In the New Testament we find the word “church” used in two different senses. In the first sense the word “church” refers to a local body as in . . .
To the church of the Thessalonians.
To the church of God that is at Corinth.
In the second sense the word “church” refers to all the elect, including those elect who are not a member of a local body as in . . .
For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is head of the church
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of His body.
Some groups have a problem with this. Landmark Baptists for one have a problem with it. They insist the word church refers only in the sense of a local body. Regardless though, this problem is beyond the scope of our discussion today.
What I want to instead focus on today is the idea the church has in any sense ALWAYS existed, or at least that it existed in the Old Testament. This is wrong though. Dangerously wrong. And we are going to talk about why it is dangerously wrong.
But I want to first explain why we are going to be talking about this again, and what it has to do with our study of Hebrews.
If you will recall the last time I spoke, I discussed very briefly why it is wrong to think of the church as having existed in the Old Testament. I was apparently too brief, because I began receiving questions afterward by Facebook and email which made it clear to me that I had not explained myself well.
I blame myself for this, for not being clear enough. So what I’m going to do this week is I’m going to focus my entire time up here today on this subject. I am going to dive into it much more deeply than I did last time. In this sense you can think of this as a repeat of my last message, only far more in depth and explanatory.
As for the reason why this topic pertains to our study in Hebrews, the reason should become clear by the time we finish. Let me say in advance though, these Hebrew Christians were being tempted to return to the old covenant. If there was no church in the old covenant then what they were being tempted to return to was a churchless covenant. A churchless covenant means Christ has not yet accomplished His work.
For this reason, we need to understand why there was no church in the Old Testament especially when the fact is we are surrounded by so many in the reformed camp who insist the church did indeed exist in the Old Testament. We need to understand the implications of their assertion and why their assertion is unbiblical.
One last thing before we begin. Let me remind us all one last time. When I say there was no church in the Old Testament, I do NOT mean there were no justified and regenerated elect in the Old Testament.
No. The Old Testament saints were justified and regenerated, and they were indwelt with the Spirit the same as the New Testament elect are today. Some people have tried to argue that the old saints were not indwelt with the Spirit. If they were not indwelt with the Spirit though, then how did they continue to believe the gospel? How was their faith sustained? By their own will? No, they were indeed indwelt with the Spirit.
With all these things in mind let us begin then with a brief discussion about types.
What is a type? Type is short for typology. A type is something – a person, place or thing that prefigures or points to another person, place or thing. The thing doing the pointing is called the type, and the thing it is pointing to is called the anti-type.
Think of a road sign, for example, like a sign indicating that there is a curve in the road up ahead. The sign itself is only a diamond shaped sheet of metal. On its face is painted a thick, curvy line. This curvy line is meant to indicate something to us about the road ahead. The sign is the type. The road itself is the anti-type.
When it comes to Scripture a type is a person, place or thing from the Old Testament which points to Christ or to some part of His finished work. In this sense it is like the road sign. It is pointing ahead in time to Christ.
Consider Jonah, for example. Jonah is a type of Christ. He spent three days in the belly of a whale. His three days in the belly of a whale points us to the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.
Keep in mind though, Jonah was only a type. Jonah was not actually dead for three days, nor did Jonah’s three days save anyone. His three days were not Christ’s three days.
In the same sense, the nation of Israel in the Old Testament was also a type. And what Israel typified was Christ and also the church.
Exodus 6:6 reads as follows.
“Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will REDEEM you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.’”
We find out later in the book of Exodus that God had used the Passover lamb as a sign to the Hebrews that He had redeemed them FROM THEIR SLAVERY. Pay close attention to this. It was from slavery He had redeemed them. It was not from sin and death that He had redeemed them.
Keep this in mind, because there are people who already at this point flip this on its head; and I’m sorry to have to say this, but it’s mostly Presbyterians with their covenant theology who do it. What they do is they confuse the type, which is Israel – with the anti-type, which is the church.
So what they will say is not only was Israel LIKE the church, but rather that it WAS the church.
Here is the problem with saying something like this. If Israel is the church, then what we find in the account of the Hebrew slaves being redeemed from their slavery is the Church being redeemed, and then afterwards brought to the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the law of Moses for sanctification.
Do you see the problem?
To say the church existed while the old covenant did too is the same as saying the road sign with a curvy line is the road itself. In that case, we have no reason to look for any sharp curves in the road ahead.
The biggest problem with trying to inject the church into the Old Testament is it places the church under the law of Moses, as well as the covenant of circumcision.
Take King David, for example. David lived under the Mosaic covenant. But if he was also a member of the body of Christ while he was also under the law of Moses, then what we have in David and all his fellow Old Testament saints is the body of Christ abiding under the curse of the law. “Cursed is everyone in the church who does not abide by all that is written in the book of the law to do them.”
In addition to this, the old covenant sacrifice of bulls and goats could not take away sin. As Hebrews 10 tells us, these sacrifices reminded the people of their sin. We read that in Hebrews 9 and 10.
If King David was a member of the body of Christ while he was also under the law of Moses, then what we have is the body of Christ being reminded of its sins even while it was still the body of Christ. How, in that situation, could David had ever have approached God with a clean conscience?
David wrote in Psalm 32:
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
David was not looking to the sacrifice of bulls and goats for this sin covering. He was instead looking to another sacrifice, even Christ’s sacrifice for this sin covering. Even so, Christ had not at that time in history made this sacrifice yet, and so what David was looking to was a sacrifice that was still far off in the distant future. Is this the object of the church’s faith? A sacrifice by Christ which has not yet been accomplished?
To put it another way, the city which Abraham sought was also a type. The city, like the Old Testament nation of Israel, also typified the church. Very well, we cannot then say Abraham was in the church while at the same time he was looking for God to fulfill the promise of a church. He would have been pretty stupid had this been the case.
Hebrews 11 tells us that Abraham died without having received the promise. In fact, it tells us that all these heroes of the faith died without having received the promise. How then could they have not received the promise if at the same time they were in the promise? They can’t.
Israel was a type, but it was not the reality. It was a type of the church, it pointed to the church, but it was not the church.
There are instead some very rigid and sharp distinctions that exist between the nation of Israel in the Old Testament and the church in the New Testament. Let me give you a brief list of some of those sharp, rigid distinctions.
Israel the type was called to bring forth Jesus, the Messiah. It was consecrated by the blood of bulls and goats. It was chosen in Abraham. It was called to be a kingdom of priests offering carnal sacrifices. It was God’s inheritance through Abraham. It housed God’s earthly tabernacle.
Are any of these things true of the church? No. Have any of these things ever been true of the church? No. They are not and never have been true of the church.
The church was not consecrated by the blood of bulls and goats. And it is not God’s inheritance through Abraham.
No, the church instead belongs to Jesus Christ. It is God’s special treasure forever, His inheritance through Christ.
The church has been consecrated by Christ’s blood. The church is His flock. His church is called to be a kingdom of priests offering spiritual sacrifices, not carnal ones. The church is God’s spiritual temple. It does not house God’s temple; but rather, it is God’s temple.
Someone says, okay Dave, if Israel was not the church, then what about the covenant that Israel was under? After all, Christ was the promise of this covenant, wasn’t He?
I want you to listen to me very carefully here, because this is the crucial point, this is what it all comes down to. The cross of Jesus Christ was NOT the promise of the covenant with Israel. In fact, the cross of Christ was not even the promise of the covenant God made with Abraham and with Noah.
Consider, for example that the promise of the Abrahamic covenant was for both the elect and also the non-elect. Not all Abraham’s offspring were elect. Not all who were circumcised were elect, and not all who inherited the land that God had promised to Abraham’s descendants were elect.
The same goes for the Mosaic covenant. The promise of the Mosaic covenant was for both the elect and non-elect. Not all who were in the nation were elect. I mention King Saul and King Ahab as just two examples.
The same goes for the covenant with Noah. God did not say He would never again only not destroy the elect with a flood. No, He said He would never again destroy all flesh with a flood. This goes for the descendants of Ham as well as the descendants of Shem and Japheth.
Therefore, if the promises of these old covenants were for both the elect and the non-elect, then how could Christ be the promise?
Only the promise of the New Covenant is only for the elect. Your sins and your iniquities I will remember no more.
The promise of the covenant with Abraham was land for a nation of descendants. The promise of the covenant made at Mount Sinai with the Hebrews, it was land as a continued possession in return for obedience, along with health and prosperity and peace from war. The promise of the covenant with Noah, as I mentioned a moment ago, was no more destruction of all flesh with a flood.
Now certainly the land and those descendants, the sacrifices and the rainbow, these things did typify Christ and His church IF YOU HAD THE EYES TO SEE. But if you did not have the eyes to see, then the promise of the land and the nation and the no more flood they were still yours.
This means the promises of these old covenants were all carnal. They were all physical promises, and they were promises made to both the elect and non-elect alike.
The promise of Christ was a separate promise that God had made to the elect way back in Genesis 3:15 well before He cut the covenants with Noah and Abraham and Moses. The promise of Christ was a promise made independent of these old covenants.
It may help to think about it like this. When was Abraham justified, was it before or after he was circumcised? It was not after, but rather before. He was justified by the promise of Christ before God entered into the covenant of circumcision with him.
Therefore, if circumcision is ONLY for a sign of the righteousness that Abraham had by faith, then this means that everyone who received circumcision would have had to have been righteous, but this is clearly not the case.
Esau was circumcised, but he was not righteous. And Abraham and Abel and Enoch and Noah were still all UNcircumcised when they were made righteous.
Circumcision then had to be for MORE than just a sign of righteousness for Abraham. It had to also be a seal of the promise he had of land and a nation.
In the new covenant, the circumcision of the heart performed by the Spirit and corresponding to faith in Christ is the anti-type. Circumcision in the Old Testament pointed to this if you had the eyes to see. If you did not have the eyes to see though, then you still had to be circumcised as a seal of the promise of land and a nation.
What these old covenants did then was they served to propel redemptive history towards that day when at last God fulfilled the promise of Genesis 3:15. They did this by separating out from all other nations one nation through whom God would bring forth the promised Seed. That nation was not the promise though and the cross was not the promise of these covenants. No one in the Old Testament was saved by the promise of land and a nation of descendants. Instead, everyone in the Old Testament who was elect was saved by the same cross of Christ we are saved by in the New Testament, only back then this cross was still a promise.
Could those people who had received the carnal promise of land and many descendants, could they break those old covenants? Yes. In fact, even the elect could break those old covenants. I give you David and Solomon for example. They both broke the covenant law.
But can those people who have received the promise of the new covenant, can they break the new covenant? No, because the new covenant is unconditional. The fulfillment of its promises are all based entirely upon what Christ has done.
Even though we do indeed still sin by breaking Christ’s commandments, yet the promise of the new covenant remains intact. God says I will forgive your sins and iniquities. He does not say I will forgive your sins and iniquities IF . . .
These cannot be the same covenants then, can they? They are entirely different covenants with entirely different distinctions. Therefore, if we are going to say that there was always a church, then we are going to have some very tremendous problems, because what we will wind up with is a church that has existed under a series of very distinct and different covenants, all but one of which were conditioned upon the hearer’s performance.
Listen again to the words of the apostle in Ephesians 2.
12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made us BOTH ONE and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create IN HIMSELF one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might RECONCILE US BOTH TO GOD IN ONE BODY through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
The text says, that He might reconcile us BOTH to God in ONE BODY. Who is the both? The both is the Old Testament elect and the New Testament elect; Jews and Gentiles; those who were NOT strangers to the covenants of promise and those who were.
But if the Old Testament elect were already in the body of Christ, then why would they need to be reconciled to God in one body along with the Gentiles? Why would they need to be reconciled to a body they were already in?
Because they weren’t already in that body, that’s why! Prior to the cross Christ had not yet created in Himself one new man. The old testament elect were not placed into the body of Christ prior to the cross. God does not place His elect into the body of Christ and then shackle them to the curse of the law afterward. Such an act would be self defeating. It would kill grace.
But understand this. Grace and sanctification by the cross are not the only casualties of confusing types with anti-types.
Let me take you back in history to see another casualty that comes as a consequence of confusing Israel with the church.
The rise of the monarchical bishops began at around the 2nd – 3rd century AD with the rise and influx of several heresies. First, what is a monarchical bishop?
A bishop, as the KJV translates it, or overseer or elder as the modern versions translate it, is in today’s vernacular a pastor or minister. In Titus 1:5 we find Paul instructing Titus to appoint elders in every town. Elders would be better translated pastors or overseers. In other words, appoint a pastor over every church in every town.
Eventually, some churches grew more prominent with prestige, either because of their location or just because of their reputation. The pastors of other smaller, less prestigious churches might tend to listen more closely despite themselves to the pastors of these more prestigious churches.
Eventually, by the 3rd century, this turned into the unbiblical practice of giving authority and oversight to these more prestigious pastors. They were given the title of bishop, and they were granted man-made authority and oversight over all the pastors of all the churches in a given region.
In other words, a bishop was an elder who lorded it over all the other elders of all the local bodies found in a particular region. This practice began in North Africa and then soon spread to Imperial Rome. Centuries later it would come to be known as the OLD Catholic Church. Catholic is a word meaning “universal”.
Nowhere in the New Testament do we find an office in the church whereby a few of the flock are given it to lord it over other the rest of the flock. In fact, in some New Testament churches we find congregations so resistance to someone from the outside coming in and trying to lord it over them that it was all the apostle Paul could do to just get them to hear him.
Even the apostle Paul himself tells us that he cared not one wit about the reputation of any of the other apostles or what they thought about him. Right there we can see that there was no lording it over other members of the flock.
That all changed though, with the rise of the bishops. We now had men lording it over all the other pastors of local bodies. We had the Bishop of Rome, the Bishop of Naples, the Bishop of Jerusalem and so on.
Here it is, just about two-hundred years after Christ’s resurrection and we were already seeing men trying to lord it over the flocks.
In addition to this unbiblical practice of bishops, something else happened in the fourth century that upset the applecart even more. The Emperor Constantine came to power and he did something unprecedented. He made Christianity the state religion.
And unbelievably, because of recent persecution, most people who called themselves Christian at that time lauded this as a good thing. If you’ve ever read Eusebius then you’ll know what I mean. He all but worships at the feet of his beloved Constantine.
Later it grew even worse after the popes got involved.
Flash forward in time though, to the reformation. Zwingli, Luther, Calvin, Knox, the big four. And at first it was great. They came preaching Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide and the rest of the five solas.
The problem is that things got really, really bad really, really quickly. What had started out great soon turned ugly and vicious after the big four found themselves being offered the same thing Rome had been offered – military and political power.
Last time I spoke I mentioned a few things about the city of Cain, remember that? Well, this is the same thing that happened in the case of the reformers. It wasn’t long before they went from preaching about the city of God to murdering and politicking for the city of man.
And why shouldn’t it be this way? After all, if Israel was a type of church in the Old Testament and Israel was a nation with political power and a military, then why shouldn’t the church in the New Testament also make use of political power and a military?
Cromwell thought it a good idea. So did John Winthrop, Puritan elder and governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He told his Puritan community they were to be a shining example to all the nations of the world. And what was the shining example he set? Murder the natives if they don’t convert, and the Quakers too while we’re at it.
Loraine Boettner reports with relish in his essay, “Calvinism in America” that . . .
“When Cornwallis was driven back to ultimate retreat and surrender at Yorktown, all but one of the colonels of the Colonial Army were Presbyterian elders. More than one-half of all the soldiers and officers of the American Army during the Revolution were Presbyterians.”
Boettner is not alone in reporting this fact. The US Library of Congress itself houses a number of published letters, sermons and books leading up to the American Revolution that all lay a large part of the blame for the war squarely upon the doorstep of the Presbyterian church.
Take Joseph Galloway, for example, former speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly and close personal friend of Benjamin Franklin. He wrote in a published pamphlet that the revolution was, to a considerable extent, a religious quarrel, caused by Presbyterians and Congregationalists whose “principles of religion and polity were equally averse to those of the established Church and Government.”
And as if to substantiate Galloway’s words, it is Boettner himself who gives us the words of historian, Frenchman Taine, who had no religious affiliation and no religious faith, but who said concerning Calvinists —
“These men are the true heroes of England. They founded England by the exercise of duty, by the practice of justice, by obstinate toil, by vindication of right, BY THE RESISTANCE TO OPPRESSION, BY THE CONQUEST OF LIBERTY, BY THE REPRESSION OF VICE. They founded Scotland; they founded the United States; at this day they are, by their descendants, founding Australia and colonizing the world.”
Like a Reese’s peanut butter cup, I think most Protestants have got their Israel mixed in with their gospel.
Is this what Christ instructed His disciples to do? Go out into all the nations repressing vice, resisting oppression and conquering in the name of liberty?
And it isn’t just the Presbyterians who are doing this either. No, the Reformed Baptists and the Arminians are getting just as adept at it too. Today, we’re told by many who call themselves Christian that America is a Christian nation which has lost its spiritual way, mostly due to those darned liberals, but that if we just elect the correct politically conservative people to lead us, then we can restore America’s faith in God and lead her back to her former greatness.
But America never had faith in God and neither has any of her leaders.
Nevertheless, under such nonsense God gets replaced by some nebulous principle known as liberty, while His Word gets replaced by the bill of rights.
I’m sorry, but there is no warrant in the New Testament for a national church. This means no church of England, no church of Scotland, and no church of America. Nor is there any warrant for a so called just war.
In addition to this, governors, mayors, presidents, politicians, judges, lawyers, sheriffs and generals have no function in the church. The gospel cannot be spread by political and carnal powers, but rather only by Christ and the Spirit of Christ.
The irony here is that many of the same people who are confusing types with anti-types will insist on one hand that Israel was not the church, and yet on the other hand they either want America to start behaving like the church, or they want the church to start behaving like Old Testament Israel.
You can’t have it both ways. Either Israel was the church or it was not. It was very clearly not. No nation is the church. No nation will ever be the church. And no nation can ever substitute for the church.
At the center of all this is the claim I encounter all too often on the internet. The claim goes like this, that no gospel believer has any right to question a minister or teacher or theologian if that believer is not “under the authority of a local pastor and elders.”
This is ridiculous. It’s a return to the monarchical bishops. What we find is that most of the reformed denominations have never actually put away the office of bishop. They only got rid of the name, that’s all.
The city of man is not the city of God and we must not confuse them. There was no church in the old covenant. Anyone who says there was is telling us that people who were under Christ’s headship were also under a covenant that told them, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all that is written in the book of the law to do them.”
Christ was not the promise of the old covenant. Land was the promise of the old covenant. And while those old testament saints did have the promise of the city, what we have is the fulfillment of that promise. What we have is better.