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Origin and Nature
Chapter One -
The ORIGIN of The Church
When did the New Testament Church originate? Who was the founder of it? Where did it originate? These and many other questions face us when we come to consider the church and its origin. It is a strange thing indeed that for the church to be such a common and well known society, as is generally supposed, there is much disagreement among men as to the answers to the above questions. The answer to this incongruity lies in the fact that Satan has blinded men's eyes to the importance of church truth. Well has Dr. Roy Mason observed:
Because of the neglect of church truth, loose thinking and erroneous views as to what properly constitutes a New Testament church, many hold the church in light esteem. It is not to them the high and holy thing it ought to be. It is not to them the divine institution that towers high above all of the organizations and institutions of men. It is by no means uncommon for one to encounter persons who esteem a lodge, club, society, or other organization of the kind, on a par with the church.—The Church That Jesus Built, p. 5.
One has but to review the theories propounded concerning the origin of the church to see what hopeless confusion reigns among the professed believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. There are those who hold that the church existed from the very beginning, from the days of Adam and Eve, although the proponents of this theory are not nearly so common as those who hold some of the other theories.
A second group identifies the New Testament Church with the Congregation of Israel; this is especially true of the Presbyterians, but is by no means restricted to them. W. J. Lowe (Baptism, its Mode and Subjects, p. 181) says:
It will be enough to say that the infant children of God's professing people were in the membership of the Old Testament Church, that their status was recognized in the rite of Circumcision, that the New Testament Church is in all essential particulars the same as the Old Testament Church.
This theory may have taken its rise from Acts 7:38 where reference is made to Israel as the "church in the wilderness." However, there is little similarity between this "church" and the New Testament church; the one common denominator is that the Septuagint (Greek) translation of the Old Testament translates the Hebrew word for congregation (kahal) with the same Greek word used for the New Testament church (ekklesia). But the main cause of confusion is the consistent failure of translators of the English Bible to rightly translate the word ekklesia. The word "church" is not a proper translation of this word for "church" carries a distinctive idea that has developed over the centuries, and which is not entirely in harmony with New Testament meaning and usage. The word "church" suggests a religious house or assembly, something not inherent in every appearance of the Greek word ekklesia. Dr. F. J. A. Hort says of this:
The English term church, now the most familiar representative of ecclesia to most of us, carries with it associations derived from the institutions and doctrines of later times, and thus cannot at present without a constant mental effort be made to convey the full and exact force which originally belonged to ecclesia. . . "Congregation" was the only rendering of ekklesia in the English New Testament as it stood throughout Henry VIII's reign, the substitution of "church" being due to the Genevan revisers.—Christian Ecclesia, p. 1, 2.
Had the Greek word ekklesia been consistently translated "congregation" or "assembly," as its meaning is, and as it is rightly translated in Acts 19:32, 39, 41, there would have been no more likelihood of associating the Old Testament ekklesia with the New Testament ekklesia than there would have been of connecting either with the ekklesia mentioned in Acts 19.
As Dr. Mason (ibid., p. 14) says, "This theory plainly denies by implication that Jesus founded a church. For it is evident that He could not have founded the church if it already existed at the time of His coming."
A third theory, and one that is held by a majority of Protestant Christianity, and by some Baptists, is that the church originated on the day of Pentecost. However, there are many insurmountable difficulties to this theory which will become apparent as we further consider the origin of the church. We will by-pass this theory for the time being.
It will not be amiss to mention still another idea which is held by a number of Protestant denominations in recent centuries; this theory is that, although the church originated in the first century, it since has been corrupted and has passed out of existence, so that it remained for some modern day secretary to re-institute Christianity de novo.
This is the basis of Protestantism to a large degree, and relates more to church perpetuity than to the origin of the church. Be that as it may, this idea is definitely condemned by several Scriptures, notably: (Matthew 16:18), "the gates of Hades not prevail against it," R.V.; "I, myself, am with you all he days even unto the consummation of the age," (literal rendering), (Matthew 28:20; Jude 3): "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints," R.V. et al.
Such an idea is based upon several false suppositions; viz., 1.) That Rome was the propagator of the truth for many centuries. 2.) That Rome was the only true church, and sole propagator of Divine Truth. 3.) That once she became corrupt, a clean thing could be brought out of an unclean (Job 14:4). 4.) That if a person did not know of any true churches in existence, God would accept the human origination and institution of a new thing contrary to His Word. To cite but one example, se-baptism, or originating baptism, as in the case of John Smyth and Roger Williams, is calumniated by Catholic, Protestant and Baptist alike as unscriptural and unnecessary.
If the Lord declared that the gates of Hades would never prevail against His church, that He would be with it all the days until the end of the age, that the faith had been delivered once for all, then there remains no excuse for starting a new Christianity. The truth is that those doctrines and practices which are held to be the truth by most of evangelical Christianity today, have always been practiced by scattered groups throughout the world, but these groups were despised and persecuted by the state churches, so that the reformers feared to go to them for the truth, lest they also become stigmatized as "Anabaptists," "Waldenses," "Albigenses," "Novatians," etc. How sad that men love the praise of men more than the truth.
Having considered the origin of the church from the negative standpoint, we may now take up a more positive approach to the subject, and note THE ORIGIN OF THE CHURCH AS TO TIME.
We are told in Ephesians, the great church epistle, that the church originated in the mind of God in eternity past. This is set forth in the third chapter where we may note the following things: 1.) This was a dispensation which was committed to Paul, whom God chose to be the apostle to the nations (v. 2; 2 Tim. 1:11; Gal. 2:7-8; Rom. 11:13). 2.) This was not a personal scheme developed by Paul according to his own carnal wisdom, and in opposition to the teaching of Christ as some have erroneously contended; it was, as Paul himself declares, the result of direct revelation of Jesus Christ (v. 3; Rom. 16:25-26; 2 Cor. 12:7). 3.) He clearly states that this was a mystery. "Mystery" in the Scriptures is that which was not formerly known, but has now been Divinely revealed (v. 5; Rom. 16:25-26). God had before revealed Himself to men, and had spoken to them and commanded them to worship Him, and had given them a form of worship; He had chosen a nation to be His witnesses, from which was to be prepared the body for the incarnation of His Son (Gen. 17:1-6; Isa. 7:13-14); nor was it hidden that the Gentiles were to be saved (Isa. 42:1-4; Mal. 1:11), but that both Jews and Gentiles were to compose the Lord's congregation, was unknown to men before New Testament days, and is consequently peculiar to the New Testament. It was for this reason that Peter found it so hard to believe that the Lord wanted him to go down to Cornelius at Caesarea (Acts 10). Church doctrine is especially prominent in the Pauline epistles, although it is common to almost all of the New Testament writings. It must not be thought, however, that Paul started the church, for he himself attributes that to the Lord (Acts 20:28), but it was his special work to teach and to edify the churches which he and others had planted.
4.) The mystery that had been hidden, but which was .revealed to Paul was "that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (v. 6). In the church dispensation, those who are saved and scripturally baptized into the. Lord's church lose all national, social, and sexual distinctions (Gal. 3:28). Hence, God divided the world into three categories; the Jew (Natural seed of Abraham who have not been saved), Gentiles (encompassing the rest of the unbelieving world), and the church of God (saved individuals, whether Jew or Gentile. It must also be remembered that at this time, there were no spurious, or false churches, but every saved person was baptized into a scriptural church, or if there were none in that vicinity, the apostles organized the new converts into such a church.) (1 Cor. 10:32). Even as early as the last decade of the first century, churches had begun to corrupt themselves, so that God threatened the Ephesian church with the removal of her candlestick (recognition as a true and faithful witness (Matthew 5:14-16; Luke 11:33-36); and as a true church, (Rev. 1:12-13,20), except she repent, and do her first works (Rev. 2:4-5).
It is a sad but true fact that most of the churches of the world today have either never had the candlestick, or else have so corrupted themselves that the candlestick has been removed. 5.) The fifth thing that Paul related to the Ephesians is that he was made a minister of this truth (v. 7). i.) Note that he was "made" a minister. No man taketh this honor upon himself (Heb. 5:4). If a man be not called of God, he had best refrain himself from usurping the holy office of a minister. ii.) This ministry is "according to the gift of the grace of God," not according to merit, nor to any other human factor, as Paul further declares in verse 8. Even as the Lord's elect are so "according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (1 Peter 1:2), so also the New Testament church, and those who were to reveal it, and to edify it were foreknown in the councils of eternity, to be revealed in due time. Not only so, but iii.) this is given "according to the working of his power," R.V., whereby we may note: a.) That the power to call and endue a person for such a work is of the Lord. b.) It is the sovereign right of the Lord to exercise this power over whomsoever He will. c.) No father, mother, wife, son, daughter, friend, or relation has any business encouraging a person to, or discouraging a person from, such a ministry. Such a ministry and the duty to exercise it or refrain from it, lies entirely between the individual Christian and his Lord. iv.) The outworking of this ministry is to be seen in verse 8-9, and was manifest in the life of Paul. "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ: and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ. A parallel passage is Colossians 1:24-27.
There are probably none who are fundamental in their beliefs who would doubt God's ability to foreknow such a thing; yet, among many modernists, who will not allow God to know more than themselves know, some probably would reject the doctrine of God's foreknowledge of the New Testament church. However, it is not with those rebels who submit to no rule but reason, that we are concerned, but it is with God's saints, to whom His word is law.
Other passages of a more general nature may be cited in proof of the eternal origin of the plan for the New Testament church, as, for example (Acts 15:18): "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world." (Rom. 11:33-36): "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen" (Ps. 94:10): "He that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?" (See also Eph. 1:9-11; 1 John 3:20, et al.)
Next, we come to the ORIGIN OF THE CHURCH DE FACTO. By this we mean the actual origin of the church in time as it relates to man. Here, as stated before, we find a great divergence of opinion, but we believe that the Scriptures teach that the church originated in Palestine during the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Many of those who dissent from the above view in doing so fail to take into consideration the meaning of the Greek word ekklesia, concerning which, it will not be amiss to consider in detail at this point.
The word ekklesia, rendered "church" in most translations, is defined in Liddell and Scott's Greek Lexicon, which is the standard lexicon for Classical Greek, as "an assembly of the citizens summoned by the crier, the legislative assembly." We call attention to the fact that this is the classical and original meaning of the word, in order that we may see if the New Testament meaning has deviated any from that meaning. Concerning this original meaning, Trench's Synonyms of the New Testament, another standard work, says (p. 2):
That they were summoned is expressed in the latter part of the word; that they were summoned out of the whole population, a select portion of it, including neither the populace, nor strangers, nor yet those who had forfeited their civil rights, this is expressed in the first. Both the calling the klesis, (Phil. 3:14; 2 Tim. 1:9), and the calling out the ekioge, (Rom. 11:7; 2 Pet. 1:10), are moments to be remembered, when the word is assumed into a higher Christian sense, for in them the chief part of its peculiar adaptation to its auguster uses lies.
Dr. Richard V. Clearwaters (The Local Church of the New Testament, p. 16) has the following to say concerning the etymology and use of the word "church":
1. The meaning of the word "church": The word 'ecclesia' rendered 'church' occurs 117 times in the Greek New Testament. Our Lord and the New Testament writers neither coined this word nor used it in an unusual sense. Like any other word, according to the laws of language, it might be used abstractly, generically, particularly, or prospectively, without losing its essential meaning.
Definition: In its primary meaning a 'church' was an organized assembly, whose members were properly called out from their private homes or business to attend to public affairs; in all of its usages prescribed conditions of membership are implied, inferred, or expressed.
2. The application of this meaning, substantially, applies to all usages of the word 'church.'
We would next quote from Dr. R.J. Anderson (Vital Church Truths, p. 2) to show that this word is found in the New Testament used in five different ways:
Now let us note the various ways the word 'church' is used in the New Testament. The word 'church' which means a called out and assembled together group of people is used in five ways and we shall give a Scripture reference for each.
1. The word is applied to Israel in the wilderness, (Acts 7:38)
2. It is used several times of non-Christian assemblies, (Acts 19:32,39,41). The translators translated it assembly in these verses, but it is the same word they have translated church more than 100 times.
3. There is the Glory Church which will be with our Lord in Glory following the resurrection, (Eph. 5:27).
4. The word is used in the institutional sense as we might say 'the school is a great institution,' by that statement we would mean any school but not all schools assembled together in one great assembly. Or as we might say 'the dog is man's best friend,' by that statement we would not mean all the dogs formed into one mammoth dog, but we would refer to the dog family meaning any dog. When Christ says 'My church' in Matthew 16:18 He means any New Testament church and not all the churches gathered together in one great assembly in this world, for such is not possible.
5. The word church is used most frequently in the New Testament to designate some specific local body, as the church at Corinth, (1 Cor. 1:2). 'The seven churches that are in Asia,' (Rev. 1:11).
The thing that we must notice from these usages is that:
1.) In every instance it is used of an assembly of persons, and 2.) In each case the word retains its original meaning of a called out assembly. Even in the tumultuous assembly, (Acts 19:32), the words "and the more part knew not wherefore they were come together," intimate that there had been the act of calling them together. The fact that they were dismissed, (v. 41), also suggests this.
The first mention of the word ekklesia in the New Testament is to be found in Matthew 16:18, a theological battleground which has seen infinitely more battles fought than the vale of Megiddo. "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."
Several things claim our attention from this passage; a play upon words is found here which is not apparent except to the Greek student, but which has much bearing upon the right interpretation of this passage. "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter (Grk. petros—a stone or rock—masculine gender) and upon this rock (Grk. petrai—a rock, ledge, cliff—feminine gender) I will build my church . . ." Upon this passage and the assumption that Peter was the one upon whom the church was built, has Rome built her entire hierarchical system. This is also the common interpretation of many Protestant denominations as well.
However, the Greek language draws a clear distinction between Petros the fisherman, and the great Petra upon which the church was founded. Thayer's Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament says: " . . . some interpreters regard the distinction (generally observed in classic Greek) between petra, the massive living rock, and petros, a detached but large fragment, as important for the correct understanding of this passage . . . " (Sub voce, Petra.) Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon give the following distinction between the two: "PETRA, a rock, crag . . . PETROS, a piece of rock, a stone . . . " J. P. Lange (The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ, II, 311) also says, "There is certainly a distinction between petros and petra, the stone or piece of rock, and the rock itself. But the name Cephas, we must allow, combines both significations." (Of the Aramaic Cephas, we shall have occasion to speak shortly.)
Concerning this distinction we may well note: 1.) Peter was insignificant when compared with the Rock which was to be the foundation of the church. 2.) Peter himself understood and declared that not himself but the Christ was the Rock on which the church was to be built. "Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock (Grk. petra) of offence . . . " Believers he terms "living stones" (lithos), but only Christ is the great immovable Petra. (1 Peter 2:6-8, 5). 3.) This is also the understanding of Paul who says, "That Rock (Grk. petra) was Christ," (1 Cor. 10:4). 4.) The Old Testament usage of the word rock accords with this also. When used metaphorically in the Old Testament, rock always referred to God, or to deity, with one possible exception. To list but a few such references, Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31; Psalm 18:2; 31:3; Isaiah 8:14 and many others. This would have been perfectly understandable to a Jew as a reference to Christ's Deity, for "rock" was one of the most common metaphors for God.
The one possible exception to this rule of which we have spoken is found in Isaiah 51:1-2 "Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father . . . " This may possibly be a reference to Abraham as a rock; however, it is by no means certain; it could well be that it is a contrast between their relationship to the Lord, "the rock whence ye are hewn" and their relationship to Abraham, "the hole of the pit whence ye are digged."
Be that as it may, the common, and all but universal metaphorical use of Rock as a reference to deity, and especially to God, is established, and strengthens the contention that the passage in Matthew 16:18 refers to Christ.
Some would interpret the rock to be Peter's confession of the deity of Christ, but this has absolutely no precedent in Scripture anywhere. That the Rock could be Christ is easily admitted; that the rock could conceivably refer to Peter may be admitted, though only by a long stretch of the imagination is there any substantial basis for this belief; but that the word "rock" could be used metaphorically for an intangible thing such as a confession, is without precedent in any writings, sacred or profane.
No doubt the objection will be raised that the distinction between Petros and petra lies only in the Greek, while our Lord probably spoke this in Aramaic in which there is no such distinction. First of all, let it be said that while it is thought probable by many that the Lord spoke Aramaic, it cannot be dogmatically asserted that He did. However, granting, for the sake of argument, that He may have spoken in Aramaic, it would have been even easier to mark the distinction between the Kephos who was the fisherman, and the great Kephos upon whom the church was to be built, by the simple motion of the hand. There would be no doubting of the meaning if the Lord had said, "Thou art indeed Kephas (i.e., a stone), but upon this Kephas (motioning to Himself), I will build my church..." This distinction is also intimated in the contrasting of "you" and "this rock."
Another thing that we should notice is that though it is possible that this was originally spoken in Aramaic, the Holy Spirit has seen fit to record it in Greek in which there is a distinction between the two words. The word petra appears fifteen times in the New Testament, and without exception, its metaphorical usage is always of Christ.
Those who hold that this passage refers to Peter, or to Peter's confession, must: 1.) Merge the distinct meanings of two Greek words into a single meaning; 2.) Ignore the universal New Testament usage of the word petra; and 3.) Exalt a mere man to the position which belongs only to the Lord.
It is true that the Scripture speaks of the church being built "upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets," but this must be understood in a secondary sense only, for it is also said, "Jesus Christ Himself being the CHIEF corner stone," (Eph. 2:20; see also I Cor. 3:11); "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, WHICH IS JESUS CHRIST."
Next, may we notice that the Lord sets apart and distinguishes the church from all other organizations. It is "my ekklesia," of which He speaks, that it may be distinguished from the Greek civil ekklesia, the Hebrew ekklesia, or congregation, or any other body so designated as an ekklesia. The "my" modifies the word so as to exclude any other body from being confused with it. "When, in this lesson, our Lord says: 'On this rock I will build MY ecclesia,' while the 'my' distinguishes His ecclesia from the Greek state ecclesia and the Old Testament ecclesia, the word itself naturally retains its ordinary meaning." —B. H. Carroll, Ecclesia—THE CHURCH, p. 4.
The Lord further contrasts His ekklesia with others by terming the latter a "synagogue of Satan," Revelation 2:9. While the Lord's "ekklesia" contrasts with other ekklesias in many ways, there is one common factor—both constitute called out assemblies.
Many have stumbled at the belief that the church was organized during the personal ministry of the Lord because He says "I will build my church." It is held by many that since He used the future tense of the verb, He must be referring to something that would commence to be built at some future time, and hence, could not then be in existence. However, this is based upon the false assumption that it means "I will commence to build." The future tense is perfectly in order if the church had already been organized, as we believe that it had, for the simple reason that it had not been long in existence, but that it was to continue to be built over a vast period of time which has now stretched to almost twenty centuries. Hence, by far the majority of the building was yet future. At what time in the past twenty centuries has it not been correct to say that Christ will build His church. I may correctly say "He will build the First Baptist Church of Kirk, Colorado," even though this church has already existed for fifty-five years, because any true and lasting building that is done is from the Lord.
Paul uses this same manner of speaking concerning the continual building up of the Christian in the Lord. He says, "Having been rooted (perfect passive participle) and being now built up (present passive participle) in Him, and being established (present passive participle) in the faith . . . " (Col. 2:7), literal rendering. Dr. A. T. Robertson, one of the foremost Greek scholars, says of this passage, "The metaphor is changed again to a building as continually going up (present tense)." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, IV, 490) He also states concerning the future tense that: "The future likewise presents in completed action which in any case may be either momentary, simultaneous, prolonged, descriptive, repeated, customary, interrupted, attempted, or begun, according to the nature of the case or the meaning of the verb."—Short Grammar Of the Greek New Testament, p. 141. (Emphasis mine-DWH)
Mark 3:13-19 presents the time of the organization of the Lord's ekklesia, for not only is there the obvious "calling out," but several other things also are recorded which apply to a church-state. 1.) While the express form ekkaleo, "call out," is not used, a kindred form is. Proskaleomai, derived from pros, to or toward, and kaleo, call, when used in the Christian sense intimates as much, for no one can be called to Christ without, at the same time, being called out of the world. That this was not a call to salvation is clear when we consider that He had called each one individually prior to this either personally, or through the ministry of John the Baptist.
2.) Luke records of this event that it was only after a whole night spent in prayer to God that He did this, (Luke 6:12), which speaks of the solemnity of the occasion.
3.) "And He ordained twelve…whom also he named apostles," (Luke 6:13, and marginal reading of Mark 3:14, R.V.) This is the ordination (Greek "He made twelve," a sovereign act of ordination.) of the ministry of the first church. It was an apostolic ministry, it is true, yet from this select group were to be the pastors of, and missionaries from, the Jerusalem church.
4.) "And He ordained twelve that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils" (vv. 14-15). The Lord had a four-fold purpose in choosing the twelve; a.) "That they should be with Him." This was probably not so much for His own companionship, as it was for the training of the twelve. for much of the responsibility of the church would rest upon them after Christ's death. b.) "And that he might send them forth to preach c.) "And to have power to heal sicknesses." d.) "And to cast out devils." In these we see both commission and authority manifested.
A number of other things point to the fact that the church was organized during the earthly ministry of the Lord; 1.) "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles . . . " (1 Cor. 12:28). No doubt rank enters into this also, but Luke 6:13 clearly puts the appointment of apostles (plural) first in time relative to the church, and at no subsequent time until the election of Matthias and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus many years later were other apostles ''set in the church.'' and both of these instances had to do with single apostles, not with a plurality of apostles as spoken of in 1 Corinthians 12:28
2.) There was an organization consisting of: a.) Christ the head, b.) Members, including twelve apostles, (Luke 6:12ff), the seventy missionaries, (Luke 10:1), and others numbering "above five hundred brethren," (1 Cor. 15:6); c.) a treasurer, (John 12:4-6); d.) A divinely appointed pastor, (John 21:15-17).
3.) The ordinances were both administered during the earthly ministry of Christ, and consequently, before Pentecost, (John 4:1-2; Matthew 26:26-30). The question which here presents itself is, Are baptism and the Lord's Supper church ordinances or not? We doubt that few will be found who will answer in the negative.
Fulfilled prophecy is positive proof that the church existed while Christ was on earth, and therefore before Pentecost. "I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee" (Ps. 22:22) . . . This prophecy is picked up in Hebrews 2:12 and explained: "Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee." The Lord sang "in the midst of the church." When? The only instance of His singing as divinely recorded took place the night He instituted the Lord's Supper and observed it with the disciples present, Matthew 26:30: "And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives."—D. N. Jackson, Article: "The Church Before Pentecost," in The Baptist Examiner, Jan. 16, 1965.
4.) The church was instructed in matters of church discipline, (Matthew 18:15-18). Many, following Dr. Scofield's notes, would make this to be instructions "for the future church." But Dr. Hort dissents from this in these words, "Here our Lord is speaking not of the future but of the present, instructing His disciples how to deal with an offending brother."—Christian Ecclesia, pp. 9, 10. Only a bias in favor of a preconceived idea would cause men to so wrest this passage as to attempt to make it teach something about a "future church."
One may speculate and theorize upon Matthew 18:17 all they please, but still it remains unreasonable to believe that Jesus referred to something that the disciples did not understand, or that He indicated a rule of discipline relating to a church that did not exist. To the one that accepts this passage at its face value it appears conclusive that the church was in existence at the time that Jesus spoke these words.—Roy Mason, The Church That Jesus Built, p. 18.
5.) The church was commissioned both before Christ's death, (Luke 9:1-6) (Limited commission), and after His resurrection, (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8).
6.) The church met, held prayer meetings, and conducted business all before the day of Pentecost, (Acts 1:13-26).
7.) The church was purchased before Pentecost, (Acts 20:28).
8.) On the day of Pentecost "about three thousand souls were added" to something which afterward was considered a church. It would be ambiguous to speak of adding something to nothing, and if it was a church afterward, it must have been one before the adding was done.
9.) Jesus "left his house," (Mark 13:34), when He ascended from the earth, yet how could He have left His house, if He was not to have one until a later date.
These are some of the numerous and unanswerable proofs that the Word sets forth of the origin of the New Testament Church during the earthly ministry of Our Lord, and prior to the day of Pentecost. Other proofs could be cited, but for lack of time and space we must pass on to consider the relationship of Pentecost to the church.
Much has been written about the church originating on the day of Pentecost, and a majority of the religious world has adopted this hypothesis without question. As far as the proof of this is concerned, it is almost totally non-existent; most advocates of this view base their belief on inferences, assumptions and reasonings only. Dr. A. H. Strong, an advocate of this view among Baptists, honestly admits that:
The church existed in germ before the day of Pentecost, otherwise there would have been nothing to which those converted upon that day could have been 'added' (Acts 2:47). Among the apostles, regenerate as they were, united to Christ by faith and in that faith baptized (Acts 19:4), under Christ's instruction and engaged in common work for him, there were already the beginnings of organization. There was a treasurer of the body (John 13:29), and as a body they celebrated for the first time the Lord's Supper (Matthew 26:26-29). To all intents and purposes they constituted a church, although the church was not yet fully equipped for its work by the outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2), and by the appointment of pastors and deacons. The church existed without officers, as in the first days succeeding Pentecost.—Systematic Theology, pp. 900,901.
However, it must be realized that the germ (or bud, as Dr. Strong also terms the church before Pentecost) embodies in itself all of the fullness of the mature church; it needs but time to unfold into its mature form. And it is to be granted that prior to Pentecost the church had not attained its maturity, but it did not attain this maturity in one day so that neither was it mature the day after Pentecost either.
The body of brethren which Christ had three times gathered into an assembly, and had designated as his church and spoken of as his kingdom, the Holy Spirit expressly calls a church, after the ascension of Christ. We have not the slightest intimation that there was the least modification made in its organization, much less that a new and unheard of body was originated by the apostles. J. R. Graves, The Seven Dispensations. p. 266.
Yet the objection that the church had neither received the Holy Spirit, nor had pastors been appointed, is baseless. 1.) It is true that deacons had not been appointed at this time, but the church was still small enough at Pentecost not to need them. 2.) Sometime not too long after His resurrection, the Lord had appeared to seven of the disciples at the sea of Tiberias, and had there appointed Peter to "Feed my lambs . . . Tend my sheep . . . Feed my sheep," (John 21:15-19). Peter still held the office of pastor of the church when Matthias was elected to the apostleship, (Acts 1), and from his prominence in the affairs of the Jerusalem church, it seems likely that Peter continued as pastor until he was called of God to go down to Caesarea and preach to the Gentiles, (Acts 10). 3.) It is not to be denied that there was a great outpouring of the power of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, but neither is it to be denied that the church had already received the Holy Spirit as well. The individual disciples had received the indwelling Spirit when they were saved, for "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his," (Rom. 8:9) but the church had also received the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of John 14:16, 17, 26; 16:13, for the Lord appeared on the evening of the day He arose from the dead and said unto them, "Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost," (John 20:21-22). This that took place on the day of Pentecost was an empowering of the church, and empowering is not necessary to existence, only to being competent witnesses which they were not commanded to do until after the resurrection anyhow. Jesus promised that the Spirit would come upon them, not to constitute them into a church, but to empower them for the work He commissioned them to do, (Acts 1:8). Hence the foremost arguments for a Pentecostal founding of the church are found to be invalid.
The statement is often made that the church was formed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (See Scofield Bible, p. 1150, note; and p. 1252, note.) yet never is any scriptural proof cited beyond the reference to Acts 2:1ff, and 1 Corinthians 12:13, the latter of which, in the King James Translation is a manifest mistranslation.
Dr. D. N. Jackson has well said concerning those who hold to a Pentecostally founded church that:
Those who believe this theory use Scripture verses that speak of Pentecost but say nothing of the church; and then they will refer to verses that speak of the church but say nothing of Pentecost. Then they go on to use verses that say nothing of either Pentecost or the church.—Article: "The Church Before Pentecost," in The Baptist Examiner, Jan. 16, 1965.
This translation makes the Holy Spirit to be the agent of the baptizing, but the literal translation, which is given in the R.V., makes the Holy Spirit the element into which all the members are baptized; "For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body," etc. Pentecost was the fulfillment of that which John prophesied in Matthew 3:11: "He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire."
In every passage but one where baptism is associated with the Spirit, the uniform usage in the Greek is with the preposition en ("in"); in no case does it ever have dia ("through" or "by means of') nor meta ("with"). The one exception is Mark 1:8 where there is no preposition of any sort, but the case form of the noun (dative) is locative which rules out the idea that the Spirit is the agent of the baptizing. Let the Greek student consult Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; Mark 1:8; John 1:33; Acts 1:5; and Acts 11:16.
Protestantism has a confused idea of the origin of the church. Some say that it began with Abraham, and others tell us that it began on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of our Lord. There is absolutely not one scintilla of evidence in the Bible or out of it that the church was founded or began on Pentecost. If those who claim Pentecost as the birthday of the church will search the records they will find that any church born on that day or afterwards is too late to receive any commission from our Lord...It follows, scripturally and logically, that any church born on Pentecost or any day thereafter has no commission from our Lord to do anything and must be a human institution and not a divine one. J. T. Moore, Why I Am A Baptist, quoted by Mason, The Church That Jesus Built, p. 12.
What then, is the relationship of Pentecost to the church? Certainly not the founding of the church, for we find the events of Pentecost repeated on at least two other occasions; (Acts 8:14-17; 10:44-48; cf. 11:15-17). Are we then to infer that the first founding of the church, if so be that Pentecost was that event, was not successful and had to be repeated?
Pentecost was God's attestation to the church that now and henceforth to the end of the age it was to be His chosen house of witness. It was simply the repetition of God's action when the tabernacle was raised, (Ex. 40:33-35), and when the temple was completed, (2 Chron. 5:13-15). Twice before this the Jews had seen and recorded God's attestation and certification of a new house of worship; without the events of Pentecost, most Jews would not have accepted the church as God's house of witness, or had they done so, they would have considered it vastly inferior in glory to the tabernacle and the temple; this could never be. But who could doubt that a new economy had come in when the Lord repeated His certification.
Like the Tabernacle and Temple of the Old Testament, the church of the New Testament was established before it was accredited, credentialed, or filled by the Cloud of God's Approving Glory . . . The church, therefore, was established in the days of Jesus' sojourn in the flesh and the work of its construction was begun with the material prepared by John the Baptist, later the twelve apostles of our Lord: and at the close of His earthly ministry we find this little band in Jerusalem began to transact business by the election of a successor to Judas. Also they were assembled together to receive collectively the Holy Spirit, and to them were added daily such as were being saved.
1. Three Old Testament types:
a. The Tabernacle was built before the Glory Cloud filled it (Ex. 40:34-38).
b. Solomon's Temple was built before the Glory Cloud filled it (1 Kings 8:10,11).
c. Ezekiel's Ideal Temple (after Solomon's Temple was destroyed) was built before the Glory Cloud filled it (Ezek. 43:1-6; Dan. 9:24; Joel 2:28-32).
The church was promised the abiding glory of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11,12; Mark 16:17,18; John 1:33; 7:37, 39; Acts 1:8).
The church received the promised Holy Spirit (Gen. 11:1,9 cf.; Joel 2:28-32)—Clearwaters, The Local Church of the New Testament. p. 25.26.
At Pentecost the Lord put His stamp of approval upon a church composed almost, if not totally, of Jewish believers; therefore, it was necessary to repeat this for the sake of the Samaritan and Gentile believers, who might otherwise be disparaged by the Jews. Therefore, it is recorded: "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost," (Acts 8:14-17). And again: "While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" (Acts 10:44-47).
Now that both these other cases were parallels with the Jewish Pentecost of Acts 2 is proven by: 1.) The fact that the Spirit is said to have "fallen upon" each of these three groups, but of no others. 2.) Peter expressly declares that the Gentile case was parallel with the Jewish case; "And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them (Grk. epipipto), as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost," (Acts 11:15-16). 3.) From the three-fold division of the commission in Acts 1:8. As the commission embraced the Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles, so there was to be a baptism of the Spirit for each of the three divisions that none might disparage the other as being inferior in any way.
The Spirit baptism was a once-for-all event; it was never repeated upon any group, and it happened only three times in history, and those three times exactly corresponded to the divisions of the commission in Acts 1:8. It is expected that there will be many who will disagree with this statement, for there is a great deal of confusion relative to the Baptism of the Spirit and the Filling of the Spirit; these two are not synonymous as many people think. The Baptism of the Spirit was for churches; the filling is for individuals; the baptism of the Spirit was never repeated upon any group; the filling of the Spirit is repeated many times; the baptism of the Spirit was for the purpose of certification as well as enduement with power; filling is only for preparation for service; the baptism of the Spirit was a transient event; the filling of the Spirit is a continuing privilege and duty, (Eph. 5:18); only three events can be certainly identified as the baptism of the Spirit; there are several instances of the filling of individuals by the Spirit.
This distinction is carefully preserved even in Acts 2 where both of these occur together. Dr. B.F. Dearmore observes:
In Acts 2:1 the word 'all' is used, showing that the church is to be considered as a body. The house was filled as a mighty rushing wind. No one would deny that this was the Holy Ghost. He filled the room in other words, the church, as a body, was covered, immersed in, with and by the Holy Ghost. In verse three cloven tongues as of fire sat upon each of them. Note the word 'each.' What happened from here on was an individual matter. They were 'filled with the Holy Ghost' as individuals.—Article: "The Church," in The Orthodox Baptist, August, 1965, p.5, col. 3.
But Pentecost was more than God's certification of the church as His house of worship, it was first and foremost, His certification of the Messiahship and Divine Sonship of the One whom the Jews had crucified. It was proof that Christianity was not just another "religion." Without this fact, Christianity would never have been heard of beyond the walls of Jerusalem, for it would have had no hope, no power, no message.
At the same time that God certified the church, He also empowered it for the work for which it had been organized. Thus had the Lord said to His church on the evening of His resurrection, "And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high," (Luke 24:49). He did not even intimate that this would constitute the origin of the church, but spoke to them in corporate capacity, and promised them that they would be empowered for the work of evangelizing, indoctrinating, and edifying. In Acts 1:8, this empowering is associated with the church's witness of the Lord. As individual baptism does not constitute the beginning of the Christian life (note the correct order as given in Matthew 28:19, R.V., "make disciples," then "baptizing them.") so neither did Pentecost constitute the beginning of the church; both baptism and Pentecost are testimonies before the world.
Many contend that the church was founded upon the day of Pentecost as an expedient to their own practices; Protestant denominations, all of which have originated in recent centuries, if they could prove that the church was not founded personally by the Lord, but instrumentally through the apostles, would have a legitimate excuse for their existence. Otherwise, they are found to be nothing more than modern day founders of pseudo-churches, without hope of establishing their claims to being the Lord's churches.
A Pentecostally founded church, which could still lay claim to being the Lord's church though not founded by Him personally, would be an answer to their dilemma; it would be the example needed to justify their own human origin; they could excuse their modern origin by saying "Well, not even the first church was founded by the Lord personally, but He used men to do it, just as He has used us."
But the Lord did found the church personally during His earthly ministry, and gave it the promise of unbroken perpetuity until the close of the age when He will personally return to the earth. Protestantism is like the seven women in Isaiah 4:1 who "take hold of one man (Christ), saying, we will eat our own bread (doctrine), and wear our own apparel (self-righteousness): only let us be called by thy name (Christian), to take away our reproach."
There has never been any justification for the originating of a new denomination; even those who came out of Rome when they realized how corrupt and depraved she was, could have united with true churches which then existed as they had since before the Pentecost of Acts 2; but most of those who came out of Rome wanted piety without persecution, religion without reproach, and holiness without humility; they wanted the name of Christianity, but not its attendant sufferings. The Anabaptists, Waldenses, Novatians, Donatists, and other Baptist groups were reproached and ridiculed, calumniated and cursed, persecuted and plundered, destroyed and damned for the truth, but they counted it worth it all. Not so the reformers; most of them wanted no part of such. Let the thoughtful student of church history consider that almost all of the reformers courted the favor of the Baptists in the beginning of the reformation, and sought to fellowship with them until they found what an undeviating stand for the truth would cost; then they repudiated them and sought for an easier Christianity; one which gave them recognition as a Christian church, yet which did not entail suffering, sacrifice and self-denial. Such, however, is the devil's religion; Christ said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me," (Matthew 16:24). To be a good disciple, one must not only relinquish wealth and honor, but even life itself. This, the reformers did not want; neither does modern Protestantism, but this is the demand of the Book for those who would be Christ's disciples.
The belief that the church was founded on the day of Pentecost cannot be substantiated by a literal interpretation of the Bible; the only substantiation to be had from the Bible, must be accompanied by figurative and questionable interpretations, and by inferences and guesses; but with this type of interpretation, any doctrine sine exceptio can be established The belief that the church was founded on Pentecost is a straw man, an expedient to justify the actions of those who have not the faith and fortitude to take their place with those who, through the centuries, have steadfastly and patiently borne witness to the truth in spite of every trial and suffering that unregenerate man could bring upon them, Protestant church historians themselves being witnesses.
It is also needful for us to consider the ORIGIN OF THE CHURCH AS TO FOUNDER, and while most people declare the Lord Jesus to be the founder of the church, yet in practice, they deny this.
Considering the matter negatively, we note first of all that the church was not founded by any man, for there is but one founder and builder of the church, and that is Jesus Christ Himself. There are many so-called churches in the world today which were founded by some man, but such, like the house built upon the sand, (Matthew 7:26-27), will in the time of judgment fall, and "great will be the fall of it." The very fact that some churches can trace their origin to a mere man should be enough to make them realize that they can not rightly be the Lord's church.
If any mortal man had a right to the title of founder or head of the church, that right would fall to the apostle Paul, for no other individual labored so faithfully and fervently for the glory of God and the good of the churches as did he. But that honor belongs to no mortal; not to Peter, nor to Paul, nor to any other mortal; it is the right of Jesus Christ alone, as Paul declares, "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ," (1 Cor. 3:11).
Nor could the whole apostolate be considered the founder of the New Testament church, for while they all had a part in the up-building of the church after the Lord had founded it, their part was secondary only as we have already observed. Not only so, but as 1 Corinthians 12:28 tells us, the church existed before men were ordained to the apostolic office, for the apostles were first "set in the church."
Again, we may observe that those who hold to a Pentecostal origin of the church deny by that belief that the Lord even has a church, and make the Holy Spirit the founder of the church instead. If this were the case, then the Lord could not truthfully call it "my church." But in no place is there to be found the least intimation that the Spirit occupied the place of founder, originator, or even mid-wife to assist at the birth of the church. The Scriptures set forth several things that are the particular work of the Spirit in the church: 1.) He glorifies Christ, (John 16:14). 2.) He abides in the church, (John 14:16). 3.) He equips for service (1 Cor. 12 much of the chapter; Heb. 2:4 margin). 4.) He superintends the ministry of the church, (Acts 13:2, 4; 16:6-10; 20:28). 5.) He guides the church, (John 16:13; Rom. 8:14). 6.) He teaches the church, (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:10-13; 1 John 5:6; Rev. 2:7ff). 7.) He comforts the church, (John 14:16-18; Rom. 5:5; 2 Cor. 13:14).
But in all these things the Spirit works, not for Himself, but as "another Comforter," Christ's vice-gerent, His other self. To hold that the church was brought into existence by the Spirit on the day of Pentecost is to be mistaken as to time of origin, and identity of originator.
But if these things be true, and it be not correct to attribute the origin of the church to the Spirit upon the day of Pentecost, nor to the apostles at still a later date, then how much more is it folly to attribute the origin of the church to some mortal in the fifteenth, sixteenth, or seventeenth century after Christ? Yet this is exactly what many persons do in recognizing as Christian churches those societies which have sprung up in the last centuries of this dispensation. The date, place and founder of every major denomination in the world today is common knowledge to those who are concerned with such facts, and there is little if any disagreement as to these facts. But such is not the case with Baptists; scholars and students of church history cannot agree when or where Baptists first originated, nor can they pinpoint the founder of the Baptist movement; but this is only natural if, as we believe, the Baptists are the descendents of the first church, and have a lineage which dates back by direct links to the first century.
The following information showing the time, place and person concerned with the origin of each denomination, is taken from John R. Gilpin's Historicity of Baptists and Others, p. 17-18.
|Name||Date Founded||Place Founded||Founder|
|Catholic||590||Rome||Gregory the Great|
|Episcopal||1534||England||Henry the Eighth|
|Christian Science||1879||America||Mary Baker Eddy|
It would be to encroach upon a chapter especially designed for that purpose for us to now attempt to show that Baptists have a continuity of faith and practice dating back to the first century. Our purpose here is to show the folly of those who have such a recent origin, yet who persist in claiming to be the church of the New Testament.
The origin of the New Testament church is to be found in Palestine; the time of it was in the days of the Lord's earthly ministry; and the founder of the church was the Lord Jesus Himself. Just before the crucifixion, the Lord Jesus wept over Jerusalem because of its obstinacy and unbelief, and then declared: "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." (Matthew 23:38) By which He evidently meant: 1.) He no longer recognized the temple as the house of the Lord; it was not only "your house." 2.) It was forsaken of God—God would no longer inhabit it. This brings up other questions, namely,. did God no longer have a house of witness upon the earth? Was there to be a time between when He spoke these words and the day of Pentecost when He would be without witness? The answer to these questions is to be found in the Lord's statement which He made immediately after this in what has been called the Olivet discourse. "For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants," etc. (Mark 13:34).
Here the Lord illustrates His own soon removal from the earth, but in doing so, He speaks of "leaving His house," but how can this be if He had just disenfranchised the temple as His house of witness, and the church was not yet in existence. The answer is simple; the church had already been founded some two years or more ago, and at His ascension, He left His church, but is to soon return to take an accounting of His servants. What then of those who have rejected the blood-bought house of the Lord, and have established a human society in competition with the Lord's house? Protestants, see ye to it, and judge in yourselves what ye do.
Inasmuch as some mistake the edification of the church for its origin we must here take note of the fact that THE CHURCH WAS STRENGTHENED AND BUILT UP UNDER THE MINISTRY OF THE APOSTLES. No rational Bible student will deny this; yet, let none mistake the character of this building up. Some, indeed, do contend that the church was a product of evolution, or that Paul completely modified and revised the plan for the church as originally set forth by Christ. This idea, however, is based solely upon carnal rationalism, and is no problem to the devout student of the Bible to whom the letter of the Word is incontrovertible.
Though not the product of evolution, the church did pass through a stage of development and growth in the first century; this was the natural thing since the church was not created full grown, as was Adam, but must needs pass through infancy, youth, etc.
Before his death, our Lord had founded his Church, by selecting the Twelve, the Seventy, and many other disciples, by teaching them his doctrines, authorizing them to preach and baptize, and by establishing the Supper . . . , his infant Church truly, but no less his Church, as he was the Christ as much when a Babe in the stable, and a Youth in the Temple, as when a Man on Calvary.—Thomas Armitage, History of the Baptists, p.71.
Church doctrine is peculiar to Paul's epistles since he was the one chosen to be the apostle to the Gentiles, who were, in later years, to comprise by far the majority of the churches. The other apostles spoke of the church in their writings, and labored in and for the churches, but it was Paul who had "the care of all the churches," (2 Cor. 11:28).
One of the chief hindrances to the building up, or edification of the church in its early days, was Saul of Tarsus. for Luke records that upon the conversion of Saul. "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied," (Acts 9:31). After his conversion, Paul became a special vessel unto the Lord for the edification of the churches. He himself says, "For though I should boast somewhat more of our authority, which the Lord hath given us for edification, and not for your destruction, I should not be ashamed," (2 Cor. 10:8).
Nor was he alone in laboring for the edification of the churches; the other apostles and prophets were zealous to proclaim the word thereby edifying the churches. According to the New Testament definition of a prophet, whoever might speak to men to edification, exhortation, or comfort was a prophet, whether he spoke of things to come, or things already come, for the Scripture says, "But he that prophesieth speaketh unto me to edification, and exhortation, and comfort." (1 Cor. 14:3). In this sense, every preacher and teacher is a prophet.
The edification of the church is the responsibility of every member of it, for the command is, "seek that ye may excel (in spiritual gifts) to the edifying of the church;" (1 Cor. 14:12), but it is especially obligatory upon those men of the ministry of the church; "And he gave some, apostles: and some, prophets: and some, evangelists: and some. pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ," (Eph. 4:11-12).
But to get back to our original proposition. namely, that the church was strengthened and built up under the ministry of the apostles, we may note that every epistle of the New Testament was written for this specific purpose. Not even those epistles which were written to individuals were exempt from this rule. To Timothy Paul wrote. "that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth," (1 Tim. 3:15); the epistle to Titus was written for the purpose of instructing him concerning the "things that were wanting" in Crete, (Titus 1:5). Every epistle contains something that is applicable and necessary to local churches.
How could we know how to deal with church problems today, had we not the apostolic teaching and example to apply to? Who could speak authoritatively on the question of how an immoral church member should be dealt with if we had not 1 Corinthians 5? Or who could extricate a church from tendencies toward Jewish legalism if the Galatian epistle were wanting? Who could challenge the pretentions of a pulpit dictator if John had never written his third epistle? Or who could know how to correct erroneous practices at the Lord's table without 1 Corinthians 11? Or how to treat an excluded, but repentant brother without 2 Corinthians 2? These and multitudes of other things were given for our knowledge.
The Lord has not always tolerated wickedness in His house of witness, nor does it now escape its just due, but He condescended to allow these things to come to pass in the early churches, in order that He might leave us an example of how to deal with these departures from the truth.
The strengthening and edifying of the churches was not a product of personal zeal on the part of the apostles and disciples; zeal can be, and often is, misdirected through ignorance and personal desires, but the testimony of the apostles and disciples is that they were directed by the Holy Spirit in the work; Paul often alludes to this; Jude says, "Beloved, while I was giving all diligence to write unto you of our common salvation, I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints," (v. 3, R.V.)
If these things had been written solely by the zeal of individuals, then we would not have an infallible record and example of early church practices. As it is, we have a reliable record to which we can apply for direction in the case of any church trouble or doctrinal deviation. It is infallible, not simply because it came from apostolic hands, but because those apostolic hands were moved and guided by Him Whose office it is to "guide you into all truth," (John 16:13-14).
Without disparaging this work of edification in the least, we must yet emphasize that this had no more relation to the origin of the church than the feeding of an infant has to the infant's birth. The teaching of the apostles and disciples was subsequent to, and needful after, the founding of the church, but it had no bearing on it whatsoever, except as divinely ordained effects.
Lastly, we would notice that from the very beginning of the church, it had the promise of perpetuity given to it by the Lord Himself; He promised that it would continue until the end of the age. This is the divine answer to denominationalism; there has been no room left for such, and our Protestant brethren shall be blameworthy in the day of the judgment seat of Christ for having disparaged the Lord's institution; the Protestant dilemma resolves itself thus; if they separated from a true church (many are so unlearned as to think that Rome was still a true church in the days of the reformation), then they are schismatics and rebels against the Lord; if, on the other hand, Rome be considered corrupt (and no Bible student can conclude otherwise), then all Protestant denominations are corrupt also, for "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one," (Job 14:4). The Lord promised that the church as an institution would continue until the end of the age, and no fifteenth, sixteenth, or seventeenth century Johnny-come-lately can claim to be that ancient institution.
Church perpetuity is inwrought in the nature of the church as an institution. It is an institution with life begetting and perpetuating power. While the church as a local body ministers for a time in a definite field, the church as an institution ministers throughout the church age. While local churches die, the church as an institution lives on and on in the churches born of itself and its ministry. W. Lee Rector, Church Truth from the Jerusalem Church to the Glory Church, preface.
The institutional usage of the word "church" does not include all the churches of every century; it merely includes an unbroken chain of them. Such is the usage of the word in Matthew 16:18 where the promise is that "the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it," R.V. Dr. B. H. Carroll comments on this passage as follows:
When our Lord says, On this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, does He refer to the church on earth or the church in glory? My answer is, to the particular assembly on earth, considered as an institution. The church in glory will never be in the slightest danger of the gates of hell. Before it becomes an assembly, both death and hell, gates and all, are cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14 and 21:4). It is the church on earth that is in danger, from the fear of which this glorious promise is a guaranty. Ecclesia—THE CHURCH, p. 18,19.
Church perpetuity is a blessed thing, which only makes it all the more strange that many people strangle on it; this may perhaps be explained by the fact that they know that they do not have it, and hence will not admit its existence; or it may be because of ignorance of its Scripture warrant that it is pushed into the background.
The testimony of church history is that in every century since the institution of the church there have been numerous, scattered groups of dissenting churches "heretics" by Rome's designation—which believed and practiced only what is generally considered fundamental even among Protestants today. So numerous and widespread were these that it is not only possible, but also logical and probable that an unbroken continuity of these existed, though we cannot trace such a continuity church by church. The Lord Jesus, by His utterance in Matthew 16:18 makes it a certainty that there was a continuity.
'The gates of hell shall not prevail against it,' (Matthew 16:18), the Lord says. As an institution, the Lord decrees continuous life for the church. 1. The Builder avows the church's perpetuity: (1) Of His church, the Lord says, 'The gates of hell shall not prevail against it,' (Matthew 16:18) (2) To His church, the Lord says, To, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age,' (Matthew 28:20) (3) To His church, he declares that the Holy Spirit will 'abide with you forever,' (John 14:16) (4) Since the Lord thus affirms the church's perpetuity, we know it lives today. If there has been or shall be a moment in which a church like the first one has not obtained since He uttered these words, then He spoke falsely and we have been betrayed by the church's founder. Thank God, He spoke truly, and he perpetuates His church. 2. There are some warning facts about church perpetuity that should not be overlooked in this connection: (1) We can't discount church perpetuity by subterfuges as some attempt to do and get by the Lord with it. (a. To hide behind the 'general church' idea is to shame the Lord. As touching church perpetuity, he speaks of the First Church as an institution, living on and on in other churches throughout the ages, each of which finds its roots in the First Church. The gates of hell cannot prevail against it, (Matthew 16:18). (b. To hide behind the 'perpetuity of the faith' idea dodges the issue. Since the church is the custodian of the faith, (Jude 3 and 1 Tim. 3:15), to admit the 'perpetuity of the faith' is to attest the perpetuity of the church. Both Pseudo.Baptists and Pedo-Baptists are wrong in their 'general church' or 'faith perpetuity' ideas about the church. (c. The historical appearances of Pedo-Baptists makes them too late to qualify as unprejudiced witnesses on church perpetuity. Church perpetuity condemns them.—W. Lee Rector, Church Truth from the Jerusalem Church to the Glory Church, p. 10,11.
There are two things which are requisite to the title of a true church of the Lord; first, soundness of faith and practice, which is nothing less than conformity to the Word of God. However, we must remark that there were a great number of irregularities in the churches of the New Testament, which yet did not void their church status. What, therefore, is necessary as to doctrine and practice, to constitute a New Testament church? T. T. Martin answers this for us. "Only two doctrines are essential to a New Testament church. Other doctrines are important, precious, but only two are essential to a New Testament church. They are the WAY OF SALVATION and the WAY OF BAPTISM."—The New Testament Church, quoted in Mason, The Church That Jesus Built, p. 85. This may seem exceeding broad, but in reality it is very narrow, for most doctrines are so tied to these two that one cannot rightly hold these two without being correct on others also. The second requisite to true church status is a perpetuity which dates back to the first church. Rome indeed has an organic continuity back to the first century, but is hopelessly defective as to doctrines; Protestantism has neither of these, for the oldest protestant denomination is only a little over four hundred years old, and while some groups are reasonably sound on the plan of redemption (although infant baptism is a corruption even of this) they all possess a defective baptism. Only Baptists can trace an unbroken continuity of faith and practice from the first century; every false church can be traced to a human origin; not so Baptists.
Let no one mistake this; we do not trace our heritage by the name "Baptist," for that is of recent date, but we trace our heritage by faith and practice. Thus does R. B. C. Howell speak: "But we are told by many illiterate men, and even women, who have been ambitious to write our history, that they do not read of Baptists till the time of Cromwell! Indeed! And do they not know that our present name is recent? It is not the name, it is the principle which we seek."—Terms of Communion, p. 256. The name "Baptist" has only been used for about three or four hundred years; before that, the name most commonly applied to them was "Anabaptist" (re-baptizer), from which the name "Baptist" was derived. In other places and times they were called Waldenses, Albigenses, Paterines, Cathari, Novatians, Montanists, etc. But by whatever name they were known, they were generally characterized by the things which are presently peculiar to Baptists.
Nor is this any reason for any Baptist individual or church to swell up with pride, for this perpetuity is not owing to human strength and faithfulness. It is due solely to God's sovereign faithfulness in preserving such that Baptists now exist. However, this does not excuse any person from the duty to faithfully discharge his obligation; it simply means that such failures as men are liable to, do not endanger the perpetuity of the Lord's church.
Even as early as the latter part of the first century, there were individuals and churches which had begun to compromise doctrinally and practically, so that the Lord warned, "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent," (Rev. 2:5). That this was not restricted to the Ephesian church alone, nor yet to the seven churches addressed, is evident from verse 7: "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches . . . " In each of the messages to each of the churches there is a message to every person who is capable of hearing these messages.
Nor is this an idle threat; entirely too many Christians have the idea that the Lord will not repudiate any church, no matter how corrupt it may become. But the foregoing Scripture forever stands as a condemnation of, and warning against, such an idea. The Lord requires, not only a scriptural origin for His church, but also a scriptural practice and a scriptural perpetuity as well. Any society which falls short of these requirements does so to its own confusion.
People need to realize that a church which isn't patterned after the New Testament Church isn't the Lord's church, does not have the Spirit abiding in it, and therefore doesn't have a candlestick in it, but is nothing more than a mere human invention, no matter what it may be in the sight of man. To the reader may we ask this question, Whence is your church, of heaven or of the earth? Is it the Lord's church, or is it some man's church? If it is of man, may God grant you grace to realize it, admit it, repudiate it, and accept the Lord's blood-bought church.
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