Read 1 Peter 1:17-21 …
In his work The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today, Everett Ferguson seeks to define the Church from a biblical perspective. As such, he makes several statements that might be key to the understanding of the Church. Let’s look at one such statement:
“The church is now the eschatological people of God.”[i]
Please don’t be put off by a couple of large words. Ecclesiology only means to study what it is to be the Church, and eschatological means to study those things that are to occur at the end of time. Both are topics typically very important to everyone. Conversations of a religious nature will often focus on one area of worship and/or the events that will occur at the end of what many call the Church Age.
Because of the word “eschatological” in Dr. Ferguson’s statement, one might be tempted to see something that will happen in the future but notice that the word “now” is used. This points to the understanding that the Church is the final people of God that will exist on this world. Obviously, for many in the denominational world, this is not the typical understanding of the role of the Church in the current dispensation of time.
For those that follow an understanding of the end times from the standpoint of Dispensational Premillennialism, the Church was established as a somewhat stop-gap measure. This measure is believed to have occurred because the Jewish people rejected the Messiah; and God, His plans now thwarted, conceived and implemented the Church to bridge the gap between the first coming of Jesus and the second coming when He will finally be crowned as King over all the World. One Dispensational writer goes so far as to say, “… His dying was not God’s own plan,” and “There is no cross in God’s plan of atonement.”[ii]
From Ferguson’s understanding, the Church has always been part of the plan of God; the Church are the people of the end-times. This understanding comes in part from Peter’s sermon as recorded in Acts 2:14-36. Peter affirms that what is happening in Jerusalem was foreseen by Joel (Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28), and therefore Peter changes Joel’s words from “shall come to pass afterward” to “shall come to pass in the last days.” This change was necessary since the prophecy as spoken by Joel was being completed in those events occurring in Jerusalem. A new age had begun at Pentecost.
A new covenant was begun at the death of Jesus. The writer of Hebrews speaks of this new covenant (8:7-13) and makes note at the end of that little section that by making a new covenant, the old covenant is “obsolete.” The cross, although cruel and terrible, was the glorious means by which God brought about the final sacrifice for all mankind. Paul speaks to this truth in Ephesians 2:11-18 – it is the blood of Christ that now brings us near to God. Christ’s death on the cross made “one body,” and that body is the Church (1 Cor. 12:12-14).
The Church is that remnant that has been gathered out of the world for salvation and as such are those “upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11). Just as the Christ was determined before the foundation of the world to be a sacrificial lamb for all mankind (1 Pet. 1:19, 20), so also the Church was determined to exist before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). Nowhere in the Scriptures is the Church that Christ built seen as a contingency plan; on the contrary, the Church has always been THE plan.
[i] Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 69.
[ii] Cecil Sanders, Eschatology: End-Time Views Compared (Columbus: FWB Publications, 2017), 75.