortal bodies (the “sinful flesh”), irrespective of the fact that our spirits may have been regenerated in Christ, nonetheless our bodies will not be delivered from sin until we die. Thus, even when it comes to religious, theological and spiritual differences of opinion, including without limitation the distinctions between Israel and the Church, we are right to ask, “Who benefits?” Who benefits from taking the position that the Church has replaced Israel in the plan of God, of molding church practices after the fashion of Israel, and the Israelification of the Church?
Let’s be perfectly frank – there is only one option. I’m just being realistic. There is no reason to have blinders on, or rose colored glasses. Just follow the money. The people who benefit most directly from temples, sanctuaries, altars, corporate worship, infant baptisms, etc. are the people who make a living working in, and tending to, these very things. The people who benefit most from tithing are the ones who are on the receiving end.
The people writing all those Bible commentaries, teaching all those seminary courses, preaching all those sermons, reading the scriptures allegorically, discounting Israel, and adopting all those Judaistic practices, are the very people (clergy) who directly gain the most from them. Taking those positions keeps them in the place of greatest power, influence, and income within the Church. But it also makes the position they take immediately suspect, because they have a vested interest in skewing the analysis in their favor. They’re only human. However, that is no excuse.
It’s what lawyers call a classic conflict of interest. A conflict of interest is any situation in which someone in a position of trust, such as a minister, has competing professional and personal interests. In other words, scripture tends to point one way, but the preacher’s personal interests point a different way. And the presumption is that any person in a conflict of interest will inevitably tend to support the position which benefits them the most.
Let’s face facts. Every church practice I’ve discussed benefits someone monetarily, and those people just happen to be overwhelmingly members of the clergy. Who also happen to overwhelmingly be the people who teach, advocate and promote the church practices discussed. There is a causal connection here. Do you now know why these church traditions are both universal and entrenched? The livelihood of every priest, pastor or minister depends on it.
The Israelification of the Church is not simply a matter of self-interest, however. There is also a strong element of hubris involved, which becomes evident when we look at traditional church tax exemptions. You may not think of church tax exemption as a Christian tradition, but that’s only because you aren’t one of the privileged few who get to take advantage of it. For those who do benefit, it is a tradition they cling to mightily. But what about that – how does it square with the scriptures we have considered? As it turns out, the whole scheme is based on several half-truths.
A half-truth is something people say, in this case religious people, which is true as far as it goes, but omits those additional facts or principles that make the initial truth irrelevant. Example: In Jn. 8:5, the Pharisees (religious people) told Jesus the Mosaic law commanded that a woman caught in adultery should be stoned. True, as far as it goes, but what did they omit? In that case, they failed to mention that the law (Dt. 22:22) required both the man and the woman to be stoned together, yet they failed to produce the man – even though the woman was caught in the act. Which, in the end, proved to be the most crucial piece of information in the whole case, because it rendered the proceeding against the woman invalid. See? Half-truth.
Now let’s look at the half-truths that prop up every church’s claim to tax exemption. Half-truth #1: Every church is self-sovereign under God, because God created the Church, gave it a unique authority and mission (the Great Commission, Mt. 28:18-20), and God holds the Church directly accountable. True, as far as it goes. But there’s something they’re not telling you …
Whole Truth #1: Everyone is self-sovereign under God. God created the family, gave it a unique authority and mission (the Dominion Mandate, Gen. 1:28), and God holds the family directly accountable. And everyone in society is a member of a family. Take it further. Every individual person is created by God in His image, has a unique authority and mission (to love God and neighbor, Mt. 22:37-40), and is directly accountable to God for their soul. Meaning, a church has no more or better claim to self-sovereignty under God than you and I. The church’s claim is not unique – so it is not entitled to any special treatment on that basis compared to you and me.
Half-truth #2: Every church is devoted to the things of God, has a religious purpose and has a right to religious liberty. True, as far as it goes.
Whole Truth #2: Religious liberty does not flow from the Great Commission, or because a church professes Christ. Religious liberty flows from being made in the image of God as a free and responsible moral agent. In other words, religious freedom belongs to every human being, regardless of what they believe. Plus, every individual should devote themselves to the things of God (do everything for His glory) and has a religious purpose (faith, belief, and a duty to love God). So again, the church’s claim is not unique – and is not entitled to any special treatment on that basis.
Half-truth #3: A church as an organized body and as an ecclesiastical hierarchy is entitled to a special status that you as an individual do not have. Actually, that’s just a lie. It’s just another false claim to corporate Christianity.
Whole Truth #3: There are no God-given corporate rights, as all God-given rights are conferred on individuals only. In fact, since every visible church is just an association of people, a church only has what the individual members bring to it. People don’t get rights from the church they belong to, every church gets its rights from its members. So whatever status the church claims for itself ultimately came from you – God gave nothing to the church as a corporate body. Meaning, the church is not greater than its members, it is less. You are the church, the body of Christ – not some corporation formed by men (God never yet signed Articles of Incorporation filed with any state).
The fact is, every person is an individual, a member of a family, a citizen of a nation, and potentially a member of the body of Christ, all at the same time. You, me, and every clergyman in the world. Just because a person chooses to go to seminary, chooses to be ordained, and chooses to work in a church, does not mean they can subordinate their status as an individual, family member and citizen, and make their status as a church member preeminent. Nothing about their situation entitles them to a special tax status based on Church membership that you and I don’t equally share.
Although, admittedly, there are some things an organized church has that you don’t. A physical temple with a sanctuary and a baptismal. A human priesthood with a built-in ecclesiastical structure. Special clothes, special objects and special places. Ceremonies and rituals you can’t do at home. In other words, all the things that don’t count with God, and all the things that are like what ancient Israel had. “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7). Yep, that’s why they have tax exemption and you don’t – they have the outward appearance of religion, and that’s what people (i.e., unbelieving government) recognize.
So what is your excuse? Why do you accept this tradition, even supporting and defending it? If you think about it – and you really should think about it – when your church claims tax exemption for itself, it is necessarily declaring that you individually are not the true Church, only your church organization and its leaders are. Why else would they claim that status only for themselves, and not for every believer? That’s where the hubris comes in. Who is the true Church – the invisible body of believers God made which includes you, or entities formed by men who know how to look religious? Put your money where your mouth is.
Speaking of truth, it’s time for a little self-test. How good are you at recognizing the truth, and separating it from what is false? Take Santa Claus, for example. Let’s suppose, hypothetically of course, that after exhaustive study and the examination of all available evidence, you conclude there is no such person named Santa Claus who is an elf, living at the North Pole, who employs other elves to make toys, and who distributes them to good little boys and girls around the world via a flying sleigh pulled by reindeer each Christmas Eve.
All well and good. But when the season comes around, do you listen to or sing songs about Santa? How committed are you to the truth? Do you put gifts under the Christmas tree and mark them “From Santa”? How many posters, figurines and ornaments of Santa, reindeer or a sleigh do you have displayed in your house? How many Santa-themed TV shows and movies do you watch with friends or your kids? You say Christmas is really about Jesus, and your Christmas cards are all religiously themed. You go to church on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and sing all the traditional carols about the Christ child, born the king of Is-ra-el.
But how much to you commingle the profane with the holy? There they are, little baby Jesus in a manger and Santa Claus, both hanging on your Christmas tree next to each other. There they are, prominently displayed in your home – the little choo-choo train and Santa’s village, all boldly proclaiming the gospel of Jesus, across the room from your stockings hung with care. There they are, a copy of The Night Before Christmas, and a copy of the Bible, sitting next to each other on your table. But at least you give equal time to both of them when reading to the kids, right? What a witness for Christ you are!
See how many things are plainly false, or plainly have nothing to do with the reason for the holiday, yet we openly tolerate them along with the true symbols of the holiday, commingled together like one big happy family. How easy it is to mix the truth of God with things that are merely human traditions born from pagan roots. How easy it is to say, “well, those things are really just harmless.” You’ve probably also fooled yourself into believing that the Santa figurine on your porch, on your roof, or in your yard, isn’t really an idol either – saint that you are. You prominently display the idol, but you don’t bow down to it – you just light it up. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.
One can only hope that your children, who witness your strong lukewarm convictions, will grow up to be just like you. You know, carrying your firmly held values and traditions of equally holding on to the sacred and the profane, the truth and the lies, together into the next generation.
Sure, you know in your mind there is no Santa Claus – he is just a myth, in reality a falsehood. And your heart is fully devoted to Jesus – so you believe, just as you believe you do not worship Santa. So why do you tolerate these things and cling to them, even though they are merely human traditions, and not traditions having any real value, at that? Why are you so unwilling to disgorge these things from your life, even though they are false? Why do you hold on to those things which rob Christmas of its true meaning, all the while telling yourself their presence doesn’t really lessen your spiritual experience? Yet you just cannot for the life of you, let them go.
No wonder then, that you cling to your favorite church and religious traditions for dear life, even though very many of them have no basis in scripture, and more often than not contradict or nullify the Gospel. But you grew up with them, you’re comfortable with them, and your friends and family hold to the same traditions you do. It builds a sense of community. Besides, what is the harm? You know what is true, and what isn’t. Your heart is in the right place. Your salvation is secure. What difference does it make in the long run?
It makes a difference. Distinctions matter. Truth and lies cannot dwell together. “For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” We might as well ask, for what partnership have the things of God with the traditions of men?
Now suppose you want to spread your knowledge of the truth among the well-churched. Many of their cherished church traditions have nothing to do with God’s will for His Church. They need to be warned. Who will oppose you? Sure, some people who are simply too comfortable with their human traditions. But mainly, the people who make a living trading on the false traditions – and their friends and supporters. Recall what happened in Ephesus when Paul was preaching there (Acts 19:23-28). Who opposed him, but the silversmiths and other tradesmen who made idols and were afraid of losing their livelihoods? So it always is.
But in truth, you are not responsible for what your preacher believes or teaches. Nor is that person responsible for what you believe. You are responsible for what you believe – and practice. What drives you more, the desire for the truth, or the desire to fit in, go with the flow, and not rock the boat? Which do you honor more – your own reading of scripture, or church traditions and so-called orthodoxy (do you even know how many different Christian orthodoxies there are)? Orthodoxy be damned. I urge you, don’t hesitate between two opinions. If scripture is supremely authoritative, follow it; but if orthodoxy and tradition are supreme, follow them. (See, 1 Ki. 18:21).
Do you treasure the holy bride of Christ, the Church of Jesus Christ? If so, which church do you cherish? The one meeting in a building you call the house of God, organized and led by clergy, which performs rituals and ceremonies it calls sacraments or ordinances? The one which bids you to give tithes and offerings, to perform works pleasing to God, and regularly participate in corporate worship? The one which preaches predestination, and has an altar and a sanctuary?
Do you cherish the church which baptizes or christens infants having no actual personal knowledge of the Savior? Perhaps your church teaches that all or portions of God’s covenants with Israel have expired or terminated? Or maybe it simply teaches that it has taken the place of Israel in the future plans of God? Does your church teach that the many future blessings God promised to Israel are now yours to claim and possess? Does your pastor, priest or minister teach that scripture is to be read allegorically, not literally? Is that the church you hold so dear? The one which teaches some or all of these?
Churches like this are a house divided against themselves. With their lips they preach the gospel, but with their actions they practice a works religion. If you attend a church like this, you may be a true Christian believer, and so may others who attend the same church as you. I’m not saying you aren’t saved. I’m not saying your church leaders aren’t truly saved. But the church you attend itself – the organization and its practices – are merely shadows of the true body of Christ, not the genuine article. Not biblical Christianity, but an adulterated Churchianity.
Go ahead, be satisfied with that, if you like. It’s your choice, for which you will held to account by God, not by me. But why settle for second best? Why is your church trying to be a new Israel? No doubt, your church leaders think that what they have is a vast improvement over the old Jewish system. But the real improvement will only come when they fully and finally throw off the harbingers of the past. Would you be willing to talk to people about it?
Church traditions are not merely harmless or benign. Many of them subvert God’s design for the Church, making it something other than what it was intended to be. And that ultimately manifests itself in failing to do what God intended the Church to do. Mainly, to equip believers, not the clergy, to carry out the mission of the Church. And to carry out that mission in ways the Church has neglected to fulfill. “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pet. 4:17).
I hear a lot of people talk about purity of the gospel, but I don’t actually see very much purity of the gospel in practice. Maybe somebody ought to do something about that.