By Larry Ray Hafley
A “tract, by the late J. H. Thurman… reprinted and distributed by the Alumni Association, Mid-Continent Baptist Bible College, Mayfield, Kentucky,” has been submitted for review and, if necessary, for refutation. The tract is entitled “TWENTY-FIVE REASONS Why The First Church Was Organized Before Pentecost.” Its author is deceased, but the “Alumni Association, MidContinent Baptist Bible College” which “reprinted and distributed” the tract is alive and well. Thus, we shall hold the distinguished Alumni Association liable, accountable and responsible for its contents. If the Association refuses to take the blame, our efforts shall, to that extent at least, be successful.
The title refers only to the organization of “The First Church.” The term “organized” means “established” or “in existence” as the Baptists here use it. So, reference is made to the establishment of “The First Church.” This church, allegedly organized before Pentecost, could not have been a Baptist Church. Neither the tract nor its title affirms that it was. Perhaps this was an oversight, or, perchance, they meant it to be assumed without being directly asserted. One thing is certain. There is no reference to a Baptist Church or to Baptist Churches anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, there is absolutely no mention of a Baptist Church in any literature, whether sacred or secular, written before 1600 A. D. Therefore, could it be proven or should it be proven that “The First Church” was “Organized Before Pentecost,” it would still not be a Baptist Church.
The tract under examination is extremely terse. There is a two sentence introduction followed by the “twenty five reasons.” We shall note and quote the tract in its entirety as we proceed. First, the opening statement upon which each reason rests. “There is every reason to believe the first church was in existence before Pentecost. The proof is positive.” If the reasons are scriptural, we shall readily acknowledge the proof as being positive. Our quarrel is not over scriptural reasons. We accept scriptural reasons but not reasons that evaporate into mere pretenses or excuses when considered.
Twenty Fire Reasons Reviewed and Refuted
“1. They had the gospel before Pentecost. ‘The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ’ (Mk. l:1 ).”
The gospel was preached unto Abraham, “And the Scripture foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed” (Gal. 3:8). Does this prove “the first church was in existence” in the days of Abraham? If it does not, and it does not, then neither can the tract prove the church was “in existence before Pentecost.”
We are supposed to conclude that the beginning of the gospel assures the beginning of the church, but what Scripture impels or compels that conclusion? None. Mark 1:1 speaks of “the beginning of the gospel.”‘If it said “the beginning of the church of Jesus Christ,” we would have a different response, but it does not say that.
Peter referred to the falling of the Holy Spirit on the apostles on Pentecost as “the beginning.” The beginning of what? Can a Baptist tell us? If the complete gospel and the church were in existence before Pentecost, what was “the beginning” to which Peter alluded in Acts 11:15?
“2. They had a commission to preach. ‘And as ye go, preach, saying the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matt. 10:5-7).”
The Old Testament prophets had a commission to preach before Pentecost. Was the church in existence during their days? Neither the prophets nor the apostles in Matthew 10 were proclaiming “repentance and remission of sins” in the name of Christ at this time (Lk. 24:47). If the church was organized then, it was composed of those who were not “purchased with his own blood,” for the remission of sins was not granted at that time under New Testament terms. However, the church is those who have been purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28).
The passage cited as proof tells us what they were “commissioned to preach,” that is, “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” They were not to preach that it is “organized” or “in existence,” but that it is “at hand.” Yes, “they had a commission to preach” that the tract’s premise is false!
“3. They had an ordained ministry. ‘And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach’ (Mk. 3:14 ).”
Who had an “ordained ministry?” “They,” the tract says. “They” is supposed to refer to the church. In other words, “They,” the church, had an “ordained ministry.” This assumes the point in question. Jesus, not the church, had an “ordained ministry.” “He,” Jesus, “appointed twelve, that they might be with Him, and that He might send them out to preach” (NASB).
Let us not forget that Judas was part of this ministry” (Acts 1:17). If he was part of this alleged Baptist Church, it follows that he was “saved” at that time, for one cannot be a Baptist who is not “saved.” Judas “by transgression fell that he might go to his own place” (Acts 1:25). We have, therefore, a clear case of apostasy, which contradicts the Baptist doctrine of once saved, always saved. So, their argument on the church leads them to a contradiction of one of their cardinal doctrines.
“4 They had authority to baptize. `Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them’ etc. (Matt. 28:19 RV).”
This “authority to baptize” was to begin “in Jerusalem” (Lk. 24:47). It was not to be exercised until they were “clothed with power from on high” (Lk. 24:49-NASB). This “authority to baptize” was not used until the Holy Spirit came upon them in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:8; 2:1-4). The baptism of Matthew 28:19 was not commanded nor administered before the Pentecost in Acts 2 (Cf. Mk. 16:16; Lk. 24:46-49; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4, 38-47).
“5. They had baptized believers. ‘Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, . . .and were baptized of him in Jordan’ (Matt. 3:5, 6).
The “baptized believers” in this text were Jews, sons of Abraham, children of God. They received the baptism of John, not the baptism of Christ. At this lime, even John the Baptist “did not recognize” Jesus as the one who was to baptize in the Holy Spirit (Jn. 1:31-33). John had not baptized Jesus at the time Matthew 3:5, 6 occurred (Matt. 3:15-17). Can anyone believe the church existed before Jesus was “manifest to Israel?”
Baptists believe baptism must have the sanction of a Baptist Church in order to be valid. Was there a church in existence that sent John to baptize? If not, his baptism was void and vain. If there was such a church, the church was “organized” before John the Baptist! Either way, the Baptist position is in error.
“6. They had the keys of the kingdom before Pentecost. ‘I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom’ (Matt. 16:19 ).”
Jesus said, “I will give.” It does not say, “I am giving,” or “I have given,” but “I will give.” That is future, prospective-what he will do, not what he had done. The tract says, “They had the keys.” Not so.
Keys symbolize and emphasize control of entrance. The Savior was to have the “key” of the house of David upon His shoulder (Isa. 22:22). The government of God was to be upon His shoulder (Isa. 9:6). So, in Revelation 3:7 we read of Jesus, “he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.” Keys, therefore, indicate and illustrate power or authority over entrance. Jesus dropped the figure of speech in John 20:23 when He said, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.” This is all that was implied in giving the keys of the kingdom to the apostles. Thus, using the keys, Peter declared the terms of remittance and redemption, of entrance into the kingdom, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).
In Matthew 16:18, the verse just above the one cited by our tract, Jesus said, “I will build my church.” He did not say, “I have built it,” but, “I will build” it. This statement not only demolishes the present argument but also the previous arguments under numbers 1, 2, 3, and 5.
But while we are here, let us observe the verse just below Matt. 16:19, “Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.” My, my, you mean the church was established, it had an “ordained ministry,” and a “commission to preach;” yet it could “tell no man” that Jesus was the Christ? That is surely some church. It must have been a forerunner of the Baptist Church which evolved in the seventeenth century! It certainly was not the church of the Lord!
“7. The Apostles, prophets and teachers were, in it before Pentecost. `God hath set some in the church, first Apostles; secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers’ (1 Cor. 12:28 ).”
Again, this “reason” begs the question in contention. Granted, God “set some in the church,”. but that He did so before Pentecost is not in evidence. The apostles were set in their apostolic office .before Pentecost,. but they were not set in the church until after Christ’s resurrection from the dead and ascension to the right hand of God. “Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high… and gave gifts unto men. . . And he gave some, apostles; and some prophets. . . and teachers” (Eph. 4:8, 11).1 Corinthians 12:28 refers to the rank of the offices and not to the order in which they were set in the church.
“8. They had a church roll with 120 names on it. ‘And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about one hundred and twenty’ (Acts 1:15 ).”
If the text said, “Peter stood up in the midst of the church, we might be getting somewhere, but it does not say that. Note the presumption, “They had a church roll.” We read of no church roll. If this was the church gathered together, it was a Spiritless, powerless church, for the apostles did not receive power until after the Holy Spirit came upon them (Lk. 24:49; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).
We mentioned earlier the case of Judas Iscariot. Again, Peter says, “he was numbered with us” (Acts 1:17). According to this argument, Judas was on the Baptist “church roll.” To be in the church, one must be saved, as even Baptist doctrine will allow, and agree. Then, he “by transgression fell,” so the possibility of apostasy is established. Baptist friend, do not forget that.
“9. About 3000 were added to this church on the day of Pentecost. ‘And the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls’ (Acts 2:41 ).”
The first sentence rests on an unfounded assumption. We do not grant that the church existed for these to be added unto. “There were added unto them,” the apostles, “about 3000 souls.” This is shown by Acts 1:26; 2:1, 4, 42. Those who gladly received the word were added to the Lord and were thereby members of the church that commenced that day (Acts 2:47; 5:14; 11:24).
“10. They had the great commission before Pentecost. ‘Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you’ etc. (Matt. 28: 19, 20 ).”
See the response to argument number 4 above. If having the great commission before Pentecost shows the church was established before Pentecost, does the fact they were without the great commission until this time prove the church did not exist previously? If not, the argument is worthless. Remember that the great commission was not used until Pentecost. It is the results of the preaching of repentance and remission of sins that constitutes the church (Lk. 24:46-49; Acts 2:1-4, 36-47).
“11. The Father had given all things’ into Christ’s hands before Pentecost. `Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands’ (Jn. 13:3 ).”
The passage teaches that Jesus was fully cognizant of His divine nature, power, and person. With this consciousness, this awareness, still he stooped and washed the disciples’ feet. This serves to render his example even more powerful. It says nothing with respect to the existence of the church.
If one may argue that Christ’s having “all things” in His hands means the church was organized, may I not also reason that the judgment is past? John 5:22 declares the Father has “committed all judgment unto the Son.” Since Christ has “all judgment,” can one necessarily conclude the judgment has transpired? If the fact “all things” are. said to be in Christ’s hands means the church was established, then the fact Christ has “all judgment” proves the day of judgment is past! If not, why not?
“12. They had a prayer meeting in an upper room before Pentecost. ‘They went up into an upper room…These all continued with one accord in prayer’,(Acts 1: 13, 14 ).”
With that logic, one can “prove” the church existed before John the Baptist was born. They had .a prayer meeting outside the temple before John’s birth. “And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense” (Lk. 1:10). Therefore, the church existed before John the Baptist was born! Some proof, some argument!
“13. They had a business meeting before Pentecost. ‘And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed. . . show whether of these two thou hast chosen. . . And they gave forth their lots, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles’ (Acts 1:15-26 ).”
“They” is again used to refer to the alleged church. It assumes what must be proven. Obviously, if the church had a business meeting before Pentecost, it existed prior to Pentecost in Acts 2; but that is the point in dispute. But who has proved that this is a church business meeting?
“14. In the above business meeting of the first church, Peter said that the company ( `us’) had existed ‘from the baptism of John’ (Acts 1:21, 22 ).”
Peter’s allusion is not to the fact that this “company” had existed from the baptism of John. The thing he is talking about is the Lord Jesus and His going “in and out among” them. That is the thing that began with the baptism of John and continued “unto the same day he was taken up.” The New American Standard makes this point clear. ” ‘It is therefore necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us-beginning with the baptism of John, until the day that He was taken up from us-one of these should become a witness with us of His resurrection.’ “
If Peter said the “us” began at the baptism of John, then he says it ended when the Lord ascended; so, the church disbanded at the Lord’s ascension! He is saying, however, the Lord went in and out among us, the disciples, from John’s baptism until He ascended. He argues nothing about the establishment of the church.
“15. They had a church treasurer (Judas) before Pentecost. For some of them thought, because Judas had the bag, that Jesus had said unto him, buy those things that we have need against the feast, or that he should give something to the poor’ (John 13:29 ).”
Observe the assumption: They had a “church treasurer,” so. the church existed at that time! Do, not forget that this “church treasurer,” Judas, “by transgression fell” and was lost, a thing which Baptist doctrine says is impossible!
But there is something which is as interesting as the fact the treasurer fell from grace and was lost. The text cited mentions the purchasing of “those things that we have need against the feast.” The feast referred to is the “feast of the Passover” (Jn: 13:1). My my, a Baptist church using its funds to celebrate the Jewish “feast of the Passover!” Can any suppose that a New Testament church could ever expect that its treasurer should “buy those things” necessary to keep the Passover feast? Perhaps a Baptist Church would do so, but “churches of Christ” do not.
And what about the “church footwashing” service in John 13? If this is the church meeting together, is it not a church footwashing ordinance (John 13:1-29)? So, we have (1) an apostate “church treasurer,” Judas; (2) a church that expected its treasury might be used to keep the Old Testament Passover; (3) and a church involved and engaged in a footwashing service!(To be concluded Next Week).
Truth Magazine XIX: 12, pp. 182-184
January 30, 1975