The church is not a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. The IRS does not define a church, God does. The church is the people of God.
The church exists in and through Jesus Christ, and so is a distinctive New Testament reality. At the same time it is continuous with Israel, the seed of Abraham and God’s covenant people. The new covenant under which the church lives (1 Cor. 11:25; Heb. 8:7-13) is a new form of the relationship in which God says to His chosen community, “I will be your God, and you shall be My people” (Jer. 7:23; 31:33; cf. Ex. 6:7).
Under the new covenant, the Old Testament priests, sacrifices, and sanctuary have been superseded by the mediation of Jesus (Heb. 1-10). Believers in Christ are the seed of Abraham and the people of God (Gal. 3:29; 1 Pet. 2:4-10).
Secondly, the limitation of the old covenant to one nation (Deut. 7:6; Ps. 147:19, 20) is replaced by the inclusion in Christ on equal terms of believers from every nation (Eph. 2; 3; Rev. 5:9, 10).
Thirdly, the Spirit is poured out on the church, so that fellowship with Christ (1 John 1:3), ministry from Christ (John 14:18; Eph. 2:17), and foretastes of heaven (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:14) become realities in the experience of the church.
The unbelief of most Jews (Rom. 9-11) and the majority of Gentiles in the church is depicted by Paul as God’s breaking off the natural branches of His olive tree (the historical covenant community) and replacing them with wild olive shoots (Rom. 11:17-24). The new covenant does not exclude Jews, and Paul taught that their general rejection of it will one day be reversed (Rom 11:15, 23-31).
The New Testament teaches that the church is the fulfillment of the Old Testament hopes and patterns, brought about by Jesus Christ. The church is:
- the family and flock of God (John 10:16; Eph. 2:18; 3:15; 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:2-4),
- His Israel (Gal. 6:16), the body and bride of Christ (Eph 1:22, 23; 5:23-32; Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9-27), and
- the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; cf. Eph. 2:19-22).
The church is a single worshiping community, permanently gathered in the true sanctuary, the heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22-24) and the place of God’s presence. The church is one, although the worshiping community consists of the church militant—those who are still on earth, and the church triumphant—those who have died and entered glory. On earth, the church appears in its local congregations, each one a microcosm of the church as a whole. According to Paul the one church universal is the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-26; Eph. 1:22, 23; 3:6; 4:4), but so is each local congregation (1 Cor. 12:27).
The church on earth is one in Christ despite the great number of local congregations and denominations (Eph. 4:3-6). It is holy because it is consecrated to God corporately, as each Christian is individually (Eph. 2:21). It is catholic (meaning ‘universal’) because it is worldwide. Finally, it is apostolic because it is founded on apostolic teaching (Eph. 2:20). All four qualities may be seen Eph. 2:19-22).
There is a distinction to be drawn between the church as people see it and as God alone sees it. This difference is the historic distinction between the “visible church” and the “invisible church.” “Invisible” does not mean that no part of it can be seen, but that its exact boundary is not known to us. Only God knows (2 Tim 2:19) which members of the earthly congregations are inwardly born again, and so belong to the church as an eternal and spiritual fellowship. Jesus taught that in the organized church there would always be people who seemed to be Christians, not excluding leaders, who were nevertheless not renewed in heart and would be exposed and rejected at the Judgment (Matt. 7:15-23; 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 25:1-46). There are not two churches, one visible and another hidden in heaven, but one church only, known perfectly to God and known imperfectly on earth.
Christians must “therefore…be even more diligent to make your call and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10). Personal assurance of faith is gained and revealed by five marks of the Spirit:
- conviction of sin
- a lively faith
- holiness of life
- private prayer
- personal study and
- reverence for God’s Word.
Inasmuch as they practice these things Christians will grow in personal assurance of their faith. The lack of these marks is cause for concern.
The New Testament assumes that all Christians will share in the life of a local congregation, worshiping in the body, accepting its nurture and discipline (Matt. 18:15-20; Gal. 6:1), and sharing its ministry and witness. Christians who refuse to join other believers disobey God and spiritually impoverish themselves (Heb. 10:25).
In studying divine covenants in general, one is treading through understanding God’s Redemptive Plan throughout history. This is a matter of Eternal Salvation. It answers the question: How may a sinful man approach God? (Exodus 3:5). —Witsius
God has had one purpose and plan for mankind ever since the Fall: to restore a people for Himself from fallen humanity through Messiah Jesus. —Fred Klett
— from Mongerism.com on Covenant Theology