Updated: Sep 8, 2020
There is a theory advanced that the church had its beginning in the early morning of time, at which time God determined those who would be members of the church and those who would not. Growing out of that theory comes the popular doctrine known as “Calvinism”, or the false doctrine of election and reprobation. Yet another theory regarding the church’s establishment has its beginning in the days of Abraham.
Perhaps the most popular theory is that which theorizes that the church began during the lifetime and ministry of John the Baptist. If the church was existent during John’s lifetime it could not properly be called a New Testament church. The Hebrew writer plainly declares that a testament is not of force until after the death of the testator. (Hebrews 9:15-17) It is a contradiction of terms to talk about the church of the New Testament having been in existence prior to the effectiveness of the New Testament itself. Still another consideration which logically excludes the church from John the Baptist’s lifetime and ministry is the fact that Jesus is the supreme head of the church and that He was not exalted to the headship of the church until after His resurrection. (Ephesians 1:19-23) This was long after John’s death. If the church existed in John’s life-time, it was a church without a head. It also was a body without any blood, since Jesus shed His blood at Calvary (after John’s death) to purchase the church. There was no gospel until Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead, (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), hence a church that existed in John’s day would have been a church without a gospel to preach.
Someone may ask, “What difference does it make when the church had its beginning, just so I know I am a member of it?” How can you know you are a member, except you know what people did under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to become members of the “one body”?
We read about the New Testament church in prophecy. About 600 years B.C. Nebuchadnezzar dreamed a dream. He could not remember his dream and this troubled him greatly. Daniel, a young Jewish captive, recalled the king’s dream and gave its interpretation. The dream is recorded in Daniel 2:31-35 and the interpretation is in Daniel 2:36-45.
Before King Nebuchadnezzar stood a great image. “The image’s head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass. His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay.”
Daniel, in his interpretation tells the king, “Thou art this head of gold.” Daniel then explains that after Nebuchadnezzar would arise three other kingdoms. In Daniel 2:44 he said, “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” At the time of this prophecy, Nebuchadnezzar was king of Babylon. In 536 B.C. Babylon fell never to rise again.
Cyrus, a Persian, and Darius, a Mede, combined their forces against Babylon and sealed the doom of Babylon forever. The new empire was called the Medo-Persian, which represented the breast and arms of the image. This empire lasted until about the year 333 B.C.
Then at this time Alexander the Great began his conquest of the world. His empire is represented by the belly of brass. He reigned for only about seven years, and died a shameful, drunken death after which time his government was for a time divided into four parts. These soon blended into two, the South and the North, known in history as the Logidae and the Salvcidae.
Around 63 B.C. the Roman government made its rise over that part of the country. This was the fourth world empire represented in Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. It was “in the days of these kings” that the kingdom of God would be established.
In about 34 B.C. while the Caesars were reigning in Rome, Herod the Great was king over Palestine. The New Testament now begins its story.
In Matthew chapter one we read of the birth of Christ. In chapter two of Matthew we read about the decree that went forth from Herod the king, that all children under two years old in the city of Bethlehem were to be put to death. In the opening of the third chapter of Matthew we read, “In those days came John the Baptist.” In what days? In the days of the Herods, in the days of the Caesars, John the Baptist broke the silence of the wilderness by calling out, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The expression “at hand” implies that it is nearby or was approaching.
After John was put in prison, Jesus began to preach “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) The twelve said the kingdom of heaven was “at hand” and the seventy explained that this meant “nigh unto you.” (Luke 10:9) These declarations announce the coming of the kingdom, or of that church promised by Christ when He said, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18)
In Mark 9:1 Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, that there be some of them that stand here who shall not taste of death until they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” There were some who would not die until they had seen the kingdom, or church, “come with power.”
By reading the New Testament we can learn when the power came. In Luke 24:49, Christ said: “Tarry you in the city of Jerusalem until you be endued with power from on high.” Then again, in Acts 1:8 we read, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.”
Here is what we have learned: (1) The kingdom is to come with power. (2) The power is to come in the city of Jerusalem. (3) The power is to come with the spirit. Question: When did the Holy Spirit come? If we may determine that, we can logically know when the church began.
The Bible says that the Spirit came on Pentecost. “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4) If the kingdom or church was to come with the Spirit, and if the Spirit came on Pentecost, it follows then that the church began on Pentecost in about A.D. 33.
Peter then began to preach the first gospel sermon ever preached in the name of the risen Christ. (Acts 2:14-40) There were about three thousand who were baptized for the remission of their sins and the second chapter of Acts closes by saying: “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:47)
Let’s seek the wisdom of God concerning the church. May the Lord bless you and keep you!