Jesus Built His Church

By Andy Sochor | Kentucky, USA

With this article, we are beginning a new series that will continue over the next several issues in which we will be taking a broad look at “church history.” We will discuss the changes that took place after the time of the apostles, the rise of the Catholic Church, efforts to reform the Catholic Church, and also a movement to restore the doctrines and practices found in the New Testament.

A study like this will help us know where we came from and how we got where we are today. It will also help us see the Lord’s original plan for His church. In fact, this is where we need to begin. The only way we can properly discuss “church history” is by first understanding that Jesus built His church.

The Promise and Foundation

After Peter confessed his belief that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), Jesus responded with a promise: “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus said He would build His church. The foundation was the identity of Christ Himself – the fact confessed by Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Because this is who Jesus is, He had the right and the ability to build His church. No other foundation would be sufficient for such an institution (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11).

The apostle Paul described the foundation of the church in this way: “Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20). Jesus is described as the corner stone because everything in the church must be based upon Him. The foundation includes the apostles and prophets – those who revealed the words of God (Ephesians 3:4-5). They are part of the foundation because everything the church teaches and practices must be based upon the word of God.

The Establishment of the Church

The Lord’s church was established on the day of Pentecost following the ascension of Jesus. Beginning on that day, God “added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47, NKJV). It was started as people responded to Peter’s sermon in which he declared “that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). Upon hearing this, the crowd asked what they needed to do. Peter responded, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). The response to this was remarkable: “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). As more people were obeying the gospel in order to be saved from their sins, God continued to add them to the church (Acts 2:47).

It is important that we recognize God’s role in the establishment of the church. As we noted above, He was adding people to the church (Acts 2:47). Before Peter and the other apostles began preaching, the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 2:1-4). This was a fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to them (Mark 9:1; Acts 1:8) and was done so that they would be divinely guided to speak the truth (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). This is significant. It means that the church was not of human origin. Jesus built the church, the Holy Spirit equipped the apostles to open the door to the church, then God the Father added people to the church.

The Spread of the Gospel

Again, from its establishment, God was adding people to the church daily (Acts 2:47). In a short time, there were thousands of people who had obeyed the gospel (Acts 4:4). Not long after this, “a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem” (Acts 8:2). This was designed to destroy the church, yet it actually caused the church to spread. Disciples were “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” and “those who had been scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:2, 4).

Some of those who were scattered went to Antioch and preached the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 11:19-20). It was here in Antioch where “the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26). The church in Antioch helped send Paul to preach the gospel in other places (Acts 13:1-3). Later when Paul was in Ephesus, he preached daily for two years with the result that “all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:9-10). This shows how much of an impact could be made by just one apostle.

The gospel continued to be spread by Paul, the rest of the apostles, and other Christians as well. The result was such that Paul was able to write that the gospel “was proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Colossians 1:23), fulfilling the commission Jesus gave to His apostles to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).

The Characteristics of Christ’s Church

In Paul’s travels, he taught the same thing in every place. He told the church in Corinth, “For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, and he will remind you of my ways which are in Christ, just as I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:17). Other preachers in the first century (like Timothy and the other apostles) would also be teaching the same message. Since the church was founded upon Christ and built upon the teaching of the apostles, this should be expected. So, what characteristics of the church do we find in the New Testament? Let us briefly consider these.

  • The work of the church – In the first century, the church was primarily involved in the works of evangelism and edification. Evangelism involves the preaching and teaching of the gospel (1 Thessalonians 1:8). Edification refers to the building up and strengthening of the members of the church (Ephesians 4:16). At times, churches also did the work of benevolence to a limited extent – helping Christians who were in need (Acts 4:32-37; 11:29-30).
  • The worship of the church – In the New Testament, we read that worship included singing (Colossians 3:16), praying (1 Corinthians 14:15), and preaching or teaching (1 Corinthians 14:26). On the first day of the week, churches also gathered together in order to observe the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26) and take up the collection (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
  • The organization of the church – Local churches were overseen by a plurality of elders (Acts 14:23; Philippians 1:1) who had to meet certain qualifications in order to serve in that role (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). There were also deacons who served under the oversight of the elders (Philippians 1:1). These men had to meet certain qualifications as well (1 Timothy 3:8-13). The New Testament describes no organization larger than or in addition to the local church. Local churches were autonomous and independent as the elders would oversee the flock among them (1 Peter 5:2). 
  • The message of the church – Paul described the church as “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). It sounded forth the truth, the gospel, the word of God. They were not at liberty to deviate from this message in any way (Galatians 1:6-9; 2 John 9; Revelation 22:18-19). Instead, they were to “retain the standard of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13) which were taught by the apostles.

More could be said on each of those points. However, our purpose here is simply to get a picture of what the church of the first century looked like as the early Christians followed the teaching and guidance of the Spirit-inspired apostles of Christ.

Summary A study of church history can be informative, interesting, and encouraging. However, such a study is of little benefit if we forget where it all started. Jesus built His church. In deciding how we will worship and serve God today, it is not enough merely to go back to some previous generation and imitate them. We need to go back to the original and follow the pattern found in the New Testament so that we can be part of the church that Jesus built.

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