It would be an understatement to say that how the church and Israel relate to one another has been an area of much disagreement and debate. Everyone agrees that there is both at least some continuity and at least some discontinuity between the two. Where we disagree is in how much continuity or discontinuity there is. The position I would like to advocate here is that the church is the continuation of the faithful remnant within Israel now composed of both Jews and Gentiles.
As a Baptist, I believe that the church is composed of only regenerate believers (Heb 8:8-12). Hence, only believers can be baptized because they alone are members of the New Covenant. It is only those who are covenant members who can receive the signs of the covenant – baptism and the Lord’s supper. Jesus mediates on behalf of those in the New Covenant and therefore all of them will be saved (Heb 7:25; 9:15; 12:24). The church is composed of only those whom Christ has bought with his own blood (Acts 20:28). Regenerate church membership is demanded by how the church is described in the New Testament: “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor 1:2); the body of Christ (Col 1:18); saints whom God has begun a good work in (Phil 1:1, 6-7); and the bride of Christ (Eph 5:23-32).
At the same time, the parallels between the church and Israel are too numerous to ignore. The New Testament teaches that the church is the eschatological Israel prophesied in the Old Testament; the community of the New Covenant described in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12. The church is directly compared to Israel in many ways: “For we are the real circumcision” (Phil 3:3); “circumcision is a matter of the heart” (Rom 2:29); “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Rom 9:6); “it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Gal 3:7); “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Pet 2:9); “the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16); the children of Abraham (Rom 4:12, 16); and those who are Jewish by birth only are “a synagogue of Satan” (Rev 2:9; 3:9).
At this point, I may be accused of advocating “Replacement Theology” which means I don’t interpret the Bible literally and have never read Romans 11. But the term “Replacement Theology” is a misunderstanding of the Reformed or paedobaptist understanding of the relationship between the Church and Israel. Reformed theology says that the church, which includes its infant members, is the continuation of Israel, not its replacement. I don’t know of any Reformed theologian who says the church replaces Israel. Dispensationalists are reading into Reformed theology their own strict distinction between the church and Israel, and so from their perspective, it looks like Reformed theology is saying that the church replaces Israel, when in fact, it is impossible for them to say that because there is no strict division between the two. They believe that the church is Israel, not a replacement for it. Those who use the term “Replacement Theology” have never actually studied Reformed theology deeply or are being dishonest to poison the well against hearing arguments in favor of it. How my position differs from that of Reformed theology is that I do not include the infant children of believers as part of the church so it is not that the church is the continuation of Israel, but that the church is the continuation of only the saved remnant within Israel now made up of both Jews and Gentiles. It is not that the church is the new Israel, but that the church is the true Israel (Psa 73:1).
I think Charles Spurgeon in his sermon “Jesus Christ Immutable” came close to my position:
“Distinctions have been drawn by certain exceedingly wise men (measured by their own estimate of themselves), between the people of God who lived before the coming of Christ, and those who lived afterwards. We have even heard it asserted that those who lived before the coming of Christ do not belong to the church of God! We never know what we shall hear next, and perhaps it is a mercy that these absurdities are revealed one at a time, in order that we may be able to endure their stupidity without dying of amazement. Why, every child of God in every place stands on the same footing; the Lord has not some children best beloved, some second-rate offspring, and others whom he hardly cares about. These who saw Christ’s day before it came, had a great difference as to what they knew, and perhaps in the same measure a difference as to what they enjoyed while on earth meditating upon Christ; but they were all washed in the same blood, all redeemed with the same ransom price, and made members of the same body. Israel in the covenant of grace is not natural Israel, but all believers in all ages.”