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1 I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 3 “LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”? 4 But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.

Has the Catholic Church then fallen away? Has God destroyed the people that he founded and forsaken them in favor of a new people? Certainly not! For there are many faithful there, who have continued in service to God by faith.

6 And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
7 What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. 8 Just as it is written:
“ God has given them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes that they should not see
And ears that they should not hear,
To this very day.”
9 And David says:
“ Let their table become a snare and a trap,
A stumbling block and a recompense to them.
10 Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see,
And bow down their back always.”

Of course they did commit many grievous sins and corruptions, and therefore God cast them under judgment. Because of their blindness and folly, God chose to give himself instead to the Protestants, to the “schismatics,” and set his face against the historic Church in judgment, until they should repent.

11 I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.
Is the historic Catholic Church then cast away for good, in favor of God’s new people, the Protestants? No! God raised up the Protestant churches to provoke the historic Catholic Church to jealousy, so that, seeing that God worked grace even through such lowly and unworthy instruments, they would be jealous that such grace was absent from them, the true sons. God used their fall to raise up a faithful seed, that the true sons might repent and return to him.

12 Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! 13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. 15 For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

Their fall is not permanent—of course not! If God worked such great things through their fall, how will he not work much more glorious things by their restoration?

16 For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18 do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.

We as Protestants have no existence, no meaning, apart from them—they are the root, the natural olive tree. They support us, we do not support them. The historic Catholic Church, the institution with apostolic authority, is the necessary root that supports the Christian church. Many of the natural branches were broken off for their sins, and we Protestants, unnatural and unruly, were graciously made to partake of the fatness of the root, even though we did not naturally belong to it. We cannot boast against the historic Church because of our faithfulness, because we only have life because they first had life.

19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

You will say, O Protestant, “God cut off the unfaithful Catholic Church that we might take its place as the True Church.” Ah, but they were broken off because of their unbelief, and you stand only because of your faith. Do not be haughty about your position as God’s people, for you stand only because of God’s mercy, and if you despise that, you may be cut off. They also can be brought back into the True Church again, if they are faithful; and indeed, far more so, because they are grown from the natural root and have all the benefits of their long cultivation as the Church.

25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved as it is written:
“ The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
27 For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”
28 Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For as you were once disobedient to God, yet have now obtained mercy through their disobedience, 31 even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. 32 For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.

Recognize that they will be restored, and the Church will be one again, root and branch, and labor toward that goal. They are beloved of God for the sake of their long history as his people, so he will not cast them away. Through their disobedience, he has wrought great things for the world in spreading the gospel, but he will restore all to unity in the end. The calling and gifts that he gave them are irrevocable, and so he will restore them to faith, that they might use these gifts gloriously.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!
34 “ For who has known the mind of the LORD?
Or who has become His counselor?”
35 “ Or who has first given to Him
And it shall be repaid to him?”
36 For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.

Give thanks to God for his glorious wisdom in thus ordaining history, that the Church would be divided in order to be reunited more gloriously. Even though it is a mystery, it is the work of God, so give thanks for it.

Now, this is merely a thought experiment, and I’m not actually advocating this way of looking at the issue (though I think many would want to think of the relationship in terms quite similar to these). See, there are a number of ways in which I think the situation is quite different—for one thing, I don’t think Rome’s apostasy was as severe as the Jews in the time of Christ. For another, the Reformation was not a shift to a new covenant—Protestantism cannot be shown to be the authorized permanent successor to Catholicism in the way that the Church was the authorized permanent successor to Israel. So the Gentiles have a far more stable and permanent position than the Protestants do. But, this being so, it is striking how much respect Paul gives to the Jews, and how much confidence he has in their future. How much more so then, should we look with honor on the Catholic Church, which remains in a continuing covenant, whatever her faults.

So I think I can borrow some of Paul’s imagery and language to make the following points of application, though I think there are many other places where the analogy fails.

First of all, then, just as with Israel, the promises and outward blessings of the historic Catholic Church were real, valuable, and meaningful. Her liturgy, sacraments, and apostolic succession were a divine commission that she ought to safeguard. However, as with Israel, even she with all these benefits could have her lampstand removed if she broke faith grievously. As important as was her historical institution and apostolic authority, God was not bound to respect those if the rest was lacking.

Second, Protestantism was not from the natural root, but was a wild tree graftd in. This is crucial to emphasize, for those who think the outward marks and privileges of the Catholic Church, with her apostolic authority, are unimportant and meaningless, since the Church is to be identified by something vaguer or more spiritual. Protestantism was irregular, by all rights we should not have been doing what we were doing, except God graciously raised us up and grafted us onto the trunk of the Church which he had established, and from which he had pruned off many of the natural branches.

Third, God did this to provoke jealousy and repentance in the Catholic Church, not to supplant them. Because the right leaders were unfaithful, God raised up outsiders, who wouldn’t normally have the blessings. But he gave them the blessings to show the Catholic Church that they needed to get their act together.

Fourth, we cannot disrespect the root which is the only means of our life. We are aliens transplanted onto a living stalk, and the life of that stalk we wish to write off as meaningless at best. We think that we have life in ourselves, and forget that we are grafted on; if we do so, and boast against the Catholic Church, we too are in danger of being cut off.

Fifth, they will receive life from the dead, and when they do, their flowering will be more glorious than ours, because they have are the natural branches, and have all the benefits and promises that belong to that status. This means that there is something to be intrinsically valued in their apostolic ministry and sacraments, and it means that when reunion does happen, that will not mean them becoming like us Protestants, but them becoming faithful catholics.

Final remarks:
Of course, I don’t think the Catholics have been cut off as fully as the Jews, nay, not nearly so. There has been a continuing legitimate Church there, but one with much dross that needs to be burned away. Much of it has been indeed, and perhaps we are not far from the time when they shall be grafted fully back in.

Moreover, there is a tertium quid for the time being—a faithful branch of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church—the Anglican Church.


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