By Cecil Willis
In spite of the fact that ours is a world of diversified concepts concerning the church, and even though most of us have misapprehensions of what the church is, yet surprisingly, we are agreed that the church belongs to God. Whatever the church is, it is God’s. So we speak of the divine church. All that pertains to God’s part of the church is divine. God definitely had a part in the building of the church.
Importance of Knowing Its Birthdate
We are undertaking to find the day when the church of the Lord Jesus Christ had its beginning. This is a subject of much more importance than most would think. Many are disposed to inquire, “What difference does it make when the church began?” But so far as you and I are concerned, this is a subject of great import. The most of us, at some time or other, decide to affiliate ourselves with some church or other. The very fact that we feel we need to be a part of some religious body is indicative of an inner feeling that we need God. The only way in which I can please God is by doing what He has commanded I do, part of which is to become a member of his church. Knowing the date the church began helps one distinguish between the church provided by God and those created by man. The church is the result of the eternal, divine wisdom and purpose of God. The apostle Paul discusses God’s eternal purpose in building the church in Eph. 3:8-11, to which I invite your attention at this time. “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things; to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The church was not an after-thought in God’s mind. It was no temporary expedient. It was God’s divine, eternal purpose. And we today can share the blessings purposed from eternity by God, in the church of Jesus Christ.
So when God purposed that his church should become a reality, it did. Any church that did not begin when the Lord’s did, is not the church of the Lord. There are some who believe that the church began during the days of Adam, others affirm it began when Abraham was called, others believe John the Baptist started it, and yet many others think it was started during the time when Christ was on earth. These all are false concepts as we shall presently see. Millions must frankly confess that the church of which they are members is of recent origin.
Scriptures are numerous which point toward the time when the church was to begin. We can turn back to the Old Testament and see some references which tell us the church was, at that time, a future organization. The prophet Isaiah said, “And it shall come to pass in the latter days, that the mountain of Jehovah’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow into it. And many peoples shall go and say, Come ye and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:2, 3). In this passage you will notice that the prophet is speaking of Jehovah’s house. In I Tim. 3:15, Paul says he hopes to come shortly, but if he tarries long, these following instructions found in the letter will instruct you “that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God.” The house of Jehovah is the church of God. In the Old Testament passage we just read, we have a prophecy of the coming church.
In Daniel 2:44, in speaking of the future kings of Rome, the prophet says, “And in the days of those kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall the sovereignty thereof be left to another people; but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.” In this passage, the kingdom is yet future. It will be set up in the days of the Roman kings. Surely these Old Testament prophets did not foretell the establishment of an already existing church. So the very fact that these prophecies are made, indicates that the church of the Lord is not an Old Testament organization. Hence it was not established during the days of Adam or Abraham.
The New Testament virtually begins with an utterance that the kingdom of heaven is “at hand.” This was the substance and purpose of John the Baptist’s message. We read, “And in those days cometh John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 3:1, 2). The expression, “at hand,” does not mean already come. It means the church will soon be established. So the church was not established during the days of John the Baptist.
You will remember that John’s preaching immediately preceded that of the Lord’s. Yet when John finished his work, and Jesus began his, the church had not been established. Early in Christ’s preaching ministry, his disciples came to him, asking Him how to pray. In what man has come to call “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus taught the disciples to pray “thy kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10). This indicates that the church had not been set up as yet. For certainly Jesus would not have commanded the disciples to pray for the coming of an already existing institution.
In Mark 1:15, Jesus preached that the “kingdom of God is at hand.” Again, when he sent the disciples on what is called the limited commission, sending them only to the Jews, he told them to preach, saying, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 10:5-7). So during the ministry of Christ, the kingdom was preached “at hand.” It was still future. It seems to me that the meaning of the expression “at hand” can clearly be understood from Paul’s statement in 2 Tim. 4:6, when he speaks of his death as being “at hand.” It was imminent. It was to occur in the immediate future. So was the kingdom. But it was yet in the future.
Later Jesus promised that “upon this rock (namely the confession that Peter had made, that He was the Son of God) I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). Notice Jesus said; “I will build my church.” It was not accomplished as yet. We can read everything the New Testament says that Jesus did while he was on earth. Further you can read of his crucifixion on the cross, and in that very account learn that the church was yet to be established. In fact, Jesus had taught that Hades, or his going into the tomb, would not prevail, or hinder, him in the building of the church. After Jesus had been nailed to the cross, a man named Joseph came inquiring if he could take the body. The executors would not release Christ’s body until they made sure he was dead. The account says: “There came Joseph of Arimathea, a councillor of honorable estate, who also himself was looking (waiting–K.J.V.) for the kingdom of God; and he boldly went in unto Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mk. 15:43). After Christ’s death, men were still waiting for the kingdom.
He arose from the dead, lived forty days with men, and prepared to go back to the Father, when his disciples asked, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). They were yet looking for the kingdom when Jesus ascended to the Father. So we see from the days of the prophets of the Old Testament, until Christ ascended to the Father, the kingdom was future.
Jesus had told his disciples that the kingdom of God would come with power (Mk. 9:1), and later he told them when they would receive the power. He said, “But ye shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you” (Acts 1:8). So the kingdom was to come when the Holy Spirit came upon them. We find in Luke 24:49 that Jesus commanded them to tarry in the city (of Jerusalem) until they be endued with power from on high. Acts 2 begins: “And when the day of Pentecost was now come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them tongues parting asunder, like as of fire; and it sat upon each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy, spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4). So we see the kingdom was to come with power (Mk. 9:1); the power was to come when the Spirit came (Acts 1:8); and the Spirit came on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). So we must conclude that the kingdom came on Pentecost. This is the only logical conclusion to draw from these three passages.
Not only is this so, but Peter argues that the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy. Peter says, “But this is that which hath been spoken through the prophet Joel: And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh.” The prophecy said it will be in the last days. Peter said “this is that.” This event fulfills what Joel predicted would happen. But not only had Joel made a prediction as to what would happen, in the last days, but Isaiah had also. Isaiah said the Lord’s house, his church, would be built in the last days. Peter said these are the last days. “This is that,” he says. So Pentecost, fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah as to the time when the church was to be built. Of course, it was also during the days of the Roman kings, which fulfills Daniel’s prophecy found in Dan. 2:44.
On this day of Pentecost, when Peter spoke, the Scripture says that there were Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven, present. He was laboring to prove that the Jesus, whom they had crucified, was the Son of God with power. He reminds them of the mighty works or miracles that He hrd performed. He says Jesus also fulfills prophecy, and that God raised Him from the dead, after you had killed him, and that He hath shed forth the Spirit which ye now see and hear. He persuaded his audience that the message he spoke was the truth. So they cried out, “what shall we do?” We have murdered God’s Son. Peter answered them, saying “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Verse 41 says, “They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls.” And verse 47 of the same chapter, adds that the “Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved” (K.J.V.). Here for the first time in all the Bible we find the church referred to as an existing organization. People were added to it. Previously they had only been promised it would come, and later that it was “at hand.” But now men and women are permitted to enter the kingdom. The gospel was preached to them. Believing, they were told to repent and be baptized. Three thousand of them did, and they were added to the church. That is the only way to get into the Lord’s church. If the church of which you are a member did not begin on Pentecost, it is not the Lord’s church. And if you did not enter it merely by believing in Christ, repenting of your sins, and being baptized for the remission of sins, you are not in the Lord’s church. Truly the divine church had its beginning at the divinely appointed time: Pentecost!
Truth Magazine XVIII: 5, pp. 67-69
December 5, 1974