This is the fifth in a series of blog posts on my reading journey of Dr. Michael J. Vlach’s Has the Church Replaced Israel? A Theological Evaluation (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4).
It goes without saying (but I’m gonna say it), we are so immensely indebted to the Reformers of Christian history who gave their very lives to the gospel. Personally, I love and hold to these theological principles from the Reformation era: Sola Fide, by faith alone; Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone; Solus Christus, through Christ alone; Sola Gratia, by grace alone; Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.
Yet, the more I read on men such as Luther and Calvin, the more I find what seems to be some notable differences in other areas of theology. In chapter six, for example, Vlach writes that Martin Luther was known for his anti-semitic rhetoric, and that he held to supersessionist views:
Luther’s strongest statements against the Jews are found in his 1543 tract “Concerning the Jews and Their Lies.” He referred to the Jews as a “miserable and accursed people.” Luther’s intolerance toward the Jews is also evident in the following statement: “What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming.”
John Calvin confuses many readers and researchers with regards to his position on the Church and Israel. Some claim that he held to a moderate form of supersessionism, and there are others who believe (after reading his commentaries) that he was rather opposed to it.
As a result, there has been some confusion and disagreement concerning what Calvin actually believed about Israel. [Dr. Willem A.] VanGemeren notes that “some have seen the utter rejection of Israel in Calvin’s writings, whereas others have also viewed the hope for national Israel”…Was Calvin a supersessionist? Part of the confusion on this matter may result from different emphases Calvin had about the Jews… First, Calvin believed that the church was the new Israel. But second, Calvin held to some form of a future conversion of the Jews.
On the other side of the spectrum, Vlach also points out that well-known Puritans such as Jeremiah Burrows, John Flavel, Thomas Manton, Cotton Mather, John Owen, and Richard Sibbes did not believe in replacement theology.
Although supersessionism was well accepted in the seventeenth century, two groups appear to have believed in a salvation or restoration of the Jews—the English Puritans and the Dutch Reformed theologians.
Moreover, Vlach notes that virtually all Dutch theologians from that time shared the belief that Israel will return to her land and be restored to prominence in the earthly millennium.
All of this was new to me; and I found some of it to be encouraging—learning that there were some in the Reformation era who had opposed replacement theology.