Good News! The Dividing Wall Is Gone

There is essentially one people of God.

Believers under the Old Testament, i.e., meaning in every epoch of redemptive history prior to the New Covenant, were all looking forward to Jesus’ coming. They were all trusting Jesus, who was revealed to them under types and shadows (Col 2:17; Heb 8 [all]). Types and shadows were revelations of future realities that we veiled or obscured. Another way to put it is to say that Christ was received by grace alone, through faith alone, in, with, and under types and shadows in the time of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the exile.

 

Like a lot of American evangelicals, the faith I was taught as a teen-aged convert was a sort of Dispensationalism. There were no charts that I recall but I did learn that Jews are God’s earthly people and that the church is God’s spiritual people. I also learned that we are in “the church age,” which is a sort of parenthesis, until after the secret rapture, after the tribulation, and the reinstitution of the temple and the sacrificial system.

Encountering Dispensationalism

When I encountered Reformed theology and the Reformed Church one of the first questions I asked my first Reformed teacher, Warren Embree, was, “What about Israel?” To which he replied, “the dividing wall has been broken down.” Again I asked, “But what about Israel?” Again he replied, “The dividing wall has been broken down.” A third time I asked, “Yes, but what about Israel?” and a third time he replied, “The dividing wall has been broken down.” Quite rightly Warren refused to accept the premise of my question. That premise was that there are two peoples of God, an earthly people (ethnic Jews) and a spiritual people (Christians). To be honest, it was never entirely clear to me whether a non-Messianic Jew really needed to believe in Jesus to be saved. It seemed that it might be possible that one is saved by virtue of being ethnically Jewish. I am not necessarily attributing that view to Dispensational theologians but reflecting on popular Dispensationalism as it was mediated to me in the 1970s.

Nevertheless, as what some Dispensationalists taught about the salvation under the Mosaic covenant, there has long been some question among Reformed folk. E.g., in 1944 the (Southern) Presbyterian Church in the US (PCUS) published a Report on Dispensationalism which said, in part:

It is the unanimous opinion of your Committee that Dispensationalism is out of accord with the system of the doctrines set forth in the Confession of Faith, not primarily or simply in the field of eschatology, but because it attacks the very heart of the theology of our Church. Dispensationalism rejects the doctrine that God has, since the Fall, but one plan of salvation for all mankind. and affirms that God has been through the ages administering various and diverse plans of salvation for various groups…

Certainly the some of the Dispensationalists were ambiguous about how people were saved before the New Covenant. The point of being a Dispensationalist is to highlight the diversity in the administration of salvation prior to the New Covenant. The Reformed Churches and theologians, particularly the American Presbyterians, who have had to face this question more squarely than the Dutch and German Reformed Churches, have always affirmed unambiguously that for all the variety in the history of salvation, what we call the multiple administrations of the covenant of grace, there is one covenant of grace, one Savior, one way of salvation. There is essentially one people of God.

Believers under the Old Testament, i.e., meaning in every epoch of redemptive history prior to the New Covenant, were all looking forward to Jesus’ coming. They were all trusting Jesus, who was revealed to them under types and shadows (Col 2:17; Heb 8 [all]). Types and shadows were revelations of future realities that we veiled or obscured. Another way to put it is to say that Christ was received by grace alone, through faith alone, in, with, and under types and shadows in the time of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and the exile.

Read More