Thursday, May 6, 2010

Identifing the Church

What is the church, and how does it relate to the nation of Israel? Some see Israel as becoming the church. Others see them as two separate entities, not to be confused. Others say they are two different manifestations of one people of God. Now certain principles apply to both, such as salvation by grace through faith (Genesis 15:6;Romans 4:1-5; Psalms 32:1,2; Romans 4:6-9; Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17). There are also differences between the two (Hebrews 10:1-10; Colossians 2:16-17; Mark 7:19). I would maintain that what changes and what does not should be based on what Scripture says, rather than on a preconceived concept . But that does not resolve all the issues.

We are baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13), which is the church (Colossians 1:18). Now in Galatians 3:27, it says that those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Philippians 3:9 speaks of our being found in Him, having not our own righteousness but Christ's, which is the basis of our salvation (Romans 3:21-24). Therefore, the church is the assembly of those who are saved. But there are passages of Scripture which mention both the church (Matthew 16:18) and baptism by the Spirit as yet future (Acts 1:5). Now there is a change in the working of the Spirit between the Old and New Testaments (John 7:39; 14:17). But Scripture makes it clear that no one can be saved (John 3:5) or genuinely obey God (John15:7) without a work of God in their life. Nevertheless, there is a change, and the logical conclusion is that this change relates to salvation promised versus salvation accomplished (Romans 3:25, 26). If so, it must ultimately be applied to all who are promised salvation. I would therefore conclude that the church is the assembly of all believers of all ages after the time of Pentecost.

What, then, is the place of Israel? Now the initial response may be that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, as all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28-29). However, in this same passage it says there is neither male nor female, but elsewhere in Scripture there are distinctions made (Ephesians 5:21-33). Therefore, I conclude that unity in Christ does not obliterate temporal distinctions. Consequently, there could still be specific temporal promises to the nation of Israel. Now I would hold that there is a Scriptural basis for a restoration of the Jewish people (Romans 11) and that the references to being set aside can be referred to the specific generation of Christ's time (Matthew 21:43). This fits better with the grace of God, whose callings are not revocable (Romans 11:29). But others disagree, and I would write this off as a minor interpretative issue if it did not impact the more complicated issue of how to understand the prophecies of the Second Coming. It is beyond my purpose to deal with these details here, but they should be argued on their own merits, not on how they fit into a presupposed system.


  1. I find that the best and most consistent way to understand Israel is to compare it to the visible church. While Israel was corporally in Covenant with God, just being a fleshly child of Abraham did not make one a partaker of that covenant anymore than simply joining the visible church does today. Once that has been established, the covenants fall together quite nicely.

  2. I would with you that being a fleshly child of Abraham does not necessarily make you a partaker of the covenant. But as I alluded to in my post I have a problem seeing the many prophecies of an involvement of the nation of Israel at the time of the Second Coming of Christ as purely symbolical. I would affirm that any end times conversion of the Jewish people would involve only those who are true Israel. But I do see such a event Scriptural as part of God's plan.