Does the Church have the right to call itself “the people of God”?
Whilst Jesus did not explicitly set out to setup an organised Church, it is highly unlikely that the triune God did not know this might happen. After all, whether we want to understand God as all powerful and all knowing as a Greek philosopher may or whether we believe that God’s power lies in God’s quiet suasions, communion and love, God does see all religions and would have to know that after an event as astounding as the coming of Christ, Christ’s death and resurrection some group of people, some communion would form an organisation.
In other words, even if we don’t think God is all knowing, God must have predicted the coming of the Church.
Now, answering this question, though, walks right into the difficult question of “what is the Church”. Let me offer a relatively simple answer. Any group, or communion of people, who gather together in an organised fashion who believe in the Nicene and Apostolic creeds are the Church. Some of you will not agree with this. Some will conclude that the Nicene and/or the Apostolic creeds are just wrong, incorrect and unbelievable creeds. I am not going to argue with your beliefs.
However, I am not writing to have a dispute about what the word “Church” actually means.
My definition includes the vast majority of Protestant churches, from the Methodists to the Presbyterian, the Church of England to the Assemblies of God. It includes the Roman Catholic church. It most likely includes many home churches who are not part of these “recognised” churches but who confess their belief in the two creeds I mentioned. It doesn’t include organisations who do not confess the two creeds and it clearly excludes other religious groups.
Again, you may disagree with me and that is fine.
What does the phrase, “the people of God” mean though? Who are these people? In the Old Testament this phrase clearly referred to Israel. In the New Testament, the fledgling Church re-appropriated the phrase to mean the people who believed in Christ and Christians, later, as I am arguing, argued that anyone who confesses to believe the two mentioned creeds are part of “the people of God”.
However, we have to watch out here. There is an implicit “only” in this phrase. We do not hear “one of the people of God” but instead here “the only people of God”. If we are to believe the Old Testament then we must believe that at some point in history, the people of Israel were God’s people. Whether they are now or not is not a debate that I want to entertain now. If we are to believe the New Testament, the people of God are those who have accepted that Christ is the one and only way to salvation.
Can we believe both testaments?
I would say “yes” but I would clarify this further: “Yes, the Church is one of the people of God.” Is it the only people of God? Perhaps and perhaps not. There’s been too much religious wars on that question.
For the moment, I’m happy to leave that question to God to answer.