I was raised thinking that the church started at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. The story I was told was that God finally got fed up with Israel and switched His program to the Gentiles. As if the Gentiles were so wonderful or more receptive or better behaved or something. Translations of the Bible reinforce this story because they pretty much universally use the English word “church” in the New Testament but not in the Old.
The word the translators (and pastors, priests, and rabbis) think is associated with the church is the Greek word we transliterate ekklesia (ἐκκλησία a-klay-see-uh Strong’s number 1577). This word simply means “assembly” or “congregation.” The Hebrew words for assembly or congregation are qahal (6951) and edah. They mean the same thing as ekklesia, and in fact the Greek Septuagint uses ekklesia about 52 times. Sometimes the assembly is formal, such as when kings called Israel together, and sometimes is was an informal family gathering. But ekklesia is not translated “church” in the OT in any of the English translations I consulted.
There’s simply no reason to make an arbitrary distinction for the assembly between the OT and the NT. God’s assembly has been gathering for a long time. The plan of God is continuous, without interruption, and didn’t start in Acts 2. It might’ve gotten a kick in the pants, but the congregation has always been around. The “assembly” that Jesus said He would build (Matthew 16:18) has a foundation that was started in the Garden and goes on into the future as a kingdom that never ends.
This is an article on the ‘one house’ concept as opposed to the ‘two house’ ideas. There are some people who teach that those who embrace God’s Torah and are not specifically Jewish are members of the house of Ephraim, while the modern Jew is of the house of Judah. This is called the ‘two house’ teaching. The association of ‘Gentile who loves Torah’ with ‘Ephraim’ is seen through a rather convoluted and spiritualized reasoning process to be part of the promise from God that He would reunite the ‘two houses’ of Israel that separated shortly after Solomon’s reign. According to the two-housers this is because Ephraim (the northern 10 tribes sent into exile a little more than a hundred years before the southern two tribes of Judah and Benjamin) is said to have dispersed into the world population and lost their identity. Judah is said to have retained their identity through the centuries and are today’s Jews. The modern day non-Jewish person who loves God’s Torah must be related somehow to Ephraim according to these teachers, either through genetics or influence. So the ‘two house’ teachings consist of recognizing these so-called ‘facts’ and working to bring the two houses together.
However, I think that the two house teachings are a distraction away from building the One House of God’s family, which I believe is also called the Remnant. The House of God has existed since the beginning, and consists of all those who love and obey Him. Instead of worrying about whether the house a person belongs to is part of physical Israel, the person who follows God ought to see themselves as part of One house already, regardless of whether they are Jew or Gentile. I think God has already united the two houses, because no one can tell which tribe they are from now. Except for possibly the Levitical genetic marker, all of the Jews are one nation. Two houses have already become One house by God’s power. God is the one who said He would do it, and it is almost completed.
Two Sticks One House Already Made by God
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34–39, ESV)
Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him. (Malachi 3:16–18, ESV)
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31–34, ESV. See also Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 5:10; Ezekiel 11:19-21)
‘Whole Bible Christianity,’ chapter 10, ‘Our True Identity’
In Matthew 15:21-28 Jesus resists a little bit giving help to a Gentile woman (a Syrophoenician is a Canaanite) asking for healing for her daughter. He tells her it’s not right to give the bread of children to dogs. She has an amazing response, saying that even dogs get crumbs from the table. Jesus is so impressed with her faith He heals her daughter. Her faith was shown by her humble submission and obedience.
At first it might seem off-putting that Jesus would regard her (or me) as a dog. But I think this was more of a statement of where He was focusing His work at that time (“to the Jew first and also to the Gentile”) rather than a judgment against either the lady or me. Although Canaanites were historically pretty ‘doggy’ too (Ephesians 2:12, Hebrews 11:6). Those who by nature do what God requires, even if non-Jewish, belong to Him because of their faith, and aren’t dogs at all. But even if it’s true that my identity (in the eyes of some) is that of a dog in the kingdom, I’m okay with it. He made me and can assign me any place He chooses. I’d much rather be a dog in heaven than a lion in hell.