The Birth of the Church:
Community and Mission
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The Birth of the Church:
Community and Mission
The Pentecost event in Acts was not a replacement of Israel but rather the renewal of covenantal relationship and purpose with a radical expansion.
Many have referred to the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 as the “birth of the Church.” This language ostensibly implies the start of something new. However, we should be cautious of such terminology lest we fall into the trap of “replacement theology.” The new replaces the old in that school of thought. And even if it is a soft replacement, it’s problematic because it calls into question—or even outright denies! —God’s covenantal faithfulness. With this concern in mind, we launched this blog series on Pentecost by discussing God’s creational intention of dwelling habitationally with humanity. That intention reached its penultimate culmination in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost following Yeshua’s Ascension.
There is a good amount of wedding imagery in Pentecost, and it is crucial to keep that in mind here. As in a marriage, something new has begun, but what has been hasn’t passed away. Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua” (Galatians 3.28).
This verse has been foundational for most “replacement theology” arguments. The first clause, “neither Jew nor Greek,” is the reason for its prominence. However, we should consider the third clause, “neither male nor female,” closely. When a couple gets married, the husband does not demand that his wife become a man or vice versa. Instead, the marital union’s strength comes through appreciating the inherent differences. If we fully understand those differences, then we attain a synergy wherein the whole is more valuable than the sum of its parts.
The early believing community seemed to understand this well. Yeshua told them: “But you will receive power when the Ruach ha-Kodesh has come upon you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and through all Judah, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The Lord commissioned His followers to take the gospel to all the nations. Yet as many biblical scholars note, the Greek words for “convert” or “conversion” were only ever used for non-Jewish people coming to faith in Messiah.
With this linguistic detail in mind, consider the Almighty’s words through the prophet to the Jewish people:
“I noted that when backsliding Israel committed adultery I sent her away and gave her a certificate of divorce… ‘Return, O backsliding children, declares Adonai. For I am your Husband’” (Jeremiah 3:8, 14a).
Israel’s covenantal unfaithfulness led to the need to renew the covenant. Her restoration came with a mission. “It is too trifling a thing that You should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved ones of Israel. So I will give You as a light for the nations, that You should be My salvation to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). So, what we see in Acts 2 is the fulfillment of the promise God made through Jeremiah to renew that “marital” covenant with Israel, and thus renew Israel’s mission to the nations.
The Pentecost event in Acts was not a replacement of Israel but rather the renewal of covenantal relationship and purpose with a radical expansion. God extended an invitation to a covenantal relationship with Him to all humanity. Consequently, God’s people (now including Gentiles!) benefited from a habitational relationship with the Creator and commissioning as His emissaries to the ends of the earth.
In affirming Israel’s immovable place as God’s eternal people, we also affirm God’s eternal faithfulness to His covenants and promises. Thus, we confirm our hope as beneficiaries of God’s now expanded covenant that includes Israel and all who will accept a covenantal relationship with Him.
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