IDENTIFYING THE CHURCH OF CHRIST BY ITS ESTABLISHMENT

Introduction

            One of the ways by which the church that belongs to Christ can be identified as separate, unique, and distinct from the glaring misrepresentations and cheap imitations is through an understanding of how this particular church was established. A biblical historical antecedent of the church of Christ is a sure way of determining and establishing its identity from others of human origin. The church that belongs to Christ would have its source from Scripture.

            The apostle Paul makes an instructive statement about the establishment of the church in his letter to the church at Ephesus. As he was through more light on the nature and purpose of his stewardship, he indicated that “… And to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which he carried out in Christ Jesus or Lord” (Ephesians 3:9–11, NASB).

            To summarize, the apostle Paul is saying that (1) There was a mystery (manifold wisdom) hidden in God, (2) This mystery (manifold wisdom) was to be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, and (3) This was in accordance with the eternal purpose. In other words, as part of God’s purpose or plan which he purposed or planned before time began, the church was part of this plan. Therefore, a diligent perusal of the unfolding plan of God as recorded in the Bible should reveal traces of God’s plan regarding the establishment of the church and other critical benchmarks.

            For instance would we find indications as to where this church would begin? We would we get a sense of when this church would start? Would we be told about the peculiar nature this church would assume? All these questions appear to be relevant and needful particular because in the life of Jesus, who Paul told us earlier, would be the person this who God will carry out this plan, promised to build his church (Matthew 16:18). Clearly, what was in the mind of God did not remain there, in time, the church was actually established. To be sure, let’s check beginning from the Old Testament for prophetic communication regarding the establishment of the church and confirm the fulfilment of same in the New Testament.

The Church in Prophecy

            Several prophets and prophecies made allusions to various aspects of the establishment of the church. For instance, the prophet Isaiah made some comments about the church in some his prophetic utterances and content For the sake of space we shall review but a few. In Isaiah 2:2–3, the prophet wrote:

Now it will come about that in the last days, the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all the nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.” For the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (NASB).

From this prophecy, these facts about the church or “the house of the Lord” (1 Tim. 2:15) emerged: (1) When? – “in the last days.” (2) Scope – “all nations will stream to it.”(3) Purpose – “teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths, and (4) Where? – “from Jerusalem.”

In other words, according to Isaiah, the church of Christ shall be established “in the last days.” The “last days” as used in scripture usually refers to the Christian age or the Messianic period. Unlike God’s initial covenant which was only restricted to the nation Israel, the church shall be opened to “all nations.” The purpose of this church is to “teach concerning his ways” and implore people to walk in his path. Finally, Isaiah suggests that Jerusalem shall be the starting place of the church.

 The prophet Daniel also made some allusions to the establishment of the church. He hinted of the socio-economic and the geo-political context and milieu into which the church will be embedded. In Daniel 2:31ff, the prophet interpreted a dream king Nebuchadnezzar had about the political systems that would pertained and the one that would be in existence at the emergence of the church. In essence, the dream revealed that the church will be established during the reign of the Roman Empire. In Daniel 2:44, the prophet states explicit that “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not  be left for another; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (NASB)

Since the idea of a kingdom is synonymous with the church (Matt. 16:18–19; Col. 1:13), the prophet Daniel was foretelling the establishment of the church and the specific time in the political history of the world that it will occur.Consequently, from the prophetic writings, the following are some of the benchmarks with which the church of Christ can be identified: (1) When? – in the last days, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28), during the reign of the Romans. (2) Scope – all nations. (3) Purpose – teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths, and (4) Where? – from Jerusalem. Now, having established some parameters of the church in prophecy, lets proceed into the New Testament to confirm or otherwise whether what was prophesied became actualized.

The Church in Actuality

            In the New Testament, when the fullness of time had come, when all the political, social, economic and even spiritual conditions were at their optimum, Christ Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea at the when those territories were under Roman occupation (Gal. 4:4; Matt. 1:18–24 ). It is instructive to remember that God’s plans of establishing the church will be carried out through Christ Jesus (Eph. 3:11). Therefore, the birth, life and ministry of Christ were all to culminate in the establishment of the church.

            Consequently, in Matthew 16:18–20, Jesus made a statement of intent and indicated the strategy for the actualization of same. Jesus stated “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My build; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (NASB). Jesus indicated unequivocally that he will build his church and that the apostle Peter shall be instrumental in same. At this point it will useful to understand what Jesus meant by building his church. The word “church” is derived from the Greek equivalent ekklēsia. In its simplest form, ekklēsia means “called out.” Therefore, by “build my church,” Jesus meant that he was going to call people out, found a community and this community is what will be known as the church.

            The crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Christ qualified him as the foundation of the church (1 Cor. 3:11; Matt. 16:20–21; Eph. 2:20). These events paved the way for the full actualization of the prophesies concerning the establishment of the church. After his resurrection, Jesus met with the disciples and summarized everything that had happened to them. “Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:45–47, NASB). Notice again that the preaching of the message that will invite or usher people into the church is said to begin from Jerusalem.

            Before his departure to heaven after his resurrection, Jesus repeatedly instructed the apostles not to leave Jerusalem (Acts 1:4). He indicated that the promised Holy Spirit will descend upon them and they shall begin witnessing, testify and proclaiming his message of repentance and forgiveness as he had earlier intimated and recorded in Luke’s gospel. He indicated that this will begin from Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the world. This is clearly consistent with God’s agenda for the establishment of the church.

Pentecost as the Beginning

            What was in the mind of God before time began became actualized on Pentecost, a Jewish festival which brings together people from all walks of life to Jerusalem. This is the location the church was to start from. In Acts 2, Luke records for us the events that heralded the establishment of the church of Christ. It is interesting to observe the trajectory of the events and how they fit the prophecies about the church. Notice the following:

  1. “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 4) – When? “the last days.”
  2. “Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem”  (v. 5a) – Where? “beginning from Jerusalem.”
  3. “Devout men from every nation under heaven” (vs. 5b–12) – Scope “all nations of the world.”
  4. “But Peter, taking his stand with the eleven, raised his voice and declared to them” (vs. 14–30) – Agent “and you are Peter, upon this rock I will build my church”
  5.  “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls” (v. 41). Three thousand souls plus the twelve apostles formed the pioneering stock of the church that belongs to Christ. They form in the initial group of people God called out from all the nations of the world to belong to him through the preaching of the gospel.

Conclusion

            The church that belongs to Christ can be identified by how it was established. The church began in AD 33 in Jerusalem. This church is open to all people from every nation of the world and it exist to teach people concerning Christ. Any church that does not fit this criteria cannot be the church that belongs to Christ.