The Fundamentals of New Covenant Theology
Part 5: NCT Defined (V) – People of God
“Its major themes may be summarily described with reference to… (3) the people of God: all the elect of God throughout time first constituted as the church at Pentecost (Acts 2), but not before (John 7:39; 17:21; Col. 1:26-27; Heb. 11:39-40), as one corporate spiritual body in union with Christ (I Cor. 12:13; Eph. 2:19-21; Col. 1:18, 24)” (Long, New Covenant Theology, NCT Defined [http://www.ptsco.org/NCT%20Brochoure%20Text%202013.pdf])
New Covenant Theology’s understanding of the people of God is one area among many which particularly illuminates how it (as a theological system) distinctly differs from both Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. On the one hand, Covenant Theology correctly teaches that there is one people of God: the elect. For instance, the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) states: “The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all” (CH 25.1). However, Covenant Theology overemphasizes the continuity of Scripture (with regard to the people of God) to such a degree that its proponents understand the Church as existing in the Old Testament before it was ever constituted in redemptive history. In other words, its advocates see little to no redemptive-historical discontinuity between Israel, God’s Old Covenant people, and the Church, God’s New Covenant people.
On the other hand, Dispensationalism teaches that God has two redemptive plans: one for Israel and one for the Church. For example, Charles Ryrie states: “A dispensationalist keeps Israel and the church distinct….This is probably the most basic theological test of whether or not a person is a dispensationalist, and it is undoubtedly the most practical and conclusive.” That being said, the strength of the Dispensational view is it that rightly teaches that the Church was ‘born’ through Spirit Baptism at Pentecost in Acts 2 (and its apostolic extensions – Acts 8, 10, 19). However, Dispensationalism overemphasizes the discontinuity of Scripture (with regard to the people of God) to such a degree that its adherents see little to no redemptive-historical continuity between Israel, God’s Old Covenant people, and the Church, God’s New Covenant people. Although Dispensationalism correctly understands the Church’s beginning, New Covenant Theology contends that it does not correctly understand its consummation.
In contrast, New Covenant Theology strives to maintain the continuity-discontinuity tension which Scripture clearly emphasizes with regard to the people of God. New Covenant Theology strongly emphasizes that there has been one people of God throughout redemptive history: the elect of God [the continuity aspect] – all saved by grace through faith in the Christ. However, proponents of New Covenant Theology resoundingly teach that “all the elect of God throughout time” were first constituted as the Church at Pentecost in Acts 2 (and its apostolic extensions – Acts 8, 10, 19). In other words, the Church did not exist in the Old Testament prior to the giving of the Holy Spirit (John 7:39; 17:21; Heb. 11:39-40) [the discontinuity aspect]. How could the Church, the spiritual body of Christ, exist before the death, resurrection, ascension, and enthronement of its Head, Christ Jesus (Col. 1:26-27)? In short, it could not. The Church was formed into a spiritual body when the Lord Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:33) following His heavenly enthronement at God’s right hand. The Holy Spirit (via Spirit Baptism – which occurred at Pentecost), unites God’s elect (believing Jews & believing Gentiles) with Christ in one corporate spiritual body, the Church. For example, 1 Corinthians 12:13 declares: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (see also Eph. 2:19-21; Col. 1:18, 24).
New Covenant Theology also teaches that the Church is not only the continuation and maturation of the believing remnant of Israel under the Old Covenant but also the eschatological Israel. In other words, the Church is the fulfillment of Old Testament Israel as the people of God. Notice that the New Testament writers frequently apply terminology used of Israel in the Old Testament to the Church, the New Covenant people of God. The Old Testament refers to Israel as “the Seed of Abraham” (Gen. 12:1-3), God’s “own possession” (Exod. 19:5), “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:6-7), and God’s people (Hos. 1:10-11). Meanwhile, the New Testament refers to the Church as “the Seed of Abraham” (Gal. 3:28-29), God’s “own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9), “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Pet. 2:9), and God’s people (Rom. 9:24). Furthermore, whereas God’s Presence dwelt in the midst of Israel in the Jerusalem Temple, the Church is the corporate Temple of God in which the Holy Spirit dwells (Eph. 2:19-22). Surely, the Church is the typological and eschatological fulfillment of Israel as the people of God.
Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago, IL: Moody 1966; reprint 1995, 2007), 46-8.