The Church: Growth And Apostasy

By Aude McKee


I. Review of the origin of the Lord’s church.

A. Through the “seed” all nations were to be blessed. The church is that which the “seed” accomplished (Gen. 3:15; 22:18; Acts 2:47).

B. The kingdom was prophesied – Jesus’ reign began on Pentecost.

C. The church is composed of called out people. This calling is done by the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14) and man responds to the gospel by obeying it (Rom. 6:17-18). The gospel was first preached and people first obeyed on Pentecost Day, in Jerusalem, as recorded in Acts 2.

D. The church was purchased by the blood of Christ. That blood was shed on the cross, after Jesus died, and the obedience necessary to contact that blood first made known on Pentecost day (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 1:18-19; John 19:31-37; Acts 2:37-38).

II. In this lesson we notice the growth of that divine body and then the apostasy that came in later years.


I. The book of Acts beginning at chapter 2 is a history of the church – divine church history.

A. From a small beginning it grew to be a mighty force in the world (Matt. 13:31-32).

1. 3000 added the first day (Acts 2:41).

2. Soon the number of men was about 5000.

3. Multitudes both of men and women were added to the Lord (Acts 5:14).

4. In those days the number of disciples was multiplied (Acts 6:1).

5. Within 30 years Paul could say that the gospel had come to all the world and that every creature under heaven had been preached to (Col. 1:5-6, 23).

B. The book of Acts is a record of the work of Peter, Philip, Stephen, Paul, Silas, Barnabas and others. But the rapid growth of the church could not have been accomplished by the work of these men alone. All the members of the church were proclaimers of the Word – the seed of the kingdom (Acts 8:4). They planted and watered; God gave the increase (1 Cor. 3:6).

C. The book of Acts records the beginning of the church in many different cities: Jerusalem, Acts 2; Samaria, 8:5-12; Caesarea, 10; Antioch, 11:19-21; Paphos and Antioch of Pisidia, 13:6-49; Iconium and Lystra, 14:1-23; Philippi, 16:12-40; Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, 17:1-34; Corinth, 18:1-11.

II. The seed that produces the church is that which determines every characteristic of it.

A. The seed (Word of God, the gospel) saves (makes people members of the called-out).

1. 2 Thess. 2:14; Rom. 1:16; Jas. 1:21; 1 Pet. 1:23.

2. That Word has to be respected deeply enough to render obedience (1 Pet. 1:22; Rom. 6:17-18).

B. Continued respect and obedience must characterize the church.

1. Jude 3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Gal. 1:8-9; 2 John 9.

2. The church is the one body; that one body is ruled by one head (Eph. 4:4; Col. 1:18; Matt. 28:18; Eph. 5:23-24).

C. Respect for divine authority will produce many distinctive and identifying features of thee Lord’s church. Among them:

1. Doctrine or teaching, name, worship, work, organization, purity of life.

2. A lack of respect for divine authority will produce corruptions in doctrine, name, worship, work, organization, and purity of life.

III. The departures from God’s order and way should have come as no surprise. Christians had been warned!

A. Paul’s inspired predictions:

1. Acts 20:28-32.

2. 1 Tim. 4:1-5.

3. 2 Tim. 4:1-4.

4. 2 Thess. 2:1-12.

B. They could have looked about them for evidence that man is prone to depart.

1. In history:

a. Adam and Eve were not satisfied with God’s perfect order of things.

b. Adam’s descendants departed so far that God found the flood necessary.

c. The history of the Jewish people is a history of their departures from God’s law.

2. Early in the church’s history there were departures from the divine order.

a. False teaching concerning circumcision and keeping the law (Acts 15; book of Galatians; Col. 2; Heb. 7,8,9).

b. Bad conditions existed in the Corinthian church.

(1) Sectarianism – too high regard for men (1 Cor. 1-3).

(2) Fornication (1 Cor. 5).

(3) Going to law with brethren (1 Cor. 6).

(4) Corruption of the Lord’s supper (1Cor. 11).

(5) Denying the resurrection (1 Cor. 15).

c. There were those who were set on “one-man-rule” (3 John 9-10).

d. Five of the seven Asian churches were not faultless.

(1) Ephesus had left her first love (Rev. 2:4).

(2) Some at Pergamos held to the doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitanes (2:14-15).

(3) The church in Thyatira allowed Jezebel to seduce the Lord’s servants (2:20).

(4) The church in Sardis was dead (3:1).

(5) Laodicea was lukewarm (3:16).

3. As the years went on, many false teachings and practices were brought in.

a. Penance, 157 A.D.; First church council first creed, 325; Mass introduced, 394; Image worship, 405; Extreme unction, 588; Purgatory, 593; Instrumental music, 670; Celibacy, 1015.

4. The most significant of these departures is that of 325 A.D. It symbolized the removing of the authority from Jesus, the head, and placing it in the hands of men. With this step taken, the hope of turning back was small indeed.

a. About the year 318 a controversy arose in Alexandria respecting the person of Christ: was he eternal and divine just as God the Father, or was he a creature, created by God?

b. Constantine, the Roman Emperor, though not a Christian, was kindly disposed toward the teachings of Christ. He was anxious to have peace and so he called a council of church leaders to be held in Nicea in June, 325. A great number attended and during this meeting the decision was reached that Christ was eternal with the Father. This decision was then written and carried back to the churches and they were expected to accept it.

c. The power to decide truth, then, was removed from Christ and his Word and placed in the hands of delegates from churches! It takes no Solomon to see that the step from this to placing the determination of truth in the hand of one man (the Pope) is not too great!


1. Apostasy is rooted in a lack of respect for divine authority.

2. The truth of God will produce the church; only the truth of God, faithfully followed, will assure God’s approval here and his welcome words, “Enter thou into the joys of thy Lord.”

3. Every individual who is past the age of accountability has experienced apostasy in his own life.

a. Born free of sin, pure and holy.

b. Apostasy came when God’s will was not followed.

c. The way back is just the reverse of apostasy’s course.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 8, pp. 236-237
April 21, 1988