By Garreth L. Clair
The objective in this lesson will be to establish as a fact the existence of the church on earth in this latter part of the 20th Century. Since nearly two thousand years have passed since Christ established the church on Pentecost day (Acts 2), it seems only reasonable that some might question the fact of its existence today. Since there have been many changes in all aspects of man’s life, we need to be assured that the church Jesus built is still here on earth and that man may be a part of it. To that we address the following:
1. If the church Christ established has perished from the earth, if it no longer exists, no religious institution has a biblical right to exist.
2. If the church of Christ is extinct from the earth today, all religious institutions in existence today are purely of human origin and everyone who belongs to one of them belongs to the wrong church.
3. But if the church Jesus built does exist on the earth today, everyone ought to find it and do whatever is necessary to become a part (i.e., member) of it.
4. There can be no question about the existence of the church of Christ in the early days of the Apostles (Acts 2:47; 8:4; etc.).
5. There are two extreme views that must be examined when the present subject is considered, they are:
a. “All religious institutions now in existence are the church” (i.e., all denominations are branches in the true vine).
(1) This view is first of all a misapplication of the Scripture in John 15:1-8. In the context of the passage in John the Lord is discussing the relationship between himself and his disciples on an individual basis. To make Christ’s statement here apply to denominations as the branches is a total misapplication of his words.
(2) Such a view of the Lord’s church would cause man to look upon the church as a freak, for Christ would be the head over many bodies (Eph. 1:22; 5:23).
(3) This concept of the church would also dispute Christ’s prayer for unity of all believers (Jn. 17:20-23).
b. “The church you read about in Acts 2 does not exist today in visible form.” Some contend today that there is no unit of organization except “the body universal concept,” that the local assembly of saints is without authority. To these objections we offer the following:
(1) The church is instructed to assemble together (Heb. 10:25). This assembling necessitates a place, the place is therefore the meeting-house of the local church in that place.
(2) The Jerusalem church was a visible church; it was visible enough to be scattered abroad (Acts 8:3,4).
(3) Christians are also instructed to comfort one another and edify one another together under the oversight of qualified elders (1 Thess. 5:11-15).
(4) Friends, the church is just as visible as people for the simple reason that the church is made up of converted people (Acts 2:37-41).
Perhaps one of the most discussed facets of the present day existence of the church established on Pentecost (Acts 2) is, “Can a continuous line be drawn through history back to the establishment of that institution according to Acts 2 of nearly twenty centuries ago?” Please observe the following facts in this connection:
1. Is it really possible for any religious group today to trace its history in an unbroken chain back to the apostles?
a. The Roman Catholic church claims they can trace their history back to the apostle Peter as their first pope. Let us examine their claim in the light of history and the teaching of the Bible:
(1) From a sermon outline prepared by the author in First Century Preaching By Twentieth Century Preachers (Guardian of Truth Bookstore, pp. 53,54) we present the following facts regarding Peter:
(A) Peter was a married man (Mk. 1:30; 1 Cor. 9:5).
(B) Peter refused man’s homage (Acts 10:25,26).
(C) Peter taught others to wear Christ’s name, Christian (Acts 4:12; 1 Pet. 4:16).
(D) Peter did not claim to be infallible (Gal. 2:11).
(E) Peter taught that Christ was head of the church, not himself (Acts 2:29-36).
(F) Peter never wore such names as Holy Father, Pope, etc.; he knew God condemns such (Matt. 23:9).
From these facts it ought to be apparent that Peter was not a pope.
(2) There is no historical evidence of the existence of the Roman Catholic Church until 606 A.D.
b. Some Baptist theologians also attempt to trace the chain of their denomination back to the apostles; among the most prominent are Ben M. Bogard (Baptist Church History Chain Examined by George B. Curtis, Firm Foundation Publishing House 1938, pp. 18,19), and J.M. Carroll in The Trail of Blood published Ry Ross L. Range, 1974. The fact is these men and other Baptists cannot trace their denomination any further back in history than John Smyth, who in 1607 formed the first English Baptist Church (see Handbook of Denominations in the United States, fourth edition by Frank S. Mead, p. 33). In the second place some Baptists claim that John the Baptizer was a Baptist. To suggest that John was in the Baptist Church places the establishment of the Lord’s church in Acts 2 after the establishment of the Baptist Church which would make the Baptist Church a church without Christ as its founder. Surely we can see that the Baptist, as well as the Catholic, church cannot really trace their line unbroken back to the apostles of Christ. Through the years many have attempted to trace their line back to the apostles without success.
c. Is it really necessary to trace the history back in an unbroken line to the apostles to establish that a church today is the Lord’s Church? I think not, for the following reason:
(1) Luke 8:4-16 discusses the parable of the sower. The point of emphasis in the parable is the nature of good seed (i.e., sowing the truth of the gospel in the hearts of mankind) to produce believers in Christ.
Let us notice some facts here about the seed in the parable before we proceed, observe:
(A) The power and characteristics of seed.
1. Seed brings forth after its kind (Gen. 1:11).
2. We may know the seed by its fruit (Matt. 7:20).
3. “Seed” is that which perpetuates all institutions.
(B) What is the seed in the parable of Lk. 8:11? Let us inquire here into this subject in some detail.
1. Do we have the seed in the parable today?
2. Is the seed alive today (cf. Heb. 4:12; 1 Pet. 1:23-25)?
3. What is the soil?
4. Who are the sowers today?
5. Just as the perpetuity of the oak is in the acorn in the physical realm, in the spiritual realm the perpetuity of the church is in the seed (i.e., “The Word of God”).
In the conclusion of this lesson may we suggest that the church revealed in the Bible (i.e., the church of Christ) does exist today and may be found in its local sense in communities all over this great nation and in many foreign countries.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 10, pp. 297-298
May 19, 1988