The Church of the First Century

By John W. Hedge

The church which Christ promised to build (Matt. 16:18) was built in the first century and individuals became members thereof. (Acts 2:47) The time and place of its establishment were foretold by Old Testament prophets (Is. 2:24; Zech. 1: 16) along with its permanency. (Dan. 2:44) It was said to have been purchased by the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25) and that God was to be glorified in it “throughout all ages, world without end.” (Eph. 3:21)

These passages of scriptures establish the value or importance of the church of the first century. To say that it was brought into existence at the cost of the life of the Son of God, and yet hag nothing to do with the saving of mankind, is equal to saying that the Lord paid too high a price for a non-essential. It is significant to notice that everything which Christ has done for the individual to the end that he might be saved, he has done equally as much for the church. Did he love the individual? The New Testament tells us that “he loved the church and gave himself for it.” (Eph. 5:25.) Did he purchase redemption for the individual? Did he not purchase the church? (Acts 20:28) And the apostle speaks of “the redemption of the purchased possession,” which is the church. (Eph. 1: 14.) So, since Christ has done as much for the church as he has for the individual, it must follow that the church is all-important in the scheme of redemption. Without it Christ would have no “Bride.” Without it there would be the Shepherd and the sheep but no “sheepfold.” Without it Christ would be “head” but without a “body.”

In the beginning of the church of the first century, it was never referred to as a denomination or combination of such. It was in existence for many, many centuries before denominational churches were heard of. Today the common idea prevails that “the Church of Christ” is composed of all the “Christian Denominations of Christendom.” Well it was not composed of such in the beginning, and if “the church of Christ” did exist in its beginning separate and apart from denominational churches, I wonder when God began to use another and different kind of material to constitute “the church.” The church of Christ is “one Body” and Christ is head of it, while denominational churches are many bodies with many religious “heads” or religious leaders. Thus the church of the first century is the very opposite of denominational churches.

The church of the first century represents the power and wisdom of God in bringing it into existence. To place it on equality with the denominational churches founded by men is equal to recognizing men as being equal with God. No man can equal God in wisdom and works; otherwise he would become a god himself. To say that man can establish a denominational church which is “just as good” as the one which Christ built in the first century is not only unscriptural but is unreasonable as well. Just as Christ “was in the world and the world knew him not” (Jno. 1: 10), so the church which he built in the first century is “in the world” today but the world knows it not. There is no good reason why men should be blind to its existence, and they will not be if they will turn to the New Testament in which both Christ and his church are revealed. The church that Christ built in the first century is as enduring as Christ himself for he is the Head and Savior of it. The institutions of men come and go with the years, but there is a kingdom which cannot be shaken or moved-the church of the first century.

August 10, 1972