In most discussions of Jewish-Christian relations the questions are generally posed in a manner that suggests that the key question for Christians pertains to how the church is related to Israel. The key assumption here is that whatever the theological entities named by “church” and “Israel” are, they are the same kind of thing, and their theological relation must be narrated in a way that is theologically acceptable. Thus, the notion of the church “superseding” Israel is highly problematic to members of the Jewish faith. Christian theologians then try to deal with this problem by constructing a “non-supercessionist” theology within which Israel and the church both continue to have a form of salvific relationship with God, in light of which both should be able to affirm the self-understanding of each other, at least in some significant fashion.
The glaring problem with such approaches lies in the assumption that the church and Israel are two entities of the same type. However, biblically the entity to be juxtaposed with Israel is not the church, but “the nations.” Israel is distinct as a theological entity from other ethnoi, from other national peoplehoods. The church, however is not an ethnos in the same sense as Israel and the nations, rather it is composes of persons from all nations. The church, then cannot be seen in the kind of binary opposition to Israel as the nations. The church, at least according to her own self-understanding is not a nation alongside other nations, but a fundamentally new reality, a mystery which has been established by God in which the old antinomies of Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free no longer hold true. The church’s self-understanding insists on that she is the site at which the communion of God (the God of Israel!) is realized with all humanity, from all nations, be they the chosen nation of Israel, of the nations of the Gentiles.
My point in all of this is simply to call for a refocusing of the terms in discussion of Jewish-Christian relations. Too often it is assumed that Jewish-Christian relations are somehow the same thing as “church-Israel” relations. This however is not the case, at least not if we are being careful in our theological speech. The church’s self-understanding is that she is the body of Christ into whom all persons from all nations, be they Jew or Gentile are called into communion with the one God. To deny that the church should understand herself as such is to deny something that has been utterly central to the church’s self-understanding from the very beginning of the church. This, of course may be seen as a supercessionist theology. However, this is not the case. The church supersedes nothing. Rather, Christ, through the church interrupts everything. The church is not a static reality which comes along and replaces Israel, rather it is the apocalyptic aftermath of Christ’s invasion of the world which has cosmic implications. The church does not crowd out, take over, or overrule Israel or any other nation, rather the church is simply God’s way of continually interrupting the world in Christ through the Spirit. This certainly poses a challenge to the self-understandings of all nations unique and distinctive ways, including Israel (and Rome and America, I might add). And this challenge is a stumbling block that we dare not remove if we are to be faithful to the gospel.