In a posting yesterday, I quoted Charles C. Ryrie who points to the centrality and exaltation of Israel as the first of the three sine qua non of dispensationalism: “A dispensationalist keeps Israel and the Church distinct.” He defends this position over against all other evangelical theologies by arguing that:
(1) The Church is not fulfilling in any sense the promises to Israel. (2) The use of the word Church in the New Testament never includes unsaved Israelites. (3) The Church Age is not seen in God’s program for Israel. It is an intercalation. (4) The Church is a mystery in the sense that it was completely unrevealed in the Old Testament and now revealed in the New Testament. (5) The Church did not begin until the day of Pentecost and will be removed from this world at the rapture which precedes the Second Coming of Christ.
In this post I will begin responding to this error.
Scripture does not support Ryrie’s distinctive assertions, which are absolutely fundamental to the dispensational system. Rather, it teaches that old covenant Israel is the seed of God’s people which flowers in history, becoming the expanded, global people of God in the new covenant Church.
Some call this view “replacement theology” and fear that this position altogether removes Israel from God’s plan and replaces her with a new and distinct people. But a better description would be to call it “fulfillment theology.” That is, this view understands the new covenant as expanding God’s people from a single ethnic people embodied in a geo-political structure to a pan-ethnic people embodied in a new structure, the new, true, spiritual, covenant Church.
This view recognizes old covenant Israel as the actual people of God in the Old Testament, who function as the seed of the coming global people of God in the New Testament. As the Westminster Confession of Faith (written in the 1640s) expresses it, Israel is “a church under age” (WCF 19:3).
My first point of evidence in this regard is that this new covenant expansion is anticipated in the Old Testament itself.
The Old Testament writers foresee a time in which God will expand his people by bringing blessings on the Gentiles and including them within Israel. This hope is established early in Israel’s formative history when God establishes his covenant with Abraham: “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, / And you shall be the father of a multitude of nations” (Gen 17:4).
Perhaps the clearest expression of this appears in Isaiah 19:23–25. There we read that God will include Israel’s greatest enemies in his covenant:
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrians will come into Egypt and the Egyptians into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.”
Zechariah expresses this hope by referring to Israel’s earliest enemy within the Promised Land:
And a mongrel race will dwell in Ashdod, / And I will cut off the pride of the Philistines. / And I will remove their blood from their mouth, / And their detestable things from between their teeth. / Then they also will be a remnant for our God, / And be like a clan in Judah, / And Ekron like a Jebusite. (Zech 9:6–7)
The conversion of the Gentiles in the new covenant is simply the fulfillment of these prophecies which adopt Israel’s enemies into her family.
But there is more! I will return to this theme on Monday (I am off on Sundays!). See you here Monday morning for coffee at 6:30 am sharp.