Chapter XVI

“The Church-Age” in Premillennialism (continued)

It is the burden of these articles to demonstrate clearly and beyond any doubt that it is contrary to the plain teaching of the prophetic Scriptures to propagate the “doctrine” that it is proper to speak of a “church-age” rather than of confessing that the church is from the beginning to the end of the world, one and the same church, in two different dispensations!

This ought to become very clear when we study the Biblical teaching in the Old Testament concerning the “church” which we confess in the Twelve Articles of Faith: “I believe an holy catholic church.”

The names for the church in the Old Testament are written in Hebrew. They are such names which indicate that the church is much more and also qualitatively different from a mere assembly of individuals; they are the believers, the men of faith and the women of faith as we read of in the well-known chapter of Hebrews 11. Of these worthies we read that they pleased God (Heb. 11:6), they obtained a good report from God in all the Scriptures (Heb. 11:11), they had faith which was the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. And even as did the believing patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so the multitude, which forms a “cloud of witnesses,” die too in faith. And these all died not having received the promises. Why? Because God had “provided some better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Heb. 11:39). These were the suffering saints in the world all through the Old Testament dispensation, of “whom the world was not worthy” (Heb. 11:38).

If words have meaning we learn from Hebrews 11 that the saints both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament are the same church, the same people of God. The saints of the Old Testament are help up before us as examples of the walk of faith and godliness in the New Testament. There are not two different kinds of rules for each, a rule for earthly kingdom citizens, and a rule for saints in the “church-age.” Both must walk by faith, walk in the footsteps of the faith of Abraham, which he had before he was circumcised. Even as Abraham and Isaac and Jacob sought a better country, that is an heavenly, so do the saints which are risen with Christ from the dead; both set their affections upon the things in heaven; both cling to Christ their head (Heb. 11:8-16; Col. 3:1, 2). They are one church, one people, spiritual children of Abraham and belong to Christ, the Seed (Gal. 3:29). In the Old Testament they were the heirs which were nonage, while in the New Testament they are such that they can now receive an inheritance, the promises as they are all fulfilled in the Son of God in the flesh (Gal. 4:1-7).

One people, one promise, one covenant, one Lord, one God, all in one church by the operation of the Holy Spirit! (Eph. 4:4-10). Both have the Spirit of Christ as Peter teaches in I Peter 1:11. The Old Testament church had the Spirit of Christ in the shadows and types as symbolized in the golden candlesticks in the tabernacle, and the New Testament church has the Spirit as predicted in the Prophets (Ez. 36:21-28; Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:17; Ez. 11:19, 20; Zech. 12:10; John 7:38). Does not Christ say in John 7:38 what the Scripture (He graphee) says? In these passages we have what all the prophetic “Scripture” says. It still “says” what Jesus interprets the Scripture to say as being fulfilled in Him. This was when He ascended to heaven and received the promise of the Spirit from the Father!

We all drink out of one Spirit!

It is the Scripture which speaks of the church in Psalm 22:22 as “my brethren.” These are Jesus’ brethren, whom He is not ashamed to “call brethren” (Heb. 2:11, 12). He is not ashamed to call these “brethren” for such they are. It is by His redemptive sufferings and death that he brings these brethren, who are “many sons” of the living God, to glory (Heb. 2:10). It behooved God, by Whom all things are and through Whom all things are, to bring many sons, Christ’s “brethren,” by Christ’s suffering to His glory. Christ is the chief Captain of their salvation on the Cross and in His resurrection and ascension. He cried out, “my God, my God why hast thou forsaken me.” And the answer was: that it behooved God thus through His suffering to bring the entire church, both of the Old- and New Testament to glory, so that Christ might be the Firstborn among many brethren. And who are these brethren? Are they the brethren according to the flesh. We have the answer clear and distinct given to us by Christ Himself in Matthew 12:46-50: “. . . Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister and mother.”

Such are the living members of Christ’s Church who have received the spiritual sonship, who have received the Spirit of adoption by which they cry to God, “Abba, Father.”

This is the great congregation!

It is not simply Israel, historic Israel, as it was encamped about the Old Testament tabernacle, three tribes on each side of the tabernacle, east, west, north, south, each under a different standard (Numbers 2); nor does this great congregation refer to a certain historical gathering of the people to conduct a service or a feast day, but it refers to the numberless throng which shall be in the New Jerusalem; it refers to the elect church, Jew and Greek, out of every tongue, tribe, people, and nation. Yet, withal it refers to the church as she is the instituted church in the world under the ordinances and statutes of the most Holy Place. It is the church in the world known by the threefold earmarks: pure preaching of the Gospel, proper administration of the holy sacraments, and the exercise of Christian discipline!

It was not simply a great multitude of people, a mass of individuals who have congregated themselves in the wilderness, but they were a “congregation.” The term congregation means that they were a gathered flock. The Latin word for flock is “grex.” They were gathered unto the LORD in the wilderness by having been redeemed by the blood of the passover Lamb, whose blood was put on the doorpost in the night in which Israel walked triumphantly out of Egypt (Ex. 12:51). And it was the “congregation” of Israel (Ex. 12:3, 6, 47) which was brought out of Egypt under blood. The phrase “congregation of Israel” refers to Israel, the Israel of God, as His peculiar people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, called out of the darkness of Egypt’s bondage into God’s marvelous light (Ex. 19:5, 6; I Peter 2:5, 9). It is congregated in the night of the passover under its tribes and elders as organized “church” in the Old Testament; it is not a church because it is assembled. For the church is more than and different from a mere aggregate of many individuals. She is God’s elect people, also in the Old Testament dispensation, a holy church, separated from the nations of the world. When Moses is a mediator between God and Israel he mediates to the needs of the church from off Sinai’s heights—he with the “church in the wilderness.” For, notice well that his being in the wilderness with the church in the wilderness is connected with Mount Sinai, and with the fathers who received the lively oracles (Acts 3:38; Rom. 3:2). To this church was committed the sacred trust of being keepers of the Scriptures! And these Scriptures were written “aforetime” for our learning, as New Testament adult church, that we through patience and comfort of these Scriptures might have hope in God (Rom. 15:4).

Indeed this is a far cry from speaking of the New Testament as a “church-age” in distinction from the Old Testament which would not have a “church,” as teach the Premillennial Dispensationalists.

Let us take a close look at Psalm 22:22, 25. Here we read, in verse 22, “I will declare thy name unto my brethren; in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.”

It should be noticed that the one speaking is none other than the suffering Servant of Jehovah, Jesus. In the verses 1-21 we hear the agony of Christ prophetically as this was endured at Calvary in the outer darkness on the Cross (Matt. 27:44; Mark 15:34). This brings us so near to Calvary, the place outside of the gate of Jerusalem, that we feel that we are standing there viewing that awful suffering. We hear Christ’s own interpretation of it here—hundreds of years before. But is He not the Lamb slain before the foundations of the world (Rev. 13:8)? And did He not give His life at Calvary for those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life, for the entire church from Abel until the last elect to be brought to repentance and glory, namely, for all those given Him by the Father (Rev. 21:27; John 6:9, 40; John 17:24)? Such is the prophetic perspective of Psalm 22 where Christ envisions the great congregation.

We should notice that Psalm 22 has three great parts in it. Although no mention is made of Christ’s resurrection it is the implied meaning and sense of the Spirit! For in Hebrews 2:9-12 we see that this suffering servant of Jehovah is the one through Whose suffering and death God brings many sons, the great congregation, to glory. We see that the one Who “declares God’s Name to the brethren is Jesus, crowned with glory and honor at God’s right hand: He is Christ; prophet, priest and king. He is the one Who received the Spirit at Pentecost and poured out of His Spirit upon all flesh. Thus He declares mightily, by the apostles and prophets, the Name of God. He is the blessed one Who cometh in the Name of the LORD. Of Him the Old Testament church song and prayed fervently; Save now, Lord. That is the meaning of the well-known “Hosanna.” O what a plaintive cry we have in Psalm 118:24, 25. And this is the Christ Who has come to save both the believers of the Old Testament and New Testament in His blood, the blood which speaketh better things than Abel (Gen. 4:10; Heb. 12:24).

Do not forget that Hebrew poetry had what is known as parallelism. The second member in the parallel more clearly states what was mentioned in the first member. In this case the “Great congregation” is designated to be “my brethren.” Among these Christ is the first born among many brethren (Rom. 8:29). And these brethren are all those who do the will of the Father in heaven, with works of redemptive thankfulness.

Surely the church-age spans the ages, as the elect are saved out of the whole human race, from the beginning of the world to the end, by the Son of God in our flesh. One Lord, one church, one hope, one baptism, one promise, one God above all, through all and in all! (Eph. 2:12-22; Eph. 4:3-16 etc).