One People Throughout History
“If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (vv. 5–6a).- Exodus 19:1–6
In describing the church, the Apostles’ Creed confesses the oneness of God’s people. Although there exist many individual congregations of believers around the world, Christians enjoy a unity that transcends the boundaries of our individual assemblies. United to our one Lord by one faith and one baptism, those who believe the gospel of Jesus Christ make up one body (Eph. 4:4–6).
Today, this unity is chiefly an invisible reality. The separation of believers into many congregations and denominations means that full unity exists only before God’s eyes. Believers must work to make this invisible unity visible as they are able. Paul implies as much when he calls us to maintain the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (vv. 1–3), and explains that God has given us various teachers and church officers to build up the body of Christ “until” we attain the unity of faith (vv. 11–14). If the church were presently unified and mature in both its visible and invisible aspects, these admonitions and teachers would be unnecessary. Unity has an already/not-yet aspect to it. Already Christians are one in Christ invisibly, but not yet are we fully one in Christ visibly.
Church unity transcends geography, denominations, and time. There has ever been only one unified people of God—one church—and there will be only one people of God in eternity. God does not have one plan for His old covenant people and a different plan for His new covenant people. Instead, He has been building one people since the beginning. The church fulfills all that old covenant Israel was supposed to be, and old covenant Israel is one in substance with the new covenant church even though there are some outward differences between the two communities.
Perhaps the clearest way to demonstrate this is to consider how the Apostles freely apply Old Testament descriptions of the old covenant people to the new covenant church. For example, today’s passage refers to the Israelites who were gathered to receive the law at Mount Sinai as a “kingdom of priests” and a “holy nation” (Ex. 19:1–6). But when Peter addresses a church audience consisting of Gentiles and Jews, he calls them a “royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9–10). A distinction between Jews and Gentiles exists—the Jews were first to receive the promises of God—but this distinction does not penetrate to the essence of God’s people. In Christ, both Jews and Gentiles access the same privileges and responsibilities.
Because God has only one people, the promises He makes under each covenant to the corporate body apply to all of His people. We are not disconnected from Abraham, Esther, Ezra, the intertestamental Jews, or any others who make up the community of God’s people. Their stories are our family stories, and we must know them if we are to serve God rightly.
Passages for Further Study
1 Corinthians 12:3