When was the church born? When did it start? Here’s two well-known voices:
His [the Holy Spirit] coming to fill the assembled disciples at Pentecost establishes the church of the New Covenant. Clowney, The Church, 28.
On this point we cannot agree with those Premillenarians who, under the influence of a divisive dispensationalism, claim that the Church is exclusively a New Testament institution, which did not come into existence until the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost… Berkhof, 571.
If the church began in some sense at Pentecost (Clowney), then how can Covenant Theologians (CT) affirm that the OT believers were in the church?
If the church began in the OT (Berkhof), then what was the point of Pentecost? Was it merely a helpful add-on to their faith, but really not essential? If it was essential, then how can we explain that the OT believers did not have it?
I recognize that CT will argue that the church existed as believers in Israel during the OT, but the point still remains: if you press for an OT church, the worth of Pentecost is downplayed to some degree. If you flatten the distinctions between the two sections of Scripture, then the most obvious distinction–the coming and permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit–is also ironed out. To exalt the meaning of the Spirit’s coming in Acts 2 is to speak of distinction from the OT, and that is a very difficult shibboleth for many CT’s.
Is this a possible explanation for why Robert Reymond in his otherwise very helpful Systematic Theology devotes a mere 4 pages out of 1,093 to the third member of the Godhead?
how are you defining the church? isn’t that the real question here? if the presence of the Holy Spirit is requisite, then it’s pentecost. if merely loving and giving yourself to God is what makes people part of the church, than it began the first time someone repented, right? i’m not trying to massively oversimplify it, but the bride of Christ is made up of those who chose him over sin, right? then David and Job are in. so, OT
Absolutely, “What is the church?” is certainly the question to be answered. The problem is that your definition will be informed by your presuppositions about the nature of Israel. Obviously, there are similarities between OT descriptions of Israel and NT descriptions of the people of God. But equally as obvious are the points of discontinuity.
If you give hermeneutic authority to the points where they are similar, you tend more toward a covenantal position. If you grant that authority rather to the differences when you are writing your definition, you will generally meander nearer to dispensationalism.
I chose in this post to simply focus on one major difference between the people of God in the OT and the people of God in the NT, but there are similarities that could be focused on like you mentioned.
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