The Establishment of the New Testament Church
There are several theories current regarding the establishment of the Lord's church. Some still hold that the church was established during the ministry of John the Baptist; others hold that Christ established the church during His personal ministry upon this earth. When was the Lord's church established?
Many of today's believers know almost as little about the church as do the denominationalists. Some think that the Church of Christ was established by Americans associated with Thomas and Alexander Campbell. Many of the liberals are plainly willing to state their conviction that the Church of Christ is just another denomination. Perhaps the church of which they are a member is just another denomination; I do not know. However, the church of which I am a member does not trace its origin to the Campbell's. Its ancestry goes back much further than that; it is directly attached to the plan of God Almighty.
The Church In Prophecy
Paul wrote that the establishment of the church was linked to God's eternal purpose in Christ Jesus (Eph. 3:10-11). This forever destroys the idea that the church was established through the will of man or as an afterthought of God because the Jews rejected Jesus. Being a part of God's divine plan, we should be able to find some references to it in the Old Testament. Searching the pages of the Book, we are not disappointed.
1. The exaltation of the mountain of the Lord's house (Isa. 2:1-4). The prophet Isaiah foretold the exaltation of the Lord's house in a day when Judah was to be destroyed and the Temple decimated. He foretold the coming of the "last days" when things would be different. He wrote:
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountains of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
There are several important statements foretold about the Lord's kingdom in these verses. (1) These verses pertain to what shall come to pass in the "last days," the days identified in the New Testament as those in which God speaks to men through His Son (Heb. 1:1-2), the days following Pentecost (Acts 2:17). (b) The mountain of the Lord's house would be exalted. Whereas the Temple and Israel were soon to be destroyed, Isaiah foretold the exaltation of the mountain of the Lord's house (this terminology is used to speak of the church). (c) All nations of people would flow into the Lord's house. Whereas the Mosaical law prohibited non-Israelites from entering the Temple, Isaiah plainly foretold all nations of the earth flowing to the house of the Lord. (d) The word of the Lord would come forth out of Zion. (e) This new kingdom would be peaceful in nature, unlike a nation preparing for war.
2. The kingdom to be established during the days of the Roman kings (Dan. 2:1-46). Space will not allow me to reproduce this entire chapter. hence, I must summarize it. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream which Daniel interpreted for him. He saw an image composed of these parts: (a) a head of gold; (b) his breast and arms were silver; (c) his belly and his thighs of brass; (d) his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. As he viewed this image, a stone image which was cut without hands smote the image upon his feet and brake them in pieces. Then, the stone that smote the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.
Daniel explained that the four parts of the image represented four consecutive kingdoms beginning with Babylon. They were identified as follows: (a) Head of gold: Babylon; (b) Breast and arms of silver: MedoPersian Empire; (c) Belly and things of brass: Grecian or Macedonian Empire; and (d) Legs of iron and feet mixed of iron and clay: Roman Empire. As Daniel came down to the fourth kingdom, he staged that the stone cut without hands was God's kingdom, 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 (2:44).
Hence, Daniel foretold that the kingdom would be established in the days of the Romans kings, that it would consume all nations (compare Isaiah's "all nations shall flow into it"), and that it would never be destroyed.
3. The kingdom to be established following the ascension (Dan. 7.13-14). During the reign of Belshazzar, Daniel saw another vision pertaining to the same succession of earthly kingdoms. During the Roman Empire, he foresaw that the following would occur:
I saw in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
Daniel foresaw one "like the son of man" (Jesus) ascending to (not descending from) the Ancient of days (God). When He ascended to God, a kingdom was given to Him. This kingdom would consist of men of every nation, the dominion would last forever, and the kingdom could never be destroyed.
In summary, the Old Testament tells us these facts about the establishment of the Lord's kingdom:
Time: Last days; during the Roman kings.
Place: Jerusalem Duration.
Everlasting. Scope: All the world; every nation.
Nature: Peaceful. Founder: Son of Man.
The Time Is Fulfilled
When John the Baptist appeared in Judea, he preached, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:1-2). This simple announcement indicated that the time was near when the prophecies of the Old Testament would be fulfilled. The time of the Roman kings had arrived; at that very moment, Tiberius Caesar occupied the throne in Rome (Lk. 3:1). Yet, when John the Baptist was beheaded, the kingdom had not yet been established; Matt. 14:10 records the death of John the Baptist and Matt. 16:18-19 contains words showing that the kingdom had not yet come.
Jesus began His ministry preaching exactly the same thing that John preached; He said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mk. 1:17). He sent the Apostles on the Limited Commission to announce to Israel that the kingdom of heaven was at hand (Matt. 10:7). In Mark 9:1, He stated, "Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." This verse shows conclusively that the Lord's kingdom, also known as His church (Matt. 16:18) was to be established during the lifetime of those whom Jesus addressed.
Yet, the Son of Man had not yet ascended unto the Ancient of Days, so the kingdom or church was not yet established. Acts 1:9-11 records the ascension of Jesus into heaven. Just ten days later, the kingdom or church was established. The first gospel sermon announced that Jesus was now seated on David's throne ruling over His kingdom (Acts 2:30-31). Hence, the church was established on the first Pentecost following the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Lord's kingdom or church was established on the day of Pentecost. In keeping with the promises of God, it has never been destroyed; it shall survive just as long as the indestructible word shall survive inasmuch as the word is the seed of the kingdom (Matt. 13:19). We are part of the Lord's kingdom today when we receive the word into a good and honest heart, understand it, obey it, and hold it fast.
That being so, let it be understood that the kingdom of which I am a part was not established by Alexander Campbell. All that Campbell did, or any other gospel preacher, was to plant the seed of the kingdom. One might as well think that when Farmer Jones plants corn that what comes up is Jonesites as to think that those who obeyed the gospel under the teaching of Alexander Campbell were Campbellites. The work which Alexander Campbell did in West Virginia is no different from what I am doing in Ohio; he was simply preaching the gospel. If a group of us begin a new church in this area and that church follows the New Testament pattern, it will not be a Willisite church; it will. simply be a Church of God. Anybody who can see through a ladder can see that.
I wish that those who state that those in the churches of Christ are Campbellites would take the time to tell us what we would have to do to become a part of God's eternal kingdom, the one established on the day of Pentecost. If I know anything about my heart, I know that I want to be a part of the kingdom of heaven. If what I have done in obedience to the gospel has not put me into the kingdom of heaven, I wish that they would tell me what I would have to do to become a part of that kingdom. I have no desire to be a part of any human denomination, whether it be established by Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Calvin, John Smythe, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, or Alexander Campbell. I want to be a part of God's everlasting kingdom. If what I have done has not made me a part of God's kingdom, please tell me what I would have to do to become a part of it! If what I am a part of is the Lord's Kingdom, let us not speak of it as if it were a denomination.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 17, pp. 275-277