Dispensational Distortions – The Israel/Church Distinctions

08Jan12

Distinctly Distinct

One of my favorite things to do once I get my first car and drivers license was to drive out to the original Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, CA for the Calvary Chapel Saturday Night concert series. Church Smith’s church, the same one that birthed Jesus Music artists like Love Song, Mustard Seed Faith, Darrell Mansfield and the Maranatha Praise albums, put on evangelistic outreach concerts for several years featuring the biggest names in Christian Pop, Rock and 1980’s New Wave.

Being a Christian at the time I went primarily for the music, but many friends used these weekly events as evangelistic tools and would bring their unsaved friends to come hear the music and a Gospel presentation.

At least one week our of every month the speaker would center his evangelistic message around the idea of a soon coming war in the Middle east that would spark Armageddon. This war was to be preceded by the secret rapture of the Church and the Altar Call would be given with the warning that any delay in accepting Jesus as Savior could leave the poor soul here on Earth during the Tribulation to face the Beast, Antichrist and certain death.

But central to this message was this rebirth of the nation of Israel in 1948 and how only a generation would pass from the time of her birth until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The assumption was that a generation would last 40 years so first the date presented for the Rapture was 1981. Then after that time passed and no Rapture the date was moved 1988. Eventually the message changed to state that a generation could last until the passing away of the last person born in 1948.

After another similar message was given and the Altar Call performed I and several friends went to our favorite post concert restaurant, Hamm’s. After ordering a chocolate chip and peanut butter shake we settled in to continue discussing this soon coming apocalypse.

One person in the group mentioned that he just didn’t buy the whole secret rapture thing are tried to argue that the Church and Israel are the same in God’s eyes. He was clearly outnumbered and even though I was one of the ardent defenders of the Pre-Trib Rapture view around the table I found it difficult to overcome many of the arguments he was making.

Even though my “you don’t take the Bible literally” argument rang hollow and my charges of “Replacement Theology” meant absolutely nothing to him, I noticed that to my own ears it appeared to ring true to the others around the table and they joined me in a cacophony of arguments that all ended up saying the exact same thing.

“The Church is the Church and Israel is Israel…they have nothing to do with each other!”

 

CHURCH/ISRAEL DISTINCTION

We now begin to look at the first and primary result of the “wooden literalism” employed by the Dispensational Premillennial system of eschatology. As noted in the previous chapter the “consistent literal” hermeneutic approach demands that when a word, phrase or idea is used in Scripture it can only ever possess the same meaning. This presupposed hermeneutic impacts all of the Dispensational distinctions that will follow. No other distinction has as far reaching impact as the idea that the Church and Israel are utterly and completely distinct.

What this means is that any promise given to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament can only find its fulfillment in natural Israel in existence today. This includes land and kingdom promises. The results of this are staggering and extensive. In fact, nearly every other topic discussed in the following chapters regarding the distinctions of Dispensationalism can be traced back to this idea. Below are just a handful of quick explanations. There are also interconnections of those ideas listed below.

  1. The Kingdom promised to David is postponed until a future time with all of its corresponding prophesies.
  2. The completing of the 70 weeks is moved from the first century to our near future as those promises can only find their fulfillment in the nation of Israel.
  3. In order for the nation of Israel to complete her covenant with God, the Church was be “gotten rid of” through the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.
  4. The original covenant consisting of animal sacrifices must be reintroduced so that Israel can complete her task.
  5. Events expected within the lifetime of the first century believers are postponed to our future since those things cannot be fulfilled in the actions and life of the Church.

There are many more implications of the system that can be addressed and most will be over the following chapters. For our purpose here it is mentioned to show the long range implications of the system.

As a result of the consistent literal hermeneutic, the nation called Israel, made up of the exclusively chosen Jewish race can only be Israel and the Church, made up of primarily gentile believers in Jesus Christ are utterly and completely distinct. Neither can be replaced with the other, nor can promises or prophesies related to one be in any way fulfilled, physically or spiritually by the other.

It should also be noted one of the reasons for this is that the promises made to Israel were of the physical nature, and it is believed and taught, cannot find their fulfillment in the spiritual actions of the Church or it’s members. Simply put, if a promise is made to Israel the Church can in no way be seen as fulfilling those promises or prophesies.

This leads to one of the most popular complaints leveled at Covenant or Reformed Theology (or any non-Dispensational view) is what is called “Replacement Theology.” The Dispensationalist argues that it is unbiblical and even “racist” to promote the idea that the Church “replaced” Israel in any real sense.

This distinctions between Israel and Church include – especially by the traditional “old school” Dispensationalist – the modes and methods of salvation, a different resurrection, a different position in the Millennium and a different position during the time of the Great Supper of the Lamb. They go so far as to make the claim that God has two different plans running simultaneously; one for the Church and one for natural Israel.

Is this to say there are two trees in the plan of God?

If the reader believes this is quite an overstatement of the distinctions made by the Dispensationalist then please consider the following quotes from leading proponents of Dispensationalism and how the Israel/Church distinction has been promoted and defended throughout Dispensational history.

“Comparing, then, what is said in Scripture concerning Israel and the Church, we find that in origin, calling, promise, worship, principles of conduct, and future destiny that all is contrast.” – CI Scofield

“The Jewish nation is never to enter the church” – John Nelson Darby

“The basic premise of Dispensationalism is two purposes of God expressed in the formation of two peoples who maintain their distinction throughout history” – Charles Ryrie

“Of prime importance to the [Dispensational] Premillennial interpretation of Scripture is the distinction provided in the New Testament between God’s purpose for the Church and His purpose for the nation Israel’‘ – John Walvoord

“The Church and Israel are two distinct groups“ – Dwight Pentecost

Charles Ryrie even go so far as to insist that this important doctrine of Dispensationalism cannot be understated when he says…

“If the church is fulfilling Israel’s promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere in the Scriptures, then [dispensational] Premillennialism is condemned.” – Ryrie

So, are Israel and the Church distinct? How can the student of the Scriptures come to a conclusion on this very serious doctrinal matter? Note that Mr. Ryrie claims that Premillennial Dispensationalism is doomed to the garbage heap of theological ideas if it can be shown that promised delivered to Israel can, in fact, be found to be fulfilled by the Church.

Also, the critic here must show that there was a merging of peoples in God’s redemptive history and not two different and distinct peoples throughout the history of God’s dealing with mankind. Simplified, the question is do the Gentiles “join” with Israel to create a single identifiable people of God or do the two groups maintain a distinct and separate sphere?

The first of these two challenges will be addressed first here in this chapter. Our first goal is to look at the history of promises given to the nation of Israel and see if those promises are applied in any to the New Testament Church. By doing so we will provide evidence of God’s working with Israel and the Church as a singular unit. We will do this by comparing Old Testament promises and discovering if those Old Testament promises to Israel fine their fulfillment within the work of the New Testament Church.

Not only that, but we should also be able to show that the term Israel and the term the Church are used interchangeably by New Testament writers and that they are considered the same in the eyes of God. In doing so it should be noted that Israel’s placement with God was a covenantal one and that the rejection of Christ puts every Jew in the same place as every Gentile; that is in the place of someone needing the saving blood of Jesus Christ for any hope of redemption.

The first order at hand is to show that promises made to Israel and titles given exclusively to Israel in the Old Testament find their fulfillment and transference in the New Testament as they are applied to the Church. In the passages below we will note the original promise given to natural Israel and follow that with the fulfillment in the New Testament applying those promises to the Church.

Promise
‘On that day I will raise up The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, And repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, And rebuild it as in the days of old; -Amos 9:11

Fulfillment
‘And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.’ ‘Known to God from eternity are all His works. -Acts 15:14-18

The promise originally given to Israel to reestablish the tabernacle of David finds it’s fulfillment in the workings of the early Church as the author of Acts quotes James at the council in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas are shown in the context to be defending the position of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles as a fulfillment of the Church working out he promise given to Israel.

 

Promise
‘Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah– -Jer 31:31

Fulfillment
Likewise He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you. -Luke 22:20

The new covenant promised in Jeremiah is fulfilled in the Lord’s Supper promise given the disciples who would birth the Church. This promise is expanded to the Church as a whole despite that fact that it was originally said to be made with Israel and Judah.

 

Promise
‘And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. -Joel 2:28-29

Fulfillment
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place…’But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days-Acts 2:1,16-17

A promise found in Joel clearly given to Israel finds fulfillment at the birthing of the Church. Peter even uses the passage above as proof of the events that were happening in Jerusalem on Pentecost were being fulfilled at the birth of the Church. I should note that one Dispensational student in a class I was teaching actually argued that Peter was mistaken and that what he thought was happening actually wan not the fulfillment of the Joel passage!

Promise
‘And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.’ -Exodus 19:6

Fulfillment
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; -1 Peter 2:9

A title given exclusively to Israel in Exodus is used by Peter to describe the Church in the first century. Here once again a New Testament author liberally applies promises and titles given to the nation of Israel and applies them to the Church.

 

Promise
‘My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. -Ezekiel 37:27

Fulfillment
For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.’ -2 Cor 6:16

Paul actually quotes the passage delivered to Israel and applies it to the Gentiles. The New Testament authors had no qualms about attaching promises given to the nation of Israel to the Church. In fact Paul is the one New Testament author that painstakingly argues for the unification of the one people of God. We shall see this played out later in this chapter.

Promise
‘Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. -Lev 19:2

Fulfillment
but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ -1 Peter 1:15-16

Note two things: One, the term congregation in the Old Testament and New Testament are used interchangeably for Israel and the Church. Two, the command given exclusively to Israel in the wilderness is then given by Peter to the Church. This is significant in that the standard of Holiness – the Law – is said to by Dispensationalist to be the exclusive domain of natural Israel, but here the command is borrowed and applied to the Church.

The examples could continue but this should suffice in showing how the New Testament writers viewed the Church in relation to natural Israel. One should also note that even if the Dispensationalist was remotely correct, what does the chosen race of people have to do with the pagan, secular nation residing on the West Bank? God’s word is clear that only if the Jews repent and seek the will of God, and do His will, would the covenantal promises be in play. The present nation of Israel has nothing to do with the Biblical one!

Let us now turn our consideration as to whether God has created two separate and distinct peoples for His purpose or has He merged a new people into the faithful representation of remnant of His former people. Let’s consider the following argument made by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians.

Ephesians 2: 11Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— 12remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.

 14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

 19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

It should be abundantly clear from the passage above that in no way does God have two separate peoples. And not only does God have just one people but that those who are joined together are the Gentiles being brought “into” God’s holy nation.

Paul starts this portion of the letter by stating what the previous condition of the Gentile people were before Christ.

  1. Separate from Christ
  2. Excluded from Israel
  3. Foreigners to the Covenants
  4. Without hope
  5. Without God

But Paul then argues that through the finished redeeming work of Jesus Christ that those things above have been reversed. The Gentiles are no longer foreigners but “citizens” of God’s people. This can mean no other than that God sees the Gentiles as members of His holy nation Israel. And by Israel Paul argues here and in Galatians that those truly of Israel are those who have had their hearts “circumcised” (Galatians 3).

Paul in his letter to the Church in Rome continues this dialogue relating the idea that God has and has always only had, one people. They are the faithful remnant of true Israel and they are joined together with the believing Gentiles.

Romans 11:24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Please note the following points found in this passage.

1. THERE IS ONLY ONE TREE!

2. The tree was, covenantally speaking, faithful Israel. God had one tree and with the Church He grafts in new limbs. Though the branches are not natural (not of birth or origin), they are equal members, and as explained in Ephesians 2, recipients of the faithful promises delivered to Israel.

3. If a natural limb is not in covenant, he is broken off even though it has natural and physical ties to the tree! But then Paul explains that if one of the natural branches (by birth) repents he can be grafted back into the one tree. The tree is True Israel and the members are the faithful ones who have been circumcised in their hearts and the circumcision of the flesh means nothing!

There is no separate plan!

God has one and only one people. They have always only been one and will continue to only be one! So, there is no new tree that is planted during a tribulation and grows during a Millennium. There is claim of replacement! That is simply a misnomer and a mistaken view of God’s holy people.

Only if one demands a distinction between Israel and the Church would one assume that one has replaced the other. It is a presupposition without foundation. The passages above make it clear that the promises delivered to Israel can find their fulfillment within the life of the Church and that God’s one people is made up of believing and faithful Israel and the converted Gentile.

If we are to take seriously the claim of Mr. Ryrie that Dispensationalism is condemned if it can be shown that the Church fulfills in any way the promises delivered to Israel then we must, with Scripture in hand, find the Dispensational system condemned!

Ultimately though, it is really not a matter of the Church versus Israel, but rather those who are His and those that are not. Nationality plays no favorites in the eyes of God as Paul clearly states, there is no longer Jew nor Gentile!

Though the above passages and exegesis should clearly eliminate the false accusation set against those who disagree with Dispensationalism that they are espousing some sort of “Replacement Theology,” let us consider one last passage of scripture in which Jesus Himself addresses the issue.

In Matthew 21 Jesus tell a parable about a vineyard. This vineyard is being worked by those who would not or did not bring in the harvest they were commanded to bring in. The land owner send his servants to make the demand clear but those servants were beaten, killed and thrown out of the vineyard.

Finally the landowner sends his son…

Matt 21:37Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

 38“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Jesus then asks the Pharisees as Federal heads of the people of Israel just what they believe the landowner would and should do to those tenants of the land.

 40“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

 41“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

The Pharisees answered correctly, but one must wonder if the expected the response from Jesus that follows.

 43“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.

Jesus not only agrees with the Pharisees but makes it painfully clear they were the tenants and that the Kingdom represented by the vineyard would be taken from them and given to another. Note here that Jesus does not state that the Kingdom will be postponed for a time and then returned to the Jews during some future Millennium, but rather that they will lose this Kingdom as it is given to another to take possession.

To confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Pharisees understood what was being said to them, Matthew adds the following.

 45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them

If there is a claim of Replacement Theology it must be leveled against Jesus, not against those who accept this parable for what it says. But the point here is that this parable must be taken within the totality of Scripture that declares that the people that possess and work the land and bring in the harvest are His people and that this is open to all that believe, both the natural Jew and grafted in Gentile (Romans 11).

In the following chapter we will discuss another of the distinctions of Dispensationalism that arises from the literal hermeneutic and the Israel/Church distinction. The concept is the Gap Theory and this theory impacts many of the other distinctions and actually forces the necessity of the two part return of Christ and the secret Rapture of the Church.

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2 Responses to “Dispensational Distortions – The Israel/Church Distinctions”

  1. 1 sparling

    I am brand new to your blog, and I see that I will have to do much catching up.

    One item I might offer to you right away for your consideration, and upon reflection of your brief survey of promise/fulfillment types/antitypes is this:

    The Biblical prophets do not use as their primary vehicle for prophecy a rectilinear relationship between promise and fulfillment. Much of the error of the dispensationalists comes from rectilinear interpretation of typological expression.

    So that, in a given prophetic word, there is not ONE fulfilment, but many. The prophecy remains as potent (or even becoming more potent as the final day draws near) with each successive fulfilment.

    You are not wrong to point out that a prophecy has found a fulfilment. For instance the Amos quotation you mention has certainly found an antitype in Acts. But the prophecy is more powerful than any single fulfilment. And Gods people continue to await the ultimate final fulfilment of that exact same Amos prophecy on the day of the return of Christ.

    I know this post was primarily about the identity of the Israel of God. I would have much to offer here as well. In brief:
    Consider how Jesus acted during his earthly ministry to create a people for himself. He did so exactly as God acted in the beginning to create a people. The calling of the 12, the institution of a sacrament for righteousness, his call to repentance, and much more. Consider also that Jesus indicated a very clear link between his OT people of faith and his NT people of faith:

    Matthew 8:10-12 “When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness…’”

    This is just one of many such examples (even John the Baptizer understood that God could raise up sons of Abraham from stones!) where Jesus indicates a LACK of distinction between a Kingdom believer of old and new.

    And if you enjoy some exegetical evidence, consider that what Jesus does to institute a church is an act of creation on par with God’s very creating of the universe. In the LXX (earliest Greek OT) the hebrew word in Genesis 1:1 where God “creates” the heavens and the earth gets translated with the exact same Greek verb used in Mark 3:14 when Jesus “creates” the twelve so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach. This is just one example among many of how Jesus’ NT work of creating the true Israel is part of his ongoing fulfilment of the many OT types whereby God promises to “rebuild the city”… not merely refurbish but rebuild. (Consider Jeremiah 31:4, “Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel!” This is a building as from scratch, and note that Israel is referred to as “virgin”, not merely forgiven but recreated as new.)

    Perhaps the most interesting Biblical witness to what you are saying in this post comes from the apocolyptic expressions in Revelation. Interpreting this writing from a genre-appropriate perspective, one must consider the intended meaning behind such numbers as 144000 (7:14) and the multiples of 12 as seen in such passages as 21:12. What John is seeing here is not merely a representation of the 12 sons of Israel. John is seeing BOTH those 12 and the 12 “sons” of NT faith which Jesus created by “calling” the disciples.

    Anyway, what a can of worms.

    • 2 low5point

      In brief response – and that’s the important part of this blog, to keep things as simple as possible since it’s primary intention is that of a remedial discourse on Dispensationalism – I would say that I agree with the concept the prophesies may not have a distinct one for one fulfillment characteristic. The verses listed in this portion of the blog were both descriptive of a people (Israel) finding their fulfillment in a people (the Church/true Israel) and prophesies promised to a people (Israel) and finding their fulfillment in a people (church/true Israel).

      Revelation’s 144,000 is also interesting in that John describes the number specifically (144K) and then immediately describes them as a multitude to large to number. Again, the expression of a figurative number of elect greater than the specific number used for purposeful expression within the context of John’s readers.

      Lastly, the only time in which I believe I cannot allow a greater fulfillment of prophesy is in those instances where a specific time indicator dictates it. God’s word (by that I mean His expression of promise finding fulfillment within the scope He dictates) cannot be altered to suit our understanding. Israel’s captivity was prophesied to last 70 years. If it lasted longer His words would ring hollow and His name besmirched. Same for 70 weeks of years, this generation and words like soon, at hand and now for them to retain their actual meanings.


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