View Full Version : Replacement Theology - Refutation of Thomas McCall

Richard Amiel McGough
09-19-2007, 01:06 PM
The term "Replacement Theology" is an innaccurate, prejudicial and emotionally charged term that has made discussion of the relation between ethnic Israel and the Church much more difficult and confusing than it need be. In this thread I will be interacting with various teachers who attempt to refute the so-called "Replacement Theology" in hope that we can arrive at a clearer understanding of what the Bible really teaches.

I begin with an article by Thomas S. McCall called What is the Olive Tree? (http://www.levitt.com/essays/olivetree.html). He begins by asserting that the Olive Tree is not the Church:

Thomas S. McCall: It should be understood that the Olive Tree is not the Church. Some people are born naturally into the Olive Tree, but no one is born physically into the Church, the Body of Christ. The only way one can enter into the Body of Christ is by being born again by personal faith in the Lord Jesus. Furthermore, it is clear from the New Testament that the Church began at the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost about 33 AD, when the believers were baptized into the Body of Christ, not in the Old Testament! The Olive Tree, which began with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the fathers, cannot be identical with the Church.

This argument fails for a number of reasons. First, it is not clear that the Olive Tree under Old Covenant represented all the natural born children of Abraham - on the contrary, it seems more likely that the Olive Tree represented only the believing remnant of Israel, and that God had been cultivating it by breaking off unbelieving branches (individuals) since the beginning. In this view, mere birth into the Old Covenant community did not mean that you were a branch of the cultivated Olive Tree.

But on the other hand, it certainly is possible that McCall was correct in his assertion that the Olive Tree under the Old Covenant represented all members (branches) born into ethnic Israel, bound together by the covenant of Abraham. But that still does not make his case, because it was the covenant that changed when Christ came, not the Olive Tree. After Christ came, membership in the Olive Tree was secured ONLY by faith for Jews and Gentiles alike. The unbelieving branches amongst the Jews were broken off, and the believers amongst the Gentiles were grafted in. Thus, the Olive Tree under the New Covenant represents the body of all who trust in Jesus Christ, and that is the definition of the Church.

As for McCall's assertion that "the church began at Pentecost" - he is correct if he is speaking of the specifically "Christian" Church, but that is begging the question. If the "church" is defined as "the body of all believers under the Old and New Covenants" then his argument fails. And it seems that this view is preferable, since we know, for example, that Abraham was a saved man to whom the Gospel was preached (Galatians 3:8). Therefore, Abraham was and is and always will be a member of God's cultivated Olive Tree along with all Jews who ever beleived and all true Christians. The only ones excluded are unbelievers, and they can be grafted back in if they abide not in unbelief. The Olive Tree as rooted in the "Faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all." This seems to be the only position consistent with the Bible.

McCall then asserted that the Olive Tree can not be Israel:

Thomas S. McCall: Also, the Olive Tree cannot be Israel. Some natural branches are broken off the Olive Tree, representing Jews who do not believe in Jesus the Messiah, even though they are physically still alive. They are physically alive but are spiritually dead, broken off branches. However, no one can be broken off of Israel, as long as he is physically alive. The often-heard dictum, “I was born a Jew and I will die a Jew,” is an accurate saying. Once a person is born into the covenant nation of Israel, he remains within it until physically dead.
McCall is correct that the Olive Tree is not ethic Israel. But his argument fails on a number of points. The first and most obvious error is the assertion that "no one can be broken off of Israel." On the contrary, God repeatedly warns that members will be "cut off" for many different violations of the Old Covenant, the first being lack of circumcision itself. Here are a few examples:

Genesis 17:14 And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.

Leviticus 17:10 And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, that eateth any manner of blood; I will even set my face against that soul that eateth blood,and will cut him off from among his people.

Numbers 9:13 13 But the man that is clean, and is not in a journey, and forbeareth to keep the passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people: because he brought not the offering of the LORD in his appointed season, that man shall bear his sin.
Another obvious error is the idea that all "outward Jews" are counted as Jews by God. Even if no one could be "cut off" from physically being a Jew, McCall ignored the fact that the Bible teaches that not all Jews are "really" Jews at all:

Romans 2:28-29 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
And of course, not all that are born into ethnic Israel are counted by God as the "Israel of God":

Romans 9:6-8 Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: 7 Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. 8 That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.

Finally, McCall comes to the incomprehensible conclusion that the "Olive Tree is Spiritual, Composed of Righteous, Born-Again People" and explains that "only righteous, born-again, blood-bought believers are in the Olive Tree, whether Jews or Gentiles." Well now! What are we supposed to make of that? McCall's definition of the Olive Tree concides exactly with the Bibilcal definition of the Christian Church! But he ealier state the Olive Tree is not the Church. So which is it?

Any attempt to drive a theological wedge between God's Church, True Israel, and the Olive Tree leads only to more and more confusion. We see this in his conclusion when he attempted to define the Olive Tree as both "all born-again believers" (the Church) and "the commonwealth of Israel" which he explicitly stated is not the Church:

Thomas S. McCall: The word the Apostle uses for commonwealth is politeias, akin to the English words politics, peoplehood or nationhood. Through the blood of Israel’s Messiah (Christ), we Gentiles who were once aliens, have been made nigh (near) to the Commonwealth of Israel, but not identical to it. Thus we have the figure of the Olive Tree, which I suggest is the Spiritual Commonwealth of Israel. It is spiritual, because only righteous, born-again, blood-bought believers are in the Olive Tree, whether Jews or Gentiles. It pertains to Israel, because the root is the fathers of Israel — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — and the natural branches are Messianic Jews, who remain in the Olive Tree by virtue of their faith in Yeshua, the Christ.
There are many errors here. The first is the explicit logical contradiction that translates into "the Church is not the Church." The second is the attempt to settle this confusion by attributing a novel meaning to the phrase "commonwealth of Israel" as an entitiy not identical to Israel or the Church. The third is his assertion that we only came "nigh" unto the commonwealth of Israel" when in fact the passage states explicitly that Jews and Gentiles were made ONE NEW MAN in Christ, and that Gentiles are totally equal FELLOWCITIZENS with the saints! There is no distinction!

Ephesians 2:13-22 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: 17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. 8 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. 19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: 22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.