By Donald P. Ames
In Acts 20:28 we find, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” This passage, part of Paul’s admonition to the Ephesian elders, is an important passage in dealing with the scope of elders and of the importance of the church to Christ. However this passage has also become the focal point for some Baptist reasoning as well. In quoting this passage, they argue that the church must have already been in existence (usually begun at the transfiguration in their argumentation) for Christ to purchase it. The argument goes like this, “If you go into a store to purchase a coat, it follows the coat must have already existed-else how could you have purchased it?”
Now there are several glaring errors in this reasoning but, first of all, let us note when the church was established. Since the church was promised to be set up by Christ (Matt. 16:18), we know it did not exist before He came into this world! And since the Lord was adding to it in Acts 2:47, we know it existed after Pentecost! Jesus promised his disciples the kingdom (church) would be set up during their life time and that it was to come with power (Mark 9:1). This power was to be revealed when the Holy Spirit was revealed (Acts 1:8). Thus, in Acts 2:1-4, when they received the Holy Spirit, they received power and they received the kingdom. And since Christ was made head of the church when He was raised from the dead, at which time He also abolished the Law of Moses, the church became subject to His authority. This same truth is also revealed in Isa. 2:1-4, Dan. 2:44-45 and Heb. 12:22f.
If the church was set up on Pentecost (as the Scriptures do teach), then how do we answer the Baptist argument on Acts 20:28? First of all, they err in their understanding of what the church is. It is true that something that is purchased exists, but that does not explain what. The church is composed of those “called out” by God. The church is not an organization (though it has organization on the local level), nor is it a building (though it may meet in a building). The church is the people-those called out by God (1 Pet. 2:5-9). The material for that church did exist, and those purchased (redeemed) by the blood of Christ became His church (1 Pet. 1:18-19; Rev. 1:5; Col. 1:13-14).
Secondly, since they contend the church must have previously existed, they are confronted with other problems: (1) If the church can only exist to be purchased historically, then it follows no one can be part of that church this side of the purchase. If those of us today can be part of that church, then it does not require that the church as such had to already exist. (2) If it already existed, then it existed without a head, as Christ did not become such until He was raised from the dead (Eph. 1:19-23). (3) It existed without the authority of Christ as its law (Heb. 9:16-17), else Christ did what He opposed in Matt. 5:17-19 and they were living in spiritual adultery per Rom. 7:1-4. (4) It existed without a foundation (Psa. 118:22-23; 1 Cor. 3:11). (5) It provided no remission of sins (1 Cor. 15:1-4, 12-17; Heb. 10:3-4), which could not be preached yet anyway (Luke 24:46-47). And, (6) “the beginning” (Acts 11:15) could not have been when the apostles received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4); therefore, Peter erred in his statement affirming such was the case.
Baptists find no comfort in this passage nor in their false claim that the church was begun at the transfiguration. This being so, there is no justification for the claim we can be saved like the thief on the cross-nor for sabbath keeping, instrumental music, etc. When Christ died His law went into effect (Heb. 9:15-17) and began to be proclaimed on Pentecost when His church was established in direct fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and His own statements, as He directed His disciples (Luke 24:46-47; Matt. 28:19-20).
Truth Magazine XXI: 36, pp. 573-574
September 15, 1977