Speakers see Jewish role in end times, countering ‘two-covenant theol
NEW YORK (BP)--The Jewish people will play a critical role during events leading to the second coming of Christ, declared speakers during "To the Jew First in the New Millennium: A Conference on Jewish Evangelism," Sept. 23-25 at Calvary Baptist Church in Manhattan.
Paige Patterson, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, described his beliefs about the sequence of end-time events to a group of approximately 600 people who attended the conference's finale: "The Feast of Tabernacles Concert and Celebration."
God is not finished with the Jewish people who still have a key place in biblical prophecy yet to be fulfilled, Patterson said, echoing a view which had been expressed earlier in addresses by other speakers.
Conferees listened intently as Patterson told them the church age will end with the rapture at which time Christians will be taken out of the world by Christ and a period of great tribulation will begin.
During the tribulation, the Book of Revelation teaches that 144,000 Jews -- 12,000 from each tribe -- will preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, Patterson noted.
"The gospel will not be raptured; only people are raptured," Patterson said during remarks on the same topic at an earlier press conference. "Now some people say, 'How can that possibly be? Jews don't even know what tribe they're from.' Of course, that's true. But the fact that they do not know does not mean God doesn't know. That's no problem for God whatsoever."
After the church age, the activity of God in the world will be "back on Jewish ground," Patterson told conferees.
"I do treat the church as a parenthesis," Patterson said. "The fact of the matter is that when you read the Old Testament, every major doctrine that is found in the New Testament is there but one: the doctrine of the church. ...
"The church is a parenthetical program. ... That doesn't mean it's unimportant. It doesn't mean it's not of ultimate importance. ... But we do mean it is parenthetical in that there is coming a day when God will reinstitute his covenants from Abrahamic times and before -- even with the Jewish nation."
Patterson, along with other speakers, rejected "two-covenant theology," which teaches that gentiles must come to God through Christ but that Jews need not do so.
"There are a few, but very few, evangelicals who would argue that Jewish people are still under the first covenant and hence they may have access to God simply by the keeping of the Jewish law," Patterson observed. "That's never going to be a view accepted by any substantial core or part of evangelicals for the simple reason that it fails the most basic reformation principle: ... salvation is by grace through faith alone."
Sponsored by Chosen People Ministries of Charlotte, N.C., formerly the American Board of Missions to the Jews), the conference was held at Calvary Baptist Church -- an independent Baptist congregation formerly associated with American Baptists and pastored by David Epstein, an ordained Southern Baptist minister whose grandfather was Jewish.
The adoption of the two-covenant theology by some evangelicals may be contributing to a diminishing emphasis on Jewish evangelism, suggested Richard L. Pratt Jr., a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Fla.
"Evangelicals are beginning to soften the call to non-Christian Jews and telling them that they do not really have to give exclusive loyalty to Jesus," Pratt warned.
Mitch Glaser, president of Chosen People Ministries, recounted the teachings of a Jewish theologian who reinterpreted John 14:6, in which Jesus asserted, "No one comes to the Father except through me."
Glaser said the theologian claimed that Jesus was referring to those who are not already with the Father, namely the gentiles. “It was said that Jews are already with the Father by covenant relationship,” he recounted, “and therefore, we have no need for a mediator -- that we have no need for Jesus. ...
"But I don't think the covenant God made with Abraham -- even though I feel it's still nationally valid -- assures individual Jewish people of salvation, which comes only through Jesus."
Kai Kjaer-Hansen of Denmark, international coordinator for the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, said two-covenant theology seems appealing to some Christians.
"A doctrine of two covenants to many has the ring of good news," Hansen said, adding that advocates of the view believe that "the Christian church need no longer have a bad conscience because it has failed to bring the gospel to the Jews."
But, Hansen said, "It is not very difficult to understand why liberal and radical theologians support this view when it is considered how they have reduced and transformed Jesus" in contrast to how he is portrayed in the New Testament.
Likewise, conference speakers largely rejected replacement theology, which teaches that the church is the "new Israel" or "spiritual Israel" and that the Jewish people as a whole will have no special role during end-time events.
But despite the consensus of the conference's speakers, many contemporary theologians indeed hold to replacement theology, said Walter C. Kaiser Jr., president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Mass.
"It has become commonplace among more recent theologians to regard the Christian church as the new successor and replacement for Israel," Kaiser said.
But he noted that the Apostle Paul, writing in Romans 9-11, would not agree with replacement theology.
"Paul proposes no new definition for Israel; for him there was only one Israel," Kaiser said. "The pendulum of history swung from Israel to the Gentiles, but it will swing back to Israel again. ... The Jewish people are loved forever by God because of the promise God had given to the patriarchs."