Jesus Christ as the New Covenant is the Foundation, Prize, and Proclamation of the Church

Understanding of the Work of Christ

The relevance of his nature as fully God and fully man

The Hypostatic Union is the knowledge that Jesus exist as two natures. Some, like Athanasius, thought that “the Nicene [creed] is sufficient, as against the Arian heresy, so against the rest.”[1] Yet, over 200 years it was refined and hedged into the understanding that “[t]he union of the divine and human nature in Christ is a permanent state resulting from the incarnation, and is a real, supernatural, personal, and inseparable union.”[2] Athanasius, appealing to the authority of “[the Catholic Faith [that] was published,”[3] cited the Nicene creed that, Jesus “came from the heavens for the abolishment of sin.”[4] Since only God can live perfectly and only humans can have sin Jesus must have both. A human nature to bear the sin and a divine nature to be the perfect law keeper.

His life

            His life is where he, again as Athanasius said citing of the creed, “fulfilled the Economy according to the Father’s will,”[5] This “Economy” is that sinless life that the author of Hebrews references when he said that he was “tempted as we are, yet without sin.”[6] In this he passed the test that the whole human race had failed in Adam. A test that humans were never intended to pass, it was always to be his victory, because the purpose of all creation is Christ as the visible manifestation of the Godhead.[7]

His death, resurrection, ascension

            In death he became the “propitiation by his blood”[8] because God “made him to be sin who knew no sin.”[9] The divine nature in Christ cannot become sin because God cannot sin.[10] This necessitated Christ’s human nature and it is that nature which in the garden cried, “not my will, but yours, be done.”[11] The resurrection then vindicates his sinlessness and declares that he has the right to claim lordship. The inspired Apostle Paul wrote that by the resurrection Christ was, “declared to be the Son of God.”[12] Since death could not hold him all those that are in him are free of deaths sting. Just as the first Adam brought death to God’s people the second brought life to all God’s people.[13] In ascending he took his place as King, Prophet, and High Priest. The most immediate need for the sinner is perhaps his ever-living intercession as High Priest. The ascension was also to make way to send the Spirit.

The sending of the Spirit

            The Spirit is the seal and presence of Christ for the church. Where Jesus said I will build my church, Holy Spirit acts in perfect unity with this decree by empowering, sealing, sanctifying, and teaching believers. This work of the Spirit unifies all believers into one catholic (universal) church.

His return

            The method of Christ’s return is debated however, one thing that cannot be debated is his status as final judge. Paul writes, God “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed.”[14] This man is Jesus.

The Kingdom

            Jesus’ first and continuing message was that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”[15] From the very beginning in the protoevangelium,[16] in Moses,[17] by the Psalmist,[18] and in the prophets[19] the Kingdom had been promised to come. In the words of Jesus, it had come, it was now. What then had happened with Jesus that made the transition from future to now? David and Isaiah explain that the Kingdom of Heaven is the rule of Christ when Christ’s enemies are his foot stool[20] and the government rests on his shoulders, [21] then Kingdom is at hand. Jesus proclaimed this reality with his final words, “it is finished.”[22] In a very real sense the kingdom had come and yet there remains a fulfillment to be seen as noted by the Apostle Paul when he points to a coming day when “he will judge the world.”[23]

            The Church and the Kingdom of God

What is the Church?

            Allison excellently sums up the church as “the people of God who have been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and have been incorporated into his body through baptism with the Holy Spirit.”[24] For this exercise, it will work to think about the church as the people of God from all time and in all places. This is the reason Athanasius calls the creed “Catholic Faith [that] was published.”[25] It is that all believers are scripturally beholden to hold to “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”[26] It is a single universal confession that all believers, the people of God, share. The core of that confession as Paul explained, “you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord”[27] and believe that what the scriptures say about his person and works are true. As already stated, the Kingdom of God is all things having come and coming under the feet of the Lordship of Jesus Christ; so, this confession of the church that Jesus is Lord is how the church and Kingdom fit.

How Does the Church fit Into the Kingdom?

            On the night that Jesus died, he made mention of the New Covenant represented in his blood and body.[28] With his own life Jesus inaugurates the New Covenant by his personal work, this covenant is the foundation, prize, and proclamation of the Church. Jesus can provide this royal boon because of his victory and all things being placed under his feet. The author of Hebrews explain that he is the great and final prophet who has “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high”[29] and is able in his own blood to be the prophet, priest and king of “the covenant he mediates.”[30]

The foundation is the covenant which creates a body who confesses the Lordship of Christ. The people of God’s prize is the covenant blessings from him. Paul explains God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”[31] This covenant promised is “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit”[32] until the eschatological expression of the Kingdom where “we acquire possession of it.”[33] That inheritance is the fully revealed Kingdom as the author of Peter explains, the church is a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”[34]

Indeed, the prize is the Kingdom in its full eschatological glory where nothing limits the relationship between Christ and his chosen church. The proclamation is the work of the Kingdom in the interim. Jesus said of his followers that they were not of the world but in the world,[35] they were to not fear because he had overcome the world,[36] and they were to baptize,[37] that is to give the outward sign of the inward confession that Jesus is Lord, to all those who would be disciples.

Allison quotes a poignant question, “Is the church to be seen as an instrument to accomplish God’s purpose in creation or is the church the expression of God’s ultimate purpose itself?”[38] Of course the resounding answer is yes! The Church is the instrument by which “this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world”[39] and, as much as the church displays the Lordship of Christ in the New Covenant, it is the current expression of God’s ultimate purpose. It is always important to make the statement that the kingdom is here, not because the church is here, but because the King is here.

Christian Traditions and Theological Characteristics

Theological Reflection

            Shelley points out that the sacraments and how they are administered in the church history depends greatly on the view held of the church. When “Ambrose refused the emperor Communion”[40] it set the precedent for how much power the church would have. This is to be expected if the church is the expression of God’s Kingdom now. The discussion of the church here had been from a reformed historic premillennial view. Different traditions would place a different level of emphasis on the now and on the future based on their eschatological approach. For instance, a preterist or postmillennial view would place far more emphasis on the now, while a dispensational pretribulation view would place even more emphasis on the final fulfillment of the kingdom. The primary point is that there is room for disagreement and for the different weights that different traditions place on their Ecclesiology. For example, those postmillennial might see the church as the tool that brings the whole world into the kingdom for which they might adopt a high ecclesiological practice. This is often the case among the traditionally reformed. However, even with those circles there are people like “Kuyper [who] attempted to mix different thought worlds.”[41] The point is that even with a specific tradition it is not always possible to nail down an Ecclesiology. Shelley explains that the “[t]he Reformation unintentionally shattered traditional Christendom.”[42] With this shattering came the many ecclesiological systems.

 

 

 

References

 

 [1]. Athanasius of Alexandria, “Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia,” in St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. John Henry Newman and Archibald T. Robertson, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1892), 453.

[2]. Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The History of Creeds, vol. 1 (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1878), 31.

[3]. Athanasius of Alexandria, “Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia,” in St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. John Henry Newman and Archibald T. Robertson, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1892), 454.

[4]. Ibid.

[5]. Ibid.

[6]. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Heb 4:15.

[7]. Ibid, Col 1:15.

[8]. Ibid, Ro 3:25.

[9]. Ibid, 2 Co 5:21.

[10]. Ibid, 1 Jn 3:9–10.

[11]. Ibid, Lk 22:42.

[12]. Ibid, Ro 1:4.

[13]. Ibid, Ro 5:12–15.

[14]. Ibid, Ac 17:31.

[15]. Ibid, Mt 4:17.

[16]. Ibid, Gen 3:15.

[17]. Ibid, Deut 18:15

[18]. Ibid, Psa 110:1.

[19]. Ibid, Isa 9:6.

[20]. Ibid, Psa 110:1.

[21]. Ibid, Isa 9:6.

[22]. Ibid, Jn 19:30.

[23]. Ibid, Ac 17:31.

[24]. Gregg R. Allison. 2012. Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton, IL: Crossway. 29.

[25]. Athanasius of Alexandria, “Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia,” in St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. John Henry Newman and Archibald T. Robertson, vol. 4, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1892), 454.

[26]. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jud 3.

[27]. Ibid, Ro 10:9.

[28]. Ibid, Lk 22:20.

[29]. Ibid, Heb 1:3.

[30]. Ibid, Heb 8:6.

[31]. Ibid, Eph 1:3.

[32]. Ibid, Eph 1:13.

[33]. Ibid, Eph 1:14.

[34]. Ibid, 1 Pe 2:9.

[35]. Ibid, John 17:14.

[36]. Ibid, John 16:33.

[37]. Ibid, Matt 28:19.

[38]. Gregg R. Allison. 2012. Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton, IL: Crossway. 52.

[39] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 24:14.

[40] Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995), 98.

[41] Daniel Strange, “Rooted and Grounded? The Legitimacy of Abraham Kuyper’s Distinction between Church as Institute and Church as Organism, and Its Usefulness in Constructing an Evangelical Public Theology,” Themelios 40, no. 3 (2015): 432.

[42] Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, Updated 2nd ed. (Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995), 342.

[43] Gregg R. Allison. 2012. Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton, IL: Crossway. 52

 

 

Bibliography

Allison, Gregg R. 2012. Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Schaff, Philip, and Henry Wace, eds. St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters. Vol. 4. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1892.

Schaff, Philip. The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes: The History of Creeds. Vol. 1. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1878.

Shelley, Bruce L. Church History in Plain Language. Updated 2nd ed. Dallas, TX: Word Pub., 1995.

Strange, Daniel. “Rooted and Grounded? The Legitimacy of Abraham Kuyper’s Distinction between Church as Institute and Church as Organism, and Its Usefulness in Constructing an Evangelical Public Theology.” Themelios 40, no. 3 (2015): 430–445.

 

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