As if there were not enough confusion already among Christians in general, a further complication has been invented. Briefly, it is taught that during the period covered by Acts there were two distinct and separate companies of Christians: the church of God and the church which is Christ's body. Before the latter even came to notice in Scripture, Paul as Saul had persecuted the former (1. Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13; Phil. 3:6). From this it is concluded, correctly, that the church of God composed of believing Jews and proselytes existed before the call of Saul. This is supposed to show, somehow, that there were two churches of God, both recognized as such; one a Jewish church, the other a Gentile church. To reinforce their case, its supporters point out that in his later epistles Paul never uses the plural "churches" or the expression "Church of God," and therefore that Paul ceased to recognize the Jewish "church of God" when he wrote the Prison Epistles.
All this falls far short of proof, even when taken by itself; and other considerations show that it is fallacious. 1. Corinthians was addressed "to the church of God which is in Corinth." The Corinthians had been Gentiles (1. Cor. 12:2), yet they and Paul had been in one spirit "baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks." The truth is that none of the members of Paul's churches were, as members, Jews or Greeks or Gentiles. All such distinctions had vanished in new creation in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28; 6:15); and, furthermore, there is a case for believing that this epistle, Galatians, is one of the earliest, If not the earliest of all.
Of the idea that there were two "churches of God" differing only in nationality, one can only ask why so few people can be, content with one when God says "one"? Yet when Scripture does not specify one, as with parousia, some yet insist on having one, come what may. It is altogether unreasonable.
The whole of this confusion springs from one root cause: the fallacy of thinking of "The Church" as a Proper Noun. Ekklesia means a called-out company, any called-out company. Its force depends almost entirely on its context. There were called-out companies of God in existence before the call of Paul; but what of it? This fact does nothing whatever to settle the question whether any of their numbers were called eventually to become members of Christ's body. And, in any case, the question what was to be the destiny of some particular individual who heard the proclamation of Peter at Pentecost is God's affair, not ours.
Where God has refrained from speaking plainly, it is our duty to do likewise, and to resist the temptation to fill in the gaps. We should respect the reticences of God as carefully as His declarations.
R.B.W..Last updated 21.11.2005