by Rev. R. C. Harbach
Continuing our examination of dispensationalism, we again cali attention to Christ’s words, “I will build My church,” and, this time, to the fact that they amount to the charter of the Christian church. For the charter of the old covenant church we have in the first promise of Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed; He shall crush thy head, and thou shalt crush His heel.” The old covenant people were a body of believers, a congregation (Ps. 22:22), founded on that charter. Then they were founded on Christ. There is only one foundation, and only one building on that foundation. In this connection, it is highly recommended to dispensationalists that they give Matthew Henry’s commentary a close perusal. He was a biblically-minded man, who hewed rather consistently and closely to Holy Writ, certainly far more so than they who claim to “rightly divide- the Word of truth” as these age-theorists do. He on this text said, “Christ…signed and published this royal, this divine charter, by which that body politic is incorporated…God had a church in the world from the beginning, and it was built upon the rock of the promised Seed, Gen. 3:15.
But now that promised Seed being come, it was requisite that the church should have a new charter, as Christian, and standing in relation to a Christ already come. Now here we have that charter.” No new church was chartered by the Lord, but the same church with a new charter. That church certainly was to be found in the old dispensation. Although denied by dispensationalists, the very word for “church” is found in that era. For the N.T. word which Jesus used for “church”, ekklesia, is the word used to translate the O.T. word for “church,” qahul, in the “congregation of the Lord.” (Ps. 22:22 with Heb. 2:12) The point is, a qahul is a church. If there was a qahal in that day, there was a church then. When Jesus referred to the building of His church, He spoke of “his own house, whose house are we.” (Heb. 3:6) This “house” of God was not some wholly new thing which began at Pentecost. For it is the same house Moses was a member of (cf. Heb. 3:2-6 with Nu. 12:7) and of which the psalmist was a member when he said, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” (Ps. 127:l) That gracious declaration certainly applies to our house of the present dispensation, as Prov. 9:1, Song 2:4 and Matt. lo:25 will show. If the reader will take the time to carefully examine these texts he will see the devastating effect they have on dispensationalism.
The idea that the church of N.T. saints is a wholly new thing limited to this Christian dispensation, and not found in the old dispensation is proved erroneous by the teaching of Heb. 12:22, 23. It is not true that the O.T. Jews only had Moses and the law, while they of the new dispensation have Christ and the gospel. For the old covenant Israel had Abraham and the promises in which they embraced Christ. (cf. John. 8:56 with Heb. 11:13, 26) Mount Zion, the city of the living God, is the city Abraham looked for (Heb. 11:10), which was prepared for all (v. 13) the O.T. saints, which they desired (v. 16), and which we of the Christian dispensation also seek (13:14). In contrast to “the now Jerusalem,” the heavenly Jerusalem is “the above Jerusalem” (Gal. 4:26, Gk.), which is the mother of us all, i.e., of all the children of the promise, including believers of the O.T., as the following quotation (v. 27) from Isaiah indicates. It only takes a comparison of Heb. 11:l0 with 12:22 to learn that the O.T. saints looked for the heavenly Jerusalem! The “general assembly” in the O.T. was called “the assembly of the saints” (Ps. 89:7) or the “assembly of the upright.” (Ps. 111:l) In the N.T. it is seen to be the entire Election of Grace, as is evident from the added, “which are written in heaven.” (cf. Isa. 4:3; Dn. 12:l) But whether Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, the general assembly or the church of the firstborn, it is all one and the same body seen from different viewpoints.
A text sometimes appealed to as teaching that the church had its beginning at Pentecost is I Cor. 1:13, “For by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles.. .” But this does not mean that we were all so baptized at the same time, as no corporate action is in view, for on that day Gentiles were not baptized by the Spirit. Paul means by “all… in one body” the members of the body of Christ, the same body and members from Adam and Abel onward, whom we saw mentioned in Ps. 35:l0; 40:5; 69:5; 81:5; 84~8, 9; 139:15, 16 and many other passages. By “baptized” (by the Spirit) Paul refers plainly to nothing other than to being “regenerated.” It is regeneration which makes a man a member of the body of Christ.
It has been argued by dispensationalists that Eph. 1:19-23 proves there was no church before Pentecost. God gave Christ to be the “Head over all things to the church which is His body” after the ascension, it is pointed out. This is no reasoning. One may as well argue that no sins were remitted until after Christ made atonement on the cross. Or that none were regenerated until after Christ was made a “life-giving Spirit” at His resurrection. It would be just as valid argument to say that Christ could not make intercession for His people until after He sat down at God’s right hand. But this is refuted by Zech. 1:12, 13 (3:1, 2)! Christ was Mediator “set up (anointed) from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.” (Prov. 8:23) We must be able to see Christ as the preincarnate Head of His people from the beginning, because “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” as well as Christ the incarnate Head in history after His birth, death, resurrection and ascension. Otherwise we cannot “rightly divide the Word of truth,” much less “cut a straight line through the truth.”
In the Book of Daniel it is revealed that “the saints of the Most High shall take the kingdom and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever.” (7:18) This kingdom is none other than the “everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (II Pet. 1:ll) In the 1909 edition of the Scofield Reference Bible the editor inserted the marginal note, “That these are church saints seems clear from Acts 16:17; Rom. 8:17; II Tim. 2:10-12; I Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6, etc.” But in the 1917 edition this note was changed to read, “That church-saints will also share in the rule seems clear from Acts 16:17, etc.” (ital. added) The note as it now stands means that through eternity the church will have a place subservient to Israel! But the meaning is, if anything, that the church will not merely share in the kingdom, but take it and possess it for ever! It is also of interest that the phrase, “the saints of the most High” may also be translated “the saints of the highest places,” which parallels Eph. 1:3; 2:6. That Daniel wrote of New Testament saints is plain from a comparison of 7:27 with Luke 12:32. Paul referred to what could only be Old Testament saints when he wrote of Gentiles being “fellow-citizens with the saints.” These saints included the “prophets” of the O.T. and the “apostles” of the N.T. (Eph. 2:19-22). They being “fitly framed together’! and “builded together” refers to the saints of all ages as members of the same body, the same household; That household is “the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:lO) The O.T. saints were members of that household according to Hebrews 11, verse 39. But the would-be “right-dividers” have wrongly divided the household of God, have not maintained “the unity of the Spirit,” and in effect have made God the author of confusion. For the inseparable unity of O.T. and N.T. saints is seen in the New Jerusalem which bears not only the names of the twelve apostles on its foundations, but also the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on its gates! (Rev. 21:12)
The writer in his dispensationalist days moved in circles where it was loudly insisted that “Jew” meant “Jew” and not Christian, and that “Israel” meant “Israel” and not Church. It was commonly held that Israel was an earthly people. It never occurred to the writer then that such a statement ought to be adjudged inane ! Granted they were an earthly people, -what else could they be? certainly not a lunar people, dwelling on earth’s satellite, nor a marine people, inhabiting Atlantis or Aquatania. The Canaanites and the Edomites were also an earthly people. Christians here below are an earthly people, for in body and soul they are still this side of heaven. If the dispensationalists explain that what is intended by this language is that Israel’s was an earthly inheritance, we must ask, Did the patriarchs have an earthly inheritance? It ought to be plainly evident by now in this series that Hebrews 11 proves otherwise. (14-16) Why contend that Moses had an earthly inheritance in the face of Heb. 11:26? Do not assign such an inheritance to David, for he claimed to be “a stranger in the earth.” (Ps. -39:12; 119:19) Scripture distinguishes between one who is a Jew outwardly and the Jew ‘inwardly, between a carnal Israel and the spiritual Israel. There is an Israel within Israel, the Israel of God. According to Romans 2:28, 29, all God’s regenerated people are true Jews.
Keeping this distinction in mind, attend to the words of Asaph. “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.” (Ps. 73:l) What is the meaning of “Israel” in this place? Certainly not the nation of Israel nor the natural Jews living at that time, for it could not be said that they, as such, had “clean hearts.” “O Lord, be Thou my Helper true, for just and godly men are few; the faithful who can find?” (Ps. 12:l) A “clean heart” is not found in the natural man, Jew or Gentile, for all the descendants of Adam are born with a heart consummately deceitful and desperately wicked. A clean heart is the product of regeneration through the sprinkling of (baptism of) the blood of Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:22), a purifying act of God through faith (Acts 15:9). Thus the Israel mentioned in the text is the regenerated, the spiritual Israel. The text obviously excludes carnal Israel.
Jesus so distinguished. “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (Jn. 1:47) By “Israelite” He meant more than a mere natural descendant of Jacob. I-Ie meant a true Israelite. When He said, “If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed,” (8:31) He meant disciples in fact, not in name only. Jesus was saying that Nathanael was a regenerated person, “in whom is no guile,” which added the confirmation that Nathanael was a saved and spiritual man, like the man described in Ps. 32:2, “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit is no guile.”