Section 8: The Church
Week 1: The Nature of the Church and It’s Mission
Day 1: The Church Plays a Major Role in God’s Plan to Restore Humanity
What is the Church? Seems like a simple question. But unfortunately, it turns out trying to define the church gets a little complicated. The tricky issue has to do with whether Israel/Old Testament believers ought to be included in the definition. Many theologians argue the Church didn’t come to existence until the Day of Pentecost. If that’s true, Israel and the Church represent two distinct groups. It is, therefore, inappropriate to say Old Testament believers are part of the Church. Other theologians argue a basic continuity exists between Old and New Testament believers. The Church, therefore, is comprised of all believers throughout time, not just those who came to faith on or after Pentecost.
What difference does any of this make? Good question. The different definitions probably have the biggest impact on one’s view of eschatology or the end times. We’ll discuss all of this in more detail later, but the basic differences have to do with how we handle certain promises God made to Israel. Dispensationalist theologians (those who see the Church and Israel as distinct groups) note that some of the promises God made to Israel in the Old Testament have not yet been fulfilled. That has ramifications for their understanding of the end times because that’s when they believe God will fulfill his promises to Israel. The result is that God’s plan for Israel is not exactly the same as it is for the Church. Covenant theologians, on the other hand, argue that any unfulfilled promises were either forfeited by Israel’s disobedience or have been inherited by New Testament believers as well. As a result, they do not see a separate end time plan for Israel.
Our focus isn’t on the end times at the moment though. So, let’s put off that discussion for now. What we need to understand is that even if we see Israel and the Church as two distinct groups, they share one very important thing in common. They are both intimately connected to God’s plan to restore humanity.
As we’ve seen, the Fall really messed things up. Sin fractured the harmony that once existed in the universe God created. As a result, nothing works the way it’s supposed to. God intends to do something about that. He plans to put the pieces back together again as it were.
One of the major pieces that needs repairing, of course, is our relationship with God. From the moment the Fall occurred, God has been gathering people back to himself. We see the outworking of that plan, for instance, in God’s call of Abraham, and in the promises he made to Abraham’s descendants, Isaac and Jacob, culminating in the special relationship God had with the nation of Israel.
God’s plan to restore his relationship with humanity extended beyond the confines of Israel though. That’s why it’s no surprise to find salvation being offered to both Jew and Gentile (non-Jewish people) in the New Testament. The Church today is thus the outworking of a plan that started long ago.
Read Eph. 1-3
How does Paul describe the Church? What role does the Church play in God’s eternal plan? Does Paul’s description alter your view of the Church?