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Have you ever seen a sign on a church building that identified it as a “first” church? The First Baptist Church of Saginaw, or the First Methodist Church of Phoenix, etc.? I wondered as a kid, how they could claim to be the first? Was there a list somewhere? (usually refers to the first in a city, or as a denominational affiliation; But few would advertise being the second!?)
I want to take a closer look at the “first church of Christ”. I am not using those words in their common meaning. I have no interest is looking at a denominational body known as the “Church of Christ” (first, second, or otherwise). The Lord’s church has no proper name is scripture, but is rather designated by several descriptive phrases, most often just “the church”, as there was only one. I am not even specifically using these words to reference a “first” local congregation, as such.
But I am interested in knowing about the church that belongs to Christ, and the particulars about how it began. That is the church that I want to be a part of . The Bible is the source of truth on this matter.
1) When & How did Christ establish His church in the 1st Century?
2) What are the necessary ingredients and credentials today of a “church of Christ?
I. A Pattern from the Beginning – Acts 2 – the inauguration of Christ’s church.
A. This event was foretold by God’s prophets hundreds of years before it occurred. Brief look –
- Isa 2:2-3 – Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the Lord’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. 3 Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
- Dan 2:44 – And in the days of these kings (Roman Emperors) the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.
- Joel 2:28-29 – 8 “And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. 29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. Vs. 32 – 2 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the Lord has said, Among the remnant whom the Lord calls.
- Matt 16:15-19 – He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered and said,”You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Later Jesus promised His apostles that He would send the Holy Spirit to guide them as they witnessed concerning Hid resurrection from the dead. (Acts 1:8 – “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”)
Back to Acts 2
B. The direction of the Holy Spirit – The Holy Spirit was directing the action – Vs.1- 4 – “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
1. The “they” here is the apostles of Christ who were awaiting the coming of the Hoy Spirit as Jesus had promised them. As they spoke in every person’s native language, Peter stood up in defense of the apostles, who were not drunk with wine as some supposed, but were speaking from the direct influence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was revealing new and exciting information through these apostles.
2. Peter’s Sermon (vs. 14ff) – The theme of Peter’s sermon? Peter preached about Jesus of Nazareth: 1) He was attested to through miracles. 2) He was crucified unjustly, and 3) He was resurrected from the dead. If so, He was the “CHRIST” (David had prophesied that the CHRIST would resurrect to sit on David’s throne – vs. 25-30) Peter proclaims that this Jesus (the one crucified unjustly is both LORD (King), and CHRIST (Messiah).
- If Jesus had arrived in heaven and was seated at the right hand of the Father His resurrection had established His authority for all time. The fulfilled prophecies that Peter references here proved the point Acts 2:36 – “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Jesus is Master & Messiah.
3. The Holy Spirit’s call to obedience: Acts 2:38-40 – “Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” 40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” The church could not begin or exist until people were convicted of sin. (Many churches today refuse to claim this credential)
B. Now notice carefully how Peter’s revelation of the Holy Spirit’s words created the church on this occasion. There was no institutional ribbon cutting ceremony. No dignitaries were present to officially announce that the “Jerusalem church of Christ” was open for business.
1. Acts 2:41-47 “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
C. Those who became the church were:
1. those who “gladly received his (Peter’s) words”..
2. those who continued in the apostles’ doctrine
3. those who believed, fellowshipped one another, praised God
4. those who were being saved (The Lord added them to the church). In verse 47– “SUCH AS” (KJV) – “those that (were being saved),” gives the correct meaning, marking the kind of persons who were added to the company. (from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright (c)1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers).
- The church was the group (flock) of those who were being saved, by submitting to the allegiance of Jesus, the King & Christ.
- The first church was not a part or denomination of anything else. Later in Ephesians 4:4, Paul declared that there was one body (church).
- The first church was designed and purposed to save the lost through the preaching of the gospel message. Luke 19:10 – “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Jesus’ self-description provide the mission of His body – the church. Jesus did not come so that I could provide recreation for my family, or win a softball championship. He did not come so that I can be a part of a worshipping association, or eat some crackers with others every Sunday. He came to save the lost. This is the church’s credential.
- The first church was together. Acts 2:44-45 “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” The Lord’s church (Christians) were designed through the word of God to be united and dependent upon each other. Is this church a place you can exhibit to others what love and togetherness is all about?
II. The Planting of the Seed. How does the first church exist today? The Beginning of the church at Jerusalem provides a pattern for churches today. We cannot teach the nature and work of the church apart from the Jerusalem model.
A. But local churches of Christ today are not dependent on establishing some type of succession, imagined or real, from the church of the first century. The credentials that apply here are explained by Jesus in the parable of the soils.. Luke 8:11 – “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.” A true church of Christ is no built through its association with any other church. A true church of Christ is validated through its relationship with Christ alone..
B. The growth and reproduction of the church is dependent on the seed – the word of God. Acts 8:1-4 “Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. 4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Satan may have though that if he could destroy or disrupt the Jerusalem church that God’s purposes would be turned back. But God’s plans for the growth of the church was not dependent on the Jerusalem church. In fact, it was through the scattering of the Jerusalem church that God’s plan would advance.
1. The seed would be planted by individual Christians who preached the word and followed in the apostolic message. Acts 8:5-8 “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city.
C. The church has the potential of being a source of great joy in a joyless world. The message of the gospel is a message of hope and joy. Later in Acts 8 a Spirit guided preacher is sent to the searching heart of the Ethiopian and brings the same message that was preached at Jerusalem. He planted the seed. It brought obedience and joy. Acts 8:35-39 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” 37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.
D. The church of Christ is not defined by the decree or consensus of men, however righteous. The Lord knows those who are His. Those who are in Christ’s church are there by God’s adding, not ours.
1. But seed of the word of God will only produce one fruit. If we preach and teach just God’s word, without the creeds or words of men, and those who receive it, obey precisely and only what is found in God’s word, then result can only be a Christian, nothing else.
- 1 Peter 4:11 – 11 If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
- Matt 15:13 – But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.
Conclusion: We aspire to be the church of Christ. If we are not that church, then it matters not what church we are. If you are not sure that you are in the church we just studied about, then I urge you to look carefully at the scriptures (nowhere else). Have you believed what the apostles’ revealed? Have you obeyed what Jesus commanded?
- Mark 16:15-16 – 15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
- Can we help you obey God?