“the church” (Gk. “ekkleisia”) has no clear textual support in terms of its perpetuation as an entity for time indefinite, beyond the First Century era (pre-70 AD in particular).
Full Preterism and The Church
By John McPherson
Those (including myself) who subscribe to the Fulfilled Eschatology position, hold a uniquely historical perspective on the Scriptures and the entities revealed therein. This perspective guides the hermeneutical approach of the Full Preterist (FP hereafter) exegete.
The goal is to read and understand the text from the viewpoint of one of the original recipients of the written revelation of God – the holy Scriptures. This is accomplished in large measure by careful, rigorous analysis of the text itself via cross-referencing passages and individual verses with other texts in both Testaments. The result is a thoroughly contextual understanding of any given portion of Scripture, in both the most immediate and broadest senses. Historical relevance is paramount, and personal application is a far lower priority than with most futurists (including Partial Preterists).
In terms of the subject at hand in this article, “the church” (Gk. “ekkleisia”) has no clear textual support in terms of its perpetuation as an entity for time indefinite, beyond the First Century era (pre-70 AD in particular). The passages dealing with “church structure” and authority, as well as the goal and hope of “the church”, in its various metaphorical incarnations as both “the Body” and “the Bride” of Christ are clearly time-limited in nature, and have as their focus the saints of the NT period of history. A very specific number of people/saints were “elected” to make up the membership of that foundational generation of the New Covenant Kingdom of Christ. THEY were the “Body of Christ” and His “Bride”. WE are not. As FPs, we believe that the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb” and His “Bride” occurred @ AD 70. There is, of course, ample evidence of the fulfillment of ALL prophecy in the Scriptures at this time, and it is not the goal of this article to elaborate on the fundamentals of this position. However, it is instructive to note that the metaphor of “the Bride” is directly associated with this historically accomplished event, and thus it is plain that this spousal metaphor has no application to any corporate gathering of the saints today (within the FP paradigm).
Likewise, “the Body of Christ” was composed of various specific saints of that period fulfilling clearly defined roles within their local gatherings and memberships. Those roles were defined by the HOLY SPIRIT, who was uniquely outpoured upon THEM. That outpouring was for the pre-AD 70 period of New Covenant Kingdom history and has no direct relationship to or parallel within our experience as saints of the Kingdom today.
The “burden of proof” in terms of substantiating either the position presented above or the one commonly held among the adherents of “Churchianity” today lies upon the latter group. The traditional, natural understanding of ANY historical literary work involves applying the injunctions pertaining to entities of that period to those directly identified within that text. One cannot read the works of Tertullian, Aristotle, Eusebius, Origen, Socrates, Confucious, and others and assume that they relate directly to entities and circumstances of our time. Even great thinkers and theorists in more recent times spoke and wrote from the perspective of their OWN historical period. The propositions of Marx, Darwin, Hegel and other nineteenth-century theorists were limited to projections and scenarios derived from entities existent and influential in THEIR day. They built on the concepts and paradigms of their contemporaries, as well as those who had gone before. Thus, to truly understand their writing and thinking, a certain amount of careful research must be done to determine WHAT the influential entities and paradigms of that era WERE.
Likewise, a rigorously historical approach to the text of the Scriptures provides us with a more accurate understanding of the ORIGINAL INTENT of the Word of God, in accordance with the nuances and inferences popular and familiar in the day in which it was revealed. The primary concern of the modern exegete must be “What did God intend to communicate to the original recipients of this text?” NOT “What did/does God want to communicate to me?”
In Hebrews 8:6-13, we read the following,
“6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. 8 Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah– 9 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 11 None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” 13 In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. “ (NKJV).
Two things are readily apparent in the immediate context of this passage. First, the New Covenant and the People having their origins in it are under consideration (see vss. 6,7). The “house of Israel and the house of Judah” references the New Covenant People (Spiritual) who had their origins in that Covenant. The original members of the New Covenant Kingdom of Christ were, of course, primarily Israelites/Jews. The New Testament Christians (and those who would be their descendants, spiritually) were the “house of Israel and Judah” who are the focus of this passage. Second, the nature of the Covenant as described in vss.10-12 specifies the CHRISTIAN’S experience with God, directly, via interaction with His Spirit and Word.
Note VERY carefully that v.11 CLEARLY indicates there is no longer any need for teachers/preachers within this New Covenant Kingdom. The “provisional church structure” of the New Testament period was evidently intended to pass away when the Old Covenant Nation was terminated forever (70 AD). The NT Church was uniquely provided to THOSE saints for maintenance of the fledgling faith in its fetal stages, as a “spiritual incubator” of sorts. When the intense persecutions of the Great Tribulation of those days were brought to an end, the need for any kind of formally structured “religious body” meeting together regularly also passed away. As that which was “obsolete” actually “vanished away” (v.13), so did the need for a “church”.
Christ Himself, in comparing the attitudes and inner qualities of those aspiring to leadership in His Kingdom with the despotic, tyrannical tendencies of the Phrarisees had this to say:
“8 But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. 11 But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matt. 23:8-12, NKJV).
These injunctions mesh perfectly with the stated intent of God with respect to His emerging Spiritual Kingdom, in Hebrews 8. God, ultimately, desired (and still desires) a “leaderless” Kingdom (in terms of human leadership). He wants the Kingdom to be characterized by self-sacrificial service to one another and those around us, on a very basic, interpersonal level. The huge “church” budgets and buildings of today are, quite simply, outside of God’s perfect Plan for His People today, as the spiritual descendants of the original “house of Israel and Judah”.
Let’s re-commit ourselves to determining the primary, originally intended interpretation/application of the Scriptures as understood by their original “target audience”. Only in this kind of approach is God’s glory truly manifested in His historical revelation of Himself via His interactions with His People, in ancient history. And let’s remain true to God’s original intent in providing us with the written revelation of Himself that we have today.
Serving the Truth,