Apologetics Papyrus

Published on March 19th, 2012 | by Gary DeMar

13

Does the Bible Teach an Israel-Church Distinction?

Gaining a proper understanding of the Greek word ekklēsia, most often translated “church” in the New Testament,(1) is the key in answering the charge that non-dispensationalists teach that the church replaces Israel. The church is not a new thing. The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament defines the Greek word ekklēsia, most often translated as “church,” in the following way:

Though some persons have tried to see in the term ἐκκλησία a more or less literal meaning of “called-out ones” [ek + kaleō] this type of etymologizing is not warranted either by the meaning of ἐκκλησία in NT times or even by its earlier usage. The term ἐκκλησία was in common usage for several hundred years before the Christian era and was used to refer to an assembly of persons constituted by well-defined membership. For the NT . . . it is important to understand the meaning of ἐκκλησia as “an assembly of God’s people.”(2)

Take note that the authors of this lexicon say the word was in use “several hundred years before the Christian era.” No standard lexicon knows anything about the meaning of ekklēsia that would square with how dispensationalists understand the word.

There is no Church-Israel distinction in the Bible because the Greek word ekklēsia is not an invention of the New Testament writers. Ekklēsia is a common word that is used to describe an assembly or congregation. It is used this way in the Greek translation of the Old Testament — the Septuagint (LXX) — and the Greek New Testament. This common word is use by Jesus in Matthew’s gospel (the most Jewish of the gospels):

  • “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church [ekklēsia]; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18).(3)
  • “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church [ekklēsia]; and if he refuses to listen even to the church [ekklēsia], let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17).

No one asks Jesus, “What’s an ekklēsia?” They knew what an ekklēsia was since they were intimately familiar with the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. “[T]his Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures was the Bible of the early church. . . . Thus, when the writers of the New Testament, whose Bible was the Septuagint, used ekklēsia, they were not inventing a new term.(4) They found the term in common use and simply employed what was at hand.”(5)

Ekklēsia was used many times in the Septuagint for the Hebrew word qāhāl that means “congregation” or “assembly.” (Even modern-day Hebrew translations of the Greek New Testament translate ekklēsia as qāhāl.(6) Like ekklēsia, the Hebrew qāhāl is a general term that can refer to “the assembly of Israel” (Deut. 31:30; Joshua 8:35) or to “the assembly of evil doers” (Ps. 26:5). Ekklēsia is used in a similar way in the New Testament. It can refer to local assemblies of Christians (Rev. 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14) or pagan assemblies of non-Christians (Acts 19:32, 39, 41). Of course, it also has the meaning of a redemptive body of believers made up collectively of Israelites and non-Israelites.

Paul’s use of ekklēsia in some of his epistles indicates “that ekklesia itself still carried a general meaning of ‘assembly’; the particular kind of assembly had to be indicated by qualifiers similar to the Septuagint use.”(7) There is no specialized definition given to the word “church” in Revelation where it refers to local assemblies of believers, a book that was written a few years before the destruction of Jerusalem which took place in A.D. 70.

The term ekklēsia describes an actual assembly, a gathering of people together. The same is true of the Old Testament term qāhāl that is translated by ekklēsia in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. The words themselves do not have the restricted meaning of the word, ‘church’. Yet, when Jesus said, ‘I will build my church’. . . , he was not simply saying, ‘I will bring together a gathering of people’. Rather, he was using a well-known term that described the people of God. The ‘assembly in the desert’ (Acts 7:38) was the definitive assembly for Israel, the covenant-making assembly when God claimed his redeemed people as his own’ (Dt. 4:10 LXX; 9:10; 10:4; 18:16).(8)

So then, ekklēsia can refer to a general gathering of people of no particular religious affiliation, or it can refer to a particular gathering of people who are identified as God’s people whether Israelites or non-Israelites. This is true for the way it is used in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Therefore it should not surprise us that the New Testament writers would use ekklēsia, both before (Matt. 16:18; 18:17) and after Pentecost (Acts 5:11; 8:1), to identify the assembly or congregation of God’s people.

The believing post-Pentecost Israelites who believed were called “the whole ekklēsia” (Acts 5:11; cp. Rom. 16:23). There is no indication that the use of ekklēsia was considered to be a new redemptive entity distinct from Israel since the “members” of the ekklēsia were “Jews from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). To claim, as dispensationalist Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum does, that “the church [ekklēsia] was born at Pentecost, whereas Israel had existed for many centuries” and that “[t]here is no biblical evidence that the church existed in the Old Testament”(9) is untrue. Since the Hebrew qāhāl (“assembly”) is translated as the Greek ekklēsia (“assembly”), this is prima facie evidence that as long as Israel existed, the ekklēsia existed.(10)

Any Jew able to read the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament would have recognized the word and understood what it meant. In speaking to his Jewish countrymen, Stephen describes the believing community in the era of the OT as “the congregation [ekklēsia] in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). In Acts 8:1 and 3 the “ekklēsia in Jerusalem” was made up exclusively of Jews — all Israelites! If ekklēsia means “congregation” in Acts 7:38,(11) then it certainly carries the same meaning just a few verses later in Acts 8:1: “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting [Stephen] to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the ekklēsia [church] in Jerusalem,(12) and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” In Acts 8:3 we read that “Saul began ravaging the ekklēsia, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women” to “put them in prison.” The ekklēsia that Saul ravaged was made up of believing Israelites who were a living testimony to the fulfillment of God’s promises made to Israel through the fathers and prophets. These Israelites didn’t believe that they were some “mystery” parenthesis as dispensationalists contend. At Pentecost Peter told the “men of Israel” (Acts 2:22) who were in Jerusalem “from every nation under heaven” (2:5–11) that what was happening was the fulfillment of what Joel and other prophets had prophesied (2:14–47).

“Men of Judea and all you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you and give heed to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:14b–16).

These Jewish believers were the Church, not a replacement of Israel but the continuation of the remnant of Israel to which non-Israelites would be grafted in (Rom. 11).

This original Jewish assembly of believers post-Pentecost is the “ekklēsia of God,” the congregation and assembly of God’s people (Acts 8:1; Gal. 1:13; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2; 10:32; 15:9; 2 Cor. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:5), a continuation of the believing community found throughout the Old Testament. Later in Acts we learn that Gentiles were grafted into an already growing post-Pentecost Israelite ekklēsia (Acts 10).(13) There is no discussion among the circumcised about a postponed Israel covenant. They were “amazed because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also” (10:45). Note the use of “also”: “To the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16; 2:9–10). The Israelite promises were extended to the Gentiles.

Peter addressed the crowd at Pentecost as the “men of Israel” (Acts 2:22) and “all the house of Israel” (2:36). The “brethren” — Israelite brethren — want to know what they, as Israelites, must do to be saved. Peter tells them, “For the promise is for you and your children. . .” (2:39). There is nothing in this chapter that indicates that the promises first made to Israel were not being fulfilled right then and there. Peter continues to preach to his countrymen by informing them that “Jesus the Christ” was “appointed for you” (3:20). The “restoration of all things” (3:21) is the pre-ordained redemptive work of Jesus to fulfill what all the prophets had written. Peter tells them that the prophets “announced these days” (3:24). “It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (3:25).

We read further about the fulfillment of the promise made to Israel, “sons of Abraham’s family.” The promises are fulfilled, not postponed.

“From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, after John had proclaimed before His coming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And while John was completing his course, he kept saying, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not He. But behold, one is coming after me the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’ Brethren, sons of Abraham’s family, and those among you who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent. For those who live in Jerusalem, and their rulers, recognizing neither Him nor the utterances of the prophets which are read every Sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning Him” (Acts 13:23; cf. 13:32–33; 26:6).

Notice how Paul in Romans argues “that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Rom. 4:16; cf. 9:8; Gal. 3:29; 4:28). Non-Israelite believers, the “uncircumcision” (Eph. 2:11) who are “in Christ,” are made a part of the commonwealth of Israel and are extended the promises originally given to Israel:

“[R]emember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall (2:12–14)

 

As a result, believing non-Israelites in Jesus as the Messiah share in the (1) “commonwealth of Israel,” as they are (2) no longer “strangers to the covenants of promise” (2:12) “but (3) “fellow citizens with the saints, and (4) are of God’s household, having been (5) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into (6) a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (2:20–22). You can’t get much more Israelite than these designations. They drip of Old Testament descriptions for Israel. It’s through Jesus that “we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father” (2:18).

Promises made to Old Testament Israel are said to be fulfilled in the so-called church age, something a dispensationalist would never acknowledge: “For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. . . . And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:16, 18). How can this be when Paul is citing a verse that originally applied to Israel? How can the church be the temple? The temple is strictly Jewish. Second Corinthians 6:18 is a direct citation of Exodus 29:45: “And I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God.” Then there is the statement to the Corinthian ekklēsia to “come out from their midst and be separate.” This, too, is an Old Testament reference to Israel, as is the reference not to touch “what is unclean” (2 Cor. 6:17b; Isa. 52:11). Finally, Paul tells the Corinthians that God will be a Father to them, and they will be “sons and daughters” to Him (2 Cor. 6:18). Once again, Paul draws on passages that were first applied to Israel (Isa. 43:6; Hosea 1:10).

Notice how 2 Corinthians 7 begins: “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (v. 1). “These promises” were made to Israel, and yet Paul applies them to the church at Corinth (1:1).

There is no mention of a postponement of the promises, “an intercalary period of history,”(14) first made to Abraham. These Jewish believers, the recipients of the promises spoken by the prophets (Acts 3:24), made up “the church” (5:11). So then, when Gentiles were grafted into the existing all-Israelite ekklēsia, they took part in the same Israelite promises. Dispensationalists have to maintain that this was never God’s plan. Citing Isaiah 57:19, Paul assures Israelites and non-Israelites who are in Christ, “and He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near” (Eph. 2:17). The New Testament ekklēsia was always God’s plan!

Dispensationalists will still maintain that there are unfulfilled promises for Israel. Where in the New Testament does it say this? We have to ask the dispensationalist when these unfulfilled promises are going to be fulfilled. It can’t be during the so-called church age since, as dispensationalist Thomas Ice states, “We dispensationalists believe that the church has superseded Israel during the current church age, but God has a future time in which He will restore national Israel ‘as the institution for the administration of divine blessings to the world.’”(15)

It’s not going to take place during the dispensationalist’s version of the Great Tribulation since, according to dispensationalists, there will be a mass slaughter of Jews and even greater destruction to the world. Will it be during the “millennium”? Revelation 20 certainly doesn’t have anything to say about the promises being finally fulfilled during the thousand years.

Dispensationalists vehemently maintain that the ekklēsia (church) was unknown to the Old Testament writers. The so-called church age is said to be a “mystery,” a parenthesis, a gap in prophetic time, until the pre-tribulational “rapture” when the church will be removed from the earth and God will deal with Israel again. Then why does the writer to the Hebrews quote Psalm 22:22 and use the Greek word ekklēsia, translated accurately in most modern translations as “congregation,” as it should be translated elsewhere (see below)?:

“I will proclaim Your name to my brethren,

In the midst of the congregation [ekklēsia] I will sing Your praise” (Heb. 2:12).

Philip E. Hughes writes, “The proclamation of the Good News and the praise of God which accompanies it take place, moreover, in the midst of the congregation, or more literally (as in the KJV) ‘in the midst of the church’ [‘ekklēsia here is the LXX rendering of the Hebrew ekklēsia’], which in the perspective of the New Testament is God’s new temple being built up of those ‘living stones’ who are brethren with and in Christ (1 Pet. 2:5; Eph. 2:19–22).”(16)

If the dispensationalists are correct, then the New Testament writers who were under God’s direction like their Old Testament counterparts to write what they wrote (2 Tim. 3:16–17), then they were awfully confused. Of course, we know they weren’t. If they had wanted to make such a distinction between Israel and the “church” they certainly would have used a word that was not as common as ekklēsia to both the Greek Old Testament and the Greek New Testament to do it.Endnotes:

  1. The Greek word ekklēsia is used 115 times in the New Testament, and in most translations it is translated as “church.” Exceptions are often found in Acts 7:38, 19:32, 39, 41, and Hebrews 2:12.()
  2. J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd ed. (New York: United Bible Societies, [1989] 1996).()
  3. Fruchtenbaum writes that “when the Church is mentioned for the first time in Matthew 16:18, it is still future, as the use of the future tense clearly shows. Jesus did not say, ‘I am building,’ which would have been the case if the Church was already in existence. The only possible conclusion is that the Church was formed at Pentecost.” (Fruchtenbaum, Israelology, 466). What Fruchtenbaum does not tell his readers is that while ekklēsia is used for the first time in Matthew’s gospel, it’s not the first time Jesus’ disciples had heard the term. They were very familiar with it. Jesus describes how He will build His assembly of believers on the confession that He is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16) which is foundational to the entire Old Testament (Luke 24:27). Its newness is similar to the way the covenant is new (Heb. 8:8); it’s the same covenant but only expanded to include non-Israelites and made sure through Jesus’ shed blood (Matt. 26:28). Notice the number of passages in Hebrews 8 that are taken from the Old Testament (8:5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12) and applied to the ekklēsia of the New Testament.()
  4. Following the LXX, the sacred assembly of Israel was the “ekklēsia of the LORD” (Deut. 23:1). “The people of God” are “in the ekklēsia” (Judges 20:2). Solomon took “all the ekklēsia” to Gibeon where the ark was (2 Chron. 1:3). There the ekklēsia inquired of the Lord (2 Chron. 1:5). When the temple was completed, Solomon blessed “all the ekklēsia of Israel” (1 Kings 8:14; cp. 8:22, 55; 2 Chron. 6:3). If this verse were in the NT, it would read “all the church of Israel.” When Solomon stands before the altar and prays, he is “before all the ekklēsia of Israel” (2 Chron. 6:12). The “ekklēsia of the LORD” was the covenantal assembly of Israel (Deut. 4:10).()
  5. Earl D. Radmacher, What the Church is All About: A Biblical and Historical Study (Chicago: Moody Press, [1972] 1978), 121, 132. Radmacher argues that “although the etymological associations of ekklesia have their unquestionable bearing upon the significance of the term, the deciding evidence must be drawn from the exhaustive investigation of its actual use in the New Testament. While it is true that historical continuity seems to demand that the early appearance of the word ekklesia in any new literature should simply suggest ‘assembly,’ it is also true that the Holy Spirit frequently lifts words from their current usages to a higher plane of meaning and packs into them such vast new content as their etymologies will scarcely account for. Whitney states: ‘Philologists agree that the final authority of any word does not lie in its etymological or historical connotation but in its actual use’” (132). That is the question. What is its actual use and meaning in the New Testament?()
  6. The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament and New Testament) (Jerusalem, Israel: The Bible Society in Israel, 1970).()
  7. Robert L. Saucy, The Church in God’s Program (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972), 16.()
  8. Edmund P. Clowney, “The Biblical Theology of the Church,” The Church in the Bible and the World: An International Study, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 17.()
  9. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, “Israel and the Church” in Issues In Dispensationalism, gen. eds. Wesley R. Willis and John R. Master (Chicago: Moody  Press, 1994), 116.()
  10. Some dispensationalists have understood the problem of claiming the church began at Pentecost, so Acts 13 dispensationalism, or Mid-Acts dispensationalism, was born. This hybrid dispensational view argues that the church, as the body of Christ, began in Acts 13 when Paul turned from the Jews to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. J. C. O’Hair, C. R. Stam of the Berean Bible Church and author of Things That Differ, and Charles F. Baker, author of A Dispensational Theology, are proponents of this view. Then there is Acts 28 dispensationalism which states that the church began at the end of Acts (see Acts 28:17–29) when the Jewish leaders completely rejected Paul’s teaching. “Acts 28 dispensationalism is sometimes called ‘Bullingerism’ after its leading proponent, Ethelbert William Bullinger (1837–1913).” (G. R. Lewis, “Ultradispensationalism,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996], 773).()
  11. [1]“It should be noted that [the translation of ekklēsia as ‘church’ in Acts 7:38] is found in the King James Version. Most other translations have more correctly translated this verse to read, the congregation in the wilderness, or the assembly in the wilderness. The Greek term ekklēsia is not only used in the technical sense of the New Testament Church, but it is also used in the Septuagint as the translation of the Hebrew kahal, meaning ‘congregation.’ That was the obvious intent of Acts 7:38. Furthermore, in the Book of Acts itself, ekklēsia is used in the non-technical sense of ‘assembly,’ for it is used to describe an assembly of townspeople who were neither Jews nor Christians but Gentile pagans [Acts 19:32–33, 41]” (Fruchtenbaum, Israelology, 30–31). Of course, the Hebrew qāhāl is also used in a non-technical sense of assembly as well as an assembly of believers.()
  12. Is Luke comparing the Jerusalem of his day to the wilderness? (“the ekklēsia in the wilderness” and “the ekklēsia in Jerusalem”). Jesus predicted that Jerusalem would be destroyed (Matt. 22:1–14) and the temple would be left to that generation “desolate” (23:38).()
  13. As Marten H. Woudstra observes, “The question whether it is more proper to speak of a replacement of the Jews by the Christian church or of an extension (continuation) of the OT people of God into that of the NT church is variously answered.” (Marten H. Woudstra, “Israel and the Church,” in Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Testaments, ed. John S. Feinberg (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1987], 237.) Clarence Bass takes a similar position: “It is not that exegetes prior to his time did not see a covenant between God and Israel, or a future relation of Israel to the millennial reign, but they always viewed the church as a continuation of God’s single program of redemption begun in Israel. It is dispensationalism’s rigid insistence on a distinct cleavage between Israel and the church, and its belief in a later unconditional fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant, that sets it off from the historic faith of the church. (Clarence Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism [Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1960], 27).()
  14. E. Schuyler English, A Companion to the New Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), 135.()
  15. Thomas Ice, “The Israel of God,” The Thomas Ice Collection: www.raptureready.com/featured/TheIsraelOfGod.html#_edn3()
  16. Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 108.()
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About the Author

Gary is a graduate of Western Michigan University (1973) and earned his M.Div. at Reformed Theological Seminary in 1979. He is the author of countless essays, news articles, and more than 27 book titles, His most recent book is Exposing the Real Last Days Scoffers. Gary lives in Marietta, Georgia, with his wife, Carol. They have two married sons and four grandchildren, Gary and Carol are members of Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA).



13 Responses to Does the Bible Teach an Israel-Church Distinction?

  1. Jase Stefanski says:

    Gary, thank you for addressing ekklesia and your clear statements of its more accurate translation of congregation or assembly. I would only ask that you stick to that translation with your new study bible translation plans and I would whole heartily support your efforts. I see this translation used by the Young’s Literal Translation and I believe it more accurately relates so much about how maturity in Christ can and should be attained through the involvement of an active and blessed assembly and not some grand unaccountable and invisible church that strives to grow in numbers as a business does and rewards its leaders for that type of success. Anyway I could go on and on about how this could be one of the main things that helped create and propel dispensationalism. I really hope you see this clearly and are not being pressured by any King James types to stick to the poor translation of ekklesia with the word “church”. One article that I like to pass along is: http://www.bible-truth.org/Ekklesia.html Thank you so much for what you do.

  2. John McGrew says:

    Mr. Demar,
    Studying Plato and Aristotle for Political Science, we learned that ekklesia meant those called out from the general population for a specific service, (liturgia) such as a jury or a legislature. Not that this applies directly to your discussion, but it does add more layers of meaning. Similarly, arche, telos, and kurios are three divisions of political power corresponding roughly to our house, executive, and supreme court and senate. When all three powers are vested in one entity, it is considered tyranny, which is only ok when the tyrant is god. When the Lord Jesus calls himself the Beginning and the End, one thing he is saying is that all authority has been vested in Himself. This may be beside the point, but we are talking about government.
    John

    • E Harris says:

      Political theory and ekklesiology are about to merge in big ways. In fact, the American Revolution had the seeds of this (no king but Jesus). And the Civil Rights movement…pushed this idea (of the ekklesia) right out into the public square. There is no turning back. Marxism has adopted the ekklesia as it’s hope for the future. But marxists & atheists each want and ekklesia that THEY are comfortable with, and meets THEIR preferences. They really don’t want a real savior Jesus at the cross who buys us back from our own sin (that is the real dividing line between liberal/libertarian – and conservative/libertarian).

      But this is inescapable: “Communism” itself is borrowed from what the ekklesia did at Jerusalem. Communism in China, Marxists making alliances with Islamists (and Islamists speaking the language of anti-imperialism, which is a marxist economic critique). Marxists here in America, pervading our educational structures. But their achille’s heel is: the ekklesia which abolishes the false idea of a seperate “laity” and “clergy”. There is no 1% to protest against, among the brethren. There are differences: but the same Lord. Our equality is from Him, and in His eyes. In a proper ecclesiology, there is absolutely no clergy/laity divide. There is no sacred/secular task. And there is a Way to move Beyond Protest and into Saving Oneness with God.

      It won’t take more than 3 years, before ecclesiology & the ekklesia will be a wide concern. The breakdown of law & order will push this forward. Along with continual marxist critique of power-and-money structures. And, most importantly, the muslims in the middle east see their whole society as one religious ekklesia. But they have an impossible ecclesiology, because they lack a philosophy centered on the Son (the humility, service, tolerance, freedom, personal access, and HUMANITY evident in Jesus Christ). Islamic civilization cannot hold itself together without an enemy, and cannot hardly hold itself together with an enemy. They have nothing central to stand FOR – that isn’t borrowed from the monotheism represented in Jesus Christ. They have very little (doctrinally) that stabilizes them and keeps them humble, or even non-violent.

      Ecclesiology is basically short for saying: how individual people should get along. Jesus is the center-focus of any appropriate (and developed) ecclesiology. Jesus truly has become the center point of civilization, at the cross. That is what he taught us. We must carry forward with his message of salvation, also including HOW he led, taught, suffered, and overcame. We will not continue in works, after having begun in grace. We will continue (post 70ad) toward maturity, in the same path that we began walking (pre 70ad).

      The house-church movement is already (appearing to) advance a little bit along the mexican-texas border, among one baptist church in Laredo. 60 house churches in a violent area, attached (loosely) to one traditional church… where few other traditional structures exist. It’s the future. And it’s the will of God. The importance being placed on fatherhood, family, morality, teaching, and the Spirit…only reinforces the fact that we are supposed to be “organic” (living and naturally supernatural) believers.

      • Arrow says:

        E Harris,

        Thank you for this profound insight. It gives us much to think about, and makes some really interesting points.

        -Arrow

      • E Harris says:

        The same way that Marxism went out from Judeo-Christianity and then turned back and infiltrated it… we can apply biblical logic to Marxism and make it acknowledge that it needs to follow Jesus Christ for salvation. They grab ahold of the reigns of civilization and push it until it cannot sustain ‘its own weight’. We can do the same to marxist theory, by pointing out all of the things that it needs and lacks. By pointing out that the one thing they never like to talk about is the center-point: the HAND that is supposed to do the re-distributing (it’s more powerful than the others – and hence, it is ‘unequal’ and itself must be ‘torn down’). The only way to have TRUE equality, happiness, etc. is through voluntary participation – not force. The only way to truly be unified and free, is unity in Jesus Christ – the things that he exemplified in history (and gives us in Spirit). The Spirit of God is everywhere, and can coordinate all points simultaneously. It is beyond time/space. And so… the Spirit of God does not require a geographic headquarters. It does not require an image. It only requires FAITHFUL obedience. And faith cannot be forced.

      • E Harris says:

        If they want to talk about liberation… make them talk about REAL liberation. Present the gospel in all of it’s unconstrained glory. Keep throwing monkey wrenches (logic) into their little earth-bound plans. Keep looking ahead to the next problem, and the next, and the next… and keep presenting the gospel (freely believed, in the heart of every individual) as the solution! JESUS is the only way forward. For civilization, for peace, for human hunger, for anything.

      • E Harris says:

        Speaking of ekklesia, and the fact that the marxists have adopted the ekklesia as their hope for the future… (Saul Alinsky “Organize the Organized”)… Check this out: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_NEIGHBORHOOD_WATCH_DEATH_CHURCHES?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2012-03-25-18-25-38

        Is the hoodie going to become the new uniform? Some congregations are positively beginning to appear cult-like. I hope it’s just a passing fad.

      • E Harris says:

        It’s time to go on the offense. Even if people think it’s offensively religious.

        Hijack Marxism and steer it toward the gospel message, relentlessly. Apply JESUS and the gospel directly to marxism (taking the good, and rebuking the bad).

        Marxism has always been (and still is) an objection to Christianity. So… shed the stuff that they are right about… stop trying to defend it… and find ways that they are wrong.

        They routinely say things about how greed is bad and how violence is bad. Well, Jesus never FORCED anyone to do anything. He was (in a western sense) the consummate individual man. His disciples could have freely left His presence at any time, and maybe even return (having missed out on a lot). He wasn’t like Muhammad (or Marx) who took up a sword, while preaching to the Christians that they shouldn’t take up a sword because Jesus died without one. It was Jesus’ choice (obedience) to lay down his life. But Jesus told his disciples to BUY swords. So… it was his disciples CHOICE not to use them, when to use them, or to lay them down in sacrifice.

        I’m talking to someone about the Trayvon case, who feels VERY PASSIONATE about the Trayvon case. (She’s an educated dark-skinned woman…who gave up her devotion to Jesus and “the christian establishment” long ago.) It turns out that she gets the most engaged in conversation – when I point out that THE BLACK POWER movement and MARXIST PROTEST is at the core of the controversy.

        Marxism is trying to adopt the ekklesia, and remold it. It already has made very significant inroads into the Islamic ekklesia (via anti-imperialism – which is the backbone of terrorism AND “black power”). Islam and Marxism are now almost synonyms, in some respects. Islam is the tool being used by Marxist critique to dismantle everything “western” (that is, Christian).

        We are in the rise of monotheism. But rather than turn to JESUS CHRIST for safety, the marxists have held to their ideology as much as possible – and are turning toward islamic monotheism (which is a power religion).

  3. E Harris says:

    Hear-hear! May dispensationalism die a quick death.

    And in its aftermath, I believe that we ALL will be challenged in our worldview, more than ever before. I say this, because the doctrine of ekklesia is like a rabbithole to Western Civilization (as it has been understood up to this point)…and even to the (usual) Jewish understanding before Jesus Christ.

    There is an essential conflict in nearly everyone’s view of the ekklesia. I think that very few (anywhere) truly recognize it for what it is. Our functioning in the kingdom would be much more efficient and God-glorifying if we recognized the ekklesia…and coordinated, organized, and testified accordingly.

    One one hand: “The term ἐκκλησία was in common usage for several hundred years before the Christian era and was used to refer to an assembly of persons constituted by well-defined membership.” My question is: well-defined according to whom? Who checks the balance sheets, and sees who is in or out? In the OT it was easy to define the ekklesia of God. On the other hand, in the NT, Jesus came and revealed a deeper order. “For the NT . . . it is important to understand the meaning of ἐκκλησia as “an assembly of God’s people.” This wasn’t a reversal. It was a deepening. It was a deeper layer of understanding of what the ekklesia was. Jesus told Peter that his confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God… is the foundation upon which His (Jesus’) ekklesia will be laid. Jesus is the chief cornerstone, the sole Head of His Church.

    Ekklēsia was used many times in the Septuagint for the Hebrew word qāhāl that means “congregation” or “assembly.” Does an assembly have to be a fixed-member assembly? An assembly is an assembly, as in “call an assembly”. Sure, people can be dis-qualified from an assembly, but that is not the same as demanding that someone who would be qualified, show up! The church is very voluntary and participatory. The church/ekklesia is the plural word for saint. “Where two or three are gathered, there am I in the midst of them.” So…how is a church to be organized, if there is nobody to establish an order? Who does the ordering? The Holy Spirit working in the hearts of men, according to His Word. If you do not have His Spirit, then you are none of His. But nobody can tell where the Spirit comes from or where it is going – such are those who are born of the Spirit.

    It’s not as easy as putting pen to paper, writing a list of names, or carving out a geographical map, and then sitting back…and watching the numbers roll in. That’s mammon. In a severe form, that’s Egypt. Head-counts were taken deadly seriously in the OT! (You didn’t do them, unless you were in God’s will! Because God takes Personhood SERIOUSLY…and He doesn’t appear to reduce the importance of an individual person, when more numbers are added to him.) God doesn’t base his power on numbers. Totality and completness for God: is in Jesus Christ, One Individual and Holy Man under Himself. When two such people gather together, in order to work together, and share: then God probably says “Now, we’re talkin!”

    Organic house-church/family-church theology is an attempt to discover the basics of this doctrine, and walk in it with all purity and simplicity of heart. They don’t always get it right, but it is an important step in the right direction, theologically. (It also lends validity to the original Protestant understanding of the Papacy, as well…but carries that same logic forward in applying it to all denominal structures.) If it sounds marxist, it is because it has one thing in common with the marxists – that inspired them in the first place. Anti-clericalism toward the papacy (the foundational assumption of the Roman Catholic order) inspired those with quick-thinking secular/atheistic minds to run wild with that logic. And because the church was slow to understand its own logic: the marxists ran wild without an equal to converse with…in this one essential area: the ekklesia. So, communism was the result. A secular atheists attempt to re-create the ekklesia in his own image, without Jesus Christ as the Living center point! And this is PRECISELY why Western Civilization is enduring this short collapse. Because the secular left charged ahead with a borrowed truth from the Scriptures, that the existing power structures within the church did not want to acknowledge.

    We can debate about the past. What happened before 3bc. Or between 3bc and 30ad. Or between 30ad and 70ad. Or before the Roman Empire (feet of Babylon) sought out Christian-ity as it’s hope for cohesiveness. But one thing is abundantly clear: a falling away was preparing to happen in Paul’s own day. Paul said that a restrainer was keeping the man of sin from exalting himself above the brotherhood of the church. (sitting in THE temple OF GOD) basically means seated in authority, an authority supposed to be reserved for God’s Spirit. That restrainer, keeping the man of sin (a general “man of sin”) from exalting himself, was the civil sword of the Roman Empire. You exalt yourself saying you’re the captain of this thing: you put yourself and those around you in danger. Same situation as with the “family church” in China, right now. You don’t go exalting yourself too highly, and it is impossible to officially coordinate on a big scale. NOT SO after the civil sword accepts you, approves you, and even ENDORSES you. Then, it’s a free-for-all feeding frenzy as wolves gather to eat the sheep, and herd them into pens for future consumption. It was given to him to overcome the saints. For a time, times, and half a time (many Protestant Historicists say that’s 1260 years).

    Though post-millenialism and Protestant Historicism are not taking off (by name) in the post-futurist charismatic movement… the SEEDS of those ideas are being built upon.

    Even if you do not believe these truths: they are the truths that (on a negative side) are propelling the marxist critique of civilization. But the kingdom does not belong to them.

  4. Don B. says:

    Thanks, Mr. DeMar, for this very well written article. I am a former dispensationalist and an Armenian turned Calvinist. Articles like this are a tremendous help in reinforcing my changed biblical views.

    • Yes, thanks Gary. Growing up in dispensational churches, I heard about the Israel/Church distinction all the time. Ironically, it is the dispensationalists who are the real “replacement theologians”, since they say that God is currently only dealing with the Church, not Israel.
      This is one of the issues that never quite made sense to me, and I’m thankful for those who lovingly share the truth from God’s Word.
      I especially enjoy the verses in Galatians and Ephesians about the promises to Abraham being for all who are of like faith and Jew and Gentiles being brought together in one body. Why do dispensationlists want to take steps backwards?

  5. Michael Earl Riemer says:

    Well done brother DeMar. Another nail for the coffin of a pessimist faith. May dispensationalism die a quick death, so the full Church may yet again have a vision of hope and victory for the nations and cultures of my Father’s world.

  6. Micah Martin says:

    Here is an incredibly important sermon series that is incredibly pertinent to this discussion.

    God was never married to Israel, only betrothed! The marriage happened at AD 70.

    http://podcast.newcovenanteyes.com/2012/02/26/5-holy-hate-batman-god-hates-divorce.aspx

    Part 2
    http://podcast.newcovenanteyes.com/2012/03/04/6-holy-hate-batman-god-hates-divorce-part-2.aspx

    Very in-depth discussion:

    http://deathisdefeated.ning.com/profiles/blogs/god-was-never-married-to-israel-in-the-oc

    Talk about destroying Dispensationalism… as well as ALL other forms of futurism.

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