The Yahrzeit of Charles H. Welch (5728)

 

[Footnotes and additional information on Welch’s works will follow.]

charles-welchCharles Henry Welch (1880-1967) was born and raised in London, in an areligious and atheistic home. In November 1900 he attended an address on the subject “Sceptics and the Bible”, given by an American, Dr. L.W. Munhall, m.a., d.d., at Exeter Hall, Strand. In a second address by the same Dr. Munhall the Gospel was preached and Welch accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Saviour. Shortly afterwards, his father also came to faith and in the course of time his mother and sisters followed.

Welch soon became an ardent student of Scripture and discovered that, contrary to what was taught in traditional Church doctrine, the restoration of Israel and the coming of the Millennial Kingdom were a main theme of the New Testament, not of the Gospels only but also of the Acts of the Apostles and many of Paul’s letters. By his biblical studies he came to conclusions that were very similar to results earlier obtained by Ethelbert W. Bullinger, an Anglican clergyman who emphasized that “the Church” — meaning the Assembly of believers which is now and which historically became separated from the Jewish nation — did not legitimately begin at Acts ch. 2, but at Acts ch. 28.

Bullinger had discovered that during the time of the Acts of the Apostles the Millennial Kingdom, which was offered to Israel during the earthly ministry of the Lord Yeshua, was re-offered to them by the resurrected Messiah and his Apostles. When this offer was finally rejected and national repentance did not occur, the verdict of Isaiah ch. 6 was solemnly pronounced by Paul in Acts 28:25-27, and it was declared that from then on “the salvation of G-d is sent unto the Gentiles” (Acts 28:28). According to Bullinger this declaration implied the setting aside of the nation of Israel. In his interpretation it was a dispensational boundary that marked the starting point of the predominantly Gentile Christian Church.

Although Welch had once seen a copy of Bullinger’s monthly journal: Things to Come, he arrived at these conclusions largely independently from Bullinger’s works. When later on he saw again an issue of Things to Come and found an article which could have been composed from his own notes, he started a conversation with Bullinger about the consequences of the hypothesis that Acts 28 was the starting point of “the Church” for the interpretation of Paul’s letters. Welch saw an inconsistency in Bullinger’s approach. If Bullinger was correct and the verdict of Acts 28 marked the end of the Kingdom Offer and the beginning of a new dispensation of “the Church of the One Body” as he called it, then — Welch pointed out to him — Paul’s epistles could no longer be treated as one corpus. The conclusion was inevitable that they belonged to two groups. Under that presupposition the epistles written before Acts 28 were written at a time when the Kingdom Offer was still in force. The epistles written after Acts 28 — the prison epistles — however, reflected a theological situation in which the Kingdom Offer had expired and the new reality of a Church in which the national prerogatives of Israel had been set aside was initiated.

Bullinger’s and Welch’s discovery of a Kingdom Offer during the period of the Acts is of the utmost importance for Messianic Judaism. It makes clear that the New Testament Scriptures continue the story of Israel not only during the earthly ministry of Messiah recorded in the Gospels, but also during the Acts of the Apostles. Acts ch. 2 doesn’t report the birth of the later Church. It reports the birth of an entirely Jewish Assembly of Messiah, which functions as a missionizing agency with the purpose of bringing Israel to national repentance from its sin of crucifying Messiah, in an effort of convincing the nation to accept him after all.

Welch’s main contribution to the idea of a re-Offer of the Kingdom during the Acts was his keen insight that this idea required a division of Paul’s letters into two groups which would have to show different features and accents. The merit of his contribution may be that Welch perhaps shaped a useful tool for reconciling some apparent discrepancies within the corpus of Paul, a tool that seems particularly relevant for those whose study of Paul is guided by a Torah-observant perspective. This aspect of Welch’s work still awaits further study and evaluation.

A shadow-side to their discoveries is that both Bullinger and Welch erred in interpreting the Kingdom Offer and the boundary of Acts 28 within a dispensationalist hermeneutical framework. Both concluded that between the verdict of Acts 28 and the future national restoration at the Second Coming Israel was no longer G-d’s people. Consequently they interpreted the status of the present community of believers (“the Church”) as one wholly separated from the Abrahamic and Sinaitic covenants. They forgot what so many have forgotten, that Paul’s announcement of the verdict of Isaiah 6 operated within the context of the covenantal blessings and punishments of the Torah and that for that reason his announcement pre-supposes the continuing existence of Israel as G-d’s nation.

Bullinger and Welch didn’t adequately distinguish between the basic constitution of Israel as G-d’s nation since the Exodus and Sinai events, which always remains intact and is not subject to change, and its fruitful instrumental role in fulfilling G-d’s purposes in bringing in the Kingdom Age, which is subject to change and failure. Through disobedience Israel can temporary fail in being useful for HaShem in bringing in the Kingdom. But this fact doesn’t change its basic constitution of being G-d’s chosen nation.

Despite these errors there remains much to be admired and explored in Bullinger’s and Welch’s writings which could be relevant to the present conundrums faced by the messianic world. One of these is the never-ending discussion on Jewish and Gentile identity. If we re-interpret Welch’s vision of the present Church in a non-dispensational and pro-Torah context, a picture emerges according to which the Assembly of Messiah is composed of individual Jews and Gentiles on a basis of strict equality. The nation of Israel (i.e. the Jewish people) is another thing. It exists apart from this Assembly and cultivates the preservation of Jewish identity in its separation from the community of believers. Both communities are partial realizations of the full reality of “Israel”, and will not merge before the Second Coming of Messiah, when the Millennial Kingdom will be established.

Welch’s writings deserve a careful study and interpretation. By his analytical exploration of the Bullinger’s idea of the Kingdom Offer, Welch has contributed to a better understanding of the New Testament Scriptures. When his works are studied in a context which is detached from their original dispensationalist setting, fruitful insights are to be expected. That’s the reason for drawing attention to his Yahrzeit here.

Charles Welch died on November 11, 1967, which according to the Hebrew calendar was the 8th of Cheshvan, 5728. Upcoming Shabbat is his 44th Yahrzeit. May his memory, and the study of his works, be a blessing.

 

Yahrzeit Prayer:

O G-d, the King of saints, we praise and magnify thy Holy Name for all thy servants who have finished their course in thy faith and fear; for the Blessed Virgin Miryam, the Mother of our Lord; for the holy patriarchs, apostles and martyrs; and for all other thy righteous servants known to us and unknown; and also for our teacher — in thee and for thee — Charles Henry Welch; and we beseech thee that, encouraged and inspired by their examples, and strengthened by their fellowship here on earth, we may with them be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, in that great Day of the Appearing of our Lord and Saviour Yeshua the Messiah, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

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3 Responses to “The Yahrzeit of Charles H. Welch (5728)”


  1. 1 dieta November 23, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Those who teach that “the hope of Israel” was their “Canaan” hope, quote Acts 17:7, where Paul taught that there was another King, Jesus. He was proclaiming the Canaan Kingdom hope here. They confirm this by the statement in Acts 14:22 that the people had to enter the kingdom of God through much tribulation, as Israel will go from their great tribulation to Canaan.

  2. 2 messianic613 November 30, 2011 at 2:45 am

    In Acts 14:22 Paul literally says that “through many afflictions we must enter into the Kingdom of G-d”. The afflictions meant here by him may well include the final affliction of the Great Tribulation (or “Great Affliction”) of Mt. 24:21, since the end-time in a sense was near during the Acts of the Apostles, with the Kingdom Offer still standing. Had the nation of Israel accepted it at that time, then the end-time scenario would have started during those days.

    The fact, however, that the Kingdom Offer was rejected by the chosen nation, doesn’t imply that the subsequent history, after Acts 28:28, is no longer connected to the hope of Israel. This would be a premature conclusion. The basic point, which should always be kept in mind, is that whatever happens to Israel, the covenant relation with HaShem always remains intact, as can be proved from the Torah and the prophets. The fact that the punishment of exile went into effect after 70 CE is itself a confirmation that HaShem views Israel as his covenant nation. For the punishments are part of the very covenant, as is clear from the chapter of the blessings and curses (Dt. 28). Now, if the covenant were dissolved after Acts 28:28 and Israel were no longer HaShem’s people according to the terms of the Sinai covenant, the punishments that actually came upon them could never have happened. The everlasting nature of Israel’s covenant with G-d is also made very clear by the prophet Jeremiah, in Jer. 31:35-37.

    In Acts 28:28 the Kingdom was postponed to later times, but not abrogated. Immediately after Paul quotes the verdict of Is. ch. 6, the text continues by saying that he preached “the Kingdom of G-d” (Acts 28:31) with all confidence. And in the letter to the Ephesians he says that the Gentiles “are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens” (Eph. 2:19). They, who once were far off, were “made nigh by the blood of Messiah” (Eph. 2:13). The Gentile believers are thus fully included in Israel by being included in Messiah. It would have made no sense to declare that the Gentile believers were included in Israel if Israel itself had ceased to be HaShem’s chosen nation.

    How are we to understand the utterances mentioned in the last paragraph in the light of what happened at the ends of the Acts of the Apostles, when the Kingdom Offer expired? My guess is that we should think along the following lines.

    The national project of the Kingdom was postponed. Israel as a national entity no longer was the focus of the missionary efforts of Messiah and his Apostles. After Acts 28:28 Jews and Gentiles were missionized on a strictly individual basis and without conscious efforts to lead Israel to national repentance. National repentance will not occur until the end-time. The focus is now on building the Body of Messiah, not on the restoration of national Israel.

    What we should not forget, however, is that the Body of Messiah is still part of Israel. All the believers, whether Jew or Gentile, are included in Israel by being included in Messiah. We thus have a split here, after Acts 28:28, between a believing and an unbelieving part of Israel. The unbelieving part is temporarily set aside, as I said above, without losing its basic status of being Israel. The believing part, i.e. the Assembly or Body of Messiah, is made the focus of the ongoing missionary work, which is now primarily directed to the Gentiles.

    As nowadays’ believers we thus still participate in the hope of Israel, i.e. the Messianic Kingdom. And if we remain faithful and are not cut off, we will participate in Messiah’s reign when he returns, and inherit the Land with him and the resurrected saints. What is called the “Canaan hope” is not foreign to us. We are part of it, for we share in all the spiritual blessings of Israel, which in the future will be realized by Messiah. These blessings include the Torah and the Land. This hope will not be realized, however, before the complete and definitive repentance of the unfaithful part of Israel, which will occur at the Second Coming.

  3. 3 Richard Spendiff January 27, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    Salvation is by faith. A true jew has salvation by faith, as Abraham. Welch was trying to draw a distinction to maybe underline something that does not exist and perhaps bullinger saw finally that the acts 28 demarcation line was not quite what he had hyped it up to be. After all, the law was superceded at the cross by a new priesthood, Jesus was a minister to the circumcision only before his cross.After the cross, gentiles were to be included right from the start long before acts 28 and there was no point offering them, earthly jews, an earthly kingdom when the king had departed to heaven and said king had already foretold that the temple was going to be destroyed. O.T is full of the prophecy of the diaspora so there was no second offer of a kingdom whose priesthood had finished. really! Bullinger is brilliant but on this he was completely in error. I think acts 28 is the solemnization of the hardening of heart that came upon the jews, the mystery that paul mentions in romans of which we are not to raise ourselves up because of the jews general spiritual hardening. They shall be grafted back in to the abrahamic life of faith one day.


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