Wednesday, April 05, 2006

On the Church/Israel Distinction

So far in my studies of progressive dispensationalism and covenantal theology, two things seem to cause the biggest rift between the two views. First is the Church/Israel distinction and second is the fulfillment of the promises to Israel in the Old Testament. Were these promises fulfilled in the Church or are they yet to be fulfilled. As you can see these two issues are closely related. How you see the Israel/Church distinction will determine to a strong degree how you see the promise fulfillment issue and vise versa.

So far in my looking at the Israel/Church distinction, it does seem that the New Testament makes a distinction between the two. Paul in Galatians says,

Gal 6:16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

The term “Israel of God” seems to be set out separate from the Church to whom Paul was speaking. This passage is debated though, in fact the NIV says, “EVEN the Israel of God” which seems to equate the church with Israel. I don’t have a definitive answer, but the KJV seems to have the correct rendering of the Greek word “kai” in this context. This verse is a bit crucial, because if the NIV’s rendering is correct then this is the only verse where the Church is specifically called Israel, and we have a definitive case of the Church being called Israel in Scripture. This is not to say that there are not many passages which allude to continuities and discontinuities between the two, but none explicitly say the Church is Israel or not Israel

The distinction in this verse does not really answer the question as to what the distinctions are. Though the New Testament seems to keep a distinction between Israel and the Church, even covenantal theologians make a distinction to some degree. No covenantal theologian would argue that the Church is Israel in the sense of physical Jewish descendants. But spiritually we are the one people of God.

Interestingly the Old Testament Septuagint uses the word “Ekklesia” several times in referring to Israel as the people of God. Now those of you who know a little Greek will know that this is the word for Church that is used in the New Testament. In this case the word carries with it the idea of assembling of the “people of God”. So it seems in one sense that the people of God are the Church, in the Old and New Testaments. But this is an extremely general use of the term Church. As most of you know, words have different senses depending upon the context. So in one sense we can keep the distinction, the church is not primarily Jewish descendants. But in another sense the church constitutes the people of God, just like the people of God in the Old Testament. In this sense they are the same.

There seems to be several other distinctions between Israel and the New Testament Church. We are not under the Mosaic sacrificial system, and we have the Holy Spirit in a different sense than they did (still working on this distinction so if anyone has any clarifications feel free). According to Charles Ryrie, the church is distinct in three different ways at least. 1) It has a distinct character in its relationship to Christ, 2) It has a distinct time, and 3) It is not the nation of Israel physically. In the most basic form I agree with this and I would also add that one thing that is distinct about the Church is that the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile has been abolished, and it is one new man (Eph. 2:15).

Even with all of these distinctions it does not mean that the believers in the Old Testament and the believers in the New Testament do not form one spiritual body constituting the people of God. We are all heirs of the promise of Abraham. In this there seems to be no distinction.

But this does not answer the eschatological question of are there distinct ends for the Church and Israel? This will bring up the other dividing point between covenantal and dispensational theologians, which has to do with the kingdom promises and whether they are spiritual or physical? This is a question I’m still working through and it will probably take the rest of my life, but it seems the way you will answer this is somewhat dependant upon what you think scripture is most focused on when it makes its promises to Israel. Is it more focused on the physical descendants (national Israel) or is it more focused on the believers within Israel (spiritual Israel), those who are circumcised of heart within national Israel?

As you can see this is a work in progress.

God Bless,

Doug

12 Comments:

At Thursday, April 06, 2006 3:05:00 AM, Anonymous Rob Somers said...

Hey Doug,

Just a couple of thoughts that I might add,

"Interestingly the Old Testament Septuagint uses the word “Ekklesia” several times in referring to Israel as the people of God. Now those of you who know a little Greek will know that this is the word for Church that is used in the New Testament. In this case the word carries with it the idea of assembling of the “people of God”. So it seems in one sense that the people of God are the Church, in the Old and New Testaments. But this is an extremely general use of the term Church. As most of you know, words have different senses depending upon the context."

A very good example of this usage of "ekklesia" is in Deuteronomy 31:28-30. I was just thinking of that passage this morning, in comparison to Matthew 18:15-17. You alluded to the idea that just because the same word is used in the New Testament does not necessarily mean that the writer had a connection in mind. You may well be right - it is difficult to know without more proof. On the other hand, those early Christians, whose Bible was the Septuagint, may well have made the connection between the assembly and the church. As an interesting aside, I cannot help but see similarities between the Deuteronomy passage and Acts 20:17-38, especially verse 17, where we again see the word church [ekklesia], as well as the word elder [presbuterous] just as we see it in Deuteronomy 31:28.

Anyway, I am out of time (gotta get for work) so I will leave off here. Interesting posts Doug - I am enjoying them.

Rob

 
At Thursday, April 06, 2006 4:43:00 AM, Blogger Simon said...

Doug,
Another good post.
If I can share my ideas, maybe someone can explain why I'm wrong!!!
You have mentioned the differences between Israel and the church. There is definitely a big change in the people of God at the cross, resurrection and Pentecost.
So why can't we say that the people of God were Israel, and now are the church - Jews and Gentiles?
Why do we have to say that there is continuity between Israel and the church?
And why do we have to say that Israel has a future? If rthe Jews are now saved by faith in Christ, the same as everyone else, that is it isn't it?

Maybe some important passages are Romans 9-11 and Galatians 3:7-9.

I'll be interested in peoples comments.

God Bless,
Simon

 
At Thursday, April 06, 2006 7:54:00 AM, Blogger bluecollar said...

Doug,

I am enjoying this series.

Mark

 
At Thursday, April 06, 2006 8:05:00 AM, Blogger T A Blankenship said...

Doug, It seems to me that Romans 9 - 11 is very strongly advocating the difference of Israel and the church. In chapter 11 verse 1 and verse 11 certainly seems to be speaking of the nation.
Yes, right now during the church age the Jew and Gentile make up the one body of Christ - the church - but God still has a plan for national Israel.
Other verses for consideration would be 25 - 32.
You have probably already thought of these. I appreciate the time and study you have put into this. You are doing great.

 
At Thursday, April 06, 2006 3:02:00 PM, Blogger Gordon Cloud said...

Doug, you are really doing some serious study on this topic and I applaud you for it.

 
At Thursday, April 06, 2006 3:39:00 PM, Blogger Joshua Ritchie said...

I echo what TA said:

Yes, right now during the church age the Jew and Gentile make up the one body of Christ - tge church - but God still has a plan for national Israel.


That's what I've come to understand as I've studied the Minor Prophets.

 
At Thursday, April 06, 2006 7:30:00 PM, Blogger edwardseanist said...

Again Doug, I really think that you are getting somewhere. You are asking all the right questions and getting to the heart of the matter.

I recently went to a men's retreat (down by your kneck of the woods) and I learned a lot more about the Covenant of Grace. To me, a correct understanding of the Covenant of Grace is perhaps the most crucial aspect of this whole debate. The answer to these questions lays the whole foundation.

With whom was this covenant made?

Is there more than one Covenant of Grace?

When was that covenant made?

Blessings,

Edwardseanist

 
At Thursday, April 06, 2006 9:25:00 PM, Blogger Doug E. said...

Thanks everyone,

You've all made some great comments, which cause me to stop and consider.

Many of you raise some important scriptures which I need to get a deeper understanding of and Simon and Edwardseanist you raise some great questions. I don't think I'll have this resolved anytime soon. I feel I need to read through the Bible completely just with these ideas in mind, but your help is appreciated.

Doug

 
At Friday, April 07, 2006 1:43:00 AM, Blogger edwardseanist said...

I guess Ill take a shot at responding to Simon. Simon said:

"If I can share my ideas, maybe someone can explain why I'm wrong!!!
You have mentioned the differences between Israel and the church. There is definitely a big change in the people of God at the cross, resurrection and Pentecost.
So why can't we say that the people of God were Israel, and now are the church - Jews and Gentiles?"

My Response: The reason (IMHO) why we can't say that the people of God was Israel and now is the Church is because they are the same spiritual people. That is, Israel is the people of God, who by faith, are united to Christ. What's the difference? They were given a new name. We are not to think that God has two plans, one for the Jews and one for the Church. We are also not to think that God has forsaken his people, "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring" (Romans 9). So basically, I think the interpretive problem arises when you limit the people of God to a visible people. It is a spiritual people. Just like there are people in the church visible, who are not apart of the church invisible.

Simon writes: "Why do we have to say that there is continuity between Israel and the church?"

There are so many reasons, but here are a couple:

Because the covenant of grace is the same covenant from beginning to end, including one covenant people, and one covenant promise. To say that there is discontinuity between the covenant people of God is to say that there has been a radical change in what God has promised.

That said, yes there is some discontinuity, i.e. we don't sacrifice animals, we worship on the Lord's day and not Saturday etc. but the rule I go by is, what has not been done away with because of the New, must still remain.

SImon writes: "And why do we have to say that Israel has a future?"

I believe that there is a hope for the fleshly seed of Abraham (notice I said "fleshly) but not in some sort of eschatological way. For there always have been and always will be Jews who place their faith in Christ. But there is much debate among Reformed folk like myself about the interpretation of Romans 11.

Simon Writes: "If the Jews are now saved by faith in Christ, the same as everyone else, that is it isn't it?"

Exactly :-)

Maybe some important passages are Romans 9-11 and Galatians 3:7-9.

Yes, these deal with some of the issues.

I hope I helped answer your questions, and demonstrate a consitent Covenantal view.

Blessings,

Edwardseanist

 
At Friday, April 07, 2006 5:53:00 AM, Blogger Simon said...

Thanks Edwardseanist!
This is useful.

I think I am with you on the Covenants. Salvation by grace through faith is always the way of salvation.

I suppose it would take several posts to look at what has been done away with and what is left in the New Covenant! Would you say that "fulfilled in Christ" is a better way of putting ity than "done away with"?

If you are saying that the future of Israel is by being converted and being part of the church, I am with you. The issue of a future major conversion of the Jews is something I simply can't make up my mind on either.

Thanks again,

Simon

 
At Friday, April 07, 2006 11:59:00 AM, Blogger Doug E. said...

Edwardseanist,

Great answers. Thanks for asking them Simon.

As you know I tend to lean more heavily in your direction then the dispensationalist position, but the way you used Romans 9 is debated (unless I missunderstood you).

In the Romans 9, the dispensationalist will say that this passage, dealing with the children of flesh and the children of promise, is not referring to believers and non-believers, or to put it another way circumcised of heart and non-circumcised of heart. The distinction that Paul is bringing out is still a physical distinction between the descendants of Abraham. The fleshly being seen in Ishmael and Esau, and the Children of promise being seen in Isaac, and Jacob etc.

In their opinion, what Paul is doing here is using a historical fact to prove that God has the right to sovereign election, but he is not trying to prove that those who believe are the children of promise and those who do not believe are the children of flesh. Though that may be true in one sense it is not what Paul is trying to say here with this example.

In fact as you know, it is just the beginning of the three chapter argument (9-11) that Paul is making.

The argument could be summarized like this.

Paul starts out with the idea of God's sovereign choice between who of Abraham descendants get to be of the people of promise, or the linage which blesses the world. Ishmael and Esau and their descendant are rejected and the linage of Isaac and Jacob are accepted. Why is it this way, because of God’s election.

In chapter 10 he continues with the idea that the Gospel is going out to both Jew and gentile yet most of Israel is rejecting it. In fact they are provoked to jealousy, which is part of Paul’s plan and it seems God’s too.

In chapter 11 is where it seems to get interesting as he makes statements to the effect of…

Rom 11:1 I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.

And

Rom 11:5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant (of Jews) according to the election of grace.

This obviously proves that even Jews are being saved by God during this time.

He then says,…

Rom 11:13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:
Rom 11:14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation (read Jealousy) them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.

Again we see the idea that God is provoking them to Jealousy.

He then goes into the argument of the tree and some being broken off and gentile grafted in. And then argues that the Jews can be grafted back in quite easily.

Which proves in my mind that we are actually part of spiritual Israel there is not distinction spiritually, But the distinction is still there physically.

Then he says…

Rom 11:25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
Rom 11:26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:

John Gill says about this…

“Rom 11:26 - And so all Israel shall be saved,.... Meaning not the mystical spiritual Israel of God, consisting both of Jews and Gentiles, who shall appear to be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation, when all God's elect among the latter are gathered in, which is the sense many give into; but the people of the Jews, the generality of them, the body of that nation, called "the fulness" of them, Rom_11:12, and relates to the latter day, when a nation of them shall be born again at once; when, their number being as the sand of the sea, they shall come up out of the lands where they are dispersed, and appoint them one head, Christ, and great shall be the day of Jezreel; when they as a body, even the far greater part of them that shall be in being, shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their King; shall acknowledge Jesus to be the true Messiah, and shall look to him, believe on him, and be saved by him from wrath to come.”

All of this has some indication that Paul is still keeping the distinction between physical Israel and the Spiritually elect of God (including gentiles), and it does seem that he is indicating the future gathering of many Jewish believers at a later time.

I find this passage quite difficult as some phases are hard to decipher. This is obviously where this disagreements lie, but it does seem that the progressives do have some leg to stand on. Through this, it could be taken to argue that in the OT the church was primarily Jews, now it is primarily Gentiles, then one day in the future the Jews will believe again.

Sorry for the length but I’m trying to get a good handle on it, and I don’t think I have it yet.
any further imput you have on this passage would be helpful.

God Bless,

Doug

 
At Friday, April 07, 2006 12:04:00 PM, Blogger Doug E. said...

P.S.

I agree that there are not two plans for the people of God. There is one elect people from both new and O.T. made up of both Jew and Gentile.

I guess I'm just not sure that God is not going to save a large number of the Jews in the last days.

Maybe that even falls under covanatal theology. I'm not quite sure. If that's the case then I guess I still don't know where progressive differ then regarding the Israel/Church distinction.

Doug

 

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