Proposition No. 1:
In what sense is Israel a church, and since she is spoken of as such in the New Testament, in what manner is the Christian Church distinguished when compared to Israel?
In a discussion upon so important a subject, it is obvious that three things must be established; first, the meaning of the word church, and this must be derived, not only through etymology, but also from Biblical usage; in second place, some of the features of Israel as a nation must be determined; and, finally, it will be necessary to examine certain characteristics of the Christian Church.
The Word Church:
It is commonly known that our English word Church is not a translation of the Greek word Ecclesia. This may seem unfortunate; nevertheless, the English word has a pleasant meaning most appropriate to its use. The word Church, like the German, kirche, or the Scotch, kirk, means, that which is the Lord’s. Some translators use the word “assembly” as a better equivalent of Ecclesia. How precious to know that the Christian Church or Assembly belongs to the Lord. The word “Ecclesia” is a compound formed by the preposition, out, and the verb, to call, and means “to call out.”
In the Book of The Acts the word Ecclesia appears in a threefold relationship: nationally, municipally, and selectively. It is used of Jews, of heathen, and of Christians.
It is applied in its national sense to the Jews in chapter 7:37-38, “Moses … that was in the church in the wilderness.” i.e., Moses who was in the called out assembly in the wilderness. It has been pointed out by Dr Scofield that Israel in the Holy Lane is never called a church, but in the wilderness she was indeed a church a called out assembly, called out in Abraham from Ur, (Gen. 11:31-12:3) and later called out from Egypt.
In Acts 19:39-41, it is associated with the municipal gathering of the heathen in the theatre at Ephesus. These had been called out of their homes and places of business by Demetrius and his fellow-craftsmen in protest against the preaching of the apostles.
The word is used repeatedly in its Christian relationship throughout the entire book; for example, “The church which was in Jerusalem” (11:22). “The church that was at Antioch.” (13:1).
The nation of Israel rests upon God’s call to Abraham, and His covenant with him, (Gen. 12:1-3) in which three terms are specified; first, Abraham was to become a great nation; second, he in this nation was to inherit the Holy Land; finally, through Abraham’s Seed (Gal. 3:16) all nations were to be blessed. The Bible deals with these aspects of Israel’s history; the Pentateuch with the rise of the people from one family through many vicissitudes until ts a band of escaped slaves they are organized into a nation at Sinai; the remainder of the Bible with their relationship to the Holy Land. Similarly, the Holy Scriptures reveal to us the coming of Abraham’s Seed who is Christ, through whom the blessing of Abraham was to come upon the nations. (Gal. 3:14) This remarkable revelation is given progressively; first, God chooses a nation, (Ex. 19:5-6; Num. 24:17) then a tribe, (Gen. 49:10) then a family, (2 Sam. 7:12-17; Heb. 1:5) eventually a woman blessed above all others, (Luke 1:26-32) and through her God sent forth His Son. (Gal. 4:4) Of these concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. (Rom. 9:5) God’s major purpose in Israel was to give through that nation a Saviour to the world.
The Christian Church:
There are many characteristics by which the Church is distinguished and through which she is seen a contrast to Israel. Christ is her divine Architect, “Upon this rock, I will build My Church.” (Matt. 16:18) The Holy Spirit is her Builder, “In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Eph. 2:22) The doctrinal foundation upon which she rests is Christ, (Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 3:11) and her chronological foundation is clearly stated, “Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone.” (Eph. 2:21) As far as order is concerned the apostles were first in the Church, then the New Testament prophets, and then throughout the succeeding generations all believers. Let us consider the present purpose of God in the Church. It is a mystery which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs (with the Jews), and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel. (Eph. 3:5-6) Let us also look at the future purpose of God for the Church, “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her; that He might sanctify and cleanse her with washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious Church not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such things, but that she should be holy without blemish.” (Eph. 5:25) To these we must add the eternal purposes of God in the Church “The Church which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.” (Eph. 1:22-23) The Church is the complementary part of the Christ. The complete and ultimate purpose of God in the Church is that she be the Lamb’s wife; (Rev. 19:7-9) of His flesh, and of His bone, (Eph. 5:30) the sharer of His glory. (Col. 3:4)
This investigation makes evident God’s major purpose in Israel was, that the nation produce the circumstance of the Incarnation, the channel through which the Invisible God revealed Himself to man in His own exact image, Jesus Christ. To accomplish this, God called the nation out of Egypt, and brought it into the Holy Land. In its called-out state Israel was a church, and as such only provides us with an illustration of the use of the word. The Christian Church, in the eternal purposes, is to be the body which united to the Head forms the Christ. (I Cor. 1:12) She is the filling full of Him who fills all in all. The Church is not the channel through which Christ came but the object for which He came. She is not the medium through which Christ reveals Himself, as much as she is the object to which He reveals Himself. She has been called out from among all nations to be the sharer of Christ’s glory, and of her He says, “My Church.”