DO WE LIVE IN THE “CHURCH AGE?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
The answer is an emphatic “NO.”
An age is a period of time. Regardless of the age, God has always “called out” a people from the world’s population. (The Greek word rendered “church” in our New Testament Scriptures is “ekklesia/ecclesia,” with “ek-” meaning “out” and “kaleo” defined as “call.”) Throughout human history, the God of the Bible has constantly maintained a small group of believers (servants) He has “called out” from ordinary mankind. Consequently, every age can be appropriately considered a “church age.” Although a term frequently used by dispensationalists, this author can no longer agree with the expression “Church Age.” Here are the verses that helped him correct his understanding, and toss out his own traditions of men.
THE MOSAIC CHURCH
Stephen preached in Acts chapter 7: “ This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear.  This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:  To whom our fathers would not obey, but thrust him from them, and in their hearts turned back again into Egypt,….”
The Bible calls the nation Israel under Moses’ leadership “the church in the wilderness.” JEHOVAH God had “called them out of” (ekklesia) Egyptian bondage, for He intended them to serve Him in His land (the Promised Land). He delivered them from Pharaoh’s captivity and separated them from all the peoples of the world. This is a national separation.
THE MESSIANIC CHURCH
Although Israel was a separated people from the world, there were unbelievers in the nation. JEHOVAH God therefore took a remnant of believers “out of” (ekklesia) national Israel. The ministry of John the Baptist began to draw people out of apostate, corrupt, satanically-inspired Israel (see Matthew 3:1-17, Matthew 11:7-19, and Luke 1:13-17). These Jewish people believed that Jesus was Messiah/Christ, the Son of God.
Matthew 16:16 tells us: “And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Also, John 11:27: “She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.” The rest of Israel was apostate, fallen away from the truths that God had revealed to her. Most Israelites, consumed by self-righteousness, refused to believe on Christ Jesus; yea, they crucified Him in unbelief (Acts 2:22-23).
Paul commented about Israel’s unbelief in Romans 10:19: “But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.” The “no people,” the “foolish nation,” is the Little Flock, Israel’s believing remnant (cf. Deuteronomy 32:21). Christ Jesus spoke of them in Luke chapter 12: “ But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” This group of believers will enter the Millennium, the 1000-Year Reign of Christ, as God’s kingdom of priests (cf. 1 Peter 2:3-10).
Let us look once more at Matthew chapter 16: “ And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.  And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Hebrews 2:11-13 also speaks of the Little Flock: “ For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,  Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.  And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me.” Verse 12 is from Psalm 22:22; verse 13 quotes Isaiah 8:17-18. The Old Testament prophets spoke of the Messianic Church, the church of Matthew 16:18.
The Messianic Church is not every Jew, but every true Jew, every Jew circumcised in the heart and not just in the flesh. Romans chapter 2 comments: “ For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:  But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” God wanted Abraham’s seed not only to be physically circumcised but spiritually as well. Their sin problem had to be addressed, and their vain works-religion was not enough.
Notice these other references to the Messianic Church:
- Acts 2:47: “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church such as should be served.”
- Acts chapter 8: “ And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles….  As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.”
- Hebrews 12:23: “To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,….”
- 1 Corinthians 15:9: “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
- Galatians 1:13: “For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:….”
- Philippians 3:6: “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”
Non-dispensationalists have repeatedly tried (unsuccessfully) to use the above verses to say that the Church the Body of Christ had to have existed before Paul because Paul says he persecuted “the church” as a lost man. To claim this is to do nothing but advertise Bible ignorance. Of course there was a church prior to Paul. To say otherwise is to claim that Paul was the first person ever to get forgiveness of sins, have eternal life, and be called out to be used of God! (And this author knows of no dispensationalist—including himself—who believes such silliness.) The Messianic Church existed before Paul, but the Body of Christ did not exist until Paul.
THE MYSTERY CHURCH
When we come to the mystery program (Romans 16:25-26 cf. Acts 3:21), we find a third church in God’s dealings with man. This is the Church the Body of Christ, of which we are a part today if we have trusted Christ. There is no nation Israel today in the Dispensation of Grace, and no Little Flock today. However, God has another group of people “called out” (ekklesia) for His name. He is calling this group out from Jews and Gentiles without distinction—namely, anyone who will come by faith alone in Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection as sufficient payment for their sins (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
Romans chapter 11: “ I say then, Have they [Israel] stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.  Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?  For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:….”
Notice the Church the Body of Christ as found in the Pauline Epistles alone:
- Ephesians 1:22-23: “ And [Father God] hath put all things under his [Christ’s] feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,  Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”
- Ephesians 5:23: “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.”
- Colossians 1:18,24: “ And he [Christ] is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.  Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church:….”
As noted earlier, the idea of today’s “Church Age” stems from the common misconception that there is only one church in the Bible. This author, many years ago, was shocked to read a major denomination alleging that the first member of the Church the Body of Christ was Adam! What nonsense. If we are living in the “Church Age,” then there would be nothing but a “church age” throughout history. In fact, the “church age,” as some would reckon it, would actually go all the way back to Adam!
Sadly, whenever such traditionalists see the word “church” in the Bible, they automatically think of the Body of Christ. Using this philosophy, they will remove the word “church” from the Bible text when it does not fit their preconceived idea. They want to retranslate, or soften, “church” in Acts 7:38. They force the Body of Christ into Matthew 16:18, Acts 2:47, and various other places. Such widespread failure to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) is the reason why unbelief and confusion run rampant in our assemblies! No wonder people dislike the Bible, criticize the Bible, throw out the Bible. Dear friends, may we get this issue straight—or we will indeed lose Bible clarity!
A MORE CORRECT TERM
The Dispensation of the Grace of God covers a period of time. A dispensation is not a time period but it covers a time period. That time period is an age. Ephesians chapter 3 says: “ For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,  If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:  How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,  Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)  Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;….”
In “other ages” (verse 5), the mystery was not revealed. However, it is known in this age. Jesus Christ revealed it directly to the Apostle Paul, and then the Holy Spirit used Paul’s ministry and writings to show everyone else. That body of information is titled “the dispensation of the grace of God” (verse 2). We can thus call our age “the Age of Grace” (as some have rightly done over the years). But, this too may generate a question—which this author anticipates and will answer now.
Has not God always been gracious? For example, in Genesis 6:8, did not Noah “[find] grace in the eyes of the LORD?” Indeed. God has always manifested His grace, but Ephesians 3:2 says the Dispensation of Grace has not always been operating. Grace as demonstrated in this the Dispensation of Grace is the Gospel of the Grace of God that was committed to Paul’s trust (Acts 20:24). Never before in human history has God ever granted the whole world—when it was so deserving of His wrath—equal access to Him and salvation though the shed blood of Christ. We can be justified before Him by faith and escape that righteous wrath that is still coming. Refer to the first five chapters of the Book of Romans, especially chapter 3.
It is not until our dispensation when God began uniting believing Jews and Gentiles in one body—the Church the Body of Christ (see Ephesians 2:11-22 and Ephesians 3:1-11). Prior to that, God was forming the nation Israel. If a Gentile (non-Jew) wanted to participate in what God was doing, he had to come through Israel (Genesis 12:1-3). This distinction is temporarily suspended, and will be until our dispensation terminates at the Rapture (the Body of Christ gathering to Christ in Heaven).
Despite what you have heard, dear friend, we do not live in “the Church Age.” Throughout human history, God has constantly maintained a small group of believers (servants) He has “called out” from ordinary mankind. Every age is a “church age.” Furthermore, there is more than one church in the Bible. We can think of at least three churches in Scripture.
The first “church” is the nation Israel in the wilderness under Moses (Acts 7:38); we can call that the Mosaic Church. The second “church” is the Little Flock, formed of Israel’s believing remnant beginning with John the Baptist’s ministry (Matthew 16:18); this is the Messianic Church. The third “church” is the Church the Body of Christ, which began with the Apostle Paul when he was converted in Acts chapter 9 (cf. 1 Timothy 1:15-16); we can call this the Mystery Church (Ephesians 3:1-11). It is very important to keep these churches “rightly divided” (2 Timothy 2:15) or we will get confused in Scripture.
It is therefore entirely misleading to say one single time period, especially our present day, is the “Church Age.” Despite popular belief, the word “church” is not unique to our dispensation. Contrary to the common opinion, there is more than one church in the Bible. It is thus equally wrong to say that we live in the “Church Age.” If you want a term to use for our age, try “the Age of Grace.” God Almighty is manifesting His favor to man in a special way today—the Gospel of the Grace of God (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 3:21-28).
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