Church History: A Biblical View
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Part I - The Apostolic Age: Lesson No. 3 - The Origin of the Church
In order for a study of later church history to be of real profit a student must be familiar with the story of the church as it is presented in the Scriptures. Only as men learn where the church was originally moored can they see how far it has drifted on the sea of apostasy. Doctrinal digressions can only be seen as such against the background of the Scriptural record of the early church. Hence, this lesson will focus on the church in Jerusalem during its early years. Since the church in this city enjoyed the presence and direct supervision of the Lord's apostles for a number of years, it may certainly be expected that it was what the Lord would have wanted it to be. This is not to say, of course, that it had no problems, for it did, but when problems occurred they were immediately addressed and corrected.
II. Beginning Marks
A. Name. The English term "church" is supposed to be a derivative of the Greek term kuriakos, meaning "of or belonging to the Lord." It is used to translate the Greek term ekklesia, which occurs 115 times in the New Testament, with all but four occurrences (Acts 7:38; 19:32,39,41) referring to God's people of the new covenant. Ekklesia is a compound formed from the Greek preposition ek (meaning "out of'" and the Greek noun klesis (meaning "a calling"). Hence, the "church" is literally "that which is called out of the realm of sin and darkness into the light and kingdom of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:13; II Thess. 2:14). It is noteworthy that Jesus used the term "church" only three times in two different passages, but His usage of the term illustrates the two basic senses in which it is used in the New Testament. When He said, "I will build My church" (Matt. 16:18), He used the term in the universal sense, including all of His disciples throughout the world. When He said that differences between brethren should ultimately be taken to the church (Matt. 18:15-17), He used the term in the local sense, referring to a body of His disciples within a particular geographical area who band together for purposes of work and worship. Sometimes modifying phrases (I Cor. 1:2; Rom. 16:16), or different terms (I Cor. 3:16; Eph. 1:22,23; Col. 1:13), are used in reference to the church to emphasize different aspects of it.
B. Founder. Jesus Christ is the designer and builder of the church, for He said "I will build My church" (Matt. 16:18). For this reason it bears His name (Rom. 16:16). No church which was founded by men or bears the name of a man (as well as humanly devised names) can have been the church founded by Christ.
C. Foundation. The foundation of the church is Jesus Christ in His divine nature as the Son of God (Matt. 16:16; I Cor. 3:11). There is no stronger or surer foundation on which the church may be built, and any church which is established upon a different principle does not have that distinctive, essential feature which marks it as a true church of Christ.
D. Place. The city of Jerusalem is obviously the place where the church of Christ began. Old Testament prophecies pointed to Jerusalem as the place where God would establish His house, the church (Isa. 2:2,3). Jesus specified Jerusalem as the "beginning" place for the preaching of repentance (Lk. 24:47), and He told His apostles to remain there until the coming of the Holy Spirit (Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:4,5). It was in Jerusalem that the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, the gospel was preached, and men were baptized and added to the church (Acts 2). As a matter of fact, for the first seven chapters of Acts the church is never mentioned as existing anywhere but in Jerusalem and its environs (Acts 2:47; 5:11).
E. Time. It is also quite evident that the church began on the first Pentecost following Jesus' ascension. Prior to Pentecost the church is spoken of as being in the future (Matt. 16:18), and after Pentecost it is spoken of as being then in existence (Acts 2:47; 5:11; 8:1). This agrees with the fact that the gospel, which saves men and obedience to which grants church membership, was first preached in its fullness on the day of Pentecost. Is it any wonder, then, that Peter later refers to the events of Pentecost as "the beginning" (Acts 11 :15)?
III. History of the Jerusalem Church
There is more information of a historical nature given concerning the church in Jerusalem than any other in the New Testament. Therefore, it is evident that the Lord intended to set forth this church as an example to other local churches throughout the ages. It was altogether fitting that the church should first be established in Jerusalem since it was the capital and leading city of the nation which gave the world its Savior and was the scene of the Lord's death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. As noted above, the church in Jerusalem had its beginning on the first Pentecost following Jesus' ascension. On that day the Holy Spirit fell upon the apostles, enabling them to preach the gospel, and 3000 were baptized into the church. It is important to remember that for about the first ten years of its existence the church was comprised entirely of Jewish Christians or Gentiles who had been proselyted into Judaism previously. Later, Samaritans were added (Acts 8), but all of these groups adhered to the Mosaic Law. It is obvious that Jewish Christians were slow in realizing that they were no longer obligated to obey the precepts of the Mosaic Law. Thirty years after the establishment of the church Jewish Christians were still very much zealous for the Law of Moses (Acts 21:20ff). This attitude created a great problem when the question of Gentile membership in the church later arose. The strengths of the Jerusalem church were (1) brotherly love and unity (Acts 2:43-46; 4:32-37 (2) immediate settlement of internal problems (Acts 5,6,15), (3) involvement of all of the members in the deliberations and resolutions of the problems that arose (Acts 6:1-6; 15:22), (4) courage and devotion which led them to continue teaching even in the face of persecution, and (5) an excellent program of teaching which edified the disciples and gave the church such great teachers as Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, and Silas. The weaknesses of the Jerusalem church were (1) poverty (Acts 2,4,11), (2) lying of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), (3) neglect of widows (Acts 6), (4) persecution (Acts 4,5,7,8), and (5) false teaching (Acts 15).
The information provided concerning the Jerusalem church in the New Testament spans a period of twenty to thirty years. The church was established in 30 A.D., Gentiles entered the church in 40 A.D., the council on circumcision in Jerusalem was held in 50 A.D., and Paul was assaulted and imprisoned in Jerusalem in 58 A.D.
IV. Exercises (Please click on "File" on your browser window, then "Print" to print out this page.)
(1) (T or F) In its early years the Jerusalem church was made up entirely of Jewish Christians.
(2) (T or F) Jewish Christians continued to adhere to the Mosaic Law.
(3) The Greek tern for "church" is ______________ and means "_______ ________ ___ ________ ___ __ ."
(4) The church was founded by _______ _______ in the city of _____________ on the day of _____________ about 30 A.D.
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