The Inauguration of the Church
The Beginning of the Ekklesia of Christ.
The question of when the New Testament church began is of no little importance, for the argument involves these details: what was established, when was it established, how it was established, and who explicitly built it. Was the church established as a universal entity, or a local body, or as both? Was the church established during Christ’s earthly ministry prior to His death, or later on the day of Pentecost? Was the church established by the building process of calling out disciples, assembling them as a unit, and training them or was it established by a sudden, abrupt act of creation upon a gathering of about 120 persons? Did Christ personally establish the church or the Holy Spirit? Did God make many churches throughout the centuries or just the one with the capability of propagation?
Our task is to examine these two positions, Pentecost or Pre-Pentecost, and make an analysis of them in the light of the Word of God. For clarity the following outline is presented.
- The View of the Inauguration of the Church on the Day of Pentecost.
1. Asserted by the Promise of Christ in Matt. 16:18.
2. Asserted by the necessity of the Death of Christ.
3. Asserted by the Necessity of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
- A refutation of the Pentecost view.
1. Matthew 16:18, 19.
A) The Rock
B) "Will Build"
a) The Future: Punctiliar or Durative?
b) Build: oikodomeso
2. Church: Ekklesia
3. The Day of Pentecost: Acts 2:1-4
4. I Corinthians 12:13
5. The Blood of Christ
The Day of Pentecost View of the Origin of the Church
(Those who hold to the view of the inauguration of the church on the day of Pentecost will be referred to as Pentecostals. This is without any reference to the denomination of the same name.)
The most popular opinion of the inauguration of the church is that it began on the day of Pentecost. This is primarily based upon three scriptural references, Matt. 16:18, Acts 2:1-4: and I Cor. 12:13 as collaborating evidence. It must be kept in mind that the mainstream of those who hold this view also believe that the church contains all the saved and is an invisible institution. This opinion of the beginning of the church and its universal invisible nature is a Protestant-held position, first proposed by Calvin in the early 16th century (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Volume 4.)
The following are typical representations of the opinions put forth that Christ did not institute His church during His earthly life. There may be other existing arguments, but hopefully these should adequately cover this view.
Asserted by the Promise of Christ in Matt. 16:18.
Matthew 16:18 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.
Discussion of this passage addresses the time of founding, on whom the church is built, the meaning of ekklesia, and the word “build” (oikodomeso).
The Greek form of the verb build used in this verse is in the future tense. The only possible translation and meaning is “will build.” No argument can be made that it has already been built or was in existence at this time. Jesus is clearly stating that at a future date He would institute the founding of His church. During His life He laid the groundwork for the church, but it did not come into functional existence until the day of Pentecost.
Presented in His statement that He will build His ekklesia is the foundation of a truth that what He was going to make was something entirely new. It was to be something never before seen. This was not a rebuilding of Israel into His ekklesia, which would be a reformation of Israel, but something quite apart from Israel. This is the message to the disciples that an entirely new entity was to come. Radmacher1 wrote:
"Although previously the word always was used of the simple concept of assembly, now in Matt 16:18 it is characterized by the new content which Jesus gave it as over against form other kind of ekklesia. Thus, Jesus seems to be saying: 'You are familiar with the ekklesia of Israel in the Old Testament. But I am going to build an ekklesia that will be characterized by the content which I shall give it.' The contrast then would seem to extend to a spiritual ekklesia of the Old Testament. Thus A. T. Robertson2 says that ekklesia came to be applied to an "unassembled assembly." (My emphasis)
The word oikodomeso in this passage means nothing more than to build, to initiate a construction. It does not carry with it the idea of building up, edifying, or enlarging in this passage. This idea of a pre-existing building being built up is to be rejected for the following three reasons. First, the context reveals that Christ is speaking of His future program, a future church. Secondly, this future ekklesia is not “I am building” but “I will build.” Thirdly, the use of oikodomeso by Matthew is significant, Bowman3 writes:
Proven by the necessity of the Death Of Christ.
"--- one should note that Peter uses oikodomeo to express the idea of “building up” but the word is used only after the church had started at Pentecost (I Peter 2:5). Therefore, it cannot be held that oikodomeo in Matthew 16:18 has the idea of enlargement. Why use a future tense for a finished fact."
This proof is clearly substantiated by Acts 20: 28. Here Paul states that the blood of Christ had purchased the flock, the church of God. The existence of the body of Christ could not be possible prior to His death and ascension. Chafer4 states:
Proven by the Necessity of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
“There could be no church in the world - constituted as she is and distinctive in all her features – until Christ’s death; for her relation to that death is not a mere anticipation, but is based wholly on his finished work and she must be purified by His precious blood.”
The following is quoted from Radmacher, The Nature of the Church, pages 210, 211.
The chief argument for the beginning of the church on the day of Pentecost relates to the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Van Oosterzee5 declares, “It dates from the first Christian Pentecost, and is in the full sense of the word a creation of the Holy Ghost.” Brunner6 agrees: “the outpouring of the Holy Ghost and the existence of the Ekkelsia are so closely connected that they may be actually identified.”
In I Cor. 12:13 Paul explains that entrance into the body of Christ is dependent upon the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This event had not yet occurred in John 7:39.
Nash7 states that Acts 2:2 pinpoints the actual founding of the church when the Holy Spirit sat (kathidzo) upon each one of them. Thayer8 defines this term kathidzo as “to have fixed ones abode, i.e., to sojourn, settle, settle down.”
Since the church is the body of Christ (Col. 1:18, 24), the church could not have begun until Pentecost and it had to begin on that day.
The precise event which inaugurated the church was the advent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost at which time those persons who were tarrying in the upper chamber at Jerusalem waiting for the promise of the Father were baptized by the Holy Spirit and became members of the church.
Theissen wrote in his Lectures in Systematic Theology (pg. 409, 410) on the founding of the church, as both local and universal, the following:
"Paul expresses it (the church founding) succinctly when he says, “By one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks” (I Cor. 12:13). By the body he meant the church (vs. 28: Eph. 1:22,23); and whether we translate the Greek preposition (ies) “into” or “unto” it is clear that the baptism of the Spirit makes the believers into the church. I Cor. 12:13 refers to the baptism as a past experience. Thus it is evident that the baptism of the Spirit occurred on the day of Pentecost and that the church was founded on that day."
Rebuttal to The Pentecostal Church Origin
In replying to the Pentecostal view of the founding of the Church it seems best to analyze the appropriate Scriptures in the order in which they occur. In the discussions of these passages, rebuttal is presented against the assertions and conclusions drawn by the Pentecost proponents.
Matthew 16:18, 19.
Matthew 16:18 "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."
19 "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."
The question on whom the church is built is easily answered by examining the term rock. Here Jesus renamed Simon, calling him Peter. “Peter” is the Greek “Petros” meaning a piece of rock or a moveable rock. But the rock which the church is built upon is “Petra” a solid, massive, unmovable rock such as bedrock. Jesus did not say to Peter, “upon you I will build My church,” but “upon this rock” indicating another foundation. Jesus is that other rock and foundation, and He built the church upon Himself. The use of the personal possessive pronoun makes clear the ownership of the church; it is His Church exclusively.
The Future: Punctiliar or Durative?
The phrase “will build” indeed is in the future tense, indicating that from that time Christ would build His church. However, is this future work a punctiliar action (action as a point) or durative, linear action (action which is continuous or incomplete)? Here is an example of the future tense verb showing a continuous action: Matt. 13:43 “Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun…..” Is this shining of the righteous only momentary (only once) or will they continue to shine once they begin to radiate? The point is that there are possibilities of future actions. Grammar alone may not necessarily determine the kind of action but the immediate context and scriptural harmony often does.
It is assumed by the Pentecostal position that the building of the church by Christ will be punctiliar, a one-time event, never to be repeated or advancing. As they see it, Christ only built one church (universal invisible), and it had but one beginning. Thus their conclusion is that the “will build” in our text verse is a punctiliar action, once for all. They cannot or will not concede any on-going building processes of the church in this verse. By their subsequent statements they reveal their doctrinal position of the church consisting of all the saved emphasizing I Cor. 12:13 (the baptism of the Holy Spirit) as their proof of this doctrine. Thus it becomes clear why, for their cause, the church of necessity had to have begun on the day of Pentecost. For to them Pentecost is that act of the church being baptized by the Holy Spirit.
Our argument is not over the future tense of build, but the significance of build. Build, oikodomeso, is appropriately used with such meanings as to “build up,” “edify,” “strengthen,” “advance” and “enlarging.” To adamantly deny the possibility of these meanings verges on prejudice, preconception and closed mindedness. These verbs are viable meanings of the word oikodomeo.10 The English “edify” and its forms are translated only from either the noun oikodome or verb oikodomeo.
The argument for a Pentecostal church beginning is often seen in circular reasoning. It runs thus:
(Assertion) - "Since Matt.16:18 is the church founded in the future then
(Conclusion) - it began on the day of Pentecost."
(Assertion) - "Since the church began on the day of Pentecost then
(Conclusion) - Matt. 16:18 means a future founding of the church.”
Bowman wrote: Since Peter (I Peter 2:5) states, the Church is building up after Pentecost, "it cannot be in Matthew 16:18 has the idea of enlargement”11. This opinion of Bowman is inclusive in this verse. I Peter 2:5 gives no proof of the applied meaning of oikodosemo in Matthew.
There is an important consequence in this word “build.” Did Jesus cause to build (create) His church and then end His involvement with her? Did He leave the founding and administration of the church to the Holy Spirit and contribute nothing to her? Or was He indicating His involvement in the affairs and well being of His church throughout all centuries? What He said in Matt 16:18 was a promise to His disciples, which projected involving them and Himself in His church. Certainly Jesus is constantly and deeply involved in His churches; see Rev. chapters 2, 3 where He repeated to all seven churches “I know thy works.” The interpretation of build to edify, build-up, or strengthen can be clearly demonstrated, such as in I Peter 2:5. The meaning to initiate as opposed to edify cannot be conclusively demonstrated, but inferred only. So, is it best to interpret by inference or by clear precedent?
It is on this point that the Pentecostals present conflicting double meanings. There is absolutely no precedent set in the New Testament where the word ekklesia is convincingly used in any other way than its usual usage. The generic use of ekklesia is not proof of any secondary meaning of the word. It verges on absurdity to say that the church is an unassembled assembly. To assert that Jesus was speaking of an invisible universal, never-assembled called-out assembly (ekklesia) would have made no sense to His disciples. Unless Christ explained this new meaning to them they would have had a contradictory understanding of what He said. Not only would they have been confused about the nature of the church but also all those after them. Nowhere is it ever explained that ekklesia is now put to use with an entirely new meaning. Not simply a new meaning, but a meaning in opposition, and contrary, to the very word used. We must allow only for scripture, not the theology of men, to interpret scripture. Scripture never redefines ekklesia; neither has it presented two entities with the single designation of church!
Matthew 18:17 "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."
18 "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Matt.18:17, Jesus instructs the disciples that if they cannot resolve a personal conflict then bring it before the church, and have the church judge the matter. Here the church is specifically mentioned as existing before Pentecost. This admonition is not future but in the present.
Robertson (Word Pictures) wrote on this verse (vrs 17):
"The church (the ekklesia). The local body, not the general as in Mt 16:18. The problem here is whether Jesus has in mind an actual body of believers already in existence or is speaking prophetically of the local churches that would be organized later (as in Acts)."
This problem for Robertson (and all Pentecostals) is resolved simply by continuing to read the next verses in these two texts (Matt. 16:19 & Matt. 18:18). Observe carefully here. First, both churches in Matt. 16:18, and 18:17, are identical. Here is how we can tell. The phrase: “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” is found in both passages. In Matthew 16:19 the binding and loosing is in the context of the church being given the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Consistency in the usage of the church with identical authority on two different occasions makes them identical. Robertson and others see a local body in one passage and the general, universal body in the other passage. This cannot be, for by what means could a universal invisible “body” ever bind or loose in Matt. 16? This binding and loosing involves judicial processes by the whole body and the consequential action taken by it. Only a local church can accomplish such work.
Oddly enough Chafer never addresses Matt. 16:19 or Matt. 18:17, 18. Schofield places the keys and authority in Matt 16 into the hands and power of individuals12. Schofield ignores the Matt. 18 church reference. Thiessen identifies Matt. 18 with the local church, and specifically identifies the subject to be the church administering church discipline13. Thiessen wrote (pg. 421):
Each church elected its own officers and delegates (Acts 1:23, 26; 6:1-6; 15:2, 3). Each church had the power to carry out its own church discipline (Matt. 18:17, 18; I Cor. 5:13; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14, 15). The church together with its officers rendered decisions (Acts 15:22), received delegates (Acts 15:4), sent out solicitors (2 Cor. 8:19), and missionaries (Acts 13:2, 3).
Two facts come to the forefront. First, the nature of the church is local. Second, the church existed before Pentecost, during the earthly life of Christ. The keys were not delivered into the hands of individuals to make heaven-binding decisions. Which of us would trust any man to determine matters of such magnitude? History has shown to us the horrors of corruption when men have claimed this power for themselves. The keys are placed in His local churches with the ability, by the democratic process, to meet, hear, deliberate, and render decisions.
The Day of Pentecost: Acts 2:1-4
What exactly happened on this day? What did the Holy Spirit baptize; the church, or an un-constituted group of redeemed individuals? Actually, neither, for the Holy Spirit baptized no one on that auspicious occasion. To say that the Holy Spirit did the baptizing means that He was the agent performing or administering baptism. This He did not do. The church was baptized, immersed, in the Holy Spirit. He was the element into which the church was baptized. Neither were they baptized by fire but rather in fire. The sound from heaven filled the house, this sound was the physically manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit. He filled and shrouded the entire house which they occupied.
This agrees exactly with the prophecies given by John the Baptist. In all four gospels this is mentioned by John (Matt. 3:11: Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16 and John 1:8). John never used “by” or “with,” but “in” (Greek en) the Holy Spirit that the baptism would occur. This also agrees with the mainstay passage of I Cor. 12:13, where it should read “in one spirit” and not by one spirit we are all baptized.
Jesus promised His church that after His death He would send them the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. Once He came He was to be their Comforter (the one walking beside), their guide into all truth (John 14:16; 15:26; 16:13, 15), and the testifier of Christ. He was to reveal to them the things He receives from Jesus after His glorification. He was sent by both the Father and Christ (John 15:26).
When the Holy Spirit came He perpetually took up His abode in the church; teaching them, grounding them, leading them in the affairs of the Kingdom, and inspiring individuals within her to pen the New Testament. His manifestation on the day of Pentecost was not only for the benefit of the church but also for those outside the church. It was the divine substantiating evidence of what the disciples were proclaiming to the world was true. As the glory of God had been with Israel, so now is the glory of God abiding in His church among men. This church, His house, is seen in the same fashion as the tabernacle of the Old Testament with the corroborating evidence of Moses’ testimony, that it was there that God abides with men. The miracles on that day and in subsequent days were also corroborating evidence that God was with the church; there, in that assembly, God is present. The temple was no longer the center of worship and service. The proof was given on that day. This power, this leadership, this confirmation from God did not inaugurate the church, but came upon the already existing church. These were the final stages in the fashioning of the church. It was already in existence, but was in a sense incomplete without these additions.
I Corinthians 12:13
This verse is the tip of an inverted pyramid of the doctrine of the universal invisible church. It would be expected that a doctrine, which is so contrary to the plain sense of the words and context of the church, would have a broad base from which it is built. But not so, this is the only conclusive text verse that the universalist puts forth. But, upon closer examination of I Cor. 12:13, it is found to be a mistranslation.
KJV I Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
The second word of the King James translation has it as “by.” This is incorrect; the word is Greek en. en is the primary preposition “in,” it has no other meaning. This would make it to read: “For in one spirit…..” However, for the sake of those who challenge this meaning in this passage and insist on “by” we investigate further.
Rotherham14 notes on this verse: "For Baptizein with en of element, see Matt 3:11; Luke 3:16; John 1:26, 31, 33; Acts 1:5; 11:16. In every case where en is used it is clearly meant 'in' and not 'by.' Some say that because the word en is grammatically coupled with Spirit, which is in the dative case, it can be translated as 'by.' But this does not agree with the verses which also use the dative and are not translated 'by,' but rather as 'with' or ‘in.’ In Luke 3:16 John said: 'I indeed water (dative) baptize,' here water, in the dative case, demands the preposition 'in.' John is the baptizer and not water. Consider Mark 1:8, 'I indeed have baptized you with (en) water: but he shall baptize you with (en) the Holy Ghost.' The juxtaposition of the two baptisms is to show the contrasts between the two, both relate to the persons doing the baptisms and the media which they use. The first case is John doing the baptizing in the media of water. The second case is Christ doing the baptizing in the media of the Holy Spirit. It is not the water baptizing nor is it the Holy Spirit baptizing."
Note — the Corinthian church did not exist on the day of Pentecost. There is no record that they ever experienced the Pentecostal event. As a matter of fact neither did Paul.
The Purchasing by the Blood
Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
The following is a review of statements previously quoted as a proof for the necessity of the church existence after Calvary.
"This proof is clearly substantiated by Acts 20:28. Here Paul states that the blood of Christ had purchased the Flock, the Church of God. The existence of the Body of Christ could not be possible prior to His death and ascension."
Chafer states: "There could be no Church in the world - constituted as she is and distinctive in all her features – until Christ’s death; for her relation to that death is not a mere anticipation, but is based wholly on his finished work and she must be purified by His precious blood.'"
This conjecture is based upon the supposition that the church could not exist by the anticipation of the blood of Christ, but only after Calvary. If this supposition and conclusion is correct then what shall be said of salvation? Both the church and God’s redemption are made possible only by His blood. To presume, that prior to Christ’s death, the church could not exist is to conclude salvation could not exist, for the same price is paid for both. Salvation certainly existed in anticipation of the blood of Christ. The logic is faulty.
The blood of Christ not only purchased the church, but also washes men from their sins (Rev 1:5), gives eternal redemption (I Peter 1:18,19), sanctifies men (Heb. 13:12), justifies men (Rom. 5:9), and reconciles men unto God (Rom. 5:10). Indeed, in order for all this to be done the blood sacrifice had to be accomplished. But the question is, could these things exist in anticipation of the blood? Could they have existed prior and then be consummated by His blood? To deny this is to deny salvation for all who died before the death of Christ. And yet, we know Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were justified before God by their faith in the promises of God of a future Messiah (Matt. 8:11).
The salvation of God is in anticipation of His redemptive work. Rev.13:8 “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Christ stood as slain from the time of the creation. This decision, this commitment, this provision for man’s sin was made before the need of it ever occurred.
By the fact that salvation existed in anticipation of the Blood, how can it be asserted that the existence of the church cannot be in anticipation? What Christ purchased was the fruit of His labor among men making them His disciples, assembling them, and teaching them. In truth, what He purchased was already in existence, just as He consummated salvation, which had already been granted unto the redeemed.
The time of the founding of the church gives evidence of what the nature of the church is and what it is not. Moreover, the time either establishes or denies the assertion of the rights of men to create churches, and then claim of the validity of these subsequent “churches.” It either allows or denies congregations to justifiably call themselves the ground and pillar of the truth, the bride of Christ, and the house of God with the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. Finally, it establishes who, in this world has been given the divine authority for the ordinances and judgment in the affairs of the kingdom.
The manner in which the church was founded also defines the nature of the church. If it be supposed that the church began on the day of Pentecost it still does not fit the pattern of a universal church. When the Holy Spirit came upon the church it was a local visible body, which assembled in one room of one house. He did not come upon all the saved upon the earth. Without exception, those who believe in the universal church all agree that the universal church is "the Real and True Church," and the Local church is merely an imitation of the real. But yet, there is no record or indication that anyone saved apart from that small group in Jerusalem had any knowledge of what happened that day. Were the "120" the only saved at that time? Did the Holy Spirit only manifest Himself in such power and great demonstration to a very small portion of all the saved, and the rest were without any such testimony or knowledge that they had just been constituted into the Lord’s church? Could they have known who the others were that are now also joined together with them in the body of Christ and the house of God? If on the other hand the church existed during the earthly life of Christ it is clearly a local visible assembly. Only those who persisted as Disciples of Christ and followed Him constituted His church. These disciples were well known to one another and fellowshipped together. His church is clearly visibly identified in the world. There is no unassembled assembly.
The church existing prior to Pentecost unmistakably makes it the property and creation of Christ and of no human agency. There is no institution apart from what Jesus built which may claim to be His church. When individual churches fell into apostasy they lost their standing as His body. When men seeking reformation built their churches, those churches remained as they were founded, the work of man and not Christ. The absurd notion that the church of Jesus Christ died out is contrary to the words of Christ; “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” What Jesus built, He declared would survive until the day of His coming and is caught up to be with Him. To teach otherwise is blaspheme against Christ’s own words, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
While He was on earth, Jesus taught and led His church. They were grounded in the truth. But to keep that assurance they needed constant supervision and correction. This necessitated the continuous presence of the Holy Spirit in the church as the leader, teacher, and inspirer of the truth. With the Holy Spirit administering discipline to the church and individuals within her she is thus able to be presented to Christ as a chaste virgin, holy without blemish. None of this is true of a mystical, invisible, unassembled assembly. Apart from the common salvation of all the redeemed there is chaos in doctrine, practice, discipline, tolerance, and compromise. Throughout history redeemed men* have persecuted, even unto death and torture, both saved and lost people because of doctrinal issues. It is buffoonery to say all the saved are the ground and pillar of the truth, the church of the Living God.
*John Calvin is one such example. He is lauded as one of the great Christians of all time by a vast number of theologians. Investigate his history for the tortures and deaths he inflicted on those who disagreed and opposed him.
The ordinances of the church, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, were given to the church while Jesus lived. No other group of persons or individuals received the command or authority to observe and administer them. The “Great Commission” was given to the eleven disciples who stood in place of the church. It was a limitless commission to be discharged throughout the world, among all nations, for all seasons. The context of this commission is to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them the commands of Christ and obedience to them. Many organizations in the world today attempt to usurp this commission, but it cannot be done. Most churches today make disciples not of Christ but for some cause. Jesus never made disciples for any cause, but made disciples of Himself. His disciples are to follow the person and not peripheral issues of the person or the secular needs of people. Further, His church is composed of these disciples. His church is not about ideological agendas but devoted to the service, worship, and glorification of the person, God. She follows Him as her Head, Lord and Master. When this is lost and a cause becomes "the leader" and devotion is given to the cause, it can no longer make men Disciples of Christ or teach them.
The Church Moving On From Pentecost
The Pentecostal event cannot be understated in its importance to the growth and welfare of the church. The benefit is not only for the church but also for the entire world. It is thought by many that evangelism began with the church but this is not true to history. Since the time the Old Testament Hebrew text was translated into Greek, called the Septuagint, the Jews were very committed to "evangelism." The words of Christ are often overlooked when He said to the Scribes and Pharisees, “you compass sea and land to make one proselyte” (Matt. 23:15). They were very zealous in their “missionary” work. Unfortunately, their message of penance and “law” salvation kept men in bondage to sin and sealed their fate to hell.
The Gospel of Christ spread rapidly in the first few centuries. This included the phenomenal growth of the church. Churches quickly arose throughout the known world. Unfortunately, a number of churches apostatized just as quickly. The problems, which Paul and John addressed, reveal the pressure on the churches to revert to the law and to deny that Christ was Lord. Both moral and doctrinal failures became evident. The rebukes Jesus gave to His churches in Rev. 2, 3 also exposed serious errors of men usurping His authority and their coldness to Him. Because of the lack of vigilant discipline, heresies and immorality destroyed many churches. Worse yet, it gave birth to a new denomination of the church. In a little over four hundred years churches began to persecute churches. This resulted in an often-repeated pattern of the Lord’s churches of rejecting and separating themselves from fallen churches.
These facts do not apply to the aggregate redeemed, but to individual assemblies of Christ. As churches took a stand for the truth they suffered for it. Many were driven into hiding in remote regions of the Roman Empire. Some, as in the case of the Waldenses, the Bogomils, churches in Spain and the Welsh, etc., survived for centuries with the same system of faith as the church of Jerusalem. Many others were persecuted out of existence. By the churches, and not individuals, were the doctrines and practices (repentance, salvation, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, discipline, faithfulness, purity, and love) of the New Testament held sacred and preserved. They safeguarded, taught, loved, and committed to memory the Word of God. The miracle of God’s Word is that it has survived. None of this could have been possible without the advent of the Holy Spirit upon the church on the day of Pentecost.
(1) Earl D. Radmacher, The Nature of the Church, Western Baptist Press Portland, Oregon 1972, pg. 205
(2) A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, I, 132-33
(3) H. E. Bowman, thesis The Doctrine of the Church in the North American Baptist Association, pg. 21
(4) Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, IV, 45
(5) J. J. Van Osterzee, Christian Dogmatics, I, 295.
(6) E. Brunner, The Misunderstanding of the Church, pg. 161
(7) C. A. Nash, The Book of Acts (Unpublished)
(8) J. H. Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 314
(9) Rotherham, The Emphasized Bible Kregel Publications
(10) Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek, pgs. 448, 449
(11) H. E. Bowman, thesis The Doctrine of the Church in the North American Baptist Association, pg. 21
(12) Scofield Reference Bible
(13) H. C. Theissen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, pgs. 416,421
(14) Rotherham, The Emphasized Bible Kregel Publications
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