CHRISTIAN CHURCH - FROM WHENCE AND WHERETO?
Dr J.J. Jackson, BVSc of Zimbabwe
THE popular Christian concept of church is the single greatest obstacle standing in the way of acceptance of the Bible message concerning the nation Israel. The sentiments of the two ideas are poles apart. The rejection of Israel in turn casts a completely different complexion upon the nature of the Kingdom of God. So different that even the great resurrection hope loses its significance. Christ loses some of His chief titles, and the prophets lose the thrust of their message. In all this, Satan achieves one of his aims, namely to present God as a liar. And many thinking people lose their faith.
Such is the seriousness of the subject. So let us go straight to the focal point where this new church concept is supposed to have begun. Jesus said to Peter On this rock I will build my kahal . He probably spoke Hebrew. If He did, that is the word He used. So says my Bible commentary. In Greek it is written Ekklesia. We have translated it church. Had we kept the meaning of the word church in line with the Bible use of Ekklesia or kahal there would have been no problem. But we have changed it so much that it has become almost the antithesis of that Bible meaning.
The nation Israel was called Gods kahal 123 times in the Old Testament. In the Greek Bible kahal was translated Ekklesia exactly 70 times. Israel was Gods Ekklesia. But concerning church theologians write that Jesus statement to Peter was an announcement of His new programme which was to stand in place of and in contrast to Israel. There you have the antithesis.
Jesus Christ, who is called the Holy One of Israel, the Redeemer of Israel, the Rock of Israel, and the Coming King of Israel, simply reaffirmed His promise namely that He would build her. Here for the 71st time in the Bible He called her His Ekklesia. Or is it for the 124th occasion that He called her His kahal? As always Israel was His kahal, His Ekklesia. He had solemnly promised that He would build her. (ISAIAH 54, JEREMIAH 31.)
Had Jesus announced something different, and had this new programme been a main thrust of His mission, then surely it would have been the theme of His preaching. But we find that all His moral lessons are set in the framework of His Kingdom of God agenda.
Only on this one occasion, mentioned once in the gospels, did Jesus apply the term Ekklesia for this body of His people. He mostly used the term Kingdom, which word appears more than a hundred times in the four gospels, and is even more inseparable from the Israel story. In contrast today church is probably the most used word in Christendom while the Kingdom of God has become a vague, mystical concept almost totally detached from that Bible nation.
If we consult Peter, to whom Jesus had addressed those words, we find that in his two epistles there is no mention of Ekklesia. Yet he speaks very strongly of the national calling. He writes you are a chosen generation (Greek genos which means race), a holy nation (Greek ethnos which means an ethnic body of people). And Peter speaks of the building. He speaks of coming to Christ as unto a living stone (the Rock) and says ye also as living stones are built up a spiritual house. There we see this genos - ethnos being built as the prophets had predicted.
Following many other Bible references we finally see this spiritual building, consisting of living souls, in its completed glory, in Revelation 21. We see it as a city organized on the Israel pattern and bearing the names of her tribes. And it is called the Bride of Christ. This is His Ekklesia which He had promised that He would build. And it is viewed by the prophet following its
descent to earth. It is built in heaven but its destination is earth when Jesus brings them with Him.
Without detracting one iota from the fact that personal salvation is for whosoever believeth and was never confined to any specific group of people, and without neglecting to affirm that unbelief, wherever it may be found, alienates us from God, a most fundamental Bible fact is that God created Israel, called her, and redeemed her from her fallen state, to be His witness to the world. It was not a failed project. God foreknew Israel. He expected that the good soil which He had so painstakingly prepared would yield fruit. Israel had always been His Ekklesia, and her mission has always been to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. In that great New Jerusalem vision we see those nations of them that are saved walking in the light of this Israel city and going in and out by its gates. This is, in symbol, the climax of the fulfillment of the very first words God had promised to Abraham. Now try to fit the modern concept of church into that picture. It wont. You see this is a picture of nations, and nations are the very entities the modern church concept tends to dissolve into a mass of nationless individuals.
There is another word, equally misused, which has helped to put the church concept on to a false track, and that word is gentile. Theologians write about the church as Christs great gentile bride. We read about gentile believers and so on. In fact much emphasis is placed upon the gentile story. But, alas, there is no such word in the Bible. It is never used in the singular and it is never used as an adjective. Furthermore no individual in the Bible is called a gentile unless there are new translations that have introduced the term. The word only occurs in the plural form as a translation of the Greek ethne which simply means nations. Nothing more and nothing less. The singular form of that word, namely ethnos is translated nation, never gentile. As impossible as it is for an individual to be a nation so impossible is it for him to be a gentile.
Israel, according to Gods repeated promise by oath, was to grow into a multitude of nations. The Jews constituted one of those nations. They were, at that time, the only nation still cleaving to the covenant. The other Israel nations had become paganized and hardly recognizable. To the Jews they were despicable and unclean. But, they were to be redeemed - or what does that word redeem mean? The Bible message abounds with promises and predictions concerning their repentance and restoration.
Often, in Bible translations the strong Greek definite article is neglected. So, for example, one reads of the Gentiles instead of reading those nations. That word translated the is in Greek a much stronger definite article, stronger than our the,
suggesting specific nations. That simple emphasis makes a big difference.
Apart from the above mentioned gentile error, another gross mistake has been added by those who cleave to the Jews only idea. Consider for a moment what the Bible tells us concerning the number of Jews who repented under John the Baptists ministry, again under the ministry of Jesus Christ and then further in the days of the Apostles. One can only come to one conclusion and that is that a huge chunk of Jewry became Christian. This division is clearly and repeatedly stated by the prophets. Those early Christians became alienated from their unbelieving brethren. They were persecuted by them and ended
up being scattered over the face of the earth. Those Christian Jews doubtless had descendants. Where are those descendants today? Do they still call themselves Jews? Do they even remember their ancient ancestry? Furthermore Gods promised blessing probably resulted in a considerable increase in their numbers. Besides these Christianized Jews the main body of Israel who were never called Jews, described in Hosea Chapter l and Isaiah 54, were to become Sons of the living God.
The Jews only fans are simply looking at the broken off branches of Pauls Israel olive tree of Romans chapter II. They are ignoring the tree from which those some branches were broken off. Those branches only constitute the Christ rejecting fraction of the whole. The rest of that whole is to be found in Christendom where they have been fulfilling their Israel role predicted by the prophets.
Those whose hearts are stirred by the gentile idea read into Ephesians the unification of Israel and non-Israel into one body in Christ. Thereby they see the special calling of Israel declared nul and void, now no different from that of any other nation. Israel simply ceases to have any significance, and so much of Scripture becomes books full of empty words. Somehow this dissolution of identity has taken centre stage in Christian philosophy. But, what about the great and often repeated Bible promise of the reunification, in the Messiah, of scattered and divided Israel. Is that not what Paul was writing to the Ephesians about, when Judah and the house of Israel, so deeply divided, and so regularly contrasted in Scripture, are brought together in Christ? There are very solid Bible proofs even within this epistle to that effect.
No! We must keep our terminology clear and exactly aligned with the Bible. Confusion already started with the Greek language where other gatherings also bore the term Ekklesia. An example was the riotous demonstrations in favour of Diana in Ephesus. We read about it in Acts. The translators dared not use the word church for that one. But in English the word church
also has come to have many uses ranging from the universal church which is supposed to have taken the place of Israel down to local assemblies, denominations, services, activities and even places of worship. Should we not separate those meanings into more distinct terms?
Concerning the symbolism employed in the Scriptures, Israel is unquestionably the Bride of Christ. The theme runs right through the Bible starting with the marriage ceremony at Sinai, running through the tragedy of divorce, resurfacing with redemption and
culminating in the glorious vision of the second last chapter of the Bible. There are a few Christians who agree, but then still see the church as a separate entity called the Body of Christ. However, in Ephesians Paul calls the husband the head of the wife in the same breath that he speaks of the head and body relationship. In the Old Testament the Messiah is pictured as the head of Israel (HOSEA 1:11; 1 CHRONICLES 29:11). Israel certainly is a unique body of people who, as a body of people, are utterly dependent upon the saving merits of sacrificial blood. Right at the beginning we see Abraham at the point of offering Isaac when God provided a substitute sacrifice. What a profound lesson! On Passover night in Egypt it was the blood of
the Passover lamb that secured deliverance for the entire nation. While this has become an important annual Christian festival we have neglected its origin and have given it a pagan name Easter. The sacrificial laws God gave to Israel through Moses reaffirmed this utter dependence upon sacrificial blood until Jesus fulfilled every detail on the Cross. Dare we deny His title, namely, the Redeemer of Israel? Israel is a body inseparable from that redemption. As always, of course, every individual in Israel who denies his Redeemer forfeits his heritage. But we are speaking here of the body of people. What is more, the many
explicit promises of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit are Israel promises. Please do check each one out! How strange that the "day of Pentecost" is seen as the birth of something destined to displace Israel rather than a fulfillment of Gods promise to her! After all, Peters address on that day was to ye men of Israel.
The head-body symbolism depicts one aspect of the relationship with Christ while the bridegroom-bride symbolism pictures another angle of the same union. Otherwise the implication of a gentile body and an Israel bride is that of a foreign inner circle, which, nice as it may sound, is contrary to the Bible pattern. The Bible places Israel at the centre and other nations as
recipients of her blessings.
Another very fundamental issue is that Israel, in this dispensation, has got enemies. The Bible has much to say on this matter. This anti-Israel enmity is to culminate in Armageddon and be avenged by God on the Day of the LORD. Today Christian Israel is being grossly undermined by those enemies. In this national dilemma the position taken by many churches is not helping. They tend to spurn the sentiments of kinship bonds as discriminatory. Perhaps the wonder of Gods families of the earth order has not dawned upon them. Certainly His commandments regarding the special considerations there should be between fellow
Israelites are emphatic. In Leviticus 19 where the phrase love thy neighbour as thyself first appears in the Bible it is very clear what is meant by neighbour. The Bible has good rules for all the different kinds of human relations. However, there is a church tendency to embrace strangers including those anchored to the occult, and call them neighbours. Loving them is the main thrust of their preaching. It is when those strangers turn out to be enemies of Israel that betrayal by its priesthood becomes the greatest danger in the problems besetting the Christian nations.
How did the derailment of the church come about? Chambers Encyclopaedia under the heading Church says:
In the English
version of the Bible the word (church) is used to translate the Greek Ekklesia
which means in the Greek Bible the congregation of Israel. In using the latter
name the early Christians claimed to be in a true continuity with the Israel of the Old
Covenant as the elect people of God, redeemed by Him and separated from the world in His
worship and service. Modern scholarship has shown that it is less true to speak of Jesus
Christs founding of the church than to speak of His re-founding by a New Covenant
the ancient church of Israel.
How then has this position changed? The Apostle Paul warned that as soon as he was gone wolves would enter the fold. He said the spirit of iniquity was already at work. John also warned that there were already many antichrists. The apostasy Paul wrote about did not take long to set root. A glance at church history would soon reveal how major Bible doctrines changed one after the other. Academics see it as theological progress. In truth it was the slippery slope of apostasy. Out of this was born the all-prevailing, new church concept, which soon set its seat of power in Rome. The Bible message concerning Israel, in spite of all its Scriptural prominence, became utterly meaningless and people virtually worshipped the church. This is the very heart of the antichrist story. Protestants have failed to shake all of it off. How pathetic is the now almost general expectation of a future antichrist! This Romish teaching is geared to pour utter confusion upon the urgentmessage of Gods prophets concerning today. It was formulated by the Jesuit priest RIBERA in the 16th century, then greatly expanded by the Jesuit priest
LECUNTHA in the 19th century, and today acclaimed by most Protestants.
If you accept what has been written thus far you may ask: What do we do now? Do we stop going to church? The answer is NO. We must all worship God. We must all attend His house. But we must see the ministry in its correct perspective. It is like the priesthood of Israel. The priesthood had its order, its authority and its rules just like the Bible instructions concerning the New Testament priesthood, but it was never intended to usurp the position of the nation or in any way reduce or ignore her significance. The nation was the ecclesia and the priesthood was its spiritual nucleus. But we have turned the matter upside down. We say the church is the ecclesia and it stands far above national interests. The difference is profound.
However, we must never forget that church in its more local sense has been at the heart of the establishment of the great Christian nations of the world. Unwittingly, perhaps, it has fulfilled the function of the priesthood of Israel, and it has produced many great men of God. Furthermore it is in these nations, especially following the Reformation, that true science has emerged. And this is where most of the modem technology, which is benefiting the whole world, found its origin. How significant that so many of the greatest scientists and inventors of the past centuries were Bible-believing Christians! How very strange that modern education attempts to polarize Christianity and Science! And these very nations that brought such benefits to the world are now under threat. They are under very serious threat, internally and externally, and they already can hardly be recognized as Christian. It has become more important than ever before to return to correct Bible doctrine.
This is only a broad sketch. A detailed study of every book of the New Testament will confirm it. Once one gets the framework right one discovers many neglected verses throughout the Bible, even plain statements of Jesus, which are otherwise never taken into account.
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