17 December, 2007

How Did The Church Develop After The Death Of Christ?

Dear Sir:
I would like to know more about the formation of the new testament church after the death of Jesus Christ? and what are the differences between the new testament church and today's churches?

Dear Patrick:
The Lord's church was formulated in the mind of God in the distant past (Eph. 3:10-11). When Christ came to our planet, one of his purposes was to build his church (Matt. 16:18).  In his death on the cross he purchased the church with his shed blood (Acts 20:28).  His apostles were chosen to be a part of the foundation on which the church would rest with Christ as the chief corner-stone (Eph. 2:20-22). It is a mistake to assume that the Apostle Peter was the foundation of the church as our Roman Catholic neighbors say.

Ten days after Christ ascended back to heaven, the Holy Spirit came upon the twelve Apostles, empowering them for their mission (Acts 1:8). He brought to their remembrance all that Christ had taught (John 14:26) and guided them into all the truth (John 16:13). It being the day of the  Jewish celebration of Pentecost, pilgrims from many nations were gathered in Jerusalem. The twelve apostles preached to the multitudes. The Holy Spirit enabled them to speak God's message in the native tongues of the different nationalities present (Acts 2:6,11). Peter's sermon is recorded for us (Acts 2:14-40). His message was that Jesus of Nazareth, the man whom they had rejected and crucified was in fact God's Son. God had raised him from the dead and he was now in heaven, reigning at God's right hand.  Multitudes of the people were cut to the heart when they heard this and thus pleaded, "What shall we do?"  Peter instructed them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of their sins and they would then receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Three thousand responded and the Lord added them to the church (Acts 2:47).  Thus we see that the church had its official beginning on the Pentecost following the resurrection and ascension of Christ.

With the inspired apostles leading the way, the disciples rapidly multiplied (Acts 6:7). In giving the apostles their commission, Jesus had told them to begin in Jerusalem, then expand to Judea, Samaria and then to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). Luke, the author of the Book of Acts of the Apostles traces the expansion of the church from Jerusalem to Rome.  In the beginning the church was composed of Jewish converts. Philip the evangelist took the gospel to the Samaritans (Acts 8:5-17).  Peter brought the first Gentile converts into the church (Acts 10 & 11).  All of these were saved and admitted to membership just as the Jews were, by faith and baptism (Mark 16:16).   With the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who became famous as the Apostle Paul, the Christian message broke out of the confines of Judea and quickly spread into the surrounding Gentile nations.  In Antioch of Syria, the old racial distinctions between Jew and Gentile were laid aside and God bestowed upon his people the name "Christian" (Acts 11:26). This is the name by which we glorify God (I Pet. 4:16). Their congregations were identified as "churches of Christ" (Rom. 16:16). 

The faith, worship, organization and activities of the church are revealed in the Book of Acts and the Epistles of Paul and the other writers.  The faith was built around the profound truth that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16).  Christ ordered that we teach converts to obey all things whatsoever he commanded (Matt. 28:20).  The details of the Christian message and system are recorded in the New Testament of Christ. The worship was simple, consisting of assemblies on the first day of the week (the day of his resurrection) (Acts 20:7).  A symbolic  meal, memorializing the death of Christ (Matt. 26:26-29), was observed.  Worshipers presented their gifts to God in appreciation for his blessings (I Cor. 16:1-2). Prayers were offered up to God in Jesus name (John 14:14; I Tim. 2:5).  Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs were sung as the worshipers made melody in their hearts (Eph. 5:19).  A message of spiritual instruction was presented by a wise and faithful brother (Acts 20:7).

Each church had elders and deacons.  The first to lead and shepherd the flock and the latter to serve the congregation (Acts 14:23, Phil. 1:1). Each church always had a plurality of elders (Tit. 1:5). Elders were also described as pastors (Eph. 4:11), shepherds and bishops, meaning overseers (Acts 20:17-29). Christ was the only head of the church (Eph. 1:22). No mortal man filled that august position.

The mission of the church was simple. It was to preach the gospel of salvation to all creation (Mark 16:15-16), to help each convert to grow up spiritually to be like Christ (Eph. 4:11-15) and to care for those in need (Gal. 6:10; Jas. 1:27).

The various books of the New Testament were written by the Apostles and other men chosen by God for the task. The first of these was written perhaps as early as 44 A. D.  The Book of Revelation was the last and it was written c.a 96 A. D. With it, the 27 books of the New Testament were completed. It was from henceforth be the standard and guide in all matters pertaining to the faith, worship and work of the church.  God warned that no one should attempt to add to or take away from its content and  message (Rev. 22:18-19).  Those who did not abide within that teaching of Christ were without God and were to be rejected (II John 9-11).

Before his death, the Apostle Paul warned that the time was coming when many would fall away from the faith (I Tim. 4:1-4; II Thess. 2:1-5).  Even in his life time he saw the mystery of iniquity already at work (II Thess. 2:7). In the second century some teachers among the Christians began to change various aspects of the faith, worship and practices of the church set forth in the Scripture.  By the fourth century apostasy was evident on every hand.  By the fifth century the mainstream of the church was thoroughly corrupted as what we now know as Roman Catholicism emerged to dominate the churches.  But there was a faithful remnant who refused to compromise their faith. They were persecuted and forced to meet in small groups in homes, and other quite obscure places.  The corrupt church sought to keep the Scripture from the lay people so they could teach and do as they wished and the common folk would have no grounds on which to object.  The Protestant Reformation freed the Bible from their hands and made it available to the common people.   Those who wished to serve Christ just as the first generation of Christian did were then able to determine what God expected of them and base their conduct on it.  Churches of Christ, with which I am associated, are in this category.  I hope this appeals to you.  If you would like more information, please let me hear. 


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