Vol. 6, No. 3
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Two thousand years ago, Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, at which time 332 Old Testament prophecies concerning the Savior of the world began to be fulfilled. Joseph and Mary reared Jesus in Nazareth, whereupon when he reached full manhood at the age of 30, our Lord commenced his earthly ministry. For about three years, Jesus prepared for the establishment of his church and equipped some rather ordinary men, which he dubbed apostles, to lead the primitive church, once it was begun. Our Lord's public ministry abruptly ended when, instigated by Jewish leaders, the Romans mercilessly beat Jesus and crucified him, on a cross outside the walls of Jerusalem. Three days after his burial, death and Hades unable to contain the Son of God, Jesus resurrected from the grave, never to return thereto. A little over a month later, Jesus Christ Ascended to heaven where he remains awaiting the end of time, whereupon he will return to whisk his followers into heavenly bliss. The four Gospel records and Acts Chapter One abound with the details of the foregoing.
From his heavenly headquarters and through his apostles, Jesus Christ established his church on May 28 of A.D. 30 in the city of Jerusalem (Acts 2:22-36 NKJV). Before Acts Chapter Two, the church did not exist yet, but it was the object of our Lord's promise: "...I will build my church..." (Matthew 16:18). With the unfolding of Acts Two, all the disciples of Jesus, who had undergone the preparatory baptism of John the Immerser, constituted the Lord's church, to which Jesus added three thousand more baptized believers or saved persons (verses 41, 47). Hence, Acts Two chronicles the birthday of the Lord's church, over which Jesus is the Head and Savior (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 5:23).
Beginning in Acts Two, our Lord's church was a spiritual body (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:13-27) with a physical presence in any earthly location where disciples of Christ or Christians assembled (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; Revelation 2:1; 3:14). The phrase "my church" in our Lord's promise (Matthew 16:18) shows possession or that it belongs exclusively to Jesus and singularity or only one church. Therefore, the apostle Paul affirmed that there is but "one body" (Ephesians 4:4).
Since our Lord's church was a spiritual body with a physical manifestation in Jerusalem on that fateful Pentecost day of Acts Two, why should it seem strange to entertain the notion that it is possible that our Lord's church could actually exist today, somewhere on earth, as a spiritual body with a physical manifestation? Further, our Lord's church existed in the first century despite being viewed erroneously as merely a new Jewish sect, added to the 24 Jewish sects already in existence. Why, then, should it seem strange to entertain the notion that it is possible that our Lord's church could actually exist today, somewhere on earth, though it may be viewed erroneously as simply another denomination? Frankly, why should it seem strange to entertain the notion that it is possible that our Lord's church could actually exist today in your town, though its presence may be obscured by the existence of manmade churches?
However, if our Lord's church existed as a spiritual body with a physical manifestation in your town, how could one discern it from religions of human origin? What are the identifying characteristics of the Lord's church, and to where can one turn to ascertain the identifying characteristics of the church of divine origin? Dear Friends, if the Bible (and for these times, the New Testament) is not the absolute, final, standard of authority to which mankind must turn to learn about the Lord's church, then mankind has no reliable and divinely inspired resource to which it can appeal for definitive knowledge. Therefore, the Bible alone (and for our age, the New Testament only) is the sole resource to which one can turn to learn about the Lord's spiritual body that has a physical manifestation. What, then, does the Bible reveal about the Lord's church, by which one can ascertain if that spiritual body has a physical manifestation in your town?
Is it reasonable to suppose that the Lord's church today would wear a biblical name? The New Testament contains a number of descriptive terms that identified the Lord's church in the first century. Scripture refers to it as "the church of the living God" (1 Timothy 3:15), "the churches of Christ" (Romans 16:16), "the church of God" (1 Corinthians 1:2), "the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12), "the bride" (Revelation 22:17; Ephesians 5:21-32), "the temple of God" (1 Corinthians 3:16), "the kingdom of his dear Son" (Colossians 1:13) and "the house of God" (1 Timothy 3:15). Do the church names in your town correspond to biblical designations for the Lord's church in the first century: Baptist Church, Catholic Church, Christian Church, Church of Christ, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Church of the Brethren, Jehovah's Witnesses, Methodist Church, Pentecostal Church, Presbyterian Church, Seventh Day Adventists, etc.? Surely, were the Lord's church, a spiritual body with a physical manifestation, to exist in your town, it would glorify God with a name chosen by God and recorded in Scripture.
Is it reasonable to suppose that the Lord's church today would organize and govern itself in the same way the Lord's church did in the first century under apostolic guidance? Scripture reveals that every New Testament congregation was independent and autonomous or self-governing. Jesus declared that he possesses all authority in heaven and on the earth (Matthew 28:18 ASV). Our Lord delegated authority to his apostles (Matthew 18:18), who by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit participated with other Spirit-guided messengers of God to write the New Testament portion of the Bible. The New Testament or the Gospel of Christ is the exclusive source of divine authority in religion today (Galatians 1:6-9). The New Testament records that each fully organized congregation was ruled by elders (also called bishops, presbyters, overseers, shepherds or pastors) (Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Philippians 1:1; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-11; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4). The elders in each congregation did not answer to an earthly headquarters headed by one or more other humans; the elders in each first century congregation answered to Jesus Christ alone, whose headquarters is not on earth, but is in heaven (Acts 2:31-36; Ephesians 1:20-23; 1 Peter 2:25; 5:1-4; Hebrews 13:17). Do the forms of church government in your town correspond to the biblical organization and government of the Lord's church in the first century? Surely, were the Lord's church, a spiritual body with a physical manifestation, to exist in your town, it would glorify God by organizing and governing itself by the pattern chosen by God and recorded in Scripture.
Is it reasonable to suppose that the Lord's church today would worship God in the same way the Lord's church did in the first century under apostolic guidance? Primitive Christianity of the first century practiced five simple acts of worship: preaching or teaching, the Lord's Supper, prayer, freewill giving and singing (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 14:15; 16:1-2; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Four of these acts of worship occurred sometimes on days besides the first day of the week, whereas the Lord's Supper observance was relegated in the first century exclusively to first day of every week (Acts 20:7). In the first century and for several hundred years afterward, singing in worship was not accompanied with instrumental music (though Judaism and paganism had employed instrumental music in their worship). Do the churches in your town worship according to the way the Lord's church worshipped in the first century? Surely, were the Lord's church, a spiritual body with a physical manifestation, to exist in your town, it would glorify God by worshipping him in his own appointed manner and as Scripture records the primitive church did.
Is it reasonable to suppose that the Lord's church today would practice the biblical plan of salvation in the same way the Lord's church did in the first century under apostolic guidance? Jesus instructed his apostles to teach everyone to believe and be baptized to be saved (Mark 16:15-16). The apostle Peter, on the birthday of the church, told those believers who inquired how to be saved to repent and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of sins (Acts 2:36-38). The apostle Paul related how at his conversion he was instructed to "...arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). The apostle Peter distinguished Christian baptism from a bath as the former cleanses or saves the soul, whereas the latter cleanses the body (1 Peter 3:20-21). Do the churches in your town teach and practice the biblical plan of salvation as the Lord's church in the first century did? Surely, were the Lord's church, a spiritual body with a physical manifestation, to exist in your town, it would practice the biblical plan of salvation that is recorded in Scripture.
Is it reasonable to suppose that the Lord's church today would adopt for itself the biblical, identifying characteristics of the Lord's church about which anyone can read in the New Testament? Picking apart the New Testament, one can enumerate several telltale, identifying characteristics of first century Christianity, but the foregoing sufficiently illustrates the point. There is a clear difference between most of what passes itself off as Christianity today and the primitive, New Testament Christianity about which one can read in the Bible. Do the churches in your town teach and practice pure Christianity as the Lord's church in the first century did? Surely, were the Lord's church, a spiritual body with a physical manifestation, to exist in your town, it would practice the unadorned, creedless Christianity that is recorded in Scripture. Personally, I would not be a part of any church that was not the "one body," the one true church of the Bible, for which Jesus is the Savior and over which he alone is the head; it would be and is pointless to be a member of any manmade, religious organization rather than to be a member of the Lord's church alone.
It is not arrogant to want no church membership except membership in the "one body." It is not arrogant to wear a God-given church name, for a church to organize and govern itself according to divine instruction, for a church to worship in God's own appointed manner, to embrace God's redemptive plan or to adopt any of the biblical, identifying characteristics of the Lord's church about which anyone can read in the New Testament.
The Lord's church, a spiritual body with a physical manifestation, often does exist in villages, towns and cities across the globe. Can you identify it? It is the church that wears a biblical name, is organized and governed after the New Testament pattern, worships God as God appointed, teaches and practices the divine plan of salvation, and attempts to exemplify all of the identifying characteristics of the first century church, about which one can read in Scripture. Yet, its members are not perfect, even as the members of the first century church in Corinth were not perfect, either before they became Christians or afterward. The apostle Paul noted that those Christians had been guilty of fornication, adultery, homosexuality, idolatry, stealing, drunkenness, extortion, etc. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11); however, they had been "washed," "sanctified" and "justified" when they became Christians. The Corinthian Christians were not sinless after they became Christians either, as the Epistle of 1 Corinthians was penned to correct sins within the church and among the brethren in first century Corinth.
The first century Lord's church in Corinth was not perfect, just forgiven! The Lord's church in your town is not perfect either, just forgiven. Remember, the first century church was the body of the saved, not the body of the sinless (Acts 2:47). Are you a member of the spiritual body of Christ that has a physical manifestation in your town? If not, why? "...the churches of Christ salute you" (Romans 16:16).