Home > amillennialism, Barry Horner, Church Replacement Theology, doctrines, eschatology, Israel, John MacArthur, S. Lewis Johnson > Covenant Theology, Amillennialism and Replacement Theology: A Brief History

Covenant Theology, Amillennialism and Replacement Theology: A Brief History


An online friend recently asked this question:
Covenant theology…I’m mixed up.  I agree with the big parts — grace, works, redemption through the ages, but why are so many CT’ers amils?  And that Israel is all but taken out of God’s promises?

Like many others, this person had come across various references to Covenant Theology, Reformed Theology, and other general concepts — mainly from reading Christian blogs — but had not (yet) researched the subjects enough, and so wanted a general framework of how all these pieces fit together.

Following is my response, a very brief overview from church history.  For those already more familiar with these issues this may seem too simplistic, and lacking in detailed explanation — but I put this forward for those desiring the basic framework.  I have also included a few links for further reference.

1.  Church Replacement Theology — the idea of the Gentile church taking priority over the Jews — began by the mid-to-late 2nd century, brought about as the result of increasing anti-Semitism and Gentile pride, as the church became increasingly dominated by Gentile believers (who forgot what Paul said about pride, in Romans 11) and the apostate Jews became increasingly hostile and continued to persecute the Christians.
For additional reference, see Barry Horner’s Future Israel, chapter 2, “The Patristic Period,” p. 39

2.  Amillennialism was invented by Augustine in the early 5th century.  Augustine first believed the standard view of the time, premillennialism, but he was also influenced by Greek platonic thought — the same thinking that produced gnosticism, the basic idea that physical and material is evil, and spiritual, non-physical is good.  Augustine was also morally repulsed by the behavior of some Christians, in a group called the Donatists, who took a rather carnal approach to the idea of the kingdom and enjoyed their love feasts (food, drink, revelry).  This was also shortly after Constantine, and the church enjoyed the power, privilege and protection of the Roman Empire.  Anti-Semitism was also quite strong, the Jews hated throughout the Roman world, and by that time they were scattered and clearly without power — so the biblical message that the despised and weak Jews would one day be given prominence and the other nations would come to them, appeared totally contrary (and unacceptable) to their observed world reality.  So Augustine formulated the idea of the spiritual-only kingdom, relating it to the Church triumphant, the Roman church of his day.  His new idea, amillennialism (which he described in “The City of God”), along with most everything else that Augustine taught, was incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church — and became (and still is) standard Catholic teaching.
Additional resources:
“The Allegorists Who Undermined the Normal Interpretation of Scripture,” by Mal Couch

Audio only:  Jim McClarty eschatology series: #89 “History of Amillennialism” and #90  “Augustine’s Amillennialism”

A thousand years later, Luther and Calvin came on the scene, and of course they came out of the Roman Catholic system.  They only reformed the soteriology — how we are saved, the doctrine of justification — but “imported” the rest of Catholic teaching including eschatology and ecclesiology, unchanged and assumed to be true.
Additional resources:

John MacArthur, “Why Every Calvinist Should Be A Premillennialist,” six-part series

3.  Covenant theology is relatively recent — developed in the 17th century, especially in Holland and central Europe.  It was developed largely in order to come up with a theological reason to support infant baptism, which was still practiced (from the Medieval Catholic era) and considered important as part of the church-government structure and census records.  The ideas of church-supremacy and amillennialism were already a given in this system, and several theologians of 17th century Protestantism came forth with the ideas of these three covenants and especially the overall “covenant of grace” for all believers since Adam.
Additional resources:

S. Lewis Johnson’s The Divine Purpose series
The History of Covenant Theology – I
The History of Covenant Theology – II

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  1. Sonja
    March 14, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Oh Lynda, thank you! This is mightily meaty with no rabbit trails. It’s hard for me to know even where to begin, and you’ve done some heavy lifting putting this theology in a semblance of order I can understand.

    Now … time to get started!

    As an aside, I’ve seen JMac’s articles and always thought “well, of COURSE they should be pre-tribbers” and never read/listened. I had no idea it was CT.

    Thank you my friend!

    Sonja

  2. March 15, 2011 at 7:15 am

    Glad you find it helpful. I encourage you to look at the additional resources.

    Yes, MacArthur’s six-part series mentioned above, an expansion on his 2007 Shepherd’s Conference message, deals with that whole matter of replacement theology, Augustine and the Reformers. He mentions Barry Horner’s Future Israel also, which at that time was about to be published.

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