Barry is the founder and Professor of the M.Div. program for Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.
The New Testament Church
From a previous article, I said that the Church is composed of believers. Believers announce their conversion by submission to Baptism. This also joins them to a body of believers who meet regularly for worship, edification and mutual service to one another. This assembly becomes a church when it begins to perform the duties of a church. Those duties are, at minimum, the right preaching of the Word, the correct administration of the Lord’s Table and the practice of Baptism. Both Baptism and the Lord’s Table require formal membership and membership requires that Church Discipline be performed.
The church must be distinguished from the nation of Israel. While God primarily revealed Himself through His dealings with the nation of Israel and the ethnic race that composed that nation in the times of the Old Testament, we can see He no longer works in that same way. With the New Covenant made in the blood of Christ, the Old Covenant was not set-aside but was fulfilled.
Heb. 1:1-2 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.
The New Testament Church is the New Covenant Church. What I mean to say by this is that with the coming of the New Covenant, the means and institution by which God operates upon the earth is no longer the nation of Israel but is the Church. I am intentionally avoiding the discussion about eschatology at this point. It is not relevant to our discussion and would only side-track us from my purpose.
The New Covenant
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart, I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34
Space does not permit me to do a full exegesis of this passage (although, I might in the future) but let us at least note a few things. The covenant that was made with Israel occurred after God delivered them from Egypt. We know that on Mt. Sanai God gave them the 10 Commandments and we can read in Leviticus through Deuteronomy that God gave many commands and precepts to the nation. We can see that they did indeed break the precepts and commands that God gave to them. This was the Old Covenant.
“I will put My law within them and on their heart, I will write it”
The New Covenant will include a change of heart. A change of heart is the same as regeneration. When we are born again, we get a new heart. The New Covenant cannot be broken like the Old Covenant was. The reason that the New Covenant cannot be broken is because that it is grounded in Christ. Christ died for the sins of His people and once a person is in Christ they cannot be lost or fall away because He keeps them.
The Old Covenant
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” Matthew 5:17
The Old Testament laws requiring washings, sacrifices, temple worship, and ritual cleansing have passed away with the ascension of Christ. Not long after his death, Jerusalem was sacked and the temple was razed (70 A.D.). To this date, it has never been restored. While we may debate as to its future restoration, I think we can all at least agree that during this New Testament time, the church is not Israel and that the destruction of the Temple makes it clear that God rejects those previous forms of worship. The Book of Hebrews, as well as other New Testament passages make this very clear.
Hebrews 8:8-12 repeats Jeremiah 31 and then verse 13 of Hebrews 8 says: “When He said, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.”
Hebrews 9 then goes on to describe the Old Covenant and its connections to the Old Testament worship system. Verses 11- 14 tell us how Christ fulfilled the Old Covenant and established the New Covenant through His blood and sacrifice on the Cross.
v.15 “For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”
The Old Testament believers were saved by faith (Hebrews 11) as they looked forward to the sacrifice that was to come in the Messiah. And with the work of Christ on the cross, the Old Covenant of shadows was fulfilled and the New Covenant of clarity was established when the work of Christ was completed.
Part 2: The Blood and the New Covenant (Coming soon)