Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, a baptist church in Jessup, MD. B.A. in Bible, B.S. English Ed., M.S. in Educational Leadership.
When I became the pastor of my church this year, I found out that, although the church had its Articles of Incorporation ready, the church did not have a Constitution and Bylaws. I, therefore, undertook writing them.
Not Israel Itself
I took to the Bible, and the first thing I looked for is an answer to the question "What is the church?" When the Lord asked his disciples who they thought he was, Peter answered that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God. In response, Jesus said he would build his church upon that rock.
That rock is Peter's confession of faith—that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of the true God: the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob. That Jesus is the Christ: the Messiah, God's anointed King over Israel and the world.
Peter's confession is a most important declaration in the Bible, and the Lord's response is a most important declaration concerning the church. Jesus said that he would build his church on that same confession, the confession made by Peter. In other words, the church would be a new group, a group composed of people who made the same confession as Peter (Matthew 16:16-18).
The implications of this truth are great. The Jewish Messiah told his Jewish disciples that his church would be built on the confession that Jesus is the Messiah. Unlike membership in the biblical nation of Israel, Jews would not become members of the church simply because they were descendants of Abraham—instead, they would need to believe in Jesus. The church, then, would be a distinct group from the rest of the nation.
One New Man
This doctrine is reinforced in Paul's epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesias 2:14-16), where we are told that Christ has reconicled with God both Jews and gentiles who believe in him, and he has made of them (the Jews and the gentiles who believe in him) one new man (Ephesians 2:19).
Accordingly, God showed Peter and the church that the Gospel should be preached not only to Jews, but also to gentiles: for God had granted gentiles the opportunity to repent and to believe in Jesus Christ to receive eternal life.
Faithful Israel Plus Believing Gentiles
Now, there are New Testament Scriptures in which it appears that Israel and the church are the same (Galatians 6:16, Romans 9:6-7, 1 Peter 2:9). Why is that?
Throughout the Old Testament (Tanach), Israel was composed of righteous Israelites and unrighteous Israelites, of those who walked in the faith of Abraham and of those who were simply religious. However, God's promises for Israel have always been for the righteous, not the unrighteous. Therefore, all the promises that God has made to Israel are for the benefit of the righteous Israelites, those who believe in the Messiah.
What this means is that both faithful Israel and the church are redeemed by the Messiah, the Root of Jesse and God's righteous servant (Isaiah 11:1, 9-10; 53:2-5).
For this reason, God's word reminds us that we have been added as branches to God's tree (Romans 11:15-23), of which Jesus is the holy root, and Israel the natural branches. Those Israelites who did not believe were cut off from Christ, but those who did believe remained on the tree, and we were added to this tree when we believed (Romans 11:15-23).
A Distinction Is Preserved
But if Israel will only be saved and receive the promises through faith in Jesus the Messiah, are the promises really for the church and not for the nation?
One way in which dispensationalists answer this question is by saying that all Jews who believe in Jesus in this age are members of the church, and all Jews who will believe in Jesus during the tribulation and at the second coming of the Lord are members of faithful Israel.
However, Paul recognized that faithful Israel was active in his days, during the church age (Romans 11:5). James also saw the addition of gentile believers unto the church as the way in which God would fulfill his promises to faithful Israel (Acts 15:15-17). For this reason, I imagine that it is quite possible that, although we (faithful Israel and believing gentiles) are all one new man in Jesus Christ, the distinction between Jews and gentiles may still be preserved during the millenium, when God fulfills his promises to Israel and his promises for the gentiles who believe in his Messiah (Revelation 7:4-10, Isaiah 11:10).
What Then Is The Church?
The church is the assembly of all Jewish and gentile believers in Jesus Christ. The Jewish believers in Jesus Christ will receive the promises made unto faithful Israel throughout the Old Testament, and the gentiles will receive the promises made unto godly gentiles through the Old Testament. Moreover, both groups will receive the promises made unto them in the New Testament.
What do you think? How do you define the church? Comment to let us know.
© 2020 Marcelo Carcach