Division In The Church - Israel and the Church
Division In The Church
Israel and the Church
How does the nation Israel fit into the plan of God? There are three main interpretations of the scripture concerning this doctrine in the church today. The "Covenant" theology, "Reformed Grace" theology, and "Dispensational" theology. Since dispensational theology seems to be most prevalent in my area at the time it may be good to focus our attention on it first.
Historically dispensational theology was not known until the mid 1800"s. At a meeting in the church of Edward Irving in March of 1830, Miss Margaret McDonald, in a vision, gave a prophecy in which she spoke of the visible, open, and glorious second coming of Christ. As the utterance continued she then began to speak of another coming of Christ- a secret coming in which Christ would come and rapture those who were truly ready and looking for His return. Those who were left behind would then go through a tribulation period. Pastor Irving began to teach this only amongst his own congregation. In a Plymouth Brethern Church of England, however, a man named John Nelson Darby introduced it into the main stream of prophetic interpretation. This teaching is basically unchanged from Pastor Darby's writings and is seen predominantly in a reference Bible written by Cyrus Ingerson Scofield.
Those who accept this teaching believe that Israel and the church are two separate bodies. Israel being Christ's earthly kingdom and the church being Christ's heavenly kingdom. Most dispensational teachers believe that a large percentage of the Old Testament is written concerning the nation Israel and is unfulfilled, whereas the New Testament is written primarily for the Church. A further division is made by a group known as ultra-dispensationalists who believe only Paul's prison letters are applicable to the church. Some of the statements which reflect these beliefs are as follows:
Regular Baptist Press
"We believe in the premillennial return of Christ, and event which can occur at any moment, and at that moment the dead in Christ shall be raised in glorified bodies, and the living in Christ shall be given glorified bodies without tasting death , and all shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air before the seven years of the tribulation. (I Thess. 4:3-18, I Cor. 15:42-44; 51- 54; Phil. 3:20,21; Rev. 3:10) We believe that the Tribulation, which follows the Rapture of the Church, will be culminated by the revelation of Christ in power and great glory to sit upon the throne of David and to establish the millennial kingdom. (Dan. 9:25- 27; Matt. 24:2 9-31; Luke 1:30-33; Isa. 9:6,7; 11:1-9; Acts 2:29,30; Rev. 20:1- 4, 6)
Hope of Glory Bible Church
"Sixth, we believe that the message of grace for today was given to and through the Apostle Paul (Rom. 11:13; Rom. 15:8.16). Paul is the Apostle that brought the message for today, not Peter and the 12 (Gal.2:7). Since we believe this is so we sincerely believe one must rightly divide the Word of God (II Tim. 2:15) and that our walking orders for today are found in Paul's writing's Romans through Philemon. All scripture is for us (II Tim. 3:16,17) but not all written to us."
An in depth study of this doctrinal belief shows that its followers adhere to the supposition that the main purpose of God is to set up a physical kingdom on this earth for the Jews and that the church age of which we are now a part is merely a parenthesis in this eternal plan. There are two groups who oppose this view of scripture, both are reformed in their theology (meaning they adhere to the teaching of the fathers of the reformation, who in turn followed the teachings of the apostolic church).
The first we will look at is the Covenant theologist. Those who adhere to this doctrinal belief, believe that the promises made in the Old Testament were fulfilled by Christ when he established His church on the earth. They believe in only one kingdom, that being the spiritual kingdom of God which is made up of all saints from Adam on. Their main difference of interpretation with the Grace Theology, which we will look at later on, deals with the advancement of the kingdom. Covenant theologians adhere to infant baptism because they believe that the children of believers are to be sanctified in Christ in the same way as the infant Jews were sanctified by circumcision in the Old Testament.
The Westminster Confession of Faith contains a very good explanation of Covenant Theology:
Chapter XXVII "Of the Sacraments" Paragraphs IV-VII read as follows:
"Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, (Mark xvi. 15,16; Acts viii. 37, 38) but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized. (Gen. xvii. 7, 9, with Gal. iii.9, 14 and Col.ii. 11, 12, and Acts ii.38, 39, and Romans iv. 11, 12; I Cor.vii. 14; Matt. xxviii. 19; Mark x. 13- 16; Luke xviii. 15; [Am. ed. Acts xvi. 14, 15, 33]. Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, (Luke vii.30 with Exod. iv. 24-26) yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, (Rom.iv. 11; Acts x. 2. 4, 22, 31, 45, 47.) or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated (Acts viii. 13, 23.) The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered (John iii:5, 8,); yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such, (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God's own will, in His appointed time. (Gal. iii:27; Titus iii. 5; Eph. v. 25, 26; Acts ii. 38, 41) The sacrament of baptism is but once to be administered to any person. (Titus iii. 5)"
The "Reformed Grace" theologian believes in the baptism of only those who are regenerated. They agree with dispensationalists that baptism is to be administered only to those who have been regenerated, thus the term "believers baptism", (The ultra-dispensationalist does not believe baptism is for the church age) but being of the reformed faith they adhere to the belief of only one kingdom, one judgement, and one return of Christ. This can be seen in the following confession of faith.
The Baptist Confession of Faith 1689
Chapter 29 "Of Baptism", chapter 31 "Of the State of Man After Death, and of the Ressurection of the Dead, and Chapter 32 "Of the Last Judgement"
Chapter 29 "1.Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; (Rom. 6:3- 5, Col. 2:12, Gal. 3:27) of remission of sins (Mark 1:4; Acts 22: 16) and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, and to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). 2 Those who do actually profess repentance toward God, faith in, and obedience to our Lord Jesus, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance. (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:36, 37; 2:41; 8:12; 18:8.)
Chapter 31 2. At the last day, such of the saints as are found alive shall not sleep, but be changed; (I Cor. 15:51, 52; I Thess. 4:17) and all the dead shall be raised up with the selfsame bodies, and none other; (Job 19:26, 27) although with different qualities, which shall be united again to their souls for ever. (I Cor. 15:42, 43) 3. The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of God, be raised to dishonor; the bodies of the just , by his Spirit, unto honor, and be made conformable to his own glorious body. (Acts 24:15; John 5:28, 29; Phil.3:21)
Chapter 32 1. God hath appointed a day wherein he will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ; (Acts 17:31; John 5:22, 27) to whom all power and judgement is given of the Father; in which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, (I Cor. 6:3; Jude 6) but likewise all persons that have lived upon the earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds, and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil. (II Cor. 5:10, Eccles. 12:14; Matt. 12:36; Rom. 14:10, 12; Matt. 25:32 to the end)."
As can be seen in the above statements and by reading the scriptures given, the main difference in all statements given is in interpretation of the scriptures. Whereas the reformed grace and covenant theologian adhere to a present spiritual fulfillment of prophecy seen in the church, the dispensationalist sees a future physical fulfillment which concerns the Jewish Nation. So far as baptism is concerned the dispensationalist and the reformed grace theologian see it as a sign of the death, burial and resurrection of the believer in the finished work of Christ, while the covenant theologian looks at it as a sign and seal of the covenant of salvation for God's people.
Can these differences be adhered to without animosity between brother's in Christ, or are they true reasons for dissension in the universal body? First of all, concerning Israel and the church, what we see is a doctrinal issue which has absolutely no bearing on the life of the believer at this time. The church of today has no cut-off at all concerning race or language. The gospel is for all nations and peoples. (Gal.3: 26-29; Col.3:10 - 11) Any plan God may have concerning another kingdom, if He has such a plan, will be instituted after the present church has been removed from the scene, according to dispensational teaching. So why is there so much dissension over a future event which may be going to occurring while the true church is worshiping at the feet of Christ? Frankly I'll find it impossible to think of anything but my Savior as I kneel before His throne, and I often wonder what edification the believer can receive for his or her daily life from events which are not supposed to occur until the lives of all believers in the present age are over.
I understand very well how Old Testament saints were edified by the knowledge of a coming Savior who would die for their sins and make their way to heaven secure because its fulfillment was their only hope of eternal life. We also look to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and are greatly blessed and in fact place our hope of eternal salvation in this fact, but why would the possible future reign of Israel, which has absolutely no bearing on the church's present or future spiritual condition or life, be such a vital issue that divisions are caused because of it? Through my study of the scriptures I have been brought to agree with the "Reformed Grace" theology and it is true that when I sit under ministries of different persuasions I sometimes shake my head at what seem to me to be blatant contradictions of the scriptures. But this does not mean that the brother who is preaching the Word of God is not preaching the gospel. It means that in one of our lives human reasoning has taken the place of spiritual revelation. This constitutes a problem which, instead of being solved by the interaction of two brothers sitting down with an open mind, the Word of God and prayer, is heightened by brothers who split from each other and try to draw others to their way of thinking. When this happens the power of the Holy Spirit is quenched regardless of who is right or wrong because human pride has destroyed spiritual unity in the church.
When I find I disagree with a brother, either in a message or a book, I write to him expressing what I believe the Spirit of God has lead me to understand concerning the scriptures. Although I have yet to receive another brother's statement concerning any issue contended, I am still convinced that the proper place of disagreement is in private with a brother at the throne of God and not before the world from an open pulpit. So far as the aspect of baptism is concerned, none of the above statements place any regenerative power in this ordinance. All, with the exception of the ultra-dispensationalist, take it to be an act of obedience toward God by a regenerated believer. In the one case by the believer him or herself and in the other case by the believing parent. Again being simply a matter of interpretation of the scriptures having absolutely nothing to do with our salvation.
I have talked with and seen the lives of believers of all persuasions and am convinced that spiritual maturity goes far beyond whether they were baptized as an infant or as a believer. I have met many saints in both courts who have lived an exemplary life before Christ and likewise there are scoundrels in both courts as we well know. In either case baptism did not make the difference but commitment to Christ in their daily walk did. In this study this student has drawn the following conclusions, if a believer feels he needs to be baptized in light of the scripture, and he is not, then he or she is sinning against God. If a parent feels lead by their study of the scriptures to have their child baptized as a sign and seal of the covenant of God, and they do not, then they are sinning against God. And if any believer does either thing only on the authority of the church without careful study of God's Word they show spiritual immaturity regardless of the action taken.