Tuesday, September 03, 2002

The Unity of Believers

Dispensationalism stands or falls on whether or not God has separate plans for the Jews and for the church. Opponents of dispensationalism hold that all believers from all time are united, and that the church is the new Israel.

Today we look at some scripture that supports this opposing i.e., non-dispensational view. The strength of scriptural support is part of the reason for the softening of dispensationalism found in its various progressive movements. Nevertheless, dispensationalists of all stripes continue to insist on a clear distinction between God’s dealing with the ethnic Jews and His plan for His church.

The Unity of Believers, Old and New

One of the keys to this aspect of a critique of dispensationalism is to turn to the only inspired commentary on the Old Testament: the New Testament. According to Stanley J. Grenz 1:
In Luke’s account of Pentecost (Acts 2:15-21) Peter found in the events of that day the fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy concerning the Day of the Lord, (Joel 2:28-32), including predictions of cosmic disturbances. He applied Joel’s vision not to national Israel but to the church.

Grenz offers additional OT prophesies (from Amos 9:11-12 and Jeremiah 31:31-33 that the inspired writers of the NT seem to imply had their fulfillment in the church, and thus are not pending obligations to the ethnic Jews. This naturally is also a refutation that there is nothing about the church in the Old Testament. Although the prophets may not have understood the nature of the fulfillment of these promises, the paper tail linking OT prophesy and the present day church does exist, primarily in OT references by the inspired NT writers.

The Olive Tree

Probably the most well know indication of a unity of believers comes from the analogy of the olive tree found in Romans 11:11-24. Mathison writes concerning this passage: 2
  1. From the context it is clear that the cultivated olive tree is natural Israel (cf. Jer. 11:16; Isa. 17:4-6).
  2. The natural branches that are broken off are the unbelieving Israelites.
  3. The good branches that remain are believing Israelites.
  4. The wild branches grafted in are the believing Gentiles.
As many have pointed out, there is but one olive tree. Its root consists of OT saints. Believing NT Jews are left on, but unbelieving Jews are broken off. Believing Gentiles are grafted in, resulting in one tree consisting of OT and NT saints.

Another passage pointing to unity comes from the book of Ephesians. Speaking to Gentiles, Paul writes of their former condition:
that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Eph. 2:12, NKJV)
If this is to show the state of the Gentiles prior to the coming of Christ, then it would follow, some would say, that they are no longer aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and no longer strangers from the covenants of promise. They are, in fact, (part of) the New Israel.

Additional passages that support the non-dispensational “New Israel” view are found in other places in the New Testament, including Hebrews 11:39-40, where the writer, in referring to OT saints, writes:
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.(Hebrews 11:39-40, NIV)
The OT saints are made perfect with us, as one body, not apart from us. Also, from Galatians:
The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ.
(Gal. 3:16, NIV)
Through these (and other) passages the case is to be made that the promises to Israel were either (a) conditional promises made null and void due to Israel's disobedience (b) were already fulfilled by the time Christ arrived or (c) have been or will be fulfilled in the New Israel, His church.

1 The Millennial Maze, Stanley J. Grenz, IVP, 1992. This book is recommended in that it has no apparent agenda. I have drawn from its critique of dispenstionalism, but that section of Grenz’s book follows one that provides scriptural support. Grenz applies this same pro/con approach to other eschatological views.
2Dispensationalism (Rightly Dividing the People of God?), Keith A. Mathison, P&R Publishing, 1995.

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