The Establishment of the Church
James P. Needham
Understanding the facts surrounding establishment the church becomes very vital when we recognize them as distinctive marks of identity. Any church established under other circumstances than those found in the Bible cannot be the Lord's. Prevalent misconceptions as to WHEN the church was established are the days of: Adam, Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, and (probably the most prevalent) personal ministry of Christ. That all these are erroneous will become abundantly clear in the course of this study. It is certain that all of these varying dates cannot be right. One cannot be born at more than one locality. It would be foolish for me to say I was born in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles! There is no conceivable way this could be true.
Most people have fallen for the propaganda that the Catholic Church is the oldest church in the world. (The average person is very much uninformed in the field of church history). The Catholic Church is the oldest human denomination, but not the oldest church. The Catholic Church came to full bloom in 606 A. D. when Boniface III was crowned as the first pope, but the Lord's church had already been in existence for some 573 years when this occurred. This will be seen clearly later in this study.
In any study of the establishment of the church, we need to understand that the church and the kingdom are the same. The church was not known by that designation in the Old Testament. It was almost always designated as the kingdom. Hence, we need to understand when we study prophecies concerning the establishment of the kingdom that they are speaking of the church.
As we look at our New Testament it becomes clear that church and kingdom are used interchangeably. In Matt. 16: 18, (the first use of the word church in the Bible) we find Jesus promising to build his church, and in the same breath saying, "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom . . ." It is evident that Jesus was using the words interchangeably. Then further, we have the Lord locating his table in his kingdom. (Luke 22:30), but Paul wrote "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth . . ." (I Cor. 1:1) and corrected their abuses of the Lord's Table, or Supper (I Cor. 11:20-34). Hence, the Lord's Table was in the church at Corinth, but the Lord said it is in his kingdom. Therefore, the church and the kingdom are one and the same. Again we note: Jesus said that by a birth consisting of water and the Spirit enters one into the kingdom (John 3: 3-5). But Paul said that "By one Spirit are we all baptized (in water) into one body . . ." (I Cor. 12:13), which is the church (Col. 1: 18). The same birth puts us into both. If we are in the "church age" now (as the premillennialists claim) and the kingdom will not be established until Christ returns, then how can one act enter us into both? It is evident, therefore, that the church and the kingdom are the same institution.
PROPOSITION: THE LORD ESTABLISHED THE CHURCH ON THE DAY OF PENTECOST 33 A. D., IN THE CITY OF JERUSALEM AS RECORDED IN ACTS 2.
In support of this proposition I submit the following lines of proof:
This Date and Location:
A. Isaiah 2:2-4Read this passage and notes the following points which could have been fulfilled only ON or AFTER Acts 2:
1. "Latter (last) days" The passage speaks of something that was to transpire in the last days. Joel 2:28, 29, also spoke of something that was to occur in the "last days." But Peter quoted Joel 2:28, 29, in Acts 2: 15-21, and said "this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel." Hence, the last days began on Pentecost, 33 A. D.
Therefore, Isaiah's prophecy had to be fulfilled on or after this day.
2. "The Lord's house shall be established." But Paul says in I Tim. 3:15, that the Lord's house is the church. Therefore, Isaiah was prophesying of the establishment of the church.
3. "All nations shall flow unto it."This could not have had reference to the House of God in the Old Testament, for it was not for all nations. But Jesus said the church is for "all nations" and "every creature." (Matt. 28: 19, 20; Mark 16: 15, 16). There are also many other passages, which indicate that the church has no national boundaries. (See Acts 2:39; Acts 10:34, 35; Gal. 3:2629; Col. 3:10, 11). Hence, Isaiah referred to the church, the New Testament, universal institution.
4. "Out of Zion shall go forth the Law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." This could not be speaking of the Law of Moses, because it had already gone forth from Mt. Sinai. Jesus said, "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations (note similarity to Isa. 2: 2-4), BEGINNING AT JERUSALEM" (Luke 24:47). After Christ's resurrection the Apostles were told to wait at Jerusalem (Acts 1:4), which they did (2: 14), and it was there that "repentance and remission of sins" were first preached in the name of Christ (Acts 2:37,38). This was the law that went forth from Jerusalem. In later years, Peter referred back to this incident as "the beginning"
(Acts 11:15). Thus, Isaiah was speaking of Peter's sermon in Acts 2.
5. "Neither shall they learn war any more."This part of the prophecy speaks of the peaceful nature of those entering the "house of God." This is specifically said of members of the church (Rom. 12:19; 2 Cor. 10: 1-5)
The church is the only thing on earth that will fit this prophecy; Jerusalem in Palestine is the only place that will fit it; Pentecost 33 A. D. is the only time that will fit it; and Acts 2 is the only chapter in the Bible that will fit it.
B. Daniel 2:31-45 Read this passage and note the following considerations:
1. Four kingdoms: In the image of Nebuchadnezzar's dream Daniel sees four worlds empires: (a) Babylonian under Nebuchadnezzarthe head of gold (w. 37, 38), 626536 B. C. (b) Medo-Persian under Darius and Cyrus536-331 B. C. (c) Grecian or Macedonian under Alexander the Great 331-321 B.C. (d) Roman empire under the Caesars63 B. C. to 476 A. D.
2. "In the days of these kings (the Roman Caesars) shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom." Jesus lived in the days of the Roman Caesars (Luke 2: 1, 2) as did Peter when he spoke on Pentecost in Acts 2, hence the church was established "in the days of these kings."
3. "Which shell never be destroyed." This speaks of the permanence of the kingdom of God. Jesus said, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18), and the Hebrew writer says the "kingdom cannot be moved" (Heb. 12:28). This could not have reference to the Old Testament kingdom because it was destroyed, shaken, or moved, and the Hebrew writer contrasted what he was talking about with that fact.
4. "It shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms." This expression is identical in meaning with Isaiah's "all nations shall flow unto it." It simply means that men from every nation would be members of it, and there would be no national boundaries in it (Cf. Matt. 28:19, 20; Mark 16: 15, 16).
C. Daniel 7:13, 14 Read this passage and note the following points:
1. Daniel saw "one like unto the son of man" (Christ) come "with the clouds of heaven TO (not from) the Ancient of days (God) to receive": (a) Everlasting dominion and (b) an everlasting kingdom. He further said, "All people, nations and languages shall serve him."
2. All these points are found in the other two prophesies mentioned above with the exception of the peculiar expression about when the kingdom would be established. It would be when Christ came to God with the clouds of heaven. That could only be his ascension. This again pinpoints the beginning of the kingdom as being AFTER his ascension as recorded in Acts 1. This prophecy could not possibly be true had the kingdom been established previous to this time, as is claimed by many.
SUMMARY: The Old Testament prophets spoke of the coming kingdom, or the establishment of the church, giving us the following information:
TIME: "Latter days," sometime following the ascension of Christ, and in the days of the Roman Caesars (Isa. 2:2-4; Dan. 2:44; 7:13, 14).
PLACE: Jerusalem (Isa. 2:2-4).
DURATION: Everlasting (Dan. 2:44; 7:13, 14).
SCOPE: World wide (Isa. 2:2-4; Dan. 2: 44).
NATURE: Peaceful (Isa. 2:2-4)
FOUNDER: Son of man (Dan. 7:13, 14).
II. John the Baptist Saw the Kingdom as Future:
Matthew says, "In those days came John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, Repent ye: for the KINGDOM of heaven is AT HAND" (Matt. 3:1, 2). The argument is sometimes made that "at hand" means that the kingdom had already been established. It was "at hand" in the sense that it was accessible. The best way to learn the meaning of biblical expressions is to see how they are used in other passages. In 2 Tim. 4:6, Paul said "The time of my departure is at hand." If "at hand" means that something has already taken place, then Paul had already departed! That seems hardly possible! "At hand" means it is close by, about to happen.
III. The Kingdom Was Still Future at the End of Chriss Personal Ministry:
1. In the year 31 A. D., Jesus preached that the "kingdom is at hand," just as John had done. It was sometime during this same year that he taught his disciples to pray: "Thy kingdom come . . ." A strange thing if it were already there!
2. In the year 32 A. D., Jesus said, "Upon this rock I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18). Most any student of grammar will testify that "will build" is future tense, and cannot possibly mean that the church had already been built. It was also in this same year that Jesus sent out the seventy on the limited commission and told them to preach "The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you" (Luke 10:9, 10). It is also noteworthy that during this same year, Jesus promised that the kingdom would come in the lifetime of some then living: ". . . 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" (Mark 9:1). Then in Matthew 18:3, in this same year, Jesus told his disciples they had not yet entered the kingdom, for he said, "Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
3. Then as we move to the year 33 A. D. we note that Joseph of Arimathea "waited for the kingdom of God" (Mark 15:43), and Jesus promised his disciples as he instituted the Lord's supper that "I will not drink of this fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come" (Luke 22:18). During this same year Jesus said to a Scribe, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God" (Mark 12:34). It was also in this same year, and while Jesus was hanging on the cross, that one of the thieves crucified with him requested, "Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom" (Luke 23:42). Strange that Jesus didn't correct him by telling him his kingdom had already come! Then following his resurrection (still in 33 A. D.) the Apostles still were inquiring about the establishment of the kingdom (Acts 1:8). Hence, up until Christ ascended to the Father, the kingdom had not come. Just previous to his ascension, Jesus told the Apostles to go to Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father about which he had told them (Acts 1:4), having reference to the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49), which was to bring "power" to them (Acts 1:8). But notice that Jesus had said in Mark 9:1 that the kingdom would "come with power." The power was to come when the Spirit came (Acts 1: 8)-. The Spirit, which brought the power with which the kingdom was to come, came on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). Therefore, the kingdom or church was established on Pentecost in Acts 2. The conclusion is irresistible!
IV. All References to the Kingdom Following Pentecost Are Past Tense
In Acts 2:47, (on the day of Pentecost still in 33 A. D.) it was said, "and the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." As Matt. 16: 18, is the first mention of the word church, Acts 2:47 is the first time people were said to be added to it. Notice also that Luke writes in the past tense: "added."
Then, in the year 59 A. D., when defending his having gone to Gentiles, Peter referred to Pentecost as "the beginning" (Acts 11: 15). In the year 64 A. D., Paul said that God "hath translated (past tense) us into the kingdom of his dear Son" (Col. 1:13). It was also in this same year that the Hebrew writer said, "Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved . . ." (Heb. 12:28).
Now moving near the end of the era of inspiration, John said in 96 A. D., "I John, your brother and partaker . . . in the kingdom" (Rev. 1:9).
V. Consequences if the Church Were
Established Previous to Pentecost
1. It was established before the death of Christ. Therefore: (a) It was the New Testament church before there was a New Testament (Heb. 9:16, 17). (b) It was the body of Christ (Col. 1: 18) before the blood was shed (John 19:34), hence it was a body without blood. (c) It was under the Law of Moses, hence nobody in it was justified (Gal. 2:16; Heb. 10:1-4), nor was it the bride of Christ (Rom. 7:1-6). (d) Its members were without atonement for their sins because the blood of Christ had not been shed (Matt. 20:28; 26:28; Heb. 9:22). Hence nobody in it was saved. (e) It was established before it was purchased. It was not purchased until Christ shed his blood (Acts 20:28), but he shed his blood when he died (John 19:34). Thus if the church were established previous to his death, it was an unpurchased institution.
2. It was established before the resurrection of Christ. Therefore: (a) It was a building without a tried cornerstone (Isa. 28:16; Psa. 118:22, 23, Cf. Acts 4:10, 11). Christ was not a completely tried and proven cornerstone until his resurrection; hence if the church were established before his resurrection, it rested upon a foundation that was not tried and sure. (b) It was under the limited commission (Matt. 10:5). Under the limited commission, only Jews were to be preached to. But the kingdom was prophesied as being universal in scope (Isa. 2:2-4). Hence, if the church were established before the resurrection, it was not under the Great Commission, and therefore it contradicted Isaiah's prophecy (Isa. 2:2-4). (c) It could not preach the fullness of the gospel. The gospel consists of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (I Cor. 15:1-4). But these were not facts until after they occurred, therefore could not be preached as such. (d) It could not preach that Jesus is the Christ. According to Luke 9: 18-22, Jesus asked the disciples who He was. Peter answered, "The Christ of God." The Lord then "straightly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man that thing; saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day." Hence, if the church were established previous to the resurrection of Christ, it could not preach that Jesus is the Christ.
3. It was established before the ascension of Christ. Therefore: (a) It had no priest. Christ could not be a priest on earth, being from the wrong tribe according to the Law of Moses (Heb. 7:14; Cf. 8:4). Hence, if the church were established before his ascension, it had no priest, therefore no sacrifice, hence no remission of sins (Heb. 9:22). (b) It had no Apostles in it. According to Eph. 4:8-11, Apostles were not made in fact until Christ ascended. (c) It had no Holy Spirit in it. In John 7:39, we learn that the Spirit was not given until Jesus was glorified. He was not glorified until he ascended. Hence, if the church were established before the ascension, it was a Spiritless body. This is further confirmed by the fact that Jesus said, ". . . if I go not away, the Spirit will not come" (John 16: 7). (d) It was a body without a head. In Eph. 1: 19-22, Paul shows that God did not give Christ to be head of the church until he "set him at His Own right hand," speaking of the ascension. Hence, if the church were established before the ascension of Christ, it was a body without a head.
(e) It was a kingdom without a king. Peter argues that Christ did not take the throne until he ascended (Acts 2: 30-33). Hence, if the church were set up before the ascension, it was a kingdom without a king. (f) It would have been in contradiction to Dan. 7:13, 14. This prophecy says Christ received his kingdom when he went "To the Ancient of days," speaking of his ascension. If he received the kingdom before the ascension, he did so in contradiction to the prophet Daniel. (g) It could not pray in the name of Christ. In the 16th chapter of John, Jesus told the Apostles that he was going to his Father (v. 16). In v. 24 he said, "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name . . ." Then in v. 26, he says, "At that day ye shall ask in my name . . ." "At that day" refers to his ascension. Therefore, if the church were established before the ascension, it could not pray in the name of Christ.
Pentecost 33 A. D., therefore, is the only scriptural time, and Jerusalem the only scriptural place the church could have been established. This is one of the most important days in all of the history of the world, and yet so many are uninformed as to its great significance. People generally think of the origin of the church as a very trivial and unimportant matter, but dear reader, it is most important that you know when, where and by whom the church you are a member of was founded. If it were founded by Luther, in the 16th century in Germany, or by Joseph Smith in the 18th century in the United States, it is very evident that you are a member of an unscriptural institution. Why not investigate the origin of the church of which you are a member, and if you find it was not established by Christ on the day of Pentecost, 33 A. D., then forsake it and become a member of the one you can read about in your Bible.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XI: 1, pp. 6-10