While one might think that it is easy to give a biblical definition of the Church, there is no consensus on what the Church is and how it fits within God’s overall plans in history. Generic statements that “the Church is the people of God united to Christ through faith,” while accurate, do not address some important questions such as: (1) When did the Church begin? (2) What is the Church’s role both now and in the future? and (3) How does the Church specifically relate to Israel?
With this blog I want to offer some specific statements concerning how I understand the Church, and in doing so address some issues that often are not addressed. Be aware that this is more of a statement of how I understand the Church and not a full-blown defense of my views. Since I am addressing some issues that are rarely addressed I offer my thoughts with the caveat that I may modify my wording later based on further reflection and interaction with others. So let me know what you think.
Definition: The Church is the New Covenant community of God as it exists in this dispensation between the events of Acts 2 (Day of Pentecost) through the rapture of the Church prior to the Day of the Lord.
Constituents: The Church consists of the believing remnant of Israel and believing Gentiles in this era between the events of Acts 2 and the Rapture. The emphasis of this era is on Gentiles coming to faith although a remnant of believing Israel—the “Israel of God”--continues to exist (see Gal 6:16).
The Church only consists of true believers in Jesus Christ. In this sense there is a “universal” Church which consists of all true Christians of this era regardless of geography or time period in which they live. The actual manifestation of the universal church is found in local churches where Christians meet together.
Purpose: In this dispensation while the nation Israel is experiencing a temporary judgment of God and the nation as a whole is characterized by unbelief, God has sovereignly established His Church as His instrument for Gospel and kingdom proclamation. The Church’s purpose is to take the Gospel to the world so that people from every people group can be saved and be qualified to enter Christ’s kingdom when it is established on earth at His second coming. This mission of the Church is to bring glory to God through reaching the lost for Christ, preaching the Word of God, and edifying Christians. The Church is a strategic part of God’s plans as it becomes the instrument for His truth during this era before the kingdom is established.
Relationship to Israel: The Church is not Israel but it is in a close historical and redemptive relationship with Israel. Those in the Church participate in Israel’s covenants which even in the Old Testament were given for the purpose of one day including Gentiles (see Gen 12:2–3). Both the believing remnant of Israel in this age and believing Gentiles participate together in the “one new man” concept (Eph 2:15) in which they participate equally in salvation and spiritual blessings by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Yet they still retain their ethnic identities (see Eph. 3:6). Believing Gentiles are not incorporated into Israel but they participate together with believing Jews in salvation. The Church is a strategic part of God’s plans but in itself is not the final completion of God’s plans. When the “fullness of the Gentiles” has been completed then “all Israel will be saved” and there will be an increase in blessings to the Gentiles (see Rom 11:12).
The Future of the Church: When Israel is saved and restored in connection with Jesus Christ’s second coming and the establishment of His millennial kingdom on earth, those who comprised Jesus’ Church will have positions of authority over the nations which is part of the Church’s reward for faithful service. These are real positions of authority with specific functions to the various nations of the earth. Thus, the Church goes from persecution to positions of authority in the kingdom (see Rev. 2:26–27).
How do members of the Church relate to Israel and the nations in the Millennium and eternal state? I am not dogmatic on this, but it is my belief that members of the Church will forever be identified with the Church and the important role that Christians had in this era between the two comings of Christ. Yet it is also possible that individual members of the Church may integrate into the nations, perhaps identifying with their ethnic group or nation they were associated with during the present era.
I believe this is the case with the remnant of Israel during this present era. I see no reason why a believing Jew in the Church cannot be identified with the nation Israel when Israel experiences the full blessings of the eternal covenants in the Millennium and Eternal State. Thus, in the case of Christian Jews, they can be both part of the Church in this dispensation and part of national Israel when Israel is saved and restored. Thus a dual identity with both the Church and Israel is possible.