Whatever Happened to the Church Christ Built?
We run across the word “church” 114 times in the New Testament. So what can we learn from the scriptures about the original church (the church we read about in the New Testament)? Here are the essentials:
Jesus established the church. (Matthew 16:13-18)
Jesus purchased the church with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)
Jesus is the head of the church. (Ephesians 1:22-23) (Ephesians 5:23)
Jesus is the foundation of the church. (1 Corinthians 3:11)
The church was a part of God’s eternal plan before creation. (Ephesians 3:9-10)
The purpose of the church was to: “display [God’s] wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:9-10)
The church is not a building but saved people. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)
The church is not a denomination. (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)
The Gospel and teachings of Christ (church doctrine) are not subject to change. (Galatians 1:8-11) (2 John 1:9-11)
Scriptural names of the church:
the body of Christ (Colossians 1:24) (Ephesians 1:22-23)
church of the living God (1 Timothy 3:15)
church of God (Acts 20:28) (1 Corinthians 1:2) (1 Corinthians 10:32) (1 Corinthians 11:22) (1 Corinthians 15:9) (2 Corinthians 1:1) (Galatians 1:13) (1 Timothy 3:5)
churches of God (1 Corinthians 11:16) (1 Thessalonians 2:14) (2 Thessalonians 1:4)
churches of the saints (1 Corinthians 14:33)
church of the first-born (Hebrews 12:23)
churches of Christ (Romans 16:16)
Scriptural names for members of the church:
Members of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:15)
Disciples (Acts 6:1,7) (Acts 11:26)
Believers (2 Corinthians 6:15)
Saints (Acts 9:13) (Romans 1:7) (Philippians 1:1)
Priests (Revelation 1:6)
Children of God (Galatians 3:26-27) (1 John 3:1-2)
Christians (Acts 11:26) (Acts 26:28) (1 Peter 4:16)
How to become a member of the original church:
Hear the Gospel, “for faith comes by hearing the word of God.” (Romans 10:17 NKJV)
Believe in Jesus Christ, “for without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6); Also see: (Acts 16:31) (Romans 1:15-17) (1 John 5:1-6)
Repent of your sins, “for [God] commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30); Also see: (Luke: 15:10) (2 Peter 3:9)
Confess Jesus as Lord, for he said, “Whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32 NKJV) Also see: (Romans 10:9)
Be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, for Peter said: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38) Also see: (Mark 16:16) (Romans 6:3-4)
Elders (also called presbyters, bishops, overseers, pastors, or shepherds, without distinction of office or rank) were men (always men) chosen from the members to oversee and set an example for the congregation. Also they are to encourage the congregation with sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (1 Peter 5:1-4) (1 Titus 1:9) For the requirements for this position see: 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.
Deacons were men chosen to serve the congregation (overlook the daily distribution of food or wait on tables.) (Acts 6:1-7) For requirements for both the deacon and his wife, see: 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Paul also mentions deacons in his address to the church at Philippi. (Philippians 1:1) At least two men, Stephen and Philip, chosen as deacons in the Jerusalem church also preached or evangelized.
Evangelists (preachers, ministers) are preachers of the Gospel. (Ephesians 4:11) (1 Timothy 4:13-16) (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
Those three positions were the only ones created for Christ’s church. Notice that no singular person was placed in charge of any congregation. And there was no higher organization than the local congregation. Synods, Councils, Conventions, Popes, Ecclesiastical Legislative Bodies, Associations or Conferences with delegates from different congregations are nowhere to be found in the Bible. They didn’t exist in the church you read about in the New Testament.
Over the past two thousand years, Christians have worshipped God in various ceremonies and rituals including: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, fasting, foot washing, prayers, reading scriptures, reciting creeds, singing, miraculous powers, prophecies, healings, and speaking in tongues. You may wonder what lies behind these traditions. Are they merely customs of the church? Or is there something more to it?
Let’s start with a definition of church. Our English word “church” is based on the Greek word “ekklesia” which means an assembly. Sometimes “church” refers to a local congregation; at other times the word is used in a universal sense including all believers in Christ. Christ is the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20), foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11), and head of the church. (Ephesians 1:22-23) (Ephesians 5:23)
But Jesus himself had very little to say about the church. In Mark, Luke and John, Jesus never utters the word “church.” Matthew, and Matthew alone, gives us our only two quotes. In one passage, Jesus says the church should resolve disputes between its members. (Matthew 18:15-17) In the other reference, Jesus says: “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
Outside of Revelation, these are the only two instances where Jesus directly refers to his church. Even so, he did introduce the two sacraments of the church — baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
We have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. The resurrected Jesus ordered his apostles to make disciples in every nation “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)
Jesus says baptism is essential for salvation. (Mark 16:16) And Peter says it is required for the forgiveness of sins. (Acts 2:38)
The book of Acts records much of what we know about the history of the early church. Here we find a series of sermons, teachings, and baptisms. Who was baptized? Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:13), the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:38), Saul, who was later called Paul (Acts 9:18), Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth (Acts 16:14-15), the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:33), Crispus, the synagogue ruler (Acts 18:8) (1 Corinthians 1:14), twelve disciples at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-5), and men and women at city in Samaria. (Acts 8:5-12)
What did all of these people have in common? They were all believing adults. Were children also baptized? Some claim there were, and they cite these passages to support their position. Acts 16:15 states that “[Lydia] and members of her household were baptized.” Acts 16:33 reads: “[The jailer] and all of his family were baptized.” And Acts 18:8 says that Crispus and “his entire household” were baptized.
The question is: Does “members of her household,” “all of his family,” and “his entire household” imply that children and infants were also baptized? Probably not. Notice that the jailer “and his whole family” had come to believe in God. (Acts 16:34) Similarly, Crispus “and his entire household believed in the Lord.” (Acts 18:8)
In both instances, all believed, and all were baptized. Clearly we are not speaking of infants or very small children in this context. Those who were baptized were mature enough to believe in Christ.
How were these believing “adults” baptized? Romans 6:3-4 speaks of baptism as a symbolic burial with Christ. And in Acts 8:38 Philip took the Ethiopian eunuch “down into the water” to baptize him. Baptism was and is emersion. Throughout the first century baptism and emersion were synonymous.
Lord’s Supper; The Eucharist; The Holy Communion
In Matthew we read: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’
“Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'” (Matthew 26:26-28)
In the Gospel according to John, the significance of this act becomes clear. Jesus: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51)
He repeated and emphasized his words: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:53-54)
Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, explained where this custom originated. He says: “The tradition which I handed on to you came from the Lord himself: that on the night of his arrest the Lord Jesus took bread and after giving thanks to God broke it and said: ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in memory of me.’
In the same way he took the cup after supper, and said: ‘This cup is the new covenant sealed by